Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Importance of Format

One of the reasons my literary agent and I sought out Midnight Ink as a publisher was format. I wanted my books to be published in the two formats that Midnight Ink produces simultaneously--trade paperback and ebook. Why? Because readers were asking me for those formats. At the time, my mysteries were only in hardcover and large-print, both expensive formats that were hard to sell in a down economy.

Ideally, I'd love for my books to be available in all formats simultaneously, including hardcover, trade and mass-market paperback, ebook, large-print, audio, etc. so readers could choose the format they prefer. However, because of the costs involved and the low returns-on-investment of producing books in so many formats, most publishers only produce a subset of the possible formats. By restricting your book to only some formats, you're losing potential readers that prefer others. Of course, you want your book to be in the most popular formats. That's why the choice of publisher--and the formats they produce--is so important!

For a fiction author, ebook is becoming a more and more essential format. As discussed in this Publisher's Weekly article, fiction is the lead driver of ebook sales, accounting for 61% of sales and 51% of revenue in 2010. And by genre, Mystery/Detective is tied for fourth place with Romance, behind first place Literary/Classic (because of all the free classic books available), second place Science Fiction and third place Christian Fiction. So, as a mystery author, I am very, very glad that my most recent Deadly Currents mystery is available in ebook format, and even more pleased that they can be read on the entire gamut of devices, from Kindle and Nook to iPads, cell phones, and computers.

My new format goal? Downloadable audio! And yes, my agent knows I'm itching to sign away those rights. :)

As for what I prefer to read, I'm old-fashioned and choose paper over electronic, because I already spend so much time on a computer. And my favorite paper format is trade paperback. What about you? What book format(s) do you prefer?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Destination Unknown

This past week we headed off on a family vacation to Massachusetts, staying in Plymouth within driving distance to Cape Cod as well as Boston. It’s all part of a new tradition we started last year to take the kids to visit a city new to them at the close of each school year. Last year we went to Chicago.

What I didn’t anticipate was the debate over our destination. Now that the kids are old enough to appreciate these trips, they’re also old enough to voice opinions—and expect us to listen. My daughter lobbied heavily for New York City. Obviously, she lost. And she’s not happy about it.

We also like to take a family vacation in February every year, preferably to a much warmer area of the country. When the kids were younger, Disney World or the beaches were always safe destinations. Now, the boys want to fish and the girls, ah, don’t. For this upcoming year, the boys are lobbying for San Diego, and my daughter is lobbying for the Caribbean or Hawaii. I’m lobbying for a shorter, less expensive plane ride, which means Florida. All of the sudden, planning the fun family vacations has become less than, well, fun.

So, I’m curious. Who plans the vacations in your house? Who gets to vote? How do you decide on the final destination? Any place you’re yearning to go?

At least I can still say our family still has a good time on vacation once we get there. And that’s a relief!!

Monday, June 27, 2011

5 questions with Cricket McRae

Cricke McRae

Today Cricket McRae is my 5 questions victim.  Her most recent Home Crafting Mystery, Wined and Died, is already shipping.  If you haven't stopped by your local store, or placed your online order, now is a perfect time!!  Cricket has a great blog.  I am so jealous and inspired when I read what she is cooking, making or growing!

Was there an author or a book that inspired you to write?
 I read so much as a child that I can't name just one. It was more like the accumulation of all the authors and their stories. However once I decided to be a writer, Starting from Scratch by Rita Mae Brown and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott were influential and inspirational.

Your books revolve around home crafting – soap making, canning, cheese making – did you already know how to do those things, or do you learn a new craft for each book?
When I started the first Home Crafting Mystery I wanted to write about something I already knew about rather than doing a lot of research. I had a soap making business for a while, and gave that occupation to my main character, Sophie Mae Reynolds. Besides writing, I also pickle and can, garden, make cheese and butter, spin yarn, knit and crochet. However, I did have to research mead making for my latest, Wined and Died, which I understand is already shipping from Amazon. ; )

Wined and DiedDo you have a favorite movie, book or artist? 
The Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I go back to them over and over, amazed at how they're such accurate tutorials for colonial skills. As for movies, I confess to watching Dirty Dancing and Tremors far too often. 

You have several books in your series – is it getting harder or easier with each book?
Both. It's easier in that the world building is largely done. The primary characters are like family, so keeping them consistent is no problem. But can be challenging to keep things fresh, and since the series is set in a small town I have to avoid the "Jessica Fletcher" syndrome -- there are only so many dead bodies that can keep turning up.  

If you needed to bribe your editor, what you make/buy her? 
I wonder if she likes molasses-oatmeal cookies ...?  (I believe she may...*big grin*)

Click here for a list of all of Cricket's books:

Sunday, June 26, 2011

FITNESS TIPS FOR WRITERS (And, well, anyone for that matter.)

Darrell James

Throughout the eighties, I was a bit of a fitness fanatic. I spent, quite typically, an hour-and-a-half to two-hours a day in the gym, six and sometimes seven days a week. I ran perhaps another twenty miles a week. I thought at one point I might even want to compete in bodybuilding competitions. Not the steroid-enhanced Mr. Olympic competitions but in the more realistic, natural competitions that rewarded symmetry over size and mass.

(A beach in Mexico, age 50.)

I never did compete, but the idea of it (the goal of it) did drive me to an exceptional level of fitness, for which, I believe, I’m still reaping the healthful rewards.

When I began writing seriously in the mid-nineties, the additional requirements of it soon took its toll on my workout routines. I was still working a fulltime job and disciplining myself to 25 hours a week of writing time. There simply weren’t enough hours in the day to do it all. And, so, my daily trips to the gym began to suffer.

Something had to be done. I was slowly giving back all the hours and hard effort that I had put into staying fit and healthy.

An early mentor of mine once said, “Our habits either make us or break us.”

Though I’m not a rigid disciplinarian (I know how to have fun too), I do believe this credo is mostly true. So, with that in mind, I set about developing some new habits that would help me stay in shape.

Here are a few:

1. Spare the handicappers. (At malls, restaurants, theatres, meeting places, I park as far from the entrance as possible and walk.) It’s a habit! (And tends to minimize dings in my car doors.)

2. Make haste. (My wife can tell you I walk fast everywhere I go. Makes window shopping difficult and I sometimes have to slow down to accommodate my wife’s shoes, but…) It’s a habit!

3. Don’t just sit there. (Even when I’m relaxing with a cold beer on the patio, I drop down and do twenty push-ups. Then go back to enjoying the beer and the leisure.) It’s a habit!

4. Charge the stairs. (I never meet a set of steps that I don’t run up or run down. I sometimes take them two at a time.) It’s a habit.

5. Flee the scene. (When I do the grocery shopping I run with the cart back to my vehicle. *Which remember is parked in the farthest space from the door.* Okay, this one does seem to elicit stares, as if I’d just robbed the place. But…) It’s a habit!

6. Make life difficult. (It’s common to lighten the load. But, whatever the job, I seek to make the work just a little more difficult. That means instead of two grocery bags at a time, I make it three. Instead of cradling the liter bottles of Coke, I carry them at arms-length… you get the idea. ) It’s a habit.

These are just a few of the many things I do to create worthwhile physical effort. There are a million other ways.

I am a fulltime writer now, no longer having to go off to a job. Which means I can again schedule workouts in the gym. And I do, two to three times a week. But the habits I’ve built stay with me. After the gym, I stop by the grocery, park in the farthest spot from the door, walk to the entrance, and race my cart all the way to the corner of the lot.

What about you? As a writer or as an avid reader, what things do you do to stay in shape?

Darrell James is the author of Nazareth Child: A Del Shannon Novel, forthcoming from Midnight Ink in September. It is currently available for pre-order on

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Inkspot News - June 25

To see current and upcoming releases from Midnight Ink, and a complete catalog of our mystery books, go HERE. To befriend Midnight Ink on Facebook, go HERE.

Jess Lourey will be signing copies of her Murder-by-Month mysteries on Saturday, June 25, from 10-12 at Bev's Book Nook in Perham, MN, and from 1-2 at Seip's Drug in Battle Lake, MN, the place where it all began! If you're in the area, please stop by to help her celebrate the end of her 8-week book tour promoting October Fest, the sixth in the series. Also, if you haven't yet had a chance, download a free copy of June Bug for either your Kindle or your Nook during the month of June. Happy summer!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Creating Vivid Settings in Fiction, by Jess Lourey

This past weekend, I attended the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books, a two-day (free!) event featuring authors, cooks, readers, critical thinkers, and general lovers of the arts. Besides learning how to make a great Thai curry, I also heard William Kent Krueger deliver one of the most inspiring and humbling keynote speeches I've ever heard.

I also had the great honor to teach the "After the Idea" class for MWA-U. MWA-U is a low-cost, all-day, college-level, fiction-writing seminar sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America. It consists of six classes, each taught by a different instructor and each building on the course before it. My presentation explained in seven manageable steps how to turn your idea into a full manuscript, Hallie Ephron then brilliantly outlined the secrets of suspenseful plotting within that manuscript, and so on.

John Galligan, a Wisconsin creative writing professor, was a new instructor in the line-up. He taught the "Setting and Description" class, and it's his method for crafting vivid details that I'd like to share with you now. According to John, effective detail explains time, place, character, and theme. This isn't always possible, of course, but it's what writers should aim for.

Here's an example. When describing where she grew up using as few words as possible, Hallie said, "before it was 90210." Does that evoke time? Absolutely. Place? Of course. Character? Yes--you have a sense that the speaker has a sense of ownership with the pre-zip code Beverly Hills, which tells you a lot about the person, which can lead naturally into the theme or mood of the book, depending on the context.

Contrast that neat, sweet package with the "cataloguing" that can be found in a lot of fiction nowadays (and I've been guilty of this myself):

I grew up in southern California, a hot, windswept land of palm trees, ocean, and blonde hair. You have to know somebody to be somebody here, and I remember when I first arrived, I tried to look the part. I dyed my hair platinum, wore blue contact lenses, and affected a Valley Girl accent. If you're still reading, you've got a lot more patience than I do. It was here that I made my fortune and left, well before Yankees knew where Beverly Hills was.

Not terrible, but not memorable, either.

So that's my lesson for today: when you write, use detail mindfully, and never information dump. Be concrete, and try to hit all four goals (time, place, character, mood/theme) with a single detail at least once a chapter.

Your assignment: either leave a writing tip in trade for this one, or describe where you grew up in ten words or less, using only concrete detail. Cheers!

Romance in Mysteries

I have to give Deb Baker/Hannah Reed for giving me the idea for this blog.  Click here to read her blog post on the Cozy Chicks Blog.

It seems to me that the lines between the mystery genre and romanace are becoming less and less distinguishable.  A cozy written now versus one written ten years ago is more likely to have on the page romance.  Not graphic sex scenes by any means, but there has been a trend of more action, as well as more bad language and slightly more violence.  In my opinion, cozies used to be very close to traditional mysteries and now they are much closer to soft-boiled.  Is this a bad change?  Not at all.  It's simply the evolution of the genre.  (Romantic suspense is an entirely different sub-genre.)

Cozies and soft-boiled mysteries are very character driven.  Or you could call them relational driven - in that its the relationships that are most important (yes there needs to be a good, plausable plot, but come on folks, let's be honest - is there really a plot in the Stephanie Plum books?)  So how much relationship do we need to see?  Does it make a book less believable if we don't see some action on the page?

So where does the line get drawn now?  Authors are probably in the best position to answer that question, after all, authors are receiving reader feedback regularly.  So authors - what are your thoughts on romance in the cozy or soft-boiled sub-genres?  Are readers asking for more romance or telling you that you have gone too far?

Readers, of course I want to hear your opinions as well!!  What do you want to see? And what about swearing and violence?  Is a character believable if she says "darn" after she has accidentally backs into the tall, dark and handsome police chief's car?  :)

Are Writers Hoarders?

Cricket McRaeStuff3

Have you ever seen the A&E television series Hoarders? I’ve seen it only twice, but both times it was downright horrific to see how much stuff the subjects had. Some was sentimental stuff, and some was, to my eye, just stuff. But not to theirs.

Also called disposophobia, hoarding is characterized by the excessive acquisition of particular items and then not using them – or ever getting rid of them. It doesn’t matter if the things have no value or even if they’re dangerous – like, say, chicken carcasses – or have no explainable sentimentality.

Hoarding may be a variation of obsessive-compulsive disorder, though professional opinions are mixed. In the two episodes I witnessed, there was an undercurrent of something more like sadness, of trying to reclaim or keep something gone forever, an avoidance of inevitable change.

It’s serious business, and I don’t want to make light of it, but it occurred to me that, in a way, I’m a hoarder.

Not in most ways, or even expectable ways. I’m always trying to get rid of clutter – with varied success, granted, but I’m trying. Though I spin and knit, my “stash” is woeful and pathetic compared to other fiber artists, taking up one five-foot cabinet in the basement. Only a paltry dozen cookbooks march along the kitchen shelf, And as an avid gardener, I don’t subscribe to any gardening magazines, buy whippy new tools, and on trips to the nursery tend to buy only what I can plant the same day.

In short, I’m a failure as a hoarder – until it comes to writing.

I still have everything I’ve ever written. Everything. Crappy high school poetry, the beginnings of manuscripts, half-finished love letters, a teetering stack of handwritten notebooks from a decade of daily morning pages. Successive iterations of novels, essays for classes, workshop exercises, and classmate comments on workshop exercises.

There are snippets of dialog, funky names, particular phrases or ways of saying something that struck me as unique but currently unusable. These might come in handy some day. And, in fact, some have. 

Then there are are the things I’ve only thought about:  ideas scratched on the back of printed mapquest directions that crop up in the car, receipts and unopened junk mail. Scribbled pages of “thoughts,” “essay possibilities” and “what ifs."

Know why they never made it further than a first thought? They’re silly, vapid, unformed, or even worse, dull.

Except for the unformed – which may turn out to be silly, vapid or dull upon becoming fully formed – they should all go away. AWAY. They aren’t worth keeping.

But I do keep them. What if they have some unrealized value? Can I remember what sparked that thought? What if I could use a variation of this? So back it goes, into the file cabinet or box or notebook or computer backup. Yet I’d be mortified if a bus mowed me down, and someone wandered through my writing files and saw what I’d saved.

Do you hoard ideas? Old writing? Other things?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Odds and Ends :)

Here is an interesting thing I found today while poking around the Publisher Weekly website...  An interactive bookstore map!  This is genius!  Click here to go to the map.  It separates stores by grouping - Borders, Barnes and Noble, Independents...  Very cool.

Are you an author and planning on going to Bouchercon?  To be considered for a panel, you have to be registered by TODAY, June 22nd.  Click here for more info.  And for fans... want to see what authors are already registered...  click here.

The guests of honor:

International: Colin Cotterill & Val McDermid
Life Time Achievement: Sara Paretsky
Fan Guests of Honor: Kate Stine and Brian Skupin
Special guests (local living legends): Robert Randisi and John Lutz
all brought together by...
Toastmaster: Ridley Pearson

This is going to be a fantastic convention.  I will be there as well as a whole bunch of Midnight Ink authors.  Hope to see some of you there as well.

In today's Shelf Awareness, Beth Groundwater was featured in the Image of the Day:

Last weekend author Beth Groundwater was the honored guest at the FIBArk (First in Boating on the Arkansas) whitewater festival in Salida, Colo., "America's oldest and boldest whitewater festival." Groundwater's latest mystery, Deadly Currents (Midnight Ink), stars whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner and features Salida and the FIBArk event. Here she waves to parade onlookers before signing books at the Book Haven bookstore booth.
Photo: Neil Groundwater

Congrats Beth!!  What amazing coverage for you and Deadly Currents!!


by Kathleen Ernst

For the past several years my husband Scott and I have served as volunteer docents at a lighthouse. We spend nine days in late May-early June living in Pottawatomie lighthouse, which is in Rock Island State Park, WI.

lighthouse NW view

We give tours to guests from ten to four each day, and do some light housekeeping. The park campground is over a mile away, and there are no vehicles or roads on the island, so our afternoons and evenings are pretty peaceful.

lighthouse twilight 09

Pottawatomie is the oldest light station in Wisconsin. It was established in 1836, although this gorgeous structure wasn’t built until 1858. Keepers lived at the station until 1946, when the light was automated. (For more photos and details, check out Should It Stay, Or Go? and Beyond Death’s Door on my personal blog.)

lighthouse scott reading

Scott and I refer to the experience as camping indoors. The lighthouse has no cell reception, electricity or running water. The parlor has a stove, but the rest of the building is unheated.

lighthouse KAE writing

I love history, and I love nature, so the gig is ideal. More than that, though, my time there is good for me as a writer. Like everyone else, my days are usually crammed too full. My days on Rock Island give me time to read, to scribble in my notebook, to think. No email, no FB, no phones. I don’t realize how fragmented my brain gets until I have a chance to truly slow down. I come home with pages and pages of notes and ideas.

lighthouse window

How about you? Do you have a favorite spot to recharge?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

“But” is a Four-Letter Word

“It shows promise, but…”
“I liked it, but…”
“I had a good time, but…”
“You’re very talented, but…”

Admit it. You laughed at the title of this post till you read those examples. I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of “but”s, and none of them ever followed this pattern:

“We checked our records, but we were wrong. Your lottery ticket is the prizewinner after all.”

When Force of Habit was on sub to editors, I was on the receiving end of many “but”s. They were complimentary. They were polite. They were always professional. And they were the worst messages I ever read.

I’ve heard a lot of “but”s in my life. The guy who dumped me on my college graduation night (“I used to love you, but…”). The stage roles I didn’t land (“Your audition was very good, but…”). I often walked away from them feeling like I'd been thrown in the boxing ring with Muhammad Ali.

To be fair, while there were a lot of theater “but”s, there were also many “you got the part”s to compensate for them. And there was a wonderful contract from Midnight Ink that more than compensated for the on-sub "but"s.

My “but” compensation strategy involved chocolate and therapeutic housecleaning. One very useful takeaway from my convent years was learning to take out anger and frustration on dirty floors or walls or anything that required long, hard scrubbing.

What’s your “but” compensation strategy? I’m always on the lookout for new techniques. Because right now I’m starting to think about giving the cats a bath when the next “but” arrives--because there's always a next "but". Save me from certain injury, please!

P.S. This will be my last Inkspot post for a few months. I need to focus on book writing. I'll still be hanging around, though!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Stranger than fiction

So this month I've been crazy busy with signings, conference appearances, and travel. In fact im writing this post in a hotel room on an ipad... And i have no idea how to do the picture thing to add to the post on this gadget, so you will all have to seriously use your imaginations.

This promotional stuff isn't you mentioned, Jenna. And Lois, as you so humorously shared with us, truth is ALWAYS stranger than fiction. So last weekend I was in Florida at Disney, in a far too expensive resort hotel attending a small lesbian writing conference. We have about 150 people attend every year, so we were definitely teeny fish in a very large koi pond.

So the first thing I notice is that this humongous hotel has a great number of conference rooms and the hotel was absolutely maximizing the use of their conference space. Along with us, we crossed paths with a conference of pregnant women. I'm not sure what they were talking about, maybe the best breathing techniques or treatments for chafed baby bottoms. Then as we went down a set of escalators, a new conference was setting up. Sure enough, that sign DID read Annual Meeting of Funeral Directors. This came complete with a room specially equipped to handle vendor displays of the latest in coffins and hearses. Nothing like walking by the room and seeing caskets propped open, just waiting to be filled. Of course, morbid curiosity overcame me and a couple friends one evening when we were coming in from a late supper. No one was around, and the doors to the vendors room of death were closed. Being, shall we say, intrepidly inquisitive, I tried the doors. To my surprise, they popped right open. One of the gals I was skulking around with whipped out her camera and started taking pictures. Just as the flashes began going off, this guy, all dressed like The Men In Black, complete with FBI earpiece, bursts from a door not far away and comes charging right for us. All we could make out before we ran for our very lives was him yelling into his lapel mike, "C3 to base, we have a breach." Needless to say, we busted a move and got our fannies out of there.

The next day, the Boy Scouts moved in on one side of our vendor area. A meeting a physicians filled the space on our other side. Too bad they weren't around a couple of days later when a few of our members were stricken with food poisoning.

The day before we were finished, the hotel came and rudely kicked us out of our vendor area. The same vendor area we were contracted to have throughout the following day. After a heated verbal exchange between the hotel and our con director, the conference bookstore and seven other vendors were kicked to the curb and forced to re-set up in a room that was even further away from the breakout rooms. This was done so a huge wedding could move in where we had been. Then a few drunk attendees of said wedding threatened to come and teach us a lesson. After some very non-veiled threats by one of our board members to the wedding planner, everything remained calm, and no one wound up in any of the display coffins.

So, in the space of four days, I think I have witnessed enough unbelievable, yet true fodder for three or four new books! Reality is absolutely way way way more crazy than fiction ever could be!!!!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Inkspot News - June 18

Beth Groundwater will be honored and feted at the FIBArk (First in Boating on the Arkansas river) whitewater festival in Salida, Colorado this weekend. On Saturday, June 18th, she will be the VIP in the Parade from 10:00 AM - Noon. On both Friday and Saturday afternoons, June 17th & 18th, from 1:00 - 5:00 PM, she will be signing copies of her Deadly Currents mystery, set in Salida during FIBArk, on the back deck of the Boathouse Cantina at The Book Haven bookstore's table. She'll also be participating in other festival events through Sunday as she is able.

One event this week for Robin Allen to promote If You Can't Stand the Heat, the first book in the clean, humorous Poppy Markham: Culinary Cop mystery series.
June 25th Saturday 3:00 PM
Reading & Signing
The Twig Book Shop
200 E. Grayson Street, Suite 124
San Antonio, TX 78215

Did you know The San Jose Mercury News is the third largest circulating metropolitan daily in the US (after The NY Times and LA Times)? Anyway, the Merc is covering Inkster Keith Raffel's foray into ebooks. Click here to read.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


In my youth I engaged in behavior that I now wonder, what in the world was I thinking? Hitchhiking and hopping a ride with a semi trucker? Someone upstairs was obviously watching out for me that day. Likewise the night I fell asleep on the last bus out of the Port Authority in NY and woke up miles from home at 2 a.m. My only option was walking those miles alone in the dark. And then there was the time I allowed a stranger in Rome to buy me dinner. Na├»ve me didn’t realize he expected payment -- and not in liras!

I’m firmly convinced that the common sense part of our brains doesn’t fully develop until well past our college years and often not until we become parents ourselves.

My youth is well behind me, though. I now think before I act. Most of the time. So it came as quite a shock to me a couple of weeks ago when I discovered that I’m responsible for a new crime wave.

As an author, I have Google Alerts set up for both my name and the titles of my books. These alerts are in quotes so that I don’t receive emails from Google for everything about every Lois or every Winston
or every assault in cyberspace. But Google isn't infallible, and the other day I was sent an alert that contained the words “assault” and “glue gun.”

For those of you who don’t know, I’m the author of
Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun, a humorous amateur sleuth mystery. Although I don’t advocate assaults of any kind, in my book a glue gun plays a role in the demise of the dead body my protagonist discovers. And much to her chagrin, it’s her glue gun. Guess who becomes the prime suspect?

I have to wonder if my book is giving people ideas. Bad ideas. Up in St. John’s, Canada the police are expected to file charges against one man for assaulting another man with -- are you ready for this? A GLUE GUN!

You can read the actual news article here.

Our neighbors to the north think this is hilarious, sending CBC News
 emails containing such gems as:

“Stick em up!”

“It could have turned into a sticky situation.”
“Of course if this glue gun had been properly registered, then this never would have happened.”
“Obviously a case of male bonding!”
“Scrap-book him, Danno.”
As for me, I’m just hoping The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary doesn’t think I had anything to do with inciting this particular incident or giving other Canadians ideas. If they do, I’m hoping we don’t have an extradition treaty with Canada. Last winter was cold and snowy enough in New Jersey. Doing time in Canada is not an appealing thought.
LoisWinston is keeping a low profile and staying away from our northern border while she finishes up the third book in her Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. The first book, Assault With A Deadly Glue Gun, was a January 2011 release and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Death by Killer Mop Doll will be a January 2012 release. Visit Lois at her website and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wild Kingdom

By Deborah Sharp

I awoke to ducks in my swimming pool again today. Before you get the idea I'm going all Tony Soprano on you, let me make it clear: I don't love these ducks. The ducks aren't linked in my subconscious to a mother who withheld affection, who hatched a plan to have me whacked, and who I subsequently tried to smother with a pillow.

No, unlike the TV mob boss, I won't be plunged into anxiety and depression when my ducks leave. In fact, I pretty much hate these ducks, and wish every day they'd disappear. My only anxiety will be over how much extra the pool guy charges for additional chlorine and dealing with copious amounts of duck doody. PS, they're not the sweet-looking ducks Tony communed with, either. They're Muscovy ducks -- waddling, hissing devils so ugly I can't bear to insert a picture here. Go ahead, Google them, and you'll see what I mean.

Note to Animal Lovers: Yes, I know all God's creatures are beautiful. But the Muscovy must have been off pooping in a pool when the Lord was passing out adorable animal qualities.

Note to Ducks: Hello? I know you're not great fliers, but did you really miss that big wide river, just a few yards from the pool?

The ducks aren't the least of it. Maybe it's Florida, but some days I feel like an unwanted visitor in the wild kingdom. I'm all for Nature, until it tries to take over.

I exit the garage side door, and a Mockingbird dive bombs my head, imagining (wrongly) in its little bird-brain I want to steal the eggs from its nest in the pink trumpet vine. I walk out to do yoga in my backyard on Fort Lauderdale's New River, and the dock looks like a bombing range of iguana crap. I pick up the broom to sweep it away, and a chameleon hiding on the brown handle hops off and lands in my hair. On the seawall, I see leftovers from a Night-Heron's after-dark buffet. He's picked a land crab clean, extracting the meat from the legs and claws more diligently than a diner at Red Lobster. All that's left is an empty carapace and a couple of eye stalks.

With all the crab holes in the lawn near the seawall, I picture hundreds of the creatures madly burrowing until they undermine our house and it collapses into the water. More room for the crabs! Beneath my bare feet, I imagine a vast subterranean complex of crustaceans, the land crab version of Lord of the Rings.

Old-timers in Florida (like my dad's family) used to eat land crabs; some of the more recent immigrant populations still do. But the crabs have to be corralled and fed corn meal and leafy vegetables for a week or so, or their meat tastes nasty. Not only is it too much trouble; I kind of consider them neighbors these days. Albeit neighbors who wave big fighting pincers when you come too close:

It's funny that the main character in my Mace Bauer Mysteries has a sideline trapping nuisance critters for newcomers to Florida. I'm no newcomer. As a native, I long ago learned to embrace a live-and-let-live policy toward most of the winged, furred, and feathered creatures that share my space. Spiders, for example, live happily inside my home ... mainly because the really big ones will kick ass on the cockroaches (More genteel Floridians call those ''Palmetto Bugs.'' Take my word for it: They're cockroaches.)

But these Muscovy ducks are getting on my last nerve. If Mace really existed, I'd be tempted to hire her to wrangle the foul waterfowl out of my swimming pool and into a more hospitable spot. Mace has wrestled a gator from a golf course pond, so the ducks should be easy. Alas, she's a figment of my imagination. So I'll keep chasing the ducks into the river, yelling at them and shaking my broom. I just have to watch out for falling lizards, dodge the iguana poo on the dock, and be careful I don't tumble down a crab hole.

How about you? Any encounters with nuisance critters? How do you cope?

5 questions with Joanna Campbell Slan

Today's Midnight Ink author subject to my 5 questions is Joanna Campbell Slan.  I have had the pleasure of hanging out with Joanna at several conventions and enjoy our conversations about the mystery world, the current market, trends, etc.  If you haven't yet entered the world of Kiki Lowenstein, do yourself a favor and pick up Joanna's books asap!

Was there an author or a book that inspired you to write? 

There were several. Jane Eyre saved my life. My father was a violent alcoholic, and my mother was an enabler. Jane Eyre encouraged me to believe that I could escape that environment by getting a good education. So I did. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith showed me that I was not responsible for my father’s disease, as he and my mother would have me think. These books taught me that reading offered both an escape and a game plan. Recognizing their powerful influence on my life spurred me to want to become an author.

Your books involve scrapbooking, but also with strong social themes.  Was it a conscious decision to go in that direction?

Yes. I wanted my work to matter. I aim to offer my readers entertainment, so they can forget their own troubles, and edification, so they can change their lives. Including scrapbooking was a marketing decision. I am a scrapbooker. I do enjoy it, but my books have strong appeal to those who have no interest in gluing photos onto pages. I don’t write books about scrapbooking. (Not any more. I have written seven scrapbooking technique books.) I write books about a character who happens to like to scrapbook. There’s a big difference.

Do you have a favorite movie, book or artist?

Since I’ve answered the portion about books, let me tackle movies: Michael with John Travolta; Bell, Book and Candle with Kim Novak, Jimmy Stewart and Jack Lemmon; The Ghost and Mrs. Muir with Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison; Cross Creek with Mary Steenburgen, Rip Torn, and Peter Coyote; and Starman with Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen. Oh, and of course, Gone with the Wind. I think you’ll quickly spot the common themes in them. All feature outsiders, who don’t fit in but who manage to make their way in this world.

Do you have a daily writing routine?  Is it harder now that you are juggling two series?

I write every day for as long as I can. (I get stopped by aching wrists and back and so on.) I start my day by taking care of my dogs, checking my email, and so on. I try to work in an exercise class, so I can stave off the dreaded “writers’ butt.” Actually, with two series it’s both harder and easier. Harder because there’s more to juggle. Easier because I tend to feel sad when I finish I book and don’t have another assignment. I’m one of the few authors I know who actually loves the process of writing. Everyone enjoys “having written,” but I love the act and process of writing.

If you needed to bribe your editor, what you make/buy her? 

I would make her a scrapbook so she could savor her memories of her three growing boys. As the mother of a guy who’s now a senior at University of Miami, I would remind her that they really do grow fast—although at some stages, time really grinds along slowly. And as my old friend Liz Curtis Higgs once said, “You’re the only person who has the title of ‘Mom’ to them.”

Paper, Scissors, Death  Cut, Crop & Die  Photo, Snap, Shot  Make, Take, Murder 

Books 1 - 4

Thanks Joanna!!  I appreciate you playing along with me today!


DSCF1557Back in April, I blogged about trying to be entertaining. I also mentioned the little stand-up routine I’d developed in conjunction with my KILLER ROUTINE promotional appearances. I’m here today to report on what transpired.

It wasn’t always pretty.

Here’s a dissection of my presentation.

I began with a few warm-up witticisms. “How many people have come to one of my events before?” “How many people have heard me speak more than once?” “How many people are just here for the cake?”

Then I talked a little bit about my books, and why I decided to write a series featuring a stand-up comic. To explore that fine line between comedy and tragedy. To have a suspenseful mystery with an “excuse” to include some humor. So I could watch Comedy Central and count it as research.

While the books in the Last Laff series are not funny-funny, there are spots where characters perform stand-up routines. I went on to explain the difficulty I found in writing a routine to be read and not performed. Without the benefit of the comic’s timing, delivery style, and attitude, the routine is apt to come off pretty flat on paper. To illustrate this point, I read a short bit I’d transcribed from a Brand-Name Comedian. Predictably (and with my delivery style), it indeed fell flat.

I described what I did to circumvent this. I chose a secondary character and had him perform at an open-mic night, where the comedy standards are, well, practically non-existent. I went on to explain how an open-mic night works and then I suggested we simulate one. Right there on the spot.

Who wants to go first?

That’s when I shucked my writer persona and donned my stand-up identity.

After writing a few crime fiction manuscripts, I realized I needed to do some research to learn more about crime. So I knocked over a 7-Eleven.

I discovered that my “comedy” went over better when there were more people in the audience, and that I fed off their energy.

All writers I know eagerly anticipate their reviews, and I’ve been fortunate to get some good ones, for both books. But my favorite review is about DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, and it’s from my son: “No offense, Dad, but that book is way too good to have been written by you.”

I’ve always held an admiration for stand-up comics. Now, it’s doubled. That’s hard work, getting people to laugh. Hard, hard work.

If you’re a writer, you will encounter rejection. A lot of rejection. That’s why you need a really thick skin. And I’m used to rejection, I really am. But lately, it seems like things have been getting worse:

Prince Makeenu of the Royal Family of Nigeria keeps refusing my checks.

Harry and David wouldn’t let me join their Fruit-of-the-Month Club.

Rejection just follows me around. The Salvation Army won’t take any of my old clothes. What’s worse, they won’t take any of my new clothes, either!

So far, I’d have to judge my experiment as a success. Many attendees made a point of coming up and telling me how much they enjoyed the presentation. They thought it was entertaining, even when my jokes bombed.

Now, I did notice a few uneasy looks from the audience, and I imagined them trying to extrapolate my writing ability from how I performed my comedy shtick. So to put people at ease, I made sure to sign books with the inscription: Don’t worry, my writing is better than my stand-up.

I hope they bought it!


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

MWA-University coming to a town near you!!

When I first heard about MWA-University, I thought wow, that is cool.  But I bet it's expensive.  And I bet you have to fly somewhere, get a hotel room...  But wait...  that is not true?  It's affordable...  and all over the country...  Yep, according to Jess Lourey, who serves on the Board of Directors for the Mystery Writers of America.  Read on:

You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a writing class: "Write Your Novel in 30 Days!"  "Go from Poor to Published in Seven Steps!" "Sell your Manuscript!" Some of these classes are great, many are not. When I was placed on the Education Committee of the national board of the Mystery Writers of America, our goal was to formulate an all-day creative writing seminar that was consistently excellent. The project was guided by the vision of MWA EVP Larry Light and Edgar-nominated author Reed Farrell Coleman. The guidelines were simple:
  • The classes must focus solely on the craft of writing
  • The classes should take the student from the initial stages (I've got a great idea for a novel!) to the end, and beyond (what does a writer's life look like?)
  • The classes will be built around industry-relevant instruction, not peer critique
  • The instructors must know how to teach as well as how to write
  • The cost must be accessible to all
And so, MWA-University was born. As a committee, we brainstormed what areas to cover, how to get the best teachers, and in which parts of the country to pilot MWA-U. The final product is a one-day seminar consisting of six classes, taught by six different specialists in each area. The classes are:
  • After the idea
  • Dramatic structure and plot
  • Setting and description
  • Character
  • Editing
  • The writing life
Our pilot took place in Bethesda, MD, last October and was a smashing success. Over 100 students registered, and they all left with the buzz of excitement that accompanies an artist with a good idea and the skills to make it happen. Our next session will take place this coming Friday at the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books ( Basically, we go where we're needed, at the request of MWA chapter presidents.

So, how much would you pay for six hours of college-level writing instruction taught by tenured professors, Emmy-winning newscasters, and national book reviewers, every one of 'em also a published author? Fifty dollars sound good? Thought so. Hope to see you at one of the seminars:

Thanks to Jess for the write up!  Now people, go and learn.  Write awesome books!!  Then send them to me.  :)

Shameless Shilling for Dummies

WARNING: There will be shameless self-promotion in this blog. You are warned.

In my twenty-eight years on this planet I have worn many hats. Jobs I held ranged from radio DJ, bookseller, lab assistant, crisis hotline volunteer, government investigator, and now author. The one thing I have never had to do is promote myself in any way. I'm told I'm a people person, because I'm just so darn nice, but in reality I'm an introvert who can act like an extrovert for short periods of time. I'm a writer, I spend most of my day alone in a room inside my head and like it that way. So now that I have to promote not only myself but my book, I have begun to panic.

In the olden days of yore the publisher took care of it all, both time-wise and monetarily. They had a stable of marketing and PR people reaching out to the world. They set up and sponsored public appearances--and still do if your last name is Patterson or Evanovitch--took out ads, and even got you on radio or TV back when writers were consider cool like Truman Capote. Not so much anymore. If you're lucky, as I am at Midnight Ink (love you Steven and Courtney), they send out galleys to reviewers and fly you to BEA to sign said galley. Now, it's all on the writer. That advance check you got and were dancing around with glee as you held it in your hands like it was a Wonka Golden Ticket? Gone in 60 seconds when it's time to promote. Gas money, hotels, flights, bookmarks, business cards, printing hand-outs, stamps, the list is endless on what is needed to shill. And expensive. Your dream of being flown around the world to speak about your work of art? Just that, a dream. You're lucky if your library will allow you to speak. And even then it is a major hastle, not to mention time consuming. You have to find the person in charge of programs, play phone tag with them, come up with an interesting talk with a PowerPoint presentation, get your bookmarks and hand-outs made, research who to contact at the local paper and pray they will print something about your event, and figure out how the heck you'll sell the book there without a credit card machine. It takes forever and then there's no guarantee anyone will show up, let alone buy your book.

Tired yet? It gets worse. Say you're a penny pincher like me. If I have to pay for anything but gas, i.e.-hotel, rental car, I'm not going unless I'm almost guaranteed to get a reward from my investment. (Or I get to speak on a panel at ComicCon. A girl can dream, can't she?) So I do a few talks or signings at my local libraries and book stores. What about the rest of the country? How will they know how fabulous my book is and give me money? The wonderful, funderful internet. This blog is a prime example. It has over two hundred followers (and I love everyone of you, buy Mind Over Monsters in October!) who now all know my name. Not bad for only having to post a blog once every three weeks. The catch is that I have to do this type of thing a lot.

And I mean, a lot.

Not only on my private blog, Tales from the Darkside at, but I have to post comments on other people's blogs, join forum discussions, Tweet, re-Tweet, follow people who you hope will follow you, Facebook updates, have a presence on Goodreads, solicit book bloggers, agree to review books so they'll review mine, beg said bloggers to interview you, write to everyone I ever met and tell them about my book and ask they pass this information along like a chain letter, all while trying to write frigging books! And I had to learn how to do all this by myself!

I've just scratched the surface of what needs to be done, (like designing bookmarks. I have to design a bookmark?!?) and even if you do it all there is no way to guarantee the book will sell. I'm learning as I go and have miles and miles to go before I sleep. It helps that I have people I can reach out to--Lois and Alan I'm talking about you, kisses!-- should I hit a wall or have a question. Because that was the most important thing I've learned so far. Writers are so giving and helpful to other writers. Though we may be in our rooms alone with our imaginary friends, if needed we come to the aid of those who are floundering in promotional hell. Because they've all been there. Like I will be whenever I'm needed. I am not alone, and for whatever reason that makes me feel better.

I have to go now. Gotta set up a giveaway at Goodreads, update my website, make hand-outs for an Anime convention, Tweet, solicit more book bloggers, and post something witty and urbane in the Urban Fantasy Amazon forum. A shameless shiller's work is never done.

I will just leave you with...Mind Over Monsters, out 10/11 wherever books are sold. Pre-order at today!

(Had to get one more in. I'm shameless that way :P)

Monday, June 13, 2011

What is up with Blogger?

Hey folks - I am getting irratated because I can't post comments on my own stinkin blog...  we are trying to diagnose the problem... 

Be back soon -

A gud buk....a soff cowch... teh sun...Zzzzzzzzz

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Reporting in from E-book Land

Keith here

John Wanamaker, the founder of the eponymous Philadelphia department store, was reputed to have said: "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half."

I'm trying lots of stuff to publicize my ebook original and just hoping half will work. I said I’d keep you up-to-date on my adventures in the terra incognita that is ebook land and so here goes.

As soon as Drop By Drop became available on Amazon and Smashwords, I emailed just about everyone on my contact list to let them know the news. That seemed to drive a spike in sales. I later put the ebook up on, but there hasn’t been much uptake there (yet?).

Through PRWeb, I circulated a press release. It was a reasonable $40 after using a coupon. Even at that bargain price, I didn’t detect any signs it did much. It sure as heck didn’t generate any press inquiries.

I’ve blogged here and at my own blog. Over at The Rap Sheet, I recounted “The Story Behind The Story" of Drop by Drop. Here's a sample.

"The Intelligence Committee had just been made permanent based on the recommendation of the Church Committee, which had deemed the CIA a 'rogue elephant.' I started as the junior of three lawyers on the committee staff. Before the end of my first year, the other two had left. I was 27 years old and suddenly the senior attorney on the committee overseeing the government’s secret intelligence activities. Holy shit!"

The Rap Sheet is a pretty popular ezine (with good reason), and my column was picked up by dozens of other sites. A blog called Indie Bee Covers managed to make me confess that if I could be any fictional character, I'd be Frank Hardy, Fenton's son and Joe's big brother.

Garnering reviews from the regular suspects is tough. Daily newspapers have been shedding book reviewers for years. I’m a subscriber to the mags Mystery Scene and Crimespree. I emailed the editors, but they’re not reviewing ebook originals – yet. I sent out a tweet asking if any online reviewers wanted a copy of the ebook. My tweet was re-tweeted and a couple of terrific reviews resulted. Therese Poletti, the high tech columnist for Dow Jones’s Marketwatch, interviewed me for her piece called "E-books causing seismic shift in publishing." About publishing Drop By Drop as an ebook original, she quotes me saying, "It’s both exciting and scary. I am a tech guy. I like trying new stuff and figuring this out." (No news if you've been reading my pieces here.) A local newspaper and TV show will have me discussing how the ebook revolution is affecting a working writer. We should see what they come up with soon.

Brick-and-mortar bookstores like Kepler’s, M Is for Mystery, and Books Inc, were huge supporters of my first two books, but what can they do with an ebook? A signing? There’s nothing to inscribe. And they don’t have ebooks sitting on the shelves. (I am going to be on a panel at Books Inc in Berkeley next Monday, but they’ll be stocking Dot Dead and Smasher for me to sign.) The Palo Alto Library sent me an email asking if I would come by for a talk on Drop By Drop, but they need to have copies to loan out. Ebook format is okay with them, but the only way they get ebooks to loan is through a service such as Overdrive. I did fill out an online form for Overdrive, but since they seem focused on dealing with publishers than authors, I am not optimistic.

I’m doing advertising on Facebook and Goodreads, but not getting too many clicks on them. (That's one of the three ads on Goodreads above.) Since I pay only for the click-throughs, this is an experiment that isn’t costing much. I have high hopes for the advertising I have planned on an email newsletter that goes out to Kindle readers, but that won’t happen till October. No space until then.

I should have a book trailer soon and will look forward to pasting that on my website and everywhere else I can think of.

Andy Gross, the thriller writer (and terrific guy) whose books show up on The New York Times bestseller list every year, sent me a blurb: “No one puts the crosshairs on Washington, terrorism, and intrigue better than Keith Raffel. Do yourself a favor and read Drop By Drop!” I immediately put it up on my website and in the book descriptions on Amazon and Goodreads. (Andy's Kirkus-starred Eyes Wide Open is out July 12.) Hank Phillippi Ryan, who has won 26 Emmys as one of the country's top investigative reporters on Boston's WHDH-TV, has also managed to pick up a triple crown of crime fiction awards -- Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity. Hank is a class act and whip smart, but must have had a rare lapse of judgment last night when she emailed me that Drop By Drop is "intriguing, intense, and with such an insider's knowledge of the war on terror that I'm surprised it's not classified. Sinister, scary, and heart-stoppingly realistic--this is a gem of a thriller!" Can't wait to use that, too!

It’s terrific that Jess, Gin, Karen, and Joanna's ebooks published by Midnight Ink are doing so well at prices under $3. I just wonder what MI is doing to publicize them. With a couple of the books in the top 100, they are doing something right!

When you get a paper-and-ink book out, you have a pretty limited time to make a splash. After a few months, bookstores send their stock back to the publisher. With an ebook, things can take time to ripen. It’s against my nature to be patient, but I do believe more reviews from readers will come and word-of-mouth will build. Or at least I hope so!

As always, I’m open to comments and words of advice. Please send them along!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Inkspot News - June 11

Beth Groundwater will be honored and feted at the FIBArk (First in Boating on the Arkansas river) whitewater festival in Salida, Colorado next weekend. On Friday, June 17th, she will be interviewed at noon on KSVB radio, the River Rat. On Saturday, June 18th, she will be the VIP in the Parade from 10:00 AM - Noon. On both Friday and Saturday afternoons, June 17th & 18th, from 1:00 - 5:00 PM, she will be signing copies of her Deadly Currents mystery, set in Salida during FIBArk, on the back deck of the Boathouse Cantina at The Book Haven bookstore's table. She'll participate in other festival events as she is able.

Beth Groundwater also will be signing copies of her Deadly Currents mystery Thursday, June 16th, from 5:00 to 8:00 PM at the Covered Treasures Bookstore, 105 Second Street, Monument, Colorado. She will be an guest interviewee on Gelati's Scoop GZONE blogtalk radio show at 3:00 PM, Wednesday, June 15th.

Keith Raffel will be at Books Inc in Berkeley, CA on Monday, June 20 at 7PM for a panel discussion with fellow crime fiction novelists David del Bourgo and Seth Harwood.

Special prices on ebooks right now: June Bug by Jess Lourey is free. Death of a Cozy Writer by G. M. Malliet and Murder on the Rocks by Karen MacInerney are $1.99 each. And Paper, Scissors, Death by Joanna Campbell Slan is only 99 cents. Keith Raffel's Smasher: A Silicon Valley Thriller is 99 cents, too; his latest Drop By Drop is $2.99.