Friday, July 24, 2015

Writing Camp or Writing Work in Iowa

Writing Camp or Writing Work in Iowa by Debra H. Goldstein

Fun – Freedom – Frolic are all things children experience when they attend summer camp.  I recently had these same experiences plus a constant writing high when I spent ten days as a student at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. Everyday responsibilities and obligations faded and were forgotten while I took classes in setting, conflict, and characterization in genre.

The courses combined limited lectures, writing assignments, and critical workshopping. What was probably the most surprising thing is that as much as I learned from my three excellent teachers, I can’t even begin to explain how much I benefited from hearing my work and that of my fellow students evaluated by my teachers and classmates. Their critiques were kind, but nothing was sugarcoated.

Considering how writers often are often upset by bad Amazon or Goodreads reviews, one would think constant writing exercises and critiques would be demoralizing, but they weren’t.  Rather, they were invigorating.  The combination of learning, translating new knowledge into writing, and being given the tools to improve our work product was exciting.

During the ten days I was in Iowa (which really is flat), I was thrilled Kings River Life published my short story, Exotic, ( ), Bethlehem Writers Roundtable informed me that its September/October 2015 issues will contain my short story, That’s Where I Buried My Wives, and Five Star sent me the first jpeg cover of my new book, Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery (coming February 2016).  By the time I finished my three workshops, I realized that the goal of learning was accomplished but better yet, I came up with new pieces - a few of which I bet will find homes in the next year.  Not a bad result from going to camp.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Dear Brain...

by Bethany Maines

Dear Brain,

While I appreciate your many efforts and strong creative solutions, I would very much appreciate it if you could focus on the problems at hand. Thanks so much.


I have a writing calendar that tells me what I’m supposed to be working on. Outlining, editing, actually writing, it’s all scheduled out. Since the release of High-Caliber Concealer, third book in the Carrie Mae Mystery series is right around the corner (November 17!), that means I should be busy working on draft one of book 4 – Glossed Cause. That also means that last month I should have finished an outline of said fourth book. Do you know what I have not completed? Yes, that’s right – the outline. I had completed  about 75% it and stopped because… Well, I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it either. And then last week I realized what was wrong with it. Not that I know how to fix it, but at least I know why I’m not excited about it. So I’ve been twiddling my thumbs, enjoying the summer, pretending that I have all the time in the world, and hoping that inspiration would hit.

Then, last night it did hit. I woke up with a fantastic idea.

For a different book.

I came up with a great idea for the sequel to my recent release – An Unseen Current. I even have a great name for it, which practically never happens. It’s really, really exciting and not at all what I need. But if I’ve learned anything about creativity it’s that if you fight it sometimes it stops all together. What do you think? Should I work on this new idea for a bit and see if inspiration strikes for Glossed Cause or should I set the new idea aside and focus, focus, focus?

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A New Book is Coming

My latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, Not as it Seems, is in the hands of the publisher and being edited. The cover is being designed by the same artist who has designed most of the previous ones--and I love her work.

So what's next? All the authors know--get busy with the promotion.

So far I've planned a blog tour--a short one this time, 15 days in the last half of September. I've got all the hosts I need--one day I'll be posting right here--now it's time to write something unique and different about the book for each post. Hopefully, information that will tempt the blog reader to want to buy and read this latest mystery.

Yes, I'll have a contest connected to the tour--once again the person who visits and comments  on the most blogs will have the opportunity to have a character in the next book named after him or her. I've been doing this with all my latest books and it's been a popular contest.

I have some dates already set for book events-- a couple of really big book festivals and some tentative plans for others.

I have yet to come up with an idea or venue for a book launch. We have no bookstores in or near our locale. Because this mystery is set in the Morro Bay area, I'm hoping to come up with a venue over in that area.

Of course I'll be promoting on Facebook and Twitter, and I'm toying with the idea of offering one of the earlier Tempe's free on Amazon--but that's something I'll ahve to work out with the publsiher.

That's as far as I've gotten--no big book tours like some of my fellow authors do, not something I've ever done.

Fellow authors, what are your favorite promotion ideas?


Monday, July 20, 2015

Sasscer Hill: Racing toward a New Series

Sasscer Hill

Sasscer Hill’s horse racing mysteries have been compared with those of Dick Francis. Her debut novel, Full Mortality, was nominated for an Agatha and a Macavity. She has written additional novels featuring Nikki Latrelle and also published a number of short stories. Recently, she signed a multiple book deal with St. Martin’s Press Minotaur Books for a new series.

Welcome, Sasscer, to The Stiletto Gang. Tell us about your background and how you began writing mysteries.

Hi, Paula, I’m honored to have been invited to speak with The Stiletto Gang readers today. Mysteries have always been my favorite fiction genre. As a youngster, I loved the Nancy Drew books and read all the Sherlock Holmes stories. I also loved horses, action, and adventure. Naturally, I discovered Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books and became addicted to them as soon as I could read.

Since mysteries were my favorite genre growing up, from Dick Francis to Josephine Tey, if I was going to write, mystery writing was my natural choice. But like so many of us, I got an office job after graduating from college (Franklin and Marshall), and the mystery writing never had a chance until later in life. I spent twenty years working in marketing and promotions for several Washington, DC associations, and two different academic book publishers. I managed to start a romantic suspense novel while I was still working, but when the novel was completed—and soundly rejected—I soon realized I had a lot to learn if I wanted to be a published author. I took classes at the Bethesda Writer’s Center in Maryland, near DC. After some eye-opening courses, I wrote FULL MORTALITY, later published by Wildside Press.

In the last few years, you’ve made significant changes in your life by selling your family home in Maryland and moving to South Carolina. How has that affected your writing?
I lost most of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 to selling the farm that had been in my family for over two hundred years, my horses, and moving to Aiken and setting up a new home and life. Once I got settled in 2013, I wrote the novel with the working title FLAMINGO ROAD and more than 50,000 words of my WIP, THE DARK SIDE OF TOWN. My life is easier and far more convenient since the move, giving me more time to write. I love living in Aiken where I am surrounded by horses, clean air, and very little traffic or crime.

What made you decide to write a new series?
I had no choice. By the time I finished the third book in the Nikki Latrelle series for the small Wildside Press, I’d learned New York publishers were not interested in a new book in a series that was already in the hands of another publisher–unless, of course, the series had been blessed with tremendous sales. A word to the wise: you are unlikely to get tremendous sales when publishing with a small press.

I was lucky enough to secure a savvy, reputable agent who told me if I wanted a bigger publisher, hopefully one of the “Big Five,” I had to start a new series. So I did, creating “Fia McKee.”

Describe your new protagonist, Fia McKee. How is she like and different from Nikki Latrelle?

Fia McKee is a thirty-two-year old agent for the real life agency, Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TRPB.) She has more life experience than twenty-three-year-old Nikki Latrelle, who was always hoping to avoid involvement in altercations or stressful events. Fia, on the other hand, strides in with her eyes open. She was a patrol cop and undercover agent for the Baltimore City PD, and has already seen much of life’s horrors.

Nikki Latrelle had a horrific childhood, and wants only to leave all that behind her. Fia’s childhood was great until her mother walked out on her when she was fifteen and her father was murdered. She became a cop because of the anger that burned inside her at the injustice of her father’s unsolved murder case.
James M. Jackson, Sasscer Hill, PGB, and Susan M. Boyer at 2013 SC Book Festival
 Your second Fia McKee mystery just won First Place in the Carrie McCray 2015 Competition for First Chapter of a Novel. Tell us about your journey in getting the two book deal with St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books and when the books will be available.
As I write this, the St. Martins contract is being finalized, and I do not yet have a publication date. Believe me, Paula, you’ll be the first to know!

I finished the manuscript with the working title FLAMINGO ROAD around August of 2014. I started the second in the series in October of 2014. My agent began shopping FLAMINGO ROAD in December of 2014. When an editor at St. Martins Minotaur showed interest in FLAMINGO ROAD, but with some reservations about the public’s interest in a horse racing novel, I immediately went to work.
Jenny Milchman, Sasscer Hill (VP of Palmetto Chapter of SinC), and Suze Maze at 2015 SC Book Festival
 Phone calls and research provided me with statistics on the strong popularity of horse racing. I cited things like NBC’s unprecedented ten-year extension agreement to broadcast rights to the Breeders Cup weekend races. I wrote about the recent ESPN poll showing horse racing is the most popular non-team sport, beating out tennis, boxing, and even NASCAR. How England’s three-day Cheltenham Racing Festival had the biggest attendance in history this past March. My agent sent all of it to the St. Martins editor.

Then the stars aligned like magic. I received the Carrie McCray award for the second book in my new series. The Nikki Latrelle series drew an extraordinarily favorable review from racing’s leading turf writer and racing analyst, Steve Haskin. At the end of this lovely endorsement he wrote, “Dick Francis lives!” And most amazingly, a horse named American Pharoah broke a thirty-seven-year Triple Crown drought wide open with 22 million television viewers, tremendous press, and a cover photo on Sports Illustrated. I received an offer the next day.

Wow, what a wonderful whirlwind! Now that you’re busy with the new series, will you have time to write more short stories?
I honestly don’t know.

What advice would you give to writers and aspiring writers?
Never give up.
Learn your craft, but follow your heart.
Always be kind and gracious--think Hank Phillippi Ryan. Remember, you never know if the person you are talking to might hold the key to unlock a door you haven’t been able to pass through.
Know your market. Have a list of who might buy your book.
Join groups, but don’t let them take too much of your time.
Nothing is as important as writing.
Network, but do so within reason. See previous sentence.
When you go to meetings note (A) writers you like and admire. Also, note (B) writers you don’t like or admire. Tip: Be sure not to behave like the B writers!

Sasscer, thank you for being with us and many congratulations on your much deserved success. We’re looking forward to reading your new series!

Friday, July 17, 2015

A Two-Track Mind—Guest Blog from Judith Fertig

Thank you to the amazing Linda Rodriguez for inviting me to guest blog on The Stiletto Gang today.

You see, I thought I might become a mystery writer, too.

But no one died in the first chapter or two of the book I wrote.  My debut novel The Cake Therapist (Berkley, June 2015) turns out to be women’s fiction with flavor and flashbacks.

It also turns out that I have a two-track mind—I love reading and writing novels that alternate from the present to the past. I love the challenge of figuring out how those two parts fit together by the end of the book.

Flashbacks became the mystery part of The Cake Therapist, a story about a gifted pastry chef.  When her New York life melted down like buttercream frosting on a hot day, Neely decided to start over in her Midwestern hometown, a blue collar burg that had recently reinvented itself as a bridal district.

Neely’s special gift helps her create wedding cakes that fit her brides like couture gowns. When Neely focuses on a person and yet lets her mind wander, she tastes a flavor that becomes sort of a hyperlink to a feeling. The feeling is the heart of that person’s story, an event from the past that still holds on. And we all have that story or stories.

Neely uses her special talent to figure out what flavors her clients need to move on, start over, rethink, or simply celebrate.

But the one flavor and situation she can’t figure out holds the key to an unsolved disappearance dating back to World War II.

As the sour flavor of anger intensifies, the flashback scenes do, too.  The flavor and flashbacks start to puzzle, then annoy, and almost torment Neely. Until she figures it all out.

I loved immersing myself in the flashback time periods. I think the glimpses of stories from the past are the secret filling of this “cake” novel.  I wanted contrast and depth and echoes of the past to inform the present.

I’m still enthralled with the secret language of flavor and still working with my two-track mind on the second novel in the series, The Memory of Lemon.

It’s getting easier to be in two places at the same time. A sip of my morning café au lait at home and all of a sudden, I’m in New Orleans in springtime, looking for that perfumer who will craft a scent that is pure “you.” And I’m off on that second track again.

About Judith Fertig

Judith Fertig is an award-winning and bestselling cookbook author, specializing in baking, barbecue, and the regional cuisine of the Heartland—where flavor and storytelling combine. After college at Wittenberg University and Ohio State, she studied at École de Cuisine La Varenne (formerly in Paris) and The Cordon Bleu in London plus The Iowa Writers Workshop. Her food and lifestyle writing has appeared in The New York Times, The London Sunday Times, Country Homes & Interiors, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Natural Awakenings, Better Homes & Gardens, Saveur, Country Living, and Cooking Light. Fertig has appeared on the Food Network and many TV and radio programs.

Her debut novel is The Cake Therapist (Berkley, June 2015).
FB:  Judith Fertig, Author
Twitter: @JudithFertig