Friday, April 20, 2018

Visiting With The Killer Coffee Club

by Shari Randall

One of the biggest perks of being an author is getting to spend time talking with readers. Because I’m a writer, reader, and former librarian, I love talking books! I feel torn while writing because I stay away from the type of books I love reading most – mysteries. I’m afraid I’ll unconsciously pick up another author’s voice or plot point. While writing a first draft, I switch to nonfiction, biographies, or craft books, or delve into whatever I’m researching for the work in progress.

So I was especially thrilled when I received an invitation to visit the Killer Coffee Club to talk to readers about my new mystery, Curses, Boiled Again! The Club is run by Nikki Bonnani, a college instructor, personal trainer, and writer who moderates this long-running book group. Nikki is high energy - she reminds me of an Energizer Bunny. I think she’s met every author out there. The authors who have visited the Killer Coffee Club - in person or via Skype - are a Who’s Who of the mystery world: Brad Parks, Donna Andrews, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Rosemary Harris, Edith Maxwell, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, Lee Child…. I could go on. The Club has been meeting at the Barnes and Noble in Ithaca, New York since 2009 when they discussed Louise Penny’s Still Life. The fact that Nikki chose that book tells you about her excellent taste in books and I’m not just saying that because she invited me.

I was thrilled to be invited, but also a bit terrified. I couldn’t make the trip to Ithaca, so I’d be doing the visit via Skype.

Not familiar with Skype? Wikipedia says Skype is “a telecommunications application software product that specializes in providing video chat and voice calls between computers.” In plain English, Skype lets you video chat on your computer.

I love what Skype does but I’m not keen on how Skype makes me look – like my passport photo. Still I was happy to do it. By the way, Nikki looks great on camera. She’s been doing Skype for a long time and is a pro. I noticed a few things that she did and that I didn’t do which might help you if you ever get to do a Skype interview:

1.     Check the position of your screen. Nikki had her computer camera set in one stationary spot. I Skyped on my laptop, while I was curled up on the couch. Not a good idea. After a while I noticed that I was veering in and out of the frame as I shifted position. If you Skype, set your computer in one spot, preferably in a way that makes you lift your chin while you talk. Not only was I looking down at my laptop, I realized that particular posture muffled my voice.

2.     Practice ahead of time. I Skyped my older daughter, who was bemused to be using this, to her, antiquated technology. We worked out a couple of kinks, most especially something I’d never thought would be an issue – lighting. I’d planned to sit on the couch with a floor lamp beside me, but I ended up looking a mobster in witness protection being interviewed on Dateline, all shadowy and obscured. Overhead lighting will make you more visible, but may be harsh. Be sure to experiment.

3.     Test your link. I had the link to Skype, which I confirmed with Nikki before the meeting, ready to go at interview time so I could simply click a button to connect.

The bottom line? I had such a good time talking and laughing with the Club I forgot to be nervous. Because Nikki is a writer, she asks thoughtful questions that spark great discussion. Her group also asked great questions, and an hour flew by.

I hope these tips are helpful for your Skype visits. If you have any tips on using Skype or on author visits to book clubs in general, please share them in the comments.

Shari Randall is the author of Curses, Boiled Again, Book One of the new Lobster Shack Mystery series from St. Martin's Press. RT Book Reviews called Curses, "a delicious cozy with deadly outcomes and plenty of probable culprits."



Thursday, April 19, 2018

Retreating to Advance


By Cathy Perkins

The weekend marked the 10th anniversary of our writing retreat. Wow, ten years. Ten years ago, Rachel Grant, Rebecca Clark, Courtney Milan, Darcy Burke and I were Golden Heart finalists and staged our first retreat. (We invited Elisabeth Naughton to join us several years ago and Kris Kennedy couldn’t come this year.) We’re all multi-published authors now, but we’re also friends. We’ve seen each other’s children grow up, celebrated successes and consoled losses.

The primary focus of the weekend is writing. Usually silence reigns except for the clicking of Elisabeth’s keys, but there are lighter moments too. We reviewed the 432 pictures from Darcy’s photo shoot and picked favorites for book cover potential. Of course, we had to stage our own “shoot.” 

This is our “thoughtful” pose. 


Yeah, not.

One of the most helpful things for me was the business discussion. We talked about goals for the upcoming year and mouths gaped as Darcy described her publication schedule. “I treat it like a job, because that’s what it is,” she explained. In order to meet her schedule, she sets—and meets—daily word counts. 

Her comment echoed Steven King. I listened to On Writing during the drive to Portland. (We change the location every year, but the house is always in the Pacific Northwest.) King said he goes to his writing space every morning and doesn’t come out until he has at least 1500 words on the page. Some days he’s done by noon. Others, he’s there until dinner time.

That’s my takeaway from this year’s retreat. Consistency. Discipline. Sure, I wrote nearly 15,000 words this weekend. Some of them will turn out to be lousy, but the first draft of my latest novel is nearly complete and editing will deal with the clunky sections. But every day since I’ve been home, instead of checking email, social media, and the news when I get up, I write. I’m roughly two scenes away from reaching “The End.”

And then the editing will begin…and the plotting of the next book.

Thanks Darcy. And Steven.   


An award-winning author of financial mysteries, Cathy Perkins writes twisting dark suspense and light amateur sleuth stories.  When not writing, she battles with the beavers over the pond height or heads out on another travel adventure. She lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd. 

She's hard at work on the next book in the Holly Price series, 
In It For The Money.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

#MeToo and My Second Mystery

By Kay Kendall

When I began to write my second mystery, I placed the crimes to be solved in a revolutionary setting. I wanted to reflect on my participation in the radical movement now known as Second Wave Feminism. Back then we just called it women’s lib.

My book Rainy Day Women came out in 2015, slightly wrong for the era. This was a time, for example, when most young Hollywood actresses eschewed the title of feminist. The term was derided for being anti-men and it was dangerous to be seen as that. It annoyed me—no, it made me just plain mad—to read these women’s comments. Most of them were under thirty years old, and few knew how things had been in prior decades—how constrained the roles of women really were.  
While the plot of my mystery is completely fictional, the feelings my amateur sleuth Austin Starr as she attends consciousness raising groups parallels my own. I provide a record of what it was like, the stages I went through, as I learned how women were subjected to men for millennia—forever, really—and discovered ways to go about changing that.
Back then I thought it would be an easy fix. Oh my, how young I was. How naïve. I thought equality was a reasonable thing to strive for and that most men would be rational and say, “Yeah, sure, ladies. Whatever you want.” I thought things would be “fixed” in a decade or two.
And so here we are today. Six months after #MeToo became A Thing. Two days after The New York Times and The New Yorker reporters shared the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. Their expose on sexual harassment included the predations of the film mogul Harvey Weinstein. Their reporting unleashed a storm of  fury that built upon the anger of hundreds of thousands of women who had aleady taken to the streets across America—and also around the world—the day after the presidential inauguration in January 2017.
I am woman, hear me roar. In numbers too big to ignore. And I know too much to go back an' pretend . 'Cause I've heard it all before. And I've been down there on the floor. No one's ever gonna keep me down again.
So wrote and sang Australian-American performer Helen Reddy in 1971 on her debut album. The song "I Am Woman" hit at just the right time to become the anthem of us libbers. We wanted equal opportunity for jobs, decent childcare, help with the housework (HELP?!), reproductive freedom, and serious treatment as a member of the human race. Sexual exploitation and abuse was not mentioned much, if at all. Women kept their sad, sordid stories of abusive bosses, strangers, and relatives mostly to themselves.
Flash forward to today. Now we know. Boy oh boy, do we know. With Weinstein leading the parade, many powerful men followed. Famous men in entertainment and the arts, restaurant chefs, and politicians keep being called out, making headlines, and falling like dominoes. Some hit the skids and lose their jobs for small sins, others for egregious ones. But still, Weinstein remains the rotten gold standard of this type of horrible male behavior. This new climate of women’s awareness has caused actresses who formerly would not call themselves feminists instead to brand themselves as such. Now the pretty young things walk the red carpets together in solidarity. 
And if, after you have read about all this agitation, after you have seen it in the streets and on television, perhaps you want to understand where it sprang from. If so, take a look at my mystery. Yes, Rainy Day Women shows what it was truly like for one twenty-three-year-old woman in 1969. And besides, why were those two leaders of women’s groups in Seattle and Vancouver murdered anyway? And who done it?




Meet the author

Kay Kendall is a long-time fan of historical novels and now writes mysteries that capture the spirit and turbulence of the sixties. A reformed PR executive who won international awards for her projects, Kay lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to her bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she's a Bob Dylan buff. In 2015 Rainy Day Women won two Silver Falchion Awards at Killer Nashville.
Visit Kay at her website < http://www.austinstarr.com/>
or on Facebook < https://www.facebook.com/KayKendallAuthor>

 

 

 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Interview with Agatha Nominees for Best Short Story!





Each year, I feel very privileged to be able to host interviews with the Agatha nominees for best short story in The Stiletto Gang and Writers Who Kill. I always learn from their answers and appreciate so much what goes into the craft.




Following is a list of the nominated stories with links on the titles so you can read and enjoy. Thanks to Gretchen, Barb, Debra, Gigi, and Art for taking the time to answer the questions. And check in at Writers Who Kill tomorrow to hear more from these talented authors. Best wishes to all. — PGB




Double Deck the Halls by Gretchen Archer (Henery Press)
Whose Wine is it Anyway by Barb Goffman in 50 Shades of Cabernet (Koehler Books)
The Night They Burned Miss Dixie’s Place by Debra Goldstein in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (May/June 2017)
The Library Ghost of Tanglewood Inn by Gigi Pandian (Henery Press)
A Necessary Ingredient by Art Taylor in Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Seat (Down & Out Books)






How do you know an idea is “short story worthy”?



Gretchen Archer: If the elements are there—story arc, strong characters, interesting setting, and a puzzle to solve—I find the idea worthy. There are many colorful characters in the Davis Way series, so I had a surfeit of choices for a protagonist in Double Deck the Halls. From my character list, I chose Granny. The setting is always the same—the Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. And the puzzle? What could be more fun than an octogenarian MacGyver?




Barb Goffman: When considering if an idea is better suited to be developed into a short story or a novel, I think the key is how complicated the plot is and how early you want to bring your main character in on the action. If your story involves multiple murders, for instance, and you want to show that your protagonist is on the case from the beginning, then you're likely describing a novel. That idea seems too complicated to develop properly in a short story. But if you have the same scenario and your protagonist comes in at the last murder and quickly figures out whodunit, then that could be a short story. Which way to go? I think that's a style decision for the author. 




This is why I tell people that a short story is about one thing. One specific tight tale. The more complicated the idea, the more detail you need to show, the more pages your tale will take. The plot of my story "Whose Wine Is It Anyway?" has two inciting incidents-- twice within a few days my main character, a legal secretary, feels slighted by her long-time boss--and the resolution comes quickly thereafter, so it was well suited for a short story. (For those who haven't read the story, in Myra's last week before retirement, she learns her boss has hired an airhead to replace her and he does something that makes her realize he's been taking her for granted. So Myra devises a plan to teach him a lesson.)




Debra Goldstein: I don’t initially know if an idea is “short story worthy.” When a story works, it flows and ends exactly where it should. The idea of the story may come from a prompt, a phrase stuck in my mind, or a character’s voice. In “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” the opening sentence “I remember the night they burned Ms. Dixie’s Place” was the first thing I thought of, but then I realized that most of the story had to be told on that night, when the main character was only nine years old. Once I recognized the voice would be a child’s, the importance of the premise became evident. I write both novels and short stories, but there was no question that this idea and the portrayed characters and incident would only work as a tightly written short story.




Gigi Pandian: I love short stories that have a satisfying twist. In my own short fiction, the twists that I like to play with are seemingly impossible crimes that have a rational explanation.




My full-length novels are adventures in addition to being mysteries, so while my books do have twists in them, the twists and the puzzle aren’t necessarily as important to keep the story going as the characters themselves and the adventures they’re having.




Therefore when I come up with an idea for a story involving an impossible crime twist, instead of an idea that centers around a specific character or a larger plot, then I know it’s a short story rather than a novel.




Art Taylor: I’m primarily a short story writer, so most of my ideas seem suited to that length—it just seems to be the form I’m most naturally drawn toward, the one I’m most comfortable in. Ideas come from a variety of places, of course: a bit of overheard conversation, a dream, a trip (the travel kind, not the hallucinogenic kind!), even other short stories or novels that prompt the imagination along. While I tend to think in narrative arcs at short story length, I also try to fold in other threads as well to help enrich the story’s texture and its breadth—by which I mean balancing several characters’ narrative arc and the ways they intertwine, for example, or by layering in some thematic arc alongside the arc of the plot, letting several things speak one to another. I may not be able to write long very often, but I try to write dense at least—dense in a good way, I hope!



Tell us about the publisher of your nominated short story and how the story came to be published.



Gretchen Archer: “Double Deck the Halls: is a short-story companion to my Davis Way Crime Caper mystery series published by Henery Press. I knew where Deck would land before I wrote it.




Barb Goffman: "Whose Wine Is It Anyway?" appeared in the anthology 50 Shades of Cabernet, which was published by Koehler Books. This book is the brainchild of author Teresa Inge. She came up with the idea of a lighthearted anthology involving mystery and wine. She wanted to help promote the Virginia wine industry. So she reached out to a bunch of Virginia authors and asked if we'd be interested in submitting stories for the book. After doing a lot of interesting research I came up with a workable story idea, wrote my story, and submitted it. Teresa shopped the manuscript around and Koehler ended up picking it up. They're based in Virginia Beach, near where Teresa lives, so it all worked out very nicely. Koehler gave us multiple rounds of edits and proofreading. And royalties. What's fun about them is for each book they publish, they put two potential covers on their website and the general public can vote on which one they like better. The cover with the most votes becomes the cover of the book.




Debra Goldstein: Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine not only published my first submission to it, “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” in its May/June 2017 issue, but featured it on its cover. Neither of these exciting events almost happened. Even though several of my short stories had been accepted by other publications, I lacked the confidence to send my work to AHMM or Ellery Queen. Several friends, including Art, Barb, Bob Mangeot and Terrie Moran encouraged me to submit my work to these Dell magazines, but the one who made me believe in myself was B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens.




When I read her story, “Thea’s First Husband,” I was so blown away by it that I wrote her a fan email asking if she taught online classes. She didn’t, but she sent me suggested readings and we subsequently became friends. She encouraged me to reach beyond my fears. Last year, every Malice Domestic recipient received the AHMM which contained “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place” in their book bags. A few weeks after Malice, I received a package and note from Bonnie. She wrote she believed it was an award-winning story and knew, because it was my first Alfred Hitchcock submission and acceptance, I would want extra copies of the issue. I wish she had lived to see that her encouragement, as well as that of so many friends, made this wonderful ride happen.




Gigi Pandian: Henery Press publishes my Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mysteries. The most recent book The Ninja’s Illusion, is set in Japan, and I had an idea for a locked-room mystery twist that needed to have the characters stranded in a remote place. I was having such fun with the characters in The Ninja’s Illusion that I wondered if Jaya and her friend Tamarind could get waylaid on their way home from Japan. I came up with the idea to have them get stranded due to bad weather, so “The Library Ghost of Tanglewood Inn” is set at the remote inn where they’re forced to seek shelter from a storm.




I had a lot of fun writing a story-within-a-story, because in “The Library Ghost of Tanglewood Inn” there’s a ghost story about an avenging ghost that killed an unscrupulous man who was reading an Agatha Christie novel at the hotel nearly a century ago—and now the “ghost” is striking again while the guests are trapped. Can Jaya figure out what’s really going on? The team at Henery Press loved the story idea, and they published it as a short story single the month after the novel came out last fall.




Art Taylor: “A Necessary Ingredient” was published in Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea. Paul D. Marks—a good friend, fellow blogger at SleuthSayers, and co-editor of the first volume of the Coast to Coast—reached out to say he was doing this second volume with the same publisher, Down & Out Books, in this case focused on private eyes, and would I like to contribute something? I don’t generally write private eye stories, but the geographical slant on the anthology attracted me—the opportunity to explore the intersection of that subgenre of crime fiction and my home state of North Carolina, which was the region I was assigned. That’s also one of the things I enjoyed about writing the story, trying to navigate the shadow of one tradition (hardboiled PI stories) against another (traditional, regional mystery fiction, specifically here with nods toward one of my own mentors, Margaret Maron, another North Carolina native). An additional inspiration was the tonka bean itself, the “necessary ingredient” of the title, which I’d first heard about from another NC-based writer, Wilton Barnhardt—but to reveal more about that story would give away too much about the story I wrote.


 


If you could bring your protagonist as a guest to the Agatha banquet, what shoes would he or she be wearing?


 
Gretchen Archer: Easy Spirit Happy Feet Walkabouts. With Velcro. She’d pair them with a gold velour track suit.




Barb Goffman: Myra would choose something stylish and practical. I'm not quite sure what that would be, but it surely would be nicer than what I'll be wearing. I go for comfort, so I'll be in the equivalent of stylish slippers.




Debra Goldstein: My protagonist would be wearing these scuffed basketball shoes:





Gigi Pandian: “The Library Ghost of Tanglewood Inn” has two main characters, historian Jaya Jones and her librarian friend Tamarind Ortega. Jaya is only five feet tall in socks, so she loves her heels. She’d dress in black slacks, a sleeveless black blouse, and three-inch shiny black stilettos. Tamarind is tall and big-boned, with short hair she dyes different colors (it’s blue right now). She thinks of herself as post-punk and loves her purple combat boots, so for the Agatha banquet she’d wear those boots with a homemade dress that looks like Molly Ringwald’s dress from Pretty in Pink.


Art Taylor: Ambrose Thornton comes from a fairly proper Southern family, so I’m sure he could spiffy up if he needed to: a sharply polished pair of wingtips maybe? But honestly, he strikes me as someone who would rather be back home reading than out socializing most nights.