Friday, February 27, 2015

The Bobbsey Twins and Agatha Christie by Debra H. Goldstein

The Bobbsey Twins and Agatha Christie by Debra H. Goldstein

When I was a child, I was given a copy of The Bobbsey Twins of Lakeport by Laura Lee Hope.  It’s book jacket claimed “Ghosts! Everyone agrees that the old Marden House is as haunted as a chimney on Halloween, but when there’s a mystery to be solved, the Bobbsey Twins, Bert and Nan, Freddie and Flossie, don’t intend to let a little thing like ghosts stop them.”  I became a diehard mystery reader from that moment forward.

Mysteries let me escape from school, chores, piano practice, and my pesky younger sister.  Reading the entire Bobbsey Twin series let me be part of solving a mystery at the circus, the beach, the mountains, and by the end, even Japan.  I explored more places and felt like the series’ characters became my friends as I read my way through Cherry Ames, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and Trixie Belden.  Then, I found Agatha Christie!  Not only were the characters of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot addictive, but their reasoning abilities challenged me to read carefully so that I could beat them to figuring out whodunit.

To this day, I relish the plot line in Christie’s The Pale Horse because it stumped me.  When I finished the book, I realized that Agatha Christie had hid the clues in the plot’s twists and turns, but I had been so engrossed in the story that I forgot to focus on putting them together.  It was at that moment I realized the complex analysis and delicacy of writing that makes a good mystery just plain fun to read.

Throughout the years, mystery writers have entertained and challenged me. They’ve kept me from being bored on long flights, distracted me when unpleasant things are happening, and interfered with my sleep because I was too intrigued in a book to put it down.  It is the latter type of books that remind me of the technical skills of word choice, plot, and characterization necessary to write an enjoyable mystery. These type of books are, as Flossie of The Bobbsey Twins would say, “bee-yoo-ti-ful!.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

50 Shades of Feminism

by Bethany Maines

I’ve been thinking about feminism lately - what people think about women and what they think is "good" for women. Perhaps it’s because with the birth of my daughter I’m startled by how genderized every child’s toy has become. Or perhaps it’s the kerfluffle over Fifty Shades of Gray.  "She’s a poor role model! We decry the normalization of violence against women!  The women must be protected! Would you want that to be YOUR daughter??!!!! The end of the world is nigh!!" 

First of all – You are absolutely right.  That is a terrible book; Anastasia is a terrible role model and Christian Gray appears to be an abusive twerp. But... do you really think women so dumb that they can’t judge for themselves what should stay a fantasy on the screen and what should be their real relationship?  Probably not.

Second of all - No, I don’t want my daughter to be like the heroine in 50 Shades, but on the other hand, I’m also not worried about that… at all.  The storyline – a passive, naïve girl is seduced into a BDSM relationship by an older, more powerful man – only works if the girl is passive and naïve. I may be placing too much faith in my own parenting ability, but I’m fairly certain I can ensure that my daughter will be neither.

However, what no one seems to address in their critiques of the story is why readers find it romantic in the first place. Sure the sex scenes are titillating, but why does anyone find the idea of their romance viable in the first place?  Perhaps if people really wanted to protect women we would stop perpetuating the myth that the Snow White story-line of a girl waiting in sequestered purity for an “experienced” man is romantic. Or that stalking her and monitoring her phone calls and behavior are are romantic traits. But if we did that, then we would have to address the pervasive idea that all women who have sex are sluts and then we’d have to address the idea that, as a society, we police the bodies of women constantly. And who wants to think about those things?  Question our own latent misogyny? Hell no! Let’s just ban a movie – that’s so much easier.

Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, Tales from the City of Destiny and the forthcoming An UnseenCurrent.  You can also view the Carrie Mae youtube video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Signal Boosting

by Linda Rodriguez
I have piles of books sitting on my coffee table right now. None of them are mine. Some of them are from people I know, even people I consider dear friends. Many of them are from people I’ve never met and have little connection with. Some are mysteries. Some are thrillers. Some are literary fiction. Some are poetry. They all have one thing in common, though. I’m planning to give their authors a signal boost in one way or another.

Today’s publishing environment is tough for authors in many ways, but primarily in finding ways to bring the attention of readers to their books. With the advent of easy self-publishing, everyone who finishes a NaNoWriMo book can pop it up on Amazon with little or no editing, and amid the flood of poorly prepared and written books, it can be difficult for the writer who has put in the time, effort, and money to make their book the best it can possibly be to let the potential reader know that hers/his is a good, high-quality book, worth taking a chance on. The problem is the same for everyone, whether self-published or traditionally published. It’s Gresham’s Law applied to books rather than money—“Bad books drive out good.”

One helpful thing is for another author to lend a hand in some way. Four of the books in those piles on my coffee table are books I’ve agreed to blurb, that is, books for which I’ll write a short pithy review of several sentences that will be placed on the cover of the book to entice readers to pick it up. Blurbs can be terribly important. They help in getting reviews and orders from bookstores, as well as in persuading browsing readers to try the book. When I was starting out as a mystery novelist, established writers volunteered to blurb my book, for which I will always be grateful. When reviewers read brief raves from top writers, they became eager to review my unknown debut novel. I try to pay that favor forward as much as I can within the confines of time and scheduling. I’ve seen some writers who have benefited from great blurbs by famous authors and then refuse to give blurbs to anyone themselves. I can’t understand that attitude.

I have a blog,, and on it I have a long-running series called “Books of Interest by Writers of Color.” I began that series as a resource for librarians and teachers who would approach me after readings or conferences and ask for suggestions of books by diverse writers. If it’s tough for all writers to get attention while buried in the crowd, it’s nigh impossible for writers of color, who tend to be invisible in modern American literature. I’ve been showcasing writers of color on my blog for the past six years. Just a little way to pull an author or book out of the throng and hold it up, saying, “This is good. Take a look.” The rest of the books on my coffee table are books that I intend to signal-boost on my blog.

Like writing a blurb, this showcasing on my blog is time-consuming. I could write an article or a good day’s pages on my current novel or short story in the time I spend on reading, making notes, and writing a blurb or review on my blog. So why would I bother?

I see the literary world as one large community and a set of smaller communities, and I believe that building these communities and making them stronger benefits all of us in the long run—writer and reader. I see my work as all part of a spectrum, writing my books and poetry, writing my blogs, teaching workshops, connecting with other writers and readers on social media, and signal-boosting other writers who deserve attention. I believe we make the world we want to have. And so the piles of books on my coffee table continue to exist, no matter how many reviews or blurbs I write.

Do you believe in signal boosting? How do you feel when an author often blurbs or praises another writer’s book to you? 

Linda Rodriguez’s third novel in the Skeet Bannion series, Every Hidden Fear (St. Martin’s Press), was a Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, a selection of Las Comadres National Latino Book Club, and received an ArtsKC Fund Inspiration Award. Her second novel featuring the Cherokee campus police chief, Every Broken Trust (St. Martin’s Press), was a selection of Las Comadres National Latino Book Club, took 2nd Place in the International Latino Book Awards, and was a finalist for the Premio Aztlan Literary Award. Her first Skeet novel, Every Last Secret, won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition and an International Latino Book Award Honorable Mention, was featured by Las Comadres National Book Club, and was a Barnes & Noble mystery pick. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.
Find her on Twitter as @rodriguez_linda, on Facebook at, and on blogs with The Stiletto Gang http:, Writers Who Kill, and her own blog

REPLIES TO COMMENTS (because Blogger hates me, and even though I managed to comment from another browser twice, now it won't let me comment even that way--huge sigh):

Paula, I write about a lot of different topics on my blog, but I've had a running series on Books of Interest by Writers of Color for 6 years. If you click on the tag "writers of color" on one of the latest posts, it will pull them all up to read.

Cyndi, I'm glad you agree and also signal boost. I'm always grateful for all of the writers who try to build the literary community they want to live in.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Road To a Book

By Laura Bradford

There is nothing more exciting (and nerve racking), author wise, than knowing a book you've written is just days away from being in your readers' hands.

Exciting, because you can't wait to share your story with your fans...

Nerve racking, because you want them to like it, but won't know for sure until it's officially out in the wild.

That's where I'm at right now. SUSPENDERED SENTENCE (the 4th book in my Amish Mysteries) is just days away from its release.

Just 12 days, in fact.

So I'd like to tell you a little bit about the book and share a little behind-the-scenes with you.

First, the book: 
Nineteen years ago, Sadie Lehman simply up and disappeared during her Rumspringa in the Amish community of Heavenly, Pennsylvania. Led to believe her daughter had gotten caught up in the English world by the girl’s peers, Waneta clung to hope that one day Sadie would come back.

Yet while Waneta prayed for a reunion, Sadie’s friends hoped for something very different—that Sadie’s body would never be discovered.
This book came to me just like that (almost verbatim). And the next thing I knew, I had to know why they didn't tell and what they were hiding. It was a fun (and sometimes sad) book to write, but I feel closer than ever to my characters because of this book.
I like the way that happens with each new book. It's like I've laughed and cried with these folks so much that they are real. Their hopes, their fears, their joys...they're all real.
I suspect that's why, a few months ago, I became determined to make a map of my Heavenly--the town in which my books take place. So it could be real for my readers, too.
If you have a moment, visit the "Extras" page on my website for a behind the scenes look at the world that's become so real to me. You can click on various buildings for a more detailed (visual) look and a written description. I had a blast putting this together.
If you do, let me know what you think.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


By Kay Kendall

A few times during my many years, I’ve reached a level of calm stability. My home life and work are nicely balanced. My near and dear ones are healthy and reasonably happy. All seems well.

When I realize I’m in this condition, then I think, ah, this is great. Once this stability becomes stasis, however, I get a little bored. And then things* change, and the hits just keep on a’comin and they don’t let up. At this point, I long to be bored again.

Last August I‘d reached the point of stasis. However, by then I’d learned enough to fear what lay ahead. And, boy, was I right.
>My elderly mother-in-law declined, and my husband spent a month in her faraway city tending to her. She passed on. 
>He immediately was diagnosed with a bad illness and went into gruesome treatment.
>My daughter-in-law had a strange illness that no doctor could fathom.
>A dear friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She proceeded to have two strokes. I visited her today in the nursing home.
>My writing had to give way for three months.
>My hairdresser of 22 years retired. 
In short, the roof fell in.                                              

And then the house next door was torn down. See photo.

Now, here’s a funny thing. That house was the worst on our block and had been deteriorating visibly for twenty years. We waited and waited for someone to buy it, to tear it down (this being Houston, after all, and everything gets torn down), and to rebuild. I dreamed of when we'd live beside a McMansion, and our home's value would soar.

When all that finally, finally began to happen, did I rejoice? No, I did not. Instead, I worried. The jackhammers tearing up the cement would hurt our foundation. Our house would develop cracks. The new neighbors would be dreadful. Things, in short, would all go to hell. Or so I worried.

I have discerned a pattern in myself regarding change. After I look forward to—even long for—change, then when it finally arrives, I am displeased. Well, perhaps I do exaggerate. I’m upset a little, and then I do adjust. But not until I have gone through a period of great gnashing of teeth and ranting and raving.

Thank heavens that upset stage has shortened over the years. These days I tend to get on with doing what I must until, one day, I look up and see that everything is all right with my world again. I used to fear I’d get stuck on a cycle I abhorred. Now I know that’s not true. Things do change, whether you really want them to or not. They change.

My husband’s illness has taught me to stay in the half-full position. I eschew the half-empty one. That way happiness does not lie. His condition is dangerous…it could be so much worse. The doctors are fabulous in my large city. He will get well. So the treatment is tough. He will get well. He is lucky. I am lucky.

I now apply this half-full approach to everything I can think of that torments me. I haven't become a Pollyanna. I don’t think everything works out for the best. Instead, I’ve learned good things can grow out of bad. If you only let them.

While all this may not make sense to you, it does to me, and it took me a while to arrive at this philosophical state. I celebrated a major birthday this week, by the way. As my friend (since kindergarten) likes to say, we are still on the right side of the grass.

Once I thought her saying was gruesome. I don’t anymore. It’s accurate. I know I’m lucky to be achieving this large number of years. Some people never do. I'm one of the lucky ones. Tell yourself that, too, no matter what. It can always get worse. Enjoy what you have....By the way, I gave myself a new nickname. You may call me Zen. Or at least…Zen-esque
* For brevity’s sake, I use the inexact term things to cover a multitude of events, conditions, situations, settings, etc. etc 
Kay Kendall set her debut novel, DESOLATION ROW--AN AUSTIN STARR MYSTERY in 1968. The sequel RAINY DAY WOMEN (June 2015) shows her amateur sleuth Austin Starr proving her best friend didn't murder women’s liberation activists in Seattle and Vancouver. A fan of historical mysteries, Kay does for the 1960s what novelist Jacqueline Winspear accomplishes for England in the 1930s–present atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit of the age. She is also an award-winning international PR executive who lives in Texas with her husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to the bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she’s a Bob Dylan buff too. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Oh, Boy, Doing Income Tax Makes Me Wonder by Marilyn Meredith

I've always done my own income tax even back when I had to do it by hand on all the forms.

No I do it using Turbo Tax, much easier. I have to admit, I keep up with my income from writing and what I've spend at least montly, so it's not such a chore at the end of the year.

No matter what the ease may be now, when I'm all done it does make me wonder why on earth I'm spending so much time writing. My income for all my efforts certainly doesn't make up for how much I've spend on traveling and promotion.

So, you might ask, once you've had this proof why do you keep doing it?

As any writer will tell you, even the ones in similar shoes to mine, it's not possible to quit. Writing is a powerful addiction.

I write two mystery series and if I didn't keep writing, how would I find out what happened to my characters?

As any writer knows, traveling around to do promotion or going to conferences or conventions is not only fun, it's a time to visit with other writers and meet readers. Writers lead fairly solitary lives while working.

(Me at last year's PSWA Convention.)

Now, I have to share that I do have balance in my life because I have a big family, and there's always something going on. We have lots of weddings, and of course the babies follow.

 I'm blessed to live fairly close to most of my family members so I do get to spend time with many of them.
Our three daughters in the middle, me and hubby on either end.

 Wow, I do digress--back to the income tax situation--who cares if I'm not making lots of money, I am doing what I like and have a full life.

Anyone else have any of these feelings?


Monday, February 16, 2015

The Courtesy Strategy

2015 Celebrity Apprentice Cast with Donald Trump
I don’t watch many reality shows, but Donald Trump’s The Apprentice has always fascinated me. When it first premiered, with non-celebrities participating, I followed the program until Bill Rancic won the initial challenge. Each episode, I remained glued to the screen. Then, afterward, I would berate myself for enjoying a show that encouraged folks to undermine their opponents in order to take the prize.

For those of you who have avoided the temptation, please let me congratulate you. The premise is that Mr. Trump brings together talented individuals from all walks of life to be divided into teams, compete against each other in accomplishing business tasks, and eventually be eliminated (“You’re fired”) based on judgments of their work product, their cooperative abilities, and their capabilities to outlast each other. The original prize was the opportunity to manage a Trump-owned enterprise. Later, the participants were limited to people considered “celebrities” (including actors, singers, comedians, reporters, athletes, reality stars, and people generating media attention) who played for donations to selected charities.

So, I weaned myself from the terrible viewing habit, although I must admit some backsliding to watch Omarosa’s manipulative efforts. Of course, I was intrigued when celebrities became involved, and had to see if what I read about Gary Busey’s antics was true. Then, this year, how could I not tune in for Joan Rivers’ last TV appearances?

Leeza Gibbons
There is a more personal reason that the current Celebrity Apprentice appeals to me. It features among the players local girl made good, Leeza Gibbons who grew up in Irmo, South Carolina, a suburb of Columbia, and attended the University of South Carolina. Also, I went to law school with her brother Carlos.

Leeza Gibbons came to prominence as an interviewer of celebrities on Entertainment Tonight. She also hosted her own programs and infomercials and has been a competitor on Dancing with the Stars. She’s beautiful, intuitive, kind, supportive, and the epitome of a lovely Southern lady, which is why she seems to be doing so well in this round of the Celebrity Apprentice.

In the early episodes, Leeza followed a Bill Rancic strategy, remaining low key, but always available and part of the team. She appeared level-headed and evaluated the situations reasonably without making derogatory comments. She even expressed regret and concern when people faced the boardroom. At one point, Geraldo Rivera asked her when she would step up to the plate to be project manager. With demure tact, she managed a non-answer.

Then, the task arose to make a viral video for Chock Full of Nuts Coffee. Making videos is Leeza’s forte. So, she stepped up to the project manager slot, listened to the recommendations of all her team members, and ultimately took charge to direct the process, including making use of a dispute between two female team members and incorporating it into an edgy, controversial film for a conservative product. Even she admitted she wasn’t certain how it would go over because it pushed the envelope, but with her classy presentation, her team was victorious.

Geraldo Rivera
Now, Leeza and Geraldo, two reporters, one respectful and deferential, but savvy, and the other inventive and intelligent, yet erratic, face off in the final challenge that will air tonight (Monday, February 16, 2015). Who will be the victor? Will class overcome brash?

As you can imagine, I intend to watch the resolution. Maybe because I was raised in the South and have seen its manners work successfully in so many settings, I have to admit I’m rooting for a Leeza win. I haven’t felt as guilty following the episodes this time because I saw less of bad behavior being rewarded and more of courtesy and kindness being admired.

What do you think? Is courtesy the preferred strategy? Can it be used for a competitive advantage?


Friday, February 13, 2015

I Don’t Want to Blog Today by Debra H. Goldstein

I don’t want to blog today.

Plain and simple – I’m tired, cranky, out of ideas, and grumpy (is that the same as cranky?). I want to be snowed in so nothing will prevent me from lighting a fire, covering myself with Joel’s Alabama afghan, and either putting on a TV show DVR’d during the past the two weeks or finishing the Janet Bolin book I’m halfway through. It isn’t to be.

The book, TV shows, blanket and electric fireplace are all there waiting for me, but I live in the South so, thank goodness, the snow idea is out of the picture. Plus, I have lunch and afternoon meetings beginning two hours from now and then we’re hosting a dinner for twelve (don’t worry, we made reservations). Today is typical of my schedule for the past two weeks. Consequently, I don’t want to blog today.

Up to now, I haven’t minded that my days have been filled with meetings, doctor appointments, house guests, exercise classes, attending two wonderful mystery conferences (Murder in the Magic City and Murder on the Menu), visiting and hanging with dear friends, submitting a proposal, laundry and other mundane things. Add in attending a funeral, moderating a charity debate on the value of latkes vs. hamentashen, and judging a children’s writing contest and you can understand why I’ve been a little short of sleep. I haven’t had time to write a single word even though I know there are short story submission deadlines I would like to meet (I understand it helps to write the short story first) and a revision idea begging me to address it in the new novel I’m almost finished drafting.

I don’t want to blog today, but I will. That’s what writers do.

Debra H. Goldstein is the author of 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue.  Her second mystery, Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery will be published by Five Star Publications in 2016. Her most recent short story, Power Play, appears in the new edition of The Birmingham Arts Journal (Volume 11, Issue 4 - 2015). Whether or not she wants to blog or introduce you to a guest blogger, you can find her thoughts expressed as a member of The Stiletto Gang every 2nd and 4th Friday and every other Monday on "It's Not Always a Mystery"-

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Goldfish Brain

by Bethany Maines

I’m monumentally bad at dates.  The Christmas after I got married my mother-in-law got a new pair of sneakers and she said, “Oh, I wish I’d had these on XX of some-month-Bethany-doesn’t remember.”  And I said, “Really? What happened on that date?” And they all stared at me because it turned out that was the day I got married.  Which may seem a bit rude to my poor husband, but in my defense I also can’t remember what year I graduated from college.  And one time I spent an entire day being really annoyed because my friends kept calling me (I was in the middle of a project) to wish me happy birthday.  Every single call was a surprise.  So, I’m not saying that I will absolutely forget that some day (14th?  15th? No, seriously, what day is it?) in February is Valentine’s Day, I’m just saying that the odds are not in my husband’s favor.  But on the other hand that means if he remembers all that lovely chocolate will be a wonderful surprise.

Unfortunately, this type of memory blockage also means that my memory for VERY IMPORTANT FACTS related to my characters is also somewhat lacking. Like last names, eye color, the details of their backstory.   Given enough time and rewrites it all gets a bit fuzzy.  Bulletproof Mascara, for instance went through 9.5 rewrites (I’m counting the typo catching pass as .5 of a rewrite).  That means that the villain Jirair Sarkassian went from being Texan to Armenian somewhere around draft 6.  And in An Unseen Current (Available everywhere April 28! Available for pre-order on kindle now!!) I dropped an entire villain between draft 1 and 2.  Which wouldn’t be much of a problem if I didn’t insist on writing sequels.  It’s a bit of an embarrassment to have to read your own book to find out what you wrote, but apparently readers insist on continuity and well, just generally making sense.  But having just read Bulletproof Mascara and Compact with the Devil (in preparation for the forthcoming High-Caliber Concealer), I can honestly recommend my books to people.  I’m very funny and my plots actually do make sense.  I give myself two thumbs up.  I probably can’t review myself on Goodreads, can I?

Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, Tales from the City of Destiny and the forthcoming An Unseen Current.  You can also view the Carrie Mae youtube video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.  Learn more at