Friday, May 29, 2009

Keep Your Dreams Alive

June Shaw is the author of the humorous mystery series featuring feisty widowed Cealie Gunther and her sometimes-ex hunk Gil Thurman, owner of a chain of Cajun Delights restaurants. One reviewer said their relationship sizzles more than Gil’s hottest hot sauce. Deadly Ink nominated her first book for its new David award for Best Mystery of the Year. Readers say the books and characters are lots of fun. June will send one of our commenters a copy of her latest, Relative Danger, by June 4. Please comment on June's blog to be eligible for a copy!

Maybe you’ve hoped to achieve some dream you carried, possibly for so long you often thought you’d never achieve it. You don’t have time. You have children to raise or a parent to tend to and a job where you have to report every day. You’re getting older. Will you ever have time for yourself? Is it possible to reach your goal? You could be a multi-published author with many awards, yet there is something else you want to achieve. Should you go after that dream?

If you reach for the moon and catch only a star, will you fail?

My deepest desire began in ninth-grade. My teacher said he was sending me to a district literary rally for English I. That was the first time I appreciated that my mom constantly corrected my grammar.

I didn’t, however, appreciate literature until many years later. What my teacher sparked that day was my passion for what an author could do. During most of my school years, we read stories by old dead European men. Being a young teen girl, I couldn’t relate. I could never imagine that I would want to be one of them. (Okay, not just being a man or dead. For each story, we needed to spend tons of time figuring out what the author meant. Why couldn’t he just tell us?)

So my teacher said I was going to the rally, and to prepare, I should practice writing a paragraph while the rest of the class practiced grammar (which I knew so well because of my mom’s annoying habit. “Mom,” I’d tell her, “I know what’s correct, but if I answer the phone and say, ‘This is I,’ and it’s one of my peers, she’ll probably never talk—speak—to me again.”)

I needed to write a paragraph about a splinter. I skulked to my desk, thinking my teacher was the most boring person alive to come with such a topic. Scribbling a paragraph that described a sliver of wood, I edited my work and carried it to his desk. “June, this is boring,” he said. I agreed but said he’d told me to write it.

And then he worked magic. He suggested I start like this: “Ouch!” He said to write from the splinter’s point of view. Someone just sat on it.

Wow! That was it—my inspiration and instruction for creative writing. I don’t recall the topic we had to write on at the rally, although I came out first. (The test was almost all grammar—Thanks, Mom.) I have, however, always recalled that splinter. No teachers ever had us write creatively. We wrote term papers. Uggh.

What my English teacher did with the word Ouch was make me realize an author could create any object or person and make it or her do or say anything. “Ouch!” also introduced me to modern writing and humor, which I discovered I loved much more than pieces written by old dead men from across the ocean. (I have since come to appreciate—and teach—stories and poems those guys created.)

Occasionally over the years I would recall the splinter and get excited, but I remained busy after school with band and clubs and my buddies and boyfriend, who was a few years older. We married soon after I completed high school and during the next six years, had five children. As they started to grow, I sometimes thought of trying to write, but then one of the kids said, “Mom, I need to go ….”

When the oldest was eleven, my husband died. I needed to support the children and wanted to be a writer but had only read of cereal boxes for years. I completed college and started teaching (English I.) Over time I read and wrote and occasionally sold an essay and story (that did not need an explanation).

My kids grew. Some married. Mom became almost blind and moved in with me (and kept correcting my grammar). I became her caregiver and the grandmother of eight—and then sold a novel! I sold the second one in the series. It was recently published.

Do I believe you can hold a dream for years before finally fulfilling it? Absolutely. I sincerely hope you realize your own goals—or at least grab a handful of stars.

** Please note: I’ve never used terrible grammar. Mom corrected everyone, especially movie stars she heard on TV, until she passed on this January. She was 102—and still happily correcting people’s speech. You can see her dancing the Macarena for her 100th birthday on my Web site, There’s also a lot about my humorous mysteries, RELATIVE DANGER and KILLER COUSINS, which I hope you will consider reading.



Thursday, May 28, 2009

More Thoughts in a Murky Stream

It's not easy coming up with a blog topic each week. Or at least settling on one good one. Every week, I leave it until Tuesday or Wednesday and then in a slight panic, get my Thursday blog written. The more panic, the better my writing. Crazy huh?

It's Tuesday night and I'm writing these words as I listen to the local 10:00 pm news. My co-author suggested that I do a blog about Supreme Court Nominee Sonya Sotomayor's reported fondness for Nancy Drew books. But I peeked at Maggie Barbieri's scheduled Wednesday blog and found she'd beaten me to the punch. (If you haven't read her blog yet, just scroll down and you'll find it below this blog entry.) Hey! I didn't mean look at it right this minute! I'm working here!

So back to my topic this week. These are my four remaining choices:

Dumpster Babies - A couple of days ago a newborn baby was found in a dumpster in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. Sapulpa is a bedroom community of Tulsa. The baby whimpered and someone cleaning up the day after a veterans' event heard the sounds. The baby was okay. A miracle. But also a tragedy. Oklahoma has a law that allows babies less than seven days old to be left at any hospital, fire department, police station etc. with no questions asked. Hard to believe any mother would put a baby in the trash instead. In this day and age even scared teens know there are other options.

My Big Office Move Part II – It will be Thursday when this blog is posted. The next day, on Friday, the moving van shows up to relocate my "day job" office to a new building. This new building is just new to us. It's an older building that has been gutted and remodeled to meet our needs. Eventually, it will be a wonderful place to spend my weekdays – but as of today it has no windows, no doors, no sheetrock, and I'm beyond panic. I think everything is going to go into storage pods and I'll be working from home or my car for the next two weeks. Sometimes I could do with less adventure in my life.

Last Two Books I Read for Fun – Over the holiday weekend I read Nevada Barr's Borderline and Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child's Cemetery Dance. Both are good, but since I'm not into Zombies, I enjoyed Nevada Barr's murderous raft trip in West Texas best.

Jon & Kate Plus Eight Season Premiere – I confess I watched. I'm not proud of myself. Those kids are absolutely being exploited for the parents' fame and fortune. My co-author has given me many good reasons why this show is a bad thing. But you know, like train wrecks, you just can't help looking. Or at least I can't. The recent tabloid reports about the couple's alleged marital infidelities, made this premiere one of those "gotta watch" episodes. I mean, just last season, the couple renewed their wedding vows in Hawaii while the kids stood behind them arguing loudly over the leis. Just goes to show that if you have eight kids, six of whom are less than five, you can't count on the trip down the aisle going smoothly. And, I'm thinking renewing those vows, was kind of like tempting fate. Monday night's new episode was full of tear-filled, lower lip trembling, angst. That was Kate. Jon was belligerent and he looked like he'd spent way too much time in the sun somewhere while wearing goggles. I swear I could see the goggles outline on his dark red face. Did Jon have an affair? Did Kate have an affair? And the most important question, will Kate have to plan all future over-scheduled, media event parties for her kids on her own, or rather without Jon? (She seems to have plenty of other people to help her, and if not, she could scale down the events. No kid really needs rented bouncy tents, a magician, and piñatas for their fifth birthday party.)

Okay, this blog is done. I'm putting a fork in it. You have my permission now to scroll down and read Maggie's blog. And don't miss Marilyn's blog from Tuesday. She's just back from Mayhem in the Midlands. (I would have gone to that conference too – but you know – there was this office move to deal with. Sigh.)

aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

And Justice Sonia for All

Who’s this? She grew up in the Bronx, is Hispanic, a woman, thanked her mother during her first speech, and is currently living and working in New York. She’s Sonia Sotomayor, and barring any back taxes, unpaid nannies, or anything else untoward in her background, she is to become our first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.

And the people at the top are finally starting to look like the people in the middle and everywhere else in this great nation.

Say this for Obama, he’s really getting into the whole “melting pot” ideal. The justices are truly starting to represent the faces and ideals of just about everyone in the country. And that is a very good thing. Believe it or not, I don’t want everyone the Court to look, act, and sound like me. I don’t want all of them to hold the same opinions as I do about abortion, affirmative action, immigration, and a host of other hot topics. We need debate. Because somewhere between the left and the right is the truth and that is what having all of these different people, with dissenting opinions—and most importantly, different backgrounds—is for.

Of course, these nominations are always a crap shoot. George H.W. Bush thought he was getting a by-the-book conservative when he appointed Justice David Souter, who turned out to have a few leftie ideas of his own when it came time to rule. But even Sotomayor herself has admitted to the fact that being an Hispanic female makes her more qualified to sympathize with those like her—those who were raised by single mothers in the poorer areas of our inner cities who had to make it on their own. Time will tell, as will rulings. But I have a feeling that she’s sincere when she talks about that empathy for the “little guy,” as we used to call the downtrodden back in the day and that that will shape how she decides certain cases. Case in point: she is most well known for her rulings on discrimination cases involving people with disabilities.

Whatever you feel about the direction the country is taking and despite how you might have voted in the last election, you can’t say that it isn’t an interesting time to be an American. I can’t remember being a teen and thinking about who might be the next Supreme Court nominee because I was certain it would be an old white guy. Same for presidential candidates. We had Geraldine Ferraro that one time and that in itself was exciting, but I think we all had a sneaking suspicion that she wouldn’t be one heartbeat away from the presidency and that her candidacy alongside Walter Mondale was really just a parlor game. But now? To paraphrase a song: the rules, they are a’changin’. And I for one, am feeling groovy.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mayhem in the Midlands

This will be a mishmash as I'm just home from Mayhem in the Midlands after a grueling traveling experience. Due to tornado warnings in Denver, we sat on the plane in Omaha long enough to miss our connection flight to Bakersfield. We were not the only ones to miss our flight and so stood in a long, long, long line waiting for customer service (took two and a half hours) to find out that to get to the airport where we left our car we'd have to wait until Tuesday (I'm writing this on Monday and we were in the airport on Sunday expecting to get home that evening--ha ha.) There were two seats left on a plane to Fresno that left Monday so we took them. That meant we had to find someone willing to drive our other care to Fresno, pick us up, drive us then to Bakersfield so we could get the car we'd left there. Who knows what's happened to our luggage--certainly not us. But we're home now.

Mayhem was wonderful and I promise I'll have more to say next week when I'm not so swamped.

But here's a photo of the basket from all of us at the Stiletto Gang put together for the Silent Auction at Mayhem (proceeds go to the Omaha Public Library)and the final bid I believe was $100. Pat Lange, a teacher from Omaha and a good friend, actually put the basket together from the books etc. I sent to her.

The other photo is of the Spouse's panel at Mayhem--hilarious as usual. I don't have everyone's name in the right order, but it's something like this: Jan and Tim Burke, Sean Doolittle and his wife, Tim and Zoe (she was the International Guest of Honor), (all of my notes are in the luggage that didn't come home with us), Hap and me, Radene and John Nehring.

We laughed a lot during the conference, ate wonderful meals, spent time with gracious authors--and it was a wonderful experience as usual.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Great Beach Reads

Book #1 – Sullivan Investigations Mystery Series
Murder Off the Books Trade Paperback
Murder Off the Books Kindle
Book #2 – Sullivan Investigations Mystery Series
Murder Takes the Cake Trade Paperback
Murder Takes the Cake Kindle

Barnes & Noble
Murder Off the Books Trade Paperback
Murder Takes the Cake Trade Paperback

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sands of Time

Sands of Time is a novel about a man, Sam Shepard, who has lost his family to a horrible tragedy. He falls into a deep, alcohol laced depression. But then, with the help of his friends and church he fights to save himself and the people he loves. One of these people that Sam leans on the most is the manager of his Inn, Natalie Stevens. Today, we are fortunate enough to have Natalie spend a few minutes with us and talk about the events of that fateful month of March.

Bruce: Natalie, thanks so much for taking the time to be with us today. I know you are busy this time of year, how are things?
Natalie: Bruce, thank you for having me. I love doing these things and look forward to doing a live interview on the website sometime. The Inn is just jumping this time of year. Guests always flock to the Jersey Shore every summer and this year is no different.
Bruce: I’m sure the publicity didn’t hurt.
Natalie: Are you kidding? Last season was one of our best ever. We were booked solid to come and see the Sam Shepard. And this summer looks like it won’t be any slower.
Bruce: Sam’s diary being picked up by the publisher, how did Sam feel about that?
Natalie: Sam is an intensely private man. Always has been since I’ve known him. At first he was upset about it but Pastor Paul and I talked with him about it and he realized that getting the story out there was the best thing for everyone. It helped clear the family name and the people of Pine Beach got some closure on the disaster.
Bruce: How about you? How has it affected you? You’ve gone from an unknown manager at a Jersey Shore Inn to someone who kicks-ass and takes names. You helped the FBI and a man you care about rid the area of an evil presence. How is Natalie?
Natalie: Natalie is fine, let me start off telling you that. I have so much more in my life today than I ever thought I would. I’ve done some interviews for local papers and a few television interviews but that has all died down – until this interview, of course. But let’s not forget, I’ve been kicking-ass and taking names for a long time. So, that’s not going to change just because people know who I am. They’ll forget next month.
Bruce: Let’s delve a little deeper here, how is Sam? Has he started drinking again?
Natalie: No, he’s been sober ever since that night in his study when we… well, you know what we did. He’s been clean since then and continues his recovery from alcohol. He works very hard at it.
Bruce: You brought it up, so I’m going to ask. Are you and Sam Shepard an item? Are there wedding bells in the future?
Natalie: Now that is private! Seriously though, you never know how things will play out. We are taking things one step at a time. Everyone knows that we are very close and that will never change.
Bruce: Effectively evasive, Natalie.
Natalie: Thank you!
Bruce: OK, off Natalie’s private life. How did you become involved with Pastor Paul and Curtis in your little vampire hunting gang?
Natalie: Well it’s a simple story really. I have been a regular church goer since I was a little girl. My parents raised to me to love and trust in God and He is my rock. When I was 14 I saw a Jackie Chan movie and was captivated by his speed and skill in martial arts. I whined and got my dad to sign me up for Tae Kwon Do and I took to it like a fish to water. When I was 19 I won a regional championship, everyone knew about it at church. One Sunday, Pastor Paul called me into his office and explained what it was the he does fighting vampires for God. I was already working at the Inn, so I knew Curtis but had no idea we he did in his free-time, but we clicked. We’ve been vamp-hunting ever since.
Bruce: Well Natalie, we’ve run over our time so thank you so much for coming.
Natalie: Thank you for having me and I hope everyone picks up a copy of Sands of Time!

Bruce is holding a contest on his website,, and giving away a copy of a book to one luck person who signs up for his mailing list before May 30th. He will also be appearing at Border’s in Philadelphia on June 10th, see his website for details.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

One of Those "What's On My Mind?" Blogs

What's on my mind?

Murder Takes the Cake Promotion – A New PowerPoint Presentation on Coal Mining for My Boss - My Office Relocation – Forced Medical Treatments – Dancing With the Stars Winner – Too Much Jay Leno – State Legislators & the Strange Things They Choose to Care About – Nancy Pelosi's Inability to Prove a Negative – Book Companies Going Out of Business – The Legend of Bigfoot – The Fine Print on the New Credit Card Bills in Congress – Last Chance Harvey

Any wonder why I have a headache?

Last Chance Harvey – I purchased the dvd of Last Chance Harvey and loved it. I watched it late the other night while recovering from food poisoning (I think it was the mushrooms that did me in). Dustin Hoffman is wonderful, if still very short in stature. Emma Thompson was wonderful – never realized how tall she is until she stood next to Dustin. Last Chance Harvey is an adult movie (not because of sex or violence but because of the lack of same.) It's a simple movie about middle-aged adults dealing with loneliness and starting over with new relationships. It's quiet and powerful, yet understated. Real acting goes on in this movie! No special effects. No need for stunt doubles.

Pending Credit Card Reform – All the things in the new Credit Card Consumer Bill of Rights, or whatever it's called this week, sound great. There are just two problems –the Coburn gun legislation amendment that is tacked on to it and the fact that Congress wants to delay the credit card reforms from taking effect for nine months or so. They are basically telling the credit card companies to jack up their interest rates now, because in nine months they'll only be able to raise them for just "cause." Hey, I bet they don't delay the implementation of the gun legislation part of it.

Bigfoot – Trying to convince the northern half of Evelyn David of the merits of "Bigfoot" as a secondary character in our next book. I put my chances at about 50/50.

Bookstore Companies/Suppliers – Tried to buy paperback books in my local (two blocks from my house) Drug Warehouse store. They used to have a good supply and variety of the latest. Now nothing. I asked what the deal was. Manager said their book supplier went out of business. Another sad sign of the times.

Nancy Pelosi – In a way I feel sorry for her, although she's a big girl and experienced enough at the way Washington politics work to have avoided this trap. She may or may not have attended a briefing where she may or may not have been told about water boarding in the past or in the future. And she may or may not have understood what she was being told, if she was told. Not that she could have done anything with the information at the time – she was sworn to secrecy. She wasn't being consulted, she was being informed by the CIA what the Bush Administration (torture or non-torture) had already approved and/or maybe already implemented. So how did Nancy Pelosi become the skunk at the D.C. picnic? Or maybe that smell wafting out of the beltway is of fish – a very large red herring.

State Legislatures – Oklahoma, not to be outdone by other states that've spent massive amounts of time and money on trying to mix government and religion, has approved a Ten Commandments monument for the state capital grounds. Meanwhile state agencies are going to take at least a 7 percent budget cut. It should be noted that taxpayers aren't paying for the monument; we'll just be on the hook for the legal fees from the litigation that is sure to come.

Too Much Jay Leno - Why would NBC shoot itself in the foot by putting The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on at 9 pm Central each weeknight, instead of dramas or comedies? Okay, sure, production costs are cheaper, but what happens when no one tunes in and they can't give away ad slots? The Peacock really is an endangered species.

Dancing with the Stars – Great show, but it's troubling that the best dancer rarely wins.

Forced Medical Treatments – I'm on the fence with this one. Should a thirteen year old be forced to endure chemo? Do the parents not get to decide? What do you think?

My Office Relocation – On May 29, my office (my day job) is moving to a newly renovated building. See photo below. Think it will be done in time?

The PowerPoint Presentation for My Boss – I'm working on it! I'm working on it!

Murder Takes the Cake Promotion – My co-author and I are working on something special for librarians. Check out our new website and stay tuned.

Evelyn David

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

America vs. American Idol

Tonight, we crown the winner of one of my favorite television shows, “American Idol.” In one corner, we have adorable Kris Allen, a young married crooner from Arkansas. And in the other corner, we have goth shrieker Adam Lambert, an eye-line wearing spiked-hair tenor from California. Who will win? I think it’s already a foregone conclusion, but who am I to predict? (It’s Adam…he’s a shoe-in.)

Part of the fun of AI, for me anyway, is to be able to critique the different singers and to see how you match up with the judges. I find Randy Jackson to be somewhat on the mark, Kara to be all over the place with her opinions, Paula to be on another planet, and Simon to be right most of the time (we do have our disagreements). I’m no vocal coach but even I have learned what “pitchy” means and is and when someone is singing beyond their register (that’s uncomfortable to listen to, I gotta say). I know what Paula means when she says someone has a nice “timbre” to their voice (even though I suspect she thinks it has something to do with trees) and an even “tone.” The contestants get their clothing criticized or embraced, the way they wear their hair commented on, and even get comments on the fans in the audience and what they have to say about the contestants after they sing. And for young adults, for the most part, they handle it with grace.

But usually, the AI contestants fit a mold: they are earnest, anxious, talented, and ready for the big stage. They fit a certain profile: amateur, enthusiastic, wholesome (and if they are the “rocker” contestant for that season, it’s a studied look not a natural one), fresh-faced, a cross-section of America. White, black, Asian, straight or gay, they are all pretty much the same. That’s why I’m so surprised that America is so in love with Adam, who I happen to like, but who breaks all the rules when it comes to popular AI contestants.

First, the goth look. His pants wear him rather than the other way around. They’re tight, black or striped, hug the hips, and are usually accompanied by a leather bolero jacket or vest. And that’s just in the weeks where he’s not channeling Roy Orbison or Buddy Holly and has his hair swept back in the twenty-first century’s version of a pompadour. But the little girls, and even some of the big ones, go crazy for him.

Second, there’s a lot of caterwauling. There was the week he did Led Zeppelin and while he did do Robert Plant proud, I find the screaming into the microphone a little unnerving. Not so America. They dialed him right into the next round, timbre and tone be damned. They love this guy! There is hope for humanity after all.

Third, he doesn’t seem to care. He’s obviously jazzed to be on the show and very enthusiastic—that’s an understatement—when he sings. But he takes any criticism that is doled out with a smile and a shrug. He’s already been in a traveling production of “Phantom” or “Les Miz” (I can’t remember which) and probably will go back to a career in singing. He’s confident of his ability. And he sure isn’t going to cave if Simon Cowell tells him that he’s off-key. It seems like he takes it all in stride. The kid’s a professional.

The antithesis of Adam is the other finalist, Kris. He fits the typical AI mold, with the exception that he’s married. Not too many married contestants have strutted their stuff at the Kodak Theatre. In his jeans, with his guitar, and the mustache that still hasn’t grown in after all these weeks of trying, the kid is adorable. I’d love to put him in my pocket and just take him out when I need to hear a pretty close version to the original “You’ve Got a Friend.” But he did knock everyone’s socks off with a bongo-flavored rendition of “She Works Hard for the Money.” Didn’t see that coming. What does he have in store for the finale, I wonder?

There’s been speculation that Adam may be American Idol’s first openly-gay winner, but it doesn’t seem like America really cares. And that, my friends, is a very nice coda to another fun-filled season of American Idol. It seems like we’ve finally come to a point where it doesn’t really matter who wins, or what their orientation is, as long as they can sing.

What up, Dawg?

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mayhem in the Midlands

Wednesday, hubby and I get up at 3 a.m. in order to be at the airport for a 6 a.m. flight. We always fly in the puddle jumpers first--this time to Denver where we'll change planes to get to our destination, Omaha NE and one of my favorite mystery cons, Mayhem in the Midlands.

Not as many authors are in attendance as there usually are--a good thing for authors. I have two panels and I'm moderating another. My husband is even on one--Spouses of Mystery Writers. He did this a couple of years ago and it was great fun for him and the audience.

We enjoy Mayhem for many reasons, the first being the people. The same mystery fans come year after year and we've made friends with many of them. It's like going to a family reunion--so much fun catching up. We also have good friends who are fellow authors and I look forward to seeing them and getting their latest book.

The hotel is great too. They have wonderful full breakfasts that come with the price of the room. (I think this is what my husband likes best. He always get an omelet with everything on it.)

The hotel is located at the end of The Old Marketplace that has a wonderful array of all kinds of restaurants and quirky shops. We're looking forward to at least one meal at the Persian restaurant where we've made friends with the owner. He always recognizes us and calls us "California."

The weather is always different, we've roasted, froze, experienced thunderstorms and threats of tornadoes. We'll be leaving 100 plus degrees here in the foothills of the Sierra, so almost anything will be a welcome change. I'll give a report when I return.

Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

Monday, May 18, 2009

Puzzle Me This

I love the movie Wordplay. Released in 2006, it’s a documentary about The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. I watched it again last weekend with my kids and even knowing the outcome, didn’t change my enjoyment for a moment.

The director, Patrick Creadon, did what every mystery writer aims to do – create complex characters that you care about. There’s perpetual bridesmaid, Al Sanders, an engineer from Colorado who almost always finishes in the top three, but never seems to be able take home the championship belt. There’s Trip Payne, puzzle constructor and multiple-year winner, who brings more than a little swagger to his interviews. There’s Ellen Ripstein, one-time winner, baton twirler (and dropper), who tells the story of an old boyfriend who used to belittle her and she would counter that, unlike her, he’d never won a national anything. (I think it’s fair to guess that this was a love match not made in heaven.) And there’s college kid Tyler Hinman, cocky and full of himself, the equivalent of Fast Eddie, new on the scene, but not to be underestimated.

The move also has its fair share of faux crossword celebrities, like Jon Stewart, Indigo Girls, Yankee star Mike Mussina, even former President Bill Clinton. Sure they can do the New York Times puzzle in ink, even the Sunday Times!, but the real stars of Worldplay are the motley crew of geeks and cruciverbalists who meet every year at a Marriott in Stamford, CT in order to compete in the Superbowl of Crossword-dom.

What struck me when I watched the movie this time was the similarity between the crossword addict and the mystery fan. In fact, they are probably often one and the same. Besides the obvious shared affection for solving puzzles, both are essentially engaged in solitary pursuits. Both sort through false starts and red herrings, and both enjoy incredible satisfaction when they figure out the key to solving the puzzle. And like the group who meet yearly at a Marriott (this year’s convention moved from Stamford to Brooklyn), I found that same sense of enthusiasm and unbridled joy at Malice Domestic, a convention devoted to the traditional mystery.

Whatever your hobby -- crossword puzzles, mysteries, gardening, rock-climbing -- it's important to find a community who shares your interests. For some, it will be at these types of conventions, but an online community, like The Stiletto Gang or DorothyL, can be every bit as rewarding as face-to-face meetings.

Thanks for sharing my love of puzzles -- all kinds! Please share your hobby and whether you ever meet fellow enthusiasts, in person or online.

Evelyn David

Saturday, May 16, 2009


There is/was/has been no more insidious word in the English language to insinuate itself on sentences like a parasitic leech than the verb to be, and in particular the word WAS.

Take a moment and picture for me a was in your head; next, define the word was in the manner you might define any action/active verb and you cannot. Picture was now in your mind and tell me what you ARE\WAS seeing?

Do same for throw/threw/thrown or torch/torched. Jessica bolted from her seat RATHER THAN Jessica was about to maybe stand up as she was sipping her coffee. Meredyth torched up her language whenever Lucas Stonecoat entered her office. The man enraged her. These examples “fire off” mental imagery and are far more photographic and Strong in Voice than is this: Meredyth was (in the process of) thinking about perhaps torching up her language whenever she was confronted by Lucas’s presence in her office. Lucas, by the same token, was nervously thinking about maybe entering the room. If you wish to write Passively go write speeches for politicians and supreme court justices.

AND yes Fred, go to the head of the class. One style or Voice is the point, pointed, photogenic and active, while the second lacks control, hard to determine point, less than pointed or photogenic and entirely passive and riddled with WASes that often beget more Qualifying. A storyteller who peppers his tales with qualifiers and passives cuts his own throat and is easily the example to point to in an exercise for what not to do in fiction and dramatic writing.

However, proof always (always being an absolute) in the proverbial pudding, does Robert W. Walker practice what he preaches? Take a look at these examples taken all from works in progress:

From Psi Blue:

FBI Headquarters Secret Psychic Detection Lab modern day…

Special Agent Aurelia Murphy Hiyakawa sat clothed in a virgin white terry robe, in the lotus position, electrodes attached and grounded to the open air copper pipe pyramid, which she’d designed to enhance her psychic projections and astral journeys. A small sterile white mat lie before her, and on the mat lay six items she’d been asked to “read”. The objects held a strange communion with her. She fingered each item, tossing several out of the pyramid, holding onto other items as she went.

From Flesh War:

In the Bay of Bengal, India modern day…

The side-wheeler Bristol Star of India chugged into thick fog that hinted at rich sea air, with just a suggestion of the stench of the disease in the mist over the bay. The disease island must be near, must be in the vicinity. Small, sad death boats, their bottoms filled with corpses had begun to emerge from the fog to drift by the Star’s bow. Angelica Hunter gasped at the sight and grabbed Eric’s arm for support.

From Cuba Blue:

Off the coast of Havana, Cuba modern day…

The coast of Havana’s clear-blue tropical sea heard the mechanical cry of screeching rust-encrusted gears that suddenly slammed to a standstill. Several nautical miles north of Canal del Entrada, Cuba, the whining pulley ratcheted once, then twice with biting and chomping, then stopped again on the dimly-lit shrimp trawler Sanabella II. The unexpected stillness stopped all activity aboard ship and save for the screeching hungry seagulls, the deafening quiet reigned. Wide-eyed, the men, frozen in position, stared first at the choked-off windlass and then at one another afraid to breathe, afraid to hope. Fishing had been wretchedly poor.

From City for Ransom:

Chicago, Illinois, June 1, 1893...3AM

The newly formed and lettered sign tore at its chain moorings where it dangled over the modest brownstone house, the shingle reading Dr. James Phineas Tewes, Phrenological and Magnetic Examiner until a lightning strike hit it, turning it into an unrecognizable charred mess.

Across town to the sound of thunder, lightning, wind, rain, and the clock tolling 5AM, Alastair Ransom climbed from bed, unable to sleep, his skin afire with malarial fever. He dosed himself with a hefty tumbler of quinine and Kentucky whiskey. He imagined strangling Dr. Caine McKinnette for having run out of his supply of quinine and antimony. He breathed in deeply, imagining the pleasure of his hands around the good doctor’s throat. Then once more what really troubled him began invading his night: the awful, bloody murder case that had fallen into his lap the day before.

THESE ARE ALL examples of opening with the verve of strong verbs, the conscious choice of few to no qualifiers, no WASes please! And active voice. Any elementary or high school grammar text is worth revisiting to rekindle these notions into fire in a writer’s gut. It’s the little things that make a female lead compelling. Revisit Passive vs. Active Voice, the handful of pages devoted to Qualifiers vs. Absolutes (voice), and while at it, look up sentence combining for the 4 types of sentences— Simple, Compound, Complex, and Compound Complex. Imagine it, what Shakespeare utilized we all have to work with—shapes already formed, voice choice, to qualify or not to qualify, to BE or not to BE, and whether tis nobler in the mind to use a hammer blow of a two word sentence like Jesus wept, OR rather to compound it, complex it or compound complex it as in the following.

Jesus wept. (pow, zap, bang, zoom! Singe/first base)
Jesus wept, and others watched. (rings different bell in compound set)

In his sixteenth year on the planet, Jesus wept. (complex adds fragmentary)
Jesus, in his sixteenth year on the planet, wept. (introduction or interrupting fragment(ary) and we ring another kind of bell)

Now the homer of a sentence, the big boy: Compound Complex….

In his sixteenth year, Jesus wept, while from afar, others curiously watched.

(intro. Frag) S + V (intro. Frag) S + V

Each choice we make as in each choice ONE makes, as in difference between the chummy we as opposed to the formal one goes into the building blocks of the stone wall we can call our Voice for this story or this novel. Every little choice becomes a major decision, and it is for this reason many people cannot write ‘worth a flip’ because why, Fred?

Yes, a ‘lotta lotta’ people don’t do well in decision-making, and writing is really about making a thousand decisions per sentence, per paragraph, per scene, per chapter. Some stories beg to be told in a formal voice in a particular setting with specific characters, while others demand an informal voice in an entirely different setting with a host of other goals.

Not all your stories need take on the same voice, but within that single story or novel, your ONE consistent is that you be consistent and true to the voice you choose.

This essay has just slipped into the YOU approach, friendly and personalized. In multiple viewpoint novels as I do, each HEAD you speak from, each HEAD you get into and SENSE and SEE from must need have its own internal/infernal logic and consistent mindset or ‘psychology’. In other words: VOICE--the most important element of your story…..especially if you hope to make it uniquely feminine, sir…or uniquely male, madam.

Robert W. Walker


Robert W. Walker is the author of over forty novels with a record eight series heroes and heroines. His most enduring female lead is Dr. Jessica Coran of the Instinct Series and Meredyth Sanger of the Edge Series. In 2006 City for Ransom began a dual male/female lead with Dr. Jane Tewes who doubles as Dr. James Phineas Tewes in this pre-forensics 1893 Chicago setting. The sequel, Shadows in the White City won the coveted Lovey Award for best historical novel of 2007. City of the Absent followed in 2008.. Coming in 2009 Dead On from Five Star Books

“Write to your opposite” is Walker’s watchword as “this forces you into a worthwhile writing challenge. So set your stories in exotic places you’ve never been with exotic characters you’ve never known.. You’ll surprise yourself.” Robert’s website is chock full with advice and examples. Visit for the fun of it or for the lessons to be had at

Friday, May 15, 2009

CREATING COMPELLING HEROINES or Making the Perils of Pauline Routine

The Voice or one’s female-lead detective or PI in crime fiction--above all elements-- must be consistent, just as your choice of words, control of weak qualifiers, control on adverbs and adjectives, down to your grammatical skill all impact on VOICE, the final product, your lead character’s VOICE controls the novel and reassures the reader even as it lulls him or her into “becoming” the leading lady.

The sound of the bell your narration and dialogue rings in the reader’s head must be unique, believable, likeable, even loveable, and if you cannot make it ‘sing’ then at least make it ‘clear’. The difference between confusing readers, and\or sounding wishy-washy, or sounding like ‘unto one who is awash in political mish-mash’ (like someone who cannot commit) as opposed to an assured, authentic, absolute voice (like someone who is committed) is in one’s authorial voice. And this compelling voice relies on absolutes over qualifiers in the narrative. This is even truer of the feminine lead written by a male author!

To pull off the so-called “impossible” –getting into the head of the opposite sex and understanding from this point of view, surprisingly enough, surrounds elemental, fundamental reliance on a “woman of substance” in the VOICE. If you are a female author struggling with how to get into the psyche and ‘mindset’ of a male lead, just reverse what I say here.

VOICE in dramatic, commercial fiction in particular relies heavily on strong Active Voice over weak passive voice. These basic grammatical decisions (word choice, exorcising qualifiers for absolutes, using active verbs over passives and cripplingly slow helping verbs, and exorcising the verb to be) are the crucibles about which E.B. White wrote in The Elements of Style and supported by the fine book Writing Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern. Style comes out of extremely small elements you choose to make work for you--or items you fail to utilize. As small as the choice difference between say the word before and ago, maybe and perhaps, this is “shaping” voice. This “becomes you”--BECOMES your style. If you choose a folksy or shoddy or simplistic or complex or formal or informal voice, your reader will know it from the outset and is normally willing to follow it so long as this voice remains consistent and consistently believable. So is VOICE the single most important element of your story? Absolutely, and yet it is created of all the other elements and choices you choose to make from setting to dialect to no dialect to the difference between between and betwixt, leaped and leapt.

All good writing relies on the reader ‘falling for’ your narrative voice, the point of view speaker, the mind you set your reader down into comfortably or awkwardly. If it is an ill fit, little wonder as an author is a trick cyclist on the unicycle juggling twenty four plates in the air, spinning each ‘choice and decision and element’ at the end of long sticks. Each plate, each stick, each prop is an important element, but they all culminate in the overall effect your story has on the reader’s ear and mind’s eye.

If I had said the writer is LIKE a trick cyclist rather than stating it as a fact, it rings a different bell, sends a different and less powerful impact. The use of LIKE and AS is terribly overdone in some “voices” in female-lead crime fiction. The use of passives, especially the WAS verb—a major killer of action and visualization—also riddles most fiction and especially in the first person narrative along with the personal pronoun references to the narrator: I, me, my, mine, myself, often using the personal pronoun three and four times in a given sentence.

What a reader hears and pictures comes about as result of our giving him a believable SOUND in his head—the author’s voice, or the narrative voice (not always the same) or the character’s voice, along with providing Kodak moments in the reader’s head that look, feel, taste, smell, and sound like images. The human brain sorts its mail via images, so it behooves us to use verbs that carry the weight of an image. We call this simile and metaphor and extended metaphor, but the absolute is even more powerful than these. Absolute detail, as in a Name is a photo in the mind, as a Number is an instamatic shot in the mind.

Metaphorical language then and Verb Choice then create style and voice; and if we choose verbs that fire off shots of photographic moments as in SLAM, divorced, cuddled, crammed, leapt, jarred, frightened over the weak helping verbs as in the door WAS slamming, they were thinking about maybe getting a divorce, had been cuddled, was cramming, was about to leap, was feeling a bit frightened, we REDUCE the photo or blur it considerably.

We clip ourselves at the knees when we overuse ly words and qualifiers in which sentence the strong verb is relegated to a murmur somewhere along the line of thought. Most assuredly helping and passive voice verbs such as was SLOW the action and the firing of the photo in the brain of the reader if it gets there at all. Strong female VOICE carries the day in crime fiction with female leads. The ‘secret’ to creating strong voice, male or female is the same!

(Check back tomorrow for Part II)

Robert Walker

Robert W. Walker is the author of over forty novels with a record eight series heroes and heroines. His most enduring female lead is Dr. Jessica Coran of the Instinct Series and Meredyth Sanger of the Edge Series. In 2006 City for Ransom began a dual male/female lead with Dr. Jane Tewes who doubles as Dr. James Phineas Tewes in this pre-forensics 1893 Chicago setting. The sequel, Shadows in the White City won the coveted Lovey Award for best historical novel of 2007. City of the Absent followed in 2008.. Coming in 2009 Dead On from Five Star Books

“Write to your opposite” is Walker’s watchword as “this forces you into a worthwhile writing challenge. So set your stories in exotic places you’ve never been with exotic characters you’ve never known.. You’ll surprise yourself.” Robert’s website is chock full with advice and examples. Visit for the fun of it or for the lessons to be had at

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Comedy of Errors Book Club

Last Tuesday, I boated to the Collinsville Library in Collinsville, Oklahoma. Okay, I didn't really set sail, but with all the rain we've been experiencing, I might as well have. The wet weather didn't dampen anyone's enthusiasm for the monthly meeting of the Comedy of Errors Book Club. I was there to "launch" Murder Takes the Cake and speak about writing and my experiences since the publication of Evelyn David's first book, Murder Off the Books. I also brought rubber "wedding" ducks to give to all the brave souls who swam in for the meeting. [Note: I can hear my co-author's voice in my head saying, "Enough already with the nautical references."]

According to the library's website, Collinsville owes their library to the Comedy of Errors Book Club. "In 1903 a group of women formed the Comedy of Errors Book Club. Their first order of business was to adopt the project of founding a library for Collinsville, Oklahoma. Their first books were donated from a Methodist Church organization and were kept in the home of Comedy of Errors Book Club founder, Mrs. J.A. Tyner. The books were moved to several locations in downtown Collinsville until in 1911 when the books found a permanent home in a room on the second floor of the new city hall. Members of the COE club and The Women’s Council operated the library for the public. The members of the COE club held teas, talent shows, and benefits to purchase books for the library." In 1913 the library received a grant from the Carnegie Foundation and in 1917 a new building was dedicated.
Nine years ago the Collinsville Library was renovated, more than doubling its square footage, adding handicap access, computers, electronic media, and expanding the book collection. The renovations maintained the historical integrity of the original Carnegie Library. It's truly a beautiful library and I want to thank the staff for hosting me.

Today's Comedy of Errors Book Club is comprised of a wonderful group of women who meet once a month to discuss books and fundraising for the library. Susan Babbit, director of the library, chaired the meeting and introduced me to the group. Susan strikes me as one of those dynamic people who could run a small country just in their spare time. I imagine she gets more done before breakfast than most people do all day.

It was a fun hour as I discussed the creation of Evelyn David and the birth of the Sullivan Investigations Mystery series. I mentioned the fact that neither half of Evelyn David has ever met - they had lots of questions about how my co-author and I plot murder. There was also a lot of interest in "Whiskey," the Irish wolfhound character in both books.

Most of the attendees purchased copies of both mysteries and signed up for our monthly newsletter. If you'd like to receive a copy – please visit our website and sign up.

I hope to return to Collinsville this summer for a "mystery dinner." Stay tuned for more details about in a few weeks!

Evelyn David

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Lost Art of Saying Thank You

Child #1 had her birthday in February; child #2 in April. Last night, the subject of thank you note writing came up and Jim asked both of them if they had written thank you’s for the birthday presents they received. The blank stares that were returned in response gave us our answer.

That would be NO.

So after several minutes of admonishments, we were still no closer to mailing out thank you notes (“I said thank you to all of my friends when they were here” doesn’t cut it but they think it does) but I was closer to a topic for today’s post: The Lost Art of Saying “Thank You.”

Maybe it should be “The Lost Art of Writing the Thank You.” That might be more apt.

Nothing delights me more than getting thank you notes in the mail. It is always nice to get an acknowledgment of your thoughtfulness, isn’t it? I tried to explain this to the kids but I think that the fact that most people don’t think that writing a note is important anymore speaks to the casual nature of our society. We let our children’s friends call us by our first names; jeans are appropriate attire just about everywhere; and people are usually plugged in and shun human contact because they are listening to their IPod, checking their BlackBerry, or chatting on their cell phones in public.

I mentioned my consternation to a friend who said that her children feel the same way about thank you notes. She, on the other hand, orders engraved stationery from a very upscale store in Manhattan so that she has enough notes on hand at any given time. Me? I use my Nancy Drew note cards exclusively. Who doesn’t want a note card with a photo of the cover of “The Secret of the Old Clock” in their possession? It is the rare person, I suspect.

When I was diagnosed with cancer four years ago and had to undergo some pretty grueling chemotherapy, friends rallied around and formed a cooking squad. Everyone had a night to cook, and three times a week, we were the recipients of some fabulous meals. I was embarrassed at first, but then realized that this is something that people wanted to do. They wanted to help. So I put my embarrassment aside and accepted the meals as graciously as I could—when I wasn’t peering under a foil lid to see what we were having for dinner in the presence of the cook. As my surgery date approached, I made it a goal to sit down and write thank you’s to everyone who had shown me kindness over the previous three months, and not just those who had cooked. It was important to me to let them know that their generosity of spirit and thoughtfulness meant more to me than they would ever know. A thank you note was just a small token of my appreciation.

Writing all of those notes made me feel better. They reminded me that I was not alone on the journey…everyone who had said a prayer or treated me like the same old Maggie when I was bald and weak or brought me a meal was special to me.

People would say, “Oh, you didn’t have to write me a thank you; you have cancer.” To which I would reply, “I might have cancer, but I still have manners.”

There’s no explaining this to a teen and pre-teen when you’re exhorting them to take the time to write their friends and extended family a note for birthday gifts bestowed. For the kids, a birthday present are a birthright, and of course “I said ‘thank you’ when they were here!” is their argument. But it is important that we don’t let these customs go by the wayside. Your friends and family are important, and when they give you a gift or show you a kindness—whatever it is—they deserve recognition and thanks.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Star Trek, the New Movie

Hubby and I went to see the latest Star Trek movie. We aren't Trekkies, nor ever have been. However, we did watch the first Star Trek series and the other movies.

My sister was a Trekkie for a long time. Once on a visit to Las Vegas, we all went on the Star Trek virtual reality ride. And another time at Universal Studios, sis and my hubby were chosen to be characters in a movie they made on the spot. We still have the video of their exciting foray into acting.

When we got to the theater for the 10:10 a.m. showing, there was a line. Many were the type you'd expect to be Trekkies, but there were plenty of ordinary folks like us. One of the women from my critique group was there with her son--his Mother's Day present to her. They sat in front of us and laughed at all the same things we did.

What's so good about this particular movie is the young actors who play the major characters when they were young. I have no idea if they give Oscars for casting, but whoever picked these folks should get an Oscar.

No, of course they didn't look exactly like their counterparts, but they nailed the personalities and the nuances. I smiled through the whole movie. Certainly worth the price of the ticket. Take some time off and give yourself a treat, go see Star Trek.

a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mystery Unsolved

There is always a painful poignancy and urgency when a crime involves a child. May 25 will mark the 30th anniversary of the day six-year-old Etan Patz walked to his school bus stop, one block from his home…never to be seen again. His likely killer is in prison, a convicted pedophile who taunts police with answers, but never gives the family the closure it deserves by telling them where to find the remains of that sunny little boy.

Caylee Anthony, a two-year old with a bright smile, was missing for six months before her tiny body was found in a garbage bag. Her mother is now on trial for her daughter’s murder.

According to the The U.S. Department of Justice:

* 797,500 children (younger than 18) were reported missing in a one-year period of time, resulting in an average of 2,185 children being reported missing each day.
* 203,900 children were the victims of family abductions.
* 58,200 children were the victims of non-family abductions.
* 115 children were the victims of “stereotypical” kidnapping. (These crimes involve someone the child does not know or someone of slight acquaintance, who holds the child overnight, transports the child 50 miles or more, kills the child, demands ransom, or intends to keep the child permanently.)

"A child can become missing because of a variety of circumstances, such as running away, being abducted, or being delayed by a mishap on the way home. Even simple misunderstandings about schedules and miscommunications about plans and activities can cause a child to be missing." Most missing child cases are quickly resolved. We, of course, hear about the tragic ones where there is no known resolution or a heartbreaking one.

An incident last week in the supermarket prompted me to go online to check these statistics. It was another miserable rainy day in a New York suburb. When I entered my local Stop and Shop, I saw a group of adults crowded around a small child, who was face down on the floor. The little boy couldn’t have been more than three or four years old. He was making plaintive little cries, but not answering any direct questions. I heard murmurings from employees about how this was the second time in two weeks that this particular child had been found, seemingly abandoned, in the front of the store. Someone suggested that the child had developmental issues.

Finally a man in a black leather jacket and jeans spoke up. “Call the police.”

To me, that should have been the first reponse, but the manager seemed hesitant. Maybe she didn’t want to bring the cops and sirens to her store. Maybe she thought that someone shopping would come and claim the child.

The man firmly repeated his advice: “Call the police.” Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a leather billfold, flipped it open, to show his badge. “I’m a cop. Call the police.”

The manager reached for the phone.

I started my shopping, but stopped by the service desk on my way out. The manager said the police had come and that the boy’s babysitter had also showed up.

So I’m left to wonder what will happen to a little boy, abandoned twice. What could have happened had the cop not insisted that the police be involved? Would the child have wandered off? Been abducted? How often do we want to avoid intruding into someone else’s business? How many children are at risk, but don’t show up in statistics?

I'm a mystery writer, but this is a story that I can’t wrap up in a neat little package at the end.

Evelyn David

Friday, May 8, 2009

Finding My Way Home

Meredith Cole directed feature films and wrote screenplays before writing mysteries. She won the St. Martin’s/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery competition. Her book POSED FOR MURDER,set in Williamsburg Brooklyn, was published by St. Martin’s Minotaur in February 2009. She is a member of the Mystery Writers of NY board, and blogs at .

Where are you from? Where is home? They’re such simple questions, but too complex for me to answer easily. Some people say “home is where the heart is” or “it’s where you rest your head,” but I guess my heart (and my head) has always felt differently.

When I shut my eyes and think about “home,” I see first my mother’s house in the rolling hills of Virginia near Charlottesville. Right now I live in Brooklyn, New York. I love New York, and appreciate the diversity, the flavors, and the excitement. I like taking the subway (except when it’s delayed), and walking everywhere. But I dislike the noise, the crowded streets, the trash, and the lack of trees—but that’s a discussion for another day.

In POSED FOR MURDER, Lydia McKenzie has left Ohio behind and gone off to New York City to be an artist. She embraces everything about the city and dreams of hitting it big. Her parents have sold their house and taken to the road in an RV, and she tells herself she doesn’t mind. But Lydia is still haunted by the past, a girl she knew as a child who was kidnapped and murdered. The girl’s experience infuses her work and leads her to try to find some sort of closure for other murdered women and their families. But instead it leads her deep into trouble, and makes her the center of a murder investigation.

My own story mirrors that of lots of Americans who because of jobs and families end up somewhere different then where they started out. My parents moved to rural Virginia from Chicago when I was two. Simple enough, but then things got complicated. My parents got divorced when I was three, and my father moved to Northern Virginia when I was six. I split my time between both places until college. I went to college in Massachusetts (Smith), lived after college in Washington, DC for five years, and then moved to Brooklyn, NY (after a few stops in Paris and Pittsburgh). So I move a lot. So do a lot of other people. So what’s the problem?

I probably agonize over the question of where I’m from because I’m a writer. I want to get my own story straight and figure out my motivation. But I’m not easy to decipher. I’m both hugely sentimental and very callous. I hate to give up my memories, my friends, and certain things that remind me of good times and people that I love—but at the same time I’m anti-stuff. I’ve never been a collector, and when I’m ready to move I throw lots of things out.

And I’m the same way when I write. The way I approach a story and the structure of a book can change a million times throughout the process. But the goal remains the same. Tell the story. Finish what I start. And then return home--wherever that might be.

Meredith Cole

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Writer's Journey

The writer's journey is a long one. Full of fast starts and lots of waiting. Marked by great excitement, mixed with terrible lows, each author finds her own way. Or finds another career. Invariably the hardest part is not the writing.

The time between finishing a book and seeing it published can usually be measured in years, not months. Echelon Press Publishing LLC is one of the few publishers that can make that turn around a little quicker – still the wait is long for the authors.

The co-authors, writing as Evelyn David, are now officially starting the promotion tour for a book we finished last summer. Lots of water has passed under the bridge since then. We'll let you in on a secret – we have to reread our own book before we stand up before a crowd and talk about it in detail. Oh, we remember the plot and the characters, but all the scenes? No. Why? Because many scenes were deleted before we turned in the final version. But in our memories, there is no difference between the words we wrote and the finished product.

To be fair, with Murder Takes the Cake we have fewer scenes littering the cutting room floor. Understanding how hard it was to edit the first book, we were more disciplined about our plotting in the second book. We write much "tighter" now.

Just as an author's writing changes with time and experience, the writing changes the author. You learn to see the world around you in terms of events that can be mined for plots and people who'd make great characters. You listen for a phrase that can be recycled for one of your series characters. The "world is a stage" and believe me, the author sitting at the table next to you is taking notes.

The Writer's Journey Journal is a new collection of writers' essays on, as editor Tony Burton calls, "… the craft and business of writing fiction." Published by Wolfmont Press, The Writer's Journey Journal is also a journal. Pages are left for you to write about your own journey. Evelyn David, along with the following authors, contributed to the book: Carolyn Hart, Bill Crider, Radine Trees Nehring, John M. Floyd, Austin S. Camacho, Robert W. Walker, L. Diane Wolfe, Beth Groundwater, Carola Dunn, Dorothy Francis, Chris Roerden, and Tony Burton.

The Writer's Journey Journal is available at Wolfmont Press's website

Evelyn David

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Musings on Malice and Mystery

Well, the Northern half of Evelyn David and I are back and I’m happy to report that we had a fabulous weekend. Even the food at the banquet was good…not rubber chicken! (It actually might have been, but I was so hungry at that point that I was ready to gnaw off my own arm.)

Since this was my first Malice, I didn’t know what to expect and as you know, faithful readers of the Stiletto Gang, I was expecting the worst. I had convinced myself that it would be a cross between high school and the prison rec yard in terms of the welcome that I would receive as a first-time conventioneer. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The writers and the fans were warm, encouraging, and delightful to talk to. I made several new friends and promise to keep in touch. But the best thing of all about attending was that I got re-energized about writing and about getting further into my fifth book about Alison Bergeron, something I was hoping would happen while I was away.

Mystery fans are a devoted lot, I must say. They know their books, their authors, the characters, and the plot lines. I am awe of how much these people know about series—where they began, where they are going, where they might have ended—and how loyal they are as readers. Evelyn David and I had a long conversation about what authors owe their readers and decided that we didn’t really know. What happens when you kill off a major character? What does that do to your readership? Does it matter? Maybe. I write my books attempting to stay true to the characters and their lives. But, I do give a lot of thought—if not to what the fans might say—but to just how real-life a certain plot point might be or what a certain action will do to the arc of the series. I guess part of that thought process, maybe subconsciously, takes into account what the fans might think. I know that there are successful authors who have killed off a fan favorite and heard about it from their readership. I don’t know if that has affected the writing they do now, but I do know that it probably affected them in terms of the criticism they had to endure.

But I digress. I also had the pleasure of sitting on a panel with Parnell Hall, Rhys Bowen, and Carole Nelson Douglas; we were charge with appearing as our main character, in costume. Well, if you have read the Alison Bergeron series and know anything about me, it is that Alison and I are pretty similar when it comes to what we wear. Evelyn suggested that I appear in a hockey jersey, an homage to Alison’s love of the game. When I got to the panel, I could see that clearly I was out of my league. Parnell was dressed as Cora Felton, aka the Puzzle Lady; Rhys was in a ball gown, blonde wig, and tiara, dressed as Georgie, cousin of King George V of England; and Carole was in black feathers from head to toe, impersonating her feline protagonist, Midnight Louie. I was clearly out of my league. (Evelyn knew it, too. I could tell by the look on her face.) I decided to play the straight man. There was no way I could compete with this crowd. It worked out pretty well, and although I didn’t get the guffaws that my panel-mates did, I think I held my own.

Future promotional activities include a speaking engagement at my alma mater; two bookstore signings with Evelyn; and perhaps a trip to Bouchercon (I’m still deciding on that one). But I’ve left the attic, dear friends. And in the immortal words of Nina Simone, “I am feeling good.”

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Making Me Think About My Priorities

Both Susan's last post and the following one about Malice made me mull over what I'm doing.
Sometimes I think I'm a bit crazy to spend so much time writing, promoting, traveling etc. in order to further my career as a writer. I'm such small potatoes compared to so many big-names, is it all worth it?

Yes, I do have a small following of fans. This past Saturday I spoke to the San Joaquin chapter of Sisters in Crime (I was one of the founders). We had a much smaller crowd than the week before when the reformed gangster Henry Hill (Good Fella fame) appeared along with Denny Griffin, a retired cop who writes about gangsters and crime in Las Vegas.

The ones who came though, came to hear me. They'd asked that I answer questions--some of which they'd given me ahead of time. Of course I did and talked about my two latest books, No Sanctuary and Kindred Spirits. After I was done, those who so desired bought books. I sold 19--more than the people in attendance because some bought a copy of each book.

When we got home I did a few writing chores then we had to go to a spaghetti dinner put on by our youth group. Food was great and the kids worked their fanny's off. They're hoping to get enough money to go to camp this summer. Camp is expensive and most of our kids come from poor families.

I have other priorities--hubby is # one. I took him with me to the SinC meeting and he took care of the selling. He's also very popular and has his own fans. Good for his ego.

I teach Sunday School and attend church every Sunday that I'm not off somewhere. Last week our eldest daughter and hubby visited and I did no writing. We just had fun together. They're both retired and travel in a big motor home and love it.

So where are my priorities? My family has to come first, then the writing and all that's related to it. Most of my friends are other authors who I see at various functions.

Not sure any of that helped. I do know that I love to write and I have fun promoting, so I guess that counts for something.

Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Definition of Genius

There are writers who simply blow me away. Their use of language is so extraordinary that I deliberately read every “a, the, an,” etc.” No speed reading or skimming allowed.

When I read Laura Lippman’s To the Power of Three, I decided that I’d never write another word again. No point. She said it all, and so much better. I felt that way when I read James McBride’s The Color of Water. In both cases, while the story and memoir were compelling, I was dazzled by the imaginative metaphors and similes the authors used. I just knew I’d never be able to replicate that kind of genius.

Those feelings, while understandable, should be transitory. What I should have learned when I read those books was (1) enjoy beauty where you find it, and (2) genius is, as Mr. Edison pointed out, “one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” I suspect that Ms. Lippman and Mr. McBride sweated bullets over the language that leaves me in awe.

I was prompted down this road of reflection by an interview I recently watched with Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and most recently, Outliers: The Story of Success. Gladwell insists that success is never an overnight event, but rather almost always the result of much practice. He uses The Fab Four to illustrate his point. While the media and Ed Sullivan were proclaiming the shaggy foursome from Liverpool overnight sensations, in fact, The Beatles had spent two years as the house band for a strip joint in Hamburg. They played 8-hour sets, 7 days a week. That kind of practice and experience gave them an edge that most garage bands simply don’t have. As Gladwell posits, “no Hamburg, no Beatles.” His take on genius: “Talent is the desire to practice.”

Murder Takes the Cake debuts this month. Both halves of Evelyn David have been up to their collective eyeballs in promotional activities. We’re going to mystery conferences (Malice Domestic and Deadly Ink), speaking in libraries and other venues, appearing for booksignings, blogging, Twittering, Facebook-ing, MySpace-ing…just about everything except actually writing a new mystery. Whenever we start a new project – a book or short story – the first few pages are like pulling teeth. Hard and unpleasant. But once we get into a rhythm of writing every day, the words begin to flow, the ideas flourish.

I wasn’t stirred by Lippman’s or McBride’s promotional efforts. It was their writing that inspired me. I need to get back in the groove again – and that takes practice.

Please share books that inspired you.

Evelyn David

Sunday, May 3, 2009

From Malice Domestic 2009

The Agatha Banquet was funny and inspiring. many of the speakers acknowledged that Malice Domestic 2009 was almost cancelled due to the dire economic situation, but that everyone renewed their efforts to make it a success.

There was a sense of camaraderie to the whole weekend - like brothers (& sisters) in arms, committed to preserving and celebrating the traditional mystery. Elaine Viets was the toastmaster for the evening. She spoke movingly of the support and encouragement she received from the community when she suffered a series of strokes two years ago. That had been my first Malice and I remember being so impressed by the concern and efforts to help an author in a difficult time.

Nancy Pickard was the guest of honor. She has a quiet, effective sense of humor and is very inspiring. I still quote from her Agatha acceptance speech of two years ago when she talked about studying her craft of writing. She was an accomplished author who had 20+ books to her credit, but she wanted a challenge and pushed herself to write outside her usual genre. The Virgin of Small Plains was the result. Saturday night she described her visits to 49 libraries throughout Kansas, since January. Even in the tiniest, most economically depressed towns, she found a civic pride in having a library, in the celebration of the written word. She got a standing ovation - much deserved.

The Agatha winners were all excited and humbled by their awards - and all seem genuinely touched that they had been selected by fans for this recognition. I've never been to Love is Murder or Mayhem in the Midlands - the Southern Half goes to those conferences - but this is my third year at Malice and I'd sign up again in a heartbeat.

Malice is a small, super-friendly, well-organized convention with all the cozy/traditional writers that we all adore and it's easy to fit right in. I also couldn't help but laugh when I walked through the lobby area of the event hotel - at what other national convention do you find so many attendees sitting around reading? How fun it is to be with others who love the written word!
And for a group who loves to read about murder and mayhem, it's also a group who is constantly cracking jokes and laughing out loud.

I'm on a panel tomorrow at 12:30 pm - then will head back home -- with dreams of Malice XXII already in my head

Congratulations to all the Agatha award winners!

Best Children’s/Young Adult, The Crossroads, by Chris Grabenstein for Random House.

Best Short Story, The Night Things Changed, by Dana Cameron for Penguin Group.

Best Non-Fiction, How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries, by Kathy Lynn Emerson for Perseverance Press.

Best First Novel, Death of a Cozy Writer, by G.M. Malliet for Midnight Ink.

Best Novel, The Cruelest Month, by Louise Penny for St. Martin’s Press.

Evelyn David

Friday, May 1, 2009

Feelin' Brain Dead

by Susan McBride

I've got two weeks left to finish up THE COUGAR CLUB, and I'm feeling just a tad freaked out. I've been trying hard to say "no" more and travel less so I have more time to write, particularly with back-to-back deadlines these past two or three years. But despite the best intentions, I never end up with as much work time as I'd like. Something's gotta give, and it's usually sleep. That leads to brain fog, which leads to "oops" moments. Take this morning, for example. I had two hours' worth of errands to run before the writing could commence, and I realized as I hit the vet's office to pick up a prescription for a cat that I'd forgotten to enclose a check with a bill I mailed off at the P.O. this morning. Sigh.

For some reason, my tired mind keeps singing, "feelin' brain dead" to the tune of "feelin' groovy" from Sesame Street. That's when you know you're sleep-deprived. At least it's stopped thinking of that stupid song!

Still it's hard to regret taking time off work to do things like fly to Houston in early April for the Texas Library Association convention (even though I had laryngitis--oy! Can you say "stress much"?). I loved being back in my old hometown, seeing friends, doing a drive-thru of my former neighborhood which is where THE DEBS series is set, taping a TV interview, signing stock at the lovely Blue Willow Bookshop, and doing an event at Murder by the Book. If I sounded like a croaking frog, oh, well. There wasn't much I could do about it, and everyone was awfully nice though it sure made it hard to schmooze! (Pictured left: Sara Zarr, author of SWEETHEARTS, and Justin Somper, author of the VAMPIRATES series.)

Neither do I regret playing emcee at Lisa Scottoline's appearance on April 21 at the St. Louis County Library headquarters. I'd never met Lisa before, and she's terrific. Just a bundle of energy and a hilarious speaker.

And, my gosh, it would've killed me to say "no" to the St. Louis Komen for the Cure co-chairs, Dede and Kris, who invited me to be guest speaker at the 11th Annual Survivors Luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton on April 26. As a breast cancer survivor, I felt honored that they'd asked me to share my experience with 800 fellow survivors and their friends and family. My husband, my mom, and my mom-in-law accompanied me, and I ran into several pals and met lots of other amazing women. I'd been warned not to make my speech sad, something I wasn't sure how to do anyway. I got through the worst of my boobal trauma by relying on my sense of humor. If you can't laugh through the tears, I don't know how you make it.

I'd never been so nervous before a talk, however, and I picked at my food during lunch (which was a shame because it was delish!). But once I was up on the stage and the lights were glaring in my face--I mean, those suckers were bright!--the words began to flow and the laughter rang out through the ballroom. By the time I finished, I realized people were on their feet, clapping. It took a minute to grasp the fact that I'd gotten my first standing-O! Wow. I signed books for at least an hour after, and I probably took longer signing than I should have. But I couldn't help chatting with each woman who approached. It's astounding the connection between strangers when you share a bond like surviving breast cancer. I felt like I'd been embraced by some of the nicest people in the world. For all the luncheon ladies who said I inspired them, let me tell you, they inspired me, too.

No more outside events until next Friday when I speak at the Young Authors Conference downtown to St. Louis Public School students. No matter the interruptions, I keep telling myself to FOCUS and get THE COUGAR CLUB done by May 15. (I think I can, I think I can!) And if that fails, I remind myself that I finished TOO PRETTY TO DIE and wrote THE DEBS entirely while going through my surgery and radiation therapy in late 2006 and early 2007. Geez, Louise! If I can do that, I can surely complete the last chunk of COUGAR in two weeks, right? Even with a soggy brain.