Friday, September 30, 2011

Explaining Progress to TWDW

Explaining Progress to TWDW

It is hard enough for an author to continue writing given the paucity of positive feedback. I find even sharing the feedback with TWDW (Those who do not write, which is nearly everybody) is a difficult matter.

In New Zealand, not only am I in the land of the Kiwis, I am in the Communications Disorders Department of Canterbury University where my wife Judy is a visiting professor. When people ask about how my writing is going, I have a great deal of difficulty communicating.

Since I’ve been here I had one short story published in the e-zine Yellow Mama. That’s easy enough to describe. I also had a story accepted for future publication in Lost Coast Review. Also in the, “No worries, Mate” category in terms of describability.

Two friends said they would write a review of Murder Manhattan Style for As a writer that’s great news, if it actually happens. If everyone who said they would write a positive review actually did, I would easily have twenty, five star reviews instead of five.

When the publisher of an e-book version of Murder Manhattan Style asked for the cover picture so he could adapt it for publication, I was stoked but it was harder to explain why. One more inch toward publication but I did not know when the book would be out or how to order it. Giving a reason for happiness beyond saying, “one more inch of progress,” is hard. One editor sent me a copy of the cover of an anthology I will have a story in. A different few millimeters forward toward publication but the date is still uncertain and it cannot yet be ordered yet. Both of those steps are progress along the long march to publication. I received from an editor of a different anthology who sent suggested changes in my work for me to review and respond to. That is an advance from a place much earlier along the long slog. Since projects are in various stages of development, that means I have been producing and sending out work over time. It also means that I have been getting acceptances fairly often. Good things, but not exciting to talk about with TWDW.

If I tired to explain this I would have to add my internal automatic cautions that projects sometimes fail to reach fruition for a variety of issues outside my control including the health of the editor and the financial health of the publisher.

I also think if I took the time to explain all the steps and pitfalls between writing and publication people would cut the conversation short, start to avoid me in the hallways and possibly even run in the opposite direction when they see me coming.

I wonder how a stonemason building a medieval cathedral responded to the question, “How was work today, honey?” Did the mason reply, “Great! I finished a gargoyle’s nostril in record time.” or “Not so well. A stone fell from the third flying buttress on the left, nearly crushing two horses.” Maybe the worker just brushed the dust off and answered, “What’s for dinner?”

What do you say when TWDW ask you about your writing?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Candy and Substance

American readers and movie goers like happy endings. Forget the doom and gloom and don’t belabor reality? I’ve heard that often enough. Is it true? Many years ago, I taught freshman English. Students told me they liked to watch soap operas because the soap situations were so bad that the students felt their lives were tolerable. What about reality shows today? They’re over the top—disastrous life choices, casual adultery, fights, and suicides. Do they make the daily reality of many Americans seem okay?

I like candy—chocolate and fudge are my favorites—but a diet of candy? I don’t think so. I need something to bite and chew and digest. The Swedes produce some of the dreariest stories and most tortured fictional characters on earth. When I watch a Swedish detective drama on public television, even I, whose family has lived in America only fifty years, wonder when the gloom and frustration will stop. Sometimes it doesn’t. Does the character of Lisbeth Salander alone account for the popularity of Stieg Larsson’s trilogy or does the writer’s portrayal of a society with all its warts and characters trapped within the society contribute to the trilogy’s popularity?

Emile Zola, a French author, wrote reality stories that even today, when the circumstances he describes no longer exist, make me want to run out and demonstrate for change. Many of his characters are poor and unable to climb out of that poverty but they are still sympathetic and possess admirable qualities.

In junior high and high school, the strongest bullies can become local royalty. The desire to belong to the in-group can turn the nicest student into a coward, a liar, and a fake. It’s a shock for a young mind to find out popularity and apparent success doesn’t mean meeting an imagesAmerican ideal. Today, there are young people more concerned with having enough to eat rather than reaching their full potential. I know YA writers who struggle with how deeply they can explore in fiction real teen issues and conflicts without being accused of exposing young people to obnoxious material. Teens don’t hesitate to tell us they laugh at adults who believe they can protect teens from what they have already witnessed.

If readers want escape novels with plenty of candy to cushion the fictional characters, readers certainly have the right to make that choice. However, I like to read, at least some of the time, about characters and situations that resemble what I know exists close by.

Do you have dark stories that linger in your memory beyond stories that are so easy to race through?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dying is Easy by Cathy Sonnenberg

“Dying is easy; comedy is hard,” an actor quipped on his death bed. Whereas laughing in the face of death may be heroic, joking about murder gets a bad rap. At a conference, a best selling author spoke dismissively of ‘a light-hearted romp through murder’ being unworthy of a writer’s energy. Is humor truly a lesser genre?

My own foray into humorous mysteries began at the death of my husband. Grief consumes a lot of brain cells. Reading serious literature was beyond me. Romance, when there seemed no possibility of there ever being any in my own life again, was just plain depressing. I had enough misery that taking on someone else's, even fictional, was too much of a burden. Mysteries gave me an intellectual buzz (not all the brain cells were mush) and humorous mysteries added a smile to the puzzle. When I started writing, I naturally gravitated to light-hearted murder.

There’s no doubt, in real life, death – especially murder - is as traumatic as it comes. I can’t imagine joking in the face of bereavement or writing a humorous take on an actual murder. But let’s face it, death is as natural as life and unless we are immediately connected to the deceased, our own interests are always more compelling than a stranger’s death. And therein lies the humor. We are not mocking the dead, but the living. Case in point - The Mary Tyler Moore episode in which Mary can't contain her laughter at the funeral of Chuckles the Clown. The story reflects our anxiety that we, too, might laugh at an inappropriate time and place. We loved Mary for being human.

Laughter is healthy but comedy is hard to pin down. What’s funny to one person falls flat for another Just as you might hate Adam Sandler but love the Marx Brothers; you might find Janet Evanovich over the top but appreciate the drier humor of Christopher Fowler. Is finding a few humorists not to your taste reason enough to dismiss the entire sub-genre?

Comedy shows and movies have whole banks of writers. Stand up routines last a relatively short time and are performed over and over again. Writers of humorous mysteries work alone. They not only have to create the characters, plot, sub-plot and red herrings, they have to hit the comedic beat on a regular basis without a whole lot of help.

Rodney Dangerfield lamented, “I don’t get no respect.” Don’t writers of "light-hearted romps through murder" deserve to be taken more seriously?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Word Choice Matters

As writers we know that word choice is important. We strive to choose the correct word to create the best story possible. But did you know that word choice can have unexpected and even life changing positives outcomes?

This summer, singer Gladys Knight was in Washington, DC to celebrate National Train Day and when asked about her GRAMMY-winning song, “Midnight Train to Georgia” she said the song was initially titled, “Midnight Plane to Houston.” (As a side note, songwriter Jim Weatherly wrote it after talking by phone to actress, Farrah Fawcett, who told him she was taking the midnight plane to Houston to visit her folks.) However, Ms. Knight and the Pips wanted to change the title because they were from Georgia and more accustomed to taking trains. At the end of the TV interview, the anchor commented that she would have had “a whole other life” if they would have stuck with the original lyrics.

In 1987 President Ronald Reagan traveled to West Berlin to give a speech. The State Department and National Security Council waged a fierce campaign ahead of time for Reagan to omit a line about the Berlin Wall. The draft of the speech was changed to a more measured, “'One day, this ugly wall will disappear.” Yet in the limousine on the way to give his speech, Regan told his advisor that he wanted to stick with his original speech saying, “The boys at State are going to kill me but it's the right thing to do.” Of course, we know the events that unfolded not long after President Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

What is little known about the famous “I Have a Dream” speech is that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. departed from his prepared text and improvised. About two-thirds into his speech, singer Mahalia Jackson prompted him to declare his passionate dream for the nation. She shouted, “Tell them about the dream Martin!” And he continued with what many consider the Second Emancipation Proclamation. “I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream...”

There are many ways to arrive at remarkable word choice. Three of these ways are: being authentic to lifestyle and experience; holding strong beliefs and following through with them; and being prodded by a friend. How do you get to outstanding word choice?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Real Life Behavior

All of us have experienced people who behave oddly. I think deviant behavior is endemic to mankind, so much so that normal people seem boring in novels. But I don’t want a weird main character with whom I can’t identify. Most people identify more with conventional characters who share universal values and accepted behavior.

To me, oddball secondary characters who reveal clues to the mystery presented, provide insight into the main character’s personality and inject comedy or substance to backstory are preferable.

Childhood leftovers contribute to odd behavior. People act out what they haven’t received or show which lessons they still need to learn. Conversely, the main character can be on the receiving end of the lesson learned. Odd behavior can result from arrested development either unilaterally or in specific areas of personality. Some odd behavior seems contrived, and yet there is truth in the old adage, fact is stranger than fiction. Consider the following:

• A supposed friend, who invites herself to dinner, makes pointed, meant-to-be-seen glances at her watch. Cutting the dinner short, she borrows a fifth of vodka and leaves for a party.

• A friend laughs in an unctuous manner when she is putting on a false face.

• A friend names the dollar amount of her family fortune, and then looks you in the face as if wanting you to name the dollar amount of yours.

• The daughter who tells a story at the family dinner table seemingly to entertain, but the story horrifies those in attendance and reveals the mother to be narrow-minded and punitive. Those in attendance experience the awkward moment, but for those people in the know, the daughter experiences a triumphant moment.

• Persons who assume superiority, casting friends in the role of idiot, as if they want idiot friends.

• The father who demands his daughter travel two states away to visit him even though he knows her 17 year old son has been hospitalized.

• The daughter who finally asks her mother, “Is it all about you?” The mother replies by saying, “I don’t see why not.”

• The mother who questions everyone’s judgment, but then she displays little wisdom herself.

• Those who demand invitations to events when the hosts know they’re not a good fit.

But then on the other hand…

• You’re attending a party where you know no one and can’t figure out why the host invited you, until she announces to all assembled that you make extraordinary gravy and invites you into the kitchen.

The characters in these situations aren’t criminals, but they display odd, boorish, outlandish or unconventional behavior. Have you experienced odd behavior in your life? Do you portray odd instances in your fiction?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Nudes, er News from New Zealand

Nudes, er, News from New Zealand

A public servant who was accidentally injured while having sex at a motel on a work trip is challenging a finding she is not entitled to compensation.

Leo Grey, representing the woman, told a federal court there was no suggestion she had engaged in any misconduct. He said her injury occurred during "an ordinary incident of life commonly undertaken in a motel room at night".

The woman, who cannot be named due to legal issues, was injured when a glass light fitting came away from the wall above the bed as she was having sex with a man in November 2007. said the light struck her in the face, leaving her with injuries to her nose, mouth and a tooth, as well as "a consequent psychiatric injury", described as an adjustment disorder.

Her employer had directed she spend the night in the town ahead of a meeting early the next day.

She applied for compensation from ComCare, the federal government workplace safety agency, but it found that the sexual activity was not an ordinary incident of an overnight stay like showering, sleeping or eating.

Grey said she had been injured while engaging in "lawful sexual activity,” noting there had not been any rule that employees should not have anyone else in their room without, “express permission of their department".

Andrew Berger, for ComCare, said people needed to eat, sleep and attend to their personal hygiene but "You don't need to have sex". reported that ComCare, which said the woman was having sex with "an acquaintance, who had no connection with her work", would argue that "neither legal authority nor common sense" could lead to a finding that the injury was sustained during the course of her employment.

Two female real estate agents came to blows over the sale of an apartment in a fight that left both with minor injuries - and a fine.

The catfight erupted in front of onlookers at an inner-Auckland apartment that both agents - Hulan (Wendy) Feng of City Sales and Soon (Fiona) Lee of LJ Hooker Ponsonby - had been trying to sell.

One industry insider said he wasn't surprised two female agents were involved but another said the behaviour was ridiculous.

A Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal found both agents guilty of disgraceful conduct and fined them $600 each.

The Dunedin "Nude Blacks" who play rugby in the nude before every world cup rugby match lost to a team of clothed Spanish women who won a contest for a free trip to New Zealand by paying rugby and stripping online. One of the players who works as a "pole dancer" explained that, "This demonstrates women can be athletes just like men.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Promo, Blatant and Otherwise

In the Sisters in Crime 2011 Publishers Summit Report, “How Readers Find books,” librarians appear to play a major role in selecting books and recommending reading material based on readers’ preferences. Librarians often make these selections based on reviews and ARCs.

I’d guess, unlike librarians, general readers are not avid followers of Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, or Kirkus, and the readers don’t receive ARCs. They probably don’t spend much time reading library blogs. Although librarians who read reviews select based on what they believe will interest their readers, the librarians have narrowed the available selection. As readers, we are used to this limitation since before we were old enough to master complex sentences, English teachers have selected what we should read.

Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter do not appear to contribute hugely to reader selection. Book tours and publisher promotion are not what they used to be for guaranteeing author exposure. (The word exposure makes me think of an easier way to gain notice and possibly even a coppertonemention on TV but would the writer be taken seriously? Does that matter?) According to the Sisters in Crime publication, networks such as Goodreads, Shelfari, LibraryThing, and Anobii are used by readers who want to share their favorite books. I am only familiar with Goodreads and it can be complicated to navigate.

I live in a rural area and there’s often a long wait at the local library for the latest bestseller in popular genres. Due to recent budget constrictions, less well-known authors may not have been acquired by the library that often focuses on children and teenagers who do not have electronic access to reading material.

My book choices often come from recent publications by members of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, and from books displayed at writers’ conferences. My kids, who don’t belong to writers’ associations, often base their fiction purchases on the recommendations of friends. Recommendations spread especially rapidly among teen populations.

What is a writer to do to be noticed by potential readers surrounded by ads and distractions? Send a most wanted poster with recent head shot and snappy blurb to libraries in every town in America? Writing the best book possible, at least early in one’s career, still seems vital to the process of being read. Also, it doesn’t hurt if the writer touches on a deep-rooted question, problem, or need for the story to take off. What that deep-rooted stimulus will be could be anyone’s guess. Who could have predicted the popularity of THE HELP? Maybe it’s the woman’s angle and the fact that the issues raised have not yet been socially resolved.

As a person who shrinks from promotion, I keep taking advice and hope at least some of it will help. How do you plan to promote your book?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sandra Parshall

Sandra Parshall, a former newspaper journalist, won the 2007 Best First Novel Agatha Award for The Heat of the Moon, her first book in the Rachael Goddard series. On September 1, Poisoned Pen Press released Under the Dog Star, the fourth book in this series. I wanted to interview Sandra, not only because I love the series, but also to learn about her writing techniques and publishing experiences.   E. B. Davis

Let’s start at the beginning with your first Agatha Award winning novel, The Heat of the Moon. When I read the novel, it seemed written as a one-off book, tying up all the loose ends. When you wrote the book, did you envision it as the start of the Rachael Goddard series?

No, I didn’t see it as the first in a series. When Poisoned Pen Press bought the book, however, I was happy to develop a series around Rachel. I love her and enjoy her company.

The Heat of the Moon was very much a psychological thriller, a different genre than the rest of the series. The second book of the series, Disturbing the Dead, transitions between psychological thriller to murder mystery, utilizing your main character Rachael as the deductive sleuth. Was Disturbing the Dead difficult to write?

I brought in Deputy Sheriff Tom Bridger to handle the police work, while Rachel works around the edges of the case, driven by her attachment to Holly Turner, the teenage niece of the murdered woman. I wrote several versions of Disturbing the Dead before I got it the way I wanted it, and yes, it was difficult. I make the work hard for myself by dreaming up convoluted plots with lots of characters, crisscrossing relationships, and secrets galore. That’s what I enjoy reading, so it’s natural that I would write that kind of book, but it’s never easy.

Was changing the setting pivotal in this transition?

Yes. I couldn’t keep Rachel in quiet, civilized little McLean, VA, and have her getting involved in a lot of murder investigations. Besides, I wanted to write about a variety of characters in a landscape that presents its own challenges. I saw many more opportunities for conflict in Rachel’s new home.

Rachael had a successful and domineering mother. She becomes personally and professionally involved with an overprotective man. Do you think people tend to make the same mistakes?

I think most strong, self-confident men are hardwired to be overprotective of the people they love. Rachel is attracted to strong, self-confident men, so she has to take the negative qualities along with the good. Luke in The Heat of the Moon might seem her perfect match, but as it turned out, Deputy Sheriff Tom Bridger is better suited. He’s overprotective at times, but then she doesn’t always object. If somebody’s trying to kill you, why would you object to a police officer looking out for you? He’s learning to respect her ability to take care of herself, though. He doesn’t treat her like a child, by any means.

People are reluctant to acknowledge their weaknesses. But Rachael is quite aware of hers and that characteristic is her strength. Do you value honesty above other virtues?

That depends on the situation. People often hide behind honesty when their real intention is to wound or destroy someone else’s confidence or happiness. We should be honest with ourselves about our motives and weaknesses. It’s not always wise to be totally honest with other people.

Among the many veterinarians, Rachael’s profession, there are a number of doctors for humans in your books. You know about the professions in the various medical communities. Do you have doctors in your family? Was this field your journalistic expertise? Or does it fascinate you?

No, the only personal experience I have with doctors is as a patient. I made Rachel a veterinarian because I wanted to include animals without turning the books into cozies, and also because her job gives readers a connection with her caring nature. Medical doctors crop up in stories because they’re useful characters. Doctors are in a uniquely powerful position. They can have enormous influence over other people’s lives. They can save and they can destroy. You couldn’t ask for a more versatile set of potential characters.

With each book, I get to know and like Rachael better. How do you write books for new readers without boring the old readers with backstory they already know?

I try to keep backstory to a minimum. Each book has to stand on its own, but new readers do need enough context to give the characters’ relationships some depth. In other words, I just do the best I can, and if my editor doesn’t object to what I’ve written, I figure I got it right.

Readers can forget secondary characters from book to book. Are there methods you use to spark the reader’s memory?

I have to remind myself to describe continuing characters when they first appear in each book. I know what they look like, but I have to make sure the reader does too. With Tom Bridger and Holly Turner, who are Melungeon — mixed race — it’s important that readers be able to “see” them clearly. With most characters, their personalities and relationships to one another will come out in the course of the story, so I don’t spend a lot of time filling in gaps.

Give us the hook for Under the Dog Star, please.

Veterinarian Rachel Goddard can’t stand by while animals suffer — and she feels equally driven to act if she believes a child is mistreated. In Under the Dog Star, she makes deadly enemies when she scrambles to save feral dogs wrongly accused of killing a prominent doctor, helps Deputy Sheriff Tom Bridger track down an illegal dogfighting operation, and at the same time becomes entangled in the sad lives of the murdered doctor’s adopted children. This fast-paced suspense novel, praised by Kirkus Reviews for “spine-chilling tension from cover to cover,” is also a story about the meaning of family, the power of compassion, and the duty we have to the animals that share our lives.

What route did you take to become published? Did you obtain an agent, who sold the series to Poisoned Pen Press? Have you been satisfied with Poisoned Pen Press? Do they help promote books?

I wrote a number of books and had several agents over the years, with no luck in finding a publisher. My agent at the time submitted The Heat of the Moon to 20 New York editors. When it didn’t sell, I put it aside and moved on to other things. Eventually, my friend Judy Clemens, who had sold a book to Poisoned Pen Press, read The Heat of the Moon, loved it, and urged me to submit it. I did, with little expectation of success. After they’d had it for 16 months, and I’d almost forgotten about it, PPP offered a contract. By then I had a new agent, and she handled the contract for me.

Yes, PPP promotes its books in several ways. I’m sure they do as good a job as any larger publisher does. Unless you’re a bestselling author, you’ll be responsible for most of the promotion yourself, regardless of which press you’re with.

Do you think placing books in libraries ultimately gains readership and sales?

I’ve heard from many readers who discovered my books in libraries. The library market is huge, and those sales are vital to the success of all publishers and authors, so recent cutbacks in library budgets could have a serious economic impact on the publishing industry. Selling books to libraries is every bit as important as selling copies to individual readers.

I think that promotion is a daunting task and few writers have the personality to do it comfortably. Does promotion bother you, and do you have a public persona that you utilize for promotion?

I have to push myself to be a little more forward than I am naturally, but aside from that I try to be myself. I’m not an actress. I’ve become much more comfortable with speaking before groups, and I enjoy being on panels at conferences. It’s always fun to meet readers and I love talking to people who have read my books. What I don’t like is the amount of time that promotion can eat up. I need long stretches of uninterrupted time for writing, and when it’s chopped into bits by promotional activities, I have difficulty getting anything written.

Do you serve in discussion panels at conferences, if so, which conferences?

I attend Malice Domestic and Bouchercon. I’ve been to Deadly Ink, and I’ve appeared at book festivals. This fall I’ll be at the Virginia Literary Festival in Richmond.

Would you consider becoming president of SinC in the future?

No. A thousand times no! As a member of the national board for the past two years, I’ve seen exactly how time-consuming the president’s job is, and I’m happy to leave it to capable women like Cathy Pickens and Frankie Bailey. I do think serving on the board is a valuable experience for anyone who wants to be active in the organization, and I’d like to see more members rotated through board positions more frequently.

How do organizations like SinC help women crime writers?

On a personal level, the organization provides support and comradeship in what can be a lonely profession. SinC and its Guppies Chapter have helped a lot of writers get published. SinC’s original purpose was to work toward equality for women writers – equality in the number of books published, the number of reviews received, the size of advances. Publishing is changing so radically now that I’m not sure how SinC’s historical identity will be affected. The organization is focusing increasingly on education, to give our writer members the tools and knowledge they need to compete in an altered marketplace.

Rachael seems very devoted to her practice, her personal life and helping in her community. But there are times when she seems like a skittish colt, a prey animal, who could cast the life she’s built aside and run. Is that because she was a victim and it’s a hard cast to break? Or is there an element in all of us to escape our current lives and be free?

Rachel grew up knowing she wasn’t loved or valued, and that’s had a profound effect on her. She still has moments when she doubts that she’s worthy of love. She’s also carrying around a gigantic secret about her own identity, so she has a constant sense of being an imposter. She’s resilient, though, and naturally warm and caring. I think she’ll be all right.

Please ask your local libraries to purchase Sandy’s series. I have only one problem with her writing—I wish she wrote faster!

Find out more about Sandra Parshall and her series at:
Her books can be purchased at: Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

“Now we must dance,” said my daughter holding up the brown parcel that had just been delivered to our door.
She tore the box open and slid out a paperback book. It was an anthology called Spirit Legends and there on page 65 was her short story “Safely Home.” So who writes stories mixing the supernatural with hockey? My daughter, that’s who. I remember when my first short came out in Death Knell 3. I was nowhere near as excited as I am now. I think in part it was because I had helped to put the anthology together, and followed it through the process from submission to the time when the box of books appeared at my front door. Since then I have had a few more. But as times and the publishing industry changes, so do the hopes and dreams of authors. Bodge has had a couple of short stories published in Ebooks. This is her first hold-it-in-your-hand anthology. I started my first novel when she was 24. I’m not sure when she picked up the bug, but it isn’t surprising since the whole family writes. At any time you could find the three of us working away at our respective computers. My husband working on a newspaper article about a local strike, me on a short story set in 1890 and Bodge trying to figure out how being a werewolf would impact playing hockey. I have been searching my heart since she showed me the book. I have never believed emotions are simple, so I have a whole cluster of feelings about this.
Pride. I have a wonderful and talented daughter. Gratitude. This for the gift we were both given and for our ability to stick with it to a finished product. We don’t always finish what we start. Jealousy. Well naturally. I started first and she is now almost as well published as I am. Rivalry. If she can do it, I need to keep working so she doesn’t get ahead. Joy. All for her. I knew she could do it. Accomplishment. Neither of us read for each other, so I often see the work only after it is published. I am always blown away with the quality of her writing. Sadness. My mother died before my first story was published. Her father died before hers was. Perhaps some day you will see supernatural historical hockey mysteries by EK Inglee.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fiction or Fact

I’m an open-minded reader of many genres. But I do notice mistakes. We all have our own areas of expertise, and we can’t know it all (unless you’re able to hire research assistants). Mistakes are important if they take the reader out of the story. I fume page after page wondering why the author couldn’t have taken ten minutes to look up the information. I once asked an author about a mistake I caught in one of her books. She replied that it was a case of thinking that she knew something when she didn’t. My intention wasn’t to belittle her, but to inform her as gently as possible that the error took me out of her story.

It’s hard to check every single fact when writing, and as a reader, I don’t usually check author’s facts. When I read a cozy based around needlework, like Marcia Ferris’s books, I don’t have a clue if her needlework instructions are bogus. Frankly, I don’t care because I’m not reading the story for the craft. When a series focuses on cooking, like Krista Davis’s series, I have more astuteness, but then I do my (more than my) share of cooking. I learn a lot from my authors about history, crafts, religion and various vocations. The authors may be just making it all up, but I doubt it. Most of us want to write with integrity.

I belong to a writers’ group, which enables authors to ask experts questions so that they “get it right.” I’m also attending the Writer’s Police Academy at the end of the month to increase my knowledge of police procedure, jurisdiction and technology. Because I’m not an expert, I wonder if after my attendance at the Academy whether I will start to catch errors, which begs me to question the purist vs. the pure of heart debate.

In a peer critique of a short story I wrote, the writer noted that I used the wrong type of boat. He was right, so I did some research and changed the boat type. But then, the editor didn’t understand, and thinking my reference was generic, redlined it, making me laugh. The right type of boat wasn’t actually very important. I thought being specific gave me more authenticity. The editor knew that my reader wouldn’t understand or care about the reference.

I wrote a story in which a nearing-retirement police officer let my main character, a teenager, slide when she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. My editor had a police officer double checking our facts. The police editor called me in error because my police officer did not follow procedure. No, my character didn’t follow procedure. It wasn’t my error. It was my character’s error. He was a softy. Police officers are human and sometimes don’t follow procedure, as evidenced by a conversation I overheard between my daughter and her aunt, who both confessed to using tears to avoid getting speeding tickets. Yes, their method worked. The police editor was so caught up in fact fault-finding, he missed the point.

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of crime romance, those novels that start out with a scary criminal situation with a damsel in distress. Of course, her hero helps her save the day and then they fall-in-love and live happily-ever-after. In part, I’m reading them for research, but I’ve also found them entertaining, bringing me back to my internal debate.

Crime romance authors write for the pure of heart. Purists read police procedurals. I enjoy reading both, but my motivation is to be entertained. The primary goal of my writing is to entertain. I’m not suggesting that authors forget about getting their facts right, but I’ve also found that most of the research that I do gets edited out because it isn’t necessary nor germane, or my character just doesn’t care about what he’s supposed to do.

Do you know when to say when to research? Do you wish more of the nitty-gritty had been redlined when reading a story that has bogged itself down six feet under, or does all that authentic detail fascinate you and add to the author’s authenticity?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Missed Yer Manners

Missed Yer Manners; Etiquette for Writers

Writers have an unusual job and they face unusual challenges in the area of etiquette. Therefore I have asked Missed Yer Manners to answer questions about situations unique to the authorial-inclined.

Dear MYM:

I was seated in restaurant the other evening with my wife attentively but unobtrusively eavesdropping on a group at a table across the restaurant discussing the dope dealer on their block when a couple came in and sat at the table next to ours. They had the bad taste to start a boring conversation about how well their children were doing at school and how much they liked their work. I could no longer hear the interesting discussion going on across the restaurant over their meaningless chatter. I could not think of an acceptable way to get Mr. and Mrs. Ordinary to shut up. What would you recommend I do next time this situation occurs?

No super ears

Dear No,

It is important to remain polite despite the provocation of those who do nothing to contribute to culture and civilization through the arts. To be fair we should not discount people who support activities of secondary importance such as medicine, theology, family, teaching, business, science, engineering, sewage removal and other necessary but not artistic endeavors. Along those lines, I cannot support suggestions made by other advisors like Emily Postal of jumping on the couple’s table and screaming at them while kicking their food and drink into their laps. (Besides, such actions tend to distract the people you were listening to and tabletops can be slippery.)

It is better by far to politely sneeze, cough, and gag while mentioning loudly that you cannot guarantee you are not still contagious with the Black Plague. You could suggest that they might feel more comfortable sitting farther away. Roll on the floor and regurgitate only if necessary. We do not want to cause the wait staff unnecessary work.

Dear MYM,

I was with a group of people working quietly on laptops in a coffee shop when a woman entered blathering loudly on a cell phone. After she picked up her order she sat at a table and continue to half-shout her end of the conversation into the phone. The coffee shop staff said nothing and one by one the quiet customers left. What could we have done?

My ears are still ringing

Dear My,

Oh, my. I am forced to admit that I find such rude behavior really annoying, even though it can inspire one to invent clever ways to murder and dispose of bodies. If this is a regular occurrence you might be able to convince the staff to add something extra to her drink, i.e., a laxative if she is moderately annoying or cyanide if she is intolerable. Note: Placing a partially eaten croissant covered in almonds next to the body is always a nice touch.

But be considerate. The first time it happens you might persuade the other customers to read aloud from their work and to move slowly to surround her table, increasing their volume as they get closer. They could politely explain that the volume of her speech meant they could not hear themselves think so they had to read out loud.

What other situations are handled best by courtesy?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Critique Groups

The Guppies are a constant source of help and support. I’ve made use of online critique groups and the opportunity to swap manuscripts. However and possibly because I wasn’t born into the digital age with a cell phone attached to my head like a third ear, I learn more from in-person critique groups. There’s no substitute for facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language. They make it so much easier to judge the most relevant criticism for my work and the general interest level in what I’ve written.

Here I’ll put in a plug for Seascape Writers Retreat that I attended this past weekend. I learned more in three days than I’d learn in a year of online feedback. It’s not the messenger but the medium. Some writers brought first drafts and they felt the feedback they received helped them deepen their characters and plot. Other first drafters changed their protagonists and villains. I think it makes sense to have feedback from the start unless you don’t mind stumbling in the dark for years or you produce almost perfect drafts the first time. Even writers who presented stories they’d been working on for months or years felt they learned from all the feedback they received.

I recognize that’s my opinion. Have you had a critique group that’s made all the difference to your writing?butterf5

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

An Interview with Donnell Bell

I’ve known award-winning Donnell Bell online for a while and knew that I’d like her novel. She blends mystery and romance well, which is important to me. I usually can’t read romance without the mystery element because the plots are not intricate enough. That issue certainly wasn’t a problem in Donnell’s first book published, The Past Came Hunting, which will be released this month by Bell Bridge Books. Her writing is no secret since she’s won awards for years.
E. B. Davis

E.B.: How many revisions did it take before you were satisfied with this book?

D.B.: First, E.B. thanks very much for that very kind introduction. I maybe had three to four revisions before I became agented. My agent had me make it hotter for today’s market (so not my comfort zone). When Bell Bridge bought the book, my editor, Pat Van Wie, said you’re not good at this, take it out. Not to say there’s no sexual tension, I think there’s quite a lot. So… let’s say five revisions. Sound good?

E.B.: Have you ever stared at a page you wrote and wondered if it was terrific or garbage? How does a writer know the difference?

D.B.: Let’s see. Would every day of my life qualify? As to how a writer knows the difference, sometimes a writer just has to trust his gut. For all the infinite times you’re unsure, that’s where a trusted critique partner comes in handy.

E.B.: The hook of your book is very believable. Teenagers make bad choices, which become complex given dangerous situations. What is the synopsis of the book?

D.B.: Drake Maxwell has one goal upon his release from prison―finding the girl he tried to help after a sadistic truck driver tried to rape her. For once Drake gave a damn, and how did the little hitchhiking Melanie Daniels repay him? By turning on him the moment he had the drop on the clerk, then thwarting any chance of Drake’s escape.

Lt. Joe Crandall is on the fast track for Commander and not pleased to learn his new neighbor is a woman he sent to prison 15 years earlier. Now her kid has befriended Joe’s son and the two basketball playing teens are inseparable. Add that Melanie’s former warden suggested her move to Colorado Springs so that a recently released convict can’t find her. Joe doesn’t need the headache or the unwelcome attraction.

E.B.: I was surprised that you had a prologue (even if unstated) until I realized how much romance the book contained. Why is it that prologues are fine in romance, but they are verboten in mystery? Is it just a trend?

 D.B.: You know, I’ve just never understood that prologues are fine for romance and not for mystery or any genre for that matter, (although if you know an agent you’re targeting hates them, don’t put one in).

Actually, I didn’t include a prologue in The Past Came Hunting. I was concerned as an unpublished author that so many people had said, “Don’t you dare.” So imagine my surprise, when in my revision letter, my editor said you need a prologue. Robert Crais and Harlan Coben put prologues in their books, so maybe a good rule would be-- prologues should only be written by successful thriller/mystery writers whose last names begin with C. Teasing of course. ;) I think it’s important to do what works for YOUR novel.
By the way, Mr. Crais was wonderful to give me a quote for my web site that reads, “Sure you can write a prologue. Just don’t write a bad one.”

E.B.: In this book, you crossed police procedural mystery with romance. Have you written other books of this cross-genre or have you tried crossing other genres?

D.B.: I love romantic suspense and mystery equally. In my 2010 Golden Heart finaling manuscript, Deadly Recall, I have a Romantic Suspense and a Mystery combination. But I admit to throwing in women’s fiction and young adult into The Past Came Hunting. It wasn’t a conscious choice. It just felt right for this project.

E.B.: You’ve obviously done your research. You make the point that there are differences between parolees and ex-cons in that ex-cons have a right to privacy that parolees do not, which seems odd to me since ex-cons have no rights to vote or own firearms. How did you find out about these differences and what was the legal reason for these differences?

D.B.: Great question. I wanted my antagonist to move around freely, and if he was on parole, that couldn’t happen. He’d have a parole officer to check in with. So I made my bad guy serve his entire sentence at which point, he’s simply released. A Douglas County deputy by the name of Sue Kraus drilled into me the difference between a convict and an inmate. An inmate she said is from the jail. A convict is in prison. Although the terms get interchanged, it was important for me to know the difference.

E.B.: You started Crimescenewriters email group. How did that come about?

D.B.: Actually, I didn’t start it. The wonderful Wally Lind did. Wally is a retired veteran police officer who has a strong background in CSI and forensics. After I’d been a moderator for more than a year, he asked me if I’d be co-owner. I was delighted. Wally provides an invaluable service for writers.

E.B.: How many queries did you send out before submitting to Bell Bridge Books? Did you pinpoint agents and publishers that specialize in romance, mystery or are there some who specifically sell cross-genre?

D.B.: The Past Came Hunting, formerly Walk Away Joe, was undisputedly a romance albeit romantic suspense. I didn’t try mystery agents for that reason. I had four romance agents interested when I signed with an agent. We parted ways in the fall of 2009. Then, I finaled again in the Golden Heart in 2010. At National, I sat in on a workshop led by Debra Dixon and Deborah Smith. The day after I returned home, I queried Belle Books and they were interested.

E.B.: What has been the process working with Bell Bridge Books? Did they provide you with editing and a front cover artist?
 D.B.: Senior Editor, Pat Van Wie of Bell Bridge bought the book. The Past Came Hunting has gone through revision, copy edits and proofreading. I was allowed to read it twice, one for big, cohesive changes, then for minor edits. Then, finally, they yanked it from my insecure little paws and said that’s it. They asked for input on the cover, but I believe Debra Dixon had her own vision. (Gotta say I’m pleased!)

E.B. Will your books have print and epub format?

D.B. Yes, The Past Came Hunting will come out in book form and digital print.

E.B. Do you attend conferences?

D.B.: Yes. For the most part, I attend conferences close to Colorado, and hope to attend more mystery conferences in the upcoming years. I get so excited and jealous listening to people talk about Killer Nashville, Bouchercon, Left Coast and more. I’m definitely concentrating more on thrillers and mysteries, so those conferences will be the ones I target.

E.B.: How do you stay so active online and write at the same time?

D.B.: I don’t. I have ADD and if I stay on line, my writing suffers. So to write, I go offline. I write in shorthand. I take my notebook, (you know the 120 page, College-ruled type) go outside or into my bedroom and get away from the computer. After I transcribe my shorthand, I print it out in longhand (this acts as a second draft). Only then do I go anywhere near a computer. I simply can’t be trusted if you leave me alone with a keyboard and a monitor not to see what everybody else is doing.

E.B.: Will your next book have a dog character?

D.B.: Well, I don’t know. Do I need one? Who’s going to take care of it when my protagonists have to run for their lives?

E.B. Were you a Barbara Stanwyck “Big Valley” fan?

D.B.: Hmmm, is this a trick question? Let’s just say I didn’t name my daughter Audra for nothing.

Also, Writers Who Kill readers, if you’re interested, I’ve linked a never-before-seen chapter in The Past Came Hunting to my web page. I’m calling it “The Chapter that Got Away.” It should give you a glimpse into my heroine’s past.
 You can find me at my web page, on Facebook and on

Donnell and I welcome your comments and questions on her new release or other inquiries. Anyone commenting today will be entered in a give-away for early release copy of The Past Came Hunting. Thanks for the interview Donnell!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fantasy Football and the Male Point of View

It’s football season! That means it’s time to step outside my normal female perspective and become steeped in the male point of view. How do I do this? I play fantasy football with the “boys.” By boys I mean Lt. Colonels in the Marines, Pentagon personnel, a military doctor and retired Air Force and Navy officers.

For those of you unfamiliar with fantasy football it’s an online game where you “choose” NFL players to fill positions on your team and then compete weekly with other teams in your league. Before the season begins, we spend an hour on a conference call picking our team. At the end of the season we compete in a playoff tournament.

Since the game is not actually played on the gridiron, it is a test of brain power and luck, not strength, so the playing field is leveled for me. Being a strapped writer it’s especially nice because no money changes hands. Also, it’s fun to create quirky team names. Last year my team was Athlete’s Football with the slogan, “We’re fast, on fire and itching to win.”

From a writing standpoint it is participatory research; for a few months in some ways I become one of the guys. Over the past three years I’ve learned how to talk smack - belittling things said in the heat of competition - and write phrases such as, “You’re almost as good as the water boy” or, “Better take up knitting and hang with your mama.” Just between us writers, I take notes on my competitors’ speaking style and attitude in order to write more believable alpha male dialogue.

Here are my observations:
• Talk is clipped and short. It’s also aggressive, blunt and to the point.
• Jokes and stories are highly valued as is good natured taunting and insults to manhood.
• Likely to challenge, dispute or interrupt during a conversation.
• Conversation is seen as competition.
• Make demand and command statements instead of requests.
• Avoid any reference to their health problems or injuries.
• Like to win and be the best.

What surprised me the most was the need to win and be the best. It shouldn’t have surprised me because my competitors are military leaders. But it did. The first year I played, I won and received the coveted trophy and t-shirt. By their incredulous reactions you’d have thought women were now welcome to play in the NFL. I don’t know if it was because I was a female. Or, that I was both a female and a civilian. Or, the triple threat of female, civilian and first time player. The next year I noticed the level of competition kicked up and I didn’t win.

Since I prefer supportive group activities, being an individual competitor in a male setting has been a stretch for me. However, I have discovered that this type of rivalry and weekly sparing keeps me sharp and makes me more assertive. I become competitive--not necessarily with other people but with myself. Also, I take more risks with my writing and am not as afraid to make mistakes.

Have you engaged in participatory research to help you write more believable dialogue?

Monday, September 12, 2011


Stress—“they” say positive stress is good for people and that negative stress can kill. “They” makes me want to kill them—those who say stupid things like that. Why this discussion of stress?

Sunday challenged my stress levels. We had our next door neighbors over for dinner on Saturday night. The man is my techie guru. I happened to mention how sticky and unresponsive my old Vista system had become. He reminded me that Vista was always a lousy operating system, and that I had a disc of Windows 7. I’ve resisted updating my operating system even knowing that the new one would solve my problems (or so he has claimed).

The fact is that my laptop is 5 years OLD. Many people have told me to buy an Apple next time. I know I should, but I’m reluctant because I’ve always used Windows and Apples are expensive. In an effort to avoid that expense right now and to avoid proving that I’m an old dog, I decided to upgrade to Windows 7.

I awoke Sunday ready to install the new system and put the disc into my PC. My clock said it was 9:30 a.m. The program advised me to check my system’s compatibility to Windows 7. I write. I’m not a techie. Who am I to ignore advice from Microsoft?

The compatibility assessment advised getting rid of my iTunes program at least temporarily just for the install. It also advised me to get rid of an old antivirus program that I wasn’t aware was still on my system. This has happened to me before—pieces of old programs scattered about my system like junk in an unorganized and overfilled junk drawer. I consider this sloppy work by the antivirus company’s programmers and their lacking makes me disinclined to buy their product again, which my guru told me would be unnecessary because Windows 7 comes with its own security and antivirus software. Ha-ha, I thought, serves you right! Who needs you?

Through my control panel, I removed the programs and then, because I’ve done this before, did a search on my “C” drive and found more files associated with the antivirus program, which I deleted. I reran the Windows 7 installations and it still told me to remove the antivirus program. I went to the antivirus company’s website and found three techniques to remove the old programs. When I saw that they actually had three techniques, my stomach soured. Why wouldn’t one work?

None of them worked. I couldn’t find any files on my system even when I checked the registry and found that the company was unlisted in any drawer. After all my failures and reboots later, my clock said it was 3 p.m. I hadn’t intended to spend the entire day on this project. Other projects called. I picked up the phone and called my guru, who was good enough to come over.

He couldn’t get it to upgrade my system either. At least I didn’t feel incompetent. We reinstalled iTunes and the antivirus program—yes the one, which caused all the problems—because in Vista I needed such a program. And then we ordered more RAM. If I couldn’t upgrade the operating system, the only solutions was to make Vista work better and adding RAM would help.

“They” say that money can’t buy happiness. Maybe it can’t, but maybe it can relieve a lot of stress. Next time, I’ll get the Apple.

What increases your stress level?

Friday, September 9, 2011



When presented with a severe problem or life event like the loss of a child, a bitter divorce or the diagnosis of a chronic illness some people get stuck in reacting to the event and other people manage to overcome the tragedy and have productive, satisfying lives. The difference seems to be what we label resilience.

Both groups look pretty much the same initially. We know that the process of mourning feeling of grief, numbness, denial, and dissociation seem universal. Those who progress through the stages of mourning have certain characteristics in common.

They have at least the A’s— Attitude, attribution and action. Sometimes called optimism, it is the persistent belief that, bad as things are and bleak as the future looks, life in general is still good. Things may never recover entirely but things can get better. Sometimes the belief is tied to a religious faith.

They believe that their efforts have an effect both when they succeed and when they fail. They know they are not completely in control of problems but have faith that they can have at least some influence on what is happening.

These people plan and take action. Years ago a group of army recruits got lost in the Alps just before massive blizzards were predicted. An experienced sergeant broke his leg and had to be evacuated by helicopter. The blizzards set in and it was weeks before search parties could begin the search. Expecting to find few or no survivors the searcher found the entire group together and in good spirits. The survivors explained that one of the recruits found a map of the mountains in his pocket. Together the men decided where they were and the route to take to get out of the mountains. Back in camp an officer examined the map and found it was for the Pyrenees Mountains not the Alps. The soldiers developed a plan and took action that could not work. And it saved their lives.

Another characteristic of resilient people is that are self accepting. They are anti-perfectionists. They learn and improve skills over time but they don’t expect to be perfect the first time. They have enough confidence to understand that mistakes are expected and they provide lessons to learn. The opposite of all or nothing thinking. They manage the powerful emotions of the difficult situation without getting frozen by fear or depression.

Usually resilient people have strong relationships with family members, friends and others where they feel free to express the full rage of emotions they experience about the crisis. They don’t need to put up a false front and pretend to be brave when they feel like quivering Jell-O. Relationships of that quality develop only when both parties are willing to put aside their needs at times to be loving and supportive, so resilient people also offer reassurance and help to others.

Who do you know who is resilient?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Can’t Wait for the Next Book

Can you remember, as a child, the excitement of discovering an author? Did you read all the books, one after another, until there were no more books and you wanted to write your favorite author urging her to hurry up and produce the next book? Recently I discovered the books of Tana French. Sure, I should be reading them with critical eyes so I can improve my own writing skills. However, French’s characters and stories drew me into worlds where total immersion was the only option for me.

French’s first book, In the Woods, was the most distant in setting and plot for me. The feudal aspects and the lynch mob mentality of the 0670038601_0victims of a feudal overlord didn’t seem to belong to the 1960’s. However, I lived in America and not Ireland during that decade. My father’s family is Irish but that doesn’t make me an expert on Ireland.

Despite my reservations about the book, I was entranced by French’s writing and the way she developed her characters. Also, when I think about it, one of the most feudal-thinking characters I ever met was an American descended from Irish immigrants. Despite an Irish President, and numerous Irish doctors, lawyers, writers, and CEO’s, she couldn’t forget that Irish immigrants had been greeted in the US with signs, “No Irish Need Apply.” As a supervisor, she set out to make sure the people working under her paid for that long ago insult to her ancestors. Brits have long and often justifiably been criticized for their treatment of Ireland and the criticism will continue but sometimes problems start within.

French’s next books, The Likeness and Faithful Place, I believe demonstrate more the author’s ability to unravel character and create atmospheric settings. Even secondary characters are fascinating. There was nothing quirky about the characters. They just unfolded throughout the books as friends you gradually get to know. I also kept reading for a resolution to the crime in each book.

Now I have nearly finished French’s third book. How long do I have to wait for the fourth?

Do you have an author you must keep reading?