Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Whither the bookstore, great and small?

The fabulous Laura Bradford (one of our fabulous stiletto wearers) and I had the opportunity to do a book signing at a local independent bookstore here in the Hudson Valley.  The bookstore is tucked into a strip of independently owned stores on a lovely street in a town not far from here, and is a genuine friend to the local—and not so local—writer.  Every time I’ve asked the owners if I can sign has been met with a resounding “yes” and they do everything they can to get people into the store to turn new readers on to authors they may not know or have heard of previously.

Business was brisk this past Saturday and I was happy to see that even though I’m sure Saturday is the busiest day for a lot of local retailers with weekdays being more stress-inducing in their quietude.  I worry a lot about the state of the brick-and-mortar stores, particularly independents, but even my local Barnes and Noble where I can be found laden down with purchases when I’m up at the big strip mall north of here.  But is the next generation that we’re raising full of the same love of the bookstore or will they be inured to the pleasures of holding a book in their hands, flipping through the pages, looking at the cover?

First, our local Borders went out of business, then two independents in nearby towns.  As someone posted online, it is a lot more fun to take your kids to a bookstore than to show them a book on a computer screen.  It is definitely more enjoyable to hold a book in your hand, or see the cover in person, than to move it from its place online to your virtual shopping cart.  In my opinion, anyway.  Are we slowly losing the ability to do that?

I logged on to Facebook today to see that several of my literary-minded friends had posted that Barnes and Noble is planning on closing at least twenty stores this year with the goal being to bring their approximately 680 stories down to 450 to 500 over time. I wondered if this would be a boon to the independents, the bookstore owners fighting the good fight all these years against the big-box stores and online retailers or if it spells the end of the bookstore ultimately. 

I’m a book person; always have been.  Although I now own a Kindle and download my fair share of books, I still buy books by the dozens every year.  My family is the same way.  There is no feeling like bringing home a bag of books, a feeling that trumps and Amazon or B&N box arriving on your front steps.  When I go out of town, I shop in bookstores, I go to libraries. I know a lot of you are the same way.

So, I wonder about the future of bookstores, big and small, but to be honest, I am more in fear for the smaller bookstores in our little villages and towns, the ones where the owner knows your name, what you like to read, if your favorite author has a new book coming out that you should know about.  Let’s all do our part to keep our indies alive, and books on shelves where we can touch them and peruse them and admire their beautiful covers, one and all.

Maggie Barbieri

Monday, January 28, 2013

Awards Shows

I love January because it’s the start of celebrity awards shows. I love watching the Red Carpet show and checking out the outfit the stars are wearing. The whole festivities begin with The People’s Choice, Golden Globes, SAG and then the granddaddy of them all, the Academy Awards.

But let’s not forget the authors, because they have their own award shows (well, that’s what I’m calling them) by way of conventions both for readers and writers. Me, I’m interested in the ones for readers and the two I attend are Malice Domestic, which is celebrating its 25th year and Bouchercon. I would love to attend others, but that thing called work which helps pay for my attendance at the two, needs to take precedence.

Malice was the first convention I attended thanks to the *nudge* by Heather Webber, and I'm so happy for that nudge. Every year I look forward to attending the panels and catching up with friends who I’ve met on blogs and FB and with the authors that I’ve met who have become friends. What I like best about Malice is that it is small and not overwhelmingly crowded. Also, it is held in Bethesda and the hotel is a train ride away from the nation’s capital. Malice is May 3 - 5.

Then there’s Bouchercon where the venue is different every year. So far I’ve been to St. Louis (finally saw the Gateway Arch) and Cleveland (finally saw the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) and this year it’s held in Albany, the state capital where I live. I’ve never been to Albany, so this will be very interesting for me. What I like best about Bouchercon is I get to travel to different cities that I thought about traveling to, but never got the chance. Bouchercon is September 19 - 22.

Last year I won a free weekend to Thrillerfest and while I enjoyed it, I felt that one was more for writers. Thrillerfest is July 10 - 13.

Other conventions/conferences I would love to attend are: Left Coast Crime, Killer Nashville, Deadly Ink and the Festival of Mystery at Oakmont, to name a few.

So, have you attended convention/conference before and what do you like best about them?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Of Tempests in Teapots, Po-Biz, and a Welcome Return to Sanity

by Linda Rodriguez

I’m a hyphenate writer. Poet-mystery novelist. One foot stands in the airy-fairy literary world of poetry, where I’ve published two books, many individual poems, and won some national awards, while the other is planted firmly in the down-to-earth storytelling of mysteries and thrillers where all the loose ends have to be tied up or explained and where I’ve been very fortunate also. Although I love both worlds and have wonderful friends in both, as well as people who have mentored and helped me, I’ve come to realize there’s a real difference—and this past week brought that home with a sting.

The poetry world—or “po-biz” as we poets tend to refer to it to mark the difference between writing the poems and building the career by publishing, winning awards, getting tenure, booking readings, etc.—is very competitive. At least, the establishment academic poetry world is highly competitive. The side niches where you will find most of the African American, Asian American, Latino, or Native American poets are highly cooperative and collaborative, real communities, and their members usually don’t get the plum positions or lucrative honors.

The world of mysteries, where there is more money and a vastly larger number of readers at stake, is surprisingly not cutthroat competitive, but much more of a cooperative and collaborative community, even though it would be considered by the po-biz folks to be pretty establishment. From the beginning, I was blown away by how generous and helpful major writers were toward the beginner I was, and as I’ve spent more and more time among the mystery writers, I’ve seen firsthand how super-collaborative they all are.
I still write and publish poetry. In fact, I have another full-length book manuscript I’ll be sending out for publication in the near future—to join my other two published collections, I hope. I negotiate the two worlds with a shake of my head at the differences, and that’s about all. Until something like last week happens that really brings home to me the absolute difference in cultures.

I was thrilled to learn that a dear friend and fellow poet, Richard Blanco, had been selected as the inaugural poet for President Obama’s second inauguration. I’ve studied and critiqued manuscripts with Richard, and I know what a gifted poet he is. He has won some of the po-biz’s major awards, equivalent to the Edgar or Rita, and continues to study and work hard to constantly challenge himself and improve his art. Plus he’s a genuinely nice guy, funny and smart and generous—and Latino and immigrant (at four months of age) and openly gay. Those last qualifiers guarantee that he’s spent a lot of time in those side-niche poetry communities I mentioned earlier where there’s much more community and cooperation.

Before the inauguration even took place, there were rumblings from certain corners of po-biz about his selection. Award-winner or not, Richard is not one of the usual recipients of this kind of honor. These kinds of things, like the poet-laureate position of the U.S., are usually reserved for a handful of old white guys who went to the “right” schools and studied with the “right” teachers, etc., etc. So obviously, even though he had great credentials, he couldn’t possibly be good enough for this job. He didn’t fit the mold.

I read these carpings with little worry. I knew the quality of Richard’s work, and I knew he would write and read a great poem. When the inauguration came, he read with great effect a wonderful poem, in which he did the almost impossible and caught the essence of America on the page. He brought tears to the eyes of many Americans with his great poem, which caught perfectly the mood of the moment that, even after terrible things have happened, we will all pull together and make our country great.

Bare minutes after he finished reading, the insults and criticizing began on Facebook and soon moved to prestigious blogs. His poem was trashed, his performance was trashed, and sometimes he himself was trashed. I came face to face with a very strong expression of the ugly side of po-biz. One academic poet even admitted at the beginning of his attack, “I wanted to hate [the poem.]” He ended with a suggestion that Richard should have inserted some exciting profanity to liven up the poem and make it a little bit hip (completely ignoring the occasion for which the poem was written at which “exciting profanity” would have been totally inappropriate, if very hip).

So this past week I’ve been living more in the poetry world than the mystery (and other commercial novel) world. I wrote a blog lamenting the situation and the way poets tend to eat their own at the slightest excuse and how the egos of poets are so often poetry’s worst enemies.

I’ve had a lot of support for this from poets of the side-niche, collaborative communities of poetry—and even from some of the po-biz folks themselves. But I’m ready to quit reading every attack and frothing at the mouth at the absolute stupidity and cupidity of the remarks.

I’m ready to return to the sane and generous community of mystery novelists where few, if any, feel that someone else’s professional good fortune is a threat and an attack on their own lives, where writers are more likely to extend a hand in congratulations to someone else getting an award rather than to sling mud at her or him. I’m eager to return to the place where kind writers with major reputations often offer a hand to those just starting out or having to start over.

And I’m here to tell my friends who are writers and readers in this great community—you don’t realize how good we have it here. Just take a look across the way at po-biz and thank your stars or guardian angels that you’re novel writers and readers and not poets.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Heroine to Root For

by Maria Geraci

This Saturday, I'll be giving a workshop for the Ancient City Romance Writers of America (great group, btw!) on Creating a Strong Romantic Heroine. It's my contention that the heroine in your romance novel is the back bone of your entire story. If your readers don't connect with her in a strong way, then your story is going to fall apart. No one likes a wimpy dumb heroine. Nor do they like a Perfect Polly either.

I put together a list of the qualities I most admire/like in a heroine and came up with the following.

Sense of Humor.

Who are some of my favorite heroines from literature/film? There's lots to pick from but without a doubt my top favorites are:

 Kathleen Kelly (so wonderfully played by Meg Ryan)  in You've Got Mail

 Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice

And last but not least, my personal Fave: Jo March in Little Women

Who are your favorite literary heroines? And what characteristics do you admire most in them?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

West Wing or... West Awesome?

By Bethany Maines

I think we all know my resolution a few weeks ago to stop watching West Wing marathons was merely so much hot air, and in fact the obsession continues. I admit I watched a few episodes when it was originally aired, but at the time I wasn’t paying attention to the writing. (Yes, I admit, I was paying attention to Rob Lowe, but really, weren’t we all?) This time around I find myself envious, yes, absolutely envious, as the writer’s get away with things that I have always told not to do. The “errors” these writers commit would be egregious in the book world. They bring introduce and dismiss characters at the drop of a hat. They start new plot lines without any warning. And the characters frequently don’t explain themselves to each other, let alone to the audience. Basically, the writing hews closer to real life. Is it because they’re on TV? Is it because they’re better than me? Is it because they’ve got 156 episodes to practice with?

For instance, during one episode Sam Seaborn (did I mention Rob Lowe’s dreaminess) is upset and off-balance because he recently found out that his father has been keeping a mistress for decades. Up until that episode, the audience had never heard mention of his parents, and after that we don’t hear of them again. But in a real life work place frequently co-workers are thrown for a loop by family issues. And you do what these characters did, which is express sympathy and try to prevent them from letting home issues become work issues.

So the question remains – do the writer’s of West Wing get away with their realism because they are so good at it?  Or do we allow this kind of realism because it isn’t on the printed page? Is there something about being in a book that makes us want storylines and characters wrapped up in a neat little bow? Admittedly, the very format of a printed page makes things like overlapping dialogue a little out of reach. However, isn’t there something annoyingly formulaic about a sequel that inserts a little synopsis of the previous book? What do you think? Should we challenge readers more than we do?

Update: For those who are keeping track I have released my first new story of the year! You can find The Dragon Incident at Amazon now for $.99. It will be available for Kobo and Nook in April. You can learn more about this new series at

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The end and the beginning

By: Joelle Charbonneau

As writers, we talk a lot about The End of a story and The Beginning of one. Yesterday, I was incredibly fortunate to celebrate a real life event that encompassed both. My mother’s retirement from United Airlines.

 Since United moved its headquarters, we all took the trip downtown to Willis Tower (formerly and yet still fondly known as the Sears Tower) to eat cake, tell stories and laugh with a room packed full of people who worked with my mom. For those of you keeping score, my mother’s world championship artistic roller skating career was the inspiration for the Rebecca Robbins mystery series. Obviously, she didn’t roller skate at United….or at least not much. She held three different jobs in her multiple decades at the company. The last was in corporate recognition where she worked with programs that applauded employees who went above and beyond in their jobs as well as worked to recognize the retirees as they stepped away from their careers. And not only did she formally congratulate people for their milestones and outstanding achievements, she found ways both large and small to make her fellow coworkers feel special and appreciated. Small notes…fun e-mails…Hershey’s Kisses on people’s desk.

Mom lives as she works – by recognizing others.
So—today, I dedicate this blog to my mom, Jaci Charbonneau. Mom, you are the most amazing lady I know. Thank you for the inspiration, your love and for showing me that the best rewards in life come from thinking of others first. The world is a much better place because of you.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Best Friends, Mortal Enemies

By Evelyn David

Jodie Foster's gracious, thoughtful, clever, impassioned (if slightly confusing) speech at The Golden Globes captured the interest, attention, and affection of most viewers. Although she never used the word "gay," the audience, both those in the theater and those watching on TV, understood that it was a deliberate choice she was making in "outing" herself – and she gave a clear explanation of why she has chosen to remain private all these years. I admire and respect her as a phenomenal actress, as well as believe she is a lovely person.

So I gotta ask – how is she friends with Mel Gibson, enough that he was sitting at her table, right next to her, along with her children?

His arrests, public meltdowns, vitriolic drunken anti-semitic, anti-gay, racist tirades have appalled most of us. The words he has used would offend almost anyone. And yet, from the beginning, Jodie Foster has been a strong supporter of Gibson – and insists that he is not really the man who spews such hatred. “He’s not a perfect person,” she says. “He’s a complicated person. That’s why I love him." In another interview, given as part of publicity for the film she directed and in which Gibson stars, she said, "When you love a friend, you don't abandon them when they are struggling," Of course, Mel is an undeniably gifted actor and director, and 'The Beaver' is one of his most powerful and moving performances. But more importantly, he is and has been a true and loyal friend. I hope I can help him get through this dark moment."

I am genuinely impressed by her strong sense of loyalty, even if I wonder if it's misplaced.

Then there is the friendship of Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I don't think you could find two more divergent jurists. They are literally at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of judicial philosophy; he is an unapologetic conservative, she is an equally proud liberal. But these two have been best friends for more than 30 years. They and their spouses have spent every New Year's Eve together for decades. They even take trips together.

Which leads me to ask: what do we expect of our friends? Clearly, I don't want a clone of myself. I've got friends with whom I never discuss politics because it will only lead to disagreement. We all know where we stand on issues. But I also know that even if we don't agree on candidates or politics, we share common ground on fundamentals about family, religion, service to others, or we have similar interests. I am told that Scalia and Ginsburg both love music, especially opera, and, as Justice Ginsburg has explained, "I can say one thing about Justice Scalia. He is one of the few people in the world who can make me laugh, and I appreciate him for that."

If such ideological opposites such as Foster/Gibson and Scalia/Ginsburg can be friends, is that something we should all aspire to do? Or is there a limit to friendship, a line which can't be crossed?

Your thoughts?

Marian, the Northern half of Evelyn David


A Reason to Give Thanks includes: Giving Thanks in Lottawatah, Bah, Humbug in Lottawatah, Moonlighting at the Mall, The Fortune Teller's Face, A Reason to Give Thanks, Sneak Peek – Murder Off the Books, Sneak Peek – I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries
A Reason to Give Thanks

Sullivan Investigations Mystery
Murder Off the Books Kindle - Nook - Smashwords - Trade Paperback
Murder Takes the Cake Kindle - Nook - Smashwords - Trade Paperback 
Riley Come Home (short story)- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Moonlighting at the Mall (short story) - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords


Zoned for Murder
Kindle Trade Paperback

Brianna Sullivan Mysteries - e-book series
I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Dog Days of Summer in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Holiday Spirit(s) of Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Undying Love in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
A Haunting in Lottawatah - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Lottawatah Twister - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Missing in Lottawatah - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Good Grief in Lottawatah - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Summer Lightning in Lottawatah - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

The Ghosts of Lottawatah - trade paperback collection of the Brianna e-books
Book 1 - I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries (includes the first four Brianna e-books)
Book 2 - A Haunting in Lottawatah (includes the 5th, 6th, and 7th Brianna e-books)

Love Lessons - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords