Friday, July 31, 2009

Tomorrow is My Release Day!

Desperately Searching And today I’m making a guest appearance at Marybeth Geer-Smith’s blog, Desperately Searching for My Inner Mary Poppins.

It’s a Gnome-Approved interview. :)

Hope y’all will pop over and visit me there.

Book Release Parties:

I know plenty of authors who have awesome book release parties. My friends Jim and Joyce Lavene recently had one at their son's restaurant with a band and everything.

I decided not to do anything, myself. Parties where I or my book are the center of attention should be something fun, but I'm just too introverted to have a good time. Instead, I'm looking forward to a pretty busy promotional schedule--I'm going to be giving interviews, doing guest posts, and generally hanging out a lot online. This is perfect for me. Besides, I'm in the middle of polishing up my manuscript for my next deadline.

One thing I am interested in is a Twitter party. I keep hearing about them, know you text back and forth using the # key, but I don't totally understand. Maybe for my next release?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

What’s Cooking?

Lowcountry Boil It’s Thursday, so that means I’m cooking up trouble at the Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen.

On the menu today is Frogmore Stew. No, I’m not kidding—it’s a Deep South specialty. If you want to know what it is, you’ll just have to click over.

Interestingly enough, I’m writing two series with two completely different protagonists. Well, duh, you’re saying. They’d better be different, since they’re different books for different publishers.

But the biggest thing that’s so different about them is that Myrtle (the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink) is a horrible cook. Her cookbook’s pages get stuck together and she blithely continues cooking—not knowledgeable enough in the kitchen to realize the ingredients couldn’t possibly work well together. She sets off the smoke detector during a dinner party.

Lulu Taylor is totally different. In fact, she owns her own barbeque restaurant in Memphis. Her son mans the pit there and cooks up the best ribs in the South. Not only does she know how to cook, she’s renowned for it.

My cooking skills are somewhere in the middle. Let’s put it this way—what I know how to cook, I cook well.

Luckily for my family, I’m learning to cook wonderful recipes at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen.

And…bonus for foodie folks: The site is currently running a contest. Visit Mystery Lovers' Kitchen to enter to win the weekly drawing. The prize is a $25 gift certificate to the Williams-Sonoma kitchenware and gourmet food store.

Good luck!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Channeling Evil

As a homemaker/household engineer/WHATever, sometimes it can be challenging to channel a sinister mood. Communion with the dark side is important if you’re creating murder. But it can be especially hard to channel if you’re in between laundry loads and oven timers and looking to write for 15 minutes. Nothing very foreboding about the house…well, except for the spider that sneaked under the hutch in the dining room. Or maybe that stain on the 7 year old’s cute new Kelly's Kids skort that you have a sinking feeling won’t be coming out. You KNEW you shouldn't have let her wear it to Bible School. They used paint there and it WASN'T the washable kind. clip_image002

This is when it’s useful for me to close my eyes and conjure up something scary. It's build-a-mood. Things like the Anderson County Fair--the 1970s version of it, anyway. Oh my. There were some scary looking folks that both attended and worked there…especially the fellow who wouldn’t stop the double Farris wheel ride, even though my little sister was about to puke. I mean, come on--we were the only kids on the ride, anyway…would it have killed him to have stopped it? He grinned a gap-toothed grin and ROUND we went again a few more times. Terrifying.

Fairs still scare me. They’re loud and I'm a quiet person. The flashing lights are alarming if you’re prone to migraines. The huge stuffed animals you win are frighteningly hefty if you lug them around for a couple of hours before you leave. The amount of money you pay to ride the rides, eat the greasy food, and park is also scary. There are hordes of people there and I'm an introvert. The nausea-inducing rides are absolutely diabolical (paired with tortuous shrieks). I used to run for the animal/agricultural areas to detox from the overstimulation. This blog has become a tribute to a phobia, but point being, the memory of the fair can transport me to a menacing place that sets the mood for murder.

Other genres also require various moods. Would it have been hard to write a chick-lit book like The Devil Wears Prada if you were slopping around the house in sweatpants? What about romance writers? They have to set an amorous mood in their books—maybe that’s hard to conjure if you’re miffed at your significant other.

So, I’m curious. How does everyone gear themselves up to write emotional scenes—whatever the genre? Inquiring minds want to know. :)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wassup, People of the World? On Social Media and Blogging

The Love Letter--Pietro Antonio Rotari Unfortunately for him, my son came into my room a few minutes ago, flopped on my bed and said he was bored. He quickly revised that statement when he saw the gleam in my eye. “Wait. No, I’m not bored! Mommmm!”

I gave him my list of things to do. He picked ‘write blog.’

Here’s the post he wrote for my blog. It’s entitled “Wassup, People of the World?” :

Yo! Watz up, Diggy Dogs? Elizabeth Craig is in the house. Who wants to chitty chat with moi? Cmon…somebody HAS to want to chit chat with me?!?!?!?!?!?! :) Cmon, ask me a question about my book….whatever it is called, anyway. Let’s make the roof explode with questions!

Okay, Elizabeth is back now. Yes, the texting culture has definitely affected the next generation, if anyone wondered. And, no, my son isn't a gangsta: he's a 12 year old blond suburbanite.

But still, there are some things that Generation Next knows instinctively that took some learning on my part:

Adapt quickly. Media and applications are changing all the time.

Short and to-the-point updates. I’m thinking that William Faulkner and Henry James would have a hard time editing for the length and attention spans of 2009. But Ernest Hemingway? Maybe not so much. The point is, it’s not a good idea to ramble these days—not with blogs. And you couldn’t ramble with Twitter or Facebook status updates, even if you wanted to.

Have an appealing heading. If you want your post to stand out on Twitter or Networked Blogs, practice writing your headlines. Teasers seem to work best on Twitter.

Encourage a response. Maybe not so much of an appeal for response as my son penned in his blog post for me, but it’s good to encourage dialogue and a sharing of ideas. That’s the best part of social media, after all.

Have fun. That’s one of the hardest things for me to remember. I tend to look at nearly everything in terms of work and minutes used to complete a task. But to Gen Next, this is fun….all they want to do is to network with other people. And they’re very good at it.

For us to compete in their world and stay relevant, we’re going to need to find the fun in social media. Because it’s going to be around, in some form or fashion, from here on out.

This is Elizabeth Diggy Dog, signing out, yo.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Calling on Bookstores

Reading Girl--Gustav Hennig The best ways to get your book on a bookstore’s shelves are personal visits to the store, phone calls, and emails.

In 2005, there were 172,000 books published in the United States (I couldn’t find more recent data.) Even with mid-size to large publishers, unless you have a bestseller, your book won’t make its way to all the stores.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a natural promoter. When my husband and I were in the mountains a week ago, we walked into an independent bookstore. I was busily burying myself in the shelves when my husband said, “Hey, E, aren’t you going to tell them about your book?” I glared at him. “No! Shh!”

The next thing I knew, he was at the front desk, politely asking for the manager, telling him all about my book, and prompting me to hand them my card.

That’s why he makes the money for the family.

So here, for my fellow reluctant promoters, are my tips for a job you really must do:

If you’re going in person, bring your business cards. Either write the ISBN # of your book on your card, or have it printed there. If you think you might chicken out of a face-to-face encounter (like me), then bring along a spouse or friend.

On the phone: Large chains have community relations managers (CRMs). Ask for them when you call or else your spiel will be wasted on someone who has a line at the cash register and wants you to call back later.

Small stores get busy and don’t have large staffs. Be sure to ask if it’s a good time for you to talk to them about your book.

Have a script: After getting the CRM on the phone and making sure it’s a good time for them to talk, I usually say something like this:

My name. That I have an upcoming release on ______date for my _____ genre book. Could they order a couple of copies for their shelves? I mention my publisher’s name. I give them the ISBN. While they look up the ISBN on the computer (to see if it’s in their warehouse), I briefly share my good reviews. I have quick summary ready if they ask what the book is about. Sometimes they ask if I’m interested in a signing, so I have my day planner near.

Tip: Barnes and Noble wanted all of the information emailed to their CRM. This was very easy for me. Maybe it was easy for them to delete, too? If I don’t hear back from them via email I’ll have to do a follow-up call.

Tip: Independent bookstores sometimes ask the price of the book, its format (trade paperback, hardback, etc.) and whether it’s possible to get signed copies. Be ready to answer those questions. Link to IndyBound on your website instead of Amazon. Be a friend to independent booksellers.

Tip: Use the American Booksellers Association to aid you in your search. Put in your genre for a listing of bookstores that sell it. Not all stores are members of the ABA, but you get a substantial listing. Don’t spam them…use the site as a tool for focused promotion.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


I like to stay organized, but occasionally I get off-course. That’s what happened this past week.

I have a September 1 deadline coming up. Everything looks good, but I decided to write in a subplot. I know…editing is for taking out. But this is a good addition. Really. :)

I have a book coming out on Aug. 1. That’s….Saturday.

I’m about to go out of town to research my Memphis setting for the book due Sept. 1.

And, completely unrelated but just as important—there was a sudden avalanche of dirty laundry. My husband and I returned from our short trip away, my daughter came back from Brownie camp (how could one little girl make so much laundry during a 2-night stay?), and—the mother of all dirty laundry nightmares: my son returned from a week at a rustic Boy Scout camp. He’d conveniently put his horrid, reeking refuse (which used to be clothing) in a black garbage bag. I seriously considered transporting it to the dumpster. I’m proud to say it’s now in the washer sloshing around with about $20 worth of Tide, Biz, and Shout.

So…what to do? It’s no good prioritizing what’s most important. They’re all important.

What to do when it all happens at once:

Empty my mind of everything I can think of that I need to do. If I don’t do this, my mind keeps whirring (especially at night.) Everything goes on the master list. This list is not prioritized in any way. ‘Make reservation at the dog’s kennel’ is right over ‘email agent about next due date for Midnight Ink.’

Break down the tasks into steps. Take, for instance, the August 1 release. I have a couple of interviews to give, several ARCs to send out, guest blog posts to write, bookstores to call, etc. It helps to see it written out instead of having something on my to-do list that says “Promote Book".”

Prioritize the steps. First I should call some bookstores—the chains, anyway. They’re open Sundays. Then I should send out the ARCs (Monday morning, when the shipping offices open.) Then I should prepare for my interviews and write my guest posts. Then…

Assign days for each task to be completed. I get my day planner out for this part. This goes hand in hand with the prioritization of the steps.

Delegate. No one can write our book for us. But they can blog for us. I want to give a big thanks to Alan Orloff and Galen Kindley for posting such an informative series on getting the most from your writers’ conference experience. I really learned a lot and plan on using my newly-gained wisdom at conferences next year. And…they helped me out when I was getting pressed for time.

My family has helped me out with cleaning, laundry, and errand-running. I’ve had a couple of friends invite my daughter over for playdates the last few days.

I’ve found that I feel back on track and it’s mostly due to having an organized plan of attack. And having some help in the trenches. :)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pitching an Agent in Person...Part II

Hi, Friends. Welcome back. Yesterday we looked at the lighter side of agent pitching in person. Today is all business. We continue with Shirley Kennett, the 2009 ThrillerFest Chair of the International Thriller Writers organization. Shirley's post resumes below. It's packed with useful, practical information you can actual use. Let's get to it... Your Agent pitching experience need not be a disaster. Of course you're nervous. You've waiting months for this, your stomach is flip-flopping to one degree or another, and you feel like your personal worth is on the line. So the first piece of advice is this: Rejection isn't personal. When an agent says no, he's saying that your work is not right for him. Nothing more, nothing less. It's not an appraisal of your writing because—check the interaction (from yesterday) carefully—the agent hasn't actually seen any of your writing. Let's talk about what you need to accomplish when you pitch, and then we'll break down each of those things in detail. I like to start with this:

---Sell your story + Sell your character + Sell yourself = Successful Pitch!--- Sell your story Every thriller story has heat in it, by which I mean the parts that truly excite a reader and therefore an agent or editor. What you want to talk about when you first sit down for your pitch is heat, heat, heat and nothing else about your story. The rest can come later in conversation with the agent. So what is heat? Heat is the concept of your story expressed in a few sentences, or even a few words. Think sound bytes. This is heat: ---A forensics expert has just hours to unlock the secrets of a decade-old murder and untangle greed, incest, and evil to save the life of the woman he loves. ---A woman flees into the Ethiopian wilderness with a baby whose birth was foretold by ancient legends, and struggles against the hostile land and pursuing enemies to save a child destined to unite warring tribes. ---A CIA agent discovers that deep cover terrorist cells in different countries are receiving directions via typos inserted in online and print publications to launch a dirty bomb attack in six hours—somewhere. ---A man kidnaps the son he believes is a cult member and takes him to an isolated spot for deprogramming. Instead, in a psychological twist, the man succumbs to the cult and becomes enmeshed in violence and a plot to assassinate a presidential candidate. These pitches are a little long and could certainly use some polishing and tightening. I just made them up, but you've been working with a story you're very enthusiastic about for months, so you should be able to come up with a hot opening. They all include a beginning, middle, and an end (or a strong hint of an end) in 45 words or less. Typical speaking time is about 15 seconds, if you have it memorized. And you will need to memorize your pitch. Something that may get you started thinking is to do What If exercises. Think of your story in terms of "What if blah blah blah, only to discover that blah blah blah." For example: ---What if a detective works on a case originating 20 years ago, only to discover that his life closely parallels that of the victim...will history repeat? ---Or one from a book of mine: What if a woman sold her soul to a demon only to discover that 300 years later she wants it back? These could make excellent pitches all by themselves. Your What If might be an excellent one sentence tag line for your book, meaning a line that gets repeated over and over like you are branding yourself. (You are beginning to do so right from the git-go. Sell your character Once past talking about your story idea, be prepared to talk about a few of the characters in your book, definitely the protagonist and villain. You need to convey your characters' unique slant on life that distinguishes them from 1001 other protagonists and villains—and why they fit into your story so well. Mention the setting of your book, since it has such a bearing on the story. Try not to make this a dry recital. Instead, have a few practiced descriptions in mind. Here's an example that gives an agent a lot of information about your characters and is interesting rather than dry.

PJ Gray is forty-one, a psychologist, a newly-single mother, and pioneer in the field of forensic computer simulation working in St. Louis. She's professional on the outside, a little vulnerable on the inside, intuitive, quick-witted, and struggling with the gap in respect that cops have for those who aren't in the Job. Her senior investigator, Detective Schultz, has been saved from premature retirement by her program. He's skeptical, curmudgeonly, not above bending the law in a good cause, extremely dedicated to his work, and will end up much more than a co-worker to PJ.
Note that this is the opposite of your writing, where you would show all this personality rather than tell it. In a pitch, you are in tell, not show mode. Character is extremely important. No matter how good your story idea sounds, if it is peopled by the dull dregs of the earth, an agent isn't going to like it. There has to be some visible potential for conflict, interaction, and growth shown in your characters. The agent may ask questions about them. You're supposed to know them well, so make sure it shows. Other points to convey: your manuscript is finished and ready for review; the word count (85,000-110,000 could be typical—if significantly longer or shorter, you'll need to discuss why); some subplots if there's time, to show the depth of the story. Sell yourself An agent isn't just showing interest in a story, he has to have confidence in your professionalism and has to be able to see you as a person he can work with in a long-term business relationship. Your agent does not have to be your dearest friend, but there has to be enough compatibility to make things work between you. Show yourself off as a professional. Dress like you would for a job interview. That means business casual clothing at least. That automatically puts you ahead of the poor guy who didn't get the message and finds himself the only person there in cutoff jeans with holes in strategic places and a Trekkies Forever t-shirt and flip-flops. In general, NY is a dressier town than most. A lot of the agents will be coming directly from their offices, dressed for work. Guys, at least pack the khakis and a collared shirt. Ladies, you know the drill. Be prepared with a brief, non-wandering bio of yourself. If you have any special reasons why you are able to write your legal thriller or spy novel or military thriller with authenticity because you've been there and done that, now is the time to get that across. If you have any publishing credits, be sure to mention them. If you don't, don't raise the subject unless asked. Come prepared with business cards, and make the best use of them by putting the right information on. Don't use your day job business cards (unless you have a really, really prestigious day job). On the front of the card, put a photo of yourself if you're comfortable with that. Name, contact info (no home address needed), and your one line tag line for your book. No fancy script fonts that aren't easily readable, no neon orange cards, just a businesslike approach. On the back of the card, if you want to include it, provide a longer description of your story, maybe four or five sentences. Some agents will take your card, some won't be interested. Don't press. The reason for the photo on the card is this. One of the great things about pitching at conferences is the personal rapport that can develop very quickly. Your business card will help an agent remember not just your name, but put a face to that name, and a few words about your book to jog his memory. When you do make a submission after the conference, be sure to include your card as a refresher of your identity. Also bring with you a one page synopsis, actually 3/4 of a page, because the bottom 1/4 should be a brief bio. Have this available, offer it if the agent is interested, and again don't press. Should you bring something longer? Since you're going to be carrying around the conference tote bag (looks like a small briefcase) anyway, you might as well put a full synopsis (5-10 pages) and the first 50 pages of your manuscript in there. This is something that you could mention you have, but don't expect a lot of takers. The idea here is for the agent to say yes or no to your pitch and if yes, request a submission of additional material after the conference. You'll be told what type of submission and if it should be by email or hard copy. Start working on your one page and full synopses early. They are difficult to write well, and not something to be dashed off at the last minute. I want to end with some inspiring success stories from previous AgentFests. Here they are: Jenny Smith: Mary-Frances Makichen: Graham Brown and Jamie Freveletti: Great points, Shirley. I learned a bunch. Hope you found something worthwhile as well.

Shirley can be reached at:

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pitching an Agent in Person...Yikes!

I'll take a cue from Alan's very informative post of yesterday...Hello. I’m Galen Kindley, and yes, it takes grit to stick my picture up there. Ugh. Rather than bore you with my non-history, here’s a link to my Bio page. BUT, trust me, save yourself the trouble. Just stay here; it’s not worth the mouse click. I’m the world’s most boring person. There’s even an acronym for it: TWMPB. So, stay where you are. You’ll have more fun and discover news you can actually use. So, where the heck is Elizabeth? Captured by Mediterranean pirates? Ha. She wishes. No, turns out Elizabeth is bonded to a brutal schedule. What’s that Bob Seger line about, Deadlines and commitments? Well, she has plenty of those. But, being the trooper she is, she wants to keep her very fine blog up and running. Accordingly, she’s asked some extraordinarily talented bloggers—and one ringer--to stand in for her. Yep, you guessed it…I’m the ringer. Your lucky day. Elizabeth has a soft heart for stray dogs and the hopelessly indigent. Only way I can explain my presence. Nonetheless, I hold Elizabeth in high regard and don’t want to sully her Blog with my unkempt drivel. What to do? How to act? What to say? Naturally, I looked for an internet answer. It is, after all, today’s oracle at Delphi. I found a post at the highly respected ProBlogger about, “How to be A Good Guest Blogger.” I ignored it. Too much trouble. Back to square one. Hmmm. I can’t actually write interesting or entertaining copy, so that’s out. Desperation loomed. Then, it struck me! Since I am without principle or scruples, I looked about the internet for some quality work I could steal plagiarize, bootleg, copy present. After some digging, I came upon the very interesting post below by Shirley Kennett, the 2009 ThrillerFest Chair of the International Thriller Writers organization. Bingo! Front row seats. As my attention increasingly turns toward writing conventions, and as I’m always interested in landing an agent, Shirley’s post seemed timely. I read it. Liked it. Thought you might like it, too. Conscience did get the better of me. I actually spoke with Shirley about “presenting” her post. She graciously authorized a reprint. The article is a bit longer than I normally post, but, the content is so good, it merits the space. What I’ll do is present it in two parts. Today’s part is shorter and deals with how an agent should NOT be pitched. On Saturday, I’m hoping you’ll find your way back here for part two, the meat of the information…the correct way to do things. So, let’s take a look at how not to accomplish your mission. (Your computer screen fades to black, then returns with you standing in a semi-dark hallway, outside an office door, in a far away town, in a hotel to which you’ve never before been. You’re…gulp…waiting your turn to see an agent. You made an appointment. You’re committed. You can’t run. You can’t hide. You’re stuck. On the good side, you’re nattily dressed. You’re hair is neatly combed. You’re teeth are recently polished. Oh dear, but not the shoes. Doesn’t matter, you’re not gonna put your feet on the agent’s desk….nor your teeth, probably. You slap yourself, trying to stop the silliness pinging about your brain. The door opens. A man in tears walks dejectedly through the door. He stumbles past you without an acknowledgement. Before you can react, the sound of your name hangs loudly in the air. Robotically, you step into a small office. The agent…see mean looking person below…is seated behind a desk looking…well…mean. Glowering might describe him, and why not? He’s heard 25 worthless pitches and it’s not yet noon. You nod. Maybe he nods in return; maybe it’s your imagination. Definitely your imagination. With a sweaty palmed hand, you reach for a chair adjacent to his desk. You timidly pull it back. It scrapes annoyingly on the floor. The agent cringes. You give a half-heart smile. Your brain shouts, “Oh my God, he’s looking at my shoes!” Shirley takes you home from here... You sit down, your manuscript in your white-knuckled grip. The agent eyes your manuscript skeptically, which increases the pressure of your grip. You wait for the agent to introduce himself and ask what your book is about. There it is, the dreaded question, and it hangs in the air between the two of you. You're up. You're on stage. It's your big moment. You clear your throat, set the manuscript on the table, and get started. "Well, my book is about a man who gets involved in some nasty stuff." The agent blinks and you realize he hasn't yet taken the 600 page pile of papers, the sacrificial offering on the table. "Um, his name is Jason Wired, and at the beginning of the book his wife gets kidnapped." "Okay," the agent says. "I wrote this book because my niece's best friend knew someone who got kidnapped, so everything is authentic. When Jason tries to find out who kidnapped his wife, he gets into deep trouble." "Why didn't he go to the police?" the agent asks. You're stunned to have a question to answer, especially one that's a slightly weak point in your story. You avoid eye contact, trying to think of a good answer. "He doesn't trust the police." "Why is that?" the agent says, sitting forward. He must be sensing some meat on the bones of your story. "Uh, I don't go into that a lot in the book, but in my notes the reason is his father was a crooked cop. I …" "I'm not really interested in this type of book," the agent says. You feel an opportunity slipping away and make another try. "You don't understand. This is a great book. All my friends say so. It would be a mistake to pass it up." The agent looks beyond you at the next person waiting. "Next, please." You get up and begin to slink away, feeling the sting of personal rejection. "Excuse me," the agent says. "You forgot your manuscript." This is the nightmare version of pitching to an agent in person. Let's start changing that to a dream scenario instead. Part Two on Saturday! Okay, today was kinda for laughs. Tomorrow, we get serious and deal with how this pitching thing is properly done. For example, we’ll look at the formula: Sell your story + Sell your character + Sell yourself = Successful Pitch! Shirley breaks each part down, describing how to do each factor properly. I promise plenty of good, practical, useful information. Hey, anyone that uses a formula is seriously serious. As a bonus, there’ll be none—well, not much--of my commentary. Deal? Deal. See you tomorrow, right here on Mystery Writing is MurderIt won’t be the same without you. .

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hello. My Name is…

I love writers' conferences. So much to learn, so much positive energy, so many good books to discover. But the best thing about writer's conferences? Hands down, it's the collection of writers (and readers, and editors, and agents, and…).

DSCF0288 Here are some tips for networking at conferences:

Before the conference Do your prep work. Effective networking at conferences begins weeks (or months) before the conference. See if there is a list of attendees (authors, editors, agents, fans) posted on the conference website. Go through this list and take note of those people you'd like to meet (make a list if you have to). For those you absolutely, positively must meet, consider emailing them ahead of time to arrange a place to rendezvous. But remember: Nobody likes a stalker!

Get business cards made, if you don't already have some. There are plenty of inexpensive on-line printers that will do a fine job (I've used VistaPrint). Having all your contact info in one convenient "giveaway" beats writing your name, website, blog address, and email address on the hand of the uber-agent you’ve just met. Paraphrasing my grandmother, "Professional is as professional does."

Stay in the conference hotel. If you can swing it, stay where all the action will take place. Besides being convenient, you're bound to make friends waiting for the elevator or in the stairwell during the inevitable 3 a.m. fire alarm evacuation. DSCF0289

At the conference Stick your hand out - often. If you see someone standing alone during a break or at a cocktail hour, introduce yourself. Arrive early to the panels and find an empty seat next to someone. Hang out in the hospitality lounge. Strike up a conversation with anybody who seems interesting. Everyone there is like you--looking to make contacts.

Make it easy to be "met." Always wear a nametag and display it in a place that's easy to see. The nametag is the first place my eyes go when I'm meeting someone new--or when I'm searching out people on my "have-to-meet" list. If you write your name on the tag yourself, make sure it's large and legible.

Don't hide in your hotel room. You might be an introvert (many writers are), but one of the big reasons you're at the conference is to meet people. So get out and meet them!

DSCF0291 Visit the book room. Booksellers are authors' best friends. Meet them, talk with them, be extra nice to them. Buy some books while you're at it.

Hit the bar. The hotel bar is the place to mingle. Even if you don't drink, think of the bar as the conference meeting place (albeit with plenty of booze). This is where you can meet the authors you've read for all those years and hear tons of great stories. [Hint: keep your wits about you, or your drunken escapades might become the punchlines to their stories the following year.] More business gets done in the bar than anywhere else.

After the conference Follow-up. Remember all the business cards you passed out? Well, hopefully you collected plenty, too. Follow up with the people you met. Drop them an email saying how nice it was chatting (lie if you need to--you can handle a little fiction, right?). Give them book recommendations, or ideas about getting published, or tips on other great conferences to attend. Stay in touch!

Writers make up a great community. Become part of it!

(Of course, on-line networking is important, too. Friend me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, and visit my blog. I'm always looking to network with other readers and writers.)

Alan Orloff's debut novel, DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, is slated for April 2010 from Midnight Ink. He blogs at A Million Blogging Monkeys and InkSpot. Visit for more information.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Something New and Different

Food Blog header Sometimes we have to shake things up a little bit in our lives.

I’m doing a lot of that this week. A lot. And, as a person who doesn’t accept change well, it’s been an interesting week. I took off to the mountains with my husband (unheard of.) I was actually able to relax (again…unheard of.) And now (drum roll please)--

Each Thursday I’m going to be posting on mysteries and food on the Mystery Lovers' Kitchen blog.

I know what you’re thinking. “Elizabeth cooks?"

Riley Adams is a cook. Riley Adams is my pseudonym for Penguin/Berkley. I’m writing the Memphis Barbeque mystery series for them (first book to debut Memorial Day weekend of 2010.)

Yes, all right. Riley and I are the same person and I’m not a cook with a capital C. This will be a fun learning experience for me—the other authors on this blog are wonderful in the kitchen. Just go over there and check out the recipes. I’m excited to be a part of their group, plan to learn a lot, and hope to share what I learned from growing up around some fantastic Southern cooks.

Twitter? We’re there: it’s MysteryLoversKitchen. Facebook? It’s Mystery Lovers Kitchen under groups.

Also, I’m pleased to report that I’m hosting a special series on conventions on Mystery Writing is Murder. Tomorrow, Alan Orloff will be giving us tips to get the most out of our attendance at writing conventions: before, during, and after the conference. On Friday and Saturday, Galen Kindley will explain how to pitch an agent at a convention. I’m really looking forward to reading these posts, since I’m a convention newbie.

Now I’d better go rummage through my recipe box….

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Changing Hats

When this post publishes, my husband and I will be on our way to pick up our daughter at Brownie camp. She was only gone for two nights, but since she’s 7, we thought the short stay would prove a good introduction to resident camp. The idea was that she’d go there, love it, not be homesick at all, and then would want to graduate to a weeklong camp next summer.

As luck would have it (okay, it was careful planning), her two-night camp coincided with our son’s weeklong camp.

So my husband and I happily made arrangements to stay at a historic mountain inn in Highlands, North Carolina.

When we arrived at the inn, we were suddenly just us again—no children. Just like when we first married. The inn was picturesque and, when we checked in, we discovered that we were the only guests staying in the entire guest house. Our room had a balcony with rocking chairs. We had a bottle of wine, already chilled. We smiled.

Then my cell phone rang. “Mrs. Craig? It’s the camp nurse. No, no, she’s fine, really. Fine. Don’t worry. It’s just…well. Her braces? They fell out of her mouth during supper. What should I do?”

So…you got it. I’m now 100% thinking about my daughter. Was she upset the braces fell out? Is she okay? How did the darn things come out, anyway?

I immediately had my Mom hat back on. My husband looked completely horrified at the sudden manifestation of the Mom hat. But then I took it off. It was 7:00 p.m. She was three hours away from me. Really, there was nothing I could immediately do. So I made a list of what I should do tomorrow: email my daughter and tell her everything was fine and that—upside!—she now got to eat anything she wanted, and call the dentist and get them to reinstall the appliance as soon as she gets back from camp. For free.

I had to stop myself from wearing the Mom hat.

When I’m writing, I have to stop myself from wearing the editor hat. My tendency is to write for a few pages, stop, frown, and say, “This stinks.”

For me, editing as I go completely messes with my creative flow. I know some folks can write and edit simultaneously, but I’m not one of them.

Ways to get rid of the editor hat (until it’s time to edit):

Highlight the section of the page that’s bothering me so I can find it later.

Jot down ideas for changing the story’s path or the character’s personality. Maybe I don’t like the way John has behaved in the story up to that point. Change it for future text and then edit the previous problem during revisions. Make a note of where in the WIP I took the character or story on a new path.

Don’t read what I’ve already written.

At the end of a writing session, jot down a paragraph-long brief outline of where I want to pick up the next day and how I plan the scene to go. This eliminates the need to read previously-written text to see where I left off (and keeps me from picking it to death.)

Relax. Take a deep breath. Shut up my inner critic. Move on with writing.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Stating the Obvious

To me, the best time to clean out the car is at the gas station.

So on Saturday, I busily pulled handfuls of camp newsletters, empty sandwich baggies, empty sunscreen bottles, a cardboard box, etc., out of my car while it was filling up with gas. (Yes, this was clutter that had collected in the few days since I’d last fueled up.)

There was a man at the pump behind me who apparently watched me as I cleaned. I didn’t pay attention to him at first, but then—after making several trips from the inside of the car to the trash can—I noticed that he was smirking at me.

I realized that I'd pulled a prodigious amount of paper trash from my car. In fact, I’d filled up half the can. I smiled weakly at him. “I…uh…have kids,” I said.

“Noooooo. Really?” he asked.

His sarcasm earned him a glare, but I had to admit he had a point. Who else but a parent would be driving a minivan that seats seven people? That has a bumper sticker on the back emblazoned with the name of an elementary school? That has a booster seat in the middle row, easily visible through the open, sliding door?

I had stated the obvious and he’d called me on it.

When I first started writing fiction, I found it really easy to use unnecessary adverbs—frequently in dialogue. You know: '’he said, knowingly’ and ‘she retorted angrily.’ Then I realized I could just show that the man was a know-it-all by what he was saying: “Actually, the circumference of an ellipse is determined by finding the complete elliptic integral of the second kind.” And I could show that the woman was angry by what she was saying. “Good for you. But do you know where the laundry hamper is, Mr. Smarty Pants? Because the gym socks lying on the floor are the reason we’re arguing.”

If you'd rather show tension via body language, you could have him smirk. Or he could heave a long suffering sigh. She could have tightly pressed lips or bunched shoulders.

When we state the obvious, we’re selling our readers short. They can tell how our characters are feeling by their body language and dialogue. The last thing I want is to have a reader put down my book with a “Nooooooo. Really?”

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Book Length

WarandPeace I read really quickly. But usually I don’t automatically gravitate toward books on the shelf that are thick when I’m browsing at the bookstore.

Thick books usually equal lots of characters, complicated plot lines…maybe even a family tree or a map at the beginning of the book.

If I see a family tree at the beginning of a book, it’s going back on the shelf. I wish I had that kind of time, but I don’t.

Long Book Avoidance doesn’t happen when it’s an eagerly awaited sequel or part of a series I’m reading. I just finished the many-paged Private Patient by P.D. James. But I start out with an advantage with series books---I already know some of the characters.

Right now I’m writing 70,000--75,000 word books. I think my reading preferences have seeped over into my writing preferences. Maybe someday I’ll want to make a stab at some epic saga of a book, but that day has definitely not come yet.

Thoughts on Word Count:

Personally, it’s not something I like to think about when I’m writing. But I can tell if I’m in the right ball-park with my word count as I’m writing the first draft.

One editor (Moonrat’s) thoughts on word count for debut novels: summing up, the highest word count she’d recommend for a debut would be 100,000 words. She thinks that some editors would rather see 80,000. She says:

“There are practical reasons for this rule! It's not (entirely) that editors are close-minded pigs. The reason is 100,000 words casts off at about 480 typeset pages. That would make your book...well, a lot of pages--astronomically expensive to produce. Since literary fiction (particularly debuts) sell in smaller numbers than genre fiction, the potential profit margin on your book would be even lower than on another debut. Publishers would be very, very wary of the financial risk they were undertaking.”

If you’re looking for just general, ballpark information on word counts for various genres, try: . Ronnie Smith, the author of this article, is careful to remind the reader that these are generalizations.

As for me, I’m going to look forward to the day when I can study a novel’s maps and family trees to my heart’s content.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Big, big store

Yesterday evening I went to the grocery store to pick up some milk.

The grocery store is huge.

It’s a super-sized Bi-lo and it took me a long time to even get to the milk. I really should have had my walking shoes on instead of flip-flops. And I got all distracted on the long walk to the dairy section and ended up buying all sorts of things. But I’d only intended to get milk, so I hadn’t gotten a shopping buggy or a basket at the front of the store.

So here I am, juggling a bunch of impulse buys, and hoofing it all the long way back to the cashier.

When I was a kid, we had a tiny A&P grocery store in my hometown of Anderson, South Carolina. When I lived in London for a while in college, there was a Safeway near where I lived (close to the British Museum) that was a nice, small store. Birmingham, Alabama had the cozy-feeling Piggly Wiggly.

But now…it’s mostly just gigantic stores.

My husband’s sister and her husband live in Kenya. They came to North Carolina for a visit and I took them to the Costco warehouse (pictured) the day after they got off the plane. I figured they needed to stock up on some stuff.

It was complete culture shock for them, which clearly I should have realized. Any place that has 2 gallon containers of green peas takes time to adjust to.

Many times I really want to just pick up some milk.

Since books are escapes for me, I’m happiest reading about places that introduce me to a simpler, quieter place. British villages, small Southern towns, anyplace set in the past are my favorite escape settings.

In Pretty is as Pretty Dies, I wrote about a small town with a strong sense of community. There wasn't a super center in the whole book.

Because sometimes it’s nice to just downsize my world.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What If?

I think I must be a masochist.

Here I have a perfectly good manuscript (that, I might add, is due to Berkley September 1.)

It’s completely finished.  I’ve completed two revision sweeps for grammar, typos, content problems.

It looks good.

Plus, I have Pretty is as Pretty Dies coming out August 1. I’m in the middle of phone interviews, setting up blog hosts for my blog tour, and all sorts of mayhem.  As my son said yesterday: “Your book is messing up my life!”

I shouldn’t be doing anything but continuing my revisions by tightening up my writing and finding more errors to erase.  But…

I just can’t seem to help myself.  So I have an alternate document in my computer for my WIP. It’s my ‘what if’ document.

In that document, I explore different outcomes for events.  What if a different suspect committed the murder?  What if there were an additional victim?  What if I added a character and had them do ___________---what would this mean for my sleuth?  And the investigation?

Right now, only small scenes from my what-if additions have made it into the real manuscript. But if one of the storylines I explore is really good, it’ll make it into the main doc. That will mean a lot of revising, but if it works, it’s worth it.

It’s almost as if I’ve created an alternate, parallel universe for my characters.  This alt/doc helps me keep my creative juices going during the dry revision and marketing process, and may provide some additional content for my book.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What Fairy Tales Have Taught Me About Writing

Pied Piper of I’m still in the point of my life where I’m reading a lot of Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. Sometimes I even feel like I’m continuing the storytelling tradition by retelling the tales to my kids sans books.

No matter how often I read and tell these stories, the kids are caught up in them.

What I’ve learned from fairy tales:

Start out right in the middle of the action: Jack and his mother are out of food at the beginning of Jack and the Beanstalk. So Jack goes off to sell the old cow, the last saleable asset, for their very survival.

If you start out with an ordinary day, it should abruptly veer off course (and pretty quickly.) Red Riding Hood was on a run-of-the-mill trip to Grandma’s house before ill-advisedly chatting with a wolf. In Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the bears had some hot food that needed to cool--and the need to walk off a few pounds. It was a normal morning for the bears until that naughty Goldilocks broke into their cottage and started destroying their furniture.

Limit the number of characters: Fairy tales have only a handful, suitable for easy retelling through the generations. And, yes, the stories are super-short. But think how memorable these characters are.

Characters’ shortcomings can contribute to their downfalls: Yes, the wolf was a terrible antagonist for the Three Little Pigs. But two of the pigs were brought down just as much by their own failure—laziness. Obviously, brick building matter was available, but they decided to go the easy route with twigs and straw. Little Red Riding Hood shouldn’t have talked to strangers. The poor villager should never have bragged to the king that his daughter could spin straw into gold. Peter’s habit of lying nearly caused him to be devoured by a wolf.

Greed is a powerful motivator: The people of Hamelin didn’t pay the Pied Piper for ridding them of their rats; he lured off their children in retaliation. Jack’s greed (he went back up the beanstalk several times to steal additional items from the giant) nearly killed him.

Before an attack, have tension build steadily. We know something that Little Red Riding Hood doesn’t know—she’s in the room with a ravenous wolf. The tension builds as Red comes slowly toward the bed. “Grandma! What big eyes you have!” Jack hides in an oven while the giant bellows, “Fee-fi-fo-fum!” It’s not a jumping-out-at-you kind of fear. We hear the giant’s heavy steps, see Red come closer to the wolf to peer at her ‘grandma.’ Waiting for the inevitable attack creates painstaking tension.

Have the protagonist save himself by using his wits. Now this isn’t always the case in fairy tales. Yes, the woodsman saved Red and Grandma. And Bluebeard’s wife was saved by her brothers. But in many cases, there wasn’t some last-minute savior. In Three Billy Goats Gruff, the goats outwitted the troll by repeatedly promising him that a better meal was on its way to the bridge. In Hansel and Gretel, Hansel tricked the nearsighted witch by sticking out a small bone leftover from a meal to prove to the witch he wasn’t fat enough for her to eat. The pig with the brick house was one step ahead of the wolf: realizing he was going to try to enter via the chimney, he anticipated the attack and boiled a large pot of water.

When the characters save themselves, the result is much more satisfying.

When I’m reading fairy tales to the kids, I sometimes think I’m getting more out of it than they are. Sharing the stories is a good experience for both of us.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Marketing Obstacles

IMG_5305 It's a snap to market yourself online. There are taglines, links, promo photos, blogs, etc. that make it incredibly simple.

Then there’s real-time marketing. For me, it’s the real-time promoting that poses a problem. Here are my issues:

Phones: Life falls apart when Mom gets on the phone. As I mentioned to my author friend Galen Kindley yesterday, the local press called me to set up an interview for my August 1 release. At that very moment, the smoke detector went off because I was cooking pasta and it always goes off when I’m cooking pasta. Then the dog (pictured) started barking hysterically to alert me to the alarm (as if I were deaf to the alarm, but had functional hearing when it came to her.)

My kids have a rule—when Mom is on the phone, there must be an emergency. No one throws up, makes the toilet or bathtub overflow, or needs me desperately in any way until I’m on the phone.

Face to Face Promoting: I feel uncomfortable mentioning my book when people ask what I do.

Conferences: I’m a stay-at-home mom. It’s complicated.

Book Signings: When I do book signings, customers think I work at the bookstore. I guess I’m not very authorly-looking. Many of them ask me where the restrooms are.

My Solutions:

Phone: Tell my kids that unless they’re bleeding to death or the house is on fire, they should leave me alone when I’m on the phone. Or talk on the phone while sitting in my closet. Put the dog outside. Don’t cook pasta. :)

Face to Face promotion: Business cards. I don’t have to say much…the cards have my contact info on them, a pic of the book, even my pseudonym for the books next year. I can stuff it in their hand and run away.

Conferences: Online conferences are my new thing. If it’s online, I’m there. Oh…but I’ll probably make Malice in the spring. Think I need to go there for sure.

Book signings: I book signings where I'm one of a panel of writers. I'm much more comfortable and less self-conscious. But I do still learn where the restrooms are, since people are sure to ask me.

Does anyone else have promoting obstacles? How do you get past them?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Signs Your Project Isn't Going Well

IMG_5308 What we have here is a failure to communicate. :Cool Hand Luke.

I don’t like to really sugarcoat my shortcomings.

When I’ve flunked at something, I’d rather acknowledge it and try something completely different.

As you can tell from the picture, I’m a lousy gardener.

Yes, it’s hot here in North Carolina. But I fry things on a regular basis. I should never be allowed to grow anything in a pot. It will die a horrid death because I’ll water it once a week.

I’m that way with reading and writing. I’m an impatient reader: if the author hasn’t connected with me after chapter two, I’m outta there.

If I’m failing to communicate with a scene, a bit of dialogue, a plot direction, I’ll scrap that, too. The longer I spend trying to write myself out of a box, the farther I seem to go into it.

Better to just jettison the weak part and bring in something new. I changed my murderer in mid-stream a couple of times last year. I kept wondering, “Now why did this person do it, again?” I kept fiddling with the manuscript and fiddling with it, trying to force this suspect to have committed the crime. A clear sign the person shouldn’t have done it at all. New killer! Nexttt!

Signs Something Isn’t Working:

  • You can’t logically explain what motivates the protagonist’s behavior.
  • Along the same lines, your character has completely changed with no reasonable explanation.
  • You can’t get into the protagonist’s head. They seem flat. You can’t identify with them at all.
  • The plot limps along with no discernable conflict.
  • There’s too much conflict and it changes from one thing to another. There’s no primary focus. There’s no theme, just 'the world vs. John Smith.’
  • There’s only external conflict and no internal conflict for the main character.
  • The protagonist is unlikeable.
  • There’s no readily-identifiable antagonist. There’s just bad stuff that happens.
  • Your content is a mess with flashbacks, backstory, telling instead of showing, too many dialogue tags, and point of view issues.
  • Your characters aren’t original. They’re more like stock characters (the alcoholic cop, the snooty society lady, the shy librarian).

I think we’re raised to avoid failure at all costs. But I believe it’s better in writing to just recognize a failure to communicate quickly and ruthlessly revise the problems in our stories. The earlier we recognize the problem, the sooner we can eliminate it.

Because I don’t want my books to go off to the editor looking like my potted plants.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Writing Series: Does Familiarity Breed Contempt or Comfort?

Jan van Eyck There are good things and bad things about long-term relationships.

On August 7, my husband and I will have been married 16 years.

There are very few surprises. For someone who likes predictability, this is a good thing. We have long-standing routines: he comes home from the office, we eat supper. The children tell him about their day. He and I watch “Jim Lehrer’s NewsHour” on PBS. He fusses about CEOs in large corporations and I fret about public education.

It’s predictable. It’s comforting. Is it…boring, though? And sometimes while we're in our predictable, comforting routine…we get on each others’ nerves.

With series, we’re inviting our readers to join us in a long-term relationship. Here are my thoughts (mostly as an avid series reader) on series do’s and don’ts:

Don’t make your protagonist's quirks too irritating.

If you use recurring characters, do have inside jokes from book to book. It’s fun to have a chatty character we know other characters will avoid. Or, when a character purchases a new appliance we know they won’t be able to figure out how to use it and will be cursing the thing in the next chapter. As a reader, it makes me feel very smug that I’m an insider.

Do show your character’s personal growth from book to book. If he doesn’t change at all, he’s just dead wood. If your character always falls in love with the wrong person, he might annoy your reader after a couple of books—“Hasn’t he learned anything?” Even if things happen to these characters, if they’re not developing as people, will the readers really care?

Do have an engaging setting that readers want to keep visiting. Louise Penny’s Three Pines, M.C. Beaton’s Scottish Lochdubh, Agatha Christe’s St. Mary Mead provide wonderful escapes for their readers.

Do introduce new characters. But not too many. I enjoy recurring characters, but if there’s no one new, I get tired of the old gang after a few books. On the other hand, if there are too many new characters, I lose track of who they all are.

Don’t assume your readers remember details from book to book. Sometimes I’m reading a series as it’s published so there might be a break of 9-12 months between reading them. A small tag for characters (Ben was the preacher’s son, etc.) is really appreciated.

Don’t assume your readers remember nothing from book to book. If the author goes over lots of backstory that I’m already well-acquainted with, that’s tiresome, too. I think it’s a delicate balance.

I try to keep my series pet peeves and preferences in my head as I write. Because I don’t want readers' familiarity with my books to breed contempt.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Twists of Fate

I’d never have met my husband if it hadn’t been for that freshman math requirement at my liberal arts college.

I’d never have even gone in the math building. 

He was a junior and I was a freshman and that was the only class we ever shared.  Without that class, I wouldn’t have met him, married him, wouldn’t have two children who look like him.  Maybe I’d be working now and not have as much time to write.

Some ascribe to the notion that you’re destined to follow a particular path no matter what—that maybe he and I wouldn’t have met in a classroom without that math requirement, but we’d have met at a party instead and I’d have still ended up where I am now.

I don’t think I believe that.

I like writing in little twists of fate in for my characters.  My character recently had a day that could be charted like this: got up, went to the main setting, witnessed the soon-to-be-murder-victim behaving badly, went back home. 

The path was boring, so I shook it up with a flat tire and a good Samaritan. Not only did I throw up an obstacle for my protagonist, but I forced her to be late for an event that she needed to get to. I sent her day on a different trajectory.

We can’t do this type of thing to change the ultimate course of the book or save the protagonist—this reeks of deus ex machina and is incredibly frustrating for readers.  Actually, it would never get to the reader because the editor would take that sucker right out.

But if  my book is getting predictable, if my characters are stuck in a rut, if my middle is a little saggy, I like to introduce a small twist to send them off in a different direction.  They’re initially reluctant to follow that direction (like I was reluctant to take college mathematics), but the end result is more satisfying to read. 

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Revision Thought for the Day

IMG_5295  When you’re cleaning up your house, do you ever skip over the same things over and over again? 

If something is out of place but it stays in the wrong place for days then do you stop seeing it after a while?

I do.  My eyes just pass right over the misplaced item as if it weren’t even there.

This is how a plastic, orange whistle, designed to look like fake lips ended up on my table for weeks. 

The children left it there.  I did notice it for the first few days (“What the *&%$??”), but I always seemed to have my arms full of laundry, groceries, or library books.

Then I just didn’t see the plastic, orange lip whistle anymore.  Until yesterday, when I finally tossed it back in my daughter’s room.

Editing is like this for me.  I read my manuscript over and over and over…but sometimes skip over the same mistakes each time.

The only ways I’ve found to counteract this issue is to read my manuscript aloud and to give it to other people to read (family, friends, agent) before my editor gets it. 

Otherwise, our work in progress may have a bunch of plastic lips in it. 

Friday, July 10, 2009



Ain’t misbehavin’? Not in South Carolina.

If you haven’t heard about South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and his secret, six day trip to Argentina to meet with his mysterious lover….well, it’s probably because the news coverage switched abruptly to cover Michael Jackson. Which likely made Gov. Sanford quite relieved. But here in North Carolina, we’ve been reading the coverage on his tryst with amazement (yes, that’s me above, amazed. My children have had way too much fun taking pictures of me lately.)

Political sex scandals are frequent, but this case was especially remarkable: 1. He told his staff he’d be hiking the Appalachian Trail (which, last I saw, was nowhere near South America.) 2. He turned off his cell phone and no one could reach him; not a good thing in hurricane season. 3. He left the country and no one in SC knew anything about it. 4. He called his lover his “soul mate” during a news conference (!!!). 5. He said he was going to ‘try to fall back in love with his wife’ (!!$%^!). Soooo many no-nos if you’re wanting to make up with your wife, Governor.

My advice to the governor would be to high-tail it to the nearest florist and hit Godiva on the way back to the house. And maybe stop calling your lover your soul mate. In public and on TV.

This scandal and all the salacious emails he exchanged with his Argentinean friend would be a lot more entertaining if it were fictitious. Because in real life, you just can’t get a vicarious thrill from this type thing---he has a real wife and real children who are getting hurt.

Fiction is wonderful. We get to experience falls from grace, forbidden love, and illicit affairs. All the dirty laundry and none of the guilt.

Thoughts on scandals in books:

Mysteries are the perfect genre for writing scandals. After all, the desperate attempt to cover up a secret is one of the biggest motives for murder.

If the exposure of a secret or scandal can ruin your protagonist’s life, it better be good. As a society, we’re a whole lot more laid-back about things than we used to be. So if your character’s whole life is destroyed, it better not be because his mama found out he was living with his girlfriend. Nope. Not gonna fly.

If the scandal is something that’s fairly everyday (an extramarital affair), then you probably need to write your protagonist as a public figure of some kind. National-level politicians work well for this, but ministers, principals, school teachers, small town leaders, etc. have just as much to lose as the big guys.

If you want the public reaction to the scandal to be especially harsh, write a period piece. If it’s set in a place and time where folks were especially intolerant, you can even write in major uprisings or mob scenes. Salem witch trials, anyone?

Some of my favorite books that include scandals, secrets, and falls from grace: The Scarlet Letter, Pride and Prejudice (the younger sister…you remember), House of Mirth, and Atonement.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Simple Comfort of Books


Hi everyone! I’m guest-blogging today (well…is it technically a ‘guest blog’ when you’re on the rotation?) at the InkSpot blog for Midnight Ink writers.

And you know you want to find out what the icky-looking things in the picture are. :)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

July 8th Resolutions


I’m making some new resolutions. Why not? Why make January 1 the only date where we impose formidable goals for ourselves? Besides, I'm tired of the January resolutions (that maybe didn't work out so well.)

Actually, I sort of like the idea of a mid-year goal. Yes---I know. The year is more than half-way up. Even better, though! I’m making a resolution to do things that I’ve actually already started.

I think I’m going to impose time-limits and reviews on my resolutions. See how they’re working out for me or if they need to be tweaked in a few months.

Now, without further ado, my resolutions:

Do a better job with my record-keeping for my taxes. (Pictured—me giddily thinking how nice it will be to write stuff off on my taxes next spring.) My inspiration for this resolution was a recent post on Diane Wolfe's blog. I’m going to use the stuff-everything-into-an-envelope method. But at least that means that I’ll have the receipts next year. I was really kicking myself this past March when I did my taxes---I could have written off many things if I’d just kept the darned receipts.

Keep more on top of social media, marketing, and publishing trends. I have this really foreboding feeling that everything is about to turn topsy-turvy and if I don’t pay attention, I might go the way of the dinosaurs. If we’re all heading to e-books I should just keep my mouth shut and try to adjust. Que sera sera. And I need to find out exactly what the heck Flickr is (and why the application leaves out the ‘e’ from its name. Which really irritates me.)

Read more. I miss the time I used to spend reading. Nowadays I’ve just got to schedule it in instead of acting like it will just spontaneously happen. But I think you’ve got to keep reading to be a good writer. Besides, there are so many books on my to-read list right now. And spending time at my local bookstore (and having the staff know who I am) has got to be a good thing.

Balance my writing schedule better. So I’ve got to write, revise, and market all at the same time. I just need to get over it, stop complaining, and thank my lucky stars I'm in this situation. Figure out how to keep from shortchanging one book for the sake of the other.

Just say no. Because I can’t. And my time is getting completely eaten up by stuff I shouldn’t be doing.

Do you have any July 8th resolutions? Or are you too smart to get stuck in the resolution trap?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


I know you’re waiting with bated breath with a burning question—how have I banished clichés from my writing? This post is not; in any way, shape, or form; intended to be a bone of contention for people inclined to use clichés. In fact, there have been many books which have gotten glowing reviews that I’ve had the privilege to read that have clichés scattered throughout. To make a long story short, clichés do stick out like a sore thumb and should be used with caution. Although that’s easier said than done.

Okay, I’ll stop. :) That was painful.

As I’m reading over my odious first paragraph, the clichés are obvious. But when I’m speedily typing along on my WIP, clichés may not jump out at me (Lord. Now I’ve written in so many clichés that I can’t even stop. Strike ‘jump out at me’ for ‘stand out.’)

Editors hate them unless you turn the cliché into something fresh and different. So, instead of writing ‘He couldn’t make ends meet,’ you could say something like ‘He couldn’t make ends meet….or even make beginnings meet.’ Not very clever, but you get the drift.

Or you could just reword the cliché completely.

Are clichés ever good? Actually, they can be useful if you’re coming up with a humorous title for your book. My August release is Pretty is as Pretty Dies….a takeoff on the old saying "pretty is as pretty does.”

There are a few great sites that focus on clichés. Want to look up a cliché by letter? Go to the Cliché Site. Cliché Finder is another great site. Another is a site that instructs journalists which lists commonly-used hackneyed expressions to avoid.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Writing Arguments

Frederick Hendrik Kaemmerer Writing an argument occasionally becomes necessary.

I’ve got suspects who argue with police and suspects who argue with each other.

The funny thing about writing arguments is that they’re not at all like real life confrontations.

I don’t like arguing—I’m one of those ‘stony silence’ people. Or sometimes a ‘I’m going along with the group, but really unhappy about it’ person.

But lately, I’m having a few arguments with my rising 7th grader. I suppose this is because he’s entering his teen years. The arguments go something like this (this argument we had yesterday morning while visiting my parents and my parents’ church): Me: "Hey, you can’t wear shorts to Nana and Papa’s church.” My son: “Why not?” Me: “Because then your church shoes will look silly if you’re wearing shorts.” My son: “But I’m not going to wear my church shoes. I’m going to wear my tennis shoes.” Me: “Your tennis shoes look awful! They’re covered in mud!” My son (affronted): “They look just fine. There’s not a spot on them.” Me: “No, no! You’ve got to wear khaki pants and your dressy shoes!” Him: “MOM!!! It’s 90 degrees outside!”

You get the idea. It was a stupid argument. And, actually, most arguments that I’ve observed or participated in, have been ridiculously stupid.

Ways Written Arguments are Different from their Real-Life Counterparts:

They shouldn’t have repetitive elements. Unlike the argument above, which went in circles for at least 10 minutes with both my son and myself reiterating past points about the cleanliness or filthiness of said shoes.

They shouldn’t be boring. Written arguments are there to forward the plot along. They should reveal something about a relationship between two people, give the reader information about a problem, or perhaps even (in the case of mysteries) set up a murder. At any rate, they can’t be about shoes.

They shouldn’t be formulaic. This sort of goes along with the above point. We all know how husbands and wives are supposed to argue: “I think that you’re feeling________, which I understand (validating his/her feelings). But when you do ________, it makes me feel _________.” Well, that’s all well and good for real-life arguments. In fact, it’s an excellent way to argue. It’s just incredibly boring to read. When I’m reading, I expect some fireworks during an argument.

There should be some sort of immediate outcome from the argument. I’m reading a PD James novel now (The Private Patient) and there’s a scene involving an argument between the surgeon and a nurse. The two were having a relationship, which came to an end during the argument. This fight stays in the back of the reader’s mind whenever Ms. James brings the two into a new scene. We realize they feel awkward around each other, we see the way they’re avoiding the other. Arguments could result in breakups, violence, regrets, and escalated tension. They could be used as a device to send the plot in a completely different direction.

Arguments are a great way to provide conflict and tension to a manuscript. I just make sure mine aren’t as unfocused and pointless in print as the verbal variety I’ve engaged in lately.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


I think I've mentioned before how much easier it is for me to describe people and settings when I have pictures in front of me. I'm a pretty visual person. I like pulling articles out of the newspaper, magazines, and from the internet and keeping them near my manuscript. My Myrtle Clover series is set in a small town that's very similar to the town I grew up in (Anderson, South Carolina.) Our family traveled to Anderson for the 4th of July weekend to visit my parents, and I brought my camera. I drove around Anderson, parking the car and walking frequently, and took pictures of the places I lived or where I spent a lot of time when I was growing up. It's funny how often these locations creep into my settings. There was a teensy bit of trespassing involved, but I zoomed in on my camera to get the pictures I wanted without really getting close to these homes. And no one called the police as I walked through their yard. A red-letter day! :) I'd also dragged my children with me ("I'm sure y'all want to see the house I grew up in. And my friends' houses from elementary school. And the park where I fed the ducks. And...") and so I looked especially innocuous. I also keep a disposable camera in my car's glove compartment now. There were a few times when I kicked myself for not having a camera nearby. Sometimes I'll drive through some beautiful small towns on the way to other places. I've used my cell phone's camera in a pinch, but it blurs everything (or maybe I just don't understand how to use it.) So now I have a disposable camera in the car for those times when I see something I think would be helpful later on. And now, the photo developers will give you a CD of your pictures, even from a disposable, so I can keep them in a file labeled with my WIP's name on my computer.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July

It’s a day of celebration for Americans…..and I think I’ll use this chance to celebrate the folks who help me out each day.

My husband. Also known as my artistic patron. Our son asked the other day, “When is it Dad’s turn to scoop out the cat litter?” (My son has been on scoop-duty quite a bit since school ended for the summer.) I said, “Well, never, really. Because we depend on Dad for our very survival.” I think it gave my son pause. But it’s true. I certainly wouldn’t be at home, watching the kids and pets, sort of making supper, sort of cleaning, and blogging and writing without my successful better-half keeping us off the streets. Thanks, sweetie.

My children. They do keep me young. And they make sure I don’t stay in the house all day writing (even if I want to.) Yes, I’d be an odd-looking recluse if it weren’t for my extremely popular children and their many play-dates.


My cats (pictured). Why? Well….hmm. I guess because they keep me on my toes. Smoke (on the right) knocks at my bedroom door at 4:00 a.m. to make sure I don’t oversleep. Shadow (left) eats my printed-out WIP and upchucks it on the floor. Everyone’s a critic, I guess….but it reminds me to make my work the very best it can be. And to put it on top of the fridge when I’m not writing on it.

My corgi, Chloe. IMG_5194 Because she listens to everything I say. So, when I say “Ouch…did you fall down?” to my daughter, Chloe hears: “Ball” and goes wild. Her idea of a best selling book would be one with the following text: "Wanna go for a walk? Wanna play ball? Outside? Potty? Kibbles? Where's your leash? Good girl. The End.” It’s so nice to have someone hanging on your every word…even when they’re listening for the 10 words they actually know.

My family for proofreading and doing all that other stuff that’s not fun. And….they ask all their friends to buy their books. Which really helps.

My friends who ignore the paper clutter that follows me around like the dust around Peanut’s Pigpen.

My online author friends who give me support and encouragement.

Thanks, y’all. And have a happy 4th.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Squashing my Inner Nerd

I wasn’t cool in….well, ever. I was on the newspaper and literary magazine staff. I hung out with people in high school that are now architects, IT people, CPAs….but definitely not whatever the cheerleaders and football players became. (Politicians? What did those folks become? Inquiring minds want to know…)

I’m a nerd.

In my Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink, my protagonist, in some ways, is an elderly nerd. I completely relate to her. She makes funny literary references, she’s a retired English teacher….I get Myrtle.

But not all of my characters are Myrtles. I have characters that are rednecks, theologians, blue collar workers, wealthy do-gooders, etc.

How do you handle writing different personality types?

I squash my inner-nerd. Sometimes it’s a pleasure to do so. Really.

I explore different personalities by imagining what it would be like to be them. Sort of like playing dress-up when you were a kid.

When I really dislike someone, I write it down. Usually if I don’t like them, it’s because the person is 180 degrees different from me. And a wonderful character, for that very reason.

I model a character on someone I know. And, naturally, completely change the character so they’re not recognizable to the person who inspired it.

I model a character on someone I wish I could be. When we’re looking in the mirror in the morning and wish we could see someone more glamorous or more adventurous in there….well, here’s our chance.

There’s no resume required when writing characters. It’s nice to use our imaginations to fill in the blanks. And…..we’re writers. We get to make things up.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

How Writing a Novel is Like a Love Story

Okay, y’all, this is an oldie but goodie from author Libba Bray about how similar your typical love story is to writing your WIP.


The whole post is clever, but here’s some excerpts:

THE EARLY STAGES OMG, y'all. My book and I went out again yesterday, and you know what? My book is so, so clever! Seriously. It was only our third date and it brought me fresh metaphor.

THE FIRST DRAFT I love this book. And it loves me. I never want to be without this book. Never, ever.

THE REVISION, MONTH TWO My book? No, things are okay. I guess. I mean, I totally love my book and everything,'s not quite as clever as I thought.

THE REVISION, MONTH THREE OMG. Eight hours of writing for this crap? If it starts one more sentence with "I" things will get bloody. Boring. Derivative. Repetitive--I know! We totally covered that in chapter four AND in chapter twenty. You remember, right? So why doesn't my book?

THE REVISION, ON DEADLINE F*@*#&ing book. I hate you. I wish I'd never met you. YOU MAKE MY LIFE HELL! HELL! I wish there were another word for hell but my thesaurus says there's not. My mother was right. I should never have gotten involved with you.

THE THIRD DRAFT (singing) It's a stupid novel, and I don't's a stupid novel, and I don't care...It's a stupid novel, and I don't's a stupid novel and I don't care...

THE FINAL DRAFT Thanks for meeting me here. Look, I'm just gonna come out with it. This--you, me--it's not working. I'm sorry. It's not you, it's...actually it's you. You're stupid. And I sort of hate you. But, you know, thanks for the great line on p. 400. I'm gonna go ahead and keep it because, really, you did give it to me and it doesn't fit you anymore. Oh, and while you're here, you might as well try the pie. It's good. Yeah. I've had 500 pieces of it over the past few months. So I know.

THE COPY EDITS Wow. Fancy running into you. It's been ages. No, you look good. You lost weight? Wow. About 10,000 words. That IS something. Ha! I'd forgotten how funny you are.

THE FINISHED BOOK That one? Yeah, we totally had a thing. But, you know, it's over now. So, tell me what you were saying about the succubus and the backpackers? OMG, that is the best thing ever! You know, you have such beautiful eyes...

It’s true, though, isn’t it? (I’m in the early revision stage of my love affair.) You fall in and out of love with it. You think at one point that it’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen---but that morning you wake up and realize it looks more like Frankenstein’s monster (i.e., the picture above. Which is my current WIP. It should look much better by my September 1 deadline. With luck.)

But you keep slogging and put your doubts out of your head and finish the thing up.

Turn it in, praise God, and then realize you do actually have a thing for the WIP still.

Then you move on to the next project. And you start the whole process again.