Thursday, March 31, 2011

Is Your Web Page Accessible To All? Part 1 of 2 Parts

By D. V. Berkom

[Originally published on the Seattle Examiner writing careers blog.]

Imagine a potential new reader who happens upon your beautifully-designed website, whether by way of that blog post you wrote about your fabulous just-released work, or because someone they know told them about you.

Become that reader. See your website as though for the first time. Notice the colors, the perfect fonts, the just-right images … Now, close your eyes.

What do you see?

Now imagine that you can't use a mouse. Or are color blind. How does your website look now?

These are questions every writer with a website should ask herself.

If you used a web designer, hopefully she understood the implications of accessibility and developed your site accordingly. If, however, you created your own website (like I did) and only vaguely understood what "accessibility" actually meant in relation to HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (yup, me again), then you need to read this blog post.

Why, you ask? Because you're missing a huge segment of the population (some put the estimate at 60 million-plus in the United States alone) who may enjoy learning more about you and the stories you create.

And, it just makes sense.

Listen, we're writers. We write stories. We love it when people are able to access our work. We love it even more when we get feedback. Why not use the following simple tips to make your website more accessible to another large segment of Internet users?

Not only will these techniques make your website more accessible to non-traditional users, they will make it more accessible to an aging population, improve your odds with search engines, and improve readability and navigation on e-readers and smartphones.

(Note: I'm making the assumption that if you've developed/designed your own website, you have at least a tentative understanding of HTML and will be able to follow the references in this article. If not, you may want to search HTML tutorials for more information on HTML and web design.)

Two of the most overlooked and easiest ways to make your website accessible are providing alternative text for images and using headings (e.g., H1).

Alternative Text (alt-text) for Images: Providing alt-text for your images just means using a description in your code for the images on your website. This includes not only .jpgs and .gifs and .pngs, but image maps, spacers, and even images used for navigation like bullets or buttons.

When a visually-impaired web user navigates to your site, they'll more than likely be using a screen reader or talking browser, and the image text will be read to them. In Dreamweaver, the web design program I use, you can find the alt attribute at the bottom of the screen in Properties, to the right of Src.

If you're writing your own HTML, the alt="description" goes after the image source (e.g., image description

Look at the top (or side) of your home page. Do you use images for links (buttons) to different pages of your website? If so, you'll want to provide alt-text for these elements, or the text-reader won't recognize the navigation.

If the image is a link to something, you'll want to convey the reason for the link. For instance, say you have an image that links to your About page. You would use alt= "About" in the code. You don't need to include "link to…" in your description. The text reader will let the user know when a link is encountered. Keep your description simple, preferably not more than a few words.

Now, look at your home page again. Are there images that are basically decorative and do nothing more than add a visual element to the page?

Images that aren't necessary for navigation should probably not have a description (although, there are good arguments for the other side so if you want visitors to know you have a picture of, say, a pug on your page, go ahead and use the text alt="pug". Your call.) Otherwise, use alt="' (pair of quotes). This will indicate a non-essential element, allowing the text-reader to skip the description, saving your visitor time.

If you have an image map, each area should have its own description. Again, if you're using Dreamweaver, each 'hot spot' has a box at the bottom of the design screen where you can enter alt-text. For those of you creating your webpage from scratch, the HTML would be similar to this image map for an imaginary web site for bath products:

div align="center"><img src="images.jpg" width="496" height="451" border="0" usemap="#Map">

<map name="Map">

<area shape="rect" coords="102,9,193,148" href="loofah.htm"

<area shape="rect" coords="199,11,288,148" href="soaps.htm"
alt="Glycerin soaps">

<area shape="rect" coords="395,373,481,445" href="fragrance.html"
alt="Essential Oils">


Notice the text after alt= describes the image's link in simple terms. No need to go overboard and explain, for instance, that the loofahs are from an island in the Caribbean, hand-picked by sexy surfer-boys. (Hey- it's my imaginary web site )

To be continued...

D.V. Berkom is the author of the Kate Jones Bad Spirits series. The newest installment in the series, Dead of Winter, will be available in May. For more information, you can see her real-world website at

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Left Coast Crime 2011: The Mystery of Santa Fe

By Kathie Felix with reporting by Marcia Talley

(Above) The opening ceremony of Left Coast Crime: The Buffalo Dance

The annual Left Coast Crime conference took over the historic La Fonda hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, last week. The gathering, which ended on Sunday, feted Guests of Honor Margaret Coel and Steven Havill, Lifetime Achievement Guest of Honor Martin Cruz Smith, Fan Guest of Honor Marvin Lackman and featured Toastmaster Steve Brewer. The Ghosts of Honor were Dorothy B. Hughes and Frances Crane.

According to Sisters in Crime president Cathy Pickens: “Left Coast Crime is an intimate, friendly affair that always does a great job incorporating local flavor. Combine tours of Georgia O'Keefe and Willa Cather sites with crime and good southwestern food – I can't think of a better way to spend a March weekend.”

SinC’s immediate past president Marcia Talley attended Left Coast Crime 2011 and sent video, photos and news dispatches to share with SinC blog readers.

For Marcia, day one in Santa Fe began with an amazing meal at La Fonda, pictured at left.

She later shared video of the Opening Ceremony of the conference, a Buffalo Dance performed by members of the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo.

“The floor is trembling as they bless the conference,” Marcia reported by email.

Friday’s “Industry Professionals on Publishing” panel, moderated by Barbara Peters of Poisoned Pen Press, featured agent Kimberley Cameron, Keith Kahla of St. Martins Press, past MWA Executive Vice President Larry Light, agent Janet Reid and independent editor Jodie Renner. All of the panel members agreed that, when they are passionate about a book or author, they throw everything behind the project or individual.

The panel’s conversation roamed through a variety of topics, including the MWA-approved publisher list (Lee Goldberg is heading a team to review the ebook world to determine what is legit and what is not), Stieg Larsson’s book sales (one billion ebooks sold), the digital reading experience (different platforms, different ways to experience reading), the changes in the industry following the Borders bankruptcy situation, the effect of the economy on book sales, the need for an agent in the ebook age and the importance of an editor in any format.

(Pictured from left: Peters, Kahla, Cameron, Light, Reid, Renner)

Each panelist offered their own point of view on the writer's world.

“Voice! I love it,” said Barbara Peters. “You have to love it to promote it.”

According to Keith Kahla, “Seriously, write a good book with a good voice and good hook.”

Larry Light likes to learn something from reading a book.

Janet Reid, focusing on nonfiction, loves query letters. “They are like Christmas. Sometimes it’s socks from the aunt who doesn’t know you very well. I’m looking for the pony under the tree. Send me your query! I’d rather see it than not.”

Kimberly Cameron said that great writing and great voice excite her, in all genres. She then looks for the best place to put it. “Send me your good stuff,” she said.

Jodie Renner pointed out that the first couple of pages are key. Dialog is critical; voices must be distinct. A book needs dialog and action up front. Cut out the wordiness. Think about pacing and plot holes.

(Pictured at left: Sisters lunch at Pasqual's -- Twist, Marcia and Denise.)

In addition to an abundance of networking opportunities and conference sessions, Left Coast Crime also features a series of annual awards for work published the previous year. The nominees for this year's awards appear below. The winners are indicated in bold.

THE LEFTY: Best humorous mystery novel
Donna Andrews, Stork Raving Mad (Minotaur Books)
Laura DiSilverio, Swift Justice (Minotaur Books/Thomas Dunne Books)
Donna Moore, Old Dogs (Busted Flush Press)
Kris Neri, Revenge for Old Times' Sake (Cherokee McGhee)
J. Michael Orenduff, The Pot Thief Who Studied Einstein (Oak Tree Press)

THE BRUCE ALEXANDER MEMORIAL HISTORICAL MYSTERY: Best historical mystery novel, covering events before 1950
Rebecca Cantrell, A Night of Long Knives (Forge Books)
Robert Kresge, Murder for Greenhorns (ABQ Press)
Kelli Stanley, City of Dragons (Minotaur Books)
Jeri Westerson, The Demon's Parchment (Minotaur Books)
Jacqueline Winspear, The Mapping of Love and Death (HarperCollins)

THE HILLERMAN SKY AWARD: The mystery (short story to novel length) that best captures the landscape of the Southwest
Sandi Ault, Wild Penance (Berkley Hardcover)
Christine Barber, The Bone Fire (Minotaur Books)
Margaret Coel, The Spider's Web (Berkley Hardcover)
Deborah J. Ledford, Snare (Second Wind Publishing)

THE WATSON: Mystery novel with best sidekick
Sandi Ault, Wild Penance (Berkley Hardcover)
Rachel Brady, Dead Lift (Poisoned Pen Press)
Chris Grabenstein, Rolling Thunder (Pegasus)
Craig Johnson, Junkyard Dogs (Viking)
Spencer Quinn, To Fetch a Thief (Atria)

Next year, Left Coast Crime will be held March 29 – April 1 at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento, California. The Guests of Honor are John Lescroart and Jacqueline Winspear. The Toastmaster is Harley Jane Kozak. The Fan Guest of Honor is Noemi Levine.

For more information about Left Coast Crime, go to

Left Coast Crime: Boots required.

Video and photos by Marica Talley, immediate past president of Sisters in Crime and award-winning author of the Hannah Ives mysteries. Marcia's newest book, A Quiet Death, will be released in May.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

SinC Links: The Ebook Edition

By Ellen Hart

If you're anything like me, you wait eagerly each month to see what Nancy Martin and her team of web foragers have gathered and sent out as SinC Links, the Sisters in Crime monthly alert to news of industry importance.

This service has helped me stay connected to what's happening in the publishing industry. It's timely. It's targeted information. It's relevant.

Now that so much of what's going on in the book world today has shifted to ebooks, the national SinC board decided it might be a good idea to put out a second monthly issue of SinC Links, this one aimed at all things digital.

You may have little interest in ebooks, but for those who do, for writers who understand that this may be a way to keep a backlist in print, or a way to publish a book that an agent loved but was unable to place, this kind of timely information may prove valuable.

Case in point: When the rights to eight of my older mysteries reverted to me a year ago, it seemed like a timely idea to put them up for sale as ebooks. The problem was, I had no idea how to go about it.

All of the novels were so old that no digitized copies existed. Without a Word.doc, I couldn't put them into a digital format -- whatever that was. It was a big puzzle, with few people who seemed to know exactly how to do what I needed done. Knowing that a good 70 percent of the ebooks currently sold are sold through Amazon, I wanted the books in Kindle format. I also wanted them up on Barnes & Noble and other, smaller sites. It took me months to find knowledgeable people who could shepherd me through various aspects of the process. Honestly, it shouldn't be that hard. None of this is rocket science.

With SinC Links/Ebook Edition, we'd like to connect members to information that will help them negotiate the transition. Not only that, we want to provide you with the latest information -- the best of the web -- on what's happening in the brave new world of e-publishing.

As I write this, another ebook link just popped into my mailbox: "Maybe the Mayans were right ... but they were talking about the publishing industry."

Hmm. All I can say is, wait for April. You'll find that link in your inbox.

Finally, a request. If you come across an article, a blog, an interview, anything you feel might be of interest to the membership regarding ebooks, e-publishing and the digital future, send them to

Look for SinC Links/Ebook Edition to arrive in your mailbox on the 24th of each month. Many thanks to Lori L. Lake and Nancy Martin for joining the team and making the first edition possible.

Ellen Hart is the award-winning author of the 18-volume Jane Lawless mystery series and the eight-volume Sophie Greenway series. Her most recent book is The Cruel Ever After, a Jane Lawless mystery. Ellen is the member of the Sisters in Crime board of directors in charge of SinC's publicity efforts.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sisters in Crime and Me

By Molly Weston

I've been a member of Sisters in Crime (as a reader, reviewer and general groupie) for somewhere around 20 years. At the time I joined, there was no internet, very little email — and we relied on print versions of the Sisters in Crime newsletter.

Sometime in Annette Meyers' presidency (1996–97), there was a contest to name the newsletter (which I won) and it became known as inSinC. I always read everything in inSinC because that was the only way I could find out about things that were happening in the mystery world. Since we had no dedicated mystery bookstore in my area, "The Docket" was very important to me because I could learn about new publications by my favorite authors.

During an early perusal of the newsletter, I was surprised to find that there were conferences devoted to the mystery genre. For my birthday, I asked my mother to give me the registration to something called "Malice Domestic" in Bethesda, Maryland. The first year I tried to register, it was already filled, but I persevered.

I entered the ballroom on Friday evening to find it filled with friends — instant friends. Everyone there was as avid a mystery reader as I was — and many of them were writers of my favorite books.

I attended everything, meeting more and more writers and readers everywhere. I was delighted to see pictures of the writers in the program booklets, so I could pick out my favorites in the crowd.

During one event, a tall lady stood in the crowd, and said, "I'm Ruth Cavin with St. Martin's Press." She then explained about the Malice Domestic Best First Novel award sponsored by St. Martin's and asked for volunteer judges. Was I happy to step up! I continued as a judge for several years.

Soon I was inviting authors to visit me in North Carolina. I scheduled venues at bookstores for them and they stayed at our home. It wasn't long before I had authors visiting nearly year-round.

My mailbox overflowed with postcards of book covers, often inscribed with "Hi, Molly" on the backs. Did that ever make me feel important! My phone began ringing with requests to visit. The Sisterhood was busy.

One day I played a message, "I'm Patti Sprinkle. I writer murder mysteries…" I was always glad to hear, "Molly. This is Liz Squire." I knew an exciting visit would soon come my way.

Now, every time I attend a mystery conference anywhere, I find myself surrounded by Sisters. What a group!

How has SinC expanded your world?

Photo 1: Molly (at right) with children's author/illustrator Judy Schachner.

Photo 2: Visiting Sisters — (from left) Rosemary Harris, Donna Andrews, Karen Kiley of the Cary Library (a new Sister), Elaine Viets and Meredith Cole.

Molly Weston is the editor of inSinC, the Sisters in Crime quarterly news bulletin. She is a book reviewer, media escort, blogger and book club maven — when not pondering the intricacies of running a thriving day lily farm.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ebooks and Self-Publishing: A Conversation Between Authors Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath

[Today's blog post is an excerpt of a lengthy online conversation between writers Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath. To see the discussion in its entirety, go to:]

This is a live Google docs discussion I had with my good friend, novelist Joe Konrath. It examines the history and mechanics of the publishing industry as it exists today, analyzes the way the digital revolution reflects recent events in Egypt and the Maghreb, and considers a completely inappropriate YouTube video featuring a randy monkey and an unlucky frog. It clocks in at 13,000 words, and reveals some pretty startling things.

Joe: To the casual observer, you appear to be heavily invested in the legacy publishing system. They’ve been good to you, they helped you get onto the NYT bestseller list, made you wealthy with several large deals, and seem to have treated you fairly.

Barry: Well, I don’t know about wealthy, but I’ve been making a living writing novels for almost a decade now, which is a pretty great way to live.

Joe: You had six-figure and seven-figure deals. Logic dictates anyone offered a deal like that should leap at it.

Barry: You wouldn’t.

Joe: But I never had the treatment you had from legacy publishers. I would walk away from a big deal now, most certainly, because I have two years of data proving I can do better on my own.

However, what if a NYT bestseller were offered, say, half a million dollars for two books?

Or, more specifically, let's say you were offered that.

You'd take it. Right?

Barry: Well, I guess not... ;)

Joe: So... no BS... you were just offered half a mil, and you turned it down?

Barry: Yes.

I know it’ll seem crazy to a lot of people, but based on what’s happening in the industry, and based on the kind of experience writers like you are having in self-publishing, I think I can do better in the long term on my own.

Joe: "Barry Eisler Walks Away From $500,000 Deal to Self-Pub" is going to be one for the Twitter Hall of Fame.

* * * *

Barry: There’s a saying about the railroads: they thought they were in the railroad business, when in fact they were in the transportation business. So when the interstate highway system was built and trucking became an alternative, they were hit hard.

Likewise, publishers have naturally conflated the specifics of their business model with the generalities of the industry they’re in. As you say, they’re not in the business of delivering books by paper--they’re in the business of delivering books. And if someone can do the latter faster and cheaper than they can, they’re in trouble.

Joe: You say they're aware of it, and some evidence points to that being true. The agency model is an attempt to slow the transition from paper to digital. Windowing titles is another one. So are insanely high ebook prices.

Barry: All signs that publishers are aware of the potential for digital disintermediation, but that they don’t understand what it really means.

Joe: Because they still believe they’re essential to the process.

Barry: I would phrase it a little differently. They recognize they’re becoming non-essential, and are trying to keep themselves essential--but are going about it in the wrong way.

Joe: You and I and our peers are essential. We're the writers. We provide the content that is printed and distributed.

For hundreds of years, writers couldn't reach readers without publishers. We needed them.

Now, suddenly, we don't. But publishers don't seem to be taking this Very Important Fact into account.

Barry: Well, again, I think they’re taking it into account, but they’re drawing the wrong conclusions. The wrong conclusion is: I’m in the paper business, paper keeps me essential, therefore I must do all I can to retard the transition from paper to digital. The right conclusion would be: digital offers huge cost, time-to-market, and other advantages over paper. How can I leverage those advantages to make my business even stronger?

Joe: We figured out that the 25% royalty on ebooks they offer is actually 14.9% to the writer after everyone gets their cut. 14.9% on a price the publisher sets.

Barry: Gracious of you to say “we.” You’re the first one to point out that a 25% royalty on the net revenue produced by an ebook equals 17.5% of the retail price after Amazon takes its 30% cut, and 14.9% after the agent takes 15% of the 17.5%.

Joe: Yeah, that 25% figure you see in contracts is really misleading. Amazing, when you consider that there’s virtually no cost to creating ebooks--no cost for paper, no shipping charges, no warehousing. No cut for Ingram or Baker & Taylor. Yet they're keeping 52.5% of the list price and offering only 17.5% to the author. It’s not fair and it’s not sustainable.

Barry: I think what’s happening is that publishers know paper is dying while digital is exploding, and they’re trying to use the lock they’ve always had on paper to milk more out of digital. In other words, tie an author into a deal that offers traditional paper royalties, which are shrinking, while giving the publisher a huge slice of digital royalties, which are growing. The problem, from the publisher’s perspective, is that their paper lock is broken now.

Joe: I feel all writers need to be made aware that there is finally an option. Not just an option, but an actual preferable alternative to signing away your rights.

Barry: It’s inevitable that more writers will be realizing this is true. It’s being demonstrated by more and more self-published authors: you, Amanda Hocking, Scott Nicholson, Michael J. Sullivan, HP Mallory, Victorine Lieske, BV Larson, Terri Reid, LJ Sellers, John Locke, Blake Crouch, Lee Goldberg, Aaron Patterson, Jon F. Merz, Selena Kitt, hopefully me... :)

Joe: You're on track to make $30,000 this year on a self-published short story. I'm not aware of any short story markets that pay that well.

Barry: Well, it’s early yet, but yes, "The Lost Coast" has done amazingly well in its first few weeks, netting me about $1000 after the initial fixed cost of $600 for having the cover designed and having the manuscript formatted. I plan to continue to publish short stories and I’ll be getting the new John Rain novel, The Detachment, up in time for Father’s Day, and I have a feeling that each of the various products will reinforce sales of the others.

Joe: That's a really smart plan. My own sales, and the sales of other indie authors doing well, pretty much confirm that a rising tide lifts all boats. Virtual shelf space functions a lot like physical shelf space. The more books you have on the shelf, the likelier you are to be discovered by someone browsing. And when a browser reads you and likes you, she buys more of your work, and often tells others about it.

In other words; the more stories and novels you have available, the more you'll sell.

Barry: Gotta just jump in here to point out the significance of this. It means that a writer’s best promoting tool is once again her writing. Advertising costs money. New stories make money.

Joe: I told you so...

Barry: You did. Glad I listened late rather than never. It’s amazing: for most of the history of publishing, outside a brief book tour and maybe a few public appearances throughout the year, a writer couldn’t do much to promote. Then the Internet happened, and writers had to do a tremendous amount of online promotion--blogs, social networking, chat rooms--to be competitive. Now, with digital books, once again there’s no more profitable use of an author’s time than writing. Not to say that authors don’t need to have a strong online presence; of course they do. But anytime you’re thinking about some other promotional activity--a blog post, a trip to a convention, an hour on Facebook--you have to measure the value of that time against the value of writing and publishing a new story. The new story earns money, both for itself and your other works. The social networking stuff doesn’t.

* * * *

Barry: To turn a manuscript into an actual book and get it into the hands of a reader, we still need an editor, line editor, copyeditor, proofreader, jacket copy writer, bio writer, cover art designer, and digital formatter. Plus there are various marketing and sales elements, too. You manage all these functions yourself, and this is one way in which I’d argue that you really are, if not exceptional, then at least unusual.

Joe: I wouldn’t disagree with that.

Barry: So as legacy publishing dies out, where will other writers turn to for assistance with the critical functions I mention above?

Joe: We’ve talked about this before.

Barry: I know. I was trying to prompt you in an unobtrusive way.

Joe: Right. Okay, unobtrusively, I think agencies will morph into what I call E-stributors.

Barry: I agree with the concept, even if I don’t like the nomenclature.

Joe: You don’t like “print,” either.

Barry: Not when you’re talking about paper. There’s paper print and digital print. I think the better distinction is between paper and digital.

Joe: I know, I know. Anyway, E-stributors will be a combination of publisher and manager, handling all the elements you mention above for authors who don’t want to manage those elements themselves. The ones that do it well will probably be able to make a good case for keeping their 15% cut.

Barry: As opposed to legacy publishers, which are keeping 52.5%.

Joe: Yes. Hard to see how legacy publishers will be able to compete with the digital model being adopted by agencies. They’d have to morph into E-stributors themselves, which would be a huge challenge given their attachment to a paper infrastructure. More likely, you’ll see the most entrepreneurial editors jumping ship and joining agencies.

Barry: Sorry for the digression. I guess I was just wondering aloud whether the term “self-published” will be widely applicable after all. For some, no doubt. But maybe “indie-published” will be more appropriate across the board.

Joe: Could be. Regardless, the one trump card legacy publishers always had -- the lock on distribution -- is now gone. Writers can reach readers on our own through Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, Createspace, and Overdrive (a company that distributes ebooks to libraries.)

Even with all that, however, it still takes a lot of guts to walk away from a half-million dollars.

But it's the right thing to do. And you're correct that you won't be the last to do so.

Allow me to congratulate you on being the first one to do so, my friend.

If I'm right, you may have just fired a shot heard 'round the world...

Barry: Thanks for the kind words, amigo. But you saw the way and blazed the trail. I might be doing something to make the way more apparent myself, but in the end I’m still just following in your footsteps.

Joe Konrath is the author of more than 20 novels and hundreds of short stories, written under the names J.A. Konrath (the Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels series), Jack Kilborn (Afraid, Trapped, Endurance, Draculas), and Joe Kimball (Timecaster.) He began self-publishing on Kindle in April 2009. As of March 2011, he's sold more than 200,000 ebooks. On his blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, he has chronicled his writing journey. His website is

Barry Eisler spent three years in a covert position with the CIA's Directorate of Operations, then worked as a technology lawyer and startup executive in Silicon Valley and Japan, earning his black belt at the Kodokan International Judo Center along the way. Eisler's bestselling thrillers have won the Barry Award and the Gumshoe Award for Best Thriller of the Year, have been included in numerous "Best Of" lists, and have been translated into nearly 20 languages. When not writing novels, Eisler blogs about torture, civil liberties, and the rule of law. You can find out more at

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bouchercon: The Crime Fiction Family Reunion

By Jon Jordan

The world is an ever changing place and, as we’ve seen in the last few years, so is the world of publishing. The rise of e-books, the failure of Borders -- and any number of other changes -- have people speculating on the future and how it will impact us, both as fans and contributors to the genre of mystery that we love.

Well, change is constant. Without change we whither and stagnate. Change is good, it gets people thinking in new ways and opens up new doors.

Is print dead? Of course not. Will there be fewer books published each year? If publishers are smart, yes.

In truth, the high that publishing experienced and, by default, chain bookstores and even Amazon enjoyed was a false high. It wasn’t an indication that sales would keep going up, up, up. It was an anomaly.

In reality, maybe there were just too many books being published. The volume of bookstores in this country was staggering. And while as a book lover I enjoyed the options, maybe losing a retail chain like Borders will benefit us in the long run. Independent stores who know their customers should benefit in the end, if my high school economics class taught me anything.

Amid all the changes there remain constants. People love stories -- in books, on TV and on the big screen. Stories in all forms remain popular. There are still huge numbers of readers out there picking up books, regardless of the format, and enjoying great storytelling.

If you are the type of fan I am, you also love talking about the books you read. You like to hear authors talk about their books and the writing process. You enjoy being able to look an author in the eye and say “I loved the book” or “Thanks for writing these great stories.”

And this is the heart of Bouchercon. We celebrate mystery and crime fiction. We gather together for four days and attend panels about mystery. We eat with people and talk books. We have drinks together and compare recent reads. This common thing binds us together. Whether you are reading legal thrillers, private eyes, amateur sleuths who garden or supernatural detectives, we all love to read parts of this genre.

Good characters and good stories transcend the labels the sub-genres are given. Thrillers are really just the adventurous older sibling to mysteries. The similarities are far greater than the differences in all aspects of the genre. Because of this, when we gather together at Bouchercon, and other conventions, we are all united by the love of the tales we read. We share a frustration when an ending cheats, or the sadness when a character we love gets killed off. We share the excitement when our favorite authors have new books out. We share the thrill of sitting down and reading the first page of a new discovery.

In life you are born into a family. As you grow and develop, you start to form a second family, one of like-minded people who understand you and accept you. In this sense, Bouchercon is really more of an annual family reunion. Yeah, we have some weird cousins and a couple of uncles who get a little loud. But we also have older sisters who always make us feel better just by talking to them and brothers who will stand up for us.

At my first Bouchercon, a lot of magic happened for me -- not the least of which was meeting my wonderful wife, Ruth. There was also the magic of meeting people who share my passion for something, who understand staying up all night to finish a book and forgetting to eat because you are so engrossed in a story.

Every year I go back to Bouchercon, and the magic is still there, year after year. Every year, my extended family grows. With all the change that surrounds me, the community of mystery fans is a constant in my life.

If you are coming to St. Louis and it’s your first Bouchercon, welcome to the family. If you have been before, well, we can’t wait to see you again.

Previously, at Bouchercon:
Top photo: Family gathering -- Jon, Charles and Ruth.
Middle photo: Band of brothers -- Ali, George, Jon and Simon.
Bottom photo: The big smooch -- Jon and Ruth.

Jon Jordan is the publisher of Crimespree Magazine and the host of Bouchercon 2011. In the coming months, he will be "Blogging Bouchercon" on the SinC blog. For more information on Bouchercon, see Jon can be reached at

Monday, March 21, 2011

SinC Launches Updated Website

Sisters in Crime continues the celebration of its 25th year anniversary with an update to its website,

The site features a Home page redesign that offers a more welcoming landing page with a number of new additions.

If the page seems a bit wider, you're not seeing things. We've expanded to the right and the left, in the areas formerly used as wide side margins.

We've moved the World Cat search engine for author, title or subject searches to the top of the SinC home page.

And we've added a new marketing "banner" -- or box -- focusing on the latest SinC programs of emphasis, such as:

  • The American Library Association’s Library Champions program in support of America’s libraries.
  • The Sisters in Crime We Love Libraries! book-fund give-away.
  • The latest SinC professional development tools including Shameless Promotion for Brazen Hussies, an updated edition of the 154-page book currently available to members only.
  • Member announcements, such as meeting notices and dues reminders.
Currently, the marketing banner focuses only on the We Love Libraries! lottery. You’ll see the box's revolving dissolves in action as we load more content to the site this week.

In addition, the SinC site now features a streamlined and upgraded Recent News section. You’ll also find easier-to-access links to SinC on Facebook, Twitter and the Sisters in Crime blog. In addition, a “Latest from the Blog” box provides links to the four most recent blog entries for a quick click-through.

And, finally, the Home page offers a Quick Links box for easy access to:

  • Our Mission
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  • Media Contact

    You can help our efforts to update the Sisters in Crime website by forwarding your best photos of your chapter in action for inclusion on In addition, some of your shots may be used for the inSinC quarterly bulletin and the Sisters in Crime blog. If you’ve got a photo you’d like to share, please send it to KathieFelix[at] Include a brief caption and the name of the photographer for a photo credit.

    SinC into a great mystery!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Useful Tool for the Writer

By Dana Stabenow

[Originally posted at:]

One of the most useful online tools for the writer is Google Alerts.

With Google Alerts, Google monitors the Internet for mention of your name. (Or any topic you choose, but for the purposes of this post, you the writer are looking for mentions of your name on line). They send the results either to your email address or to your reader, your choice.

There are three drop-down menus which help narrow search parameters and frequency of delivery, Type (Everything, News, Blogs, Videos, Realtime, Discussions), How Often (as-it-happens, once a day, once a week), and Volume (Only the best results, All results).

My name is my search term, set at Everything, once a week, Only the best results. I could do Alerts for each title of my book, too, but the idea is to have Google Alerts help me manage my time, not chew up more of it. Besides, I don’t think it’s necessary. Read on.

My Google Alert lands in my inbox every Thursday morning. Last Thursday, it looked like this.

In the past, my Google Alert has, ah, alerted me to, among other things, illegal electronic downloads of my books, blog mentions, sales of my books on eBay, tweets about me, a blog post excoriating bad formatting of one of my e-books on Amazon, and reviews.

See that item down at the bottom? Here, let me single it out for you.

Before last Thursday morning, I’d never heard of the Washington Independent Review of Books, or that they had reviewed Though Not Dead.

Alerted, I contacted them to ask permission to reblog it. They said yes, and I did so, right here.

Best of all?

Google Alerts is free.

Dana Stabenow is the award-winning author of the 18-book Kate Shugak mystery series, the four-book Liam Campbell mystery series and the three-book Star Svensdotter science fiction series. The most recent title in the Kate Shugak series is Though Not Dead, a mystery set in contemporary Alaska that includes more than a passing mention of Dashiell Hammett's Army days in the Aleutian Islands during World War II.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

And the Beat Goes On: Creating Characters with Legs, Part 2 of 2

By Mary Kennedy

[Originally published in the February issue of The Heartline Herald, the newsletter of the New Jersey chapter of the Romance Writers of America.]

Recently, I sat down with four best-selling authors and asked for advice on creating characters that will go on forever. My own character, Dr. Maggie Walsh, has starred in three Talk Radio Mysteries, but naturally I want her to have a very long life! Carolyn Hart (Death on Demand series), Denise Swanson (the Scumble River series), Avery Aames (the Cheese Shop Mysteries) and Krista Davis (the Domestic Diva Mysteries) shared their secrets and gave me some intriguing answers.

Q: Do you ever get any feedback from readers about the main character's personality – do they want him to stay the same, do they suspect that he's changed? Do readers object if they feel that the character is somehow shifting gears on them?

Avery: I have received a number of emails from readers telling me how much they adore Charlotte¹s commitment to family. Though she’s plucky, she’s not particularly snarky. She rarely says anything bad about someone, though she might think a slightly snarky thought every once in a while.

Denise: The vast majority of readers that I've heard from love that Skye remains the person they like, but changes enough not to become stale or predictable. One of the very few negative emails from a reader was for book #5, Murder of a Barbie and Ken, when Skye finally has sex with her boyfriend. The reader called me the Spawn of Satan because my character had had sex without being married. On the other hand, the mystery must have been a compelling one because, although her minister made her stop reading and throw the book away, she wanted me to tell her who the murderer was. Being the Spawn of Satan, I told her that Dad had said not to tell her (you know he likes to torment people).

Krista: Being a domestic diva is all about home and family and friends. One reader posted a couple of negative reviews about Sophie's willingness to be helpful. Ironically, I think that's the thing to which many of us relate, since most women have people who depend on them. Otherwise, I have only received positive feedback about Sophie. Her character hasn't really changed, but she has grown from her experiences.

Q: What are the advantages of writing a series with recurring characters?

Carolyn: Recurring characters mean the author knows the terrain and understands the characters' mores. It can be great fun to chop through the forest and blaze a new path, but there is charm and comfort in following a familiar path.

Denise: The biggest hurdle is that Skye always has to be front and center, and in my case can't do anything that would make the reader dislike her. The advantages are numerous in that I don't have to create a whole new world and population every time I write a new book.

Avery: Populating a town with not only the lead character but with all her family and friends is extremely difficult. She needs a real world, not just those people at work, but also those people who live in the town, who run the shops, the diners, and the police precinct. Another challenge is to make sure that the protagonist remembers past incidents in the same way in each book. As the author, I must keep the protagonist’s thoughts at the forefront, so the reader feels each action is justified.

Thank you, ladies, I look forward to your new releases.

Mary Kennedy is a psychologist in private practice and the award-winning author of The Talk Radio Mysteries. Her latest release is Stay Tuned for Murder.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

And the Beat Goes On: Creating Characters with Legs, Part 1 of 2 Parts

by Mary Kennedy

[Originally published in the February issue of The Heartline Herald, the newsletter of the New Jersey chapter of the Romance Writers of America.]

Recently, I sat down with four best-selling authors and asked for advice on creating characters that will go on forever. My own character, Dr. Maggie Walsh, has starred in three Talk Radio Mysteries, but naturally I want her to have a very long life! Denise Swanson (the Scumble River series), Carolyn Hart (Death on Demand series), Avery Aames (the Cheese Shop Mysteries) and Krista Davis (the Domestic Diva Mysteries) shared their secrets and gave me some intriguing answers.

Q: How do you keep your characters fresh and interesting?

Carolyn: Dead by Midnight, the 21st in my Death on Demand series, will be published in April. Are Annie and Max Darling still fresh? I hope so. If readers find them lively, the answer may lie in my relationship with Annie and Max. Some years ago my daughter drew my husband aside and said quietly, "Daddy, I'm worried about Mother. I'm afraid she thinks those people are real." He looked at her in surprise and said, "But they are."

Krista: The motivations of the murderers and the other characters drive the books. Sophie usually gets involved to help someone, which isn't a driving force, it's more of a reaction. The other characters are the catalysts for the plots! It's interesting to come up with new characters whose lives drive them to murder.

Q: Does your main character change and evolve over the course of the series?

Denise: Definitely! It's extremely important for the protagonist to grow and learn from his or her experiences. In the first book of my Scumble River series, my sleuth, Skye, is forced to move home after losing her job, maxing out her credit cards, and being jilted. Her original plan is to slip into town, save some money, get a decent job reference and leave Scumble River as soon as possible. I'm now on book #13, Murder of a Bookstore Babe, and she's learned to appreciate the town and her family, while still not always being happy with them.

Krista: Yes. Sophie doesn't have a major breakthrough or a great epiphany, but she does evolve, particularly in her relationships with other people.

Q: Do her core values remain the same?

Krista: Absolutely! Sophie is a very well-grounded person. She has her insecurities, like we all do, but her core values are quite strong and don't shift.

Avery: Absolutely. First and foremost, Charlotte is about family and friends. When her cousin and his twin girls need a roof over their heads, she takes them in. When her grandmother is accused of murder, she comes to her defense. When others think her friend is involved in a murder plot, she surges forward to get to the truth. When another friend writes a play that many think is offbeat, she stands by her side.

Denise: It is essential that the character's core values remain the same so that, although that character has grown and evolved, he or she is still the same person the reader originally met and liked.

Carolyn: That is at the crux of the mystery novel. The protagonists want to live in a good and decent world and always strive to do the right thing.

To be continued...

Mary Kennedy is a psychologist in private practice and the award-winning author of The Talk Radio Mysteries. Her latest release is Stay Tuned for Murder.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dorothy B. Hughes: Ghost of Honor

By Jeffrey Marks

This year, one of Left Coast Crime's Ghosts of Honor is Dorothy B. Hughes, one of my favorite authors. The conference is being held March 24 - 27 in Santa Fe. I’d love to be leaving the cold behind to head for New Mexico but, alas, I’m going to be admiring from afar. I sent off a basket of books to the conference, mainly novels by Hughes.

Hughes and I share bonds in the mystery world. First, she so very kindly offered her assistance to me when I was writing my biography of Craig Rice. I corresponded with her about Craig and their common bond of being women authors in the 1940s. Hughes shared stories of sitting on the front porch with Craig and Anthony Boucher, drinking lemonade and talking about books and reviews. She was generous with information that helped to round out Craig’s character.

After her death, I wrote about Hughes in Atomic Renaissance, devoting a chapter to her works, her Hollywood career, and her decision to give up writing to care for her family. Her last novel, The Expendable Man, is a work of art. For 50 pages, we see the nervous energy of the protagonist as he picks up a blonde who is later murdered. His anxiety is so palpable that you wonder as a reader why he’s so paranoid, until Hughes lets you in on his secret. I can’t tell you the secret, because it would spoil the novel, but it’s definitely worth reading for yourself. For a last novel, it was a wonderful way to go.

I was amazed at some of the fantastic works (Dread Journey, The Blackbirder and others) by Hughes that hold up 50 years after their publication. Of course, she is best known for In A Lonely Place, a masterpiece that is overlooked too often. It covers the anxiety and darkness of the men who have been taught to kill in World War II and who must return home to fit into a society that no longer appreciates that skill. If it wasn’t for the Bogart film, the book would likely not be remembered at all.

Finally, Hughes and I have one more bond in common. We’ve both written a biography of Erle Stanley Gardner. Her book in 1978 used significant parts of Gardner’s own memoirs, while mine is hoping to cement Gardner’s place in the genre with more analysis of his work in the field. Hers is done — and I am immensely jealous of that! I’m still writing the 1950s, but working to finish that decade in the next few weeks. And off to Mississippi in a few weeks for more research!

Jeffrey Marks is the award-winning author of Who Was That Lady? Craig Rice: Queen of the Screwball Mystery, Atomic Renaissance: Women Mystery Writers of the 1940s and 1950s, and the Anthony Award-winning Anthony Boucher: A Biobibliography. He is also the author of the U.S. Grant mystery series that includes The Ambush of My Name and A Good Soldier. Marks lives in Cincinnati.