Friday, April 29, 2011

Why I Will Survive an Alien Attack

by Rachel Brady

I confessed a strange behavior to a friend this week, and rather than receive the mockery I expected, I was shocked to learn that my bizarre activity was not unique. This has inspired me to publicly embarrass myself so that I might poll the Stiletto Faithful. Maybe it's true. Maybe we are not alone...

Lately I've been tracking my spending and noticing that, rent and utilities aside, my biggest expenses are childcare and groceries, with fuel a close third.

Sometimes I try to see how many days in a row I can go without buying something. It makes me stop and reflect on whether what I'm buying is a want or a need. Most things are wants, and when I don't buy them I excel at my private game. Sometimes I can make it a whole week without buying so much as a stamp. (Not often.)

But groceries are needs.

Or are they?

Enter my other game, Alien Apocalypse. What if you were home right now and malevolent aliens landed in your town? You can't go out to Kroger's because they will either harm you or eat you or put you on the Mother Ship. You must subsist only on what is currently in your pantry, refigerator, and freezer. How long will you survive?

Trust this alien survivor. It's longer than you'd think.

Periodically I do this exercise to pare down my food inventory. Rather than buy fresh produce for the week, I'll eat through all my frozen veggies. You know the ones. Those bags in your freezer that you don't even see anymore because they have been there since 1994. When we run out of cereal, we eat through the eggs, toast, and oatmeal before I'll buy more breakfast foods. I look at meat in the freezer, rice in the pantry, and those two cans of tomato paste I bought when leg warmers were still in style and I start thinking about how to eat them as a meal. Shopping isn't allowed because it's not worth jeopardizing my safety by going outside. That only provokes them.

I don't mean to suggest that I'm on the steps of the poorhouse, so please no aid drops by helicopter. But I am something of a minimalist by choice and this approach of spending down my resources before bringing more into the house serves me well. It helps avoid clutter. Keeps things tidy. And it minimizes extraneous expenses.

So if any of those side effects appeal to you, before you head out to the store this weekend, see how many meals you can make first with the supplies you already have on hand.

If it comes down to you versus the neighbor in the Alien Apocalypse, you'll be all trained up. Bon appetite.

When this piece posts on Friday, I'll be schmoozing with aliens--I mean mystery writers--at the Malice Domestic Mystery Convention in Bethesda, Maryland. I'll check back to visit your comments as soon as I can. Enjoy your weekends!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

You Make Me Want to be a Better Writer

by Maria Geraci

There is one thing above all others that makes a writer's work stand out. It's not great grammar, or great story structure, or even a unique story line (because let's face it, pretty much every story has been done before in some form or another).  What makes a writer stand out is voice. Voice is what makes you unique. It's what sells your books.

I clearly  remember the day that I met my editor (Wendy McCurdy at Berkley) for the first time. It was at the RWA National convention in Washington DC. We had breakfast together and were talking about things in general, and then we began talking about my books. And at some point in the conversation she looked at me and said, "I really love your raunchy voice." I must have looked a little stunned, because she smiled and said, "I mean that in a good way."

I've thought about that comment a lot (as you can probably imagine.) I write fun, romantic women's fiction (kind of a cross between chick lit and contemporary romance). The heroine in my first book (Bunco Babes Tell All) meets my hero when he catches her peeing in the bushes. In my second book (Bunco Babes Gone Wild) my heroine accidentally "flashes" my hero, and in my most recent book (The Boyfriend of the Month Club) in the very first opening scene, my heroine chips her tooth trying to open a shrink wrapped tampon. Huh. I think I get what Wendy was saying. Voice is not just about how you word things, it's your unique look at the world. It's the author's "big picture."

When I stumble across a really great book, one that I can't put down, it's usually because of the author's voice. This always makes me sit up and take notice. I'm not just a reader, I'm also a student and a good book always teaches me something (bad books teach me something as well, but we won't get into that today.)

I recently finished reading Eleanor Brown's debut novel The Weird Sisters. The story is about three sisters who reunite in their home town (each with secrets of their own) when their mother is diagnosed with breast cancer. The hook? Their father is a Shakespearan scholar who recites The Bard pretty much every time he opens his mouth. But what makes the book special and memborable is Eleanor Brown's voice. She creates such a unique world that you can't help but feel it, smell it, live it. The book is told in first person plural (we) and is absolutely fabulous. I used my Kindle highlighter to note some of the lines that really stood out for me.

Here is just a tiny selection:

See, we love each other. We just don't like each other very much.

She had gone from most favored nation to useless ally, from Cordelia to Ophelia.

Because despite his money and his looks and all the good-on-paper attributes he possessed, he was not a reader, and well, let's just say this is the sort of nonsense up with which we will not put.

Can I just say, I really really love that last line? I've read it countless times now and each time it makes me smile more. Reading Eleanor Brown makes me want to be a better writer. It makes me want to hone my own voice and sharpen it until it becomes all me, with nothing held back. Just a stick that pokes at my reader's emotions and makes them laugh or cry or startles them.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

It's French to Me

There came a time, around my junior year of college, when I realized I had enough credits to qualify as a French minor to go along with my English major.  There also came a time, when I realized I really, really liked this guy in my French pronunciation class, that if I continued to take more French courses, I could graduate with a double major, French/English.

That doesn’t mean I can actually speak French.

The cute guy eventually became my tutor, and then my husband.  My mother often tells him how much money he owes her because, dag nabbit, if she sent a kid to college to get a French major, said kid ought to be able to at least order off a French menu with a modicum of confidence.

As my French teacher, the wonderful Madame Marzi, once said to me, “You have a wonderful accent.  If only I could teach you to actually speak French.”

Why do I bring this up?  Well, as luck would have it, tonight, we welcome a French exchange student to our home for ten days.  She is visiting us from a coastal town in France—the same one that my husband visited when he was part of the first group to partake in this exchange thirty years ago.  We are all very excited:  my daughter, because the young woman visiting us is the same age as she is and seems to have the same interests; my son, well, because he’s twelve and what twelve-year-old wouldn’t want a female French exchange student living in his house?; my husband because he is thrilled that the program is still in existence and thriving; and me…

Well, I’m not so sure.  See, the French exchange student will be spending most of her free time—the time when she’s not at school with my daughter or visiting New York City—with me.  The French major.  The woman who once told her children, in French, while on vacation in Quebec, that we would soon visit the factory to make cheese.  (What I meant to say is that we would soon visit the pool to go swimming.  Trust me, a lot of these vocabulary words sound the same.)

The goal of her visit is to speak as much English as possible, something that will be necessitated by spending time with me, the non-French speaker.  I am hoping that her English will be better than my French, but based on our meeting with last year’s participants, it’s a virtual crapshoot.  Some students have more English than others and are very enthusiastic about using the language, while others have a rudimentary knowledge of English and prefer to speak their native tongue. 

Regardless, it should be interesting.

And fodder for future books.

At the very least, it has gotten my family on board with cleaning.  She will be staying in my son’s room, which has become the de facto guest room for all visitors.  He remarked the other day that his room never looked so clean, and that he liked it that way.  (We’ll see how long that lasts.)  I spent the better part of Saturday at the laundromat washing blankets, comforters and sheets so all bedding in our house is nice and fresh.  I scrubbed the bathroom tile and grout so that the room feels new again.  If nothing else, her visit has prompted us to make this place spic and span.

Stayed tuned for updates on her visit and for the misadventures of “Maggie, the Only Diploma-ed French Major Who Can’t Speak French.”

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hanging Out With Youngsters

Yep, that's what I'm doing here.

When I read some of your posts I know I'm truly over the hill. Oh, don't get me wrong, some of the blog posts are truly heart-rending when you talk about your bouts with life-threatening diseases. I can remember what it was like when you talk about challenges you're facing while raising your kids. I've certainly been there with five of my own and the several grandkids that lived with us at different times. (We are in fact going to lose our latest house guest soon when he moves to the state of Washington to work with his brother. We've been thrilled by how he's matured since living with us.)

I've never run a marathon though I used to walk 3 miles every day with my mom--when she was in her 80s. Needless to say we didn't walk all that fast.

I love your posts about writing, though I've probably been at it far longer than any of you, I still face the same problems as you all do. And though I started out with a New York publisher, since then, my publishers have all been small presses, and I've very happy with the two I'm with now.

I know that some of you are still working full-time and juggling families AND writing books. I retired from my job a few years ago but I can tell you that I seem to have less time now then I did then. I think when you've got so many things that have to be done you prioritize better.

I still do a lot of online promotion--certainly this blog is something I do faithfully. I've never done a book tour where I've gone from store to store. I do go to some bookstores but usually when I've been invited to give some kind of talk. I make appearances at libraries, sometimes solo, sometimes with other writers. This year I'm giving talks at two different colleges, one to lots of students, the other to only 16. I love giving presentations to writers groups and at writers conferences. Though the big cons are fun to go to, because I'm not a big name author, the smaller cons are more beneficial to me. I also do book and craft fairs where the book selling is often quite brisk. The older I get though, the harder it is to get to some of these things, so I know in the future my promotion will probably become more centered on the online.

And as most of you know, I have a big family which means a lot of family events to attend. The big one coming up next is my great-grandson's high school graduation! And I'll also be going to the celebration of my youngest granddaughter's high school graduation right after that.

Life goes on whether I get that book written or not.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Building a Brand

I've watched with fascination the growth of The Pioneer Woman empire. PW is Ree Drummond, whose website ( is a smart and sassy mix of delicious recipes, incredible photography, and homespun stories. I like her easy-breezy writing style and have enjoyed her step-by-step instructions to making yummy dishes.

Essentially Ree Drummond has parlayed a blog she began five years ago to keep in touch with her extended family into a multi-dimensional career. The Pioneer Woman has become a brand. Its base is the complex web site that includes sections on cooking, homeschooling, family life, gardening, and more. The site is designed to be interactive, with a separate section for readers to contribute their own recipes. Thousands of her fans comment on each of Drummond's posts. She uses all forms of social media. You'll find her twittering several times a day. Same chatty style as her web site.

But the web site was just the beginning. She's written one cookbook that came out 18 months ago (undoubtedly an easy sell to her publisher because she already had a built-in market). On her web site, she serialized the story of her transformation from suburban Yuppie to wife of a cattle rancher. She then compiled the installments into a book, which was published last Fall. That book has now been optioned by Reese Witherspoon for a big-screen movie treatment. Last month, Drummond children's book about her bassett hound was published. And last week, it was announced that she will be hosting a daily cooking show on the Food Network. Forgive me if I'm using the wrong business term, but isn't that what they call synergy?

I suspect one reason Ree Drummond can do all this, besides being incredibly talented and creative, is because she married a very wealthy man, The Drummond family own one of the largest cattle ranching operations in Oklahoma. Having money when starting a new venture, be it widgets or web sites, gives you a flexibility that many, if not most, entrepreneurs don't have. Still, there are plenty of failures amongst those for whom money isn't a consideration. So kudos to PW -- she works hard and has earned her success.

But her story made me focus on the concept that authors can be a brand. In some ways that can be limiting: Can you only write one kind of story and if you try to break out into a different genre, will your audience and critics be suspicious or even angry? Imagine Stephen King writing a romance novel. How would readers react? Drummond can do the cookbook and the children's book, because the brand is about her family life on the ranch – cooking and pets are part of both.

One compliment often given to cozy mystery writers (which is how the collective Evelyn David define ourselves) is that "you're ready for a bigger book." Bigger being somewhat loosely interpreted. The stakes are higher (the world will come to an end unless the sleuth can find the terrorist). The message is bigger (drugs are bad and the sleuth needs to find the head of the drug cartel). The carnage is messier (think multiple body parts as well as death). A "bigger" book, almost by definition, gets more respect.

But while I wouldn't mind the respect, I also have no apologies for the fun mysteries that I hope we provide for our readers. A friend once remarked, "Not only do I not want to write the great American novel; I don't want to read it." I'm probably closer to that point of view than to the idea that I've got the next War and Peace in me if only I'd sit at the computer and stop playing Minesweeper.

So, if anyone wants to brand Evelyn David, I'm thinking we could start with a perfume – the scent, of course, would be a mystery.

Marian aka the Northern half of Evelyn David

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

The Sullivan Investigation Series
Murder Drops the Ball (Spring 2011)
Murder Takes the Cake- Paperback - Kindle
Murder Off the Books- Paperback - Kindle
Riley Come Home (short story)- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Love Lessons - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Sunday, April 24, 2011


The winner of the signed copy of MY JANE AUSTEN SUMMER by Cindy Jones is...Susan L.!  Congratulations, Susan, and thanks to all who commented and entered.  (And thank you, Cindy, for your wonderful guest post and the book give-away!)

Susan, you'll be hearing directly from Cindy via email re. mailing your book.  Enjoy! 

Friday, April 22, 2011

True Writing Crime

By Cindy Jones

I’m thrilled to be a guest of the Stiletto Gang today. However, now that I find myself in the bosom of mystery writers, I feel the urge to confess a crime.

I stole a house.

What can I say? I needed a house for my novel. An English Country House to be exact. We don’t have them in my neighborhood so I looked on the internet. Bingo. When I found the house, I knew it was perfect. I studied the pictures, read everything I could find, and began lifting that house, brick by brick from the website, via my imagination, into my story. I did not reproduce any pictures or commit plagiarism, and if the operation had stopped there, I could live with it. But I visited the scene of the crime (in England). And that’s when it got bad.

The downside to helping yourself to another person’s house (without actually seeing it) is that you might get it wrong. If my understanding is flawed or incomplete, the depiction will seem inauthentic. So there I was driving on the wrong side of the street in a foreign country, worrying that I might have missed the point of the house I’d already appropriated for my book. Or missed the point of English Country Houses, which might mean I’d missed the point of England, for all I knew. What if I had to re-write the whole book? My hands started sweating and butterflies danced as I anticipated actual reunion with the house I’d spent years imagining.

When I finally found the sign on a rural road in the middle of nowhere directing me to my Manor House’s parking lot, I was giddy with excitement. A man on a backhoe was shoveling dirt. I got out and stretched my legs, making sure I had my camera. The man on the backhoe asked if he could help me. When I told him I was there to see the house, he told me they were closed.


Backhoe Man did not care that I had come halfway around the world to see my house. The fact that the concierge at my hotel spread misinformation about their hours of operation was my problem, not his. The fact that I was an unpublished novelist in love with his house was also my problem. He would not even allow me walk close enough to glimpse the house through the thick copse of trees.


We got back into the car and pretended to leave. My mother (who loaned me her wedding dress when I needed a queen costume in 6th grade) masterminded the plan to stop the getaway mobile at the end of the driveway long enough for me to run up and look at the house. Backhoe Man was shoveling dirt again. There was no time to lose.

Frightened and desperate, I snuck up the drive. It was worth it. The house rose magnificently from the grounds, far more beautiful in reality. I memorized the look of the old bricks, the swirly glass windows, the serene grounds. I’d gotten it all completely right. I hated to leave. But it was too late. Backhoe Man saw me looking at his house. He dismounted and came after me, not even civil.

I offered to pay.

Writing can lead to a life of crime. Being creative—joining unlike things to make something new—is not a crime, but sometimes acquiring the unlike things to be joined raises problems. (My sisters never greet me without first narrowing their eyes and asking, “Is that mine?”) The English Manor house is just the tip of the iceberg.

So don’t show me your membership roster or your high school yearbook—I’ll be memorizing names to use in my next novel. Don’t talk on the phone around me, I harvest unguarded conversations. Do not tell me secrets because secrets are pure gold in my business. Above all, do not reveal your humanity to me, because I will take that glimpse of your inmost heart and apply it to my character, breathing your life into my creation so that my fiction might resonate with readers I’ve never even met.

If you would like to tour the house I virtually stole for my novel, check out My Jane Austen Summer. The House first appears in all its glorious splendor on page 42—brick by virtual brick.

**The gracious Cindy is giving away a signed copy of My Jane Austen Summer to one lucky Stiletto Gang reader!  Just leave a comment sometime on this post between now and Sunday, April 24 at noon (Central Time), and Cindy will randomly drawer a winner!  Thanks, Cindy, and good luck, everyone!

About Cindy:  Born in Ohio, I grew up in small mid-western towns, reading for escape. I dreamed of living in a novel and wrote my first book in fifth grade. After a business career, husband, and the birth of four sons, I wrote My Jane Austen Summer: A Season in Mansfield Park, winner of the Writer’s League of Texas Manuscript Contest. I have a BA from Mary Washington College, an MBA from the University of Houston, studied creative writing in the SMU CAPE program, and belong to the The Squaw Valley Community of Writers. I live with my family in Dallas where I have discovered that, through writing, it is entirely possible to live in a novel for a good part of each day.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lessons Learned from Dancing with the Stars

I love Dancing with the Stars. Every Monday night if I'm not sitting in front of my TV, my faithful DVR is recording away every beat of every samba, rumba, quickstep or waltz that's taking place. I love the costumes, the music, the dancing, the so called "stars" and the professionals. Every season I quickly get attached to my favorites and agonize when they get voted off.

This season there's a lot of good going on. All the celebrities are decent dancers (with the exception of Psycho Mike and Wendy Williams who both quickly got the boot). I love that every week a different couple comes out on top on the Leader board and that as of right now, it's any one's season to win.

It occurred to me while watching this past week that there's a lot I could correlate between the show and my career as a writer.

First, there's the skill element involved. Every season there are celebrities who start out with an edge. Some previous dance experience. Or natural talent, that kind of thing. But then there is the celebrity who rises above their talent level with good old fashioned hard work. They continue to improve week after week and the audience sees this and rewards them with votes. These are my favorite celebrities. Like Emmitt Smith, the ex-professional football player who won his season. Sure, Emmitt started out with some rhythm, but by the end of the season he was a dancer.

Lesson learned? Work hard and keep working harder and it will pay off. Make each book better than the one before.

Then there is the judge's criticism. In case you've never watched the show, there are three judges: Len, Carrie Ann and Bruno. Sometimes I honestly think Len is smoking crack. But, I have to say, for the most part he's pretty consistent in what he likes. Len loves a good clean dance. He doesn't like the fru fru stuff. He wants to see the dance elements done properly. Bruno is more about the "feel". He's the emotion behind the judging and I love his crazy comments. Carrie Ann is somewhere in between Len and Bruno. She's also the Lift Nazi. Heaven forbid your feet come off the floor in a dance that doesn't allow it. She'll dock you a point for it. Count on that.

So here's the thing. The judges' opinion is important. They give you a score and that score is averaged in with fan votes and decides whether or not you are booted off the show. But you can't choreograph your dance each and every week to please the judges, because you simply can't please all three of them. You have to dance to entertain. To tell a story. You have to have fun out there. You have to take risks. The best dances do all the above.

Lesson learned?  Write the best story you can. Have fun. Take risks. Dare to go where no writer before you has gone. Never forget who you are writing for (and it isn't Publishers Weekly or Bookreview or Kirkus). It's for you and your fans (the people who buy your books!)

Every season, there are celebrities who earn my admiration and celebrities who end up disappointing me. The show puts a lot of pressure on the stars. Besides keeping up with a grueling dance schedule, many of them are still doing their regular job- filming talk shows, soaps, shows in Vegas, etc. I understand that the pressure can get to them, but there's something to be said about showing grace under said pressure. No one at home wants to hear about how horrible your life is because you have to catch your limousine or miss your private jet to go on your television tour and how you are working fourteen hour days to keep everything afloat.

This past week, super model Petra Nemkova got the axe. I was so disappointed! I'll be honest, I had no idea who she was before the show. But I sure do now. She's a survivor of the 2004 tsunami that hit Thailand. Her fiancee was killed and Petra suffered serious injuries. She has since founded a charitable organization called Happy Hearts Fund that helps children who have suffered through a natural disaster. Petra was not only beautiful and a graceful dancer, she let us see her heart. She made herself vulnerable. She took the judges' criticism like a trooper and vowed to work harder each week. The show is really going to miss her.

Reality star Kendra Wilkinson, a former Playboy bunny and Hugh Heffner love interest is another story. I'll admit, at first I kind of rolled my eyes at Kendra. But I saw her working hard week after week and I began to really like her. Then last week, she kind of got into a brouhaha with Judge Carrie. Kendra blew her dance and instead of taking the judges' criticism like a woman, she interrupted Carrie's critique and told her she didn't care about being elegant. I'm not sure how Kendra survived last week. The judges gave her extremely low marks and you would have thought that the American public would have kept their votes to themselves. Still, I think Kendra's days are numbered. No body likes a crybaby.

Lesson learned? Criticism is there to help you grow. Listen to it, take what you can from it and be better. Show your audience your vulnerabilities. People love people who are real. If you can't be a professional, at least learn to hold your tongue.

So that's it. My Dancing with the Stars lessons on writing. This season I'm rooting for Ralph (Karate Kid) Macchio (who knows how to take criticism with a smile), Kirstie Alley (who shows us her vulnerabilities and makes us like her more each week), Hines Ward (who works harder each and every week to improve) and Chelsea Kane (who takes the big risks and gives the audience a super performance each and every time)!

Maria Geraci writes fun, romantic women's fiction. Visit her website or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lesson Learned

The Stiletto Gang is delighted to welcome good friend Joe Wallace to our site. And no, we didn't make him wear stilettos in order to guest with us today.

I believe that retribution for an act of prejudice should be swift, unsparing, and impossible to ignore. Why do I believe this? Because that’s what it took to show me my own previously unrecognized prejudices.

My crime: I discriminated against a book genre. Back in the 1990s, when Mark Zuckerberg was still a child, when Twitter wasn’t yet a (pithy) gleam in its creator’s eye, the AOL Bulletin Boards were the place to be for people who loved books. It was amazing: You could discuss nearly every author you could think of, living or dead, with fellow enthusiasts. (In a given day I’d find myself discussing Jane Austen and Walt Kelly, Sue Grafton and Gabriel Garcia-Marquez.

I was never one to pick a fight until I happened to check out a board entitled “Women Who Read.” It took me only a few seconds to figure out what the women there were reading.

I couldn’t allow this to stand. With all the great books in the world, why on earth were they resorting to romance? Just a few words from me, I was sure, would set them on the path to reading fulfillment.

So I weighed in. I pointed out the flaws in the genre. I suggested some alternatives. I played the part of the wise Sherpa.

I was eviscerated. The women on “Women Who Read” were doctors, lawyers, college professors, captains of their school debating team. They were whip-smart, self-confident, and not afraid to show it.

I fought valiantly—actually, I think the proper words are “feverishly” and “shrilly”—but every day I had my head handed to me in yet another creative way.

One day, I was telling my wife about my latest attempt to “win” the argument. She is a far more adventurous reader than I, often taking on ambitious literary novels while I read mysteries, thrillers, and popular nonfiction. At first glance, you might consider her the one more likely to be snobbish about genre.

But she looked at me and said, “Joe, why on earth are you doing this? These women get together online to share their love of reading. Why are you trying to ruin it.

I said, Um….

“And you’re always saying how people don’t give mystery stories the respect they deserve,” she went on. “Seems to me you’re doing exactly the same thing with romance.”

I said, Um, well…

“I think you should apologize,” she said, and went back to her copy of something long and dense that I likely would never read.

I didn’t sleep well that night. The first lonely hours were spent justifying myself and my actions. The rest were spent phrasing and rephrasing my apology.

The next morning I logged on, clicked “Women Who Read,” and wrote, “I am really sorry that I’ve been acting like such an obnoxious jerk. Can we start over?”

And you know what happened? I was forgiven. They’d seen it all before, having spent their lives being insulted over their reading choices. Insulted by people who questioned their intelligence, their taste, even their happiness and mental stability.

Just as readers of mysteries and thrillers had once been. And sometimes still were.

The years that followed among the Women Who Read were as much fun as any I’ve spent online. They welcomed me into their wide-ranging discussions, and they understood (once I’d read and enjoyed a few that they recommended) why romance would never be my preferred genre. That didn’t matter: We had plenty of other things in common, including an all-around passion for books.

There was one woman there, though, who was deeply disappointed in my apology. “Can we please keep fighting?” she wrote me. “I haven’t had so much fun in ages.”

Thank you, I replied, but no. I’d learned my lesson, once and for all.

Joe Wallace is the author of several books on nature, science, and baseball history; noir stories (including "Custom Sets," which was chosen for inclusion The Best American Mystery Stories 2010); and a novel, Diamond Ruby which itself began life as a story in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. He lives north of New York City with his wife, children, a large dog, and a put-upon cat.

Visit Joe's site at

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Glorious Day with the Reading Club

There I am yakking away about my books at the Reading Club. Oh my, I wish there were more of them around, I had so much fun and I think they did too.

My daughter-in-law was the designated driver and a good thing because the traffic was horrendous for our 3 1/2 hour drive. We just made it for our luncheon date with the program chair and the president of the group--two delightful ladies.

Over forty women showed up for the event. They meet twice monthly and always have a speaker who might talk about a book she's recently read or some other topic that the others might be interested in, afterwards tea is served. Tea in the old-fashioned sense of the word, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

They'd asked me to talk about my writing history and then the inspiration for my books. One thing I've learned over the years is to tell something fun and interesting about the book or what I had to do for research, and to be sure and make the audience laugh--which I did. When I felt like I'd talked long enough, I asked for questions and had plenty to answer. Once I was through, the women rushed up to buy books. Thank goodness I brought my daughter-in-law because she handled the money while I autographed books.

We stayed long enough for a cup of tea before packing up and heading home--which was an easier drive than getting there.

What I learned.

Most of these women were in the fifty through seventy age range, though I spotted a couple that might have been in their forties, and one lady apologized for her shaky handwriting as she wrote her check and she was 90. Many had been school teachers and several married to professors at the local university. (Of course I didn't hear everyone's backgrounds, but this was from those who shared with me.)

All were nicely dressed and many in spring colors like the room was decorated. Reminded me of other women's groups I've spoken to over the years.

None of them owned a Kindle. We did talk about e-readers a little and some agreed it would be nice to have one while on a trip. My daughter-in-law told me she's downloaded a Kindle Ap to her iPhone and that's how she plans to read all the Sookie Stackhouse vampire books.

Turlock is a medium sized city located on 99 between Merced and Modesto (Central Valley, California) which is mainly agricultural) and all three cities have colleges.

Many of these women liked to read a series in order, but when I assured them each of my books has a satisfactory ending despite the ongoing characters, they chose the book that most interested them when I talked about it.

And to emphasize what I've learned when I first began doing this, people seem to like it that I don't have to refer to my notes--I didn't have any--and they love it when I make them laugh.

So that's the report on my glorious day with the Reading Club in Turlock.

Books by Marilyn

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lessons from an Easter Egg Hunt

The egg in the Cypress tree was always a pain to retrieve. I use the word "pain" to keep this a g-rated blog. Even as early as seven years old I was already doing cost vs. benefit analysis in my head. Every Easter there was a dyed egg hidden in that tree's knot hole. I didn't have to search for it; I knew it would be there. If I got to that tree first, it was a dependable "get" to up my basket count. But, the sticky sap of the tree was incredibly tenacious. If I got within ten feet of that tree I would have the nasty stuff on my clothes or skin. On my clothes, I was in trouble with my Mom. On my skin, I'd be rubbing it all day long, trying to clean it off. And it wouldn't come off without gasoline, meaning I'd have to approach an adult who'd help but not without telling me to stay away from the tree and possibly finding a food prep chore for me to do. So it was leave the egg or deal with the consequences on my own. Sometimes I took that egg, sometimes I left it. But either way I considered my decision carefully.

The annual Easter Egg Hunt was at my grandparents' small farm in rural Oklahoma. Usually the weather was perfect - the day warm without the thick humidity that would come later in the season. But often the ground was muddy from recent rains. The egg hunters would be wearing that mud before the day was over.

In the 1960s, my cousins and I usually descended en masse on the farm along with our "ham and potato salad toting" parents for the holiday. My Mom came from a large family with many siblings, so there were always a lot of kids under the age of sixteen to join in the egg hunt. The older cousins, along with my Mom's youngest sisters (who still lived on the farm) boiled the eggs, colored them, and hid them before everyone else arrived.

From the moment our car parked in the gravel area near the front gate to the yard, my brother and I were leaning out the windows, scanning the large yard, hoping to spy a few eggs ahead of time so we could plan our attack. Having a plan was important. Our goal was always to find the most eggs.

Still ... it was an unspoken rule but we all knew the easy eggs, the ones in plain view on the lawn or nestled among the daylilies were for the toddlers. When the whistle sounded, we bypassed those and went to work searching for those that required cunning, daring, and often gymnastic feats to rival those of any circus performer. The eggs in the rose bushes were the worst. To get to them with out being bitten by the thorns was almost impossible. We learned to find sticks or anything with a long handle to reach deep into the wild roses and rake out the eggs. I don't know how many times my long hair got tangled in the bushes, but I persisted until I got the egg. I loved the robin's egg blue ones best. Still do.

Back then everyone had clothes lines in their yards, the wires attached to large t-shaped metal poles. The end of each pole had two openings on the crossbar. Each opening was perfect for hiding an egg. I wasn't tall enough to reach them on my own, but I could hold up my little brother and he could grab them for me. We split the bounty.

Flower pots, tires, dog houses (I can't remember if we ate all those eggs, but thinking back I hope not), we searched all the usual places and then kept looking. We believed if we looked hard enough we could find just one more. And sometimes we did. Regardless, we didn't give up until the adults called us in for lunch.

Afterwards we'd count our eggs, doctor our wounds, and get ready for the softball game that would take place in the same front yard that we'd just searched for eggs. Looking back on those days, I wonder at all the life lessons we learned: decision making, planning, setting goals, caring for those younger or weaker, persevering in the face of adversity, teamwork, and creating our own rules of fair play. And wonder of all wonders, it was all accomplished without adults being called in to settle differences or direct the activity.

Do you have a favorite memory of an Easter Egg Hunt?

aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

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

The Sullivan Investigation Series
Murder Drops the Ball (Spring 2011)
Murder Takes the Cake- Paperback - Kindle
Murder Off the Books- Paperback - Kindle
Riley Come Home (short story)- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Love Lessons - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Books of April

If memory serves, I met April Henry about ten years ago during Malice Domestic.  I believe I was going up the hotel escalator and she was going down (or maybe it was the other way around?).  Anyway, it was one of those, "Hi, aren't you?" and "Yes, and aren't you?" kind of things. She was writing her award-winning Claire Montrose mystery series then and was about to take off in a new direction with her first stand-alone thriller, LEARNING TO FLY.  Next I knew, April was penning young adult thrillers and was one of the first to congratulate me when I signed to do YA.  So not only is April a multi-talented author, she's also just plain nice. The latest of her adult thrillers, HEART OF ICE (co-written with Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl), hit bookstores on April 5. I was happy to get the chance to talk with April about that and everything else she's got on her busy schedule these days.

Susan: You're co-author of HEART OF ICE, another sure-to-be-best-selling thriller. What's it like writing as a partnership with Lis Wiehl? How do you bring the ideas and words together?

April:  When Lis and I begin a new book together, we sit down and hash out the plot, then talk about it with our editor and publisher. We look at real-life experiences Lis has had (she's a federal prosecutor and now a TV legal analyst) that we can tie our story to. Then I work on the first draft and after that the two of us fine-tune it together.

Susan: Speaking of ideas, where did the story for HEART OF ICE come from?

April: We both were fascinated by the sociopaths - people who are basically born without a conscience. As a prosecutor, Lis has crossed paths with a few - and I've known some in real life as well. Sometimes the most attractive and interesting person in the room hides a dark heart.

Susan: Do you ever lose sleep at night after writing a particularly scary scene or chapter?

April: Sometimes if I've really put myself in the moment, it will affect me later. What is more of a sleep-stealer, though, is some of the research I've done. I've seen some pictures of murder scenes that I really wish I could erase from my brain.

Susan: Your most recent young adult thriller, GIRL, STOLEN, came out last year. How does the voice of your YA books differ from those in your adult novels? Is it fun going back and forth? Is it difficult in any way?

April: YAs are often written in first person, but GIRL, STOLEN is written in two alternating third person POVs. My YAs are shorter than my adults, averaging about 50,000 words. My editor thinks that's a sweet spot for readers who might be intimidated by longer books. I love teens because everything is fresh and new for them, and they have lots of enthusiasm. If they like your book, they love it, and if they dislike it, they hate it. I do love writing for both audiences. The only thing that's hard is trying to juggle all my books. I usually have two I'm writing (one adult and one YA), two being edited, and two I'm promoting. That's six books!

Susan: I love the story about you and Roald Dahl, author of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. Can you share it again (as I know you've told it many times!). Did you keep in touch with him?

April: When I was 12, I sent Roald Dahl a short story about a frog named Herman who loved peanut butter. My parents had told it was possible to contact authors through their publishers, so I sent off my story, carefully written on wide-ruled paper, to his publisher, and somehow it found its way over to England. The day he received it, Dahl had lunch with the editor of an international children's magazine and read her the story. She contacted me and asked to publish it.

Now this could also be a cautionary tale about publishing, because I got no money and had to subscribe to the magazine (which was quite expensive) in order to see my story.

I actually got one more postcard from Roald Dahl, but I've since lost it. It's a miracle I've managed to hold on to this nearly 40 year-old postcard. I was under the impression we were friends. I understand he could actually be something of a curmudgeon, but I appreciate how he made such an effort to contact one little girl.

Susan: The best piece of advice you ever got about writing/publishing?

April: It's my advice to myself: Tenacity is as important as talent. I know far better writers than me who gave up after a few rejections. I never gave up.

Susan: What are you working on now?

April: My next YA comes out in 2012 and is called THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED. It will be followed by another YA thriller called FINISH HER OFF. Right now Lis and I are working on the fourth Triple Threat book, which will be called EYES OF JUSTICE.

Susan:  Thanks so much for visiting us today, April!
April:  Thanks for asking!

Noted author Roald Dahl helped New York Times bestselling author April Henry take her first step as a writer. When April was eleven, she sent the famous children's author a short story about a frog who loved peanut butter. He read it to an editor of an international children's magazine, who then asked to publish it. April has since written several highly acclaimed mysteries and thrillers. Her books have been short-listed for the Agatha Award, the Anthony Award, and the Oregon Book Award, and translated into several languages. Two have been chosen for BookSense by the independent booksellers of America. April lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and daughter.

For more about April and her books, visit her web site.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Introducing Rebecca Rasmussen and The Bird Sisters

I met Rebecca Rasmussen not long ago, when a mutual friend suggested we get together (thanks again, Melissa!).  I love finding new authors in St. Louis, and I was thrilled for the introduction to Rebecca.  She's a multitasking wife and mother who also teaches creative writing at a local university.  As if that's not enough, her fiction debut, The Bird Sisters, hit bookstore shelves on April 12 so she's embarked on a cross-country road trip to promote it.  I've had the pleasure of reading the novel, which introduces us to delightfully different--and, okay, eccentric--Twiss and Milly, better known as "The Bird Sisters."  Since I couldn't find a way to bring you all to my lunch with Rebecca, I figured a Q&A was the best way for everyone to get to know her--and Milly and Twiss--better.  So here we go!

Rebecca, the sense of place in your novel is lovely and fully actualized. What was the reason you chose the rural setting of Spring Green, Wisconsin?

I am deeply attached to Spring Green, which is where my father has lived since I was a girl. My brother and I would go back and forth between his house and my mother’s, which was located in a small suburb of Chicago. For us, Wisconsin was magical. There we were able to swim in the river, cover ourselves in mud, and tromp through the woods. There we played with barn cats and snakes, lightning bugs and katydids. I’ve always preferred rural landscapes to urban ones. Wild over tame. It’s like the old bumper stickers from the ’80s used to say: escape to wisconsin.

Milly and Twiss are such unique, singular characters.  Have you known anyone like them?

My older brother and I are a lot like them. My brother is a great adventurer like Twiss, and I am more cautious like Milly. When we were kids, my brother was the one who’d set off on all-day adventures in the woods, and I would straggle along behind him hoping not to get caught up in the tangle of pricker bushes behind our house. As we’ve grown older, we’ve grown a bit more moderate. He can sit still for a whole hour now, and I don’t jump on his back when I sense danger nearby. We love each other the way Milly and Twiss do. I can’t bear for him to be sad, and he can’t bear it for me.

I took away from your story a certain symbolism of the damaged birds. What do they represent to you?

The novel began for me with lines I happened upon in an Emily Dickinson poem: “These are the days when Birds come back/A very few—a Bird or two—/To take a backward look.” I have always loved birds on a literal and metaphorical level, and like most children I was deeply fascinated with their ability to come and to go whenever they pleased. In the novel, the older Milly and Twiss have spent their lives nursing birds back to health, mostly because an ordinary starling struck their car at a fateful moment when they were young. On that day, the sisters no longer possessed the power to change their futures and so they took this little bird back to their leaning farmhouse, hoping it would recover from its injuries and take flight for them.

If you had to pick only one scene as your favorite, what would it be, and why?

One of the most wonderful things about small farming towns to me is when the townspeople gather together to celebrate something: a marriage, a graduation, or even the end of the summer in some places. Town fairs are especially magical to me. I love to think about spun sugar, apples in barrels, and pies sitting on checkered tablecloths. Put a town fair in a historical setting; add a little bit of quack medicine in the form of bathtub elixirs, a propeller plane, and a goat named Hoo-Hoo; and there you have it: the climax of the novel and also my favorite scene.

A debut novel is, for many writers, their heart and soul; we open a vein and give so much to our firstborn. What did it feel like to finally complete your story?

I was alone when I typed the last words, and it was very late at night. A part of me wanted to wake my husband and my daughter, to open a bottle of champagne, and to celebrate with the people I loved most in the world. What I ended up doing was taking a walk to the waterfall and millpond up the road. I remember the way the moon looked in the sky. I remember the sound of falling water. I remember the call of an owl high up in a tree. I remember the lightness of my heart, my feet. If giving birth to my daughter was the first great accomplishment of my life, finishing my book was the second.

Wow, that's beautiful.  Thank you for sharing and for visiting us at Stiletto, Rebecca! 

For more about Rebecca Rasmussen and The Bird Sisters, please visit her web site.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Royal Wedding

Do you remember where you were when Charles and Diana got married?

I do.

I was on Cape Cod with my good friend, Kathy, staying at a house her parents had rented.  She and I, great friend all through high school, would be heading off to college in the coming weeks, she to Georgetown, me to Manhattan College, and the summer was bittersweet.  On one of our last days on the Cape, we set our alarms for four o’clock in the morning because the event that we had been looking forward to all summer—the royal wedding—was set to begin.

It had to be pretty special to get two teenaged girls up from their endless slumbers.

I remember that in order to see the wedding and remain in bed, we had to sleep on a creaky pullout bed in a drafty added-on room because that was the only room in the house that had both a television and a bed.  I remember that once four a.m. came, Kathy seemed less enthusiastic about the wedding than she had the night before when we were roaming Chatham, looking for a good time and only finding a plethora of fudge and tee shirt shops.  I, however, roused myself, not wanting to miss a minute of the Charles and Diana nuptials.

I remember, even though it was the early ‘80s and fashion was decidedly different than it is now, not liking Diana’s dress, thinking that it made the twenty-year-old look dowdy and frumpy.  I also remember laughing when she flubbed his many-parted name in the vows.  I remember the beautiful cathedral, the gorgeous music, and the fanfare.  I tried to envision what it would take, however, to find Charles remotely attractive, his prince-hood aside.

Diana wasn’t much older than I was at that time, yet being married was the last thing on my mind.  I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to get married in front of the entire world to a man older than I and from a very different station in life.

Well, we all know how it ended and yes, I was one of those people who were truly heartbroken when I found out that Princess Diana had died tragically in a car accident.  For many women of my generation, she held a special place in our hearts.  She was buried on the same day that my sister’s bridal shower was to take place and I remember setting the tables at the restaurant where it was held, crying as a television in the background showed her funeral, her sons walking behind her casket.

I have a 17-year-old now and not once have I heard her mention the impending nuptials of Diana’s son, William, and the lovely Kate Middleton, a woman older, and probably a little wiser, than her late mother-in-law was before her own wedding.  What was it about the royal wedding of thirty years ago that captured so many hearts?  And what is it about this one that seems so predictable and not all that special? 

It’s hard to know.  I suspect that with the media being what it is today, we know a lot about what’s to come.  We are also going to witness the marriage of two people who have been living together for a while and who seem like a very stable, familiar kind of couple, a couple we could know.  There’s not a lot of mystery here like there was thirty years ago.  We’ve watched Will grow up and we’ve charted his relationship with Kate, having been with him almost every step of the way.  Yes, there may come a time when he could be king, but a lot of things would have to happen first.

I think maybe, too, the bloom is off the royal rose.  In the last thirty years, we’ve witnessed weddings, divorces, infidelities, scandals, and a lot of heartache.  The mystery and romance of a royal wedding just doesn’t exist anymore; we’re far too jaded.  We know them too well.  We know that in a lot of ways, many of them are just like us.

I’ll still be setting my alarm on April 29th to watch the royal wedding, however.  What about you?

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Talking About Ebook Promotion and More

Okay folks, I'm getting discouraged. I hate to say it since I was among the very first authors to embrace ebooks eons ago when no one really knew what that meant.

Of course I've read all of Joe Konrath's posts about e-publishing and promotion, and about the young woman who sold 1000s of her self-published e-book and now has a contract from a New York publisher, and Eisler who turned his back on a big advance from his New York publisher to go it on his own with e-books. Oh, and just today I read about a friend of mine who has manged to see 8000 of her books that are on Kindle.

Nearly all my books are on Kindle and I sure haven't come anywhere near selling that many. I don't want to spend all my time promoting, I want to write. I also don't want to drive everyone crazy with my promotions--I fear I may already be doing that.

Maybe I should just relax and be happy with the fans I have now.

Today as this is being read, I'm heading off to a Reader's Group 3 hours away. They invited me two years ago to do this. They've invited me to lunch, then I'll speak about my books and what inspired them, and afterwards for those who care to buy them I'll be autographing, and then they are having a tea. It'll be a really full day. And like any time you are away promoting, you aren't writing. However, I'm really looking forward to this because I love interacting with readers which I'm sure most of you do too.

Next week I'll let you know how this went. In the meantime, if anyone has the secret formula for letting people know about e-books please let me know what it is. Preferably a way that won't take all my waking hours to do.

Books by Marilyn

Monday, April 11, 2011

Here Comes Moishe Matzoh Ball...

Hopping down the Seder Hall
Hippity-Hoppity Pesach's on its way.

(Song Credit (and there are more verses) to Dr. Melvin Borden, family physician extraordinaire, and an even more extraordinary father, father-in-law, and the original Pop-Pop)

It's coming down to the wire. Next Monday, April 18, at 6 pm, we will be sitting down for the first Seder of Passover. As I write this, I am expecting 31 people to be around the table. To get to that moment has taken weeks of planning, prepping, organizing, shopping, and of course, because hey it's me talking – worrying. And yet, I wouldn't change a thing. I love a full table, brimming with favorite foods for each of our guests; old china and prayer books from relatives no longer with us, but always there in spirit; family and friends reconnecting to tell the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt – and how the lessons learned from that time still have relevance today.

Our seders are loud and lively. While we definitely read parts in Hebrew, most of it is in English, with commentary both wise and wiseass encouraged. This year there will be four children – and oh how much sweeter it makes it. There's Ray, my sister's oldest grandson, now 7 and able to read in English one of the prayers. There's Hal, my sister's younger grandson, aged 2, and a full participant in the search for the Afikoman – a hidden piece of matzoh that the children find and redeem for prizes. There's Vivian, 18 months, the daughter of Larry, my son's oldest friend. We met Larry when he was just a few months older than his daughter – how wonderful that the new generation becomes friends too. And then there's my beautiful granddaughter Riley, 10 months old, no teeth but able to gum almost all foods, full of smiles that make you melt, and a whole new perspective on the Jewish phrase, L'dor Va Dor, from generation to generation. At these seders, we pass our faith, our customs, our love from one generation to the next.

The menu varies only slightly each year. Gefilte Fish with horseradish, potatoes and eggs in salt water, matzoh ball soup, a chicken dish, brisket, and salmon, salad, sweet potato casserole, and asparagus. Desserts include fruit and lots of store-bought goodies.

I would love to capture in a bottle the memories of all those seders so that I could take a whiff of the happiness of those nights during the rest of the year when times are more difficult. It's lots of hard work but the payoff is immeasurable.

I wish for each of you a Zissen Pesach – a sweet Passover.

Marian, aka the Northern half of Evelyn David

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

The Sullivan Investigation Series
Murder Drops the Ball (Spring 2011)
Murder Takes the Cake- Paperback - Kindle
Murder Off the Books- Paperback - Kindle
Riley Come Home (short story)- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Love Lessons - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Outdoor-Oriented Mystery Subgenre

My March release, Deadly Currents, is the first book in my new Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. The book has already received stellar reviews from the big four review publications, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, on-line reviewers and, most importantly, from readers who live and work in its real setting.

Being a person who loves and works in the outdoors every day, Mandy is one in a long line of outdoor-oriented mystery protagonists. These include:

- Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon, a Ranger in various National Parks,

- C. J. Box’s Joe Pickett, a Game Warden in Wyoming,

- Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak, an ex-DA Investigator in Alaska,

- Joseph Heywood’s Grady Service, a Conservation Officer in Michigan,

- Sue Henry’s Jessie Arnold, a Dog Sled Racer in Alaska,

- Steve Hamilton’s Alex McKnight, a PI who runs a hunting camp in Michigan,

- Sandi Ault’s Jamaica Wild, a BLM Resource-protection Agent in New Mexico,

- William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor, an ex-sheriff and PI in Minnesota,

- Jessica Speart’s Rachel Porter, a Fish and Wildlife agent in Louisiana, and many more.

The regional landscape is an essential element of the scene-setting in these series, and it factors into the backstory, ethics and training of the characters. Also, the challenges the outdoor setting provides are woven into the plots, adding problems that the protagonist most overcome in addition to solving the murder. And these problems provided by the environment can be life-or-death issues in themselves, including horrendous storms, raging wildfires, bone-numbing cold and being lost in an unforgiving wilderness without supplies, food, or water.

With these outdoor-oriented series, readers can experience the splash of a whitewater rapid, the whistle of a prairie wind on a trail ride, the roar of a crackling wildfire, the howl of a wild wolf and more from the security and comfort of their easy chairs. And Deadly Currents is true to the subgenre, plunging the reader into the Arkansas River in Colorado in the first chapter when a raft flips in a Class IV rapid, spilling its occupants and forcing Mandy to leap to the rescue.

The river permeates every scene of Deadly Currents, even in influencing how the characters speak. It is the heart and soul of Salida, Colorado, where Mandy lives. It fuels the small town's economy and thrums in the blood of its “river rat” citizens who earn their living guiding, outfitting, and catering to all the needs of a flood of summer tourists eager to test their mettle against the rapids.

Paddling down whitewater rapids in kayaks and rafts is one of the nation's fastest growing outdoor sports. Whitewater enthusiasts might be stereotyped as mindless thrill-seekers with a death wish, but paddlers come from a cross-section of American society. They usually know the limits of their skills, and by choosing what class of rapids they run, they control the intensity of their experience. It is a life-long sport that nurtures a love for wild places. Today more than a quarter of all Americans participate in – or intend to participate in – running whitewater rivers.

My hope is that Deadly Currents will appeal not only to these people, but also to mystery readers who have no desire to experience whitewater rafting themselves, but are happy to ride along with Mandy in their minds while they puzzle out “whodunit.” Do you enjoy reading outdoor-oriented mysteries? Are you an outdoor enthusiast yourself, or do you prefer to just read about the challengers of the great outdoors?


Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series (A Real Basket Case, a 2007 Best First Novel Agatha Award finalist, and To Hell in a Handbasket, 2009) and the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. The first, Deadly Currents, was just released in March, 2011 to great reviews. Beth lives in Colorado and enjoys its many outdoor activities, including skiing and whitewater rafting, and loves talking to book clubs. Please visit her website at and her blog at

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Studies have shown that the single most important factor influencing a buyer’s purchase of a book is the cover. (I’m talking about print books here—I haven’t looked at ebooks, which do have covers, which I assume are intended to catch the eye of a potential reader.) That’s kind of depressing, because most writers, at least those with larger publishers, have little control over what their cover looks like. If they’re very lucky, they get to see it in advance of publication, usually with a note from the editor that says something like “isn’t it adorable?” Not, “are you okay with this?”

Of course, you the writer have the right to respond and say, “But my protagonist isn’t blonde!” or “There are no pineapples in my book!” Too bad, because Marketing loves the cover, and they’re the ones who matter because they know what sells. We hope.

Of course, seeing the cover kinds of depends on where the publisher and/or the bookstore decide to place your book (that’s a whole different topic). If it’s face out, people will see the cover. If it’s spine out—you’re out of luck, unless the reader happens to buy only books with red spines and yours is red.

There are definitely visual conventions for book covers, not to mention “branding.” I’ll admit I’m drawn to the Twilight series because the covers are so simple and elegant—and recognizable from across the room. Thrillers tend to have embossed covers with shiny metallic patches—you see a lot of them in airport bookstores. And cozies have cats.

That’s not a bad thing. If a reader wants to find her favorite kind of fiction, she will recognize the cat as a key symbol (hmmm, the former academic side of me is thinking a paper called, “Feline Iconography in Genre Fiction”.) Or a cat plus a craft (knitting, crocheting), although I would argue that cats and yarn are a perilous combination. Or a cat plus food—most often dessert, because you don’t want a cat sitting next to a juicy pork chop, do you? Can you guess from this trend that most of these books are aimed at female readers? Men have been known to put false covers on them if they want to read them in public.

I’m not complaining, because most of my book covers have been done by a cover artist who speaks the (visual) language of the genre. Not that I know her personally—I had to wait for my first book to come out before I could identify her on the publisher’s page. (She’s Mary Ann Lasher, and she does a lot of covers for Berkley Prime Crime.) She does accept suggestions, and some have even made it to the covers, like the spring-house on Rotten to the Core (which is based on one I found in an orchard), and the goats on Bitter Harvest (August 2011). Yes, they’re real goats on a local farm.

I threw her a real curve ball with Let’s Play Dead (July 2011), in which I invented a children’s book series featuring Harriet the Hedgehog and her animal friends, all of whom are actually critical to the plot. Mary Ann managed to get them all on the cover and still made it look like a mystery, with a sinister shadow looming.

Which brings up one last point: for cozies you’re not supposed to put anything suggesting violence or death on the cover, even though the point of the book is generally to solve a murder. That looming shadow is about as scary as you can get. No blood, no corpses, no ick. Just cheerful murders, with friendly cats.

Do you buy a book based on its cover? What do you look for?


Sheila Connolly, former art historian, investment banker, political staffer, genealogy consultant, and non-profit fundraiser, gave them all up to become a full-time mystery writer. Her first book, Through a Glass, Deadly (written as Sarah Atwell), was an Agatha nominee for Best First Novel. She writers the Orchard Mystery series, the most recent of which is A Killer Crop, as well as the Museum Mystery series, based in Philadelphia, which opened with Fundraising the Dead in 2010. In addition, she’s working on a new series set in Ireland, that will debut in September 2012. Sheila lives in Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and three cats.