Friday, January 20, 2017

Our Very Own Dru Ann Wins the Raven Award

by Linda Rodriguez

On April 27th at the 71st annual Edgar Awards Banquet in New York City, The Stiletto Gang's own Dru Ann Love will receive the prestigious Raven Award. The Raven Award is a special award given for outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing. This award was first given in 1953. People and organizations, such as Dorothy Kilgallen, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Alfred Hitchcock, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Eudora Welty, Angela Lansbury, Bouchercon Mystery Convention, Bill Clinton, Otto Penzsler, Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, and Sisters in Crime, have won this award. And now Dru Ann wins it for her dedication to the field and the contributions her wonderful book blog, Dru's Book Musings, has made to the field of the mystery.

Dru reviews a huge number of books every year, and her reviews are all based on careful reading and high standards. She also hosts a series called “A Day in the Life,” where authors write a post from the viewpoint of a major character to give the reader a taste of that author's voice and characterization skills. Her book blog is a major player in the strong field of book blogs that have replaced the vanished book review sections of newspapers and magazines.

Those of us who know her know that Dru Ann is a true aficionado of crime fiction. She loves the field, the individual books, and the authors. A fixture at the major conventions and a great supporter of the entire field of crime writing, she's kind and funny and smart as a whip and a real professional. She's also much loved by the crime writing community, so this will be a very popular choice for the Raven Award.

All of her blogmates here at The Stiletto Gang have been very excited by this news, and we all send her a huge CONGRATULATIONS! We couldn't be happier to see her reaping well-deserved recognition for the important work she does. And on April 27th, we'll all be raising a glass of champagne to our dear Dru Ann as she receives her award. 

Well done, Dru!

Thursday, January 19, 2017


Retreating by Cathy Perkins

What is it about a writing retreat that makes us so productive?

Is it the creative energy in the house? 
Knowing other people are writing away (and you should be too)? 
Or is it because you left behind ____ (fill in your own blank) and you better make use of the time?

Way back in 2008, a group of women from the Pacific Northwest finalled in the Golden Heart—and formed a bond based first on writing and then on friendship. Every year since then, we’re gotten together over the long Martin Luther King weekend for a writing retreat. While there’s tons of writing, there’s also laughter and stories, Courtney Milan’s lessons on branding, Rebecca Clark’s yoga sessions and Rachel Grant’s chocolate martinis.

I’m halfway through a new story, with most of the remaining scenes blocked out. I haven’t a clue about the title or cover. Hmm… wonder what the women are doing this weekend?

Have you ever been on a writing retreat? What do you think is the best part?

Cathy Perkins is currently working on an as-yet-untitled story in the So About… series.  She started writing when recurring characters and dialogue populated her day job commuting daydreams.  Fortunately, that first novel lives under the bed, but she was hooked on the joy of creating stories.  When not writing, she can be found doing battle with the beavers over the pond height or setting off on another travel adventure.  Born and raised in South Carolina, she now lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What’s Doing in My Writer’s Lair

By Kay Kendall

When I write, my dog Wills sleeps on the floor beside my chair, with his head resting on my foot. He prefers my lap, but he makes do with my foot as second best. He is a cavalier King Charles spaniel, a breed preferred by royalty as “comfort” dogs in Western Europe beginning five centuries ago.

HERE IS WILLS KENDALL, age 6.5 years old.
Portraits of the royal houses of Spain, France, and England often include depictions of these little spaniels. The earliest portrait including one of these small spaniels was painted by Titian in 1538.

Queen Victoria’s first dog was a King Charles spaniel. His name was Dash, and she doted on him. Dash is included in the television version of the young queen’s life now showing on PBS. Since these dogs have spent 500+ years doting on their royal masters, it pleases me to giggle and think of my feet as sort of royal.
My husband Bruce and I have rescued rabbits for more than twenty years. Our current three bunnies—Midnight, Smokey, and Jack—are jealous of Wills. They are never allowed to frolic in the writer’s lair, my name for the hovel of a messy bedroom where I write. The three long-eared wonders reside next door in my husband’s study. Sometimes Jack escapes, and then he always hightails it down the hall and into my lair. When Jack sees one of us coming to extract him from the lair, he squeezes behind furniture to hide. Rabbits can be very stubborn...and always, always cute. (Wills insists that I add that he is also extremely cute. Indeed, he is.)
While I write, I often listen to classical music. Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Chopin and their like. The volume must stay subdued, otherwise I get drawn too far into the glorious melodies.  I cannot write while listening to music with singing. The words fight with those in my head that are trying to make their way out to paper.
Authors are often asked how much outlining they do before they begin to write their books. For my first two mysteries—DESOLATION ROW and RAINY DAY WOMEN—I had the arc of the story, but no details. I knew who committed the crimes and why, but not exactly what the other suspects had done to bring scrutiny to themselves. I made up those details as I went along, as my characters grew on the pages.

I always know the personalities of my characters ahead of time and let them fulfill their destinies. From them come the plot twists and turns. It’s tricky, throwing in red herrings here and there. An author must play fair and drop a few hints, but not give away the whole game. Readers want to be fooled, although they love trying to guess who done it.
I’m now in the midst of writing my third mystery. I have planned its plot out more than I did for the first two, but I don’t claim to be a voracious outliner. Some authors I know go into such detail that their outlines end up filling 30 pages. I used to feel guilty not doing that. Now, however, I have heard enough bestselling writers say that it is fine to do whatever works for the individual writer. The guilt is banished, pretty much.
I edit as I go along. I cannot bear to rush through a first draft, leaving ugly sentences in my wake. Of course, after a sort-of first draft is done, I return and do umpteen drafts all over again. All the while, I berate myself for not writing perfect sentences the first time through. One of these days I need to post a sign on my corkboard in front of me that says . . . ALL GREAT WRITING COMES FROM REWRITING. In short, I am not a fast writer. I surely do wish I were though.
Want to read the first 20 pages of Kay Kendall’s second mystery, RANY DAY WOMEN? Go to her website That book won two awards at the Killer Nashville conference in August 2016—for best mystery/crime and also for best book. Her first novel about Austin Starr‘s sleuthing, DESOLATION ROW, was a finalist for best mystery at Killer Nashville in 2014. Visit Kay on Facebook


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Words of Resistance

by J.M. Phillippe

On January 15th, 2017, I made my way out to the front of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library to attend a rally.

At about 10 minutes after the officially posted start time, a young girl that no one could really see started singing the national anthem in a clear strong voice. There was no MC, no announcement that the rally was officially starting, and there was a long silence while the first speaker made her way to the podium, which, the crowd noted shortly after, was too low on the steps. The volume of the microphones was also too low, and shouts of "louder!" came from the people furthest back.

It took a few readers -- each coming up to the podium, saying their names and telling the crowd what they were reading-- but finally someone pulled a microphone from a stand, asked the crowd if they were loud enough, and stood high enough up on the steps to get a huge roar of approval.

The empty podium, abandoned in the cold, became a symbol for the rally itself: when the people speak, its time for a change.

The PEN America sponsored Writers Resist rally was a solid two-and-half hours of authors, poets, and even politicians reading excerpts from Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, and of course, Martin Luther King Jr. -- as well as many many others -- in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and in protest against an incoming presidential administration that regularly attacks the media and individual writers. Former United States poet laureates read inaugural poems from past administrations, and many other writers shared their own work, some written specifically for the occasion. There were readers and writers of every race, from myriad countries of birth, and from a multitude of backgrounds.

The themes of the readings were about fighting for freedom, standing up for democracy, and finding a place as a American when so many others might tell you that you don't belong. Some people read song lyrics (a reading of Frank Zappa's "It Can't Happen Here" stands out), and others read parts of the constitution, including the First Amendment. The battle, the thing everyone was there to resist, was the silencing of words. Audre Lorde's quote, made into a poster, was held above the crowd: "your silence will not protect you."

As a writer in the crowd slowly inching her way closer and closer to that empty podium and the readers standing several steps above it, I felt like I was getting a master class in the power of words. Even as the cold numbed my toes and fingers, and my feet ached from standing still for too long, my ears still caught carefully constructed lines, doing what precise prose and perfect poetry always does: inform, impress, and inspire.

While I found much of it moving, it was the inaugural poems that got me thinking. The first president to have an inaugural poem was John F. Kennedy.

"When power leads man to arrogance," Kennedy is reported to have said, "poetry reminds him of his limitations. "

When power narrows the area of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses." 

According to Wikipedia, only four other presidential inaugurations had poets prepare something for the occasion: Bill Clinton's two inaugurations, and Barack Obama's two inaugurations. That hasn't stopped me, and indeed others, from imagining what poetry might inspire President-Elect Donald Trump. As I listened to speaker after speaker reading words about what it means to fight for freedom, I tried to imagine what sort of words Trump reads, what philosophers, what authors, what poets.

As the saying goes, "watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions." We are all shaped by what we read, the stories we take in, the ideas we absorb. More than the President-Elect's tax returns, I want to see his reading list. I want to know what words will guide this new president; I fear the only words he cares about are his own, that he is a president without poetry.

I fear that he is a president that would rather censor the press than face criticism, that his attacks on the media are part of a greater attack on free speech. I fear that because he "knows all the words," and "has the best words" he thinks he doesn't need to listen, to read, and to learn.

So I gathered with hundreds of others in New York City (and hundreds more across the country) to listen to words, and to march to Trump Tower with a pledge to defend the First Amendment (signed by over 160,000 people) and to shout more words, as is my constitutional right. Peaceful protest (and not so peaceful) has been a part of every great change America has ever made. Our country was founded in protest of another country the people who made their way to our shores thought was unjust. The Founding Fathers wanted to create a space where democracy would thrive and understood that this could not happen if the very tools of the revolution they fought -- including protest -- weren't protected. Every social revolution brings us ever closer to those ideals fought so hard for: a more perfect union with equality for all.

But not everyone has made the same study of those words, and many do not share the same vision for what equality looks like. As another saying goes: when you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. For every person who wants to make America great again, there is another who is still trying to find a way to make it great for the first time, to find their place under the great umbrella of "for all." For this second group of Americans, words of resistance -- resistance to settling, to taking less, to living in despair -- are what keep them going, keep them hoping, keep them dreaming.

And keep them reading, and keep them writing. Our very constitution is a poem to the ideals of freedom. This country was founded on the promise of words. I marched to help hold our country to that promise. And whenever I can, I will brave cold or heat and crowds and shouts to hear that promise spoken again and again.

Words have power. It's why people in power fight so hard to silence them. And its also why writers will always be at the heart of every resistance.

* * *
J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness and the short story The Sight. She has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City. She works as a family therapist in Brooklyn, New York and spends her free-time decorating her tiny apartment to her cat Oscar Wilde’s liking, drinking cider at her favorite British-style pub, and training to be the next Karate Kid, one wax-on at a time.