Friday, February 26, 2016

What I Want to Do Next

What I Want to Do Next by Debra H. Goldstein

For years, I wondered what I would be when I grew up. I finally answered that question by deciding that Peter Pan had it right – I’m never going to grow up. Perhaps the body will appear older on the outside (I haven’t mastered all of Peter’s tricks yet…I’m still working on flying), but inside, I will always retain the kid in me.

When it came to a career, I also faced uncertainty. At one point, I thought I would be a doctor, but I don’t enjoy science. Other rejected ideas included comedian (I’m still a Carol Burnett fan), singer (only singing four notes on key and those not being in successive order made that one difficult), and journalist. Instead I opted, at different times, for salesgirl, teaching assistant, teacher, editorial assistant, lawyer, judge and now writer.

A number of these jobs require discipline and attention to details. No problem there, but lately, I’ve had an urge to do something different. I want to take a short term mental vacation. The way I see it, a fire in the fireplace would be nice, but not mandatory. The same with a fuzzy soft blanket. Being at the beach would be divine, but again not required. No, the only thing necessary would be a good light, a comfortable chair, and part of the stack of books that are piled on my dresser or in the bookcase in my closet to be read. My TBR pile takes up almost as much space as my clothing. It’s time to do something about that. So, what I want and will do next is take some fun time to read for me. Some of the books will be mindless, some more intense, but none will be required reading for any project, panel, review, or other task. What fun!

I’ll report back in the near future how my reading week(s) go, but in the meantime, what is it that you want to do next?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

CLICKING OUR HEELS - Raw or Cooked Carrots?


Raw or Cooked Carrots?

Welcome to The Stiletto Gang's newest feature – Clicking Our Heels. Each month, on the Fourth Thursday, a number of our bloggers will share their opinions on the same question. Hopefully, after reading CLICKING OUR HEELS you will learn some new things about all of us.
When Debra attended the University of Michigan, entering freshmen were given a personality/general info type test. The odd question on the test - Do you prefer raw or cooked carrots? Here are some of our responses:
Bethany Maines: “I definitely prefer raw. The snap and crunch of fresh veggies is much preferable to the mush of cooked.”
Linda Rodriguez: “I prefer them raw, although I do enjoy a good carrot chowder now and then, and of course, cooked with a roast of beef or pork.”

Juliana Aragon Fatula: “Raw. I grow carrots and eat them fresh from the earth. They are sweet and taste like love.”

Marilyn Meredith: “Cooked carrots. I like to doctor them with butter and brown sugar.”

Dru Ann Love: “I like shredded carrots in my salad and cooked carrots with a crunch.”

Cathy Perkins: “Raw! Cooked carrots are down there with boiled okra for nastiness.”

Sparkle Abbey: “Definitely raw and the best part is you can always share this healthy snack with your dog.”

Paffi Flood: “Cooked carrots. Roasted, actually. Nothing compares to its sweetness.”

Jennae M. Phillippe: “I prefer roasted carrots, usually accompanied by roasted potatoes and garlic. And butter. Lots and lots of butter.”

Kay Kendall: “I like both cooked and raw carrots. Each has its charms.”

What Michigan interpreted the question as showing:  Raw carrot types were energetic, aggressive and had go-getter personalities while the cooked carrot camp was made up of kinder, sweeter, and more passive students.  We’ll let you guess how Debra answered the question. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Writing for Real(ism)

by Bethany Maines

My brother and his wife recently sent out some new baby pictures and an update on how  they’re doing.  With the baby at 10 weeks old they are getting approximately 5-7 hours of sleep and they declared it “luxurious”.  Oh, I remember those days! If you read my post on Mom’s vs. Navy Seals “Hell What Now?” you know that I’m sympathetic to the trials of sleep deprivation.  But now that I’m a bit more on the other side (next stop - terrible two’s!), I’m intrigued by the idea of how I can apply this knowledge to my characters.

Writers are told to add physical characteristics to their characters and bring realism to the fictional world.  And I think all writers enjoy building a character dossier – eyes, hair, height, tattoos.  But I think until I had my child it didn’t occur to me to build in the psychological effects of physical changes and stresses.  When one gains weight, there are changes such as bumping into things you didn’t used to (I swear I didn’t whack my baby belly with the car door more than 8 or 12 times).  With weight loss people can find themselves turning sideways to go through doorways that fit them just fine.  And what about memory and focus problems that come with hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, or trauma? And as if these very physical realities weren’t enough, I think I should be asking not only “How does my character deal with this physical limitation or stress?” But also “What does my character feel about their reaction?” 

Now I just have to figure out how to write all that around a dead body,  3 – 10 suspects, and a three act structure and I’m sure I’ll have a best seller on my hands.

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.


     I’ve often thought I’d like to go back in time, back to the ’60s when I was young and my hair grew out of my head this color, when my parents were alive, before I married the Maxhole. Those were fun times. We had the Beatles, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, flower children, Woodstock, and we believed we were going to change the world and make a difference.
     But as I worked on that time machine, I realized I just couldn’t give up modern technology. I made it through the pre-technology years just fine, but now that I’ve lived with it, I’m addicted.
     I can’t conceive of no e-mail to check in daily with friends around the country. Sure, I used to write and receive a lot of letters, but they took days to arrive. I’m spoiled to instant gratification.
     It’s hard to imagine I once lived with no cell phone. I remember making the tough decision of whether to go to the grocery store so I could eat or waiting to see if the cute guy I’d met the night before was going to call. And what if I went out with Guy B and wasn’t home when Guy A called? I’d never know because I had no answering machine either! I also had no caller i.d. so I might answer Guy B’s call and Guy A would get a busy signal because we didn’t have call waiting. Then I might get frustrated because Guy A didn’t call and go out with Guy B instead. Oh, the horrors of living without a cell phone!
     The Internet was not even an embryo in the ’60s. If I wanted to research something, I had to go to the library and check out dozens of books then spend hours wading through them to find what I wanted to know. And while I was at the library, Guy A might be trying to call and getting no answer!
     The Internet also made it possible for Guy B and Guy C to track me down forty years later and profess their undying love. Okay, not everything about the Internet is great.
     But most importantly, we had no computers or word processing software in the ’60s. I’m not sure I could ever have written a book on a typewriter. I wrote a lot of short stories, and each one consumed about a ream of paper. I saw a movie about Ernest Hemingway writing on a typewriter. He’d type a few words, rip out the paper and start again. Been there, done that. Even when I finally got a first draft on paper, it involved lots of words and lines with Xs crossing them out. Then I’d go through the copy with a pencil and make more changes. Type it again, making changes and more changes. Erase or use Liquid Paper to correct typos as I went. Throw away more pages in the process. Revise and retype again. I don’t think I ever got a story perfect; I just got tired of revising and retyping it.
     Now we have computers! Backspace and retype. Delete and retype. I don’t have to sit there an hour trying to figure out how to write something perfectly. I can just put it down and change it later. Okay, I still go through my books and revise several times, an average of six or seven, and finally give up when I’m so sick of the whole thing, I can’t stand to go through it again. But I save a lot of paper not to mention the time spent retyping! I used to type 140 wpm, but all that typing and retyping still took a lot of time.
     That said, some technology may be a little over the top. Recently the boyfriend and I bought a new oven. I bake a lot for my Death by Chocolate books, so I felt justified in getting a good oven. I picked out one I thought would suffice, but the boyfriend (a computer geek) thought I should have the best. That was very nice of him. In the end we settled on the one I chose since I felt the features he considered important were not necessarily important enough to justify paying twice the price, features such as wifi. Yes, I could access the oven from my cell phone, and he thought I’d really like to do that. Perhaps in forty years that feature will appeal to me. Perhaps then the ovens will also have the technology to stir up chocolate chip cookies and put them in to bake. In the meantime, I think I’ll stick to doing it myself and pass up that bit of technology.

Monday, February 22, 2016

An Interview with TWO Best American Mystery Story Authors

Short story writers always rejoice in any publication of their work, but to be included in Otto Penzler’s Best American Mystery Stories (this year selected by Elizabeth George) is a special honor and distinction. I was thrilled and delighted to hear two good friends and excellent authors had received that distinction. Art Taylor’s “Rearview Mirror” was the first adventure in his novel told in short stories On the Road with Deal and Louise (Henery Press). Georgia Ruth’s “On the Mountaintop” was the first tale in the third Sisters in Crime Guppy Chapter anthology, Fish or Cut Bait (Wildside Press). Thanks to them both for telling us about themselves, their work, and this extraordinary shared experience.—Paula Gail Benson

How did you learn that your story would be included in the anthology?

Art Taylor
Art:     I was on the road from Virginia to North Carolina for an event at N.C. State University, and I’d stopped for a quick lunch at a Chick-Fil-A—so, of course, was scrolling through email. When I saw one with Best American Mystery Stories in the subject line, I did a double-take, and then had to read it several times before I believed it was real! I sent my wife a text message with about a dozen exclamation points in it—and needless to say, I won’t pass that Chick-Fil-A again without fond memories. It was a great day all around, and the event that evening at N.C. State was much fun too; having graduated from there with a master’s degree in creative writing, I’d been in the audience for their reading series many times before—and such a thrill to be on the other side of the podium this time and to chat with the current students about their work.

Georgia Ruth
Georgia:         When I heard the news, I was in Florida with a daughter recovering from surgery. I was checking email and saw a message from an unfamiliar name and almost deleted it before I noticed the subject was Best American Mystery Stories. I held my breath and clicked. And screamed, disturbing my daughter’s nap. She kept asking “What’s wrong?” but I was speed reading and stuttering. When I gained control of my tongue, I read the letter to her twice, and cautiously whispered, “This is huge.” She texted her siblings, while I went into denial. For two days, I expected a hook from the wings to jerk me off stage, or a second letter advising me of a mistake, or a request for money and my social security number. Then I read in an online group where I lurk that talented Art Taylor and Rob Lopresti had also received this letter sent out to twenty writers. That’s when I celebrated!

Tell us about your story and what compelled you to write it.

Art:     “Rearview Mirror” was originally written as a dare—my wife Tara Laskowski, who’s also a writer, challenging each of us to write a story for a fiction contest hosted by the Washington Post. The contest used a photograph as a prompt, and a description of that photograph is basically embedded in the 12th paragraph of the story, and then I also drew on a trip to New Mexico that Tara and I had taken the year before, so there were a couple of factors that spurred me on and influenced the shape of the story…though I have to stress that Tara and I got along much better than Del and Louise, and neither of us committed any crimes during our time in the Southwest!

Georgia:         It was this same daughter’s deployment to Iraq that put into motion my thoughts for this speculative story, “The Mountain Top.” I kept her two sons, and I also kept my job selling diamond engagement rings. She returned safely to continue a traditional American lifestyle, but mine was permanently askew. With the bailout of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the skyrocketing national debt, and rumors that social security could no longer be funded, I was fearful for the future. When I retired to a log cabin in the North Carolina foothills, my characters came to life. Their story is about fear and greed, handled with a fierce devotion to family.

Why do you write short stories?

Art:     Even since I subscribed to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine when I was about 10 years old or so, I’ve loved the form of the short story—and particularly the mystery short story—and because the short story is at the core of the workshop-model that drove the creative writing programs where I studied, I’ve devoted more time and attention to honing my craft in that direction. On the Road with Del & Louise is a hybrid of sorts—a novel in stories that at once capitalizes on the pleasures of the short story (and on what I hope are the strengths I’ve developed as a short story writer) but also builds those stories together into a longer story, an overarching narrative, in which the whole is ultimately greater even than the sum of those parts. That was my goal, and the fear has been that it would fail on both counts—working neither way. With those fears in mind, it’s been a joy this month to have the overall book named a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel and to have this individual story as published in the book singled out as one of the best short stories of the year—dreams come true in each case, absolutely.

Georgia:         I write stories of all lengths, and I have seven shorts published. If I can express my theme in 5000 words, I am thrilled but often I have to write the story to identify the theme, a whydunit rather than whodunit. I have a short story of 15,000 words that I submitted for publication. In my heart, I know it deserves a more satisfying ending. Three years ago I awoke with a vision for a historical suspense story of 10,000 words, but it was not completed until recently. Now it has 89,000 words. The story itself determines the stopping point. My goal is to layer each story with subplots that will generate discussion among characters and readers. When I mumbled “This is huge,” I was referring to the honor that my story was chosen by one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth George. She is the queen of psychological suspense.

Congratulations, Art and Georgia! Looking forward to reading your wonderful stories in a new venue!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Creative Procrastination

by Linda Rodriguez
People have been known to ask me how I get so many different things done. After I do a double-take, trying to see who they were talking to (because it certainly couldn’t be me with the huge, never-finished to-do list), I reply that I do it by not doing what I was supposed to do.

My house was never so clean as when I was in graduate school facing studying for finals and writing long papers on the literary critical theory of Jacques Lacan—Désir! Désir is all! I have knitted innumerable pairs of socks and mittens, purses and even rugs, while delaying work on a tricky sweater promised to my husband. I wrote one whole novel while avoiding finishing one that was under contract. I get things done by doing things that aren’t the top priority on my list instead of doing that top priority. I call it Creative Procrastination.

I’m thinking about this because one of my students just sent me an abject email, beating herself up because she hadn’t been doing the work for my class, couldn’t bring herself to do the assignments, had written 2,000 words about how awful she was and how ashamed she felt for not doing them. I had to tell her that I knew exactly what she was going through, that most writers did at one time or another.

There’s this thing called resistance. It means that, even when we love our work and want more than anything to do our work, something inside us drags our feet, pulls us away, and the beloved work doesn’t get done. It’s especially a problem for artists—and even if we write commercial novels, that’s what we are. (Look in the mirror and say ten times, “You are a writer. You are an artist.”)

I don’t try to fight it anymore. I make that nasty resistance work for me. After cleaning house for a day or two, I’d get up with plans to do some more cleaning/organizing and end up working on my Lacan paper to keep from doing the cleaning I’d planned on. Halfway through the rug, I started sneaking in a row or two on the husband’s sweater as a rebellion against it. Just before finishing the last chapters of the uncontracted novel, I started being unfaithful to it with the novel under contract (and deadline). There is a method in my madness.

Along the way, I end up getting an awful lot of things finally finished—usually while rebelling against something else that I’ve set for myself to do. It may sound crazy, but it works for this aging hippy radical. For example, I was procrastinating writing this blog post, so I gave myself the assignment of writing a special handout for my class on how to motivate yourself to write and find time to do it. Sure enough, I sat down instead and wrote this post.

Now, what can I assign myself to do, so I can procrastinate by writing that class handout?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Beyond Sun Worshipping

By Cathy Perkins

Sun Dreaming....

Phoenix (and warm sunny weather) are on my schedule for next week.

Left Coast Crime kicks off the Great Cactus Caper in Phoenix on February 25 and runs through the weekend.  I’m really looking forward to it. 

I have my panel assignment – Romance Under the Gun, Friday at 3 PM. Come join me! – volunteer assignment, and books arranged for the store. 

Still have to pack…

Left Coast Crime is a reader/author event so the focus is on books rather than sessions for craft, marketing or business.  (I might’ve had a fan girl moment or two at past events. ;) )  

It’s a great chance to meet and talk with readers and to catch up with writing friends.  Since this year’s event is right around the corner, I shared a few scenes from Monterey and Portland, host cities for the last two years.

Readers – Have you attended a reader oriented event? Likes? Dislikes?

Authors – Same question, plus how to you think it compares to strictly writing conference events?

An award-winning author of financial mysteries, Cathy Perkins writes twisting dark suspense and light amateur sleuth stories. A contributing editor for International Thriller Writers' The Big Thrill, she also coordinates the prestigious Daphne du Maurier contest.

When not writing, she does battle with the beavers over the pond height or heads out on another travel adventure. She lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

My First Four Chapters...and a Giveaway

By Kay Kendall

Yesterday was my birthday, and I had a lovely time. I got to feeling so buoyant I decided that today I would give a present to someone. Two presents, actually.

I have written two mysteries, and the latest one is RAINY DAY WOMEN. If you haven't yet read it, check out the first four chapters online for free.
Go here
Then click on the link on the upper left to open a PDF file containing the beginning of the book. That is the first present.

 If you'd like a chance to win a free copy of this mystery, then leave a comment below and include a few words about why you'd like to read it. That's the second present a lucky person will win.

RAINY DAY WOMEN is rated 4.7 stars (out of 5) on Amazon, and people have enjoyed it a lot. It tells the story of Austin Starr, a young married woman with an infant who chooses to fly across the continent to help out a dear friend in trouble. So much trouble that she is accused of murder.

The time is 1969, and Austin Starr stumbles into the budding world of women's liberation because both the victim and the prime suspect (Austin's pal) belong to a women's consciousness raising group. The historical details are accurate, but not heavy-handed. Women who lived in that era have told me how surprised they were at the memories my book brings back, saying they had forgotten how different it was, way back then. Younger readers express shock at some everyday happenings.

I hope you'll take a look at the free pages and be enticed to read more. Deadline for comments: Sunday evening, 6 pm central time, February 21.


Kay Kendall
Kay Kendall’s historical mysteries capture the spirit and turbulence of the 1960s. Kay’s degrees in Russian history and language help ground her tales in the Cold War, and her titles show she's a Bob Dylan buff too. DESOLATION ROW (2013) and RAINY DAY WOMEN (2015) are in her Austin Starr Mystery series. Austin is a 22-year-old Texas bride who ends up on the frontlines of societal change, learns to cope, and turns amateur sleuth. Kay lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. In her former life as a PR executive, Kay’s projects won international awards.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Villain's Voice

by Jennae Phillippe

For my inaugural blog on The Stiletto Gang, I wanted to make a good first impression. And then I found out on the day I was going to post my first ever Stiletto blog that I had read the instructions wrong (mixing up AM and PM in the time I was supposed to post) and that I had already messed things up.

So much for good impressions.

I'm going to go ahead and blame this on the fact that lately I have been writing a lot of villains. 

In fact, I have been writing them in first person, which means I have been spending a lot of time trying to sound, well, horrible. And it has been surprisingly easy. 

See, here's the thing --  your classic villain has really simple wants and desires. There really isn't too much to complicate wanting to take over the world, or on a smaller scale, take all the power. They have a very clear idea of where they are in the universe -- they are the ones who get what they want (or should, and will go to any lengths to do so). Heroes often have to be coaxed into action through some sort of inciting incident, but a villain is very self motivated. 

Your typical bad guy has it all planned out and knows exactly what they want to do next. In fact, taking advice from a writing teacher from undergrad, I often think of stories from the villain's perspective first, since they usually have the more elaborate plans than the heroes do. After all, they are the ones that take the actions that the heroes have to respond to.

Finally, villains get to be, well, funny. And mean. This is where sometimes I feel like maybe I am a horrible person, because getting into the head space of a terrible person and letting all that pent up anger and frustration out just feels so...good. 

There is a reason why many actors say that playing bad guys is more fun. It's cathartic to get in touch with your own dark side. The more evil the villain, the easier it is to slide into that space for me, to contemplate a world where my character is at the center of it and doesn't have to think about anyone else. There is no grey area, only clear black and white, a necessary oversimplification that lets my character feel free to to the horrible things he or she does. I believe it was Jeremy Irons who said that the trick to playing bad guys is that they never actually think of themselves as bad -- they are always the heroes in their own stories. They are just heroes with most, if not all, the moral ambiguity stripped away. 

As much fun as it can be to slip inside the head of a true bad guy, the best part about writing villains is that eventually I get to make sure they get what they deserve. Maybe that is where the true catharsis comes in, finding a way to create some small measure of justice in a fictional world, when so often it seems to be lacking in the real world. So, here's to all the great villains: may they get what they have coming to them.