Friday, August 26, 2016

Guest Blogger Judy Penz Sheluk: Ruts, Shoes and Imagination

Today, I'm excited to bring you a guest blog from my Canadian friend, Judy Penz Sheluk, whose new book, Skeletons in the Attic, was just released.  See you in September.....Debra
Ruts, Shoes and Imagination by Judy Penz Sheluk

I used to teach an online creative writing course. While a large part of the 20-part course curriculum was structured, there was also the opportunity to create personalized assignments. One of my favorite assignments was meant to spark the imagination of the less-than-imaginative student. Here it is:

1.      Read one book you wouldn’t normally read.

2.      Go to one movie you would never go to see.

3.      Watch one popular TV show that you’ve never watched because you didn’t think you’d enjoy it.

4.      Read one magazine you’ve never read before.

5.      Go into one store you’ve always avoided (too expensive, too cheap, whatever) and buy something.

6.      Try to make (or bake) one new recipe you’ve never made and always wanted to try.

7.      Go to somewhere different (a different park, a different shopping mall, a different coffee shop…it doesn’t have to be exotic).

8.      Try one new activity.

9.      Sit down and really listen to the conversations around you (at a family function, at a coffee shop, wherever). Take notes.

10.  Strike up a conversation with a stranger in a grocery store (without coming across like a stalker).

The students who embraced the assignment inevitably found plenty of inspiration to include in future
writings. But until very recently, I’d never actually done the assignment myself. That changed when Debra H. Goldstein invited me to guest on The Stiletto Gang. “You can write about shoes if you want,” she said, and I knew I was in trouble. Stilettos? Haven’t worn them since my twenties…and that’s a long way behind me in the rearview mirror (although I fondly remember a pair of two-tone pink and mauve stilettos with a slight platform, and dancing in them to John Mellencamp’s Authority Song).

Today, however, my favorite shoes are my Asics runners. They start life as a running shoe, and at the 300-mile mark, they become my walking shoes. Even my protagonists (Emily Garland in The Hanged Man’s Noose, and Callie Barnstable in Skeletons in the Attic) are runners, and they both dress for comfort vs. style.

Of course, I do have other shoes, though they tend to be low-heeled and sensible: a pair of black patent leather ballerina-style flats is about as fancy as I get these days. As for sandals, my pretty white ones with the bling-y rhinestones tend to get overlooked for my much more comfy Birkenstocks. Simply put, I was in a shoe-rut.

But was I also in another rut? I thought about the books I’d been reading, the movies I’d been watching, and determined that maybe I was. I haven’t done all ten parts of the assignment yet (well, I always do #9, so I’ll take a pass on that one) but I’ve added The Book Thief to my to-read pile, and just the other day I watched an episode of America’s Got Talent—and found myself enjoying it. Who knew?

Does this mean I’ll be wearing stilettos any time soon? Doubtful. But you can bet your bottom dollar that one of my characters will be. They’ll probably be two-tone pink and mauve with a bit of a platform…
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Skeletons in the Attic

What goes on behind closed doors doesn’t always stay there…

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable isn’t surprised to learn she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate, though she is shocked to discover she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville—a house she didn’t know existed. However, there are conditions attached to Callie’s inheritance: she must move to Marketville, live in the house, and solve her mother’s murder.

Callie’s not keen on dredging up a thirty-year-old mystery, but if she doesn’t do it, there’s a scheming psychic named Misty Rivers who is more than happy to expose the Barnstable family secrets. Determined to thwart Misty and fulfill her father’s wishes, Callie accepts the challenge. But is she ready to face the skeletons hidden in the attic?

Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published in July 2015. Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in her Marketville Mystery Series, was published in August 2016.

Judy’s short crime fiction appears in World Enough and Crime, The Whole She-Bang 2, Flash and Bang and Live Free or Tri.

Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

Find Judy on her website/blog at, where she interviews other authors and blogs about the writing life.

Find Skeletons in the Attic:

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Clicking Our Heels - Our Summer Reading and What We Read Again and Again

The Stiletto Gang are all writers, but we also enjoy a good read. In fact, we have summer reads and books we simply enjoy reading again and again. We thought you might be interested in both our summer and comfort reading.

Marilyn Meredith: I love to read anything by William Kent Krueger any time of the year – but there are so many others, especially female mystery authors. I’ve read Gone With the Wind several times – though I must admit I skipped over some of the parts about the Civil War. At my age, I can reread about anything and it seems new.

Paffi Flood: Stephen King. It’s great to read horror stories late into the night, because the sun is out J. I was amazed how timeless Salem’s Lot by Stephen King was. Although it was originally released in 1975, when I re-read it in 2014, the cadence, the language seemed so contemporary. Of course, there were the references to 8-track tapes and car carburetors, and some things from the ‘70s.

Jennae M. Phillippe: I find favorites so hard to pick! I have more reading time in summer and usually catch up on the recommendations my friends have sent me over the year. Recent ones that stand out are Gail Carriger (Steampunk fantasy action romance), Anne Mendel (humorous post-apocalyptic), and James S.A. Corey (Science fiction). If you have recommendations, send them my way! I love to revisit my old favorites, particularly the ones from my childhood, like the entire The Song of the Lioness series from Tamora Pierce, or the Anne of Green Gables books from L.M. Montgomery. There is something about reading books from your childhood that makes you feel like a kid again.

Dru Ann Love: I don’t have seasonal authors. I read all year round and whoever I’m reading at the time becomes a favorite, especially if their book is part of a series. Naked in Death by J.D. Robb is the only book that I have re-read multiple times and each time I discover something I missed the first go-round and fall in love with Eve and Roark all over again.

Sparkle Abbey: Some of our favorite summer reads are Laura Levine, Carolyn Hart, and when we’re looking for something a little darker, Lisa Gardner. We’ve both re-read Laura Levine books occasionally simply because they’re such great escapes. And sometimes you need to escape! LOL.

Linda Rodriguez: I re-read many books. I’ve read Shakespeare, the King James Bible, most of Dickens, Austen, Trollope, and Virginia Woolf many times. I re-read many favorite poets again and again. I’ve re-read everything Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers (at least, her mysteries) so many times I couldn’t begin to count.

Bethany Maines: I usually try and read something fluffy in the summer. I’ll re-read a Terry Pratchett (British humor) or pick up an L.J. Wilson (sexy romance). The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery – I loved it as a teenager and even more as an adult. The idea of casting aside inhibitions to pursue the life you want is a message that is always good to hear.

Juliana Aragon Fatula: Manuel Ramos, Mario Acevado, and High Times Marijuana for Everybody by Elise McDonough, Denise Chavez. The first time I read Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie, I tore through it with vigor because I wanted to know who did it. The second time I went through, took notes, marked pages to review, and savored the writing. It was once for pleasure and twice for writing style. I re-read it because I switched genres from poetry to mystery.

Kay Kendall: There is no seasonal difference in my reading habits. For me it is mysteries, every day, all the time. Or whatever the broadest term is that includes suspense, spy novels, and the occasional thriller. I am not fond of police procedurals or books featuring serial killers. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. It has everything. Historic sweep, feisty heroine, suspense, a touch of Gothic horror, and Mr. Rochester. Each time I have reread Jane Eyre, I marvel at its depth. It holds up very well. I first read it as a young teen so of course I understand some of its underpinnings better now.

Debra H. Goldstein: Summers are meant for catching up on light mysteries, biographies, and literature. This summer’s books ranged from The Nightingale to Sisters in Law (Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor) to the new Harry Potter. I’m not a big re-reader but there are a few I often refer to for style or concept like Edna Ferber’s Giant, Agatha Christie’s books, or anything I think might incorporate a style or an idea I’m thinking about.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Market Research

By Bethany Maines

As we have been exploring the question “Who are you like?” this month on the Stiletto Gang, I’ve been exploring what other books in my genres look like.  This is sometimes gratifying on the base level of my fonts are so much better than yours and also sometimes mystifying on the level of why are there so many bared midriffs in contemporary fantasy?  On the topic of midriffs, and purely for example’s sake, I’ll put the cover of Shifting Jock in Love here.  The cover is obviously… uh… fully functional, because I can’t stop staring at the uh… weight lifting bar.  Now that we’ve covered that topic (no, we haven’t covered anything?), let me move on to my point.

Market research, which is what I call shopping and (gently) making fun of book covers over a glass of wine, is important.  It’s hard to review my own book cover submissions if I don’t know what the trends are.  Not that trends should inform every decision, but I like to know how far out of the current I’m swimming. In addition to finding the occasional good idea that I could be copying, I also find really interesting authors.  Research shows that most people buy books based on word of mouth, but in this online age, that can’t ALWAYS be true.  From Facebook to google ads, to the wonders of Amazon, we get a lot of recommendations about authors and books online.  And without a person to ask, readers are stuck trying to answer “so who are they like” question based on the marketing surrounding the book.  But as we all learned in grade school, you can’t always judge a book by it’s cover.

One great resource I’ve found in my wading around the internet is a great website -  Simply type in an author you like and it will produce of an animated cloud of similar authors aka a handy new To Be Read list.  And you can click on the question mark in the corner if you want to add authors to the database to improve results.  And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go enjoy a little more market research and a Riesling.

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, August 22, 2016

Celebrating Kay Kendall at Killer Nashville

Our very own Kay Kendall's work was honored this weekend at Killer Nashville. Her Rainy Day Women won two Silver Falchion awards: (1) best mystery/crime novel, presented by Anne Perry, and (2) best book by an attending author, presented by the conference's founder and organizer, Clay Stafford. Congratulations, Kay, for two well-deserved recognitions to a beautiful person and exquisite author. Let's continue the party with some more cyber-champagne!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Doing the Right Thing

by Linda Rodriguez

Sisters in Crime recently published this important document, Report for Change: The 2016 SinC Publishing Summit Report on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Mystery Community, that I was privileged to be a part of.

I have been so proud of SinC for this work that they initiated themselves without us "diversity" folks having to scream and beat our heads against the wall. And they're immediately putting it into action. See this year's SinC into Great Writing workshop at Bouchercon--all about writing authentically about a diverse world and people (details at the end of this post).

Most of my adult life, I have been one of the few outliers in predominantly white (and often also predominantly male) institutions and organizations--I was the director of a university women's center for decades. I have usually had to be the only voice for diversity at the table, reminding of other cultures and needs, often to patronizing remarks of "There's our Linda with her diversity again." As a writer who came to the mystery field through poetry and literary prose, I was and still am active in AWP, where I have chaired the Indigenous Caucus and am a member of the Latino Caucus and the Disability Caucus and where our fight for any kind of representation or access is often bitter and too often denied.

In the mystery field, although it's almost entirely white, I found the writers and their organizations welcoming and truly open and encouraging to the "Other." Publishing is, of course, another matter.

I can't tell you how delighted I was when the board of SinC came to me and said, "We want to do this study. Will you be one of the people who helps us--and helps us find others and resources about this, as well?" To my knowledge, none of the few of us "diverse" folks in SinC were beating this drum or taking them to task. And now, they're actually beginning to implement their own recommendations from the study. I'm so thrilled to see this happen.

I would hope that everyone who writes, reads, or publishes crime fiction would read The Report for Change and take its recommendations and suggested first steps to heart. At the end of the document is a list of good specific steps that we as crime fiction publishing, Sisters in Crime national, local SinC chapters, and individual writers and readers can take to make a real difference in this important regard.

Now, for that first important step that SinC is taking. If you're planning on attending Bouchercon in NOLA 9/15-18, come a day earlier (Wed., 9/14) and attend SinC Into Great Writing, "Writing Our Differences--Doing Diversity Right," where the fantastic Walter Mosley will keynote and workshops dealing with creating authentic diversity in dialogue, character, plotting, and setting will be taught by Frankie Bailey, Greg Herren, Cindy Brown, and me. At the end of the afternoon, all five of us will gather in a panel with other diverse writers for a freewheeling, wide-ranging Q&A session.

This is a great opportunity, and I'm so grateful to Sisters in Crime for offering it and for doing the work of The Report for Change, to which this workshop is a first response. So come join in! As always, SinC makes this easily affordable--and if you're a college student, there are reduced fees.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Actions Speak Much, Much Louder Than Words

I picked up a new craft book (aren’t all authors addicted to improving their craft?) that has me excited about writing again. Part of my funk over the winter had been that writing seemed yet another job - with a long list of Must Do tasks - and like most of you, I had too many balls in the air already.

I wanted to buckle down and just write the damn book. I actually had people contact me and ask when the next in the Holly Price/ So About series would release—which should make me feel happy rather than pressured. Right?

Anyway, I stumbled over two books titled The 90-Day Novel

Okay then! 90-days! Score! (Is this where I admit it takes me a year to write a novel?)

The first craft book was a disappointment. It contained a very summarized rehash of things we’ve all heard a million times. Set your turning points, make the index cards, park your butt and go.


The other one, by Alan Watt, hit the note I needed to hear. Step back and consider the possibilities, he recommended. What if…? 

What are you afraid of? Your heroine probably has the same fears. Can you work with that? Lots (and lots) of 5 minute writing drills occurred during the first week, but none of it needed to appear directly in the book. I was encouraged to scribble images, scenes, scene-lets, ideas, whatever. No pressure, because nobody was going to read or critique it. It was playing with words, which I hadn’t done in ages. It was diving into what I was passionate about—and how that drives my story. 

And through the process, the dilemma, which is the root perception cause of the problem (which is what your protag thinks she’s trying to solve) evolves. I realized “trust” is the emotion I needed to tap into and now, everything else is falling into place. The conflicts between all my characters really come down to that one, very basic emotion. Trust is crucial for a relationship. All relationships. Relationships between friends, family, lovers.

Trust is what happens when actions speak much, much louder than words. You can’t make someone trust you. From Holly’s perspective, when others’ actions are undermining her trust in them, going with what she believes is the right thing to do will show others she’s trustworthy—and hopefully won’t get her killed. 

I started this craft book adventure in connection with my own 100x100 challenge (a friend who’s 300 days in inspired me). The 100x100 challenge is to write at least 100 words every day for 100 days. Three weeks into in, I’ve filled half a spiral notebook. And the scenes, plot, and subplots are coming into focus. 

How’s your writing going this summer?

Cathy Perkins is currently working on Book Two in the Holly Price/So About series. So About the Money was blessed by readers and booksellers with the Award of Excellence – Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements. 

A spin-off in that series, Malbec Mayhem features one of the secondary characters and is available now.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016



Earlier this month, Bethany Maines asked us Stiletto Gang members the question so many authors struggle with: "what other authors are you like?"

My answer to this question has evolved over the past twenty years. At first I didn’t even know it was a question—one I was supposed to be readily able to answer. Then a kindly bookstore employee explained that publishers and booksellers find it helpful in publicizing authors if they can be compared to other more famous writers. Okay, so I do get that. After all, I didn’t spend my whole previous career in public relations not understanding the point of publicity.
Jacquelin Winspear

Then the difficulties set in. How could I presume to compare myself to a well-known author? How presumptuous. I took an online test that suggested it could analyze my writing and figure out where my style matched someone else’s. The answer was ludicrous—and instantly forgettable. (For example, someone like Herman Melville. No, I think not.)

Next I realized that there were certain authors of historical mysteries who had inspired me. Here I began to strike pay dirt. Jacqueline Winspear is the most relevant for me. Her Maisie Dobbs mystery series is a direct inspiration for my Austin Starr mysteries. Winspear began her early stories in the 1920s in England when the entire society was trying to recover from the horrors of the conflagration that was erroneously labeled “the war to end all wars.” We now call it, sadly enough, World War One. She successfully evokes that time period and makes us readers believe we are back among those fraught times when my grandparents were young.

Before I discovered Winspear’s books, I had only read historical mystery series written by men with their male protagonists. Many of these tales were set in the 1930s, emphasizing events that led up to World War Two, and then also during that war itself. British author Philip Kerr writes about Bernie Gunther, a Berlin detective who gets co-opted by the Nazis. Kerr’s plots are unusual and his historic research is impeccable. Alan Furst also describes the interwar period in a set of loosely related (very loosely) mysteries that are steeped in atmosphere. His evocations of Eastern Europe and France are so successful that when I read his books, I feel as if I am walking down a Parisian street and smelling the Gauloises cigarettes smoked by passersby.

Sara Paretsky

There are other mystery writers who inspire me by setting their stories against a background of important social issues. Sara Paretsky is the queen of this group. After all, she was a pioneer of the female private investigator V.I. Warshawski as protagonist. When she saw the difficulty women writers were having getting published in America in the 1980s, she did something about it. She was a founding mother of Sisters in Crime. How’s that for being a successful author and activist too. Write on, sister!
There are easily ten more authors I could mention whose work inspires my writing, but those I’ve listed here are the ones who continually bubble up in my mind first. I would never dare say that my writing is like theirs, but I am happy to give them a tip of my metaphorical hat and say, “Thank you for being you, thank you for writing what you do. And please, do write on and on and on.”  

Kay Kendall’s Austin Starr mysteries <> capture the spirit and turbulence of the 1960s. DESOLATION ROW (2013) and RAINY DAY WOMEN (2015) show Austin, a 22-year-old Texas bride, set adrift in a foreign land and on the frontlines of societal change. Austin learns to cope by turning amateur sleuth.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The First J.M. Phillippe

by J.M. Phillippe

Earlier this month, Bethany Maines shared the question so many authors struggle with: "what other authors are you like?" As the Olympics finishes up this week, it's pretty obvious that comparison is inevitable for anyone in the public eye -- particularly women (as the journalists covering the Olympics seemed to only know how to talk about female athletes in relation to male athletes). This is why Simone Biles is my new favorite role model:

Because when it comes to describing my writing style, or even trying to find the right mixed-genre combo to describe my first novel, Perfect Likeness, I am often at a loss. "I write like me," I want to tell people. Unfortunately I am not a household name yet and thus can't compare myself to only myself. (I may need some writing equivalent of gold medals first.) I have to try to find someone that is writing like me, who people like, to compare myself to. Preferably a best selling author so that people think "oh yeah, I love that person!" and then, you know, buy and read my book. 

We can't all be Simone Biles. Or J.K. Rowling. Or Stephen King. Or "put your Big Name Author here". In fact, most authors I know in real life are pretty happy to be in the competition at all. We're not looking to medal -- we're just hoping to get one or two (hundred, if possible) devoted fans.

The other big issue with "who are you like?" is that it taps into one of my biggest insecurities as a writer: that I don't have a unique voice (or a unique story). Look, at this point, three out of five people I talk about my plots with pipe up with something along the lines of "it's just like that other book/that movie/that video game/that song/that esoteric piece of art I did my PhD thesis on." (Okay, maybe not that last one, but wouldn't that be cool!?!) The "It's All Been Done" record (go ahead and cue the Barenaked Ladies song) playing in my head is responsible for at least 60 percent of all my anxiety-filled blank-page moments. 
The LAST thing I want is to write something just like any other book, or just like any author (yes, even the best selling ones). I have fought long and hard with myself to come up with something that didn't sound to me just like everything else I've read. In fact, the biggest reason I write is because I don't feel like I have read anyone else quite like me. 

Which sounds great -- all the way up until you have to market your book and someone asks you "what else is this book like/what other author are you like?" Because unlike gold medalists, there are A LOT of different authors and books, and people want some sort of sense of what they are going to get themselves into before committing 300 plus pages to a story. 

What this means is that the writer part of myself is often at odds with the marketing part of myself. The writer part of myself wants to jump genres and experiment with writing style and format. The marketing part of myself wants to create a brand that people will recognize so that they can say, "oh, that's a J.M. Phillippe kind of book." The marketing part of myself knows that it takes more than a single event to make a gold medalist; there are years of dedicated practice behind that moment. There are hours and hours (and yes, even years) of constantly working at it for most writers to become Big Name Writers. And an essential part of that work -- however much we may hate it -- is creating a Big Name Brand.

I don't have a good answer for this constant push and pull between these two sides of myself (but I do have a great recommendation for a comic by Nick Seluk called The Awkward Yeti, featuring Heart and Brain, which basically sums up my eternal struggles against myself perfectly):

 I think the struggle is going to be a constant one. And nothing brings it to light more quickly than someone asking me what other kind of writer I am like. I always have to fight the urge to say "I'm the first J.M. Phillippe." 

But maybe someday, I will be the author that others compare themselves to. 

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, August 15, 2016

My friend, Libby Adams

Libby Adams assembling programs for the St. Paul's Players

Libby and her favorite fellow, Clay Aiken

Theater is a collaborative art form. The diligent efforts of those seen and unseen onstage are needed to create a production.

No one exemplified this universal truth more simply and beautifully than my dear friend Elizabeth Ann Step Adams, known to all as “Libby,” who left this world a few weeks ago. If she could have lived until December 3, she would have been 89.

Libby’s name appeared on theater programs for behind the scenes and supportive “roles.” She was a “life member” at Workshop Theater, where she often ran the box office and distributed tickets to patrons as they arrived for a performance. She presided in the lobby with a happy smile, greeting people as they entered, always remembering their names and families.

She volunteered in Columbia and Sumter, South Carolina, theaters. She knew the names of all the participants in the productions and had definite opinions about the plays being presented. She was a keen observer and never hesitated to share her thoughts.

I met Libby through John Henry, who worked side-by-side with her at Workshop’s box office and who became the producer of the church productions I direct for the St. Paul’s Players. John recruited Libby to help us out and she did so happily, coming to fold programs and staying to be part of our audience.

Libby always candidly told me what she thought about our shows, especially the ones I wrote. I suspect her good friend John may have briefed her about some aspects of the plays others had criticized. She always staunchly supported any disputed choices I had made. I treasure a note she wrote to me one Christmas, encouraging and supporting our drama ministry, which she considered unique in the community.

During the last few years, Libby, John, and I shared a group of seats for the “Broadway at the Koger” series that brought traveling companies to Columbia. We watched such diverse productions as Legally Blonde, Flash Dance, Once, and The Illusionists. When each performance was over, we’d head to the nearby IHOP and evaluate it. Libby would comment specifically on the sets, performers, sound quality, and directorial choices. We didn’t always agree on our perceptions, but I had to admire the reasons she expressed for her opinions. She thought it all out carefully and based her opinions on an extensive background of watching theater.

Libby survived her husband Grey and her son Steven, who she called Shay. She lived alone with her cat. She remained independent until the end, calling a cab or relying on friends if she needed a ride to an appointment or performance, but managing her own life. She kept well informed about current events and television. After watching him on American Idol, she became a devoted fan of Clay Aiken, traveling by train to see him in performance in New York City.

When John and I hadn’t been able to reach her by phone one day, John asked his brother to stop by Libby’s apartment. He got no response and called the police to investigate. They found her on her couch. We believe she just fell asleep.

On the night I learned of her death, I had stopped for supper in a restaurant before going home. I had just talked with John on the phone when a young man came up to speak with me. He asked me if I remembered him. He had been in one of my plays when he was a child. Now, he was ready for college and going to Yale.

I took the time to talk with him and his family. I remembered that Libby had seen him in a Workshop Theater production and was so happy when he came to work with us at the St. Paul’s Players. She always went out of her way to encourage young people to be involved in the theater. She appreciated that the next generation would continue the traditions.

Perhaps, at least I like to think, that Libby facilitated my meeting that night with the young man so I could continue her practice of encouraging the next generation to support and advocate for the arts. I think she would consider that a fitting tribute.

I hope I can follow in her footsteps. She has big shoes to fill.

Rest well, Libby.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Who are you like?

By Bethany Maines

One of the most common questions a writer hears is: Who are you like?  In other words, what (famous, more talented, richer, that I would have heard of) author are you like?  Of course, as authors we would always like to respond – I am like no one! I am a unique snowflake of infinite genius!  Bow down before my staggering work of novelistic achievement!  Possibly at this point is where we also start investing in a parrot, flowing robes, and a pencil thin moustache to twirl.  I’m not saying all authors would go full Disney villain. Clearly, the eyebrows and make-up require a more high-maintenance lifestyle than most of us are cut out for.  I’m just saying, nobody likes to think of themselves, as “just like” somebody else. 

However, temper-tantrums and eyeliner aside, it is a useful question.  It does let people know where they should look for you in the library and where you fall on their reader spectrum.  For the record, I usually answer this question with – Janet Evanovich.  My series Carrie Mae Mysteries is female centered spy series, with plenty of hunks, humor, and huge action scenes.  However, I also write in another genre – contemporary fantasy.  I write modern day fairy tales about fairies, vampires, and what happens when a mermaid meets a SEAL. 

Writing in multiple genres used to be very “not done” because the publishing houses found it hard to market.  The prevailing wisdom was that readers don’t read multiple genres (uh… say what?), Self-publishing has opened the door for authors to write whatever their unique snowflake heart’s desire, but it’s still a risk, and a challenge for those doing the marketing, to figure out what to say to the question – who do you write like? 

I guess for now, I’ll have to go with this answer – I write like my fingers are fire with sheer greatness and my mascara is totally, totally on point.


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.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Delusional Logic Behind New Psychological Thriller

Remember when you were little and had your first tough argument with your BFF?

No matter what insults or barbs you hurled at each other, none hurt like being told she no longer liked you. One of you undoubtedly twisted the knife deeper by adding, “I don’t want to be your friend anymore. I don’t like you.”

Ouch! As children, we lived to be liked. Being liked—by teachers, adults, acquaintances, other kids, and even strangers mattered. If we were lucky, we could take parental and family love for granted. Being liked—not at all.

Recently, during the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, I heard the political pundits throw around the concept of the candidates’ likability quotient. From time to time, I heard both 2016 presidential candidates were the ‘least-likeable . . .  ever.’

Is there a road back from the label unlikeable?

Writing my psychological suspense series, The MisFit, I extended the above question: Can stories entertain and grab readers’ attention with a major unlikeable character?

I certainly hope the answer is yes. Because I’ve invested two years and more than a thousand words developing such a character. Michael Romanov is Einstein-smart, Olympic-star confident, fearless, driven, and a psychopath from birth if he listens to his mother. Conflicts with his parents and older brother convince him, by the time he’s eleven, that he’s unlovable. Unlikeable, too, since he has no school friends among the students and faculty. He finds a way to claim justice . . . which is where the story begins.

Arguments hurt our feelings. Leave us feeling vulnerable. Often goad us to over-react. This is certainly the case with Michael. As I wrote his opening scene, flashes of that quarrel with my BFF flickered at the edge of my mind. 

Wow! Writing opened a door to reframing that long-ago memory into a novel of psychological suspense.

What about you? How’d you deal with the hurt from that first BFF-argument? Shoot me a note: I’ll respond. Who knows, maybe there’s another story lurking in your reply. 

AB Plum writes dark, chilling psychological suspense just off the fast lane in Silicon Valley--where the sun shines nearly every day. Coming soon, The Early Years, the first MisFit Series installment.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Love Letters

Love at first sight. It happens. It happened to me. I fell in love with New Orleans almost as soon as the plane landed at Louis Armstrong Airport. I fell in love the moment I spotted someone walking through the terminal with a hurricane.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Then came Jackson Square and Royal Street and the food and the Garden District and Audubon Park. Then came beignets at Café du Monde and shopping on Magazine Street. Then came the busker, who upon learning I was from Kansas City, effortlessly shifted the style of jazz he played to make me feel at home. Anyone would be head over heels…

New Orleans charmed me. It’s good at that. But even I, in the throes of falling in love, could see there were problems. New Orleans is a southern lady of a certain age, still lovely, but her slip is showing, and there’s a run in her stocking, and it’s possible she’s had one too many Pimm’s cups. She’s a character.

Perhaps that’s why I wrote two books about her.

The second book, Bayou Nights released this July. I had the opportunity to research everything from Jean Lafitte’s pirate crew to Absinthe House. Obviously, first-hand research is the best! I penned lines at the Hotel Monteleone, tasted beignets at Café du Monde (because what’s a trip to NOLA without them?), meandered down Pirates Alley, and studied the altar at St. Louis Cathedral.

One reviewer noted, “I absolutely love how Mulhern brings the richly atmospheric world of 1903 New Orleans to life in this tale. The world draws you in from the start and you feel like you’re walking alongside Christine and Drake as they encounter the most incredibly vibrant spirits, both living and dead.” I’ll cherish those words because I want everyone who reads Bayou Nights to fall as in love with New Orleans as I am.

That said, a city is not a plot. I needed one. One filled with mystery and atmosphere. I also needed characters. I created Drake, a man who does not fall in love with New Orleans on sight. Drake sees the city's slip showing, the run in the stocking…he complains about the humidity and life’s languid pace. Yet, slowly, he is seduced. As he comes to understand New Orleans, he falls in love with the heroine, Christine Lambert, a woman as complicated as the city where she lives.

Because I’d researched pirates, I needed a swashbuckling plot—one filled with lost treasure, voodoo, and danger.

The result is my love letter to New Orleans. Even if you’ve not yet been to the Crescent City, I hope you fall in love too!

Julie Mulhern is the USA Today bestselling author of The Country Club Murders. 

She is a Kansas City native who grew up on a steady diet of Agatha Christie. She spends her spare time whipping up gourmet meals for her family, working out at the gym and finding new ways to keep her house spotlessly clean--and she's got an active imagination. Truth is--she's an expert at calling for take-out, she grumbles about walking the dog and the dust bunnies under the bed have grown into dust lions.