Friday, April 28, 2017

My First Time by Debra H. Goldstein

First times can be sweet, scary, not quite perfect, or like a moon rocket perfectly shooting into orbit. There are lots of ways to define first times. A mother recollects the first smile, the step, the first words. A young woman remembers her first heels, first make-up, and a few other firsts I can’t mention in the context of this blog (but feel free to go back in your own mind for a moment). For a writer, there are many firsts that create memories and sensations that can never be duplicated.

I have been fortunate that in my short writing career, there have been many instances of happy dancing. When my essay, Maybe I Should Hug You, won an Alabama Writer’s Conclave Nonfiction Award, I was thrilled. Of course, when MORE Magazine published it online as More Hugs, Less Fear, my feet came off the ground even further.

When I received an email offer of publication for my first book, Maze in Blue, my initial reaction was “Oh, Shit” followed by “No, Shit.” Holding that first book in my hand was almost as much of a high as the moment I held my first child. When six months later, Maze won a 2012 IPPY Award, I was jazzed.

Other writing awards, publication of twenty-four short stories, and the acceptance and publication of Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery have made me extremely happy, but they haven’t been “firsts.

This week, I experienced another first that brought me out of the low profile I normally keep. Not only was my first story published in the May/June edition of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, one of the most prestigious magazines that mystery writers die to be accepted by, but my name was included on the cover.  Happy dancing.  Credibility. Excitement. Gratefulness.
I haven’t come down to earth yet, and I hope I don’t for quite some time; however, this first is tinged with a different aspect. It highlights the reality of the choice I made to follow a passion.

One story will not bring me to the same level as the other writers I deeply admire and share the pages with, but it sure is nice rubbing elbows and breathing the same air as them, even for a few minutes. A first that will stay with me no matter how my career continues.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Clicking Our Heels - Writing: Passion or Work?

Clicking Our Heels – Writing: Passion or Work?

Stiletto Gang members all write, but the question is why? Read on to find out whether we consider writing a job, a passion or a hobby and whether our emotional reaction to it has changed.

Kay Kendall – I consider writing to be my calling. I have always written, even in my previous job. I just never wrote fiction before I took it up ca. 1999. I didn’t think I had any stories to tell. Now I do have them. I just needed more confidence, and a bit of age, in order to feel comfortable in telling my stories. 

Linda Rodriguez – To me, writing is my vocation, which means it’s my job, but it’s also a passion.
If I never needed to earn another dollar again, I would still write.

Sparkle Abbey – It’s always been a passion and for both of us simply a part of who we are. Like many others we’ve always written and have had a love for words. Since signing a contract for our first four books in 2010, it’s had to become more of a job because we have deadlines to deal with. That’s been an adjustment but one we’re okay with. We just signed a contract for more books, so we’re excited to continue writing the Pampered Pets mystery series. 

Cathy Perkins – Writing is both a (second) job and a passion. Being time constrained takes a toll on me, especially when my creative side has to take a back seat to the part of my life that comes with a paycheck. Fortunately, my husband sleeps through me turning on the light at 3 A> to scribble down scene ideas and snippets of dialogue. What, your subconscious doesn’t keep right on writing at night? 

Kimberly Jayne – Writing is definitely not a hobby for me. It’s a job that I’m passionate about, although I dislike referring to it as a “job,” which for me carries a negative connotation. It reminds me too much of the day jobs I’ve had over my lifetime that I didn’t want to go to each day but, of course, had to. Writing has become more important to me over the years because I feel, like many, that time is running out to achieve the many writing goals I had set for myself when I was in my twenties. If fulfills me in a way it didn’t previously as well, which I think comes from acquiring the confidence and competence in my skills and talents that I didn’t have when I was young. 

Debra H. Goldstein – Passion. I walked away from a lifetime judicial appointment to pursue writing, at whatever level I am capable of, because of the joy it gives. 

Paffi S. Flood – As a job. I have a routine to where I’m at my laptop every morning at 9:00 to do something. It isn’t always writing. It could be something as simple as plotting out a scene for clarity,
but I do it. That’s the only way I can make progress on my manuscript.

Jennae Phillippe – All of the above. Sometimes it feels like more work than other times. I am at my best when I can tap into writing as a passion, and at my worse when it feels like a chore. I think when I start to think like a publisher and imagine what sort of stories are marketable, it feels the most like a job, and when I think like that 14-year-old kid who just wanted to write fantastical stories, I enjoy it the most. I just need to think like a marketing savvy 14-year-old and I’ll crack the writing code. 

Bethany Maines – With my day job as a graphic designer, I’ve learned that having a passion IS work. But writing has evolved over time to be something that was just for me, into something that is more outward facing and shaped for an exterior audience. 

Paula Gail Benson – Yes. Since 2013, when I seriously began making submissions, it has been a job. It remains a passion. It’s no longer just a hobby, because even if I’m writing to help a group with which I’m affiliated, I have to take credit for my prose and know it will be judged with professional standards.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Short post

This week is an exciting week for me as I will be awarded the MWA Raven Award on Thursday. I have to give a speech. Too frightening for me, but I’m going to do it. I wrote it. I read it out loud. Made changes and I hope I don’t ramble when I get up to the podium. All my life, I shied away from public speaking. This will definitely be a stepping out of my comfort zone moment.

So, tell me, how do you cope with stepping out of your comfort zone?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Life Lessons

by Linda Rodriguez

I’ve been around for a lot more than a few years. And, stubborn as I can be, I’ve learned some things along the way. Oddly enough, it’s not the big lessons that have made a difference in my life, but a series of small rules for happy living that I’ve learned to make a part of my daily life. 

  1. Do at least one thing a day that gives you pleasure. 
  2. Live your life in chapters. Focus on the chapter you’re in now. You don’t have to do/have/be it all now!
  3. Don’t get overwhelmed. Break everything into baby steps. One page a day is a book in a year. Fifteen minutes a day on any overwhelming or distasteful task adds up and eventually will lengthen on its own. The ordinary kitchen timer is your friend.
  4. Always clean up your messes.
  5. Be kind to yourself and others.
  6. Give something back.
  7. Use it, appreciate it, or lose it. Your body, mind, belongings. Remember, unapplied knowledge is wasteful (f not tragic).
  8. Make time to do often what you do well and enjoy. Spend time with people who think you’re great. When the world isn’t noticing you, notice and reward yourself. Give others recognition, in turn.
  9. Make quiet time for yourself alone every day. And a corollary is have a place, even merely a spot, that’s just for you. Use it for devotions, meditation, journaling, or just reading. Give yourself 10 minutes of silence every day.
  10. Pay attention to your breath. Conscious breath control can help you control stress, worry, and fear and replace them with calm and peace.
  11. You create the path you’ll walk on in life with your words. Think before you speak. Remind yourself that, to a great extent, you are creating your reality when you speak.
  12. Pay attention to your own emotional needs and desires.
  13. Decide what you want your life to look like. Write it down. In detail.
  14. Act “as if.” Imagine if your desired life were here now, if you could not fail. What would you do? Do it.
  15. Conserve your energy. Rid your life of energy thieves—negative people and habits.

What about you? What rules would you add to my list?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Taxis, Uber and Career Path Choices

By Cathy Perkins

I had to go to LA for the day job this week. At LAX, I trotted out to Ground Transportation. I’d heard LA didn’t allow Uber drivers in the ground transportation aisle (where the nine million shuttles and taxis wait), so I grabbed a taxi to head to my meeting. The driver shot away from the curb before even asking my destination. 

Who knows, maybe he was afraid his fare would escape.

After pulling up the street address from my email and sharing the location with the driver, I opened an app to track our path to the destination. The driver was livid and told me in no uncertain terms that he didn’t want me telling him where or how to drive. Or that I thought I knew better than he did how to get where we were going. There might have been a few other “rules” thrown around, but I’d quit listening by that point.

I’m still not entirely sure what his actual objection was, but I muted the sound and left the app running. Okay, part of the reason I run the route app is security. I’m in a city I don’t know well, with a person I don’t know the first thing about.  And he’s not exactly making me feel safe as he drives like a maniac, squeezing into non-existent gaps in traffic, alternating between sixty and zero in shoulder wrenching seconds. (Yes, I put on my seat belt!) The other reason for running the app is to put names to the streetscape flowing past my window. Oh look. That’s Marina Del Ray with all the fabulous boats. I didn’t know Loyola Marymount University had a campus here. It’s lovely.  

Somewhere along the way this driver ranted about Uber. By this point, I’d tuned him out and looked at the window (while keeping a surreptitious eye on the app and the route). When the meeting concluded and I needed a ride back to the airport, who did I call? You got it in one. I tapped the Uber app and a driver appeared within minutes.

The Uber driver’s car was new and spotless. The driver himself was charming. In spite of what you may have read about some disgruntlement among Uber drivers, this guy loved his job. He drove full time, but set his own hours and avoided the late afternoon crush of LA’s notorious traffic. I got the impression he spent most afternoons at the beach before returning to the streets for several more hours of evening driving. (Great way to get home from a club or restaurant if you’ve like to have a glass of wine with dinner.)

The other information he freely shared was his business structure. Because he’s been with Uber for over four years, his percentage of the fare has increased from 80% to 90%. With his portion of the proceeds, he covers all his own expenses, including the decision to upgrade (and afford) the car he was driving. His positive ratings from passengers apparently also move him up in the ranking for notifications in his area when he’s looking for his next fare.

In the waiting area at LAX, I couldn’t help but compare the two transportation modes to the evolving status of publishing. Taxis and traditional publishing seem established and “safe” while Uber and independent publishing seem riskier. That risk level in the newer technologies drops, however, as the concept grows and evolves.

So how does transportation compare with publishing? While a few big names still pull in significant advances from traditional publishers, midlist authors have been cut left and right. Royalty rates are puny and print runs are decreasing. On the plus side, the publisher covers most of the production costs for the book. Likewise for the taxi driver, the rate of pay is reduced, but the cab company pays more of the expense—which sometimes means a sleek towncar and at others, a rust-bucket you hope makes it to your destination. The author may be assigned a top notch editor and talented cover artist, and receive superb marketing placement. Or he or she may end up with a new untested editor and little publisher support.

Like the Uber driver, the independent author can potentially earn a much larger royalty but also must cover his or her business expenses. The author has the choice of where to spend and how much capital to allocate. New car/clean up the existing vehicle? Hire a top notch editor/ask a friend to beta read? What can the author competently handle and where is it better to hire experienced assistants? Each step has financial repercussions. And each person must make the career choice they feel is correct for them.

The most important decision the author (and driver) must make however? What will give the passenger/reader the best experience?

Because isn’t that what it’s all about?

By the way, I’m sure you’ll be surprised to hear that next time I’m in LA, I take Uber rather than stepping into that taxi.

An award-winning author of financial mysteries, Cathy Perkins writes twisting dark suspense and light amateur sleuth stories.  When not writing, she battles with the beavers over the pond height or heads out on another travel adventure. She lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd.

Visit her at her website or her Amazon author page.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Libraries I Have Loved

By Kay Kendall

Last Saturday I celebrated National Library Week by giving an invited talk at the Bellaire City Library. This fine facility is located in an incorporated city located within the Houston metropolitan area. The occasion presented the opportunity to ruminate on what libraries mean to me.
My small hometown in Kansas had a Carnegie Library, a place that played a prominent role in my
Carnegie Library, El Dorado, KS
life, especially in my grade school years. Like most other writers, I’ve always been an inveterate reader. I cannot recall a time when I was not surrounded by books. Each summer saw me in the cool confines of the old stone building, selecting books to take home and devour. Mother would be upstairs checking out books for grownups and I would be in the basement where the children’s books were kept. It was cooler there, and in the early years that was important, before our home was air-conditioned.
As background for my talk last weekend, I researched details about the vast number of libraries across America that Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated. Between the years 1883 and 1929, there were 2,509 Carnegie libraries built, both in public and in university library systems. Of that number, 1,689 were built in the United States. By the time Carnegie made the last grant in 1919, there were 3,500 libraries in the United States, nearly half of them built with construction grants paid by Carnegie. He also underwrote construction of many libraries across the English-speaking world, as well as numerous non-English speaking countries. I cannot imagine a greater legacy to have than his.
“My” Carnegie Library in El Dorado, Kansas, was built in 1912 in the classical revival style. I am pleased to say that it still exists, being now repurposed and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. A survey made in 1992 of Carnegie Libraries in America found that 1,554 of the 1,681 original buildings still existed, with 911 still used as libraries. Two hundred forty-three had been demolished, while others had been converted to other uses, like “my” library in Kansas. For a time when I was in high school, it had even served as the city-funded hangout for teenagers. I remember dancing to an Elvis tune in that place (dubbed The Cage), and it felt almost sacrilegious to me.
Strahov Monastery Library, Prague (see below)
I have used more grand and extensive libraries, but clearly this—my very first—library means the most to me. It offered the thrill of countless books to read—ones I could check out as fast as I could read and return them. (My eight-year-old grandson is like that now, reading three to four books each week. He taught himself to read at age four. I had heard of that but had never seen it with my own eyes. I was amazed).

Libraries have been important to the advance of human knowledge for many millennia. Babylon is credited with having the first known library, and ancient Egypt comes next. Of course the industrious Romans made improvements with their libraries. Benjamin Franklin founded a subscription library in Philadelphia in 1731, a precursor of public lending libraries. Carnegie’s American libraries pioneered open stacks, thus enabling the joy of browsing.
In closing I want to salute the most beautiful library I have ever seen—not in photographs but in real life, in person. Twenty years ago I visited the Strahov Monastery in Prague, situated on a hill high above the city’s famous castle. I walked down a corridor in the monastery and peeked in an open door, marked by a satin rope across its threshold. And what I beheld made me gasp out loud. The vision I saw was the Philosophical Hall, one of two vast rooms built in the 1700s for the monastery’s ancient collection of books. This was a veritable temple to written human knowledge.
If you are ever in Prague, I suggest you go out of your way to visit this splendid place. A photograph is included here to give you a hint of its beauty.
What libraries have meant the most to you? Do you have a favorite? Were you able to study in the stacks in college? I could not. Whenever I heard footsteps, my head would pop up to see if it was someone whom I knew.

Read the first 20 pages of Kay Kendall’s second mystery, RANY DAY WOMEN here! 
That book won two awards at the Killer Nashville conference in August 2016—for best mystery/crime and also for best book.  Her first novel about Austin Starr‘s sleuthing, DESOLATION ROW, was a finalist for best mystery at Killer Nashville in 2014. Visit Kay on Facebook

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Good Parts

by J.M. Phillippe

I have a confession to make: when I read books, I tend to skip through large swaths of text. It started when I was a kid, reading fantasy novels. I adore fantasy novels. But without fail, every fantasy author I have ever read has spent a tremendous amount of time describing things. Now, when you are creating a world mostly from scratch, there are a lot of new things to describe. World-building takes a lot of time (as I am learning, since I am now writing a contemporary fantasy novel), and authors want to make sure that effort shows in their book.

And while I know there are readers who really appreciate those long, detailed passages that describe all the unique things of that magical new world, I am not one of them. I find myself skimming, searching out the gist of whatever is being described -- the character likes fancy clothing or the home is drafty and cold -- and then move on to dialogue and action. Sometimes I have to go back and actually read something I've skimmed through because I've missed something important, but mostly I can get away with skipping entire paragraphs without missing anything significant. 

This is not just a fantasy and science fiction problem either -- I have ready plenty of mysteries where characters are described like the author is working with a sketch artist, and romances where the heroine's wardrobe has gotten more page-space than the love scenes. 

I should say that I have never not enjoyed a book because I skipped over the long descriptions -- in fact, some of the best lines I have ever read have been in those passages (when I have read them). They just tend to interfere with my primary driving force as a reader -- to find out what happens next. 

Now that I am trying to create a new world, I find myself writing those same long passages that describe everything. And honestly, I have been wondering just how much I have to actually include -- and how much I can get away with leaving out. It is an essential question for every writer -- how much can you trust the reader to fill in the blanks? 

I know there is no one-size-fits-all level of description that will satisfy every reader, and certainly I may be on the far side of the spectrum in the number of scenes I gloss over. And while there probably are more writers not writing enough vivid description, I also don't want to be one of those writers that overdoes it either. But it's a hard balance to achieve. 

But, since I am making my confession, I should also make my apologies. To most every author I have ever read, even the ones I loved -- I am sorry for not actually reading all the words you wrote. I am sure they were amazing words. Gorgeous descriptions. Pure poetry. I likely skipped your best lines. 

But I probably loved your book, anyway.


J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness and the 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 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, April 17, 2017

Meet the Authors of the 2016 Agatha Best First Novel Nominees!

Each year at Malice Domestic, writing excellence is recognized by the Agatha awards. This year’s nominees for Best First Novel are (in alphabetical order by first name):

Best First Novel:
Terror in Taffeta by Marla Cooper (Minotaur)
Murder in G Major by Alexia Gordon (Henery Press)
The Semester of Our Discontent by Cynthia Kuhn (Henery Press)
Decanting a Murder by Nadine Nettmann (Midnight Ink)
Design for Dying by Renee Patrick (Forge Books)

Today, the Stiletto Gang welcomes Marla, Alexia, Cynthia, Nadine, and Renee (the pseudonym for married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan). Thanks for stopping by to share your work and thoughts with us!—Paula Gail Benson

What writing habits enabled you to complete a novel?

I’ve never been one of those writers who gets up two hours early every day so she can have dedicated writing time. But I did find a handy way to trick myself into a consistent writing practice. For me, getting started is the hardest part. So when I’m writing a novel, I make myself sit down and write 50 words every day. That’s all. Just fifty little words. They don’t even have to be good words. Most days, I end up getting into my groove and writing a whole lot more — but just getting myself past the resistance makes all the difference.


Having deadlines helps me. I hate to disappoint (one of my hang-ups) so being accountable to another person for turning in pages prompts me to get the pages written.

One thing that’s helped me is to allow the entire first draft to be a kind of a joyful keyboard pounding, in which I don’t evaluate or second-guess anything; I just write until I have a complete story. Then comes the deep and intensive revision phase, in which there is not only second-guessing, but also third-guessing and fourth-guessing and so on...times infinity (or so it feels).

Besides the fear of regret, which isn’t really a habit but it feels like one, I would do writing sprints with a friend. We would text to set a start time and then write for thirty minutes, checking in with each other when we were done. It was a great way to hold each other accountable and we both would often keep writing past the thirty minutes. Currently, I’m trying to do Magic Mornings where I wake up and write first thing without checking the Internet or my phone. It’s still an effort but I’m hoping it will become such a habit that I never miss a morning. I might be hoping for a while as it’s very tempting to look online when I wake up.

RENEE (Rosemarie and Vince):
We were both raised Catholic, so we each have two powerful motivational tools on which we can rely: guilt, and the fear of guilt. They power us through every endeavor, but when combined they are nigh upon unstoppable. To any and all aspiring writers out there, we say find yourselves a co-author. Knowing that you will have to answer to a trusted friend or loved one for missed deadlines, mixed metaphors and botched jokes will keep you typing until your fingers ache.   

What shoes would you, your protagonist, or another character from your novel wear to the Agathas banquet?

So, about the shoes: As a destination wedding planner, my main character Kelsey has to sacrifice style for practicality since she sometimes is on her feet for up to 8 hours at a time. But for the Agathas, she’d have the night off from playing party planner, so she’d probably break out the Laboutins in the back of her closet. (She inherited from a bride who bought them in three different colors “just in case,” but couldn’t be bothered to return them.)


Gethsemane would wear some bad-ass high-heeled boots. Because I can’t wear them and Gethsemane was born out of wish-fulfillment. 

Lila would be planning to wear her favorite black Doc Martens lace-up boots, but her cousin Calista would talk her into some still-in-the-box Jimmy Choo pumps, a gift from Lila’s mother that has been languishing in her closet.

As for shoes, I’ll choose Tessa for this question as she loves clothes and fashion. In Decanting a Murder, Tessa wears a pair of navy blue Manolo Blahnik heels but I think for the Agathas banquet, she would go for a bright red pair that were several inches high. Katie Stillwell would probably wear very small heels, unless Tessa talked her into some tall ones again.

RENEE (Rosemarie and Vince):
Lillian Frost would choose a high-heeled sandal in sparkling silver but Edith Head would suggest a more practical black kitten-heeled pump. And thank you for the invitation but Edith couldn’t possibly attend, she’s much too busy.