Monday, January 31, 2011


When two new members joined my critique group, The Mayhem Gang, getting us all on the same page was imperative both literally and figuratively. The two original members, another writer and I, had critiqued our manuscripts up to page 100. We decided to stop and go back to page 1 so that the new members could catch-up. That meant that they would read my already critiqued pages. What writer could resist the urge to implement revisions before new readers’ critiqued?

To me, first draft writing is like creating in a vacuum. I fill the empty page with words, hoping that readers identify with characters and find my story intriguing. Without obtaining reader reaction, my writing gauge, I have no way of knowing if I’ve achieved my writing objectives, as if my sonar depth finder hasn’t bounced off the ocean floor to give me a picture of the underwater landscape. Obtaining critiques gives me a map for revisions. The following elements seem to be those I hone with frequency.

• Tone My main character’s attitude and perspective sets the tone of my work. In revisions, I make sure that readers like my main character, feel the character has authenticity, and that the language I’ve used portrays her to full potential.

• Plot Elements Writers know the full story, including the backstory, and forget that the reader doesn’t have this knowledge. What seems like a logical action made by the main character may seem unrealistic to the reader, which blows the writer’s credibility. In revising, any deficit in this logic must be overcome by providing a natural basis substantiating the main character’s actions, bolstering authenticity, or the plot must be adjusted. Plot revisions may require additional research to provide factual data, helping the credibility factor.

• Tension Insight gained through critiques is invaluable for gauging emotional intensity, which also affects pacing. Atmosphere, psychological landscape, pivotal plot elements all contribute to creating tension, but the building block applies to the next revision item—

• Action Bringing more action into a scene doesn’t just mean car chases and gun fire, it may mean cutting those previously crafted feelings that your character reveals to the reader through her thoughts. When I critique others work, the first thing I edit out is, “Sallie thought and realized...,” and ask what did Sallie do? Actions speak louder than words. Your character’s thoughts don’t add action.

• Pacing has more to do with what is left out than what is left in the story. If your story keeps referring to the past, you’re writing the wrong story. Timing, when your character gains knowledge and reacts to it, creates the pace. Revealing too much too soon can blow pacing, as can doing the opposite.

• Word Smithing—which leads back to the first element—tone. Crafting sentences conveying accurate meaning defines word smithing. In writing short stories, I’d add using the fewest words to that meaning. It’s nearly impossible to perfect and is a waste of time to word smith in the first draft. Why smith what may change? Once your critique partners have given you the thumbs-up, sculpting the language appropriately for the characters and plot finishes your manuscript like that top coat of nail polish. One note: An occasional passive tense sentence is normal, but passive language bores readers.

What part of the writing process do you like best? When you revise, what elements do you find yourself habitually rewriting? Have you tried a professional editing to advance your writing?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Signings for Fun and Maybe Even Profit

Signings For Fun and Maybe Even Profit

Last week or so on this blog we got to talking about doing book signings. I had my first signing on Sunday and I had a good time. It didn’t matter that the program announcement was incorrect. I was there. People I know and like were there. I had a good time talking with people I had not seen for some time and incidentally I sold some books.

Commercial Break: Murder Manhattan Style is available at Please support the publisher who supported me.

Now back to the blog. I’ve had less successful signings before I have some ideas about what helps to make a signing work.

Make it an event. I like to dress in period costume and to invite people I know to attend. If people are already chatting to me, it is easier for strangers to approach and get into a conversation. I’ve known some authors who write about cooking to wear chef’s hats, some historical writers to display amazingly quilts. At her events, Suzanne Arruda has games, prizes and participants get to pretend they are her wonderfully brave heroine, Jade Cameron.

Bring food. This may even attract men. It will attract children who often have parents somewhere in the general vicinity.

Let ‘em know why you’re there. A nametag with “Writer” helps. Offer to sell books. People may have no idea why you are there. The might think you like to sit in bookstores and people-watch. A surprisingly large number of signings I’ve seen consisted of a glum, bored person sitting at a table with books on it for no reason apparent to passersby. They gave off strong “stay away” vibrations and believe me I did.

I had intended to do a brief reading last week but people came in and started buying books. For once, I had the presence of mind not to trip over my own feet and I started selling books immediately.

Check the spelling and endorsement both before and as you sign, no matter how apparently simple the spelling sounds. I have failed to do so with unfortunate consequences. Sorry, Kaythi.

Arrive early, be friendly to staff and be prepared to negotiate sweetly, “I wonder if there might possibly be another place for my mysteries besides in the college astrophysics section?”

Thank the people who let you put on the event. Who knows? Maybe someday they’ll let you do it again.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Valentine’s Day approaches and I’ve embarked on a story that needs a love interest for my protagonist so I thought I’d look into the stud muffin question. I’m not a romance writer and I tend to prefer character actors over stereotypical leading men so I could create someone that not all women drool over. That could be a marketing problem but if a person can’t be authentic in their sex life where can they be authentic?clip-art-8

I was going to say that my idea of the ideal man has changed over time but maybe it’s only my idea of ideal external characteristics that has changed. Today, movies for teenagers suggest the dream teenage male is a tortured soul and a vampire or a werewolf. I expect most teenage girls still have their own idea of the perfect mate. Since most of my family has light coloring, as a teenager I preferred Mediterranean looks. An Arab would have provided the perfect coloring contrast, and I never considered the chasm between our backgrounds.

Like many adolescents, I did prefer rebels, especially if they had a cause. Romeo and Juliet and Westside Story suggest young women often look with favor on males their families don’t like. Could they be searching for someone different and therefore more interesting?

I have always believed that a person’s choice of mate is very individual, tied to memories, character, and wishes beyond what another person can grasp. Persons who attempt to interfere with freedom of choice in love I see as kin to the Taliban. Secondly, why would anyone want to take on the responsibility of condemning another to a miserable sex life?

Men and women help to create each other. Even the strongest man is influenced by what the woman he desires thinks. Even the most independent woman listens to the man she desires. Most couples I know have changed each other over time. I have one female relative who won every battle and lost the war in changing her mate. Another relative successfully molded her partners to her needs. Would you give up your favorite hobby for your mate? Would you sit through movies you hate to keep your mate company?

Just as adolescents tend to like rebels, I think many women have an interest in men with a dark side. Heathcliff and Rhett Butler come to mind. They’re not perfect. Danger and excitement seem to surround them. They’re not society’s darlings. Imagine having a mother who keeps setting you up with doctors and dentists. I know there are those who think women are put on earth to be wonderful mothers of perfect kids but I guess I’m not the only woman in the world who spends time thinking about subjects that don’t anchor her to home and security.

Main characters in police and medical series appeal because they are using their brains and taking action. They’re also often easy on the eye. In fiction, I don’t care if a man has crooked teeth or is less than six feet tall as long as he does his best in the situation in which he finds himself. The two men in Stephanie Plum’s life are, according to Stephanie, handsome but they are also brave val12and take active, helpful roles in the story. I imagine there are women who like brooding, silent men—modern day Marcel Prousts sitting alone in their rooms, especially if these men create art, music, or literature. I’d worry about being sacrificed to the man’s gift.

And I still haven’t discovered the perfect interest for my protagonist so I’ll just have to wait to see who presents himself. Do you think fantasy and reality meet in our choices of mate? Do we stop seeing the person we live with as someone separate from ourselves? Are you still searching for a soul mate?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

An Interview with Author Stacy Juba

Avon Books published author Stacy Juba at age eighteen. After a career in journalism, she returned to writing fiction full-time. By then, she had won several fiction awards. As fellow members of SinC and its subchapter Guppies, I became familiar with Stacy’s writing and promotion, in which she takes a proactive approach, making me want to know more about her. Stacy blogs at Keep current with Stacy’s publishing schedule at her website,

EBD: You’ve written nonfiction as a journalist, children’s books (The Flag Keeper), young-adult (Face-Off), traditional mystery (Twenty-Five Years Ago Today), suspense/romance (Sink or Swim) and paranormal young adult mystery (the upcoming DARK BEFORE DAWN) genres. Do you have a preference? Will you settle on one, or will you rove?

SJ: I do bounce around a lot, but writing adult mysteries is my first love. Both Twenty-Five Years Ago Today and Sink or Swim are traditional mysteries with an element of romantic suspense. My style for my adult mysteries is a traditional mystery with a romance subplot. I see myself staying within that genre in the future. I'm currently working on Sign of the Messenger, the first book in a holistic mystery series, about a psychic healer who co-owns a metaphysical center. She has a boyfriend and that relationship will be an important part of the series. I may do more young adult books, but I don't see myself writing any more picture books. The Flag Keeper was a special idea that came to me, about a unique way to teach children flag etiquette and it is easy to promote due to the subject, but I rarely get ideas for children's books.

EBD: Your new novel, Sink or Swim, has an unusual hook. What is it?

SJ: It's about Cassidy Novak, a personal trainer who goes on a reality show set aboard a Tall Ship. She comes in second and returns to her normal life, then learns she has attracted a stalker who may be killing off her former competitors. It takes a look at the reality show trend - what might motivate someone to try out for a reality show and how that experience could change their life. Although the reality show is the hook, most of the book takes place after the show ends, when Cassidy resumes her health club job in her hometown. It's a traditional mystery with an unusual hook.

EBD: As a writer, often the research for a book seems daunting. How did you research reality shows for Sink or Swim?

SJ: I don't regularly watch reality shows, but I made a point of watching one or two episodes of a half-dozen programs to get an idea of what they were like, and then I created my own fictional show. I'm familiar with game show auditions, as my husband and I have both tried out for The Price is Right and Jeopardy, and my husband has been interviewed for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. I incorporated some of that detail into the book such as what the application process is like for a game show and what a TV studio looks like. For the most part, I just used my imagination and figured that if it's my show, it's my rules.

EBD: You talked to former contestants on these shows. How did you make contacts to do that?

SJ: I didn't talk to them before writing the book, but I contacted some afterwards as I wanted endorsements for the back cover.

EBD: Did you give them advanced copies to read? Were any of them “technical consultants?”

SJ: I found Stephenie LaGrossa from “Survivor Palau and Guatemala,” (the tenth and eleventh seasons of the series Survivor) and “Heroes vs. Villains” (the twentieth season of Survivor) and Shawne Morgan from The Amazing Race, “Episode 16” through their web sites, and Michelle Costa from Big Brother, “Season 10” through Facebook.

I emailed them and asked if they would be willing to read the book and consider giving an endorsement, and they all were gracious enough to agree. About seven months before the book's release date, I sent them spiral bound early reader's copies that I had put together and gave them a deadline to get back to me. All of them followed through. They didn't serve as technical consultants, but they did tell me that the reality show aspects of the book were realistic.

EBD: Did you research celebrity murders and the psychology of psycho fans?

SJ: I interviewed an expert on psychology and the criminal mind to get his take on stalkers, and I took a lot of notes from several non-fiction books about the subject. I also did some research about celebrity murders and mentioned some real life incidents in the book.

EBD: So far, all of your books are stand-alone. Have you considered a series?

SJ: Twenty-Five Years Ago Today and Sink or Swim came to me as standalone ideas, but I am developing a series. The first book, Sign of the Messenger, was a recipient of the William F. Deeck -Malice Domestic Grant awarded at the Agatha Award banquet. That book is about a psychic massage therapist who co-owns a metaphysical shop and winds up investigating her client's death at the hands of a serial killer. I had to put the book aside for awhile when I got contracts for my other novels, as marketing takes up a lot of time, but I plan to finish it and write future books in the series.

EBD: What is the hook of your current project, DARK BEFORE DAWN?

SJ: Dark Before Dawn is a young adult paranormal thriller about a teenage psychic named Dawn who has always felt like a misfit, until she meets two other girls developing their psychic abilities and their mysterious fortuneteller mentor. When she learns her new friends may be tied to bizarre murders, she has an important choice to make - continue developing the talent that makes her special, or challenge the only people who have ever accepted her.

EBD: For a writer, what is the difference between writing for adults and writing for young adults?

SJ: I would say that the biggest difference is with regard to how you develop the characters. Unless you're a young author, it can be harder to get into character if you're writing a YA novel. When you're writing for young adults, you have to remember what it felt like to be a teenager. What was important to you? Young adults are on a journey to self discovery, and awkwardness and insecurities come with that.

Writers need to think back to their own adolescence. Those memories of hanging out with your friends, wanting to fit in, and feeling as if high school is going to last forever and is therefore the most important thing in the world, are pretty universal. Writers need to pull out those feelings, but remember that day-to-day life has changed since their own adolescence. Kids today are listening to different music, using different technology and using different slang. It helps to observe young adults, to read current YA books, and to watch some of their TV shows. When you're writing for young adults, I think there's a tendency to want to preach to them and teach them a lesson, and you have to avoid that.

EBD: Do YA novels have different parameters such as level of language, word count, etc.?

SJ: It depends on the publisher, but I did watch the language and the level of violence as my publisher will be marketing to school libraries. There are some words that I would use in an adult book which I wouldn't use in a YA. So I would say that authors should tone it down a bit for YA novels. You don't want to sugarcoat reality, but you can tone it down. My word count for Dark Before Dawn was about 55,000 words, which is around 6,000 less than for my adult books - so I do make them a bit shorter.

EBD: What attracted you to a paranormal theme?

SJ: I've always been interested in psychic themes, since I was a child. I grew up reading Lois Duncan. My novel-in-progress, Sign of the Messenger, is about a psychic healer. I'm trained in Reiki, a form of hands-on healing, and I collect angel cards. I'm very interested in the topics of intuition and energy healing. I'm not really interested in vampire books or ghost stories - it's more the mysteries of the mind and energy healing that I find fascinating.

EBD: Were all your books published by Mainly Murder Press, and did this company serve your needs?

SJ: My second book, Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, was published by Mainly Murder Press in October 2009 and they published Sink or Swim in January 2011. They recently started a young adult line and acquired DARK BEFORE DAWN for January 2012. I retain the digital rights for my books, and publish the eBook versions independently. My first book, Face-Off, was published by Avon Flare under my maiden name, Stacy Drumtra. Mainly Murder Press has been a wonderful company to work with. They produce quality books and are willing to take a chance on new authors and give them an opportunity to build their careers. I was very lucky to find them and am thankful that they believed in me enough to award me three publishing contracts.

EBD: The recent statistics show eBooks outselling print, yet you retain the epublishing rights to your books. How does your publisher feel about that? Was that issue a point of negotiation?

SJ: It's specified in the contract that Mainly Murder Press allows authors to retain their digital rights and I think this is a wonderful thing. Most publishers keep the digital rights. They are focusing on the print niche and doing an excellent job at that, and it's wonderful that authors have the freedom to explore e-publishing on their own.

EBD: Darcia Helle and you started a website and facebook page called Bestseller Bound. Tell me about those sites and why you developed them.

SJ: Independent author Darcia Helle started Bestseller Bound,, as an offshoot of her web site, Quiet Fury Books. She wanted to create a message board forum where indie and small press authors, readers, reviewers and book bloggers could network and invited me to brainstorm with her. We also brought in talented UK author Maria Savva, and the three of us are the moderators. We have different categories to post in and are developing various group projects to help independent books gain more visibility. It's a wonderful place to network and a lot of us have seen our sales increase as a result of all the discussion, networking and projects. However, it's not a place for authors to show up once and try to sell their books to the members. It's a team atmosphere where the author members are always discussing how we can pool our ideas and resources to grow our careers together.

EBD: I just downloaded Volume 3 of the First Annual Sample Anthology of Did you publish this from authors on your website? How did it come to be?

SJ: Yes, author Joel Kirkpatrick is an active member of Bestseller Bound and he came up with the idea to publish an anthology of first chapters from the books of Bestseller Bound members as a way to get the word out about all the great indie and small press books which are available and to allow readers to sample a variety of authors. There were so many submissions that he made it three volumes. He invited members of the Bestseller Bound site to submit a chapter from one of their books, and they can be downloaded for free on sites such as Scribd and on this web site:

This is more info about it:

EBD: You’re involved with charity drives. How did that come about?

SJ: One of the Bestseller Bound projects was seeing how powerful social networking (sites like Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads) are in helping to bring a book to the Kindle bestseller list. We did a campaign to see how many copies of Darcia Helle's book The Cutting Edge we could get to sell on a certain day in December and Darcia gave all of the proceeds from that day to a church that runs a food pantry. One of the Bestseller Bound authors, Susan Helene Gottfried, who writes a series about a rock band, donated 50% of her royalties from her three books to the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, so I featured her on my blog. It's nice to see authors getting their books out there and trying to support a good cause at the same time.

Thanks for the interview Stacy. Put Sink or Swim on your reading list, and keep posted to for updates on her upcoming novels and to participate in her website reality show.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Playing the what if game

Watching the news today, I saw a story about a daughter who found her family after being taken from the hospital by a woman when the baby was 19 days old. This could make a good story—someone snatches your baby. They sell the baby. It’s a baby selling ring. The mother could get into many dangerous situations trying to locate her baby. No one wants to help her. She must find the baby on her own. Maybe ten years later she becomes a police woman or joins the FBI to find her child.

I once sold a story to True Story about a mother who had twins and the doctor sold one of them. I got that idea when I had my first child—before the days when they took pictures of the baby before birth. We had no way back then to know if you were having twins. I had gained a lot of weight and when I gave birth they told my husband we had a daughter. Later someone else came out and said he had a son. He asked if we had twins. I was knocked out and had no idea what was going on. Finally someone came out and said we had a son, no daughter.

I was so out of it with way too much gas or whatever they gave you back then, that I was telling Sir Arthur how he couldn’t behead me now that I gave him a son.

Fast forward thirty years later. I read a story in the newspaper where they told about doctors who sold babies and no one was the wiser. There was no way to trace this. The Doctor I had was known for losing babies and a few mothers. My husband was in the Air Force in Oklahoma. They didn’t have a maternity ward at the base and we had to use a town doctor. The story I read fit the scene I had heard many times when we lived in that town about parents being told the baby supposedly died. But this doctor was the only doctor in town who delivered babies. We later heard he had been taken off the list of doctors for the Air Force, but the only other doctor in that small town had a heart attack and couldn’t work. This, I had Dr. Livingston.
That made me think—did we really have twins and the doctor sold our other baby? We were young and poor and they knew we would have no way to discover if this had happened. Of course, in the story I sold I had that happy ending where the child found his family—just like the girl in the news today.

If you are struggling for a story idea, go back to your past and remember things that happened to you or a friend. Then play the “what if” game. What if your mother wasn’t really your mother? Did folks often tell you how you didn’t look like anyone else in the family? How different were you from them?

Or what about that family painting no one wanted to talk about—the one that looked a lot like one you’d seen on the news that had been stolen 20 years ago—the one that sat in your aunt’s attic.

Sit down and make a list of “what if’s” and I’ll bet you come up with a lot of potential ideas.
Now, if someone finds a woman in Oklahoma who wonders who her real parents are…

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Writer's Challenge 2011 and A Mayhem Gang Update

Jan Brogan, author of the Hallie Ahern mystery series and blogger over at The Jungle Red Writers, issued a challenge on the 16th of this month: to write for 45 minutes before going on-line. I decided to take up that challenge. Like a racehorse that looked the other way when the starting gate opened, I’ve failed the challenge before beginning. Why?

Technology is such that my computer is always on-line. Electronic eons ago, when dial-up was the mode, Internet providers regularly kicked-off users so that signing off and on became the habit. Extra minutes on-line then also burned money since users were charged by time. With broadband and FIOS connections, this procedure isn’t technologically necessary and no additional money is required to stay on-line.

When I go to my desk every morning, my email inbox is in view on my desktop and usually is full since I belong to many writing groups. It’s become a habit to check it first. My next on-line move takes me to this site to check the day’s blog. We now have 65 readers. If messes up, if someone has forgotten to post, if I’ve worded something in my own blogs that I’m still not satisfied with—I feel a responsibility to our readers to make sure the blog looks as it was envisioned.

I stated in my New Year’s Resolution blog that I need to stop emailing, blogging, responding and reading other writers’ blogs and just WRITE! What is so hard about doing my job?

Bad Habits! The duration of Jan’s challenge was for six weeks. Habits form, the scientists say, after three weeks. I have five weeks remaining to instill a new habit even if I muffed it in this first week. I’ll try again, and my critique group, The Mayhem Gang may help.

In my last report, The Mayhem Gang’s attrition brought our numbers down to three dedicated writers. Last month, one of those three bowed out due to health issues. The other writer and I decided to carry on as best we could, knowing that one critique on our work was better than none and that producing work for critique every other week would be daunting. We decided to let the schedule slip if we had to do so for our sanity. Our lives and the holidays intruded, so we gave ourselves a two week holiday. A week ago, Betsy Bitner, critique group coordinator for our SinC subchapter, The Guppies, assigned two more writers to our group. We are joyous!

I now have two new writers to impress; one of whom already has a publishing contract! My fellow writers awe me, and I'm eager to critique and to produce. The Mayhem Gang has given me new incentive and additional reason to take up The Writer’s Challenge of 2011. I’ll let you know how the remaining five weeks go.

Are any of you taking up Jan’s challenge? Has it prompted you to break the bad Internet habit? Will you log-off the Internet every night?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Writing Challenges

Writing Challenges

Every writer faces challenges when attempting to write. Challenges like interruptions, family, health, work and life in general. At the moment my primary challenge is health. I am recovering from a second bone marrow transplant for multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer.) I am on a medication named Revlimid which is closely related to Thalidomide. Remember Thalidomide babies? I once worked with a delightful young woman whose mother had taken Thalidomide. The young woman had vestigial arms. She typed and ate with her feet. The medication was first prescribed as a sleep aid before the terrible effects on growing fetuses were known.

I have started on a schedule of three weeks on and one week off the medication. The longer I am on the medication each round, the more side effects, i.e., fatigue and joint pain, I experience. I find I don’t write much while I’m asleep or in pain.

I am sitting here typing in my p.j.s, having spent most of the last two days sleeping or forcing myself to stay awake. I tried to write a blog yesterday and it came out like an outline.

On the positive side after this transplant, like after the first one I started reading short stories, progressed to children’s books and then to adult novels. The skill of editing slowly came back. Then I could revise work I had started before. Now I’m back to actual writing much of the time. I can tell you I missed it.

I’m not complaining, I’m happy to live at a time when my illness is not an automatic death sentence. I know many people have it worse than I do and I have a wonderfully supportive spouse and family.

What Challenges do you face in your writing?

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Recent Sister in Crime emails have questioned the usefulness of blogs for promoting sales of mystery novels. Guppies who submit to small presses have mentioned that these presses suggest authors reach out to readers outside their writing groups. Mystery writing groups are supportive of their members but writers within these groups want to sell books as much as buy them.

If a mystery has a setting that emphasizes cooking, sewing, or gardening, a writer can reach out to non-writers interested in these activities. The same holds true for writers who perfuse their stories with music, politics, or sports. Perhaps a regional setting grounds a mystery and would interest people living in the area.

The interests I write into my stories tend to be social. My dad grew up poor and hungry at a time when little was done to help the families of single mothers. I think for that reason he always encouraged his children to be involved in helping the community. Four of his six children have careers in medicine and teaching. I would find it hard to ignore a homeless person or a disheveled person talking to himself and clearly disoriented.

Although the novel I am now submitting for publication does not have an upfront theme of the rape of the innocent, the story does develop characters raped in their early teens. Everything in the media and often in literature also emphasizes the wonder of sex and how every red-blooded American woman should welcome her sexuality. Teenage women want to be popular and they’re often in a hurry to grow up. Unfortunately they often lack the street smarts to insure their safety.

According to statistics put out by the Justice Department, one in two rape victims is under the age of 18, and one in six is under the age of 12. It’s estimated that 60% of rapes go unreported and that 93% of juvenile victims know their attacker. Possibly these two estimates are related. A juvenile can be threatened into silence. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, if unreported rapes are factored into the numbers, approximately 6% of rapists ever spend a day in prison. The rest are free to rape again.

As a mother of teenage daughters, I was concerned for their safety. As children, they trusted the adults involved in their care and development. Suddenly, at a time when they wanted to feel their independence, these same adults started to insist there were bad people out to harm them for no reason. I imagined how an assault would affect the awakening emotions of an adolescent. I think my imaginings during that time have filtered into my writing.

The next novel in my series, a series about missing persons, includes homeless characters. As a nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital, I took care of homeless persons, some of whom were set on fire by groups of young people. The flea-infested clothes of homeless persons were removed in the ER. As nurses, we found out it took a week of showers to remove fleas from hair and body. Before leaving the hospital, a homeless person would be given a fresh set of clothes donated by religious organizations. Often homeless people would be upset that they couldn’t keep their original clothes that were thrown out. They were homeless for a number of reasons and their personalities varied widely. MR900386057

Often on a snowy night, as I walked from the parking lot to the hospital entrance, I would wonder how homeless persons could tolerate the extreme cold with only a cardboard box or a subway grating to warm them. I wondered why they didn’t move south for the winter. Before MGH was renovated, the front desk officers would let some of the homeless stay in the huge main lobby out of freezing winter temperatures. Sometimes, as I left in the morning, one of them would wave to me. “That’s Pauline. My nurse,” he’d say to one of the other homeless persons. I doubt whether being a brand name among the homeless will help me sell books but I do know many homeless persons seek connection.

Although I’m not an avid cook or sports woman, I enjoy reading books that include these subjects. I can’t believe I’m alone in wondering what happens to rape victims over time or how do the homeless survive. Are there characters you wonder about as you walk or drive through busy streets?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

An Interview with Beth Groundwater-The Books

Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series (A Real Basket Case, nominated for the 2007 Best First Novel Agatha Award, and To Hell in a Handbasket, released in May 2009). She also writes the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. The first, Deadly Currents, will be released March 8, 2011. Beth lives in Colorado and enjoys its many outdoor activities, including skiing, hiking, and whitewater rafting. She loves talking to book clubs, too, and not just for the gossip and wine! Please visit her website at and her blog at  

EBD: Can you give us a short synopsis or hook of Deadly Currents?

BG: Sure thing! I recently reviewed the back cover copy, so I’ll give you that verbatim:

The Arkansas River, heart and soul of Salida, Colorado, fuels the small town’s economy and thrums in the blood of river ranger Mandy Tanner. When a whitewater rafting accident occurs, she deftly executes a rescue, but a man dies anyway. Turns out, it wasn’t the rapids that killed him—it was murder. Tom King was a rich land developer with bitter business rivals, who cheated on his wife, refused to support his kayak-obsessed son, and infuriated environmentalists.

Mandy’s world is upended again when tragedy strikes closer to home. Suspicious that the most recent death is connected to Tom King’s murder, she goes on an emotionally turbulent quest for the truth—and ends up in dangerous waters.

EBD: Why did you decide to start a new series?

BG: I discovered while writing To Hell in a Handbasket that my love of the outdoors and outdoor activities kept creeping into my mystery writing. That book features skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobile riding in various scenes. So, I decided to develop a new series where I could indulge in that love to my heart’s content. I was an avid “river rat” in the 1980s, running whitewater rivers in the eastern US in an open-boat canoe, and I still enjoy rafting whitewater rivers in Colorado, so that was a natural choice. I’ve enjoyed reacquainting myself with the river rat subculture and its updated boating equipment while researching the RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series.

EBD: I read and love both of your Claire Hanover books, A Real Basket Case and To Hell in A Handbasket. Are you continuing the series? When will the next one be out? Can you give us the hook or at least a log line?

BG: Yes, I’m continuing the series, with Midnight Ink. I just finished the rough draft of the third book, that I’m tentatively calling Basketful of Trouble. I’ll be editing it over the next few months. I finished it early with the hope that if Midnight Ink can find room in their schedule for it, they’ll move up the release date. I know my Claire Hanover fans don’t want to have to wait until 2013 for book 3!

In the book, Claire’s brother moves his trail-riding stable business to Colorado Springs, and soon after opening day, a dead body is found in one of the horse’s stalls. Anxious that news of the death will sink her brother’s business, Claire decides to help investigate when it’s determined that the man was murdered. The outdoorsy aspect in the book will be horseback riding and the relationship issue will be sibling rivalry between Claire and her brother. And of course, there will be lots of themed gift baskets!

EBD: Bill Crider cited your blog, in his column Blog Bytes in Ellery Queen Magazine. Any story behind his funny remarks?

BG: Bill and I have been cyber-friends for awhile and have done favors for each other. He’s a funny guy, and I presume you’re referring to his line, “Writers will do anything to get it right,” after he said I’d rafted the Royal Gorge. I do like to actually perform any activity I write about first, so I can accurately describe the sensations. Thus, I tried snowshoeing and snowmobiling for To Hell in a Handbasket, which I hadn’t done before. I’m an avid skier, though, and whitewater rafter, so while I don’t have to research those activities for my books, I’m going to keep on doing them anyway because they’re FUN!

EBD: How did you spend the holidays?

BG: My husband and I and our two grown children flew to Virginia to spend Christmas with my parents and other extended family who live there. It was a great reunion! Family is very important to me.

EBD: What did you start writing and when? Have you ever written short stories?

BG: My first forays into fiction writing were my Freddie stories when I was in fifth and sixth grade. My protagonist, Freddie, had all sorts of wild adventures, including visiting an underground mole city after burrowing down in a giant screw-mobile. Freddie was a boy, because back in the sixties, I thought girls weren't supposed to have adventures. I know better now!

During my high school senior year, I took an independent study in English and wrote fiction and poetry, which was critiqued by a college professor. They came back covered in red ink, but I learned a lot, including how to handle criticism! Then once I started college, I focused on my career as a software engineer and project manager. My writing was primarily technical until I retired in 1999. That’s when I began writing fiction again as an adult. I started with short stories. I have published eight of them, many multiple times in multiple formats, and a ninth one will be coming out in 2011 in the Sisters in Crime Guppies Anthology, FISH TALES.

EBD: Any date on when FISH TALES will be published and in what formats?

BG: The publisher has not set a publication date for FISH TALES, and it is my understanding that it will be published in trade paperback and e-book formats.

EBD: Any updates since the holidays on your books and those already "in queue" at the publishers? Any personal appearances you'd like to mention?

BG: No, no updates yet. The Midnight Ink publicist and I are still lining up my personal appearances, so the best way to keep track of those is to check the Appearances page of my website just before the release date of March 8th for Deadly Currents. I do know that I will be at the Left Coast Crime conference in Santa Fe, NM, the Malice Domestic conference in Bethesda, MD, and the Festival of Mystery in Oakmont, PA. I'll also be at the Pikes Peak Library District's "Mountain of Authors" program in Colorado Springs, CO, and the Englewood Library's "Faces Behind the Books" program in Englewood, CO.

Elaine, thanks for interviewing me and giving me the opportunity to visit with the readers of Writers Who Kill. I’ll be happy to answer any additional questions anyone has for me in the comments. Also, I love to visit with book clubs either in person or via speakerphone or Skype, so if anyone wants to arrange a visit, contact me at my website:

Thanks for stopping by Beth. Guess I’ll have to wait until March to read Deadly Currents, but great reading is worth the wait. Ask Beth a question, or leave her a comment. Thanks!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Finding Characters

People often ask me how I get my characters for my writing. I tell them, just look around, they are everywhere.

For instance, in Home Sweet Home, my WIP, I have an elderly lady with dementia. My mom and an aunt had this and I can relate to the things my mom did. She blew up the microwave by putting in a can of soup, and burned so much food in the oven that I was asked to find her somewhere else to live. Somehow she managed to break the handles off cups, put them back into the cupboard with the handles against them, and of course when you reached for a cup all you got was the handle. Although some of the things she did weren’t funny at the time, when I write them now, I can find the humor.

I retired from Seminole State College several years ago, but return during registration to do orientation and advising. I meet a lot of folks who would make good characters in my writing. Recently I had a student who would make a perfect spoiled brat. He demanded my attention, taking his finger and pounding it on the book, and informed me in high school they “did registered us.” I smiled sweetly and told him now that he's grown up, he gets to learn how to do these things for himself.

 I had a fireman visit my office to see what classes he needed. Young, good looking, he had a nice personality. But he said his job wasn’t dangerous enough. I’d choose him to be a detective or PI, someone who enjoyed the thrill of the chase. Sort of like Castle on TV.

If I wanted someone to be caring, like for a doctor or nurse, there’s the young Hispanic man who told me how he worried about his grandparents. He was model handsome, which means he’d be a good doctor character for women to drool over.

The man from the mailroom was furious when the dean took his cart and gave it to me to use. He got to the point where he glared at me, and I asked the dean to return it. Older, short with spiked white hair, he would be a good character whom no one would suspect as the murderer of an advisor who stole his cart.

There’s always the sweet little old lady who no one would suspect of masterminding a gang of art thieves. Or the mechanic who smiles at you while ripping you off or disconnecting the brakes on a car for the money a woman or man paid him so they could be rid of their mate.

If you journal, start taking notes of people around you, their body movements, the twitch of the eyes, the way they move their hands or the way they smile. Is the smile real, fake, sarcastic, or evil. Also make use of the newspaper or TV for characters. In my WIP I needed a woman who would sell babies. Two weeks later a scandal appeared of a grandmother who tried selling her grandson. It turns out she said selling babies was a family tradition. 


Dee Gatrell

Monday, January 17, 2011


I invited today's guest blogger Karen Duxbury to join the staff of WWK.  She turned me down flat!  But, I did spur her into writing a blog for us, and I hope she'll do so again.  When Karen graciously volunteered as Treasurer for the SinC Guppies subchapter, I got to know her.  Karen is one of the Great Unpublished authors with whom I have confidence one day will become a published author.  E. B. Davis
Recently a story was posted to the SinC Guppies forum about a death in South Carolina.  A woman called for help saying her elderly mother was having trouble breathing.  When Medics arrived they found the 98 year old woman covered in bed sores and lying in an unheated, bug infested house.  When the woman’s pet parrot kept repeating “Help me” followed by laughter, it lead investigators to charge the daughter with abuse. They surmised that the parrot was mimicking the elderly woman’s cries for help and her daughter’s laughter as she abused her.
Within thirty minutes of that story being posted, members of our writing group had morphed the sad but simple tale of an elderly woman being abused to the nefarious scheme of her other daughter who taught the bird what to say in order to set up her sister for the abuse of their mother and keep the inheritance to herself.

This got me to thinking about how writers see the world. I always counted myself as a proud member of the Rose Colored Glasses crowd until my husband and I took a trip to Hawaii many years ago. We were driving the twisting, narrow Hana Highway one day and got stuck in an hours long traffic jam due to construction on one of the many one-lane bridges. As we sat there we noticed a woman walking from car to car. She would stop and chat for a moment then move on. When she got to us she said hello, asked about our trip and then left for the next car. I didn’t give her another thought until later that night as we drove back to our house. I was half asleep when I began to wonder what would have happened if she had left our car and gone to visit the next one in line only to find a dead body slumped over the steering wheel. That became the opening scene in my first novel.

Since that fateful day, I’ve realized that I tend to ‘see’ the gross, disgusting, illegal, scary possibilities in lots of otherwise mundane everyday scenarios. When I walk across the old wooden bridge over a nearby bayou, I don’t see the gnarly tree branch floating by, I see a body. When I smell something dead in the wind, I don’t imagine an animal; I wonder who died, who killed them and how they got here.

So I have to ask my fellow writers and readers out there – do you too filter all of life’s simple, inconsequential, everyday occurrences through your Blood Colored Glasses?

Karen Duxbury is a happily reformed accountant living in Houston, Texas. She is in the process of completing her fourth novel and editing her third. A CLASH OF SKULLS follows the daughter of a cursed woman battling mysterious forces as she tries to right the grievous mistake that led to her mother’s death. A MURDER OF CRONES is the story of a woman who infiltrates a bogus grief counseling retreat to search for her pregnant niece before the unborn child becomes a pawn in the final and greatest con of a family of elderly grifters. When not observing the world and writing about it, Karen spends time on her duties as Treasurer of the Sisters in Crime Guppies chapter.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Whose Sensibilities Should we Respect?

NewSouth Books is coming out with a new version of Mark Twain’s work combining Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in one volume as the author apparently intended originally and clarifying some spelling and grammatical confusion.

More controversially, The editor, Dr. Alan Gribben, has decided to change the word “nigger” to slave and “injun” to Indian. As an author, my immediate reaction was negative. Almost every reaction I’ve read was opposed to his decision. Personally, I am annoyed by efforts to “modernize” the language Abraham Lincoln used to make it more “accessible” to modern readers. I greatly admire Mark Twain. As an author, I felt angered and disrespected by Dr. Gibben’s decision.

However, I took the time to read Dr. Gribben’s explanation and to reflect on it. I think he has some valid arguments. He stated that “the n-word” has become even more offensive as a racial slur over time. He reported that, in his experience, students, parents and teachers have become more reluctant to even consider reading these books, which are classic American literature because of that word. He said his efforts to discuss the context in which Twain used the word often failed because of the powerful emotional reaction engendered by the word itself. He pointed out there are many editions available with the original language. Of course, Twain, like all authors, was edited by others.

I believe his observations are correct. Do they justify changing the original language?

I cannot speak to how a black person might perceive the word. Mark Twain wrote eloquently of overcoming his background of unquestioned racism. In my opinion, Huckleberry Finn is one of the most anti-racist books ever written. How can I convince someone who refuses to read the book because of its language? What about offering the choice between the original and the new edition to people offended by one word? Does that make sense?

I used the word “niggardly” in my novel, Abraham Lincoln for the Defense. When questioned by a black reader, I was able to show that the origin of niggardly is quite different than the word it sounds like. At least one person got fired and others have been reprimanded for correctly using the word niggardly. Should writers abandon the word to avoid confusion?

In an essay I wrote, I described a church of having a changing mixture of ethnic backgrounds in the congregation and increasing economic problems. An editor told me that was a racist statement. Since I wanted to get published I changed it. I did not and do not now think it was racist. The editor did. How do you defend yourself against a charge of racism?

Thoughts? Comments?

Thursday, January 13, 2011



I’ve never forgotten the image of three men without food or heat shivering as wind ripped at their tiny tent, snow piled up at the tent’s exit, and nothing existed for miles except ice and snow. My parents acquired a copy of the movie, “Scott of the Antarctic” and I still feel the cold of that black and white journey. Somehow, Scott’s failure—he was beaten to the South Pole by Roald Amundsen, his preparations were inefficient, and he and his companions died—was more of a learning experience and had greater emotional impact than heroic stories of victorious soldiers and admirals. Also, I don’t mind pulling apart the on and off iconic status of a Brit.

Scott started his naval career at the age of thirteen. (My grandfather went to sea when he was fourteen). By the age of thirty, Scott was the sole support of his mother and sisters. Promotion in the navy was slow and he saw the command of his first Antarctic expedition as a career opportunity. Although dogs and skis were used for that expedition, Scott and his men knew little about them, and Scott doesn’t seem to have learned much by his second and fatal expedition. Roald Amundsen learned Arctic skills from native people in Canada. He used sled dogs and wore animal skins. During his journey, he killed some of his dogs so he and his men had fresh meat.

Although Scott had flaws and showed bravery and endurance during his journey, he didn’t have to go to the South Pole. Maybe he could be a literary hero but not a hero in a mystery. I remember watching MR900383632with my parents a movie about the conquest of Everest. At the end, my mom said, “The whole thing seems like a waste of energy and life to me. Why did they have to climb it?” My dad was annoyed by her response. Of course the men had to test themselves against the mountain in the same way as Francis Macomber had to shoot animals to prove his manhood in “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”

As they plot, writers of mysteries think about stakes. As the protagonist faces more danger, so the stakes are raised. If protagonists don’t act bravely, they will face worse consequences. Is reader expectation due to our living at a different time? Surely foolhardy people still place themselves in danger for no good reason? What about sky divers or bungee jumpers? And then there’s adolescence when everyone is expected to behave rashly, hopefully without long-term consequences.

Today, we work hard to make our lives secure, risk-free, and insured. We call people heroes if they perform one brave action. We seem to search for heroes, even accepting avatars and comic book characters if we see no one else. Does fiction, and I’m including movies and television, provide us with the heroes we need and crave? How have antiheroes changed the way we see the main characters in fiction, characters like Scarlett O’Hara, Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, Tom Ripley, Alexander Portnoy, Holden Caulfield, and Cal in East of Eden?

I think characters don’t have to be heroic in traditional terms but they have to unfold throughout a story and reveal themselves with all their motives, petty and grand, to reach memorable status. What makes a hero or heroine for you, whether in fiction or in life?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An Interview with Beth Groundwater-The Business

Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series (A Real Basket Case, nominated for the 2007 Best First Novel Agatha Award, and To Hell in a Handbasket, released in May 2009). She also writes the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. The first, Deadly Currents, will be released March 8, 2011. Beth lives in Colorado and enjoys its many outdoor activities, including skiing, hiking, and whitewater rafting. She loves talking to book clubs, too, and not just for the gossip and wine! Please visit her website at and her blog at

EBD: The science fiction novella stands out among your mysteries. Is sci fi an interest of yours?

BG: I read widely in quite a few genres and science fiction is one of them. So, yes, it’s an interest of mine. I decided, though, after writing The Epsilon Eridani Alternative, that writing hard science fiction requires too much research! I had to get the physics of space-time travel, the biology of human aging and stem cell use right, among other topics, or the sci fi readers would be on my case.

EBD: Virtual Tales is a small publisher. Can I assume that The Epsilon Eridani Alternative was released as a trade paperback? At that point, you already had two novels published. Why didn’t you continue with Five Star and why did you choose Virtual Tales?

BG: I wrote The Epsilon Eridani Alternative novella before my mystery novels and had put it aside after trying to place it with various publications such as science fiction magazines and publishers who release novellas. Five Star does not publish novellas, so that was not an option for me. In fact, very few publishers do. After I had some success with my mysteries, I pulled out the novella, polished it up some and decided to try to place it again.

I actually signed a contract with another small press, which never got around to publishing it. Why, I don’t know, but that delayed things for a year. Then I found Virtual Tales. I liked the fact that they brought their titles out as both e-books and trade paperbacks, that they published a variety of genres, and that they didn’t focus on erotica, as many of the small on-line presses do. I’ve been very happy with the professionalism of all their staff.

EBD: I appreciate Five Star since it seems to distribute mainly to libraries and I use libraries when I can, but did that emphasis affect your sales? Was it important to get into libraries to increase your readership? Do you think going with Five Star served that purpose well (if that was the purpose)?

BG: I had always viewed Five Star as a “starter press” for me, somewhere to get my feet wet and learn the business and make a name for myself, then I hoped to move on to a larger publisher with wider distribution. Five Star likes to play this role, too, and be the discoverer of new talent. I’m very pleased that I not only met but exceeded my goals with Five Star, and they are very pleased that I am one of their success stories and have moved on to a regular trade publisher. They view themselves as a library publisher only, and their pricing and distribution is based on that. Their books do not usually appear in bookstores unless you, the author do, by having an event in the store. A very small number of independent bookstores carry Five Star mysteries because their customers ask for them, but not many.

EBD: What genres does Five Star publish? Any cross genre, such as romantic or paranormal mystery?

BG: Five Star publishes romances in its Expressions line, mysteries and westerns. The Expressions line will be closing at the end of 2011. I think I have seen cross-genre books in the mystery line, but since they target the library market, be aware that any sex scenes should be toned down. The best way to get an idea of what they publish is to see what books they've recently put out in their catalog (at

EBD: Why trade paperback instead of mass market for Deadly Currents? Trade paperback is more expensive and distribution usually isn't as good. I'm surprised that more bookstores are taking books that are more expensive and that trade paperback is growing-any thoughts on that?

BG: I don't agree that distribution for trade paperbacks isn't as good as for mass market paperbacks. I've seen trade paperbacks everywhere that mass markets appear--in bookstores, grocery stores, Wal-Mart, Costco, Target, etc. Many of the women in my book club and in book clubs I visit prefer trade paperbacks because they're easier to hold and read than mass markets. And it's the book club market that first drove trade paperback sales. My feeling is that e-books eventually will replace most mass market paperback sales and that collectors and those who want to keep printed versions of books will go for hardcovers and trade paperbacks.

EBD: Midnight Ink is publishing Deadly Currents, your third publisher. Will it be released in mass paperback? Is that the reason for your switch, and can I assume that distribution and advertising is better for a mass paperback? If not, what is the reason for the switch?

BG: Deadly Currents will be published simultaneously in both e-book and trade paperback. These were the two formats most requested by my readers, and both formats are growing in production while hardcover and mass market paperbacks are shrinking in production. I deliberately looked for a publisher that 1) would bring the book out in e-book and trade paperback and 2) had terrific distribution. I verified that Midnight Ink’s distribution policy was friendly to bookstores with a bookstore owner friend of mine before I signed the contract with them.

The lesson from all this is that it’s very important for authors to learn as much as possible about the business of publishing as well as the craft of fiction-writing in order to make decisions like this.

EBD: Five Star, I assume, did no promotion, but is Midnight Ink providing any? Do they have marketing people with a plan?

BD: Five Star does do promotion, but their promotion is aimed at the library market, not at bookstores. Midnight Ink does more, and targets bookstores and end readers, primarily, but they also promote to libraries. They assign publicists to their authors, who create promotion plans. I've been working with my publicist since November.

EBD: Have you ever tried advertisements in magazines or newspapers to promote your books?

BG: I tried going in on a group ad in Romantic Times with some other Five Star authors for To Hell in a Handbasket, so the magazine would review our books, but I got much better reviews from other sources that didn't require me to place an ad. Since then, I've decided that I'll never pay for advertising and that I'll work on free promotion instead, pitching articles to feature editors at local newspapers and interviews to local radio announcers, for example. Midnight Ink is placing ads for Deadly Currents in a few targeted magazines, so I'll be anxious to see if those have any impact on sales.

EBD: Have you seen your cover art for Deadly Currents? If so, did you like it and were you allowed to make suggestions?

BG: Both Five Star and Midnight Ink solicit author input on the cover design that is given to the art department and ask for feedback after the design is completed by the artist. I've been pleased with all of my covers so far, and believe it or not, I've made change suggestions that were accepted. The Five Star cover for A Real Basket Case was completely redone based on my feedback, and a small change was made to that for To Hell in a Handbasket. Midnight Ink is revising the cover for the trade paperback version of A Real Basket Case that will be released in November based on my suggestion. The key is to have a good reason for the change and to back it up. I loved the cover for Deadly Currents as soon as I saw it and made no revision suggestions. You can see it at my website, the Midnight Ink site (, on Amazon and Barnes & Nobel websites, etc.

EBD: Is there any reason you haven’t released any of your mysteries in e-format?

BG: Five Star, the publisher of my Claire Hanover gift basket designer hardcover mysteries, did not publish e-books at the time I signed a contract with them. My literary agent’s strategy all along was that after we found a publisher for my new series and signed that contract, she’d pitch the paperback and e-book rights for the Claire Hanover books to them. That’s precisely what she did with Midnight Ink, and they bought not only the e-book and paperback rights for A Real Basket Case and To Hell in a Handbasket, they also bought the third book in the series.

Midnight Ink confirmed what my agent had told me. They would not have offered the deal if I’d already released the e-book versions on my own. I’m so glad I waited! This is an example of why having a smart agent who knows the business is so important. The e-book and trade paperback versions of A Real Basket Case will be released in the fall of 2011 and of To Hell in a Handbasket in the fall of 2012, followed by the third book in the fall of 2013.

If you have any questions or salutations for Beth, please leave a comment. In next week’s interview, Beth explains the development of her new white water rafting series, the status of her Claire Hanover gift basket designer series, and how she manages writing, promoting and other projects. As one of her readers, I’m looking forward to whatever Beth writes! Come back next week to learn more about author Beth Groundwater