Saturday, December 18, 2010

Interview of Marilyn Levinson!

This article appeared in the Long Island Romance Writers' newsletter recently and we're proud to present it here. It features Donna Coe-Vellerman interviewing our own Marilyn.

As you'll read below, Marilyn has been busy founding a new Sisters in Crime chapter!


Featuring Marilyn Levinson

By Donna Coe-Velleman

Donna Coe-Velleman - You wrote stories while in high school until an English teacher discouraged you. When you were pregnant with your second child you decided to take a writing course which you weren’t happy with. How did you go from that point to having AND DON’T BRING JEREMY published?

Marilyn Levinson - When my children were young, I took a few writing courses; I wrote poems and short stories. I took a writing course with Roberta Gellis, and we became very good friends. Roberta helped me write my first novel -- a romantic suspense whose premise came to me in a dream. Then I wrote a children's novel. Roberta thought I had a good voice for children's books, and so I wrote a third AND DON'T BRING JEREMY, based on a short story I'd written. I kept sending out my manuscripts, and an editor was very interested in JEREMY. At which time I contacted an agent for a second or third time, and she took me on. A different editor bought the book, and Holt published it.

Velleman - What was one of the hardest things you had to overcome during that period?

Levinson - I suppose the hardest thing was to keep writing despite rejections.

Velleman - After your first publication you went on to have four more juvenile and YA novels published. How did that make you feel?

Levinson - I was glad to sell each book, of course, but once I sold JEREMY and the book received its share of recognition, I had the mistaken idea that every manuscript I wrote would sell. This didn't happen.

Velleman – That must have been a real eye opener. How did you handle that? What did you do?

Levinson - I continued writing. What's the alternative? And I was also either teaching Spanish or subbing in local high schools and middle schools.

Velleman - Do you feel it's harder to break into the YA market or adult mystery?

Levinson - I think each is difficult. For many years, picture books flourished and YAs didn't do well. Now they're back, more popular than ever.

Velleman - Which do you prefer to write mysteries or juvenile/YA?

Levinson - I enjoy writing both. Maybe it's because I raised two sons that four of my juvenile/YA's are told from a boy's point of view. When I write an adult mystery, my sleuth is always a woman.

Velleman - You now write mystery cozies one of which finaled in the Malice Domestic. Does that mean you’re not writing YA anymore?

Levinson - I'll continue to write books for kids when an idea strikes.

Velleman - Can you tell us a little bit about Sisters in Crime and your new chapter?

Levinson - I've belonged to Sisters in Crime, a national organization for mystery writers, for nine or ten years, and to the Guppies -- the SinC online group of prepubbed and newly pubbed writers. It's so friendly and supportive, that when writers start to sell their books, they don't leave the Guppies. We have many subgroups, and some of my dearest friends are fellow Guppies whom I finally met face-to-face this past spring when I attended my first Malice Domestic convention.

I've always lamented the fact there's not a group for mystery writers here on Long Island.

I love my fellow LIRWs, but my concerns are murderers and alibis rather than sexual tension. At Malice, I spoke to a few Sisters who had started a chapter, and I received further help when I got home. I asked my friend, Bernardine Fagan if she would like to co-found a LI chapter, and felt great relief when she said yes. We got a list of names of Sisters in Crime members who live in the area, and started setting up meetings. I was delighted when Hank Phillippi Ryan, a fellow Guppy with several mystery awards to her name along with 26 Emmys for her TV investigative reporting, offered to come to Long Island to be our first speaker. She'll be talking at the Sachem Library in Holbook on December 4th at 2 pm. All are welcome.

Velleman – What’s next in your future?

Levinson - I plan to write more mysteries and novels for children.

Editor's note: Marilyn Levinson is a member of LIRW and Sisters in Crime. You can find out more about her and her work at: and

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On-Line Writing Courses

Peg, I've been writing novels for many years now, but I still take the
occasional on-line writing class. I recently took one on pacing with Mary
Buckham, which I found worthwhile. It reminded me how important it is to
include hooks in our novels -- to keep our readers reading. And it helped me
understand the scene-sequel principle, which I suppose I've been doing
unconsciously as I write along. Do you find writing courses of value?

I thoroughly enjoy taking online classes. I learn something new from each one . What I find invaluable are classes where participants share their work and the feedback from the instructors. Sometimes it's easier to understand a principle when it's applied to someone else's writing! I've taken a number of classes from Mary Buckham, and she's an excellent instructor.

There's so much to keep in mind when working on a manuscript -- the plot, the characters, the setting, the tension. Taking courses reminds us of the various elements we need to incorporate to write a satisfying story.

I also love the camraderie in an online writing class. Most of my family and friends in "real" life aren't writers. It's wonderful to be steeped in a mileu where you can talk writing as much as you want without fear of boring someone! It makes the whole creative process feel more vivid.

I agree. Besides writing classes, I love the camaraderie we writers enjoy via our online discussions. On my recent trip to Turkey I found myself telling my new friends about my close email writing friends.

I think it's critical, though, to make sure you're taking a quality class. There are certain sites that offer excellent classes, and you can also get opinions from other writers. I like to check the instructor's bio--I prefer it if they're published in fiction or if they have experience teaching creative writing at the college level.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Interview with Author Kaye George

Marilyn: Kaye, your blog partners are happy that you've sold your first mystery. Which house is publishing it, and what is your mystery about?

Kaye: Thank you, Marilyn. I'm over the moon! Mainly Murder Press is publishing CHOKE in May of 2011. Here's my proposed back cover (subject to change by the publisher, of course!):

Imogene Duckworthy, unwed mother and resident of
tiny Saltlick, Texas, longs to be a PI. When Uncle Huey
is found murdered, a half-frozen package of
mesquite-smoked sausage stuffed down his throat,
and her mother, Hortense, is taken in for the crime,
she gets her chance. Unclear on the exact duties of a PI,
Immy busts Mother out of jail with a fire in the bathroom
wastebasket. But, on the run from the law, along with
Immy’s toddler daughter, Nancy Drew Duckworthy,
now what?

I was surprised to find this on the back cover (well, not that surprised, since I put it there):
A riotous read!
~Charlaine Harris

Move 'em up, head 'em out, Immy! This western comic
mystery kept me up all night.
~Stephen King

Peg: Did you have an agent to sell your book, Kaye, or did you approach the publishers directly?

Kaye: I submitted to them myself. I wasn't finished with my plan for this project, which was to query all the agents on my list, then query small presses. But my plan was put on hold when MMP opened up to regions outside New England, then announced that they would be closed for submissions for 2011 on July 31st.

This gave me a deadline and, as I always say, I work well under deadline. I had nothing to lose, except the possible, but very uncertain, acquisition of an agent.

I sent the first three chapters, their standard submission, then was asked to submit the whole manuscript. I got it to them just before that July 31st deadline.

Peg: How did it feel when you found out you were going to be a published author?

Kaye: I've been trying to analyze that. When I've had my little triumphs in the past, like getting my first short story accepted, being nominated for an Agatha, I ran around screaming. But with this, my big triumph, the one I've been working toward for eight long years, I breathed a little sigh of relief. Maybe that's because I know what's in store for me next.

Peg: Okay, Kaye, what is in store for you next?

Kaye: A lot of hard work! Promotion, getting my name and book title out as much as possible, gathering places I can make connections, studying how to promote, deciding how much I can spend doing it. I'm not even counting my edits on galley proofs, which I don't have yet, but expect soon.

Marilyn: How do you plan to get the word out to all your future readers that you have a humorous mystery for them to read?

Kaye: Good question, and one I've been asking myself. I'm making a plan. Or rather, a lot of lists. I'm gathering a list of email addresses of people I think might be interested in buying the book. I plan on a one-time email to that whole list with purchase information, asking if they want a newsletter. I also have lists of bookstores and libraries, local book clubs, reviewers, other places I could promote. I'm going to try to put out an interview or a guest blog at least once a month until publication (9 months away). I have things lined up through October so far.

Besides this blog, I've been interviewed at Dry Bones ( on August 13th, and am scheduled in two slots, September 8th and 15th, at Writers Who Kill ( and an essay at Jenny Milchman's blog for her Made It Moment feature. (

I'm donating a basket at Left Coast Crime, 2011, which I was already planning on attending. This will be in March, before my book comes out, but I'll include a book for the high bidder on my basket and send it when it's published. (

I'll think what I can do at Malice Domestic because I'll possibly have books I can sell there, even though it's officially a little before my release date.

I've contacted one local book store for a signing and will be contacting others. And I'm trying to think what to do for a launch party.

For more details as they occur to me, you can peek in at my solo blog, Travels With Kaye.

KD: Would you recommend others to query small presses as well as agents? Or instead of agents?

Kaye: Where you query depends entirely on what you want for your project. If you're bound and determined to get yourself into a major publishing house and be on the shelves in all the big box stores, you have to get an agent. You'll easily sell many more copies with a big publisher, just because of their distribution and because of the visibility you'll have.

If you're bound and determined to get yourself published, and you're willing to do some promotional work, and it doesn't matter to you if you never become a NYTimes bestseller, then I'd recommend the small presses.

Some of the things to check for small press are distribution, publicity, royalty payments, and the rights they are asking for.

There are, also, lots of small presses and they are not all equal. Here, more so even than with agencies, I'd target a select few. If a small press seems attractive to you, I'd go to the expense of buying at least one of the books they've put out to check the editing and the quality of the product. I've done that with two publishers and decided I wouldn't want to be associated with the slipshod, sloppy editing I saw there. I bought three books from MMP, one awhile ago before I even considered querying them, and I liked the product--and the books.

Marilyn: It sounds like promoting this book will keep you busy for the next few months. We're looking forward to reading CHOKE, and hope you sell many, many copies.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Avery Aames Talks About Writing A Work-For-Hire

Avery Aames, author of the newly released Long Quiche Good-Bye from Berkley Prime Crime, is here today to answer some questions about writing a "work-for-hire."

I understand that your book is a work-for-hire. Can you explain what that means?

A publisher comes up with a hook for a series, creates a "bible" (which is an outline including the characters, the setting, and the theme of the series), and then hires an author to write the series (usually based upon an audition to do so).

How has this been easier/harder to write than something you created from scratch yourself?

I love writing for myself, but when I was provided with a bible that the publisher "approved," it made me feel "free." I could write without that little voice in my head telling me that whatever I wrote was garbage. {After enough rejections, that little voice was getting quite vocal!} As I wrote the first book, I was able to remind myself that the publisher wanted this story, and I was providing it with my personal stamp. Words flowed out of me, and I fell in love with the characters and setting. My research wasn't too tough, either.

How much guidance did you receive when it came to plot and characters?

As I said, there's a bible. The bible is about three pages long. This may differ, depending upon which editor came up with the idea. My bible consisted of a few paragraphs of setting and story, a few paragraphs per character that the editor wanted included, and a basic premise for the set-up, the murder, and who did it. I covered all of the bible in the first three chapters. From that point on, the story was all mine.

Does a work for hire differ from other Berkley book contracts when it comes to advances, royalties and print runs?

As far as I know, Berkley pays the same money for any debut novel. The royalties are standard and the print runs depend upon what Berkley thinks will sell at the time of publication. Is cheese hot at the time of publication? They'll print more. Are cupcakes hot? They'll print more. Who knows??!!

Has it been left up to you to plan the next book(s) in the series, or have those plots already been loosely determined?

I came up with the next two plots. I had to run them by the editor, and then I was asked to provide a very thorough outline. Other Berkley authors I know are allowed to write the next book and turn it in, but my editor likes to see an outline. The tweaks she's made have been minor. We communicate in shorthand, and I adore her.

You’ve chosen to use a pen name for the series—why? How did you choose your name?

Because Berkley came up with the hook for the series, they "own" the series. Therefore, they wanted a pseudonym for the author. In the event they elect to have another author, they can use the same name for her. I was able to choose the name. I chose the surname Aames because it is virtually the first in the alphabet, and from a marketing standpoint, that's a good thing. Aames shows up first in lists for libraries and booksellers. Avery Aames has a nice ring, don't you think?
Are you continuing to pursue publication of non-cozies under your own, or another name?

I am continuing to pursue publication of cozies or thrillers under my own name. In fact, my editor is currently reviewing another series idea. We'll see how that goes. For now, I'm thrilled to be writing about cheese. I've fallen in love with my protagonist, my setting, and my stories. And I adore my research. I'm very lucky. Say cheese!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Four Way

We're doing a four way this week. Each of the four of us will tell you a little about what we've been reading. And we'd love to hear what you're reading, too! Marilyn starts us out.

Marilyn: Now that the hot, lazy days of summer are upon us, I have the perfect excuse to read mysteries to my heart's content. I've read three, and each and every one is a masterpiece.

To begin, I enjoyed Elizabeth George's latest, THIS BODY OF DEATH and was happy that Thomas Linley has formed a new romantic relationship after his wife's tragic murder.

Despite the less than rave reviews and the multitude of similar names, I devoured Stieg Larsson's THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST. The book ended on a satisfactory note.

Last but not least, is the book I finished last night: THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE by Alan Bradley. I first heard about this book at Malice, where it won an Agatha. Like the other two books I've mentioned, this is a novel as well as a mystery, and part of a series -- in this case, the first book in the series. Let me tell you, the sleuth, eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, is just as bold and inventiv in her own way, as Lisbeth Salender. Flavia's a budding chemist who creates poisons. In this debut book, she solves a thirty-year-old murder as well as a current murder her father's accused of having committed. I look forward to reading the next Flavia de Luce book.

Kaye: I loved THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE, which I read before Malice Domestic, in April or May.

Lately I've picked up a couple of non-fiction books that have me hooked. One is THE ZEN OF ZOMBIE: BETTER LIVING THROUGH THE UNDEAD by Scott Kenemore. It's a motivational book based on, well, zombie behavior. The best takeaway so far is a single-minded focus (like, for instance on braaaains). Easy to read an hilarious. I have yet to see if it motivates to do great things.

I'm also reading THANKS, BUT THIS ISN'T FOR US by agent Jessica Page Morrell. I've just run across the best succinct definition of horror, thriller, mainstream, mystery, and romance genres that I've seen. I'm at about the half-way point in this book.

I started ISTANBUL by a native of that city, Orhan Pamuk, and was at first fascinated. It's rather gloomy though, dwelling on the past glories versus the present decaying of the place. I don't know whether I'll finish it or not.

And then I just picked up two by my guilty-pleasure author, Ann Rule. The Barnes and Noble clerk sold me on them (THE I-5 KILLER and SMALL SACRIFICES) when she told me that the two subjects, the man who was the I-5 Killer, and the woman in the other book who shot her children, started corresponding when they were in nearby prisons in Oregon. I just finished the I-5 KILLER and shuddered through the whole thing.

I have Stephen Liskow's WHO WROTE THE BOOK OF DEATH and Avery Aames' THE LONG QUICHE GOODBYE lined up next.

Peg: I haven't been reading all that much this summer--I've mostly been writing and working and babysitting my 5 month old granddaughter! But I did get to read a few things.

I started the season with CAUGHT by Harlan Coben. Wonderful surprise ending that I absolutely did not see coming. It's a great "beach" read, that's for sure.

I followed that with ACCIDENTAL BEST SELLER, a women's fiction book by Wendy Wax. As a writer, it definitely interested me. There are four protagonists--all writers--and they come together to help one of their own who is suffering from writer's block due to the stresses of her life. I would definitely recommend it

Marilyn: I love Harlan Coben. Have several of his novels here in my office among my other 300 books I've yet to get read. Will I ever get to them all? The trouble is, I keep on ordering my favorite authors' latest books from the library. I'm looking forward to reading Tana French's newest mystery, FAITHFUL PLACE.

K D: I'm behind on everything, and just finished the second of the Dragon Tattoo series, The Girl Who Played With Fire. The first pages almost made me stop reading: I could not read The Collector, for example. But I kept reading, and ended by liking the book and liking Lisbeth better than I liked her in the first book. She is just as crusty and annoying in this book, but she cares about people, too.

Of course, liking the book didn't mean that I didn't like Nora Ephron's satire on it in the New Yorker, The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut. I hooted with laughter!

I enjoyed Louise Penney's The Brutal Telling. It's a pleasure to read a book with descriptions of art, snatches of poetry, loving descriptions of French-Canadian cooking, and a good story!

I read John Lawton's Second Violin, a recent thriller that my son suggested I read. It was good, but I am beginning to think that the Second World War is over, at least for me in my reading life.

Kaye: I might be in the strange and unusual (for me) position of having no Harlan Coben in my TBR mini-mountain. Mountains, rather. I probably should put THE GIRL WHO books there, too, at least the first, just to see what all the hype is about. That Nora Ephron piece could be better than the book.

Happy summer reading, everyone!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Freedom From...You Fill in the Blank

KAYE: I've been mulling over this blog entry from Dystel & Goderich agent, Michael Bourret.

In fact, I've already blogged on it once.

What I'm thinking about now is--deadlines. Here's a sample of the deadlines we pre-published writers (more on that later) strive to meet: We enter contests, we exchange chapters, full mss, we keep up with blogs and webpages, we hold down full and part-time jobs while doing that, we engage in email discussions, facebook, twitter, these last to make our presence known. And we generally answer emails.

KD: Well, there's a song, right? "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose"? Janis Joplin, the same troubled woman who wanted a Mercedes Benz.

Apparently, the stress of deadlines is...stressful. Okay. Fine. How about the stress of thinking nothing I do matters to anyone? That nobody is going to read it anyway? That other people will leave their grandkids beautiful embroidered whatchamacallits, and my own grandkids will have to deal with boxes of manuscripts under the bed? What about that?

KAYE: Add in the stress of not meeting those deadlines that I mentioned, too. For instance, you and I are VERY late in our ms swap and my ms is nowhere near done right now. I haven't had a chance to write on it since April!

Here's my typical, planned day Monday through Friday (not that they ever go as planned): emails for an hour starting at 8:00 or 9:00, daily pages for fifteen minutes, then get dressed and try for some exercise. The rest of the morning is for errands, hair appointments, doctors appointments, stuff like that. I work on my work in progress (WIP) for 3-4 hours in the afternoon. Break for Jeopardy! During the ads I critique hard copy for the two manuscript critique groups I belong to, or one of the two short story critique groups. After dinner I write for blogs, usually ending up posting on Facebook and Twitter between 11:00 and midnight or 1:00. Except every other Monday, when my cross-genre writers' group meets, a fifty-five mile drive. And Tuesdays, when Austin Mystery Writers meets, a seventy-mile drive. Fridays I send out ten queries, five for each project I'm seeking publication for at the moment. In spare moments I look over critiques I've received and implement changes I think I need, think about plotting a sequel to the one project I'm querying. The current WIP is a sequel to the other.

Weekends are for short stories and trying to catch up on what I didn't get done. I don't know when is the last time I took a day completely off.

But occasionally I have a day when I just can't do it. What's the use? I don't ever hear back from most of the agents who receive my meticulously crafted query letters. I've taken several courses in how to write them and I get each one critiqued. I tweak each letter for each agent, looking up their attachment requirements. Then I get a request for a partial, or a full, and I come up fighting my black moments.

KD: Well, of course we fight it. We fight the feeling it is all worthless by having writing buddies. We write blogs, enter contests, send out manuscripts and query letter, all that stuff. We build our own support groups, set our own deadlines, read someone else's manuscript in the
hopes they will read and be interested in ours. We rejoice at any sign of hope (she requested a partial!) and eat cyber or real chocolate when confronted with despair (So I got this form rejection on a full. Can't believe it.)

KAYE: I've gotten those form rejections, even a Dear Author once, on a request for a full. Those are bad days. I never seem to get that free feeling. Funny, ain't it?

KD: Look. Somebody wants their freedom? You know, you always HAVE
your freedom. Start another book under another name. Refuse to write
the sequel. It's all up to you.

What the published have, what I WANT and the published HAVE, is the
knowledge that somebody believes in them.

[[picture provided under the terms of the GNU Lesser General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation]]

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Travels with A Mind to Murder

K D: I just returned from a week in France. I can't talk too much about it or I will give away my Other Identity (not that anyone cares) but I was traveling with a group, and it was mostly business.

Kaye: Too bad the business is a secret--I'd like to find one that gave me a week in France. I even have to pay my way to Paris, Texas. But we're glad you're back safely!

K D: My trip made me think about murder mysteries. Of course, everything makes me think about mysteries. Seeing the Eiffel Tower makes me think about the movie Lavender Hill Mob. That's just the kind of person I am.

Kate: So, were you thinking of writing murder mysteries, or of watching movies?

K D: Good question. I didn't spend my whole time thinking about old movies. I mostly thought about groups.

I was a member of a group business trip. There were six of us, and I had met only one of the people before I joined the trip. There's a certain kind of social anxiety in that sort of situation. These people, I don't know them, but I am going to hang out with them nearly 24/7 for a few days. Will they like me? Will they be okay with me? Will I offend someone? Will someone murder someone?

Kaye: Group dynamics are so interesting for a writer to study, aside from the individuals, if you had any interesting ones with you.

K D: Okay, the last question was farfetched. No murderers on this trip. But I wonder about the anxiety that underlies the statement. The anxiety of meeting a group of new people, and feeling you are "in their hands" to some extent. Can you think of a book that brings that feeling forward?

Kaye: I think most of the mysteries I read, even the hard-boiled, and thrillers (a few of those) serve me as entertainment. And, of course, studying my craft. It's non-fiction that gives me anxiety. Especially Ann Rule's true crime books. In fiction, everyone is made up and you can dismiss the really bad things that happen--that's only fiction. But in non-fiction, bad stuff really happens!

OK, back to touring and mysteries. When I was in Greece a few years ago and saw the size of the wooden cask in the place where the monks made wine, I couldn't help but picture a body stuffed inside. Did you come away with any ideas you might someday use?

K D: Not really. If anything, I thought about how small and well-maintained everything in Europe tends to be. We're super-sized in America (cars, hotel rooms, etc) so there are more places to stash a body. However, I did find out that they used to mine iron in Normandy: with mines that had shafts on land and then adits running out under the sea. They had the same kind of technology in Cornwall to mine copper. All this is in Victorian days, more or less.

There are still left-over structures from those days, and that might be something to use in a story.

Kaye: I'm always thinking of a way to write off the expenses. If I could just take a fabulous trip, then get published quickly enough.

K D: It's an interesting question: why do we think this way. Not about expenses, about murder. A group of people...will one be a murderer? Odd structures...a place to stuff a body? I don't think this is the natural way to think.

Kaye: Should we donate our brains to science so they can study them? It might be interesting for someone to see what writerly brains have in common. They can't have mine for a good long time, yet, though. I have to get my mysteries published first!

K D: Amen to that, Kaye! Here's to publication!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Writing Friendships

Marilyn: As you know, Kaye, the writing life isn't for the thin-skinned or faint-hearted. We write our hearts out, send our stories to editors and agents, and reap our share of rejections. I think I would have stopped writing years ago if not for the support and care of fellow writers like you and Peg.

Kaye: Yes, I have to admit I had always heard how supportive writers, and especially mystery writers, are of each other, but I was skeptical. Oh sure. Like another writer will help someone who will end up stealing readers from her. Or him.

Marilyn: Except now you know otherwise. [grin] We're in a small group of writers, and we're very supportive on one another. Even when we're vying for the same agent's attention.

Kaye: Since getting to know many other writers (including you and Peg and KD!), I have been so pleasantly surprised at how much support there is for new writers and writers who are trying to break in. Mystery writers are the most generous people you can imagine. The theory is, I think, that there are enough readers to go around. Just because someone buys Writer A's book does not mean they won't buy Writer B's. The more mysteries the better!

I received support very early on from a multi-published writer, Valerie Wolzien, who had no idea who I was, except that I knew her nephew--and that I was a mystery writer.

Marilyn: And I had the good fortune to take a writing course with Roberta Gellis many years ago. We became close friends. I still run the plot of my story by her whenever I start a new novel.

Kaye: Now that we've found Sisters in Crime and the Guppies, we have a friendly, comfy support net. But, still, writers that I meet at conferences and through other people, writers who have been published for ages, are always generous and supportive. Just the fact that they go to conferences and share their knowledge and wisdom on panels is a sign of their generosity.

One thing we must remember to do, Marilyn, when we're multi-published in mystery, is to be as kind and nurturing as everyone has been to us.

Marilyn: Absolutely! As a result of meeting so many Sisters at Malice, I've decided to start a Long Island chapter of Sisters in Crime. I only hope it takes off.

Kaye: I think you're already doing your part to nurture new writers, Marilyn. I wish your new chapter all the best!

Note: Photo is of Kaye and Marilyn, taken at Malice Domestic in May

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Interview With Author Gayle Trent aka Amanda Lee

Today we are pleased to bring you an interview with best-selling writer Gayle Trent. She is the author of the Daphne Martin Cake Decorating Series published by Bell Bridge Books and the soon to be released “Quick and the Thread” written as Amanda Lee.

Tell us about your new book coming out. Is it part of a series?

It is the first book in a new series. The Quick and The Thread is coming out on August 3, 2010; and the second book in the series, Stitch Me Deadly, is scheduled to be released in January of 2011.

The new book takes place in Oregon, but you live in Virginia. What
prompted you to use Oregon for your setting?

The editor actually requested that the book be set on the Oregon Coast. Even though I've never been to Oregon, I jumped at the chance to write the series. It took quite a bit of research, but I had a lot of fun learning about Oregon.

The trailers on your site ( are great fun. Did you help make them?

Thank you! I did make the trailers for The Quick and The Thread and Dead Pan. The incomparable Deborah Smith made the trailer for Murder Takes the Cake.

I notice you’re using the pen name Amanda Lee for the new series. Why choose a pen name instead of your own?

Once again, that was at the editor's request. It has its pros and cons. While I'd prefer to have the one identity (Gayle Trent), it's also kind of liberating to have an "alter ego" to hide behind. :)

I understand your earlier series was published by a small publisher, Bell Bridge Books. Can you tell us about that experience?

That was a wonderful experience. Both Debra Dixon and Deborah Smith are fantastic to work with. Both are writers themselves (Deborah Smith refers to herself as a recovering NY Times Bestselling Author!), so they have a special empathy for their authors.

How did you feel when you got the call from Robert Gottlieb wanting to be your agent?

At first, I thought it was a scam. In fact, I called his office to alert them that somebody was sending out e-mails using Robert's name! LOL! When I spoke with the secretary, I said, "I'm thinking this probably isn't legitimate, but I received an e-mail from Mr. Gottlieb telling me he is interested in representing me." But when I told her my name, the title of my book and that it had been having some success on Kindle, she confirmed that he did indeed want to talk with me. It was thrilling. A little scary, but in a good way!

Has publishing with a bigger press been a different sort of experience?

Yes, it has been. At times, the entire process can be a little overwhelming. With small presses, you write the book, you work on edits and then you wait for the final product. With larger publishers, you're thinking about book three even while marketing book one and writing book two. You have periods of silence followed by a flurry of activity. I'm becoming adept at time management. :)

Will you continue to publish your first series with Bell Bridge?

Simon and Schuster has bought the rights to the upcoming book Killer Sweet Tooth and to Murder Takes the Cake. Bell Bridge will still be selling Dead Pan and the e-book version of Murder Takes the Cake.

Would you advise new writers to consider small presses?

Definitely, especially if you can write for a terrific company like Bell Bridge. I think small presses give authors the opportunity to grow and learn. Then if the larger publishers come calling, they'll be better prepared. If the larger publishers don't come calling, they'll still have a wonderful venue for their work. It's a win-win.

Anything you want to add?

I'd just like to mention that I'm having a contest during the month of June in which anyone who pre-orders The Quick and the Thread will be entered to win a $50 Amazon gift card. Details are available at

Thank you so much for inviting me to meet your readers!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Malice from Both Sides

Kaye: I recently attended the Malice Domestic mystery conference, number 22, for my 5th time, as near as I can figure out. Very different from my first visit, where I knew no one. That year, 2003, I envisioned sitting alone for three days, watching other writers and fans who knew each other chatting. I’m a writer; ergo, the insecurity. To avoid that, I gave my name as a volunteer. Volunteering turned out to be an excellent way to get into the swing of things.

Marilyn: This was my first Malice Domestic conference, and I'm very glad I went. For years I avoided conferences, fearing everything --from screwing up my travel connections to being left out of things. This, despite the fact that I'd been a Guppy for many years and have wonderful e-friendships. I finally decided going to Malice wouldn't be too difficult, as long as I had a roommate.

Kaye: I was happy to oblige as a roommate, since it cut the hotel bill in half! I registered for Malice Thursday night and checked into the hotel Friday morning. I'm no longer self-conscious about sitting at a table in the Hospitality Suite by myself, because I now know I'll soon be joined by someone. It's also completely OK to sit at a table with someone else and introduce yourself. Everyone at Malice is easy to talk to--and talkative. In fact, I was sitting at a table in the Suite when a tall, thin, elegant woman walked in and nearly walked past me. I knew right away it was you, Marilyn!

Marilyn: Thanks, for the description!! I was glad to finally meet you and the other Guppies I'd grown close to over the years via email. How lucky I was to have you as my roommate, Kaye! Aside from being warm and friendly, you introduced me to many of our fellow writers. Friday night we ate dinner out with a group of Guppies. Marcia Talley joined us, too. We discussed the fact that there was no Malice Domestic contest winner that year. I was the only finalist I knew of. Which was odd, since I was certain other Guppies must have entered thecontest.

Kaye: Eating dinner with Marcia Talley! That's one of the great things about this conference. You can rub shoulders with writers you admire. I was standing in line for a drink at one of the receptions and, when the man in front of me turned and I saw his name tag, I realized he was Aaron Elkins!!! At an earlier Malice, when I hadn't gotten so brazen, I would have noted his name and been thrilled to stand next to him. But, steeped in the experience of my past onferences, I stuck my hand out and told him how much my husband and I enjoy and admire his books. He's one author I keep track of and get his books when they come out. He smiled and said I had made his day! Little ole me! I didn't want to wash that hand, but I'd acquired a nice poison oak rash the day before I flew out, so I did. Reluctantly.

Marilyn: Well, I didn't catch your Poison Oak and I'll add that Aaron was the first person I met at Malice. One of the things I was happy about was that you were up for an Agatha! For your short story. Iwas disappointed you didn't win, but was glad that another Guppy won the teapot in that category. And I was glad that, being the friendly type, you invited a gorgeous young author to join us for breakfast. And so we got to chat with Stephanie Pintoff, who had just won the Edgar for her first mystery, IN THE SHADOW OF GOTHAM -- which I plan to read soon.

Kaye: Yes, I'm glad Hank won that Short Story Agatha. Her speech was way, way better than mine would have been. I'd say that having a roommate you already know, if only online, made your first trip to Malice easier, Marilyn. But, if you don't know anyone at a writers' conference, I think you can still screw up your courage and go alone. It worked for me my first year. Mystery writers are an incredibly friendly bunch!

Marilyn: I agree. Mystery writers ARE very friendly. Which was probably why I decided to start up a Long Island chapter of Sisters in Crime, though I'd never done anything of the sort. Fellow Guppies Sandy Parshall and Teresa Inge offered to help me. And Hank said she'd be our first speaker.

In the photo above, are Teresa Inge, Grace Topping, Kaye and Marilyn, Shelley Shearer, and Lisa Bork (another Agatha nominee!). Guppies all!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

To be or not to be, how was it done?

Kaye: One unusual murder method is at least as old as Shakespeare. The King, Hamlet's father, was killed by Claudius by pouring poison in his ear while he slept.

Here's a bit of the fascinating history behind this murder method. The eustachian tube, connecting the ear and the throat had just been discribed by Bartolommeo Eustachio. The plot of Hamlet, which was probably borrowed from an older 12th-century play called "Historia Danica" written by a guy named Saxo Grammaticus. (So, did he invent grammar? One has to wonder.) In Saxo's play, the king is stabbed, no ear poisoning taking place here.

Eustachio published his findings in a piece called "De Auditus Organis." (Methinks these people were over fond of Latin. Thank goodness Will wrote in English.) According to an article in the NY Times from July 22, 1982, by John Noble Wilford, the ancient Greeks knew about the eustachian tube, but Bart published a detailed description about forty years before "Hamlet" premiered in 1601, or thereabouts. The buzz about the tube may have still been fresh. I suspect news flashes not only traveled more slowly in those days, but stuck around longer, too.

As an aside, a contemporary of Bart's, Gabriele Falloppio, discovered another tube at around the same time.

But the ear to throat connection is only part of the story. What did Claudius pour into the King's ear anyway? "… juice of cursed hebenon in a vial…" it says in "Hamlet." Dr. Gwynne B. Evans, a professor of English at Harvard University and textual editor of the Riverside edition of Shakespeare's works, says this stuff was mentioned by Pliny, who said it would "injure the understanding."

In the two printings of the play, nearly twenty years apart, the poison is spelled "hebena" and "hebenon," (or, as I also found it, hebona and hebonon--I don't have access to the originals) leaving doubt not only as to what the stuff was, but how it was supposed to be spelled. (I'm so grateful I live in the age of, more or less, standardized spelling. People back then didn't even spell their own names consistently.) Wiki says it could be either yew or ebony (guaiac). Ebony was sometimes spelled hebony, so that makes sense. The trouble is, it's not very poisonous. Yew is much more so. Something derived from henbane is another possibility. No matter what it was, Will might have borrowed the whole concoction from a guy named Thomas Kidd, another playwright of the time.

KD: I vote for henbane. According to Wikipedia, the "hen" probably originally meant death, not chickens. (Who woulda thought it?)

Also, henbane is a major ingredient in witches flying ointment, a hallucinogenic mix supposedly used by witches.
Flying ointment

And maybe it was just a hallucinogen? Maybe Hamlet's father wasn't dead, he wasn't a ghost, he was just on a "trip" where he thought he was dead...the possibilities are endless, aren't they?

Kaye: During Will's lifetime, a French doctor, Ambrosie Parex, was suspected of killing his own king, Francis II, by giving him an ear infection. All these happenings must have swirled around in genius Will's fertile brain until "Hamlet" spilled out. We're lucky it did!

Other links used:
New Light on Murder of Hamlet's Father

Was Pouring Poison in Ear Common?

What Poison Killed King Hamlet?


Monday, April 5, 2010

Is Your Sleuth A Slut?


K D: I think the double standard is alive and well in mystery literature. Guys fall into bed readily (they're 'studs') while girls are practically celibate (they're not 'sluts'). Before I read too much into this, though, it might be the authors making sure we can identify and admire our protagonists. Would you follow a woman protag who hopped into and out of bed? Maybe not.

For example, I think Janet Evanovich's "bounty hunter with an attitude" doesn't get into bed with Joe Morelli till the fourth book in the series. Not exactly a hop into bed type of girl.

Can you think of some female protags that moved a little faster?

Kaye: Definitely. Lisa Scottoline's character Cate Fante, in *Dirty Blonde.* (This blog is probably a BIG spoiler for two of Lisa's books, by the way.) I was a little shocked when I got into this book, then a little titillated, then a lot fascinated. The main character is a judge who has a sexual hangup. She picks up strangers in bars, has sex with them, then goes back to her lawyerly, orderly life. Well, not all that orderly, since she has murder to deal with. Ms. Scottoline's Natalie Greco, in *Daddy's Girl,* also has a secret life, but, if I remember correctly, her secret is a secret even from herself.

K D: But did they get punished for it? You know, the plots of my least-favorite operas: "Guys Can't Share." Woman sleeps with more than one guy, woman winds up dead. That plot. I hate it.

Kaye: Scottoline pulls these off beautifully. I don't think her characters are punished for their promiscuity. They're well written so that the characters are sympathetic and the reader is rooting for them. The author takes care to establish that they've become the way they are through no fault of their own. I highly recommend both books, by the way. Even with these spoilers, I think they'd still be fun reads.

K D: Well, I do like Cleo Coyle's book , Murder Most Frothy. Clare and her daughter are spending the summer in East Hamptom, working for a rich friend who is setting up a high-end coffee shop in town. Clare is concerned that her daughter (age about 20, I think) is having a summer fling and will get hurt. Then Clare finds herself considering her own possibilities for a short-term romance. Is summer fun okay, or must morality rule even at the beach? It's one of the few books shows a little balance, in my opinion.
Click here for info on the book.

Kaye: I admit I haven't read any of hers, but I intend to remedy that!

K D: I enjoy murder mysteries that include some sensual pleasures. Chocolate. Quebecois food. Pleasant sex. Why not? I think that word Slut should be banished from the vocabulary. How about Wanton Woman instead?

Kaye: One of Laurell K. Hamilton's characters can fit the Wanton Woman image. (Although I might bring back Slut here.) Her fantasy heroine, Anita Blake, started out proper enough, torn between a vampire and a werewolf. According to my daughter, whose reads this genre more than I do, Anita held off until book 6 (*The Killing Dance*) when she slept with one of them. Then by book 10 (*Narcissus in Chains*), Anita, had become, in essence, a different character, sleeping around with abandon. Her fans were not happy about the switch. Her later books are considered erotica and she has lost fans along the way. So, in this case, the writer didn't get away with it, even if the character did.

OPEN QUESTION: Do any readers of this blog have experience in other genres where the gender difference plays a greater or lesser role in bed-hopping? I know romance has greatly evolved since I was reading it. I would imagine science fiction would not have as much of a difference?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

True Crimes and Inspirations

Peg: I don't know about you, Marilyn, but since I started writing mysteries, I've been collecting newspaper clippings of "interesting" crimes. I shudder to think what conclusions someone would jump to should they go through my files! I remember one case, and I believe it happened near you, where a couple went to sell their house and the realtor found a drum in their crawl space. They opened it and found a body! Do you remember that case? I thought it was unbelievably intriguing!

Marilyn: I sure do remember it, since the house in question was a few blocks from where we used to live. The body had been there for years. Can you believe that three or four families had lived there without knowing what was in a crawl space? Ugh! The incident stayed in my mind. I used a variation of it in a novel, though the body in my story is discovered when land is dug up for new construction.
Do you find you use real incidents in your stories?

Peg: I've thought back over my drawerful of manuscripts and none of the plots relate directly to anything I've read. I think news stories give me inspiration, but then my mind takes off and things end up going in a completely different direction. In one manuscript I have my victim run down by a car while he is out jogging. I'd read a story in the newspaper about a company that made its living picking bodies of dead animals (mostly deer) off NJ highways--they had a contract with the state. That sparked the opening of my novel--someone calls the company to say there is a dead deer at such and such a place. When the fellow arrives with his truck, he discovers it's not a deer, but a human body. How about you? Have you been inspired by any true stories?

Marilyn: I'm more like you, Peg -- I tend to be inspired by true crimes and use them differently in my stories. The very first crime-related novel I ever wrote came to me in a dream. My heroine is being chased by men who are after her gambling husband. After all these years the dream remains vivid, though I've no idea what inspired it. So much of what we draw on is a composite of situations. And who knows how all the movies and TV programs we watch, the books we read, factor in when we create our plots.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

To Con or Not to Con

KD: With Boucherson and Malice Domestic coming up, the question arises: to con or not to con. I generally don't con. I have gone to two or three conventions, liked them, had a great time, come home and decided that they just weren't worth the money.

Kaye: I've gone to lots and I love them! At one point I was going to try to hit each one at least once. Economics have interfered and I'm back to one a year, two at the most if one of them is cheap (which means I have a place other than the hotel in which to stay).

KD: Meet people on-line and in person...nice to see the real person, but maybe not that important to me. I mean, I like people, but I have no particular desire to meet more and more people. To me, the old friends are the best friends.

Kaye: I do have lots of online friends and some of them are very dear to me. Some of them I've known, but only online, for year. I seem to like people even better after I've met them face to face. To me, there's nothing like going out for a drink with someone and chatting about family and hobbies, likes and dislikes.

KD: Get inspired. Yes, they work for that. I love the banquet I went to at Crime Bake a few years ago. The combination of Michelle Martinez and Lee Child was funny and inspiring! But lots of things inspire me, including going to a good movie or a good meeting of a local writer's group. I don't need a con for that.

Kaye: I don't think I attend to be inspired. When I first started attending cons I learned so much about how writers operate. I learned that I wasn't alone and that all writers go through many of the same things. I've gotten to the point where I'm on panels at every con I attend, and this is so good for me, I think. It stretches me, which can't be bad!

For a fan and a reader, as opposed to a writer, I'm sure the first few cons open many eyes. Readers tend to set writers, if not on a pedestal, at least apart. They think of them as different animals. And writers are a little different from other folks. But only like engineers are a little different, musicians a little different, librarians, programmers, and you could go on and on. Everyone at a mystery con loves reading and it IS inspiring to be among a group like that.

KD: Agents at a con. I guess there are pitch sessions at a conference, too, but I don't think they are much help. I believe the agents usually ask for a partial or a query, but you don't get a better reading by asking them in person. They say so themselves. I think pitching is a waste of time.

Kaye: I have been to a few cons that were set up for pitching and I agree that the hopeful writer is not going to snag an agent that way. The value of those pitch sessions for me has been that some of the agents know who I am and remember me from year to year. I concentrate on buying them drinks, not pitching them, especially when I'm not at a pitching con.

Here's the take on pitch sessions from a couple of agents, one of whom I have pitched to myself.

Janet Reid

Nathan Bransford

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Plotters vs. Pantsers

Kaye: Readers often want to know how writers write. This is something
that is VERY hard to talk about. Because we just don't know. We just
do it. There are some broad differences in writing styles, though. One
is the writer who lays out the whole plot before hand versus the
writer who has an idea what she wants to say, and maybe where she
wants to end up, and some other details, but mainly writes "into the
mist." Which kind of writer are you Peg?

Peg: I'm definitely more of a plotter than a pantser. I need to have all
my plot points planned out before I begin writing. I find that laying
them out along an ascending line helps me make sure that I am ramping up the
tension as the story moves along and that I'm providing enough twists and
turns. I don't have every single, last scene plotted out though. I like
surprises, and there always are some during the actual writing process!
If I have too much planned out in advance I feel like I've already written
the book. Not enough planned and I flounder around feeling destination-less!
How about you, Kaye?

Kaye: For novel writing, we're probably very similar. I'm at the half-way
point of one now. At least I HOPE it's the half-way point. I tend to
write short and always worry the manuscript won't be long enough. I've
run through a lot of my plot points/happenings/projected scenes. But,
as has always happened before, things are popping up. I realize I
haven't dwelt nearly enough on some of the red herrings, and my
characters have just decided to do a rodeo. Since I had already
planned a trampling by an enraged bull, this makes perfect sense.

In spite of my careful planning, I usually finish up the first draft
well shy of 60K. On rewrites it bumps up to 65-85K.

Do you have a length problem, Peg?

Peg: Yes, I definitely write "short." I think part of it stems not from
having enough "plot" but from the desire to pare scenes down to their most
important components. I don't want the reader skimming or skipping over the
"boring parts." Tends to make for a rather short scene! I've discovered
that reminding myself to include the character's *feelings* helps add length
and depth without adding extraneous bits that don't belong in the scene.

Kaye: That works well for me, too. Plus, I always strive to get as
many of the five senses as I can into each scene. I can't usually do
taste, but it's surprising how often I can when I search for a way to
get it in there. I think we both like to leave out, as Elmore Leonard
says, the parts that readers skip.

Short stories, for me, are a whole 'nother thing. I hardly ever plot
them out. They just happen as they happen. I can relax with them
because they can be as short as they want to be. And some of mine want
to be VERY short.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Favorite Sleuths

KD: I don't actually have a favorite sleuth. My favorite sleuth is the protagonist of the book I read last (assuming I liked the book.) On the other hand, I admire Dick Francis's heroes for suffering but being heroic. I love Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache because he loves his wife, he is so kind, he is insightful about people. And he eats that inspiring French Canadian food! I love Kinsey Milhone, of course, for her awareness.

I think I need a certain quality of awareness and bravery to get into a story. I just noticed that both male and female sleuths made it on to my list. Not surprising, but maybe it is for people who think Mysteries are for Women and Thrillers are for Men.

Marilyn, who are your favorite protagonists, and why do you like them?

Marilyn: Like you, KD, my favorite sleuth is the sleuth in the book I'm currently reading. I do have some long-time favorites, though: Katherine Hall Page's Faith Fairchild; Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody, whose progeny seems to grow with each novel; and Alexander McCall Smith's Precious Ramotswe. These three sleuths are clever, resourceful, and likable characters. And I must include Lisbeth Salander, who features in Stieg Larsson's trilogy THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, and THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST. Lisbeth is brilliant, an ace hacker who doesn't like most people, and a super hero who solves problems her own way. I can't wait to read the third book in the series. I intend to see the movie of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO as soon as it comes out.

KD. I should read the Dragon Tattoo books, because I have smart but crabby protagonist in my work-in-progress! And I forgot about Precious Ramotswe. She is a wonderful sleuth, both traditional and modern. And her assistant, the one who had the high score in the secretarial school is great, so very hopeful and alive! I love the book titles, also. Who can resist MORALITY FOR BEAUTIFUL GIRLS as a title?

Do any of the protagonists remind you of your own work?

Marilyn: My protagonist tries to follow in the footsteps of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie's most famous sleuths. Alas, Lexie's not as adept as they are and manages to upset many of the people in the upscale community where she's living. But, of course, she unearths the murderer in the end.
I think it's more interesting when the sleuth has some quirk or distinguishing characteristic like your crabby protagonist. And Nero Wolfe, who refuses to leave his home.

KD. Your slightly inept sleuth reminds me of Donald Westlake books that I have enjoyed, especially GOD SAVE THE MARK. It is so much fun to read a funny book, as the protagonist stumbles forward to solve the crime. I can hardly wait to read your book!

To wrap up, I guess there all kinds of protagonists we enjoy: heroic, inept, crabby, well-fed. The reason we can go from one type to another, enjoying them all- -well, it's a mystery!

Friday, February 26, 2010

What is YA literature? Middle Grade?

Kaye: Marilyn, you've had books published for the younger crowd. I'm working on a Young Adult series at the moment, but only because a few readers suggested my Neanderthal mysteries should be YA. Can you explain this market to me? Are the distinctions clear-cut?

Marilyn: Picture books, chapter books, middle grade books, YAs. Children's books come nicely compartmentalized into different categories -- or so you'd think. Picture books and chapter books are self-explanatory. Middle grade fiction refers to books written for kids in second to fifth grade. Or is it third to sixth? And YAs are about teenagers. Or does that
include twelve-year-olds? That's the problem. Everyone has a different age variation in mind.

Kaye: So, no consensus! What's your own opinion on the classifications? Middle grade first because that's what you've published.

Marilyn: Actually, I have published a YA. A PLACE TO START, which is out of print, is about a high school boy who discovers his mother's having a relationship with his computer teacher. But more about YAs later. The way I see it, middle-grade books are about kids in elementary school. The middle-grade protagonist deals with friends, bullies, family, pets, school, projects. My out-of-print book, THE FOURTH-GRADE FOUR, is about a boy who needs to wear glasses but won't get them because he's afraid his friend will make fun of him. In middle-grade fiction, as in all juvenile fiction, it is the child who resolves the problem, not an adult.

Kaye: That sounds like a good definition. How about YA?

Marilyn: The Young Adult novel is something else. The YA protagonist is a teenager and the subject matter can be abuse of any kind, romance, murder. You name it. I'd say the Harry Potter books are YAs. So is THE BOOK THIEF, a novel narrated by Death about a girl growing up in Germany during World War Two. Yet adults read both Harry Potter and THE BOOK THIEF. So what makes them YAs, you might ask. I'd say the protagonist's age, no explicit sex, and the fact that the novel is seen and experienced from the young person's perspective.

Kaye: Ah! I see now why my readers think my WIP can be for the YA market. Young protagonists and no (very) explicit sex. And I myself like to read YA books, too. Thanks for the clarifications, Marilyn.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Agatha Nominee!

Dialog For Murder bloggers are pleased to announce that Kaye George...

Wait. Gotta say it better.

The Dialog For Murder bloggers are happy to announce...

"Happy"? We're not just "happy".

The Dialog For Murder bloggers are ECSTATIC to announce that Kaye George's short story "Handbaskets, Drawers and a Killer Cold" has been nominated for the Agatha award for Best Short Story. We're drinking cyber- champagne, trying to find our feather boas, and generally shouting GO KAYE!

The winner will be picked by ballot at Malice Domestic in Virginia this spring.

Here's a description of the story and a link to it on-line.

"Handbaskets, Drawers, and a Killer Cold" by Kaye George

When Chicago cop, Cal Arnold, stops at the drugstore for cough syrup to tame his raging cold, he ends up taking in a hold-up artist instead. On his next attempt, same drugstore, another robbery is in progress. This time the felon is Nate, the wayward brother of Cal's wife and the guy who was the subject of their latest heated argument. The sixteen-year-old has a wild streak as wide as Lake Michigan, a chip on his shoulder the size of the Sears Tower, and has recently been kicked out of Cal's house. Nate speeds away from the drugstore while Cal is paralyzed by a coughing fit, but Cal is positive he has

recognized the vehicle. Go after his brother-in-law? Write up his report and leave out the vehicle? Cal has to decide whose wrath he fears more, his wife's or his captain's. He struggles with this decision while dealing with a fellow officer, Fred Davis, who might bea dirty cop.

And here's a link to the ezine:


Congrats also to two of our fellow Guppies (Sisters In Crime Online Group) whose stories are also nominated:

“On the House” by Hank Phillippi Ryan

“Death Will Trim Your Tree” by Elizabeth Zelvin

Other Sisters In Crime have been nominated for other Agatha awards, also. Congrats to all the nominees, and especially to our KAYE GEORGE

Posted by K D Fortune.) Photo of strawberry in champagne courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Steve Ryan

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Tribute to Dick Francis

KAYE: The mystery world mourned when Dick Francis' wife died and it was announced he would no long be writing his wonderful novels. It turned out she was half the team, doing much of the research for his books. But we mourned more deeply this week when the man himself passed away. I've heard there will be a posthumous book, and I'm looking forward to it. KD, what do you think was his appeal?

KD: About the new book, you're right, Kaye. He began working with his son after his wife passed away, and there is another book, CROSSFIRE, coming out this year.

What appeals about the books? First, he is such a good writer. He moves the story along, while still providing visuals, sounds, background, information about horse racing, the jockey club etc. He puts together a great story, and though you know horses will be in it somewhere, you don't know where. Sometimes you are with a banker who finances horses, or a man who took a job transporting them. Every story is new and fresh.

KAYE: Yes, every story is different. And the same. The industries, or occupations, or fields in which the crime happens are different for each one. That's where his incredible research came in. His banking book, BANKER, taught me about the world of finance, his winemaking one, PROOF, all about that.

KD: The second reason I love his stories is I love his heros. They suffer, both physically and mentally, but they have a deep core of nobility. Nobility shown in action, not words. "Right Action" perhaps?

KAYE: Here is where his books are the same, for me. The hero has a different name in every book (except the Sid Halley series), but he's always the same guy. He's an orphan, or has virtually no family, alone in the world. Somewhere in his life there are horses (or soon will
be). He's not romantically attached, but woman are attracted to him. Me too! He's a different guy, but always the same guy. And I like that guy and want to read about him. He's a good guy.

KD: A few quotes from an early book, ENQUIRY. illustrates what I mean.

Hughes been thrown out of horseracing, accused of throwing a race. He must clear his name, but it's not going to be easy.

Hughes gets a letter from home. His father "had pressed so hard with his ballpoint that he had almost dug through the paper....'you're a damned disgrace'....." (Emotional pain, depicted masterfully) Later, Hughes car is hit by a train, and he is left with multiple injuries. (Physical pain). Still, Hughes has the inner and outer strength to confront the murderer: "I took myself, crutch by crutch, toward her." There's personal nobility there. I admire it, and because of the way Francis writes, I even believe in it!

And look at all those action verbs, too!

Kaye, you emailed me that you have all the books. Do you have a favorite?

KAYE: I realize that I'm missing the ones he's written with his son. For some reason I wasn't aware of them. That will soon be rectified! I think the last one I read is always my favorite. I can even reread them and still like them.

KD: You know, Kaye, I have little interest in horse racing, and I love his books.

KAYE: I like to read about racing, having a daughter who is very keen on horses, but I have to think I'd love his books even if I didn't. Is there anyone who doesn't like his books?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Learning From the Masters


Taking writing courses is fun and often insightful, but there's nothing like learning from the masters in your genre. While I write cozies and would never write anything as gritty as Harlan Coben's novels, I was wowed by the opening line of his book, GONE FOR GOOD. "Three days before her death, my mother told me-- these weren't her last words, but they were pretty close--that my brother still alive." The story was up and running, and never paused until the last page.

K D:

I read that one also, and I remember the beginning! A true page-turner.

You know, at this stage of my writing career, I have a hard time with taking writing courses. I just feel I have to read and write and read and write. I give myself my own assignments, based on my favorite authors.

One time I was having difficulties with the beginning of a book, and I decided to take out one of my favorite thrillers, Ken Follett's EYE OF THE NEEDLE. I mapped out his first chapter, including the first murder. I listed each paragraph as description, dialog, or action. I listed the point of view: Follett has two points of view in the first chapter. I made a special note of the beginning of the murder. I went through it paragraph by paragraph and made a list.

And then I tried to duplicate the first chapter. Of course, I had my own cast of characters, and my own victim, but I tried to duplicate Follett's pacing. If he wrote two paragraphs of description, I wrote two paragraphs of description. If he had dialog, I had dialog. If he switched viewpoint characters, I switched characters. And so forth.

It worked pretty darn well. My first chapter moved along like greased lightening, and it was shockingly easy to write. But I couldn't go much further. After all, Follett was writing a different book, and when I tried to do the same with a second chapter, I bogged down completely. Still, the project taught me something about how to set a scene while pushing the action ahead. I have since learned that I was following the most intricately constructed of Follett's books, and I would have been totally doomed if I had tried to follow it too far.

Kind of an odd way to spend my time, perhaps. What do you think, Marilyn? Have you done something similar?


No, I've never tried that, but my feeling is use whatever gets your creative juices flowing. I get inspiration from reading books with great plotting and pacing, P. G. Wodehouse's novels do that for me. They're hilarious and without any trace of murder and mayhem, but the twists and turns of his plots urge me to think outside the box when I'm writing my mysteries.

K D:

I'm having a similar experience reading the MAISIE DOBBS mysteries by Jaqueline Winspear. I've read two of them, own the next two, and look forward to reading even more. The books are a wild mix of careful historical research, psychology, forensic science and even paranormal elements. When I read them, I always get inspired to reach out a little further with my own books.

I guess there are a lot of ways to learn from the masters!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Do You Like It Fast or Slow?

KD, we were talking about openings. That first sentence or first few sentences that draw us into the story. There are fast openings (I think it was a John MacDonald book that began with the line “We were about to call it a night when someone dropped the girl off the bridge.”) And slow openings. I went to my book shelf to see what I could find. Seems I favor writers who take their time to get into things!

“Have you noticed, Joanna said as they sped along the M4 towards London, “how the self-drive hire business has been completely taken over by that Dutch firm?”
“What Dutch firm,” Slider asked unwarily.
“Van Rentals.”
“How long have you been thinking that one out?”
”I resent the implication that my wit isn’t spontaneous.”
Cynthia Harrod Eagles “Blood Sinister”

To my mind, this opening gives us a peek at two of the book’s main characters and their personalities. Soon enough we’ll find out who was murdered and how.

K D. You have more faith than I do, Peg. I would have stopped reading. I mean, talk about a LAME joke!

Peg: Okay, well maybe I liked it because I’m currently living in Grand Rapids where the saying is “if you’re not Dutch, you’re not much!”

Well then, what about this one:

This is from Ruth Rendall’s “Shake Hands Forever”:

The woman standing under the departure board at Victoria station had a flat rectangular body and an iron-hard rectangular face. A hat of fawn-colored corrugated felt rather like a walnut shell encased her head, her hands were gloved in fawn-colored cotton, and at her feet was the durable but scarcely used brown leather suitcase she had taken on her honeymoon forty-five years before.

It’s a slow opening by today’s standards, but knowing what a master Rendall is, I’m willing to bide my time and wait for the action.

K D I'd keep reading this one, even if I didn't know it was Ruth Rendall. Nothing like "an iron-hard rectangular face" and a scarcely used suitcase. I already know I am somewhere special.

Peg: This is not only the entire first sentence, but the entire first chapter of Gregory McDonald’s “Fletch, Too.”

“What astounded Fletch was that the letter written to him was signed Fletch.” (This is from my husband’s side of the bookcase. His name is Fletcher and he has the complete set of “Fletch” books!)

K D The whole first chapter? Really? That takes a certain kind of style. I admire it.

Now, how about these openings from P.D. James “The Murder Room” and Dick Francis “Under Orders”. Are they cheating? The first lines are almost like a mini-prologue—full of foreboding but followed by more prosaic action. And many, many pages before we’re into the full swing of things.

“On Friday 25 October, exactly one week before the first body was discovered at the Dupayne Museum, Adam Dalgliesh visited that museum for the first time.”

And from Francis:

“Sadly, death at the races is not uncommon. However, three in a single afternoon was sufficiently unusual to raise more than an eyebrow. That only one of the deaths was of a horse was more than enough to bring the local constabulary hotfoot to the track.” He goes on…”Cheltenham Gold Cup day had dawned bright and sunny…”

Is that cheating, do you think?

K D When they do it, it's not cheating. Since I am not published yet, if I did it, it would be cheating. I wouldn't get published. Same with the one-sentence first chapter. I'm not saying it is wrong. You have to pay your dues, and show you can follow forms before you break them.

How about this one, though? Michele Martinez, a former federal prosecutor, give us these first sentences in The Finishing School.

"Even the most dedicated prosecutor hates the sound of the pager shrieking at two in the morning. Melanie Vargas hardly slept these days anyway. In the middle of a divorce, with a baby daughter who was spending the winter sick with one thing or another..."

We get the fact that something is up (you don't call the prosecutor at 2 a.m. if all is well) and much sympathetic information about the protagonist. I think it is a great beginning. What do you think, Peg?

Peg: I like it. I feel I already know Melanie’s character, and we’re only a couple of sentences into the book.

Peg & KD: What are your favorite types of openings? Want to share? Comment below!