Monday, September 26, 2016

Bouchercon Recap

Last week I was at the 2016 Bouchercon convention held in New Orleans. I spent 7 days there and on the fourth day I became sick. Anything that happened after that I do not recall as I was in a zombie-like stage following the flow.

I arrived in New Orleans a couple of days before the start of the convention to get in some sightseeing. First on the agenda was a 2-hour highlights tour of New Orleans. We stopped at Willies for our first taste of New Orleans foods eating Chicken Fingers and it was delicious. Then onto our tour where we saw the sights and sounds of New Orleans that included a stop at St. Louis Cemetery #3, a stop in City Park where we had our first taste of beignets amid a thunderstorm and lightening. Then off to tour Katrina and it's aftermath. Our final meal of the day was at Creole House where I had the Taste Of The Bayou which is a combination of bayou traditions: Chicken & Andouille Gumbo, Crawfish Etouffée, Red Beans & Rice and Cajun Jambalaya.

The next day we walked to the Aquarium only to find it closed. Then we took the railroad to Jackson Square. We strolled in several of the stores on our way to Café du Monde. We sat in Jackson Square Park and enjoyed the shade and then headed back to the hotel. We had lunch at Palace Café and for our evening meal, we went to Mimi's for TAPAS. I always wanted to know what it was. I. ATE. DUCK. I also sampled salmon and broccoli, the steak and I ate the grapes from the fig and date dessert.

Tuesday was my day to volunteer, so I helped stack books for the Book Bazaar and was impressed with how it was set-up. Then we took a trip to Central Grocery, home of the Original Muffuletta Sandwich. A traditional-style muffuletta sandwich consists of a muffuletta loaf split horizontally and covered with layers of marinated olive salad, mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham, and provolone. Then a group of use headed to Napoleon House where I. ATE. ALLIGATOR. It was very gamey but good as I ate all of it while left the regular sausage on my plate.

Wednesday, I went on another on another 2-hour tour, this time St. Louis Cemetery #1, where we saw plenty of mausoleum and shrines. We even saw the tomb that actor Nicholas Cage has built. Then it was off the the BOLO Books soiree where we dined on appetizing snacks and imbibed Lemoncello. A good time was had by all.

Thursday was the first official day of the convention and my panel was at noon. We were given a 3-section room and I was surprised that it filled up as it did. The opening ceremony featured the guest arriving on floats. That was fun.

Saturday I attended Ellen Byron's book launch for Body on the Bayou at Hall-Barnett Gallery where the appetizers were appetizing and the drinks flowing. Another good time was had.

Have you ever attended an author/reader convention?

Friday, September 23, 2016

What I Want from Life

What I Want from Life by Debra H. Goldstein

Do you ever wonder what you want from life? 

Lately, I’ve been in a pensive mood, giving that question a bit of thought. Don’t worry, I’m not thinking about death or aging, but simply being selfish about my own desires. The topic doesn’t require me to delve into the meaning of life, only what I want from it.

 When I started brainstorming a response, I immediately blurted out: “I want my family to be happy, healthy, and prosperous.”  My second answer, after listening to our present political catfights and catching a re-run of Miss Congeniality was “World Peace.” Both were nice comments, but neither addressed the specificity of the question.

So, taking my wishes for my family and the world out of the equation – what do I want?

A successful career? I think that one has been satisfied between my legal career and now following my passion to write, but then again, I don’t write every day and I haven’t made the New York Times bestseller list.  Admittedly, there is room for this goal to be expanded upon, but I’m pretty content knowing two novels, Should Have Played Poker and Maze in Blue, as well as eighteen short stories have been published in the past few years, and that the challenge of making the bigtime is just over the horizon. After all, recently, the mail brought a check for my first sale to Alfred Hitchcock Murder Magazine.

A break to veg and read?  There could always be more time for reading, but according to my Goodreads Challenge tally, I’m ahead of my projected reading schedule. This week alone, I’ve already knocked out Dark Money, the new Harry Potter book/script, and my backlog of periodicals.
Talent without envy of others?  I’m still at the bottom of the learning curve, but there are so many gifted writers out there.  What my friend, TK Thorne, can do with a phrase or an image constantly stops me in my tracks and shows me how elementary my skills are.  Yet, whether it be from TK, Linda Rodriguez, or so many others who have been generous with their time, advice, and patience, I can’t even verbalize how much I’ve gained as a writer and a person. So, yes, I envy their talents, but appreciate them too much for there to be more than a mild form of jealousy.

Happiness? I’ve had my share and it continues to come my way. 

Friends?  I’m blessed in that department, too. I hope all know, even when I’m oblivious or overbooked, they are my lifelines, support, and cheerleaders --- and that it is reciprocal (even if you have to make me stop long enough to sense a need).

So, what do I want out of life?  Probably nothing more than I’ve been given, except maybe
developing a better sense of style. I noticed in this recent picture that the legs of my pants might be a bit short.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Clicking Our Heels – Death Be Not Proud or Coming Back for a 2nd Ride

Because I’m dead tired from being at Bouchercon and on tour with Should Have Played Poker, I thought the only appropriate question for this month’s Clicking Our Heels is “If you could come back for a day as someone else, who would it be?” My answer is simple – anyone who gets to hibernate for a few weeks – Smokey the Bear?  -- Debra H. Goldstein

Jennae M. Phillippe – Aretha Franklin.  I would love to be able to sing like that, and have that kind of presence.  She defined Diva.

Sparkle Abbey – It would be fun to come back as someone’s guardian angel.   (I know I’m not supposed to comment on other people’s quotes….but I’d get in line for these two as my guardian angel…dhg)

Marilyn Meredith – Mary Higgins Clark.  I think she is one of the most caring and friendly big name authors there is.

Bethany Maines – Only a day? Do I get to pick the day? I think I’d like to be Twitch of Magic Mike and So You Think You Can Dance.  It would be amazing to move like that.

Linda Rodriguez – I’ve actually never really wanted to be anyone but myself, but perhaps the alternate Linda who made all those different choice that I didn’t make throughout my life.
Juliana Aragon Fatula – Robin Williams remains my favorite actor/comedian.  He had skills that I can only aspire to possess.  He was loved by so many.  I just want to ask him why he chose to take his own life and leave us.

Kay Kendall – Eleanor Roosevelt led an interest life and did remarkable things.  I would like to see what it was like to be her for one day, preferably during the darkest days of World War Two.  I would like to know what it was like at the White House under all that stress.

Paffi Flood – No one, really.  Although I can think of accomplished people who I think I’d like to come back as, but I also know they dealt with sadness and challenges, in ways incomparable to mine.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


by Kay Kendall

Many readers of the Stiletto Gang blog know that Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, was held last weekend in New Orleans. It's an annual gargantuan event that brings together fans, authors, publishers, agents, booksellers, and even critics of crime fiction for a long weekend of learning, awards, and fun. The name honors Anthony Boucher, the distinguished mystery fiction critic, editor, and author. He helped crime fiction gain credibility back when it was considered merely "pulp fiction."

Where do Bouchercon authors hang out? In the book room of course!
 (l-r) Lisa Alber, Barry Lancet, Laura Elvebak, Manning Wolfe, & me Kay Kendall
Naturally, in New Orleans, the entertainment and fun were stellar. Those of us who attended are still marveling at how the good times rolled and the hospitality was rampant, and some of us are just too tired to type...but type I must.

The first Bouchercon took place in 1970 in Santa Monica, California. Since then, Bouchercons have been held in many cities across the United States and in Canada too. In fact next year's event begins in Toronto on October 12, 2017. The fiftieth anniversary event will be held in Dallas, Texas. Thousands of totally volunteer hours go into making each Bouchercon a success--a fond memory to cherish and a shimmering event to attend again in the future.

While on the one hand many writers of crime fiction are deeply introverted, on the other hand most throw caution to the winds and revel in the comradeship of fellow authors and fans when at a Bouchercon. Included here are photographs to convince you of this truth.

Megastars chat--on left David Morrell (papa of Rambo) and Lee Child (dad of Jack Reacher)

My first Bouchercon took place in St. Louis, Missouri, in 2011. I'm not an introvert, but even I was initially taken aback by the hootin' and hollerin' as friends greeted each other after a year's absence. I expected to remain excluded from that for years. But I was wrong, thank goodness. The mystery crowd is famous for its inclusivity, its friendliness, and its supportiveness.

At the conference in St. Louis an author on his first Bouchercon panel expressed his astonishment. He had expected to see competitiveness and criticism, like he found when attending his wife's professional poetry events, where meanness abounded. The friendliness of Bouchercon amazed and pleased him. That was five years ago, and the kindness and support have only grown and expanded since then.

Writing is a lonely gig. Self-doubt is your constant companion. The worldwide publishing situation is super tough. Meeting up with other authors and readers, however, is a balm to your soul. If you are a crime fiction fan or writer and have never attended a Bouchercon--or a smaller conference perhaps nearer to where you live--I urge you to attend. "Just do it." Friendship, support, well-meant advice, and fun all await you.. It is truly one for all and all for one. We crime authors may write about mayhem and murder, but in real life, we are all (well, say, 99% of us) as gentle as lambs. And so, to close, I'll reference another famous ad slogan--"Life is meant to be good."


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, September 20, 2016

When You're Busy Making Other Plans

by J.M. Phillippe

There is this saying:

For most people, the shape of that life can be found in their daily routines, the tiny habits that carry us from waking up to going to sleep. Routines are seen as either amazing and wonderful, or soul-sucking and dreadful.

I am someone who has always resisted a routine. I wanted each day to look different than the one before it.  I wanted spontaneity and that sense that anything could happen. And yet, I fell into a routine anyway, because that is the nature of life. Work and school and other external structures shape our days, forcing us to wake up at certain times, which forces us to go to bed at certain times. The space in between carries all the usual things -- taking showers, eating meals, doing chores, walking the same familiar paths of each day.

Moving to NY from LA, there were certain routines that made me feel safer. I began to go to the same places over and over again, and countered my fear of being alone in a new city by becoming a regular. There is a pub in midtown where they not only know my name, they know my order, and at least as much about my life as a casual social media friend. There is comfort in that, comfort in the familiar, in the steady rhythms of the day-to-day. Routine is just being a regular in your own life. 

What I have come to learn as I've gotten older is that routines happen whether we consciously form them or not. And in fact, consciously forming them (or changing them) is actually really hard. Now that I have a new job, many of my old routines have been forced to change, and I've been in this weird in bet
ween space where I haven't figured out the new ones yet. I keep hoping this will be a great chance to shape how each day will look with more consideration than my days before. I want to add healthier habits to my routine and break away from some older, less desirable ones. I want to take my lunch every day, and do laundry more than on a "now we really are out of clothes to wear" basis. When my friends joke about not being able to adult anymore, I really feel like what we're saying is that the routines of life can be overwhelming. The laundry always needs to get done. The dishes always need to be washed.

And if you're a writer, that next project is always going to be in need of more work -- writing, editing, planning, marketing. Work only gets done through the careful application of regular effort. Or it doesn't get done, because your routine doesn't include that particular effort. 

No one wants to feel like each day looks just like the last. But I think that sometimes my own resistance to that is actually doing me more harm than good. Each day DOES look like the last, because it turns out spontaneity takes its own kind of effort (and that I'm really more of a plan-ahead girl). Weeks get defined by regularly weekly activities -- taking out the garbage, watching a particular weekly show, that family member that calls every Sunday, like clockwork. 

I am hoping that I will be able to actually use this external change of a new job to help me build a new and improved routine. The thing about things moving along like clock work is that they move along. If you want the gears to keep grinding, you need to give them a familiar path around the wheel. 

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 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, September 19, 2016

The Celebrations Linger On

SinC Workshop
Rather than transition (our monthly theme) to a new subject matter, I’m going to continue with the topic Linda Rodriguez so ably introduced on Friday: Bouchercon 2016, which took place over the last five days in New Orleans. Linda was very much a part of this special event with her participation in the Sisters on Crime SinC into Great Writing workshop, Doing Diversity Right. She and other experts analyzed how writers can make their work more accessible and meaningful to readers by respecting cultures and disabilities through choice of words, plots, and character depictions and reactions.

Edith Maxwell, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Ramona DeFlice Long at Sinc Breakfast
Celebrations and champagne (served at the Sisters in Crime breakfast, with founder Sara Paretsky in attendance, and during at least two panels) were in evidence during the conference. The following anniversaries were recognized: the 75th year of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, the 30th year of Sisters in Crime, and the 6th year of a writing critique group including Donna Andrews, Ellen Crosby, John Gilstrap, Allan Orloff, and Art Taylor.

The audience very much enjoyed sampling a liquid recipe featured in Ellen’s upcoming novel, The Champagne Conspiracy.
Eleanor Cawood Jones, Alan Orloff, Donna Andrews, Art Taylor, John Gilstrap, and Ellen Crosby

Ace Atkins interviewing Julie Smith
A major topic of discussion, in both formal and informal settings, was transitions in the publishing industry. Ace Atkins conducted an inspiring interview with Julie Smith, whose Skip Langdon novels were my introduction to New Orleans. Julie mentioned that she has found a new passion working in publishing. When asked how that work could be a passion, she explained that she had helped writers whose series had not been published in a number of years come out with new work for readers to enjoy.

Edith Maxwell, Debra Goldstein, Terrie Farley Moran, PGB, and Lori Rader-Day
Having the opportunity to revel in the company of authors and reconnect with dear friends in a city that truly knows how to party was a fabulously memorable experience. If you ask me what kind of shoes I’ve been wearing, I’ll have to answer truthfully, comfortable ones. It takes a lot of walking to navigate Bouchercon and New Orleans. Many thanks to all the organizers and participants. Now that I’ve returned home, I can’t help but feel a bit of a glass slipper complex. Midnight approaches and it’s time to return to normal life. Yet, in my heart, the party lingers on. Let the good times roll!

Friday, September 16, 2016


by Linda Rodriguez

Right now, I'm at Bouchercon in New Orleans, so this will be a short photo-heavy blog.

My Bouchercon began with the SinC Into Great Writing, “Doing Diversity Right,” afternoon after great drama in traveling there with lots of “will I make it in time” suspense. But my wonderful road-warrior husband dropped me off at the entrance to the Bouchercon hotel only a few minutes after the afternoon had begun, and I rushed up to the 41st floor to find a breathless seat.

The great and impeccable Walter Mosely gave the keynote speech, followed by a great Q&A session. Then, we had four workshops on various aspects of diversity—characters, plot, dialogue, and cultural background. I taught the cultural background workshop, along with Greg Herren, Cindy Brown, Frankie Y. Bailey, who taught characters, plot, and dialogue respectively.

These were excellent workshops, each offering a different take on writing diversely with a heaping helping of the instructors' unique personalities shining through. At the end of the afternoon, we held a big panel to answer the audience's questions with Greg, Cindy, Frankie, and me, plus Terri Bischoff, acquiring editor for Midnight Ink, giving a view from the publishing side.

An hour wasn't enough time for all the questions, but all of the panelists told audience members they'd make themselves available for further questions throughout the conference. If my own experience is anything to go by, those in the audience are certainly taking advantage of that offer.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

"Do you know what Dad did?"

We've talked about transitions this month. Transitions in our writing careers. Transitions in manuscripts. A different kind of transition has been keeping me up at night--transitions in families. Perhaps it isn't surprising. After all, "family" is a central theme in my stories for a reason. 

These days, my sleepless nights begin with a call from my brother: "Do you know what Dad did this time?" 

Aging is weird enough in this country. Didn't the Baby Boomers firmly establish that they would never get old? Oh wait, that's a different story. This one is called, Your Parents Are Getting Old.

Now we've all heard about the hip grandpa who programs his TV and house security with his smartphone. Mine routinely calls AOL (from his landline since he forgets to charge his cell) and asks them for his password. One of my neighbors (my husband and I want to be Holly when we grow up) not only plays a great game of golf, he took up roping calves at age 80. At 82, he competes on the rodeo circuit. Instead of tying cattle with ropes, my dad is tethered to an oxygen generator. 

Life is a roll of the dice, right? Genetics, life style, accidents, wrong place/wrong time. No way to know what we'll be like when we reach our 80s. So my approach to the single remaining member of my personal "great generation" is hugs and love you's. 

Those two expressions make us feel valued. They nurture our souls, offering emotional and physical well being for both the giver and the recipient. Think about how often you shared them with your children, your friends and your spouse. Unfortunately (hmm, another transition?) the frequency seems to lessen with age. While you may be thinking about a jerk of an ex right now, I remember after my mother-in-law died, how my father-in-law craved touch. A simple pat on the arm, a hug. I see you. You aren't alone. 

This weekend, instead of heading to New Orleans for Bouchercon, the mystery/suspense conference, I'm bound for my hometown. I'll sit with my father for what I suspect may be the last time. To give him a hug and say not just "I love you," but also, "Tell Mama I still love and miss her, when you see her in heaven."


Cathy Perkins started writing when recurring characters and dialogue populated her day job commuting daydreams. Fortunately, that first novel lives under the bed, but she was hooked on the joy of creating stories. When not writing, she can be found doing battle with the beavers over the pond height or setting off on another travel adventure. Born and raised in South Carolina, she now lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd.

Catch up with her on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Dingbat Approach

By Bethany Maines

This month at the Stiletto Gang we've been talking about transitions and how moving to a new stage of life can affect writing. But I have to admit that as I sat down to think about the topic all I found myself pondering was the actual literal transitions of writing. One of the primary tasks of a writer is to choose not just what to include, but what to leave out. There are very few (if any?) novels that are told in one long continuous stream of time. And every time the writer skips over the trip to the bathroom or the drive from point A to point B she must choose how to indicate that transition.

Chapter 1
The Hard, Fast Break

Some writers like to make each new location or time switch a new chapter.  It's concrete. It's self explanatory. And pretty hard for the reader to get confused. But others like to the soft break.


In the typography world those little asterisks are called dingbats. They come in all shapes and sizes and can be themed to the text. Karen Harris Tully's series The Faarian Chronicles is a sci-fi young adult adventure centered on a planet that was settled by Amazon warriors of Earth. This gives the featured culture of the planet a Greek historical context (and strong feminist heroines) and makes the transition dingbats of the omega symbol fun and appropriate.

The softest break of all is the extra space.  As a graphic designer, I'm not in favor of these. It's far too easy, in a longer work, for the extra space to get buried at the end of the page. Then what does the designer do? Force the text to start lower down on the next page? That looks awkward and can lead to confusion on the part of the reader. In other words, if I see these in a book I immediately think the writer is a jerk who doesn't care about how much extra work their designer has to do.
Foolishly, when I first got into the publishing biz I found myself incredibly surprised when my layout manuscript came back for proofing that the designer had kept all of my transitions as I had typed them. Somehow I genuinely thought that I would send off my MS and somewhere out in New York someone would do something clever with my transitions.  I was kind of sad.  I didn't want to manage my own transitions - I wanted someone else to do all the work for me.

Which when I think about it, is about what I think about life transitions as well. How unfortunate that there's no magic wand or designer to outsource those problems to.  I guess I'm just going to put my lifestyle setting on "dingbat" and see what I get.


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.

Four Reasons to Include Dogs and Cats in Adult Fiction

By AB Plum

Writing noir stories short on violence, but long on psychological darkness, I often take a break to read something light or uplifting. I recently finished The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein ( I cried often.

When I finished the last sentence, I closed the book and thought about why I include dogs or cats in my romantic comedies and also in my darker psychological thrillers. 

1.  Dogs and cats bring out the best in my male characters. The four-legged characters have all come from shelters or “adopted” the hero.

Subtext: These guys—or in two instances young boys—vulnerable for many reasons, caring for their furry companions, show the reader they also take time to care for someone besides themselves.

2.  Dogs and cats can increase or decrease tension—especially sexual tension between the Hero and Heroine. In two of my novels, old, abandoned cats fall for the Heroine just like the Hero does.      

Subtext: Woe unto the Heroine who doesn’t like the Hero’s feline.

3.  Dogs and cats offer unconditional love to kids caught up in the twists and turns of the plot. Little boys can play Frisbee or chase with a dog and forget his parents’ divorce or his father’s disappearance. A teen-age girl, on the other hand, prefers a cat because they—frankly— smell better.

Subtext: Cats are a lot like teen-age girls: Wannabe divas. Dogs are a lot like five-and-six-year-old males:  Seekers of physical distraction.

4. Dogs and cats provide lots of chances to inject humor—often physical. Even on the darkest pages I write, I want to offer at least a ray of light. 

Subtext: A smile or a chuckle often works as well as a belly laugh to give the reader a bit of relief.

What about you, do you prefer all your characters to be human[oid]? Shoot me a yes-or-no reply: I answer all my email.

Accompanied by canine-companions in Southern Missouri, I developed a love of walking fast. Disregarding my Creative Writing prof’s advice, I wrote about the death of a favorite dog and received a C+. Maybe I’ve found the origins of this blog.

Coming in mid-October, The Early Years, the first serial installment of The MisFit Series. No dogs or cats until Book 4.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Fresh Out of Ideas?

Where do your ideas come from?

Hands down, the question I’m asked most often.

I have a vision of an old School House Rock song. I can’t remember which one…Get your Adverbs Here, maybe. There are shelves stocked with words. Wouldn’t it be lovely if ideas worked the same way?

“I’d like a murder, a motive, and some secondary characters, please. A sale on sub-plots? I’ll take two.”

The reality is that ideas sometime take their time arriving. They’re there sitting on a shelf deep in my brain but the salesman with his spiffy vest and tie is missing. I have to paw through the merchandise myself if I can even find the shelves.

Walking helps. That repetitive motion allows me to access different parts of my brain.

If I really need an idea, all I need to is take a shower with no paper or pen anywhere nearby. Is the brilliant idea that just popped into the front of my brain worth dashing naked through the house? Yes? No? If I don’t jot it down, it’s gone forever.

And then there’s that magical place between sleep and waking where ideas percolate like an old-fashioned coffee maker.

My ideas come from reading a fabulous book and thinking I’d have answered what if? differently.

My ideas come from the news, favorite television shows, and beloved movies.

And finally, my ideas come from the people around me (because who hasn’t thought, “I could kill her”).

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. 

Her latest book in The Country Club Murders, Send in the Clowns, is available for pre-order.