Thursday, July 28, 2016

Clicking Our Heels

Some of the members of The Stiletto Gang are having a dinner party.  Each can invite three guests to join them for dinner.  Who would they be and why?

Linda Rodriguez: Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, and Octavia Butler. Woolf for her bright, often viscous wit. Dickens for his flood of storytelling. Butler for her thinking about humanity and issues of race, class, sustainability, and creativity.

Paffi Flood: Eleanor Roosevelt, Marie Curie, and Julia Child.

Marilyn Meredith: For those who are alive, I'm going to name some people you probably don't know - Victoria Heckman, Sue McGinty, Karen Kavanaugh - all mystery writers I've shared meals with and I know the conversation would be wonderful. These three are members of the Central Coast Sisters in Crime- and really there are others who would be great to share a dinner with.

Sparkle Abbey: ?

Dru Ann Love: George Washington because he's the father our country and I would like to know what was going through his head at that time, and does he like what he sees of this country now. Martin Luther King, Jr. because he's the leader of the civil rights movement and I would like to know what was going through his head at the time, and does he like what he sees of this country now. Barbra Streisand because she's Barbra Streisand.

Juliana Aragon Fatula: Shakespeare, Sherman Alexie, Sandra Cisneros.  They are the three writers who have influenced my style, oh and Tom Robbins, but his name doesn't begin with an S, so he's disqualified.

Kay Kendall: William Shakespeare, Madame Curie and Abraham Lincoln.

Jennae M. Phillippe:  Oooh! so many possibilities! I think a fantastic dinner party would be John Oliver of Last Week Tonight, Amanda Palmer, author of The Art of Askng, andHaley Atwell, of TV show Agent Carter. I understand that I have two Brits and someone married to a Brit on this list, but I am standing by it.

Bethany Maines: Alive or dead? Alive I would probably go with Nathan Fillion (Castle), Pink, and Gina Davis, I think that would be a hilarious dinner party. Dead: I think I'd have to pick Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut, Shakespeare (just so I could prove he wrote everything), and Agatha Christie.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Cranking (Toddler) Tunes

By Bethany Maines

Many things change after having a baby.  And I have to say that one of the things that I’m the most sad to see change is the amount of music I listen to.  Baby nap times seem to encompass the whole dang day! I used to have iTunes running almost constantly.  Not that it wasn’t a battle with my husband over what to listen to.  No, I don’t want more Phish.  And there’s only so much hip-hop and Grateful Dead I can listen to before going insane. (Yes, my husband is a hippy with a secret love of 90’s R&B.  He compensates for this deficiency by being ruggedly handsome and having the miraculous ability to open jars and kill countless spiders.)  

The interesting thing is that, aside from the specific bands, where my husband I deviate in our musical tastes is an actual love of music.  He loves music.  Phish, Dave Matthews, the Allman Brothers, and the Grateful Dead all have one thing common.  OK, take a toke and make that two things – they’re jam bands.  I hate jam bands.  It’s just giant swaths of useless music that take away from the important thing – the lyrics.  I love the words. (Surprised?  Probably not.)  For me, music is like poetry with half the pretentiousness and way more shake-your-bootiliciousness.  And I like to play it ALL the time particularly when I’m working.  I find that music helps put me in the zone for writing and for design.  

But with an in-home office and a baby, it’s become a lot more difficult to crank the tunes through the work day.  I was excited when the baby hit two and it became easier to send her to daycare/babysitting and there’s only one nap to contend with, but it has also meant that she’s tons more verbal.  With a toddler in the house, I don’t feel quite so comfortable cranking up a few of the songs I love, like Don’t Shoot Me Santa by The Killers.  I am perfectly prepared to explain that boys have a penis and some people are in wheelchairs and sometimes boys marry boys and girls marry girls.  But… I am not at all prepared to explain why Santa is shooting that guy in the song.  I’m pretty sure I see headphones in my future.


Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, Wild Waters, 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.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Blogging Tips

Two weeks ago, Kristopher Zgorski from BOLO Books and I participated in a panel on bloggers for the Sisters In Crime Chesapeake Chapter where we both talked about the many chapters of blogging giving our audience some of the tasks that we do to make our blog what is is today. We had a question and answer period and the feedback that I received was we gave a good talk and it was informative.

The main focus of dru's book musings is to be a book advocate and introduce the works of authors to my readers through their characters.

Some tips for authors before you approach a blogger for a review or a guest post:
  • Learn as much as you can about the type of blog they have.
  • For reviews, learn what genre they specialize in.
  • For guest posts, make sure you’ve read some of the posts on their site to get an idea of what may be expected of you.
  • I want original content.
  • If you are given a deadline and can’t meet it, please let the blogger know beforehand.
  • Contact the blogger at least 2-3 months prior to you book release to get onto their schedule.
  • Share your guest post on social media. If you don't participate on social media, have your friends share.
  • You’re not obligated to comment on blog posts, but readers do appreciate it.

For more tips, check out what Kristopher had to say here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

GONE GIRL'S Mom and Me

By Kay Kendall

Author of GONE GIRL Gillian Flynn (left), me on the right
Every few years a new book bursts on the scene and throws the crime novel genre into a tizzy. These are big books that sell millions, remain on bestseller lists for months and months, get remade as movies, and establish new trends in reading.

In recent memory three enormous crime novels have burst forth from publishers in North America. Dan Brown's THE DA VINCI CODE hit in 2003, revivifying the thriller sub-genre. Stieg Larsson’s GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO came to America from Sweden in September 2008, the first of a four-part series. And in June 2012 came the diabolically plotted GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn.
My favorite among these mega-sellers, by far, is GONE GIRL. I admire the author’s ability to fashion such an intricate yet entertaining plot. As a writer myself, plotting is not my long suit, so I’m awed by someone whose talents in that area are masterful.
Online comments about this book amaze me. So many readers profess to dislike the book and to loathe the two main characters, yet the darned thing stayed a bestseller for ages. In 2014 GONE GIRL was made into a film that opened to fine reviews. The author wrote the screen play. GONE GIRL's popularity was so immense that it sent her two previous novels up the bestseller charts too--SHARP OBJECTS and DARK PLACES.
Back then, in the midst of all this hoopla about GONE GIRL, I thumbed through the latest edition of my undergrad alma mater’s monthly magazine and found—lo and behold—an article about Gillian Flynn. Because I knew little about her, I stopped to read the story, thinking she must have made a presentation at the University of Kansas. Why else were they profiling her? Then I did a double take, and then a triple take.
Gillian Flynn graduated from the same school I did. Who knew?! Not only was KU the alma mater of the famed mystery writer Sara Paretsky, and of me (not so famous), but it was also Ms. Flynn’s. I was so proud I burst into a short rendition of the school cheer, Rock Chalk, right on the spot. (I scared my dog.)
Because I attend three large mystery and thriller conferences each year, I have the chance to see many fine and famous authors. Some are on the circuit and easy to find. For example, every summer I see author David Morrell, and I have blogged about meeting him, the father of RAMBO. A few authors never seem to appear at conferences. Ms. Flynn is not on the circuit.

Author Karin Slaughter (left) interviews Gillian Flynn (right)
Then last summer the International Thriller Writers announced its lineup of headline authors for ThrillerFest 2016. And there she was. Gillian Flynn. For an entire year I looked forward to hearing her talk about her life and life’s work. I’m delighted to say that she did NOT disappoint.
At the conference in New York City on July 8, author Karin Slaughter interviewed Ms. Flynn for an hour. Because they are long-time friends, their talk was free and easy. Emphasis on easy, even tiptoeing into truly raunchy territory. If you’ve seen the film BRIDESMAIDS, then you know whereof I speak.
Several things Ms. Flynn said stuck in my mind. First, she attributed her penchant for writing dark, dark stories to her upbringing. Her parents were college teachers, and her father (a film professor) shared scary movies with her at a young age. She explained during the interview, “When I turned seven, he said, ‘I think you are now ready to see PSCYHO.’”
That explains a lot, doesn’t it?
Ms. Flynn also noted that when she meets readers, they often say to her, “Oh, you seem so normal.” Well, exactly! I sat in the audience and thought that very same thing. Her normalcy, she says, comes from her Midwestern upbringing (hometown, Kansas City). Her fiction writing comes from her dose of heavy-duty adult film and reading material, started very early.
Of course I stood in line to have her sign a copy of GONE GIRL for me. I bought a second one just for that purpose. We had a nice chat, and she said, when asked, of course she recalls KU’s Rock Chalk chant.
Now Gillian Flynn is hard at work on the follow-up to her mega bestseller and professed to feeling some pressure. I wished her well and went off happily, my signed copy of GONE GIRL clutched to my chest.
If you are interested in more detail about Gillian Flynn, here is more background about her, written in her own words.
(Note: She pronounces her first name with a hard G. As in gill, like a fish.

Kay Kendall 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. And she studied lots and lots of history in school, and loves it still! In fact that's why she writes historical mysteries.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Perfect Soundtrack

by J.M. Phillippe

Living in New York City, headphones are a necessity. They not only help you pass the time on long commutes, providing your own soundtrack protects you from the more...natural soundtrack of life in the city. I like an up beat while walking to work, something that quickens my pace to keep time to it. Mellow music makes a bus ride home nice and reflective. 

Progress notes, the bane of every social worker's existence, are made tolerable by a lovely oldies playlist I can sing along to. Even housecleaning, a chore I have loathed since childhood, can be gotten through best with a good music mix.

And there is not a single novel, story, or even blog post I haven't gotten through without a playlist. In fact, my first novel, Perfect Likeness, pulled heavily from the music I was listening to as I wrote it. Sometimes, finding the perfect song can make or break the chapter I am working on. If I want to write something fast-paced and action filled, heavy bass and little words helps me find the right flow to move the scene along. Songs that make me sad help me get in the right head space for those moments in a story where I need to go deep.

Music is the only actual cure I know for writer's block (besides not leaving the blank page until there is something, however bad you may think it is, on it). I have been known to put down a song lyric as a starting point, a way to get the creative juices flowing. In fact, some stories owe their existence to a lyric I couldn't get out of my head.

I used to collect soundtracks, back when people would still buy CDs. I loved them because they were carefully curated playlists that helped move a greater story along. Some of my favorite movies are also my favorite soundtracks: Dirty Dancing, O Brother Where Art Thou, Singles, Forest Gump -- just to name a few. Without their soundtracks, those movies wouldn't even exist, and certainly not stand out in our minds the way they do.

Books don't come with their own soundtracks, though I often think they should (if the copyright issues could be worked out). If you had to pick songs to go with the book you are currently writing or reading, what would they be?


J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness and the newly released short story The Sight. She has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City. She worked as a freelance journalist before earning a masters’ in social work. She works as a family therapist in Brooklyn, New York and spends her free-time decorating her tiny apartment to her cat Oscar Wilde’s liking, drinking cider at her favorite British-style pub, and training to be the next Karate Kid, one wax-on at a time.

Monday, July 18, 2016

It Tolls for Thee

by Paula Gail Benson

Calhoun Residence Hall
John Donne wrote, “No man is an island.” As writers, we often labor in isolation, occasionally taking our notebooks to coffee shops or book stores to be close to activity. There may be a gentle musical selection playing in the background or perhaps we’ve arrived with our own headphones, so we can “control” and “enhance” that aspect of concentration for the task. Keeping our distance, yet staying close to humanity.

If we have the opportunity to study writing among our peers, fellow scriveners seeking to combine words in the most effective ways, we embrace the joy of being with those who understand what it is like to labor alone. We spend time with colleagues who face the same lonely struggles, then return to our work with new resolve and inspiration.

This summer, I had the remarkable experience of attending Yale University’s Summer Writing Program, where small classes of students were paired with incredibly talented authors for twelve hours of instruction, additional special lectures, and a private analysis of each student’s submission. I was thrilled to find myself in a class with six others learning about writing mysteries from the fabulous Lori Rader-Day. It was truly life-changing.

Walking down the streets to our Yale class room, I could hear the chiming of bells from the carillon in Harkness tower. What an wonderfully appropriate musical accompaniment for my ivy league adventure!

Passing Calhoun Residence Hall, where we roomed, I noticed a carved relief of a scholar in his robes, sitting at his desk, smoking his pipe, apparently concentrating on his studies while surrounded by stacks of books. With the carillon bells chiming in the background, I could almost imagine striding across campus in my own cap and gown, heading to confer with my fellow scholars.

Like at Oxford. Or maybe Hogwarts.

And those bells followed my every footfall.

Carillons can be traced back to medieval times when they were used as a means of notification or alarm system for a town. The instrument, with a keyboard like an organ, is connected to at least twenty-three bells that are housed in a belfry. The one at Yale has fifty-four bells, each emblazoned with the words “FOR GOD, FOR COUNTRY, AND FOR YALE.” Generally, they sound twice a day at Yale, but we had arrived during the week of the Yale Carillon Guild convention.  

Those bells became a constant companion. In fact, for two days straight, during our ENTIRE three-hour class period, the carillon played without ceasing.

At times, music can progress from mere accompaniment to severe distraction. That is exactly what those marvelous bells did. While we sought to discuss the fine points of characterization, plotting, and revision, the bells pealed forth, sometimes merrily and other times solemnly, until their sound became predominant in our heads.

Yet, from the incessant ringing, another literary lesson emerged.

As mystery writers, we couldn’t help but consider how constant noise could manipulate a mind and drive an intellect to dire circumstances—like murder. I remembered how Edgar Allan Poe’s guilt-ridden protagonist in “The Tell-Tale Heart” insists what he hears is not madness: “The disease had sharpened my senses – not destroyed – not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell.”

Taking another look at the scholar on the Calhoun Residence Hall relief, I began to wonder if he was consumed with his work or with the effort of attempting to block out the bells. There was something in his expression that I thought might resemble Poe’s protagonist’s anguish.

So, I decided that it was good that writers can channel any murderous urges into prose rather than action. As John Donne says: “Each man’s death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind, Therefore, send not to know, For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.

Not a bad lesson to have learned from a carillon at Yale!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Who's Really Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

by Linda Rodriguez

Virginia Woolf has a reputation for difficulty that she doesn't deserve. It came about because she was a pioneer of stream-of-consciousness technique in the novel to give the reader the sense of being inside a character's mind. She and James Joyce were contemporaneous with this experiment with Dorothy Richardson slightly ahead of both of them, although Richardson is little known today. Because Joyce is deliberately obscure and his work is larded with all kinds of academic tags, as if to show off how well he was educated by those Jesuits, people assume that Woolf's is also virtually impenetrable. And of course, she had bouts of madness—and then killed herself—so she must have the most inscrutable, inexplicable books. People are wrong, however.

Virginia Woolf is not only a great novelist. All of her novels are completely readable still without a professor at your side to gloss every other word or phrase, and some of them are great fun. (Try Night and Day, her delightful version of a Shakespearean love comedy set in the Georgian era, or Flush, the story of Elizabeth Barret Browning's dog from his point of view, or Orlando, the wild, funny adventures of a character who changes from woman to man and back through the ages.) She was one of the great writers of nonfiction. Many are not aware that she actually made her living for many years writing reviews, critical essays, and articles for the Times Literary Supplement and many other newspapers and magazines in England and the United States. Her nonfiction is some of the most lucid yet lyrical you'll find anywhere. Her journals are another literary treasure. In these, she explored writing in all its glories and horrors, madness and other mental and emotional states, described the scenery around her—whether countryside or London—and wrote with anger, love, and humor of the many talented, bohemian, and/or famous people she knew and met. They are must reading for any writer. And finally, her letters are the most fun in the world to read. Virginia knew what snark was before the word (in its current usage) was invented. And she didn't spare herself with her witty tongue.

I keep using that word fun which I imagine you never thought you'd hear applied to Virginia Woolf, but she's not the tragic figure so many think her. True, she had bouts of madness throughout her life, and in part because she'd been molested as a child by an older stepbrother, she avoided sex and never had children. Yet she had a truly happy marriage to one of the leading intellectual lights of the day, Leonard Woolf, who adored her and was devoted to her, impoverishing himself at times to take care of her when the insanity descended. In fact, it was that loving bond between her and her long-time husband that led to her suicide. She felt the madness coming back and couldn't bear to put him through that ordeal one more time. Also, she was a social butterfly. She loved people, and they loved her in return, even when they might get feelings hurt over a bit of snark directed their way. She would always be upset that she had hurt anyone and apologize, explaining that it didn't mean she didn't love them but was just the writer's eye noticing little eccentricities and commenting on them—and the people she knew were loaded with eccentricities and bizarre oddities, as well. Virginia was basically a happy person when healthy.

So I'd like to suggest that you pick up one of her books or volumes of letters or journals at the library. If you're afraid to try her fiction, you might try A Room of Her Own (a phrase that Virginia gave to modern feminists), in which she speaks of women artists, particularly women writers, and the way the patriarchal world of the early 20th century was set against their development and success. It's very short and compelling, including a passage about Shakespeare's anonymous sister who was even more gifted and went mad and died at a deserted crossroads. (This is a masterful tiny work of fiction, and ever since reading it that sister of the Bard's has always been real to me.) If you want one of her novels that was not experimental, try Night and Day. If you want to try an experimental novel, you might start with To the Lighthouse, one of her early masterpieces and extremely readable. Or pick up a volume of her letters or journals for terrific humor and a look into the creative process of a great writer.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Summertime and the reading is . . . WONDERFUL!

by Paula Gail Benson

A significant part of my vacations as I grew up was participating in the library summer reading program. Now, that I work for a state legislature with a session ending in early June, the summer months still mean a time of less activity so I can catch up on all those lovely books on my TBR pile. If you’re looking for some terrific summer reads, here are my recommendations, in two categories. First, short story collections, which are great travel companions, and, second, academic mysteries, in case you crave a vicarious trip back to school.


K. B. Inglee’s The Case Book of Emily Lawrence (Wildside Books 2016)

K.B. writes historical mysteries and learns about the time periods in her stories by being a reenactor and living interpreter. Her Case Book features intrepid Emily Lothrop Lawrence, whose professor father characterized as “intelligent” while calling her older sisters “beautiful” and “talented.” Emily, with her husband Charles, operate a Pinkerton style detective agency in post-Civil War Washington, DC. Reading about their investigations and techniques is both a journey back in time and an appreciation for how technology has influenced detection.

B.K. Stevens’ Her Infinite Variety (Wildside Books 2016).
B.K.’s (or Bonnie’s) stories have frequently found a home in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. In this fascinating volume, they’ve been collected, so you can enjoy four that feature her series detectives, Iphigenia Wodehouse and Leah Abrams, and seven of her “stand-alones,” including one of my favorites “Thea’s First Husband.” For excellent writing, intriguing situations, and clever deductions, this collection is a true reader’s delight.

Art Taylor’s On the Road with Del and Louise: a Novel in Stories (Henery Press 2015).

Winner of two Agatha Awards, the Anthony Award, the Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, Art uses a series of stories to tell the adventures of two intricate and compelling characters. Louise, a Southern girl working in a New Mexico 7-Eleven, is held up by the ski-masked Del, a frugal man seeking enough to meet his “academic” expenses, and gives him her telephone number because she thinks he has nice eyes. She finds it exciting when he calls, then sets out with him on what becomes a cross country journey with stops at such diverse locations as Southern California, Napa Valley, Las Vegas, North Dakota, and Louise’s North Carolina hometown. At first, I wasn’t sure I could like either of these complex characters, but after following them through traditional crime stories and hilarious capers, I had to wait as long as I could to finish the last installment so I didn’t have to say goodbye. Winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel and finalist for the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, this novel in stories is an engaging read.


Cynthia Kuhn’s The Semester of Our Discontent (Henery Press 2016).

The first book in a new series, Cynthia’s novel features English professor Lila Maclean, who in her first year at a prestigious university finds herself as involved in solving murders as she is in steering clear of academic intrigue. Unfortunately, she keeps turning up on the scene where her colleagues are being murdered. When her cousin becomes the chief suspect, Lila has to find a way to clear her name. A fast-paced whodunit with lots of quirky, yet familiar characters from higher education, which received the William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant.

Lori Rader-Day’s The Black Hour (Seventh Street Books 2014).

Lori’s suspenseful novel alternates between two narrators: (1) sociology professor Amelia Emmet, who is returning to the campus where a student with whom she had no apparent connection shot her, then killed himself, and (2) Amelia’s new graduate assistant, Nathaniel Barber, who came to the college not just to earn a degree, but to study her attack. As they each investigate separately, then in tandem, the reader is plunged through every emotion watching the fascinating plot unfold. Winner of the Anthony Award, Lovey Award, and Silver Falchion for Best First Novel, this is truly superb reading!

I want to assure you that you can’t go wrong with any of these books. So stay out of the pool, pour yourself a tall glass of lemonade, and settle down for some fabulous summer reading!