Wednesday, June 28, 2017


by Bethany Maines

Recently, I’ve been working on the sequel to my murder mystery An Unseen Current.  While thematically not that different from my other books (a young person struggles with unusual circumstances while navigating the choppy waters of family, love, and friends), mysteries bring a special level of challenge to the mix.  For one thing, people expect clues.  Oh, there’s a dead body?  Well, writer, where are the clues?  Chop, chop! Produce the clues!

However, it’s not just about clues; it’s about when to reveal those clues.  Too early and readers are bored because they already solved it.  Too late and it seems like the author is cheating and wedging information to justify who the killer is at the last second.  Then, even if the writer does pop a clue in the right place, she can’t be too precious about it.  The author can’t present it on a silver platter with a neon arrow stating: Clue Here!!  To accomplish the correct where and when of clue placement requires a stronger outline than other genres.  And that means that I must do what every writer hates doing—not writing.

Outlining and the synopsis are vital to a successful book.  But they aren’t the FUN part of writing.  The fun part is churning out scenes and spending time with the made up people who populate my brain.  Outlining requires problem solving and all the leg work of deciding back stories and motivations and the literal who, what, when, where and why of who was murdered. (It was Professor Plumb in the Library with the Candlestick, in case you were wondering.)  But mostly it leaves me thinking: Are we there yet? What about now?  Can I start writing now?

Fortunately, the answer is getting closer to being yes.  So wish me luck as I work out the kinks of how the dead body ended up behind a bar in Anacortes.

You never know what’s beneath the surface.
When Seattle native Tish Yearly finds herself fired and evicted all in one afternoon, she knows she’s in deep water. Unemployed and desperate, the 26 year old ex-actress heads for the one place she knows she’ll be welcome – the house of her cantankerous ex-CIA agent grandfather, Tobias Yearly, in the San Juan Islands. And when she discovers the strangled corpse of Tobias’s best friend, she knows she’s in over her head. Tish is thrown head-long into a mystery that pits her against a handsome but straight-laced Sheriff’s Deputy, a group of eccentric and clannish local residents, and a killer who knows the island far better than she does. Now Tish must swim against the current, depending on her nearly forgotten acting skills and her grandfather’s spy craft, to con a killer and keep them both alive.

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, June 26, 2017


It’s my turn again and I have nothing. So I’m going to ramble a bit about nothing.

It occurred to me the other day that I’ve been to twice as many conferences this year than ever before. January I was in Honolulu, Hawaii with Left Coast Crime – had a blast and able to cross this trip off my bucket list. April saw me stateside in Bethesda, Maryland for the annual Malice Domestic Convention. This convention will always be in my heart as it’s the first reader/fan convention I’ve ever attended. The first week of June I was on a Marketing/Social Media panel at the one-day Mystery Writers of America/New York Chapter’s Fiction Writers’ Conference held in Stamford, Connecticut. That was a fun excursion as it was my first time taking Metro North and going to Stamford. Two weeks ago, I attended the Deadly Ink conference in Rockaway, New Jersey. This is mostly a writer’s conference but readers do attend. This was also the first time I took a different New Jersey transit train, normally I’ve traveled on the NE Corridor.

So if you’re counting I’ve been to four conventions/conferences so far and I’m not finished. Next up I’ll be in Toronto, Canada at Bouchercon and I’m looking forward to that and last but not least I will be attending for the first time, the New England Crime Bake conference held in Woburn, Massachusetts. They have pizza parties and I heard something about a red carpet.

So all in all, that’s six author/reader-related conventions this year and this does not include the book signings, the MWA monthly events where I get a chance to meet readers and authors. Oh there another conference, ThrillerFest which is held in NYC, I may not attend any events, but I do hope to meet up with authors. I already have a lunch set up with fellow Stiletto Gang member Kay.

Okay, I rambled enough and it was about something.

So do you have anything to ramble about?
What are you looking forward to?
What's on your bucket list?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Scams and Gullible Writers by Debra H. Goldstein

Scams and Gullible Writers by Debra H. Goldstein

How many times a week do you answer a phone call or read a news story or friend’s post and immediately know someone has been scammed? How many times do you ask yourself how can anyone be so stupid to fall for the “your computer is reporting a problem,” “You’ve been left a million dollars, but it will take you $5000 in handling fees to receive it,” or “I’ve been stranded in Timbuctoo, would you please send me $1000 to get home?” Most of these seem blatant – things we would never believe, but this weekend I realized the vulnerability associated with being scammed.

I had the privilege of moderating a “Being Published” workshop panel hosted by the Atlanta Sisters in Crime chapter. Our panel, composed of writers published by small and Big 5 traditionally published authors, was quite lively. Besides the technical aspects of writing the best book possible, revising it until it really is the best book possible, pitching and querying, agents, contracts, obligations to a publisher and marketing, we stressed avoiding scams and noted traditional publishers handle things without a financial investment by the author. After the panel, an audience member approached me and related how she wrote a book which was rejected by every agent and publisher she submitted it to except one house that loved it just as it was.

According to this author, the publisher promised, for a flat fee, to copyread it, give it a cover and ISBN, give her a certain number of hardcover and paperback copies, place it online as an e-book, and make it available for purchase from Amazon and other online distribution sources as well as their own catalog. She went with this publisher, but other than the copies purchased by friends and family, the book isn’t setting the world on fire, so she decided to bring more attention to her book by writing some short stories. She entered a few contests without success, but then found some other sources for short stories. Most asked for a hefty fee, but she was fine with that until she paid two fees but never received the promised links to upload her stories. That’s when she realized she might not be dealing with a legit publication.

My comment – “Don’t do those anymore! You’ve been scammed.”

I went on to explain that there may be a legitimate contest fee that is more like an administrative fee, but for regular publications – literary or mystery, there are many places to submit without paying a fee. Most reputable magazines and journals don’t charge. They also specify whether they don’t pay for stories published, pay in copies, or pay only x per word. These legit outlets can be found by networking with your friends to see where they are being published, joining groups that specialize in short stories in the genre you are writing, repeatedly checking free blogs that announce publication calls (My Little Corner - comes to mind), or subscribing to a reliable service like Duotrope.

A few minutes later, another audience member shared his story with me. I was stunned. Both people were educated and intelligent, so how did they fall for very similar scams? Desperation. It is very easy when everyone says “No,” to take the easy way out. Writers want to see their work in print. To feel they have accomplished something. Consequently, many cave in a moment of weakness. In the end, being scammed can hurt in so many ways – financially, a record of poor sales, never being able to claim a first book again, or having a book or story published before it is ready giving you a cloud on your name. We all want success, but getting there means not being gullible. As writers, we are obligated to write the best book or story we can, but we also are obligated to wear a business hat to protect ourselves and our work products.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Clicking Our Heels - Our Favorite Numbers and Why

Clicking Our Heels – Our Favorite Numbers and Why 

Kimberly Jayne – My favorite number is 4.  Has been since I was a little girl.  It’s more meaningful now because I had four kids.  It’s even and sounds good rolling off the tongue. Four is me.

Paffi S. Flood – My favorite number is 13.  It’s my birthday and kids made fun of it when it landed on Fridays, so I decided to do the opposite and adopt it.

Dru Ann Love – The number 4.  It is an even number and my birth date.

Sparkle Abbey – We don’t really have favorite numbers.  Maybe if we played the lottery we’d have a different answer.  Right now, our favorite numbers are 9 and 10 because those are the numbers of the books that we’re currently writing.

Jennae Phillippe – I am terrible at favorite, so I have a list: 3, 7, 8, 9, 13, 42.  Each of them has a different reason behind it.  The most obvious ones are 3 and 7, as numbers that show up in stories over and over again; 13 because it is my lucky number, and 42 because of Douglas Adams.

Bethany Maines – 8.  Because I kick ass at Crazy Eights.

Paula Gail Benson – 4. It’s always been lucky for me.

Kay Kendall – My favorite number is eight.  I think I love the symmetry of how it looks as a numeral – 8.  My lucky number, however, appears to be seven.  Those are definitely two different things.

Debra H. Goldstein – 27.  It has a nice ring to it and is the date my twins were born.  I had a difficult pregnancy during which this type A person spent almost eight months counting the hours to viability.  They were born two days and seven hours after the point at which I had been assured they would have a good chance of surviving.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The 80/20 Rule for Readers

By Kay Kendall

This afternoon my husband asked me an upsetting question. “Are fewer people reading books these days?”
I gulped. “Yes,” I replied, “but I try not to think about it.”

On the one hand, I see statistical reports monthly and year-to-date and this year versus last year. The trend is down, slowly but steadily down. This depresses me. 
On the other hand, I hang out with writers and readers—both in real and in virtual life—leading to a false sense of euphoria. Why, everybody reads and buys books and complains about no space in their homes for ever more books. Heated debates appear online about the virtues of e-books and paper books, which is better and why. In truth, my world is replete with readers. Everyone cares, and cares enough to argue heatedly, but usually civilly, which is nice in this fraught climate of ours these days.

Twenty years ago I learned how important it is to “compartmentalize” one’s mind. President Bill Clinton was said to have mastered this skill as he went through his impeachment crisis. Perhaps I learned how to compartmentalize my views on today’s declining book sales from reading about his ability. Who knows?
So today, after I gave my husband my anguished answer, he scuttled off to his French class and I was left to ruminate on the conditions of publishing today. That is when I remembered the 80/20 rule.

Have you heard of it? I first learned about it in a marketing class in the 1980s. The concept seemed unreal to me at first. The professor said that 80 percent of a product was bought by just 20 percent of customers. Therefore, the marketers had to define their target market and sell to them. That way led to high sales and success.
Since that time I’ve seen the 80/20 rule applied to all types of situations. I have also learned that this rule was first promulgated in 1906 by an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto. His research showed that 80 percent of land in Italy was owned at that time by 20 percent of the country’s inhabitants. From there the 80/20 rule was applied to many other areas of human endeavor. Also known as the Pareto principle, the 80/20 rule is now used to describe almost any type of output in the real world. The rule is commonly used to analyze sales and marketing. Companies must dissect their revenues to understand who makes up their core 20 percent of customers…or readers as the case may be.

At this point you probably are wondering what this has to do with my concerns for declining book sales. The answer is simple. The 80/20 rule relates to the two parts of my brain. There is the joyful part of my brain that focuses on my friends who love reading and buy many, many books every year—every month and even every week. That joy lives because of my acquaintanceship with people who make up that blessed 20 percent who buy 80 percent of all books.
That happy part of my brain hums along, plotting my current work in progress and planning future books to write. It willfully ignores the other piece of my brain in which knowledge resides that book sales are declining.  
When I unlock that gloom, I allow myself to think of my neighbors’ house, where I have never seen one book, and not even a magazine. While I know the whole family can read, that is not the problem. They simply do not choose to read books. Since they have lived next door for at least 15 years, I know that even before the explosion of online media, they read no books, magazines, or newspapers. The two children read, but it is only on iPads and cell phones, and usually just for gaming.
This leads me to share an anecdote that happened a few years ago. Two of my friends were discussing what to give a third pal for his birthday. The first friend said, “How about a book for John?” The second friend replied, “No, he already has one.”
Although I thought that was hilarious—and apt in John’s case—I also wonder if that could be said of more and more people today.
I cannot change a societal trend. What I can do is focus on the 20 percent of people who still read and love books. These are my people. I shall write for them. Should I be so lucky as to have one of my books connect by some miracle with a non-reader, I shall hope to ensnare her or him into the grand world of the imagination, found in books. Be they real or virtual, books contain multitudes of wondrous imaginings. What a pity if someone misses out on all that magic.

Read the first 20 pages of Kay Kendall’s second mystery,                                                                                      
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

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Radical Self Love and Pride

by J.M. Phillippe

I first became an activist in 2008, when, on the night of Barack Obama's historic win of the presidential election, Proposition 8 passed in California, my home state, voters declaring that same-sex couples shouldn't have the right to marry. I happened to be watching the results with a good friend and her girlfriend, on the day of my friend's birthday. Her tears moved me to action, and when she looked for ways to get involved and protest Prop 8, I went with her.

That was also the first year I went to the Pride Parade in Los Angeles. It was the first time I became fully aware of the multitude of rights LGBTQ folks were being denied because of the bigotry of others. And it was the first time I understood what an ally was -- and started the long process of learning to be one while confronting my own privilege.

A lot has changed for me since 2008, including earning a masters degree in social work, and working in the field for almost five years post-graduation. My understanding of privilege and being an ally has continued to evolve. It has not been an easy process, and in fact, I often find myself frustrated both with the multitude of battles for equality that still need to be fought, and the various ways I have, both specifically and generically as a white woman, been called out. I am reminded daily that I need to  be called out in order to grow -- and that it is up to me to work through my frustration in order to be an effective ally.

June is Pride month in many places across the US, including NY (where I am now). It has also been a very challenging month. It was the one-month anniversary of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It had the devastating results of the case against the officer who shot and killed Philando Castile (acquittal). It was yet another month full of terrorist attacks against Muslims, both here in the US and abroad. My social media feeds continue to be filled with heartbreaking story after story. Most of us are still reeling from the reality of living in a post-Trump world, and all the hatred that has emerged with it.

I am back to wondering what it is to be an ally, and what it means to make space for pride in my life, not just as someone who feels more queer than straight (though isn't sure how to identify as queer without a strict label to go with it), but as someone who constantly spends time with others who take pride in the very identities that they are prosecuted and attacked for. Pride is a radical act of defiance in the face of oppression. Pride is about daring to celebrate, even in the midst of all the reasons to mourn. Pride is about radical self-love, and radically loving others.

So I am sharing with folks several websites that have become my go-to spaces for helping me grow as an ally, and celebrate the concept of radical love and pride all year long:

The Body is Not an Apology: founded by Sonya Renee Taylor, the mission of the website is to "foster global, radical, unapologetic self love which translates to radical human love and action in service toward a more just, equitable and compassionate world."

Everyday Feminism: founded by Sandra Kim, the mission is "to help people dismantle everyday violence, discrimination, and marginalization through applied intersectional feminism and to create a world where self-determination and loving communities are social norms through compassionate activism."

Wear Your Voice Magazine: is an intersectional feminist magazine "run by women and femmes of color who are trying to make more room for marginalized voices away from the white, cis-centric, heteronormative, patriarchal gaze." 

PEN America: part of PEN International, it is an community that works together to "ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to make it possible for everyone to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others" with a specific focus on "the intersection of literature and human rights."

And finally:

Pajiba: a community of movie and pop culture reviewers and commenters that is my favorite corner of the Internet, and who I have been reading for so long, I have added all the writers as social media friends because I feel like I know them that well. Radical self-love is also about connecting with community, and I have been part of this online community (if often as a lurker) for as long as I can remember. 


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, June 19, 2017

The End and Beginning of a Journey: Five Questions (and a Bonus) for Life and Writing

by Paula Gail Benson

During the month of May, numerous commencement speeches have been featured on social media sites. I feel for the persons selected for this “honor.” In a matter of a relatively few minutes, these folks are expected to be inspirational, reflective, humorous, wise, and memorable. It’s a tough gig.

My friend Art Taylor, a Yale alumnus and Associate Professor at George Mason University, faced the challenge when asked to address his son’s preschool graduation. He writes about his experience in his “Graduation Day!” post on

Art Taylor
Initially, Art had questions about the relevance of a preschool graduation, but after evaluating all he had seen his son learn, considering the relationships developed that might not continue as students went to different kindergartens, and watching the joy the graduates expressed about celebrating their milestone and preparing for their transitions, he realized that the occasion very much deserved its own recognition and struggled to keep his remarks within the allotted time frame.

As I viewed recent videos of commencement addresses, I came across a speech that I found particularly meaningful on two levels: first, for its perspective on the human experience and life lessons, and second, probably unintended by the speaker, for its applicability to writing fiction.

Dean James Ryan
The speech was given by Dean James Ryan (another Yale alum) to the Harvard Graduate School of Education on May 29, 2016. Dean Ryan, who has been described in a Harvard press release as “a scholar at the crossroads of education, law, and policy,” received his A.B., summa cum laude, from Yale University and his J.D. from the University of Virginia, which he attended on a full scholarship and from which he graduated first in his class. He clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist before teaching law at the University of Virginia. He became dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education on September 1, 2013.

In his speech, Dean Ryan addressed the five essential questions to be asked in life along with a bonus question. [Here's a link so you can read and watch the entire speech. I hope you will. It's very inspirational.] The questions Dean Ryan recommended were:

(1)       “Wait, what?” According to Dean Ryan, this question indicates that the audience has focused its attention on a particular subject. Dean Ryan’s example was asking his children to clean their rooms. He said what they heard him say was: “blah, blah, blah, and I’d like for you to clean your room.” Their “Wait, what?” signaled that they were not really listening closely, then suddenly heard something that applied directly to them, and needed him to repeat it for clarity.

In fiction, this is what we call the hook, the reason why a reader chooses one story over any other, the personal, emotional connection that convinces the reader, I want to spend my time with this author and what he or she has to tell me.

(2)       “I wonder, either why or if?” Dean Ryan characterizes this question as demonstrating curiosity and shows that a person is interested in learning more. The person has become engaged with the subject.

For fiction writers, the “I wonder” often leads to the germ of the story they decide to tell. By pondering, what would happen under certain circumstances, they come up with characters and a plot.

Similarly, seeking the why or what if often is the catalyst for a protagonist, in Christopher Vogler’s A Hero’s Journey parlance, to leave his “ordinary world” and consider “the call to adventure.” What might be possible? Is this a challenge I should accept or decline? Where will it take me?

(3)       “Couldn’t we at least . . .?” Dean Ryan says this question shows progress. Not only has the person become engaged, but he’s beginning to care about the people and process involved.

At this point in a story, the protagonist has crossed the threshold. He may not be all in and he may have obstacles to face, but he’s not going to retrace his steps back to the beginning. He’s signed on for the journey.

(4)       “How can I help?” For Dean Ryan, this question indicates the person has developed a relationship with the subject. Even more important, the person’s beginning to insert himself into the mix.

In a story, this question pervades during the midpoint through the climax. The protagonist is committed; he knows the goal and he’s going to help obtain it. He’s preparing to face the ultimate struggle.

(5)       “What truly matters (to me)?” For an individual, this is the answer to the “why” or “what if?” Dean Ryan says it explains the purpose in life and reveals the person’s heart.

For the protagonist, this is the reason the story began, the true basis for his existence, the challenge he must face.

(6)       The bonus question: “Did I get what I wanted out of life even so?” For Dean Ryan, this is the evaluation. In essence, was it worth it?

Whether the protagonist wins or loses, was the struggle a significant and valiant effort?

No matter how a story might be perceived, a writer can only hope the reader can find some level of appreciation and meaning in the outcome.

So graduates and writers, as you go forth into the world after reading this post (and hopefully the two referenced links), take these questions with you, seek out your path and that of your characters, and I hope you find the most satisfying answers possible. Thanks, Art Taylor and Dean James Ryan, for the inspiration!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Men Who Take on Other Men’s Children

by Linda Rodriguez

My stepfather coaches my little brother's team
When I look back on my life, I realize I’ve been lucky enough to be closely involved with three men who had the ability to take on children who weren’t their own genetic children and love and care for them as fathers. It will be Father’s Day soon, and I want to say a word or two about these kinds of unsung heroes.

My birth father was a brutal, unpredictable man. I suspect he would now be diagnosed as a clinical sociopath. After my parents’ scandalous, highly contentious divorce and all of the violent, ugly fallout afterward, my mother settled in a small college town in Kansas and met a quiet man she married when I was fifteen.

My stepfather immediately tried to be a good father to me, which meant, among other things, setting limits and being protective. My birth parents had both been irresponsible and sometimes dangerous children, so from my earliest memories I was the pseudo-adult in the house, the one who worried about all my younger siblings and tried to protect them and care for them so they could have as normal a childhood as possible. No one had ever looked after me or tried to take care of me, so I resented my new stepfather’s efforts tremendously.

As the next few years went by and I observed my stepfather’s treatment of my younger siblings, for whom I still felt so responsible although I’d left home at sixteen, I warmed to him. He was doing his best to be a real dad to them, taking them camping and fishing, making them toys, coaching Little League teams, etc. In time, like my younger siblings, I came to call him Dad. When I gave my parents their first grandchildren, he was a doting grandfather, and when he finally died, he died in my sister’s and my arms with all my brothers and the grandchildren around his bed.

At the time I married my late first husband, I already had a baby, whose father had died. My late first husband loved my oldest as much as either of the two children we had together, and that was one of the things I loved about him, that capacity to open his heart to a child who wasn’t his own genetically just as much as to those who were.

Later when I was a single mother of two teenagers in the final years of high school and my youngest was only four years old, I met and married a man who’d never been married or had children. He had enough sense not to try to be a father to my teens, who would have only resented him for it, but he loved and raised my youngest as his own. This gentle, totally urban intellectual did the zoo safari, even though he was embarrassed that everyone else had to help him put up the huge tent he’d rented, and when our little one left the tent open to the depredations of peacocks and collapsed the whole tent on his stepfather when they were packing up to leave, he was so kind that he earned a hand-printed, hand-drawn certificate of membership in “The Loyal Order of Peacock Fathers.” My youngest and my husband to this day have a close, loving father-son relationship, and because he was so patient, he and my older two children have a warm relationship as well.

My sister has two sons. One father is a deadbeat, missing in action because he’s never wanted to be financially responsible for his child after the divorce (just as he hadn’t for all of the other children he had that my sister didn’t know about when they married). The father of the youngest paid support but simply refused to see his own son. For these boys, my current husband has been a father-figure. The younger one clung to my husband and waited eagerly for our visits and his to us. My husband used to shake his head on the way home and wonder at the idiocy of the men who refused to have any contact with their gifted, charming boys. At Christmastime, these two nephews, now grown, delight in finding eccentric books and other gifts that will please my husband, often keeping an eye out for them all year.

I’ve seen firsthand what a difference men like this can and do make in the lives of children whose fathers are gone, sometimes dead, sometimes by choice. So here’s a toast to the men who take on other men’s offspring and give them love and a true father’s care, even when it isn’t easy, even when those other men have left emotional damage behind. To Dad, to Michael, to Ben, and to all of the other men out there like them, you are the true salt of the earth!

(This post is a revisitation of one Linda wrote for this blog several years ago.)

Linda Rodriguez's Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, are her newest books. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery novel featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, will appear in autumn, 2017. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret—and her books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.

Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Visit her at