Sunday, June 30, 2013

Happy 4th of July


The Stiletto Gang is taking this week off! We'll be back on July 8th! Have a wonderful 4th of July holiday! 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Interview Anxiety

Interview Anxiety
By Linda Rodriguez

Last week, I interrupted my frantic dash toward the novel deadline from hell to do two phone interviews. After all, unrealistic deadline or not, I still have to promote my brand-new book, Every Broken Trust. So I spent 1 ½ hours one day being interviewed by a reporter for The Kansas City Star and slightly more than 1 ½ hours another day being interviewed by a reporter from Cosmopolitan. Yes! Cosmo has done a profile on me!

Of course, I welcome a feature article in the Star, the largest newspaper between Chicago and California. Last year, they did one on my debut novel, Every Last Secret, and gave me a whole page with a big color photo of the book and me on the front page of the Arts and Entertainment section. That’s the kind of publicity you can’t buy—and can’t usually get even with a paid publicist. And as for Cosmo with its audience in the hundreds of thousands—guess I don’t have to say much else but that, do I?

I’ve had nightmares about each of these interviews ever since I did them. I always do with interviews. I go into them promising myself I’ll be careful and remember the disaster I once encountered, but then I get involved in the conversation and tend to forget. After it’s over, I suddenly remember that I wasn’t careful, and I try to remember everything I said and how it can be twisted and misused against me. And there’s a good reason for my fear.

Before I got sick and had to leave my job of many years (which opened the doors for my writing), I was the director of a university women’s center, one of the oldest in the country. I often had to give radio, TV, and print interviews or was asked to write opinion pieces by newspapers and magazines on women’s issues. I’d become sort of an old pro at it. One day the brand-new network TV station in town, Fox, called and asked for an interview the next day about pornography’s effects on women. I agreed and set about research to be able to give an up-to-date, informed opinion on the matter and to back it up with facts. (Fox hadn’t developed the reputation it now has. It was still flying under the radar at that point.)

The next day I’m dressed in my nice red suit (better for TV), and the Fox reporter and I are sitting in my beautiful women’s center’s library with built-in walnut bookcases full of books surrounding us while a cameraman films us. We talked for over an hour. To my surprise, the reporter was very knowledgeable about the issue and some of the latest research, and his questions were appropriate and insightful. He told me at the end that they would need to edit it down drastically, and I said, “Of course.”

When it appeared on the newscast a week later, it became clear that another reporter had wanted a junket to a porn-maker’s convention in Las Vegas, and that was what the whole thing was about. It ran ten minutes and was like an infomercial for porno films. I was the only woman in the segment who was over 30, fully clothed, and not surgically enhanced, and they gave me one line, which was not only ripped out of context, but edited, snipping the middle out of it, to make it sound like the dowdy, old feminazi had condemned all porn (which I hadn’t). Of all the times I’d been on TV or radio or in the paper, this was the one the most people saw—my neighbors, my son’s gastroenterologist, my hairdresser, the checker at the grocery store, strangers everywhere I went. And then, because it was a highly rated segment, they replayed it six months later during sweeps.

So I’ve learned the hard way to beware of interviews, especially those where we’re having intelligent, nuanced discussions. I know how it can be turned against me. I really don’t expect the Star’s article, which will be out Sunday, June 30, to be horrible. They’re ethical journalists, and they’ve always been good to me. And the Cosmo interview was done by a person I know whose work I respect. But I have to admit I had some bad nights over that one. I’d remember some of the things we talked about and worry, “Oh no, think what he could do with that statement if he took it out of context.” And then, of course, there’s the fact that it’s Cosmo. Would this be another case of being made out to be the stodgy, old feminazi sandwiched in among the sexy girls?

Actually, I am sort of sandwiched between “The Joys of Hangover Sex” and “Hot Sex Tips,” but the Cosmo profile is very nice—and I’m grateful to have that opportunity to connect with all those potential readers. Nothing was taken out of context, and the reporter did a lovely job.  

 But I never forget what it could have been. Fox-TV scarred me for life when it comes to interviews.

Have you had sad or maddening experiences with interviews or being misquoted or misrepresented somehow? How do you feel when someone wants an interview (other than a written Q and A where it’s so much easier to have some control)?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I got a chance to read the last few days of posts on the Stiletto Gang this morning. Poor Rhonda (aka the Southern half of Evelyn David) got a book review that was apparently based entirely on the color of Arlington, VA recycling bins and Marilyn (aka FM Meredith) was detailing the reasons she used fictional towns in her work.  Her reasons included the fact that real towns change too quickly. Both posts struck a chord with me since my current series, Tales From the City ofDestiny, focuses on my hometown of Tacoma, Washington. When I set out to write about a real location, I thought it would be easy because Tacoma never changes, right? Boy, was I wrong.

That Tacoma continues to evolve wasn’t so much of a problem when I was writing about Tacoma circa 1992, but the moment I switched to writing a current piece everything went haywire. It seemed like every time I wrote something currently true about Tacoma, Tacoma went and changed it.  Old bridges reopened, new buildings got built, street names changed, the Greyhound Station moved – nothing is as set in stone as I thought it was. (Although, in Tacoma’s defense, the Greyhound Station moved years ago; I just hadn’t noticed.) When one of my writer’s group commented on a recent work that wooden telephone poles were no longer being installed, I had to spend research time figuring out just what electrical wires were being strung on these days. Short answer: Tacoma is still using the creosote treated telephone poles, but her town has switched to metal. And yes, that factoid really was pertinent to the story.  How else is my character supposed to describe the smell of creosote other than “it smelled like fresh telephone poles”? 

So how much accuracy should I be putting in to each story? I try and put in as much accuracy as I can, since I don’t want a recycling bin debacle on my hands, but well, I am writing fiction. Tacoma doesn’t actually have any werewolf cops, fairy shopkeepers, or Chinese brothels being haunted by a Banshee… that I know about anyway. Hopefully, my readers can just sit back and enjoy seeing their town as the setting for a fun story and not nit-pick on whether or not the bar I describe in my upcoming Devil’s Invitational is really Terry’s Office Tavern. It is, for those who like to know these things, but I had to change the architecture for the purposes of the plot – and I don’t think reality should stand in the way of good fiction.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Is it just me?

by: Joelle Charbonneau

First off, let me say "I'm sorry" to everyone that reads and writes this blog.  Two weeks ago, I totally forgot to take my turn blogging because I forgot what day I was on.  Technically, I knew the date, but for a great number of reasons, this month has been a total jumble and I haven't been able to keep much straight.

Why?  Well, part of the reason is that it is summer.  The kid is out of school, which changes the routine around here a great deal.  Suddenly, I've lost my 2 1/2 hours every morning to get work done.  2 1/2 hours never seems like a lot when you have them, but WOW they really add up when they disappear.  And since my students are all on summer break, I have found that the schedule we were on has also been totally thrown up in the air.  Saturday students now come on Tuesday and other students change their lesson times every week because of their ever changing summer schedule...and mine.

My schedule has been up in the air for those reasons and because of one other thing.

THE TESTING hit shelves.  Hurrah!  Not only that, it even hit some regional lists.  Thus far we've been #3 on the Sony e-book list, #5 and #6 on the New England Children's Interest List and #8 on the Heartland list.  So, I've been doing some signing events around the midwest as well as celebrating the release and the strange and wonderful fact that Paramount optioned The Testing for film.

Yeah - I suppose that's enough to make anyone loose track of life.  And still, despite the release of The Testing and the revisions I've been pushing to get done - I am thinking that summer is the main culprit behind my problems remembering what day I am on.  The new, ever changing schedule, the unusual weather (in Chicago we are just seeing some warm days) and the kid being out of school have thrown me off my game.

So, is it just me?  Am I the only one that seems to have trouble keeping life straight now that summer is in full swing or are there others out there?  Please let me know if it is just me.  If so...well, I'll just adjust to the fact that I'm losing my mind:)

Monday, June 24, 2013

summer TV

Why is June a short month? It feels like I just did a blog and here we are at the last Monday of the month.

So, who’s ready for summer TV? Back in the day, you had one season, the awesome Fall TV season with old shows and new shows I wanted to watch. I remember getting my own personal TV Guide on the newsstand (my mom had a subscription) and plotting my TV schedule, even figuring out how to watch two programs at the same time. Yes, this was before the days of DVRs and Tivos. Oh what a joyous occasion for this self-proclaim TV addict and proud of it too.

Gradually TV as we knew it changed with the mid-season replacement, those I could handle, but it was those shows they would put one week and then the next week it was gone. It was always the show you loved.

With digital playing in the forefront, we now have three TV seasons (I think): we have network TV and then Summer Cable TV and Winter Cable TV and this TV addict is loving it, although in the past several years, the cable TV shows that I loved are done or didn’t last a season. I miss Fairly Legal, In Plain Sight, Monk, Silk Stalkings, The Closer, and Leverage.

Now I get to enjoy Rizzoli & Isles, Perception, King & Maxwell and my Burn Notice which is leaving me soon.

Are you a TV addict? Raise your hand and tell us your favorite summer TV show.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Too Fast

By Laura Bradford

It's 10:30 at night and I just realized I forgot to post this morning. I guess you could say my mind has been a bit of a jumbled mess the past few weeks as my first born wraps up her senior year of high school.

Her graduation is tomorrow and I already know I'm going to cry. It's gone so fast...each and every second of it. One day the two of us were looking into each other's eyes for the very first time...and the next, she's about to walk across the stage to receive her high school diploma.  And then, in just about 8 weeks, I'll be dropping her off at college.

And leaving her there.

I'm not ready for this even though I know I have to be.

Tomorrow night, at her family graduation party, I'll be giving her a gift that has made me cry every time I've looked at it. It's a look back at her life thus far and the absolute joy she has brought me for the past 18 1/2 years.

I know I can't stop the hands of time. I know that there are many, many good times still to come--memories I will treasure twenty years from now like I treasure the ones I have right now. But somehow, I'm still sad. Because as much as I enjoyed every moment of our time together, I still wish I could go back and relive it all over again.

Thanks for listening.

Wish me luck tomorrow.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

There's More to This Story

Having been a big fan of Melissa Etheridge’s music for many years—and cheering her on in her own very public battle with cancer—I was dismayed to read today her opinion regarding Angelina Jolie’s choice to have a double mastectomy.  To recap, Ms. Jolie elected to have a double mastectomy because she tested positive for the BRCA1 gene, which according to her doctors, gave her an 87% chance of developing breast cancer and a 50% risk of developing ovarian cancer.  After having her breasts removed, her chance of developing breast cancer dropped to less than 5%.  She was commended for bravery, not only in choosing to have the surgery but in telling her story, which she told in the hopes that more women will understand the risks of having the BRCA1 gene and what it could mean for their future health.  She also wrote in her op-ed in the New York Times that she hopes the $3000 that it costs to take the test isn’t a deterrent going forward for the vast majority of women who will inevitably want to take the test and make a conscious decision about their health.

Ms. Etheridge called Ms. Jolie’s choice “a fearful choice” and also said that she thinks that cancer stems from within and is not completely determined by genetics or mutations.  (I’m paraphrasing.)  She understands why she “got cancer”—in other words, it was due to stress and poor nutrition and presumably a host of other things that she now has control over, nine years after her diagnosis.

This issue—and Angelina Jolie’s decision—isn’t without controversy and I have had spirited discussions with friends about gene testing and the decision to remove one’s breasts in the face of a positive diagnosis of BRCA1.  But as someone who has had cancer twice, I feel that I have a little more insight into the discussion.  A two-time metastatic melanoma survivor, I am hoping that one day my children can get tested and do preventative maintenance to avoid a devastating diagnosis like the two I got.  I hope that by studying me for eight long years, my doctor has come a little closer to understanding how the sun changes the DNA in some people like me and alters their genes so that their cells become cancerous and malignant later in life.  Yes, we now know to wear sunscreen or UV protectant clothing, but for some of us, the damage is already done.  We know to get yearly skin checks but sometimes it’s too late.  We need to know more, to do more.  Education and knowledge are power and I believe that by going public with her decision, Angelina Jolie contributed to helping some women take control over their lives.

It does a disservice to cancer patients and survivors to say that by being stressed or by not eating right, we are putting ourselves in harm’s way or that by just minimizing stress and being careful of what we put in our bodies, we are lessening our risk of disease.  In theory, both of these things may be true—and probably are—but they are only one piece of the puzzle.  One of the well-meaning things that people say to you when you’re diagnosed is “Have a positive attitude!” which is a lovely sentiment but when it’s four in the morning and you’re tired and nauseated and scared to death—feeling the opposite of positive—you wonder if the negative thoughts that flood your brain are also giving cancer cells the fuel they need to prosper and thrive, dampening the immune system that is supposed to be fighting them.  Isn’t trying to feel positive or stress free in face of life’s stressors, both great and small…well…stress?

We were with a group of friends a few weeks back and in that group was someone who had lost a daughter, too young, to cancer.  Another in the group complimented me on how well I looked and proclaimed that the reason I had gotten better was because I had “been so positive.”  She was sure that was the reason that I was still here, despite being given a slim chance for survival.   Does that mean that the man’s daughter wasn’t a positive thinker? Or did it just mean that she and I had different types of cancer, different health circumstances, different treatments, and ultimately, different prognoses?  I believe it’s the latter.  She died because her situation was different—not because she didn’t smile as much as I did or put on the happy face while undergoing treatment.

I believe, and this stems from being in the trenches of cancer diagnosis and treatment for four years, that getting well and staying well is a mixture of faith and science.  Faith on its own is great but science needs to support it.  Science, in the form of treatment, is wonderful if it’s the right one and you respond to it, but you need to have faith that you will triumph.  Together, treatment and your belief in a healthy you go a long way toward helping you achieve the goal of being disease free.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Some Thoughts on Setting

Whenever I go anywhere I always pay attention to everything that's around. Who knows, someday I might write about a place like that.

My Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novels are set in a fictional small beach town between Santa Barbara and Ventura. There is such a place and it's called Carpenteria. It is too large for the community I write about and I prefer not to use a real place so I don't use a business that goes belly-up or have a problem with new city ordinances or changes in streets.

However, Rocky Bluff has similarities to Carpenteria when it comes to weather and what it's like to live near the beach in that part of Southern California. Whenever I spend time in the area I like to soak up the flavor and spend time seeing what people are doing, what the houses look like, what kind of plants thrive. Recently when I attended a wedding in my grandson's uncle's huge and elegant backyard, which I soon learned I should have called it a private estate in Santa Barbara, I  realized that one day I could have my characters do something in a "private estate" which would give me a while new setting. It's a whole new lifestyle than what I'm used to and been writing about though I've known the uncle since he was barely out of high school, and he graduated with my middle daughter.

But, I digress. The whole point is that though I'm writing about a fictional town I want it to seem real and represent the area that I am writing about.

My Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries are set in a place much like where I live except that I moved it up in the mountains another 1000 feet. The other wedding I went to was at a hidden away resort with a gorgeous lodge and many cabins tucked away among the pines, cedars and Sequoias along with with waterfalls and ponds. It occurred to me that it was much like my imaginary Bear Creek. So again, I took in all the smells, the beauty of the place.

My made-up town of Bear Creek has a strong resemblance to Springville where I live. I chose not to call it by it's real name, not just because I moved it, but because the businesses don't last long and then new ones come in. I wanted a more permanent look to my main street. We are very near an Indian reservation so I also have one in some of my mysteries. In fact, Deputy Crabtree herself was inspired by a young Native woman I met quite a few years ago. We chatted and she told me a bit about growing up on the reservation. Tempe looks like this woman. I saw her once again when she had art on display at the Springville Inn (yes, it plays a prominent role in many books) and my first Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery had just been published and I gave her a copy.

Many of that series have been published since then. Recently, I had the opportunity to spend some time with my model for Tempe again--like Tempe she has aged a bit, but still looks like who I see in my mind's eye as I'm writing. She doesn't live on the reservation anymore, but close by and has been lately engaged in decorating the school bus stops with native designs--she draws them and supervises children and adults in filling in the colors. H'mmm, maybe I can write something about that in one of my mysteries.

With either series, fictional or not, I want the settings to see real when someone is reading one of the books.

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith

Monday, June 17, 2013

Green Trash Bins

The saying goes that the devil is in the details. And sometimes the details bring out the devil in otherwise normal human beings.

The question I bring to the loyal Stiletto Gang readers is how much truth do readers of fiction expect? How much do they deserve?

Recently my coauthor and I received a review at Amazon from a reader who protested that we had failed to do adequate research for our latest mystery MURDER DOUBLES BACK. She complained that we used the wrong color trash bins in a scene set in a particular city. In great detail she explained that she had lived in Arlington, Virginia for many decades and not once had "green" trash bins been used in the area. Apparently had we chosen just about any other color, the story might have passed muster with her as the bin color had varied over time. But never green!

Honestly, when I read the review I was hard pressed to remember any trash bins in the mystery. I knew it wasn't a significant plot point.  So doing what any mystery writer would do in this situation , I opened the Word file of MURDER DOUBLES BACK and did a search for the word "green."

The software program brought up a list of sentences with "green" in them. Whiskey, the Irish wolfhound in our Sullivan Investigations Mysteries, sleeps on a "green futon" in Mac's office. I think we are safe there, although I confess I did not research futons to see if any manufacturer produced "green" futons. If we get challenged on it, I plan to say JJ, Mac's assistant, reupholstered the futon in the green fabric. JJ does a lot of things besides being a computer wiz and detective-in-training. In MURDER OFF THE BOOKS, the first mystery in the series, she renovated the Sullivan Investigations Inc. office by painting walls, refinishing furniture, etc. I'm sure she could recover a futon if push came to shove.

The next time "green" came up in my search was in relationship to vegetables – green beans, green peas, green bean casseroles. Yes, I'm making a note that for future books we should branch out – maybe add some yellow squash, white hominy, and orange carrots. Although we probably wouldn't need to describe carrots.

Finally I found the object of our reader's ire.   

Afternoons in late December got dark early. Mac was glad he found the group home while there was still light. It looked like most of the others on a block of tract homes built in the 1950s. The house numbers were hidden by a large Christmas wreath on the front door. There was a well-used basketball hoop attached to the garage. Three garbage cans sat at the curb waiting for trash collection the next day. Next to them was a green plastic container marked recyclables.

Busted. We never checked the color of the recyclables bin in Arlington, Virginia. All I can say is that we profusely apologize for offending the citizens of Arlington. And thank heavens we sent Mac back home to D.C. right away without further ado or more erroneous color choices.

(Note to self – Mac was the character who saw "green" while visiting a group home residence. Is it too late to make Mac color-blind? According to the reviewer "blue" would have been an acceptable trash bin color for that town. No, maybe not. Surely that handicap would have come up before in earlier books and after all, let's get "real" here for a minute, the mention of the trash bins was just made in passing. The bins, green or otherwise, were of no significance to the plot.)

Of course Mac also visited West Virginia in this book while chasing after a kidnapper. I'll do another Word search, but I'm positive we didn't involve any trash bins in those scenes. Seriously, what do you think? Should every detail in a work of fiction be researched by the author? What is the reader owed?
aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

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

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

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

Zoned for Murder - stand-alone mystery
Love Lessons - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Friday, June 14, 2013

Smile, You're On!

By Laura Spinella 

My first public reading was nothing short of a disaster. Trust me; there was nothing beautiful about it.  The moment was so bad I couldn’t even articulate the aforementioned pun at my own expense. (See Beautiful Disaster, Penguin, 2011) It was a packed library, which I wasn’t expecting. The sight of the room was promptly followed by a panic attack, which I definitely wasn’t expecting. In an aftermath of humiliation, I was left to wonder why such a thing would happen to me. Theater was my passion in high school. I had no problem getting up in front of a packed auditorium to belt out scenes and songs from some of Broadway’s best shows. It’s particularly puzzling when you consider that I am a far better writer than I am a singer. (Should you disagree, no need to email) Yet that awful library moment ties with my five worst publication experiences—thus far. A woman who came to a book club meeting, just to make sure I understood her loathing of romantic Southern set novels, is a close second.
            I would like to file these experiences under live and learn. But with PERFECT TIMING out this fall, my chances of avoiding public speaking and the occasional bitter book club member are a moot point. In fact, I'd probably be wise to garner what I can and make an attempt to learn from it. So, what's up with the public library debacle? A freak incident? Maybe. Was it the awkwardly timed realization that my words were suddenly out there for the world to comment on at large? Could be. Or it might have been this: A character that appears on stage comes with a predetermined script. While I could certainly script my speech, there was no character involved. It was just me… behind a podium…. a very undersized podium from what I recall.
            Many writers wear public speaking like a second skin. They read fluidly from their books, conveying a story as though the audience were a mesmerized group of kindergarteners. Speeches are effortless, drawing in listeners and making them feel comfortable. These authors segue from the written word to spoken the one as if public speaking were their native tongue. To me, it’s a foreign dialect for which I don’t have much natural talent. However, I do excel in group-specific public arenas. I’m great at book clubs, almost entertaining—even if you don’t love romantic Southern fiction. There’s something easy about sitting around with a group of women, even if you don’t know a single one personally, and just chatting. On the other hand, I’m stunned by the idea of getting up in front of that same group and being the targeted center of attention. Targeted center of attention… perhaps therein lies a clue.
            Interestingly, I do have a middle-of-the-road experience when it comes to public gatherings. More than once, I’ve been asked to speak to my college alumni. I wasn’t flawless in these instances, but I was certainly more comfortable than a generic public setting. I suppose it has to do with camaraderie. While the alumni I spoke to were individual strangers, we shared a common bond in having attended the same university. My mind translated this as friendly territory, trickling down to my nerves, which, in turn, did not fray. Had I sought professional help, I’m sure this would have been the diagnosis.
            So tell me Gang members and readers alike, how do you handle these situations? Are some of us just naturally gifted when it comes to public gab? Or is it a skill that evolves over time—like most things. You have captive audience here, please drop me comment on public speaking 101.      

Laura Spinella is the award-winning author of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER and the upcoming novel, PERFECT TIMING. Visit her at