Monday, January 31, 2011

Finding a Good Story Everywhere


By Jackie Houchin

Originally posted published at www.writersinresidence.blogspot.com


[Editor's note: Jackie's blog entry today provides insight into the world of a working journalist. It can also as serve as a mini-handbook in character creation for the working novelist.]



I'm not a fiction writer, but I still get asked the question, "Where do you get your ideas?" What they mean is, where do I find interesting people and events to write about. My answer, like yours, is "everywhere."

Editor Assignments

When I first started writing for a local newspaper, the editor sent me out on specific story assignments: a quadriplegic who'd lived 20 years on life support (that actually turned out to be his mom's story), a man who built model airplanes, a sculptress who made marble look sensual, a window muralist, an orchestra conductor, a trailer park scandal, a middle school with security issues, burglaries at a church and a neighborhood market and my recent 3-part story on women in the LAPD.

He also assigned profiles on local businesses (including a medical "pot" dispensary) and a variety of ethnic restaurants. Easy, right? Just go where I'm told. Yes, that's true, and I did get some "spin-off" stories from those assignments.

Observation

But what is interesting is that I began to "see" my own stories everywhere. A man in front of me at Starbucks had a crossword puzzle on his T-shirt. I remarked on it and we started talking. I learned he created personalized puzzles for businesses, individuals and magazines. He and his business made a great story!

Driving from Costco one day, I saw a man walking a giant tortoise along the sidewalk. I slammed on the brakes and pulled to the curb, utterly fascinated. He agreed to an interview and photo shoot, and after spending a delightful morning with the two friends, I wrote "Walking Newman." It was featured in the Daily News newspaper – front page, "above the fold!"

Browsing in the Flintridge Bookstore one morning, I watched the barista make a latte for a customer. He showed an unusual amount of pride as he handed over the cup. Turns out, he was a "latte artist." He agreed to show me how he did it. I took notes (and photos) on each step of his creative process, including the foam artwork atop the brew. They still have a faded copy of the newspaper story in a frame on their counter.

While pumping gas one afternoon, I noticed a small faded sign across the boulevard that read "Adventure in Postcards." I investigated, and found a little shop crammed with antique and collectible postcards, thousands of them all categorized and labeled in shoeboxes on shelves. The reclusive woman gave me a fascinating interview and photo for my story.

Friends & Family Referrals


Friends are also great resources for story ideas. From their suggestions, I wrote a series on a local Toastmasters chapter, two stories on a pet detective who uses her bloodhounds to find lost pets, an exciting account of a young swimmer's experience in the "Escape from Alcatraz" competition and the story of an elderly couple's 75 years together (with several pithy observations on marriage).

Collectors & Hobbyists

"Crafty" people always make good subjects. I discovered a woman who made sweater-coats for dogs and vintage (1920's) dresses for women. Another had collected almost 2,500 Santa Claus ornaments.

My hubby is a hot-rod enthusiast. His contacts netted me stories about car clubs (one donates generously to the City of Hope, another collects toys for kids at Christmas). A man stopped by to admire our flashy red roadster and began talking about the vintage airplanes he restores. I got some terrific photos and a story about his current plane (and the ones he's crashed).

Unusual Occupations

A local alpaca rancher, a magician who encourages kids to read books, a man who drives a cesspool pumper truck (Oh the things they find in those portable potties!) and a team of hunky lifeguards with life/death rescue stories were all great subjects.

A family-owned art glass company promised to be an interesting profile, but the grandfather's tale of how he'd earned his apprenticeship restoring the ancient glass in England’s Canterbury Cathedral after WW II made a better story.

My horseshoer and veterinarian were fodder for interesting equine stories. The artsy photo I took of the shoer ended up in Country Magazine; the equine dentistry shots on the good doctor's website. (Note: it helps to be able to "shoot" your subjects.)

Event Notices

Pay attention to the signs and banners announcing upcoming events. An official "flag-burning" ceremony hosted by the American Legion, a holiday musical at an elementary school and a horse trail dedication (with local politicians present) got ink, too.

I also scope local newspapers and newsletters for upcoming events that sound interesting. An announcement about an FBI agent speaking on identity theft resulted in one story, a local newsletter on pets (and two brief interviews) resulted in "Pet Scanners" and "Protecting Pets in Hot Weather."

These are only some of the places you can find story ideas. Use your natural curiosity, your observation skills, your contacts and various announcements/notices. Soon you will have more articles than you have time to write, and a whole slew of happy editors.


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

Friday, January 28, 2011

Time Flies -- or Crawls -- In a Series

By Sandra Parshall


[Originally published at poesdeadlydaughters.blogspot.com]



How old is your favorite series character? What year does she/he live in?

I won’t be surprised if those questions have you stumped.

Sometimes I think even the authors are a little vague about these details. The question of how to – or whether to – age a protagonist over the course of a series is one that a lot of writers wrestle with. That problem goes hand-in-hand with the dilemma of passing time.

A year or more usually goes by between publication of books in a series. A year has passed in the lives of writer and readers. But has a year passed in the characters’ lives? Or have they cruised out of one dangerous mess and right into the next? Sue Grafton took the latter route, with the result that her Kinsey Milhone is still living in the 1980s, when the first books in the series were published.

If we want our characters to move ahead in real time, that means we have to address their ages. Or do we? Janet Evanovich thinks not. She has declared that Stephanie Plum will be 31 forever. Ed McBain published his first 87th Precinct novel in 1956 and the last one in 2005, but although the times changed in the stories, Carella, Hawes, Meyer, Kling and the rest of the gang stayed on the job at pretty much the same ages. If sales are the best indication, I’d say readers didn’t mind at all.

It’s easy enough to pin down the year if the books are historical and make use of actual events, but those of us who set our stories in “the present” often avoid naming a specific year because we’re afraid future readers will feel they’re reading old news. So the actual year may be kept vague, and we walk a fine line between sounding current and sounding dated. Slang and technology are our banes. In this fickle society, what’s in today may be out and forgotten by the time the book is published.

We also have to be careful about dropping real national and international events into our stories. Many series characters live in a little bubble, as if the outside world doesn’t exist. Sometimes, though, an event changes the world so profoundly that we can’t entirely ignore it in fiction. The multiple-front terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, doesn’t have to be mentioned by name, but we must acknowledge the hassle our characters now face when they travel – no last-minute dashes to airline counters for tickets, followed by quick boardings – and the security cameras and metal detectors in many public buildings.

If the development of a romantic relationship is a major part of a series, the writer has no choice but to slow things down. Readers want the details, they want to share the experience. They don’t want to suddenly jump ahead a year and discover the hero and heroine are now an old married couple with a baby. Deborah Crombie has handled her characters especially well, letting Duncan and Gemma fall in love and create a life together in more or less real time. Their constant involvement in crime is believable because they're police detectives. With amateur detectives, slowing down the personal life leads to a variation of Cabot Cove Syndrome on the crime front: why is this woman falling over a dead body every three weeks?

I’ve faced all these problems (except the marriage and baby) in my Rachel Goddard books.

I didn’t write The Heat of the Moon with the thought that it would be first in a series. The story took possession of my heart and imagination, and all I thought about was following Rachel through her journey of discovery. Selling it took several years. Then I discovered that, whether I had intended to or not, I was writing a series. The Heat of the Moon has one reference in it that firmly sets the story in a particular year, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I’d killed that darling. I’ve had to be vague about years and ages in the subsequent books, although when people ask how much fictional time passed between the first and second, I always say about three years. Then they ask why I didn’t write a book (or two) about those years in Rachel’s life. You can see the kind of trouble writers create for themselves when they’re too specific.

Do you think about the passage of time when you read a series? Does it bother you if you don’t know a character’s exact age? Which writers do you think have handled these issues especially well?

And all of you writers out there: How are you handling your characters' ages and the passage of time in your books? Why did you decide to do it that way?



Sandra Parshall, the author of the award-winning Rachel Goddard mysteries, serves on the SinC/national board as Chapter Liaison. The most recent title in the series is Broken Places.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Random Acts of Book-Giving

By Kathie Felix


I had the best surprise the other day when I opened my mailbox. The first thing I saw was a brown cardboard box that seemed close in size and shape to a hard cover book. I immediately assumed that it contained a book – and then remembered I hadn’t ordered anything lately.

As I walked to my front door, I began to wonder about the package. This turned out to be great fun; the cascade of possibilities – in terms of the contents and the sender – genuinely appealed to the mystery lover in me.

Once indoors, I thought about spending more time in speculation. I took a few steps toward the living room, enjoying the anticipation – and then decided it might be even more fun to know what was inside the box.

It was a treat to open the package and find a copy of Chicago Blues, edited by Libby Fischer Hellmann.

If you haven’t encountered the book yet, it’s an anthology of crime stories about “the real windy city,” with selections written by Chicago authors including SinC founding mother and 2011 MWA Grand Master Sara Paretsky.

It turned out that a longtime friend, Keith Fort, a Chicago resident for most of his adult life, was reading the book and thought that it was something that I would enjoy. He was absolutely correct.

My good fortune at the mailbox reminded me that a few months earlier I had received another unexpected package. That mailing, from my sister, contained a copy of The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo, a look into the secret investigations of the crime-fighting Vidocq Society. She had been inspired to send the book to me after hearing about it on National Public Radio.

The two surprise packages led me to develop a plan to send another book out into the world to an unsuspecting recipient. I won’t reveal the title or the recipient, but I will offer some questions:

Have you ever received an unexpected gift of a book? Who sent it – and what book did they send?

Would you send a book that’s a perfect fit to an unsuspecting recipient this week? Would you ask an independent bookseller to handle the transaction for you? (And, if you like the idea, would you pass it on?)


Kathie Felix is the managing editor of the SinC blog. She also writes a weekly column for the Loudoun Times-Mirror, a newspaper based in Leesburg, Virginia.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why I Love SinC

By Marcia Talley

Where does a mystery author begin?

Was it the Agatha Christie novels my mother read while pregnant with me? The Nancy Drew books I devoured as a young girl? The fact that Mom was a charter subscriber to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and kept stacks of them around the house?

Or maybe it was the night Daddy made an inspired exception: Even though I had school the next day, I could stay up to watch "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" on Sundays at 9:30 p.m., provided my homework was done.

The seed had been planted.

I wrote my first “novel” in eighth grade, a shameless Hardy Boy ripoff set in a ghost town out west. At the top of my “manuscript” Mr. Ramerez wrote, “Write what you know, Marcia. Have you ever been to a ghost town?”

If I was discouraged by his negative review, I don’t remember it. I continued to write stories with twisty Hitchcockian endings all the way through high school, until the rigors of college and the realities of being the full-time working mother of two young daughters gave me new priorities.

A dozen or so years ago, I had never heard of Sisters in Crime. Slogging away at my job in a windowless office in Washington, D.C. – where I had begun to fantasize about writing a novel in which I bumped off the woman who married my father after my mother died – I often lunched with colleagues who, I soon learned, were also mystery fans.

In the early 1990s, Steve the Techie introduced me to the DorothyL listserv, which I promptly joined. Another colleague, Salle, told me about the Malice Domestic conference in Bethesda, Maryland, which I first attended the year Nevada Barr won the Agatha for Track of the Cat.

At Malice I met Deborah Crombie, Kate Charles, Donna Andrews, Margaret Maron, and dozens of authors who are still my friends. It was one of these new friends, in fact, who made a suggestion over dinner that changed my life – “Why don’t you join Sisters in Crime?”

I walked into my first Chesapeake Chapter meeting at Bish Thompson’s Seafood House one Saturday knowing no one. I selected a table pretty much at random, and found myself chatting about mystery novels in progress with two other aspiring authors – Laura Lippman and Sujata Massey.

Sisters in Crime brought Sujata and me together in a writers critique group (10 years later, still offering tough love) where we browbeat one another into finishing a novel. After Sujata won the Malice Domestic grant that would launch her career, she encouraged me to enter my novel in progress and, amazingly, Sing It To Her Bones won the Malice grant, too, which led to an agent and a three-book deal with Bantam/Dell.

Sujata, Laura, and Margaret Maron graciously provided me with my first blurbs, and Sisters in Crime members have fed me, housed me, and driven me to book signings from Maine to California, with stops in Ohio and Kansas along the way.

But support from SinC didn’t stop there. Publishers merge, editors get fired, imprints are dropped, proposals get rejected, contracts aren’t renewed, agents retire prematurely – and through it all, SinC has been there offering resources, advice, ideas, support, and even shoulders to cry on.

In the volatile and increasingly perplexing world of publishing, SinC is more than a network, it’s a safety net. With help from my Sisters (and Brothers) in Crime, I have a new agent, a new two-book deal, and life is good.

Back in the 50s, sitting cross-legged in front of a flickering black and white tube on which a familiar profile took shape while Gunod’s "Funeral March of a Marionette" played in the background, I confided to my father that I wanted to write mysteries when I grew up. He simply smiled.

The seed might have been planted that day, but it lay dormant for many years until my Sisters in Crime helped the dream grow, blossom, and flower.

And I couldn’t be more grateful.


Marcia Talley is the Agatha and Anthony award-winning author of nine Hannah Ives mysteries including All Things Undying. Hannah’s 10th adventure, A Quiet Death, will be published in 2011. Marcia is the immediate past president of Sisters in Crime.

Monday, January 24, 2011

I Left My Publisher, Gave Up on Bookstores, and Started Making Money

By L.J. Sellers, author of the Detective Jackson mysteries

[Originally published at jakonrath.blogspot.com]

In January of 2010, I had one book on Kindle and sold 31 copies. I had two print books on the market with a small publisher and they weren’t selling much better. In December, I had six books on Kindle and sold over 10,000 copies. To get from point A to point B, I had to make some radical decisions.

Several circumstances came together this year that forced me to rethink everything about my career as a novelist. First, I have to thank Joe Konrath for inspiring me to believe that I too could become a successful e-book author. The other incentive came from a round of layoffs in March for both my husband and myself.

I decided I had to stop wasting time and money on things that weren’t working and focus on things that were. What wasn’t working for me was my small publisher, which couldn’t get my books into bookstores. What was working for a lot of people was the growth of e-book sales.

I set aside the novel I was writing and got busy saving my career. The first step was to rewrite and self-publish on Kindle a standalone thriller I had completed but never sold. I’d once had a big-name agent for it, so I knew it was solid. I also had a second standalone thriller that my publisher had offered a contract for, but I hadn’t signed it yet — because the book wasn’t scheduled to be released until late 2012.

That seemed like an eternal and foolish wait. I had a mortgage to pay immediately. What made sense was to get the two thrillers into the digital world where readers were buying. I took the second major step and let my publisher know I was withdrawing my standalone.

I spent a couple months rewriting and updating the stories, then I paid for editing and cover design. I withdrew the money from my miniscule retirement account and considered it an investment in my future. In August, I published the two thrillers (The Baby Thief and The Suicide Effect) on Amazon’s DTP. At that point, I had one foot in each world. I was self-published, but I still had a traditional press for my series.

Next, I rerouted my promotional efforts toward e-book readers. I quit sending marketing material to bookstores and instead joined several Kindle forums, where I participated in discussions. I got more active on Goodreads and did five back-to-back book giveaways just for the exposure. I wrote a dozen guest blogs and sent them all over the Internet.

My sales jumped significantly. By then, my publisher had uploaded the second Detective Jackson story (Secrets to Die For) to Kindle, and I started thinking about how much money I could make if my publisher wasn’t keeping most of my digital profits.

After the third Jackson book (Thrilled to Death) faced the same difficulty getting into bookstores, I decided to withdraw from my press. It took a few weeks to finally make the call. Who willingly gives up a second publishing contract? Taking back my series meant foregoing the industry’s stamp of approval. I hated to let it go, but I felt I had no choice if I wanted to make a living.

I called my publisher and asked for my Kindle rights back. I also asked to be released from the contract for the fourth Jackson story (Passions of the Dead). I knew the manuscript had not been edited, so no time or money had been invested. My publisher was not happy, but graciously granted my requests.

Letting go of that contract was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Not only did it mean taking on the “self-published” stigma, it also meant giving up book signings, which I love. But I had looked into the future and determined that bookstores were not where most people would buy their novels in 2012. For once, I wanted to be ahead of the curve.

I sent my Jackson files to be converted to e-books, then uploaded my versions to Amazon, as my publisher took hers down. At that point, I had five books selling on Kindle, and my numbers were getting better every month. While the last manuscript was out for editing and cover design, I bought an inexpensive ad on the Kindle Nation newsletter and increased my online promotional efforts. Sales took another huge leap.

When I released the fourth Jackson story on Kindle, I dropped the price of the first book in the series (The Sex Club), to $.99. Sales for the first book skyrocketed, and a week later, sales for the follow-up stories nearly doubled.

I’m fortunate that Mystery Scene magazine has been supportive, giving all my books great reviews and eventually featuring me as an author. I received another terrific review in its holiday issue and that pushed both e-book and print sales.

I also made all my books available in print through CreateSpace, and I’ve contracted with INgrooves to target all the non-Kindle devices and libraries too.

Interesting note: For the fourth Jackson book, I made more money from Kindle sales in the first two weeks than I had made from my publisher in two years. If I had stayed with the contract, that book would not have been released for another nine months. Life is too short to wait for someone else’s publishing schedule.

Now in December, I have six e-books on the market, with all the royalties coming to me. The Sex Club consistently ranks in one of the top three spots on Kindle’s police procedural list, and the three other Jackson books are almost always in the top 25 on the same list. I’m happily writing a fifth Jackson story and calling myself a full-time novelist.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Conversation with Val McDermid, Part 2 of 2

by Sandra Parshall

Val McDermid is the internationally-known author of the Tony Hill suspense novels and many others. She serves on the national board of Sisters in Crime as an at-large member. A native of Scotland, she now divides her time between Northumberland and South Manchester.

Visit her website at http://www.valmcdermid.com for more information -- and to see a 1974 photo of Val playing guitar on the lawn at Oxford and a 1977 picture of her with Prince Charles.

Recently, Val shared her thoughts about crime fiction and gave a glimpse into her own writing life.


SP: Your police detective, Carol Jordan, is refreshingly real and normal, unburdened by the quirks and disastrous personal problems that some fictional female cops have. She doesn’t drink on the job, she’s not snarky and defensive, she's a strong person but doesn’t act as if her main goal in life is proving she’s more of a man than the men around her. Where did Carol come from? Did you create her as a deliberate balance to Tony Hill’s tortured persona? Or did you base her on real women detectives you’ve known or observed?

VM: Thank you. When I first created Carol and Tony in The Mermaids Singing, I thought I was writing a standalone, not the start of a series, so I didn't do any long-term planning for either character, just gave them the personalities and histories that would work in terms of that novel. But, as soon as I'd finished, I realised how well they could carry other stories between them and so the series was born.

My first intention for Carol was that she should be a good cop, driven by a powerful sense of justice, but set apart from her colleagues because of her gender. She would be the bridge between Tony and the police. As the book progressed, she developed a more rounded personality.

She's not based on any one individual, but she's drawn on my observations of women operating in a predominantly male world, which in my case was the world of national newspapers in the 1980s. (I worked in the northern bureau of Mirror Group Newspapers. When I joined in 1979, there were three women journalists on a staff of 137. No, that's not a misprint. 3/137.) As the series has progressed, I've allowed her to assimilate the weight of what's happened to her and around her. She's probably my favourite of all my characters.


SP: You’re best known for your thrillers, but you’ve also written some lighter, traditional mysteries. Which is easier for you? Which comes most naturally to you?

VM: I've been lucky enough always to have written the stories I was passionate about. They often take a long time to travel from the initial seed of an idea to the finished book. 'A long time' can be as much as 20 years!

There's a different set of challenges between series and standalones. With a series, the central character nexus is always the starting point, with the abilities and the limitations of those characters steering how the story can develop. With a standalone, the plot is the primary driver, then I have to sit down and work out whose story it is and why these people would do the things I need them to do to make this damn book work.

But writing books with a different tone -- Fever of the Bone vs. A Darker Domain -- is as much a pleasure as it is a challenge. I can't write two similar books back to back -- I get too easily bored!


SP: How do you divide your time between travel/promotion and writing?

VM: Badly! I seem to spend the months between August and December traveling and promoting. I don't go anywhere the first three months of the year because I deliver at the end of March. I spend the rest of the time doing a bit of promotional stuff -- festivals and the like -- and thinking about the next book.


SP: Are you able to write while you’re traveling?

VM: I prefer not to work on novels while I'm traveling -- short stories and journalism work OK, though -- but I have learned the hard way that, when I have to, I can finish a novel on trains and planes and in hotel rooms. Yuck.


SP: I’ve heard that one of your favorite diversions is playing the guitar. What kind of guitar do you have? What kind of music do you play? Do you have one favorite piece you play over and over, perhaps when you’re trying to work out a plot problem in a book?

VM: I have two acoustic guitars because I divide my time between two houses. I have a Yamaha FG-160, which I've had for 37 years, and a Martin D-16-GT, which I've had for seven years. I play what I suppose one would call contemporary folk. I've not been playing enough lately. I need to get back into the habit of picking up the guitar daily. The last really challenging thing I taught myself was “Tonight” from West Side Story -- a bit off my usual beat but my son wanted to play it on violin and needed the accompaniment.


Sandra Parshall is the author of the Rachel Goddard mysteries. She serves on the national SinC board as Chapter Liaison.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Conversation with Val McDermid, Part 1 of 2 Parts

by Sandra Parshall


Val McDermid is the internationally-known author of the Tony Hill suspense novels and many others. She serves on the national board of Sisters in Crime as an at-large member. A native of Scotland, she now divides her time between Northumberland and South Manchester.

Visit her website at http://www.valmcdermid.com for more information -- and to see a 1974 photo of Val playing guitar on the lawn at Oxford and a 1977 picture of her with Prince Charles.

Recently, Val shared her thoughts about crime fiction and gave a glimpse into her own writing life.


SP: Your books are popular in many countries. What makes some books click with readers in different cultures, while others appeal only to the home audience? What’s the universally appealing ingredient?

VM: I've often wondered myself what readers in Tokyo or Buenos Aires make of life on the mean streets of the North of England! The only answer I can come up with is based on what I enjoy in novels set in other cultures -- the characters chime with my experience of the world. I recognise their attitudes and reactions and that's what anchors me in a story whose environment is unfamiliar. So when I read Andrea Camilleri or Karin Fossum, I find myself in the familiar world of human behaviour that makes sense to me. I hope that when readers pick up my books, they have that experience too.


SP: Do you see differences between U.S. and British attitudes toward violence in crime fiction, and violence toward women in particular? Do you have any thoughts on why so many women enjoy serial killer novels in which female victims are mutilated, tortured and murdered?

VM: I don't see much difference between U.S. and British crime fiction in terms of the way we write about violence. There's been an ongoing debate in British mystery circles about the issue of how violence is portrayed, particularly about women both as creators and consumers of books that explicitly deal with violence against women. As far as reading it is concerned, I think there is a complex set of motivations in play. Women are brought up believing they are potential victims of violence -- 'don't walk down that alley, don't go out alone after dark, don't talk to strange men...' These are the voices we all have in our heads and one way to confront those fears is to read about what can happen, but in an environment where we know we're safe and where we know there will be a protagonist who will wreak some sort of vengeance on the perpetrators. I think of it as a way of cauterising fear. And of course, it's fun to be scared in a safe way -- think of fairground rides, where we scream and scream and scream, then get off and stand in line to do it all over again!

The big plus of having been conditioned to look at the world as a potentially threatening place is that women get to understand the fear of violence and powerlessness from the beginning. Generally speaking, when women write scenes of violent attack, it's written from the inside, from the perspective of the victim. That's what makes it all the more scary when women write violence -- the reader's experiencing being on the receiving end. With a few notable exceptions, when men write similar scenes, they write as spectators. And that's just not so scary. Maybe that's why women who directly confront what violence is and what it does get so much more stick than men doing the same thing.


SP: Do you think crime fiction on the whole, in all countries, has become more graphic in recent years? Does this mean we’ve all gone a little crazy and possibly dangerous, or is it simply an effort by writers to match the real violence we see on TV every day -- to present crime as it really is, instead of cleaning it up?

VM: The crime novel has moved on a long way from the cosy drawing room of Agatha Christie or the stylised knight errant of Raymond Chandler. One of the challenges contemporary writers have taken on is to write much more honestly about the society we live in. So when a writer is dealing with crime, it's necessary to be direct and authentic. There's still a place for the mystery novel as pure entertainment, but I think the really interesting writing comes when we try to auta realistic picture of the world we inhabit. But that doesn't mean writing tacky gorefests. I've no interest in the kind of novel whose prime directive seems to be to shock and disgust and there are authors whose books I will not pick up for that reason.


Sandra Parshall is the author of the Rachel Goddard mysteries. She serves on the national SinC board as Chapter Liaison.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Scoop: The Listserv Q & A on the Mystery Buyer Study

Yesterday afternoon, the Sisters in Crime listserv hosted an “Ask the Experts” question-and-answer session on the SinC mystery buyer survey conducted by Bowker’s PubTrack division.

The featured guests for this online event were James Howitt, Director of Publisher Solutions at Bowker, Carl Kulo, Bowker’s head of research, and SinC member Triss Stein, the SinC coordinator for the study.

The far-ranging discussion touched on the two major mystery-reading audience segments (matures/Boomers and Gen X/Gen Y), whether it’s possible to predict the future of the mystery genre, the reading selections of varying age groups, the digital market and its effect on book purchases, and the possibility of drilling for information on subgenres. Also discussed were the makeup of the pool of survey respondents, the definition of the geographic regions identified in the study, and efforts to test book cover images.

The ebook debate continued with a consideration of the demographics of ebook readers, some preliminary statistics on holiday ebook reader sales and their corresponding effect on future ebook purchases, the book cover and the ebook, and the audience most likely to be comfortable with ebooks and ebook readers.

The Jan. 18 “Ask the Experts” session on “The Mystery Book Consumer in the Digital Age” can be found on the SinC listserv in messages #22152 through #22191. As with the Mentor Monday sessions, the event will be archived on the listserv for future access.

Sisters in Crime members not currently registered to participate in the members-only email listserv may sign up to do so by following the directions on the SinC website at this link.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ask the Experts About Mystery Book Buyers

Today, SinC members get a chance to get the story behind the numbers in the study on the mystery book consumer in the digital age.

Representatives of Bowker's Pubtrack book sales analysis division -- as well as SinC members involved in the creation of the study -- will be available on the SinC listserv to answer questions about the research. The give-and-take begins at 11 a.m. and continues until 5 p.m. eastern time.

Members who have their questions ready early may send them to the listserv in advance of the session.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Crime Fiction: The Odd Cousin?


by L.J. Sellers

[Ed. Note: This entry was originally published on the SinC blog on May 17, 2010. During the weekend, the piece was mentioned a few times on the DorothyL listserv -- which made it seem like a good time to publish the blog entry again. ]


Does the crime writer sit in the same chair at the table of literature as a transvestite cousin at a family gathering?”

Say what?

That question came to me, via Facebook, from a researcher working on a PhD dissertation about the mystery/crime genre. The analogy both amused and disheartened me. Over the years, I’ve tried to accept that genre fiction isn’t counted in the same category as literary fiction. I’ve tried to ignore the occasions where a reviewer declared that a particular mystery or thriller “transcends the genre,” as if crime fiction had built-in limitations and readers had to approach it with low expectations.

But now that I’ve been compared to an "odd" cousin, I have to respond. What a load of nonsense.

From my perspective, crime fiction offers the best reading on nearly every level. The genre confronts the realities of life across various cultures more often and more honestly than mainstream/literary fiction does.

Crime novels are suited to exploring provocative social issues and showing how those hot-button subjects affect various people’s lives, often from diverse perspectives. Crime fiction can be surprisingly poignant and analytical about problems such as illegal immigration, human trafficking, and drug use. These novels highlight deep-rooted cultural ills such as racism, sexism, bigotry, and the dangers of stereotypes. Sometimes a mystery will show a stereotype in all its glory, reminding us of why stereotypes exist and how we all fit into one … at least a little bit. The crime genre often forces us to see the world from perspectives that make us think outside our comfort zone.

As crime writers and readers, we get to make sense of things that would otherwise haunt us. We learn why the family next door disappeared one day or what’s really going on in the creepy warehouse across the street. Sometimes that knowledge helps us sleep better and sometimes it doesn’t, but at least we learn one version of the truth.

Police procedurals and thrillers give us a medium through which we can experience the triumph of good over evil. For short while with each story, we get to be the good guy, the hero who rescues the kidnapped child or saves the president’s life. We get to drag the bad guys off to jail or shoot them dead if “they need killing”— fantasies we can’t act out in our everyday lives. The real-world events around us can be unjust and inexplicable. It’s important to our collective mental health to experience justice, order, and revelation through fiction.

Novels with well-written protagonists and antagonists bring us to terms with the duality within ourselves. Humans are all deeply flawed, with the capacity for great goodness as well as for deceit, jealousy, schadenfreude, addiction, selfishness, and often worse. When crime fiction heroes—detectives, FBI agents, and prosecutors—possess such flaws, we not only relate to those characters, we forgive ourselves for the same shortcomings. When a killer calls his mother or pets a stray dog, we hate him a little less and remember to look for good qualities in everyone.

Crime novels explore relationships in a way that few other genres can. What better mechanism to test a bond between husband and wife, parent and child, or lifelong friends than to embroil the relationship in a crime, either as victims, suspects, or perpetrators. Similar to natural disasters, the aftermath of a crime can bring out the best—or worst—in humans.

The genre is rich with possibilities for exploring the complexity of the human condition. Victims become predators; predators become victims. A person is guilty, but not in the way we’ve been led to believe. Most of all, crime fiction is full of surprises, and we readers love the unexpected. When was the last time a reviewer used the word twist when discussing a literary novel?

If the detective writer is the odd cousin at the literary family gathering, then perhaps the family is a bit dysfunctional to begin with.


L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist, editor and the author of the Detective Jackson mystery/suspense series. Her most recently published novels are Passions of the Dead, the latest work featuring Detective Jackson, and The Baby Thief, a standalone thriller. When not plotting murders, L.J. enjoys performing stand-up comedy, cycling, social networking, attending mystery conferences, and editing fiction manuscripts.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Google Acquires eBook Technologies

By Kathie Felix

Speculation was rampant this week about the meaning of Google’s recent purchase of California-based eBook Technologies for an undisclosed sum.

Limited information on the acquisition was available on the eBook Technologies website:

“eBook Technologies, Inc. is excited to announce that we have been acquired by Google. Working together with Google will further our commitment to providing a first-class reading experience on emerging tablets, e-readers and other portable devices.”

The company’s online background information states that “eBook Technologies supplies a family of intelligent reading devices and licenses technologies that enable automated publishing and control over content distribution.”

Following last month’s launch of the Google eBookstore and its 3 million offerings, many are wondering if Google is preparing to offer an e-reader of its own.

Tell us: What do you think the info giant is up to?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Method Writing

by Jude McGee

We've all heard of the style of acting taught by the Russian director Konstantin Stanislavsky and the Actor’s Studio -- the kind that famously made monsters out of mild-mannered actors, who became demons and maniacs to play them on the stage.

Well, there is something to that for writers -- at least for this writer. I recently discovered Method Writing. I was stuck, couldn’t get to the next point, and wallowed in the attendant slump. For some reason, I got it into my head to slam around the house as if I were the soon-to-be murderer that I was writing about. I imagined myself in a frenzy of jealousy and betrayal because of a weasel-cheat who was doing me wrong.

I’m not saying this is good for the crockery -- and one lovely gravy boat may have taken one for the team -- but I managed to work up a head of steam in which I found words. Good words. Words that I immediately put into the story. They were fiery words that packed some wallop.

I don’t know if this happens to you, but sometimes I just fall out of my character. She stops whispering to me, or taking me over. That’s when I call upon Method Writing.

I get myself angry, crazy, to a pitch, thinking about revenge, or the horrific acts that would delight me -- and make me a murderer. I start to write all the mean and nasty thoughts that follow and voila! Soon, I have found my flow again.

But lord help my poor sweet husband who interrupts in the middle of the Method Rage!

If you try this to recapture the life of a character, you may find yourself way out there in a cathartic frenzy of emotions that were lying in wait for just such a moment of power. You’ll feel good, cleansed. You’ll probably have to edit it down. And take a shower. And apologize to innocent bystanders. But it’s all part of Method Writing.


Jude McGee's short story, "Death is Golden," can be found in the anthology Murder in LA-LA Land. Photo courtesy of Amanda Kennedy.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ask the Experts: Get More Info on the SinC Mystery Buyer Study

Sisters in Crime will hold a special “Ask the Experts” online question-and-answer session on the SinC mystery book buyer study on Tuesday, Jan. 18, from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. on the SinC members-only email listserv.

Among the participants in the q&a session will be the representatives from Bowker’s Pubtrack division who worked on the “The Mystery Book Consumer in the Digital Age” study and report, and members of SinC’s mystery buyer survey committee. Sandra Parshall, the Mentor Monday coordinator, will be the session moderator.

Sisters in Crime members not currently registered to participate in the members-only email listserv may sign up to do so by following the directions on the SinC website at this link.

To participate in the “Ask the Experts” online session, SinC members can post questions to the listserv on Tuesday, Jan. 18, beginning at 10 a.m.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The SinC Mystery Buyer Survey: A Reaction

When SinC Board Member Barbara Fister was asked for her reaction to the SinC Mystery Buyer survey, she offered the following in reply:

Some things that are interesting but not necessarily a surprise:

... That people still depend to a large extent on the physical -- rather than the virtual -- world when it comes to discovering and purchasing mysteries. It's no surprise that personal recommendations are the major driver of reading choices; what is interesting is how little online media seem to play into that decision-making.

... The importance of brick-and-mortar stores is also interesting and one wonders, with the decline of the massive chains, how that will play out. (More market share for indies? Or more migration elsewhere?)

... I'm also intrigued that covers still play a major role. I know they do for me, but in a world where ebooks get such a share of publishing buzz, I wonder how that physical and visual information provided by covers will develop.

... Finally, I am not surprised by -- but am interested in -- the fact that the under-30 group has the most experience with reading ebooks, and yet is nearly as resistant to them as the over-60 cohort. That's what I hear when working with traditional-age college students. They tend to prefer "real" books. But I suspect that is a finding that may surprise others.

The things that surprised me:

... Are that many books still sold through retail book clubs? Really? That seems such a relic of the past.

... That book reviews in traditional media remain so influential, given that review space has so severely contracted in the past five years. (As an aside, I never could understand why media that depend upon readers assume those readers are not interested in books.)

... I am not really that surprised that blogs and reviews on other social media are equally influential but, since on page 10 the report says only 34% of mystery buyers read blogs, I am wondering what social media they are paying attention to -- Facebook? GoodReads and LibraryThing? Or do people encounter blog-based reviews when searching online without identifying them as blogs?

... That people are more likely to take the recommendation of a bookseller than a librarian when choosing books; as a librarian that's fascinating. (I mean, it's not as if we're trying to sell them anything!) But then again, the report suggests that people in this survey are more likely to buy a book than borrow one from a library, so I suppose that lower profile then makes sense. (Given that I buy a lot of books but borrow far more from the library to feed my addiction, I can't imagine not depending on a library -- but each to their own. I can't resist pointing out that under-30s are among the heaviest users of libraries.)


Barbara Fister, the author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series, is an academic librarian at a liberal arts college in Minnesota. Her most recent mystery is titled Through the Cracks.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

SinC Releases Mystery Book Buyer Study

Sisters in Crime today released a 47-page report that it commissioned on the book selection habits of the mystery book buyer. The report can be found online at www.sistersincrime.org.

The study, titled "The Mystery Book Consumer in the Digital Age," is the first of its kind to provide an overview of the mystery/crime fiction book-buying landscape, with information on who buys mystery books, where they buy them, what they buy and why they make their mystery book purchases.

The research is based on publishing industry data gathered and interpreted by the PubTrack book sales analysis division of Bowker -- a unit that specializes in providing business intelligence to publishers, retailers and authors -- with input from a Sisters in Crime survey team.

Among the findings of the study:

The number one factor that determined how mystery readers became aware of books was found to be knowing/liking an author – making author “branding” even more important than conventional wisdom suggests.

The next four factors, in order of influence were: that the book was part of a series, an in-store display/on shelf/spinning rack, a book-buying club such as the Book of the Month Club or the Mystery Guild and the recommendation of a friend or relative.

Just as authors have always thought, a book’s cover was found to play a significant role in the decision to purchase a mystery.

In a list of 27 “media” categories influencing an individual to buy a book, the cover ranked number two in terms of having both a “high influence” and “some influence” on a purchase decision. A total of 57 percent of respondents said the cover had “some influence” on their decision, while 18 percent of respondents said the cover had a “high influence.”

Overall, 68 percent of mysteries are purchased by women; more than half of mystery buyers are more than 45 years of age. Buyers 18 to 44 years of age purchase 31 percent of the mysteries sold.

The majority of mysteries – 35 percent – are purchased by individuals who live in the South, 26 percent are purchased by people in the West, 20 percent by those in the Midwest and 19 percent by individuals in the Northeast.

Mysteries are obtained mostly through purchases from brick-and-mortar stores, followed by library borrowing and online purchasing. A total of 39 percent are obtained through in-store purchases, 19 percent are borrowed from libraries and 17 percent are purchased online. Online purchases in the mystery genre top those for other types of fiction.

The full survey provides a detailed look at these and other findings, including demographics, purchasing, factors that influence mystery buying, mystery reading behavior, ebooks and more.

Next week, Sisters in Crime will host an online question-and-answer session on the survey via the members-only SinC listserv. The discussion will feature representatives from the Bowker research team and the SinC survey team. Watch for an email invitation to participate in this interactive event.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Things You Don’t Know About Donna Andrews


SinC: What are your favorite shoes?
DA: Crocs and Reeboks.

SinC: Is there anything you'd never leave home without?
DA: Once I'd have said: a book. Now: my iPhone. (It's okay. There are books in my iPhone. Also games, and email, and a web browser, a GPS, and a flashlight app in case I forgot to turn the porch light on before leaving home.

SinC: What do you wish you had more time for?
DA: Reading. The writing really eats into my reading time.

SinC: Is there anyone from the past you would like to talk to for just 15
minutes?
DA: Richard III. As a long-time Ricardian--someone who thinks Richard III was framed for the murder of his nephews--I'd like to find out the truth.

SinC: What word do you absolutely hate?
DA: Utilize. Use is such a neat, strong simple word.

SinC: Do you dream in color or black and white?
DA: Color. I was about to say that I didn't know, but then I remembered a dream that featured azure blue tile on stucco walls. I don't usually remember the color, though.

SinC: If the F.B.I. had to give you a new identity, what name would you choose?
DA: I'm not telling. But I will tell you the name Lee Child suggested I use if I ever write a dark, gory serial killer book. Andrew Donner. Like the Party.

SinC: Favorite food?
DA: I have too many favorite foods. Steak and fries. Pepperoni sausage pizza. Green beans. A good juicy burger. Dill pickles. Utz potato chips. Watermelon. Tangerines, kumquats, and especially clementines. Cheese--all kinds of cheese, like cheddar and gruyere and brie and Huntsmans and feta and blue. Frozen juice cones, especially the orange ones. Limeade. Milk and chocolate chip cookies. THE pumpkin pie. Turkey with Mom's gravy, or in a pinch, my gravy. Cobb salad. Diet Coke. Are we running out of room?

SinC: Favorite drink?
DA: Diet Coke, Orangina, limeade, red wine, white wine, frozen daiquiris, margaritas, milk if there is chocolate around, rose hips tea when I can find it.

SinC: Favorite dessert?
DA: See favorite foods above. As a child, I often finished the remains of the tossed salad for dessert. Would that I had retained that healthy habit today.

SinC: Most embarrassing moment?
DA: I have to prune it down to one?

SinC: First job?
DA: First paying job: writing a column about my school activities for the local paper. First adult job: secretary.

SinC: Worst job?
DA: My second adult job was at the company where I worked, in various positions, for more than two decades, until I quit to write full time. One stretch of time when I had a very workaholic boss probably counts as my worst job, but it was during that period that I made the decision to put my writing first, even if I had to quit the day job. So, in retrospect, even the bad times were useful.

SinC: If you weren't a published author, what would you be?
DA: Still working somewhere as a corporate writer, or possibly a manager of corporate websites.

SinC: If you could be one of your characters, who would it be and why?
DA: I wouldn't mind being Meg Langslow. Or being more like her. When obstacles come my way, I often ask myself what Meg would do.


Donna Andrews is the award-winning author of the 12-volume Meg Langslow mystery series and the four-volume Turing Hopper mystery series. Her most recent book is the newest Meg Langslow entry, Stork Raving Mad. You can learn more things you don't know about Donna at www.donnaandrews.com.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

SinC to Release Mystery Reader Study on Jan. 11

On Tuesday, January 11, Sisters in Crime will release the results of a collaborative study on the mystery book buyer.

The study, the first of its kind, was designed to provide an overview of the mystery/crime fiction book-buying landscape, with information on who buys mystery books, what they buy, where they buy their books and why they buy them.

The survey is based on publishing industry data gathered by R.R. Bowker’s book sales analysis division, PubTrack. A full report on the research, titled “The Mystery Book Consumer in the Digital Age,” will be available online to SinC members via a link at www.sistersincrime.org .

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Books About Writing

By Kathie Felix

Most of us have a good number of books on writing in our personal library.

Author Barbra Annino recently sent in a list of the titles that helped her with her own writing. They include:

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
Don’t Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerden
Creating Unforgettable Characters by Linda Seger
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner
Murder and Mayhem by D.P. Lyle
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
How I Got Published: Famous Authors Tell You in Their Own Words by Ray White and Duane Lindsay
Baby Names

Barb’s list got me thinking about my own bookshelves. About half of my books on writing were recommended by writers I know, and half were written by writers I admire or find intriguing.

Among the titles recommended to me were a few of those on Barb’s list, as well as:
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

Among the impulse purchases in my stash:
Writing Mysteries: A Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America, edited by Sue Grafton
The Practical Writer by Therese Eiben and Mary Gannon
Writers on Writing by the New York Times and John Darnton

My favorite:
On Writing by Stephen King
I was fascinated when I heard that Stephen King had written a book about writing. In my college days, a couple of his early books seemed like the first real “page turners” I’d ever encountered. In my bookstore days, I often checked the fiction aisle just to see how much shelf space was allotted to his work that week. Afterward, I would do a little mental math – multiplying the space by the number of stores in the chain that employed me – and then would think about what that kind of retail real estate might mean. It was a thrill when my sister sent an audio version of On Writing, especially since Mr. K. was reading his own book aloud. That was a nice touch; it seemed like he was actually in the room (or the car) providing advice.

Tell us: What books on writing have helped you the most? And how have they been helpful?


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

Kathie Felix is the managing editor of the SinC blog.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

ForensicsFest 2011

By Kathie Felix

The Sisters in Crime Orange County Chapter presents ForensicsFest 2011, an event for crime writers and mystery fans, featuring best-selling author Jan Burke and a panel of Orange County crime-fighting experts.

The OC ForensicsFest opens on Sunday, Jan. 16, at 3 p.m. with a presentation by Jan Burke (pictured at left), the award-winning author of the Irene Kelly thrillers. The newest book in the series, Disturbance, will be available in April 2011.

Burke is the original editor of Breaking & Entering, the Sisters in Crime guide to getting published, and the founder of the Crime Lab Project, a nonprofit organization created to increase awareness of the problems facing public forensic science agencies. She will talk about the aftermath of death and the current state of death investigations in the U.S.

ForensicsFest 2011 continues on Sunday, Feb. 20, at 2:30 p.m. with a panel discussion featuring four Orange County-based experts.

Nationally-recognized forensic anthropologist Dr. Judy Myers Suchey works with the U.S. Department of Justice and other law enforcement authorities on identifying and dating human remains. Award-winning author Dr. D.P. Lyle, a forensics consultant to crime writers and television shows, is the author of Howdunnit: Forensics, the thriller Stress Fracture, and other books.

Michael Streed, of SketchCop Solutions, is a police, military and government sketch artist who can create a suspect’s facial features so precisely that his work has resulted in the capture of many criminals. Gary Bittner, of ServPro, is a specialist in crime scene and trauma clean-up who knows what it’s like to wear a Hazmat suit to clean up crime scene debris from walls, carpeting, furniture, and floors.

The Jan. 16 and Feb. 20 sessions, moderated by SinC/OC president Jeri Westerson, will take place at the Irvine Ranch Water District Offices, 15600 Sand Canyon Avenue in Irvine, Ca. The events are free and open to the public. Free refreshments will be provided.

Seating is limited; make reservations by sending email to secretary@ocsistersincrime.org.

For more information, see www.ocsistersincrime.org.


Photo of Jan Burke by Sheri McKinley Photography 2010.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Q&A with Literary Agent Jill Marsal

By Linda Lovely

Today, agent Jill Marsal, a founding partner of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, answers questions about publishing trends in the mystery/thriller/suspense genres. As a publishing professional with more than 15 years of experience, Ms. Marsal has the broad editorial contacts and experience to help writers put publisher requests, rejections and sales in perspective.


LL: New sub- and cross-genre categories seem to spring up every year. How important are such labels/niches to editors? At the moment, what seem to be the easiest—and hardest—types of novels to sell?

JM: I think, as always, the most important things are good writing, strong characters, interesting “hook” and plot, and good voice – the sub- and cross-genres are secondary. However, if you are writing in an area that is a strong selling sub-genre, that can help because editors tend to be buying a little more in the stronger selling areas. In terms of what is “easiest” at the moment, paranormal still seems to be going very strong. Many editors are asking for it, and it continues to sell well. For mysteries, cozies are also doing well. Romantic suspense for debut authors seems to be one of the tougher areas right now so, if that is your area of interest, make sure you know what is working in the genre. Editors are looking for more spicy, strong heroines, and different plotlines.


LL: Given your longer-term publishing perspective, do you believe current editorial hot buttons are cyclical? Will we see any sub-genres that have lost ground regain popularity in the near term? Have any categories hit peaks and started to decline?

JM: I absolutely think it is a cyclical market. Genres and subgenres that are popular right now can change fairly quickly, and stories that editors are not currently buying can come back in favor in the next cycle. I have seen this over and over in the past, where things go in and out of popularity and then seem to come back. Right now, as far as mysteries go, noir mysteries seem to be a little tough, though there are some smaller houses who are starting to acquire them. Mainstream suspense seems to be picking up, and cozies seem to be holding strong. And, of course, paranormal is very strong.


LL: If cautious editors are buying fewer titles in select categories than in years past, they must be rejecting novels they previously might have purchased. Can you share what editors give as primary reasons for passing on submissions in these main categories—mysteries, romantic suspense, thrillers?

JM: For thrillers, editors are saying they want a “mega hit” book. A few years ago, they would acquire midlist thrillers, which meant it was easier to break into the thriller market, and there were more spots on each editor’s list. Now, it has to have blockbuster potential for most thriller editors to be interested. For romantic suspense, editors are saying that it is not selling very well. They continue to publish established authors, but it is more challenging to break in if you are a debut author. For debut authors, I am finding romantic suspense – where the story really sizzles and is very sexy – is more popular now, as well as stories with strong heroines. Editors are a little tired of storylines where a woman is victimized or has to escape an abusive husband in this genre.


LL: Are editors asking for any types of manuscripts?

JM: Paranormal romantic suspense seems to be a strong area that editors are looking for from debut authors. And a good cozy with a fun, quirky main character seems to be a strong contender with editors. Also I have a few editors asking for traditional suspense stories with lead women characters.


LL: How has the growth of digital and small publishing entities affected purchasing decisions at the larger publishing houses?

JM: I think more and more of the traditional publishers are starting to consider digital options and, in the coming year, I suspect you might see a big trade house or two try and enter this area a bit more competitively.


LL: Does an author’s sale to a digital or small house improve or lessen the opportunity to sell a future manuscript to a larger publisher?

JM: I think selling to a digital publisher can help an author break in and establish a readership. At our agency, we have had an author publish digitally and her book was such a success she received an offer for the print version of her book. Over the next few years, this seems like an area for continued growth, which can provide additional outlets and opportunities for new writers.


LL: What advice would you give to a mystery author in search of an agent?

JM: First and foremost is good writing. Good writing, a strong voice, compelling character, and interesting “hook” or storyline are what it is really about. Beyond that, you could go to the bookstore and look at what is selling so that you know where to position your book when you approach an agent.



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

Monday, January 3, 2011

Things You Don't Know About Margaret Maron -- and Her Closest Indie

Margaret Maron

SinC: Is there anything you'd never leave home without?
MM: My Visa card.

SinC: What do you wish you had more time for?
MM: Piano lessons.

SinC: Is there anyone from the past you would like to talk to for just 15 minutes?
MM: My mother. There are two things I forgot to ask her that no one else knows.

SinC: If the F.B.I. had to give you a new identity, what name would you choose?
MM: Her Royal Highness, the Queen of Sweden.

SinC: Favorite food?
MM: BLT made the way my mother made them.

SinC: Favorite drink?
MM: Bourbon and Pepsi.

SinC: Favorite dessert?
MM: Warm pecan pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

SinC: If you weren't a published author, what would you be?
MM: District Court Judge.

SinC: If you could be one of your characters, who would it be and why?
MM: Deborah Knott (see above).

SinC: What independent bookstore is closest to the place you spend a good portion of your time?
MM: Quail Ridge Books and Music in Raleigh, NC.

SinC: What can you tell us about the store?
MM: Owned by Nancy Olson, who was PW's Bookseller of the Year 3 or 4 years ago. First opened in the 80s. It's a general book store with strong holding in childrens' books, mysteries and classical music.

SinC: Where can we find Quail Ridge Books and Music online?
MM: www.quailridgebooks.com

SinC: What's your most recent indie purchase?
MM: Susan Boyle's Christmas CD, Complete Works of Mahler and a New York City guide book.

SinC: Are there any holiday customs particularly unique to your area or your family?
MM: Probably nothing too different from other families. We usually host a big dinner party the week before C'mas for some close friends where we sing carols, perform "party pieces" (solos, skits, recitations, etc.). Usually burn a huge bonfire sometime between C'mas and New Year's.



Margaret Maron is the award-winning author of 26 novels and two collections of short stories. Christmas Mourning, her latest release, is the 16th book in the mystery series featuring district court judge Deborah Knott of "Colleton County," NC.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

1/1/11

Happy New Year!

It’s a day of questions here at the SinC blog.

How tired are you?

Did you have a good time last night?

How did you ring in the new year?

We’re also interested in your thoughts about the Sisters in Crime blog.

What would you like to see covered here?

How can we improve the blog?

Do you have an urge to write a blog entry?

Thanks for spending time online with Sisters in Crime.

And may all your dreams come true in 2011!