Monday, March 28, 2016

BroadwayCon Recap

I recently attended the first annual BroadwayCon (January 22-24, 2016) which pays homage to Broadway with panels, workshops, fan meetups, and performances.

8:30am I stood on line to register for BroadwayCon. Got my badge, my 21+ age bracelet and my goodie bag, I was hoping for at least a CD. (Note to Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime and Malice organizers, you have spoiled us with what you give in the goodie bag.)

The day started with a meet and greet but I was more excited to see the opening ceremony which started with a skit to the medley of “Good morning Baltimore” from the Broadway musical Hairspray, talking about the idea and creation of a BroadwayCon. It was a great skit with a lively tune that set us up for the rest of the weekend. At the end of this mini-presentation, everyone involved came back on stage for the Broadway salute with special appearances by Renée Elise Goldsberry, Tommy Tune, Lena Hall, and Ben Vereen. Because of other commitment, we saw a video message from Idina Menzel, James Snyder, and LaChanze who could not be here.

Then what most of the audience was waiting for . . . “History is Happening In Manhattan: The Hamilton Panel” with cast and crew led by Lin-Manuel Miranda with Renée Elise Goldsberry. It was a conversation that was quite entertaining and engaging. Everyone talk about when they got the call to audition and/or they got the part. I think there was a Q&A, but not so sure. Regardless it was a fun hour with the cast and crew. Oh Lin-Manuel did an impromptu rap . . . he’s too darn good.

Next up was the panel “10,514,880 Minutes: How Do You Measure 20 Years of Rent?” and we all cheered with the cast and crew entered the stage to the well-known signature song of “Seasons of Love.” One by one we got to hear from them as they talked about what being in the production did for themselves. I was so hoping that they would have closed the panel talk “Seasons of Love.” In another impromptu action, one of the performers, Daphne Rubin-Vega, made a phone call to Jessie Martin who was in Vancouver, which was awesome.

The day ended for me after attending “The BroadwayCon Jukebox” where the audience voted on the songs the performers was going to sing and what a fun hour that was. There was one actress who sang hard rock – she had a voice on her. All of them were great.

On Saturday, the day started with attending “The BroadwayCon Feud” which is exactly what it is, a take-off of Family Feud and it was fun watching the Broadway stars answer the questions. Some questions were easy and some were tricky and then I went to the “I Can Do That! Broadway Siblings” talk.

Then there was the blizzard that closed Broadway and the organizer came up with the “Broadway Party Line” where they cold-called many Broadway performers such as Idina Menzel, Patti LuPone, Joel Grey, Audra McDonald, Harvey Fierstein, Betty Buckley, and others.

At the end of the day there was “The First Annual BroadwayCon Cabaret” and it was a blast. Krystie Rodriguez entertained us and boy does she have a great voice. I didn’t stay till the end because my bedtime was 2 hours ago.

All in all, I had a great time. Would I do it again? Maybe, although I got money’s worth on day 1, ,so maybe a day pass is in order. We’ll see when BroadwayCon 2017 is confirmed with place and date.

Dru Ann

Friday, March 25, 2016

When Life Happens by Debra H. Goldstein

When Life Happens by Debra H. Goldstein
Did you ever notice how much your day varies from your to-do list? That, as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately especially when I look at the stacks on my desk, credenza, and the floors of my office and bedroom. They annoy me, but at the same time, I don’t care. I’m sure there will come a point when I have to stop and clean things up, but what I realize looking at my clutter is that it represents flexibility and being alive.

The pile to the right of my chair represents materials from board meetings attended last week that I haven’t filed away yet. That’s okay, it was more important that I showed up at the meetings, contributed, and then came home to work on responses for blog interviews scheduled for next month’s release of Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery.

The stack right of my desk are bills I paid, notated with check numbers or online confirmations, but haven’t thrown in the keep these bills envelope. That’s okay, it was important that I wrote checks for the mortgage, utilities, internet, and the plane tickets for the family wedding that’s coming up in a few months.

The cards and invitations centered at the top of my desk are for gifts I need to buy for upcoming showers and weddings or birthday cards from those who kindly took me to different birthday dinners and lunches this month. That’s okay, I wish we can’t accept every invitation, I want to acknowledge these lift cycle events. I am happy to report that the thank you notes were written for the birthday festivities as they occurred but some of the cards are so hilarious that I want to read them again. It wasn’t a special birthday, but celebrating for an entire month has been fun.

In the near center of my desk are printed copies of two stories I submitted this month. Submission guidelines for other calls I’d like to address are near some pads on the left. That’s okay, I didn’t think I could come up with an idea for the stories, but things worked out before the deadlines passed and the others still have promise so long as I keep them in my sight lines.

I was supposed to have this blog ready and scheduled before I went to California last weekend, but getting the two stories, PR, and spending time with family and friends took precedent. That’s okay, it’s written. It’s going to be set up a day early. And best of all, it reflects the most important thing any of us can embrace: Life is what happens when we go with it rather than trying to force square pegs into round holes.

Hopefully, all of your distractions have been good; but if not, here’s hoping you’ve been able to let go of enough to survive and come out on the other end.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

CLICKING OUR HEELS - Mountains or Beach?

CLICKING OUR HEELS – Mountains or Beach?

Cathy Perkins:  “Both!  I live in the mountains (yeah, I know, tough gig, someone has to do itJ) so the beach is a favorite getaway.  I love looking out the window every morning at a scene most people consider a vacation destination but mostly I love the quiet that comes with living in the mountains – and the wonderful ‘neighbors’ who look out for each other.”

Sparkle Abbey:  “Absolutely the beach!  Whether it’s a beautiful blue California beach, or a white sand Gulf beach, or tropical island beach, we’re there.”
Paffi Flood:  “Definitely mountains.  I love the idea of the beach.  I dream about it all through winter, especially after I see ads for resorts, but after I arrive at a beach, within minutes, I’m done with the blaring sun and the intruding sand.”

Debra H. Goldstein:  “Beach!!  Actually, it is the water.  Swirling waves bring out my creativity and  I don’t if it’s raining or the sun is out, the key for me is the movement of the water.”
create a peaceful feeling that I can’t get anywhere else.

Jennae M. Phillippe:  “I used to live in Los Angeles so I am going to go ahead and say: both!  Because you can go from the mountains to the beach in a single drive.  It’s a very lovely drive.”

Linda Rodriguez:  “I’m totally a mountains person.  I enjoy the beach, but mountains make me so happy I feel as if I could fly, and I’m always a little homesick for them.  Probably because I come from a long line of conquered mountain and hill people – Cherokee, Scots Highland, and Irish.

Bethany Maines:  “Beach!  Who doesn’t love the feel of sand between their toes?”

Dru Ann Love:  “Neither.  Give me a city location and I’m there.  If I had to choose between the two, it would be mountains as long as I’m being driven up it.”

Juliana Aragon Fatula:  “Beach.  Dillon Beach, California.  Two summers ago, I met my best friend there for two weeks and we workshopped on the beach her novel and my memoirs.  It was a learning experience and I realized how much I love writing when I can read or write all day or night without interruptions from family/day to day chores.  It was a magical visionary time of enlightenment with someone I love and that loves writing, too.”

Kay Kendall:  “I must choose the beach since being hemmed in by mountains makes me uncomfortable, claustrophobic.  That’s because I grew up on the wide open spaces of Texas and Kansas.  When I’m at the beach, it’s not for sunbathing.  That’s boring, and I don’t like to be hot.  I like to walk along a beach and look for shells.  The beaches of Oregon are fantastic.  South Carolina too.”

Marilyn Meredith: “I live in the foothills of the Sierra and can see the nearby mountains from my office window.  My Tempe Crabtree series is set in a mountain town similar to where I am.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Digital Publishing

By Bethany Maines

Recently, I’ve been learning about the nitty gritty “how-to” of e-publishing.  While there are many how-to’s on how to put your story up for sale in the virtual marketplace, learning how to make an epub file is a lot more difficult and confusing. 

As someone trained in how to make print books, this status is infuriating to me.  I can make words magically appear on paper – why is the screen any more difficult?  But as it turns out epub formatting is more akin to website programming than to traditional book design.  Both epub and websites must account for the fact that the designer can never be certain on what or how the end user will view their product.  Will it be on a phone, a tablet, or a desktop screen?  Will it be a horizontal or vertical?  Which operating system will be accessing the file?  All of these factors play into how an e-book is seen and creating a file that can be used in ANY format means that many of the traditional design elements beloved by graphic designers, such as color, size, and forced white space, must be set aside. Learning to create an epub is a bit like feeding content into a slot in the wall, letting the machine in the next room whir away, and then trying to guess how the machine works by looking at the book it produces.

In the last few years website programming has experienced a burst of development that can make creating a website an almost drag and drop, WYSISWYG experience.  Meanwhile, digital publishing lags behind, still in it’s infancy. 

Take a look at these images of the first page of my third Carrie Mae Mystery novel, High-Caliber Concealer.  One is a screen cap from a mobile phone kindle app and the other is a photo of the printed book.

You’ll notice several differences – the large area of white space before the chapter title is gone and the fonts are not the same.  Fonts in epub’s must utilize a websafe font or embed the font within the file.  But, not all devices recognize embedded fonts, and they make a file larger and some platforms take a percentage out of an author’s royalty based on download size (you’re hogging space on their server).

However, there are some similarities that the programmer managed to achieve.  Notice how the gap between “Brunch” and “Mexico” mimics the print version?  And you’ll see that while the font isn’t the same, the font hierarchy and general sizing of the chapter information is the same as the print version. 

And beyond the appearance of words on a screen there is the tricky business of making all the chapters appear in the right order and having a hyper-linked (click and go) table of contents that allow readers to navigate easily through the book. 

No digital book is as simple as a word doc you type at home.  So if you see a well-crafted book on your e-reading device, take a moment to appreciate the book programmer!  


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.

Writer's Block a/k/a Fire-Breathing Dragon

     Beginning writers often ask if I ever have writer’s block. I assure them it rarely happens more than once or twice a day.

     How do I overcome it? What do I do when it happens? Write. Write mundane details of my characters’ lives. Write about them throwing back the covers and getting out of bed, scrambling eggs, opening a Coke, taking a shower, putting on blue jeans, phoning a friend to ask if she’s read any good books lately. Eventually something interesting will happen, and then I go back and delete the inconsequential parts.

     In retrospect, I was flippant, dismissive, and a bit arrogant…but right.

     My new book, The Ex Who Saw a Ghost, fourth in Charley’s Ghost series, is a great example of major writer’s block, something I didn’t recover from in a few paragraphs, a few hours, a day, or even a month. It took me over a year to write this book, and there were many times I considered sending it to the Recycle Bin, emptying that bin, pouring gasoline over my computer, and setting it all on fire. My critique partners, my editor, and a beta reader/friend yanked it out of the flames too many times to count.

 I started this book in January 2015. As with any new book, I began writing excitedly, certain I would produce the best book I’d ever written.

     The third week in January I became ill. I don’t like being sick. I don’t like admitting I’m sick. My boyfriend, trapped thirty miles away in the midst of a hostile takeover of the company he works for, called every night to see how I was doing. I told him I was doing fine, just a nagging little cough. I told myself the same thing and forced myself to work on my book. To say those pages were garbage would lend them a dignity they don’t deserve. They were the ramblings of a feverish, oxygen-deprived brain.
     Finally I was making so little sense in our nightly phone calls that the boyfriend no longer believed I was fine. He took off work, came over and dragged me to the emergency room. He tells the story that he dragged me “kicking and screaming,” but the truth is, I had no energy to kick and no voice to scream.

     I was diagnosed with double pneumonia, temperature 104, oxygen level 72, hallucinations, acute renal failure, all systems shutting down and some other multi-syllabic conditions. They thought I was going to die. I could not, of course, because that book wasn’t finished.

     I spent five days in the hospital then another couple of weeks in bed. By the time I returned to my manuscript with an oxygen level back to 99, I realized everything I’d written while ill had to go. I actually should have saved it…to a file labeled, “Ravings of a Crazy Woman.” I could probably laugh at it now. At the time, I was devastated that I had written such garbage.

     I got back to work on the book. Except the book didn’t want to be written. What on earth had I been thinking when I started it? Whose idea was it to write about that? Surely not mine!  

     The boyfriend of twelve years decided this was the time to get serious about moving in together since, “I can’t trust you to live alone! You lied to me! You could have died!”

     I wasn’t really lying. When somebody asks how you are, you say, “Fine.” Right? You don’t say, “Oh, I stubbed my toe on the coffee table, I nicked my finger when chopping tomatoes, I can’t breathe, and my great-grandmother, Wolfman, and Elvis Presley just came to visit.” Who wants to hear such whining?

     Anyway, we found a place and put our houses on the market…and I began an episode of PTSD that lasted several months. In 1986 I sold my house in Dallas, moved to Kansas City and married the Maxhole, an abusive, control-freak piece of pond scum who tortured me and held me prisoner for seventeen years. Although the boyfriend is nothing like the Maxhole, I was selling my home in a place I loved and moving to another state with a man I trusted. Flashbacks!! I had a total meltdown every few days with no recovery time in between.  

     Through all the chaos, I forced myself to keep writing. The pages I produced during these months weren’t even entertaining as the ramblings of a mad woman. They were mundane. Illogical. Boring. Writing was no longer fun. Writing was torture. No surprise. My brain was tortured!

     But I continued to struggle. I rewrote each chapter four or five times. Note that I did not say I revised each chapter. I rewrote them completely over and over.

     Around the middle of October when the PTSD attacks finally settled down, I looked at the chapter I’d been slaving over for three weeks…and saw immediately what the problem was. My writing brain had returned! I went back to the beginning of the book and made major revisions. In every chapter, every sentence, I could see what was right, what was wrong, what needed to be changed or deleted. After that, I easily finished the last half of the book in a few weeks.

     This was definitely the worst case of writer’s block I’ve ever had. I wanted to stop working on that book. I wanted to stop writing. Thank goodness my critique group and friends kept pushing me! After the third round of revisions, I sent it to my editor. She said it was really good, just needed a few tweaks. On my sixth and final pass through the book, I realized—OMG! It’s a pretty good book!

     Since its release last week, that book has had only 5-star reviews. I’m sure that won’t continue. It never does! But I have been able to breathe a huge sigh of relief. After all the struggles, I managed to turn out a book people enjoy reading.

     I hope I never have that level of writer’s block again, but it has given me a better understanding of the real meaning of that term. Sure, most of us have moments of mini-blocks. Most of us struggle every day to get the right words on the page…then change those words the next day to the new right words. But the real thing, the total blockage of the creative process, is a fire-breathing dragon of gigantic proportions who gobbles up your thoughts before you even think them!

     At the same time, the experience validated my original cure…just keep writing. Eventually you’re going to write something worth keeping.

     Massive amounts of chocolate also help the recovery process.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Writing Multiple Series: featuring Kaye George/Janet Cantrell

This is my third interview with an author of multiple mystery series. My guest is Kaye George who is also known as Janet Cantrell. As Kaye, she writes about Imogene Duckworthy, Cressa Carraway, and the (Neanderthal) People of the Wind. As Janet, she pens the Fat Cat cozies. Distinguished for her short stories as well as her mystery novels, Kay has been nominated for an Agatha in two categories (Best First Novel and Best Historical Novel) and served as the President of the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Welcome, Kaye/Janet!

How did you initially decide to write fiction?

It wasn’t a decision. It’s something I’ve been doing my whole life. I made up stories to go with my crayon drawings before I could write words. In grade school I drew little comic strips and sixth grade wrote two “novels”. I think they were about five pages each. In high school and college, I sent short stories to magazines. I wrote short stories for creative writing classes in college. I’ve never not written fiction.

You have published short stories. How did those help and continue to influence your career?

The first things I got published were short stories. This was after I gave up on sending them to Atlantic and The New Yorker, as I’d done for years. I decided to concentrate on novels, thinking I had a better chance of getting them published. I initially wrote literary fiction, but soon decided I should write what I most enjoyed reading, and that was mystery. During the ten years it took to get a mystery novel published, online short story markets started opening up and I started submitting. I’m still doing that, along with the novels.

Who publishes each of your series and how did you begin writing each series?

I’m self-publishing the Imogene Duckworthy humorous Texas mysteries. The first in that series was the first mystery novel I got published, but I parted with my publisher after a year. That book won an Agatha nomination, which my publisher refused to acknowledge. That didn’t sit well with me! After I republished the first one, CHOKE, I self-published SMOKE and BROKE pretty quickly. STROKE is in the works.

The first mystery novel I completed and queried (for about 10 years) is now called EINE KLEINE MURDER, published by Barking Rain Press. In frustration over my many, many rejections, I turned to writing the over-the-top Duckworthy series and got that published first. But I kept coming back to my first love (not my first completed mystery novel, but the first that I thought had a chance). The main character, Cressa Carraway, is the successful professional musician I never was. I’ve always been an amateur, except for some string quartet work that paid pretty well. I’m glad I persisted and got it out there. It was a Silver Falchion finalist. The second in that series, REQUIEM IN RED, will come out with the same publisher in April.

I got interested in reading very old historical fiction, Roman, Greek, ancient Egyptian, and decided I wanted to take fiction as far back as I possibly could. This was when the Neanderthal DNA was being analyzed and more and more interest and discoveries centered upon them. The more I learned, the more I wanted to write about them. DEATH IN THE TIME OF ICE was the most difficult project I’ve ever done. I ended up using a somewhat alternative historical setting, putting Neanderthals in North America. That’s because I also got hooked by the mega-fauna (really, really big animals!) that roamed this continent at the same time the Neanderthals were a distinctive people. I got rave rejections for this from some good agents, who told me they loved my book (!), but didn’t know how to sell it. One night I was complaining on Facebook that I had gotten yet another of those rejections and Jay Hartman, from Untreed Reads, who had published some of my short fiction, asked to see it. And published it! That book was nominated for Best Historical Agatha Award. The second in that series, which I’m calling People of the Wind, is DEATH ON THE TREK and will be out in June.

Meanwhile, because I didn’t have enough to do, I guess, I was hankering after a cozy series. I kept submitting proposals to BookEnds Literary, an agency that places many cozy mysteries, and kept getting them rejected. A proposal, I had learned from some experienced cozy writers, is a detailed synopsis of the first book, the first three chapters, and sketches for two more in the series. With each of those rejections, it was like the characters I had created and lived with for at least a month, died. I got wind of a series I thought I could do, based in Texas where I lived, and wanted to audition for it, but couldn’t write yet another proposal and get it rejected. A friend suggested I send in CHOKE instead and inquire about the series. I did, Kim Lionetti liked my voice, and suddenly, I was agented! I didn’t get that proposal, but she got me the Fat Cat series. The first two are out, FAT CAT AT LARGE and FAT CAT SPREADS OUT. The third, FAT CAT TAKES THE CAKE, will come out in April. I write that series under the name Janet Cantrell.

Did you notice that I have TWO books coming out in April? Yikes!

How many books do you write in a year and what is your publication schedule?

I’d like to write one a year, but have been doing more. The Fat Cat publisher, Berkley Prime Crime, wanted a book every nine months, so everything else went on hold while I did those three books. As a result, the second Neanderthal book is coming out a couple of years after the first one. The second Cressa Carraway was nearly finished a few years ago, so it wasn’t too hard to get it in shape.

Do you write under more than one name? If so, was that by your choice or a publisher’s request?

I write mostly as Kaye George. The Fat Cat series is written as Janet Cantrell because the publisher owns all the rights to that series. The initial concept was theirs and they own the series, the characters, and the author name.

What “relationship” do you have as author with each of your series’ protagonists?

I love all of them! They are all my children, my creation, born out of labor and love.

Setting has an important role in each series you write. What is your approach to developing a setting that fuels the story and draws in readers?

I use west Texas, where I was living when I started writing the Duckworthy series because I found much to be darkly humorous about. It’s a harsh place with wonderful people.

I set the Cressa Carraway books in the Midwest, where I’m from. It seems natural to set them there.

It was requested I set Fat Cat in Minneapolis, where I’ve also lived. So that wasn’t difficult.

It was very difficult to draw the setting for the Neanderthals. They lived before the last Ice Age, when there was no Mississippi River. I had to do tons of research just to describe the setting. It was all fun, though.

Is it a challenge to keep coming up with original and inventive plots? How do you do it?

No, the challenge is to find time to write everything that’s in my head. I had lots more ideas than I’ll ever live long enough to write.

Since at The Stilletto Gang we like to delve into shoes and accessories, what are your protagonists’ favorite foot or carrying apparel? (Pictures are welcome!)

This is the hardest question! I love shoe shopping, but my feet are hard to fit and I don’t often find shoes I can buy. I guess that, as a consequence, my characters don’t have too much interest in shoes.

Immy Duckworthy wears sneakers and cowgirl boots. Cressa Carraway probably mostly wears sneakers. Well, Chase Oliver, the Fat Cat’s owner, does, too. (The Fat Cat is named Quincy.) I guess I’m in a shoe rut! Enga Dancing Flower wraps her feet in skins and ties them with leather thongs when it’s cold, but she’s barefoot a lot of the time.

Kaye George/Janet Cantrell

Kaye George, national-bestselling and multiple-award-winning author, writes several mystery series: Imogene Duckworthy, Cressa Carraway (Barking Rain Press), People of the Wind (Untreed Reads), and, as Janet Cantrell, Fat Cat (Berkley Prime Crime cozies). The third, Fat Cat Takes the Cake, will appear April 2016. The second Cressa Carraway novel, Requiem in Red, will appear in early 2016. The second People of the Wind, Death on the Trek, comes out in June 2016. Her short stories appear in anthologies, magazines, and her own collection, A Patchwork of Stories. She reviews for Suspense Magazine. She lives in Knoxville, TN.

Friday, March 18, 2016

My First Left Coast Crime 2016

It was called The Great Cactus Caper.

Authors, fans, booksellers, editors, librarians, publishers, oh my! Loads of fun at every corner and in every bar (okay there was only one bar, but it had many corners).

Seven hundred and counting. That’s how many were registered, which makes Left Coast Crime a shade larger than Malice and much smaller than Bouchercon. 

I found the atmosphere and relaxation quotient to be a cross between the other two conferences and that’s where I coined the phrase “introvert break” because I was able to do this multiple times and not miss much of the conference.

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency and it’s a beautiful hotel. I found the perfect spot to people watch as my friends started trickling in. Inside this hotel there were four places to eat, Networks Bar and Grill, Einstein Bros. Café, Terrace Café and Compass Arizona Grill. I mostly had breakfast at Steve's Greenhouse Grill. All dining experiences were excellent.

I started the convention out by volunteering with book stuffing and ended with assigning guest to the dinner table for the banquet. A fun time was had with my partner, Ann Hogsett. My other volunteer responsibilities were taping the signs to the wall with the author’s name prior to their signing time.

The next day was the start of the conference and I was more or less prepared for the panel I was sitting on, but before that, I enjoyed the several panels that I did attend which started with Author Speed Dating and ended with the Opening Ceremonies and Welcome Reception. Then it was time for my panel and I had a good time sitting up on the dais with a nice group of friends. It is always a delight to see friends in the audience – sort of tampered down the nervousness. PANEL: Fans and Reviewers Talk Their Favorite Books with Bill Fitzhugh moderating and panelists: Katrina Niidas Holm, Lesa Holstine, Me and Lucinda Surber.

The next day was another day of panels that started with the Continental Breakfast featuring Debut Writers and ended with the Have Your Cake and Murder Too Dessert Reception. I also attended the Meet the Canucks Reception where we had to get the answers from the Canadian authors and correct answers won a prize. I got a copy of Unreasonable Doubt by Vicki Delany. I also signed up for the author/reader connection with Seventh Street Sleuths authors: Lori Rader-Day, James W. Ziskin, Jennifer Kincheloe, Lynne Raimondo, and Terry Shames at the Hyatt Regency Network Bar & Grill. I had a good time gabbing and listening to all that was around me.

Saturday, once again started with the Discover Mystery Breakfast hosted by Poisoned Pen Press. Saturday was also the day I was moderating the PANEL: The Making of a Cozy Murder: What defines a cozy with Ritter Ames, Donna Andrews, Carolyn Greene and Camille Minichino sitting on the dais. It was a good panel and I started out nervous but felt good when it was over.

Then the rest of the day was spent, yet again, attending panels, eating, drinking and volunteering. This was also the night of the banquet where the Lefty Awards was given out and it was fun. Then it was time to give out the awards: Donna Andrews won the Lefty for Best Humorous Mystery Novel; Rhys Bowen won the Lefty for Best Historical Mystery Novel; Gigi Pandian won the Lefty for Best LCC Regional Mystery Novel and Louise Penny won the Lefty for Best World Mystery Novel.

The last day of a fun-filled weekend comes to a close with the usual dining, gabfest and the Closing Panel Interview with Guests of Honor. Then it was time to say goodbye until the next time.

The pictures will tell you how much fun was had at my first Left Coast Crime convention.

Have you been to Left Coast Crime? Any other reader/author conventions? Next year Left Coast Crime is in Hawaii.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Walked Right Through That Restraining Order…

Have you listened to the lyrics of “Redneck Crazy” by Tyler Farr? It details the horrid stalking behavior the singer plans—and of course, he blames the woman for his behavior, because she broke up with him.
I hate that song.

I lived it—right up to and including the truck on the lawn and the beer cans thrown at the window.

The Nation Center for Victims of Crime has a section on stalking. It defines stalking as a pattern of behavior that makes you feel afraid, nervous, harassed, or in danger. A stalker repeatedly contacts you, follows you, sends you things, talks to you when you don’t want them to, or threatens you.

Stalking behaviors can include:

  • Knowing your schedule.
  • Showing up at places you go.
  • Sending mail, e-mail, and pictures.
  • Calling or texting repeatedly.
  • Contacting you or posting about you on social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc).
  • Writing letters.
  • Damaging your property.
  • Creating a Web site about you.
  • Sending gifts.
  • Any other actions to contact, harass, track, or frighten you.

It all sounds so benign, even the hundreds of daily calls and texts, until you get to that last point—actions to harass, track and frighten you.

Stalking is obsession. It’s about power and control. It’s a crime.

The problem is states are just now getting on board and adding laws criminalizing stalking. Like far too many crimes against women, it’s difficult for law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office to develop a case they think they can take to court—and win. They prefer something less nebulous—did the stalker break into your house? Hit you? Hurt you? Those are tangible—yes or no. Forensic evidence supports it. Showing up everywhere you go? Coincidence, the stalker claims.

The statistics on women who are killed by an intimate partner are even more sobering. The victims reported stalking and abuse—to friends and the police—who were often as helpless as the victim to do anything about it.

So what to do with these depressing statistics?

I decided to put a human face on them. As the layers of So About the Money are revealed, the reader finds stalking in the backgrounds of both Marcy, the murder victim, and Holly Price, the amateur sleuth heroine. Surviving the ordeal deepens the bond between the women and drives Holly to find out not just who killed Marcy, but why was she murdered?

That, to me, is the beauty of an amateur sleuth or cozy. The author can build depth into the characters and plot without climbing onto a soap box.

Now of course I would never recommend you poison your obsessive, violent partner’s black-eyed peas, but I rather liked “Goodbye Earl” by the Dixie Chicks (written by Dennis Lynde) as an alternative theme song.

So About the Money
When Holly Price trips over a friend’s dead body, her life takes a nosedive into a world of intrigue and danger. With an infinitely sexy cop—Holly’s pissed-off, jilted ex-fiancé—threatening to arrest her for the murder, the intrepid accountant must protect her future, her business...and her using her investigative skills to follow the money, before the killer decides CPA stands for Certified Pain in the Ass...and the next dead body is Holly’s.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Art and the Political

There is some pretty good advice that floats around the Internet that says that fiction writers should refrain from engaging in political debates, and certainly refrain from posting blogs about their own political beliefs. The idea is that writers should strive to remain neutral so as not to take away from the fictional worlds they create (and also not to deter readers who might not agree with them from buying their books). And yet, there is an equal idea that art is inherently political, that our own politics and beliefs are not only reflected in the art we create, but should be, because we owe it to readers to speak our own truths.

In the United States, it is an election year. Politics are everywhere these days -- in the news, on social media, at holiday dinners with family members you are not actually convinced you are related to, and in random conversations between eclectically dressed strangers at the store. Everyone has an opinion. Actually, they have lots of opinions, and links, and memes, and sound bites, and graphs, and polls, and when will this election be over already?

The thing is, as a writer, I also have opinions. Lots of opinions, actually. Tons and tons of opinions I would like to share with people in lovely (and hopefully well written) paragraphs and blogs.

I am trying to resist the urge. For one thing, engaging in political conversations on the Internet has never actually led anyone I have argued with to actually agree with me. Humans are hard wired to actually actively ignore information that doesn't match what they already think thanks to confirmation bias:

And while there is also a valid argument in the fact that not only is arguing on the Internet a waste of time but is also yet another way of avoiding the kind of writing I should be doing, I do think there is some value in engaging in online discussions to some degree. But online discussions have a way of devolving into drawn out battles where each side is more determined to win than to actually consider another opinion. 

Over the past few days, I have been finding myself posting more and more political things and engaging more and more with other people about the things they have been posting. All it ever really gets me is a rise in my blood pressure and an uneasy feeling that Somebody is wrong  (and the even more unsettling feeling that that Somebody could very well be me). There is also this feeling that maybe I am putting too much of my political self out there, that this goes against what I should be doing to brand myself as a mostly-likeable-and-non-controversial author. Is that a standard I should even be striving for? How much politics is too much? 

And in the end, if art really is political, should I be saving my political views for my fiction (however subtly or overtly they come across)?

What do other's think? How do you handle art and politics?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Lessons Learned

It’s been a just over a year since The Deep End released. One year. Three hundred and sixty-five plus lessons about publishing. Here are six of them.
The first lesson: I woke up on February 17, 2015 expecting confetti cannons and champagne. I traipsed down the stairs, poured my morning coffee, and waited for something marvelous to happen…and waited. I spent the day in front of my computer, replying to blog posts, stalking Amazon numbers, and secretly hoping that the damned cannon would just explode already. When Guaranteed to Bleed released in October, I was ready. I made sure I had a celebration planned. The lesson? Having a book published is an accomplishment. Celebrate that accomplishment even if you have to buy your own champagne.
The second lesson: There are countless “experts” who are thrilled to tell authors the secrets to selling books—often for a price. Social media sells books. Social media doesn’t sell books. You must blog. Blogs are dead. Take all advice with a grain of salt. The author who swears Facebook ads are a waste may have created an amateurish ad without a clear call to action. The author who claims a hundred newsletter signups a day may be exaggerating. The lesson? There are two. What sells one book won’t move a single copy of another. Find a couple of social media outlets that are comfortable and forget the rest.
6 Tips When Publishing Your Book by Julie Mulhern
The third lesson: Write. There are so many variables in publishing and authors control only one of them—the quality of the next book. The lesson? Write a good book.
The fourth lesson: No one in your regular life—not your soulmate, your best friend since first grade, or your mother—will understand stalking Amazon numbers, the thrill of a positive editorial letter, the agony of editing, or the stake through the heart of a bad review like another author. The lesson? Your writer friends are priceless. They will keep you sane. Mine are called to action often.
The fifth lesson: Your editor is your friend. True, that friendly feeling may not be evident when you’re reading a revision letter that twists your guts into unholy yoga poses. But—trust me on this—you both want the same thing, the best possible book. The lesson? Read revision letters then put them away for a day or two. Ponder. Consider. And, if there’s still something you completely disagree with, talk. Publishing a book is a collaboration, not a dictatorship.
The sixth lesson: On February 17, 2014, I hoped to one day be published. Two years later, I’ve seen three books make their way into the world. This year I will see another three. It is all too easy to get caught up in deadlines and word counts and editing. The lesson? Remember your dream and take time to savor your successes.
Julie’s latest Country Club Murder is Guaranteed to Bleed. Her next one, Clouds in My Coffee, releases May 10, 2016.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Sleuthing at Sleuthfest

Sleuthing at Sleuthfest by Debra H. Goldstein
When I was a kid, my parents encouraged me to attend youth group, leadership and other educational conferences.  I loved them because invariably these gatherings enhanced my knowledge base and provided me an opportunity to meet new people.  The same proved true during my legal career and now as a writer. 
Writing conferences technically are divided into two groups:  those that are fan based and those that are craft oriented.  For me, participating in panels and talking to other writers and fans results in any differences blending.  Recently, I attended Sleuthfest in Florida.  There, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel, be a panelist, interact with many writers and readers, and become acquainted with members of the Guppy chapter who’ve merely been names on a List Serv. So, here’s a bit of my “Sleuthing at Sleuthfest:”     
Small Town Panel

Deborah Sharp tiptoes before being a panelist

Fearless Moderator Ali
Guppies Always Find Each Other
How to get Guppy Attention - ask C.J. Box

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Bethany’s Rules for Marketing

by Bethany Maines

In my quest for world book domination I frequently peruse tips on how to better market myself/books.  Some come up with some interesting strategies that are worth pursuing and then there’s this list…

I won’t mention the name of the blog I found it on because I don’t believe in public shaming.  But let’s just assess a few of the items on this list shall we? 

Comment on Blogs – The theory is that you will become recognized and friends with other blog commenters as well as those running the blog and then you will RISE TO FAME!  Or… not.  Of course, having additional friends will help you expand your fan base.  But pursuing that strategy for the sake of selling books is so lacking in any genuine feeling that it will actually turn people against you. 

Bethany Rule #1 – always be your best self online.  Only comment on a blog if you have something interesting and positive to add to the conversation. Trolls don’t sell books.

Create a Viral Video – Let’s just hop right on that shall we?  We’ll get out or cell phones and film our cats and then, bam, done!  As this article on Slate indicates, only 10% of YouTube videos get more than 1000 views.  Videos these days are higher in quality and there a simply MORE of them out there than in the beginning days of social media. Here’s my attempt at a viral video – it’s awesome, you should watch it.  But I only paid for food for the crew and a make-up artist to make the video happen, everything else was done in trade.  I felt comfortable with my investment  and I view the video as a great sales tool to introduce people to my book series, but I never counted on it going viral. 

Bethany Rule #2 – if you have to pay a lot of money for a product that you’re going to giveaway for free, it’s probably not worth it.

Go on National TV – Yup, I’m just going to dial up Oprah right now, promise her some bread, and book myself on National TV.  Getting air time, particularly on a National level, is one of the things that happens when you’re ALREADY famous.  There’s a reason Donald Trump has ceased to advertise.  He’s getting 15% of the national news time (according to a recent news piece I saw on my local news) and 50% of the election coverage.  He doesn’t NEED to advertise.   I’m not recommending that you be Donald Trump – one is more than enough – but being getting air time is something that you either pay for, or you get because your famous for something already.

Bethany Rule #3 – work to be locally famous.  Join groups.  Send press releases.  Volunteer to judge writing contests.  Talk to people.  Network and connect – people sell books.

The internet is full of many tips, some are more helpful than others.  I just hope that you find mine a little more helpful than the one from the blog that shall remain nameless.

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.