Friday, July 31, 2009

All lights burning bright?

By Pat Remick

Award-winning Canadian folksinger-songwriter David Francey recently graced a stage in my town and prior to performing each song, he shared the backstory with the audience.

Like many writers, I think I appreciated these tales as much as the songs they generated. I was especially intrigued by the background for “All Lights Burning Bright.” Francey told us it was inspired by his discovery that the same final entry was recorded in the Watch Log Book at the end of each shift on the huge vessels traveling the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway straddling the U.S.-Canadian border:

"All navigation lights burning brightly."

Francey read the logs while sailing on one of the mammoth commercial ships after his wife wangled an invitation for him to spend a week onboard. When he asked a seaman why it was so important to note the status of the navigation lights, he was told it was because of their significance to safe voyages. No matter what else a ship might encounter during the journey– if its navigation lights are burning brightly, other ships can see the vessel and those onboard can see other nearby marine traffic, as well. This is especially critical in bad weather.

The phrase “all navigation lights burning brightly” also can be a metaphor for life, says Francey. I couldn’t agree more. We can choose to go through life with our “lights” on low, moderate, "all burning brightly" or somewhere in between.

What about you – are "All Lights Burning Bright" in your writing? Are you seeing beyond the darkness to what might be on the horizon if you invest more BIC (Butt in Chair) time?

How about outside your writing? Are your lights burning bright enough that others know who you are, what you stand for and what you strive for? What about in your relationships at home, at work and in your community? Do you use your talents, whether it be for writing or something else, to the maximum? Do you sail on, all lights blazing, despite rough seas?

And when your journey finally concludes, will people be able to say that you had “all lights burning bright” to the end? I hope so. I think that would be a wonderful thing.

(If you’d like to read the words to Francey's song, click here and scroll down to the end of the page to find “All Lights Burning Bright.”

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Memories Are Made of This

by Guest Blogger Hank Phillippi Ryan

See? I remembered to write this blog. I did that by having my email system send me a reminder. Every day. I’d hit the reminder snooze, and forward it to the next day, and finally it arrived at today, and now I’m here.

Why not just make a list of things you need to do, my husband suggested? Then check them off as you do them.

A list? Are you kidding me? I already have lists, and I have lists of lists, and if I put one more thing on the lists, there’s about a fifty-fifty chance I’ll get to it. I do look at the lists, I do rely on the lists, and they do work.

But for some things? Forget about it. Some things I remember *my* way.

Jonathan and I constantly battle (in the most loving of ways of course) about my methods. He thinks they’re—unnecessarily complicated. I think they’re—effective.

For instance. We checked into our hotel one day recently and the room number was 626. (I’m notorious for forgetting hotel room numbers. I mean, it’s hilarious.) So I said—“Okay, 626. I’ll remember that because it’s on the 6th floor, and there are 2 of us on the sixth floor. Six two six.”

My husband said “Why don’t you just remember 626? Why do you make yourself remember all that extra stuff?

“Because I won’t remember 626 without context,” I said. “It has to make sense, or it’ll just evaporate with the rest of the things I’ve forgotten.”

When I first met Jonathan, I had to remember his phone number. 968-2523. Easy. As I explained to him: “We met in September (the ninth month) and you’re 68 years old, and your kids are 25 and 23.”

That was almost the end of our courtship. “But I‘m not 68,” he said. “I’m 56. And my kids aren’t 25 and 23, they’re 30 and 32.”

I knew that, of course. But I shook my head. “Reality doesn’t matter,” I replied. “It’s just how I’m going to remember the number.”

I can’t really describe the look on his face. “Wouldn’t it be easier to remember the number, instead of all that extra--and incorrect—stuff?”

Nope. I remember it *my* way.

ROY G. BIV, you know that right? The colors of the rainbow. Every good boy deserves favor: (all together now) the notes on the G clef. My very elegant mother just served us nine pizzas. The planets. (Okay, that’s including Pluto. Sue me. ) It works, right?

PRIME TIME is the first of the Charlie McNally Mysteries, then FACE TIME, then AIR TIME. Reverse alphabetical order. When DRIVE TIME comes out in February, I’ll have to think of something new. Does PFAD mean anything? Pretty fine and dandy. Okay, now I’ll remember.

There are other methods besides acronyms. If I need to remember to take the dry cleaning in, I think: When I touch the back door, I’ll remember to get the laundry. This method is definitely successful. The downside is if I go out the front door--then it doesn’t work. The other downside is that EVERY time I go out the back door, I think: dry cleaning. I used to wonder about the old “tie a string around your finger” thing. Now, I get it.

But I think we can all make our own ways to remember things. If it works, it works.
Do you have any memory tricks? Tell us! (If you remember them…)

Award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan is currently on the air at Boston's NBC affiliate, where she's broken big stories for the past 22 years. Her stories have resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in refunds and restitution for consumers.

Along with her 26 EMMYs, Hank’s won also won dozens of other journalism honors. She's been a legislative aide in the United States Senate (working on the Freedom of Information Act) and at Rolling Stone Magazine (working with Hunter S. Thompson).

Her first mysteries, PRIME TIME (which won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel, was a double RITA nominee for Best First Book and Best Romantic Suspense Novel, and a Reviewers' Choice Award Winner) and FACE TIME (Book Sense Notable Book), were best-sellers. They were both just re-issued from MIRA Books, and are in bookstores now. The next in the series are AIR TIME (MIRA Sept. 2009) (Sue Grafton says: "Sassy, fast-paced and appealing. This is first-class entertainment.") and DRIVE TIME (MIRA February 2010.) Her website is

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Complete Cozy Sleuth Kit

by Guest Blogger Sheila Connolly

Recently on a blog I commented that I had my fingerprints taken many years ago when I obtained a stockbroker's license (long and boring story), so somewhere in Washington my prints are on file, which would make it difficult to commit a crime and get away with it. Some smart person replied, "wear gloves." Well, duh. But it started me thinking...

Traditional/cozy mysteries usually feature an amateur sleuth who just stumbles into things–like finding bodies. Now, most sensible people, when confronted with a dead body, would probably (a)
freeze, (b) throw up, (c) run screaming in the opposite direction, or some combination of these. Ideally they would run screaming toward the nearest phone (assuming it's not in their pocket) and call the proper authorities and let them take care of things. But our fictional sleuth does not have that choice, because unless she gets involved there won't be a story. Therefore she (and we) had better be ready for whatever may come her way. She needs the Cozy Sleuth Kit.

The list of contents has been growing steadily, thanks to many kind suggestions from mystery readers. Here are the basics:

tex gloves
--plastic bags (for evidence, or course)
--camera (with spare batteries)
--flashlight (with spare batteries)
--cell phone (yeah, I know it takes pictures, but I still haven't figured out how to transfer the
m anywhere, and besides, what if it's not charged?)
--a magnifying glass (a classic)

This last item inspired additional comments. Bring a pen? No, a pen can run out of ink. Bring pencils? But they wear down. Bring a pencil sharpener?

This led to:
--a knife, preferably Swiss Army style (now you can sharpen your pencils!) or
--a Leatherman multi-tool (I don't have one–should I think about it?)

I'm boggled by how many of these items I carry regularly (all except the knife), even though I don't expect to run into any bodies (but never say never).

But if you're going explore serious sleuthing, there are several more items that might come in handy:

--duct tape–always useful
--chocolate (come on, most of our amateur sleuths are women)
--a pocket flask filled with the Good Stuff (to calm your nerves, or to snap an important witness out of a dithering fit)
--a wad of cash (in case you have to bribe someone? or flee the scene unexpectedly? maybe you should carry your passport too)

and, last but not least:
--business cards from a friend on the police force AND a good lawyer

The last trick is to find a purse or bag that will hold all this stuff without becoming so heavy that it drags you down. Woman are used to doing that, right? One kind soul suggested wearing cargo pants, but they're so unflattering (sleuths should always look their best, in case there are television cameras on the scene), and besides, it's too easy to forget what you put in which pocket and you'd waste valuable time hunting for it and dropping things get the drift.

As the Girl Scouts say, Be Prepared!

Sheila Connolly has taught art history, structured and marketed municipal bonds for major cities, worked as a staff member on two statewide political campaigns, and served as a fundraiser for several non-profit organizations. She also managed her own consulting company providing genealogical research services. Now a full-time writer, she thinks writing mysteries is a lot more fun than any of her previous occupations. Currently she writes two mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. Her Through a Glass, Deadly (March 2008, under the name Sarah Atwell) was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel; Pane of Death followed in November 2008, and Snake in the Glass in September 2009. Under her own name, her Orchard Mystery Series debuted in 2008 with One Bad Apple. The sequel, Rotten to the Core, came out in July 2009.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Using Humor as a Tool

By Martha Reed

I’ve been grappling with a chapter in my new novel and it’s been rough going. I know the reason why: one of the characters has to deal with an emotional issue and that’s not my favorite arena. I prefer light-hearted action but this story really required that I dig in and dig deep, so I did. As I worked through the transition, I was focused on the reactions of the other characters when building my outline and then I discovered that when I went back to my protagonist something had happened: she was funny.

It wasn’t pleasant humor. It certainly wasn't light-hearted but it was funny. At first glance I wondered if funny was appropriate, given the situation but the more I thought about it the more I realized how often writers use dark humor to diffuse tough emotional situations. Mel Brooks is a past master of this type of thing: the perfect example is the musical number Springtime for Hitler from his classic 1968 movie The Producers:

Now tell me there is any way you can watch this and not cringe even while admitting the man is barking mad. It’s still happening out there, too: I cringed throughout the entirety of SlumDog Millionaire – exhausted when it was over and feeling uplifted but when I looked back on the whole gruesome storyline I wondered: ‘How did they do that’?

There’s another example of dark viral humor running around the Internet that I wanted to share. Canadian musician Dave Carroll says United Airlines broke his Taylor guitar and since they wouldn’t listen to him he wrote a song about it. I think his approach is hilarious – his music video has over four million (4M!) YouTube hits and United felt enough pressure from it to go public with an apology and make an offer of restitution.

This reminds me of some of the good old Saturday Night Live skits. What do you think?

Monday, July 27, 2009


by Gina Sestak

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the Lucy-Desi Center in Jamestown New York, which has two museums devoted to the late great comedy stars. Why Jamestown, you may ask? Because Lucille Ball, like Lucy Ricardo nee McGillicuddy, was born and raised in Jamestown.

If you're anything like me, you have dozens of episodes of I Love Lucy stashed in your memory. Lucy tipsy from tasting Vitameatavegamin or trying to conceal chocolate in her hat. Ricky demanding she "''splain" or beating out Babalou on his conga drum. These images all look something like this:

Black and white. After watching the show for so many years, it just seemed natural to think the Mertzes and Ricardos lived in shades of gray. Imaging my surprise when I saw the actual costumes and sets -- they were in vivid color!

What an eye opener! Now I'm forced to suspect that James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart didn't tool around in grey cars and that Veronica Lake didn't really have white hair.

As writers, I think we need these moments in which our perception of the world shifts, these moments that broaden our perspectives.

I'm not only talking about visual perception. I Love Lucy seems so tame by today's standards that it's sometimes hard to remember how cutting edge it was for the time. That show was very controversial -- it depicted a "mixed marriage" - a white woman wedded to a Latino man, which was then still illegal in some states. It was also the first tv show to openly feature pregnancy, which up until that time had been hidden away and only hinted at. Lucy flaunted her big belly, wearing maternity clothes and even cross-dressing to disguise herself as a paunchy male reporter to crash Ricky's baby shower. America was shocked, but then America got used to it.

And this is the essence of what art can do -- a seemingly simple set of black and white performances can change the way we see the world.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Upcoming Guests

Upcoming guest bloggers:

Sheila Connolly, Wednesday, July 29th.

Hank Phillippi Ryan, Thursday, July 30th.

Diana Orgain
(Berkley debut author), Tuesday, August 4th.

Alice & Roy LaPlante
, who write as Allyson Roy, Wednesday, August 5th.

Jeri Westerson
, Tuesday, September 29th.

LJ Sellers
, Wednesday, September 30th.

CJ Lyons
, Friday, October 30th.

Brad Parks
(ITW debut author), Tuesday, December 1st.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Exercise and Diet in order to Over Eat.

By Pat Gulley

I’ve decided to cruise again. We’re going to do an Eastern Canada and New England repositioning cruise, and of course, I expect the menus and food to be spectacular. Oh, and we'll have a high tea at the Chateau Frontenac. We’ve been on this cruise line several times, and they really know how to stuff…eh, I mean feed you.

Which brings up the problem of overeating, and the fact that I carry a few extra pounds as it is. Sooooooooo! I guess I’d better start exercising. Heavy sigh, with shoulders drooping.
Well, I didn’t join a club, as we think of joining—going in and paying money. There’s this exercise program attached to many health insurances for seniors called Silver Sneakers, so I went into a club and asked about it. Somehow I walked out signed up. Okay, I hate to exercise, so I went once or twice then started missing weeks at a time.

Then I put my deposit down on the cruise and I vowed to work out more. I’m presently up to once a week. I know, I know, I have to go more often if I expect to eat on the cruise guilt free.
Fortunately the classes for this program are not instructed by those healthy-as-a-horse, skinny-as-a-rail, robust-and-enthusiastic-for-all-things-body-damaging lunatics who think 50 pushups followed by 50 squats is for weaklings. No, these are reasonable, 50 minutes is the length of the whole Cardio Circuit class and 45 minutes for Range of Motion and Yoga is strictly of a gentle nature. I’m sure I can do it. Can I get up to three or even four times a week? Do I have the strength of will—never mind body—to do it and maybe even lose a few pounds? Keep tuned!
However, it occurs to me—why am I trying to lose weight in order to over indulge on a cruise?

If I’m applying some kind of twisted logic here, the explanation escapes me. I mean, wouldn’t the logical thing be to wait until the cruise is over and I REALLY need to lose some weight? Bad logic, bad idea, defeatist thinking, Stop That!

And what about those extremely wise and sensible words to live by: Every time I say the nasty word exercise I wash my mouth out with chocolate. Words to live by, but not if I don’t practice what I preach.

No, I’m going make the effort and hope I’m at four times a week by the end of September. Any thoughts?

Encouragement here, people, I need every scrap I can get!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Wrong Reality

by Joyce

Is it just me, or are reality shows getting out of hand? I've never been a fan of them in the first place, but I recently heard about one that's just plain wrong.

It's called Toddlers and Tiaras, and it airs on TLC. Anyone hear about this before? I'm a little behind the times, because season two begins this week. Here's the description of the show from the website:

"On any given weekend, on stages across the country, little girls and boys parade around wearing makeup, false eyelashes, spray tans and fake hair to be judged on their beauty, personality and costumes. Toddlers and Tiaras follows families on their quest for sparkly crowns, big titles, and lots of cash.

The preparation is intense as it gets down to the final week before the pageant. From hair and nail appointments, to finishing touches on gowns and suits, to numerous coaching sessions or rehearsals, each child preps for their performance. But once at the pageant, it's all up to the judges and drama ensues when every parent wants to prove that their child is beautiful."

This makes me more than glad I only have the basic-basic cable that costs $13.16 per month.

There's something drastically wrong and sad about parents who tart up their daughters (and sons, too, from what I've read) to look like little tramps. And they DO look like little streetwalkers.

I've always thought I was far from being a feminist. I'm very traditional. I believe in "til death do us part," and that mothers should stay home with their children until they go to school (unless she HAS to work to pay the bills). But I also believe that men and women should treat each other as equals. Men and women should respect each other. And their children.

In my opinion, the parents of these beauty pageant kids are treating them like objects. Like little baby dolls that they can make up, dress, and parade around for their own egos. One contestant is--get this--TWO WEEKS OLD. They're teaching these girls that how they look is the only thing that matters. It's bad enough that television, movies, and magazines force adolescent girls to obsess over their appearance, why would you do that to a toddler? And whether they realize it or not, they're sexualizing their daughters. I can't help but remember the JonBenet Ramsey case.

So, maybe I'm more feminist than I thought. Or maybe I just have common sense.

If you think I'm wrong, go watch this video.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Civil Court and the Football Hero

by Annette Dashofy

I was all set to share some pictures of our local Sisters in Crime picnic. Then, yesterday, the news broke about the civil suit being brought against Ben Roethlisberger. In case you aren’t from Pittsburgh and/or are not a football fan, you can catch up on the whole sordid tale here.

The story raises a number of questions in my mind. Why didn’t she file a complaint with the police a year ago when the alleged rape happened? According to reports, the hotel management told her to keep it quiet if she wanted to keep her job.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve quit jobs for way less than that.

Why file the complaint now in civil court instead of criminal? The easy answer there is money. Apparently it’s also easier to win a civil case compared to a criminal case.

Especially a year later. When no police report was filed and no evidence collected.

I confess to some bias here. I’m a rabid Pittsburgh Steelers fan. Big Ben led us to two Superbowl wins. Does that make me want him to be innocent of the charges? Okay. Yeah. I’m not claiming to be clearheaded on this one. Ordinarily, I tend to support the woman claiming rape because, let’s face it, why would anyone put themselves through the humiliation that comes with a public trial in which the victim’s personal life is put under a microscope?

Not this time. At least not yet. It’s the whole civil vs. criminal case thing. If she were going after him in criminal court, I’d think she was seeking justice. As is, it seems to me she’s going for the cash. And anyone famous and/or rich makes an easy target.

Regardless of Big Ben’s innocence (or lack thereof), this woman is likely to come into some big bucks. At the very least there will be an offer of settlement to make her go away.

I know I’m setting myself up for ridicule by siding with the football hero. I’ve already admitted to my favoritism. I’m also willing to entertain other points of view. What do you think? What’s your take on this BIG STAR vs. little hotel employee case?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The joys of obituaries

By Pat Remick

Nine family members hovered around the bed of Donald C. Cheney when his breathing gave a sense that the end was near for the 85-year-old man known for his quick wit, irascibility and pure joy of living.

Don opened his eyes, glanced around his bed and said, “Do you people know something I don’t?”

Did you laugh out loud? I did when I read this gem in the recent obituary of the former Marine, National Rifle Association supporter and 67-year member of the Boy Scouts who’d played on the 1938 undefeated Dover, NH, High School state championship team.

Although I didn't know Don or any of his relatives, the joke catapulted his death notice onto my list of memorable obituaries. It also made me wish I’d met him. He was funny to the end.

I love obituaries. Every time I pick up a newspaper, I quickly turn to the obituary page even though more often than not, I have no connection to the deceased or the survivors.

Only recently did it occur to me why I am such a fan: obituaries are wonderful stories. Some are better written than popular novels and I suspect more than a few are just as fictional. As a writer, I am always intrigued by the type of information that ends up in an obituary -- and often wonder about who and what are left out, and why.

I believe an obituary represents a small snapshot of a life. It’s supposed to be a portrait of a person – but it’s also a history related by the surviving family and friends as they viewed it, and oftentimes it's composed by strangers at a newspaper or a funeral home.

Obituaries can be a great tool for mystery writers. They can help generate plots and character development. They can be a source of names for the people and settings of our stories. And they offer clues about lives well lived and good deaths, as well as the bad.

I’m especially fond of obituaries, like Don’s, that surprise me or make me laugh (not unlike the main character in my novel-in-progress who enjoys them so much that she reads them aloud to her dog).

For example, I appreciated the death notice about a man who requested that in lieu of flowers, his grieving friends and relatives vote for Al Gore for president. I laughed at the obituary for the gentleman who served as treasurer of the local sewer district for 23 years, “during which time there was continuous flow.”

Another favorite was the obituary for a woman who put “three meals on the table nearly every day for more than 70 years, although cooking was not as interesting to her as reading, snowshoeing, wildflower identification and bird watching.” I wish I’d had the opportunity to suggest she teach other family members to cook or learn to love takeout.

I also enjoy learning about hobbies of the deceased. It amazes me how many in New England are ice fishermen or knitting enthusiasts. Not long ago I read about a man whose hobby was visiting Dunkin’ Donuts shops. I don’t want to be critical of the dead, but that does not seem like a legitimate hobby. It’s not like there’s an official group for DD fans like the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, or a Family Motor Coach Association – two groups I learned about from obituaries. Furthermore regarding hobbies, I don’t think listing a person’s only pastime as spending time at the mall (as I read in one obituary) puts her in the best light.

Here in my part of the world, so many of the departed were fans of professional sports teams like the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics that I’ve often wondered if their organizations send sympathy cards or ever worry about losing fans to the great beyond.

I do take comfort in knowing that most of the deceased will be “dearly missed,” if you are to believe their obituaries. I doubt the man who had a “crusty exterior although some people suspected he might possibly have had a softer side” was among them, however.

Being such an aficionado of obituaries and not entirely confident my survivors will put my life in the best light, I’d already composed my own. I thought it was just fine until I read Don’s obituary. I think I’d like someone to laugh out loud at my obituary, too.

How about you? Have you ever thought about what you want your obituary to say?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Things That Piss Me Off

I'm off to Phoenix for business. I'm not sure if I'll be able to log on and respond until late at night. Please feel free to respond or rant.

Okay, just by the title you might have figured out that I’ve recently seen a George Carlin special on HBO. I have to give it to George, but he does have a way of resonating with me. Back to the subject at hand.

People that think they’re special.

There are several examples in this category. First is the driver who feels they’re too special to wait in an orderly line of traffic so they speed along in the flowing lane only to cut over at the last minute. What REALLY pisses me off is the one’s that block the flowing traffic so they can butt in front of the line.

Then there are the idiots that literally ride your bumper. Actually I think there are some that know what they’re doing here (the jackasses) and those that are oblivious to the fact that they’re within 20 feet while traveling 70 miles per hour in rush hour traffic (the idiots). The jackasses ride right on your bumper even as they know you can’t go anywhere because of the cars in front of you or to your right. When you finally can move over they fly by giving you THAT LOOK or worse yet, THAT FINGER. If they’re idiots, they just drive like they have no idea what’s going on.

Lastly on my list is the idiot who blocks the busy intersection at a red light by trying to squeeze through. Then they look at the people they’re blocking with their hands in the air looking surprised.

Texting Drivers.

There’s a new wave of idiots out there and I see examples of them every day. People that text or do email while driving. They weave around in their lanes while they’re trying to find that elusive letter on their tiny QWERTY keyboards. I mean it’s bad enough to talk on a cell phone and drive, it’s another level of complexity to call somebody on the cell phone. You enter the realm of stupidity when you text while driving.

Yes, I talk on my Blackberry and drive. But I don’t make a call unless it’s to my family who are on speed dial keys.

Waiting To Pay.

I hate waiting in lines...any lines. I especially hate waiting in line to pay for things. And for some reason the lines at Sam’s Club and Walmart piss me off the most. If a store chain wants my business, put enough people at the checkouts.

Add to this category waiting to get or pay the check at a restaurant. You would think that the one action a waiter or waitress would do right is the last action. I tip for service. The tip meter starts ticking down with the seconds after I ask for the check. I’m generally a good tipper, but I’m sure I’m on a list that pisses some waiters and waitresses off.

Co-Workers that assume you have nothing better to do.

There is always that person that comes out of nowhere, throws something on your desk, or lobs an email your way and ends the conversation with, “I need this tomorrow.” Now, if it’s not my boss, I usually respond by saying, “Good luck with that.”

Yes, I understand that there are always unexpected emergencies, but generally, some people think that everything they do is more important than whatever it is that you do.

There’s something you can add to this section. The self-important jerk that sends all their e-mail out with “HIGH PRIORITY.” I rank that with the old car window signs, “Baby On Board.”

Technology that doesn’t work.

I’m composing this blog from my new MacBook Pro. I’ve had it a long week and so far we have a love/hate relationship. On the love side, it’s fast (and I got the slowest, cheapest 15” model.) On the hate side, I don’t find it as intuitive as advertised. As an example, using Pages (Apple’s word processor) you would think you could use ‘save as’ to save a document in a certain folder in a certain format. NO. You just save as in Apple format in the Documents Folder. Now I have to export it to word format.

Oh, and before I forget, I miss MS Outlook. I’m sure Apple has it’s reasons, but having the Address Book, Calendar and email all in separate applications just means extra steps. I found out the MS Entourage is close to Outlook, but it’s still not the same.

But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’ll briefly describe an actual event that happened this Saturday morning. You see, I recently treated myself to a new car. Well, it’s not totally new. It’s a 2008 model that was a demonstrator with 5,000 miles on it. It’s an awesome vehicle with a lot of technology built in.

The Volvo C70 is a hardtop convertible. I’ve put some pictures below. The technology that went into this is amazing… Kind of like the Transformer movie.

So, 5:30 Saturday morning I meet my friends at a parking lot to drive to the golf course. Of course, I want to drive the guys in my new car, but I’m in a quandary; three guys and three sets of clubs won’t fit with the top down. So, I put the top up and throw three sets of clubs in the trunk and load everybody in. Car starts, drop it in reverse and a loud beep ensues. The computer flashes, “Warning! Top not locked! Stop safely and secure top!”

WTF! The top is all the way up. I waited for the confirmation tone and message “Top fully up.”

Throw it in park, turn off the ignition, push a few buttons, restart, put it in gear…no beep. Whew! Foot off the brake. Start rolling. BEEP BEEP BEEP. Crap! Same message.

Stop the car, get out, go to the back, try to open the trunk. NOTHING. Trunk is locked out. You see, there is no key to open the trunk. Since the lid has to open both ways, one way to store the top, the other to use it like a trunk, it’s all electrically controlled. No manual overrides.

So now the clubs are locked in the trunk. I can’t get them out. We can’t drive the car. It’s 5:45 Saturday morning, no dealer open to help and tee time in one hour. Oh, one friend laughing his ass off and the other pacing around trying to hold back his anger.

We spend 15 minutes futzing around with it before deciding to call it a morning and go home. I’m stuck in a new, broken car beeping incessantly at what seems to be rock concert decibels with warning lights flashing on my computer to stop. A half mile from my house I round a curve, rather aggressively, and the beeping stops. The next curve starts it again. The curb at the bottom of my driveway stops it again and I jump out and rush to the back of the car. The trunk lifts effortlessly. The clubs come out with the cell phone and I call my friends who are halfway home. Turns out one of the guys cancelled the tee time, but because the weather is spectacular, they decide to turn around and head back to the parking lot to get the clubs.

I try to get our tee time back, but the guy at the clubhouse already gave it away. Oh well, throw my buddies clubs in the back seat this time. “Fool me once.” I put my clubs in the garage and head back to the lot to give them their stuff back.

When I get back to the lot, one of the guys had called a different golf course and secured a tee time. WELL CRAP! Now my clubs are in the garage. So I race back home to get my clubs and meet them at the course. It was a gorgeous day and my technology issues are behind me.

So, what pisses you off?

Oh, this just in from my home state:

Car Dealer Offers Free AK-47 With Purchase Of New Truck.

Scroll to the bottom of the website.

Upcoming Guests

Stay tuned for our upcoming guest bloggers!

Sheila Connolly on Wednesday, July 29th.
Hank Phillippi Ryan on Thursday, July 30th.
LJ Sellers on Wednesday, September 30th.
Jeri Westerson, September or October--TBA.

We have plenty of open spots to fill. If anyone would like to be a guest blogger in the upcoming months, let any of the Working Stiffs know and we'll put you on the calendar.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pretty in Pink!

Since it's the weekend and nobody else is posting, and since I don't want to wait until the beginning of August for my next scheduled blog date - especially since I'll have other things to talk about then, like the release of "Spackled and Spooked" on the 4th - I figure I'll just take the opportunity right now to share this thing of beauteousness with y'all.

This is the brand-new, seen for the first time yesterday, cover for "Plaster and Poison," DIY#3, coming to a store near you on March 2nd, 2010.
Two cats, as you see; that's Jemmy on the floor and Inky on the bed. You'll note the picture of the Eiffel Tower on the table, and the toile and just general French-ness of the whole thing?
Well, Avery and Derek are renovating an old carriage house behind Kate McGillicutty's Bed & Breakfast, and turning it into a romantic retreat for two, just in time for Kate's wedding to police chief Wayne Rasmussen and subsequent honeymoon in Paris. With Rosemary Baker in town to check out Derek, Shannon gallivanting around with a silver fox, and two sets of initials inside a heart carved in the carriage house wall to track down, Avery has plenty to do even before the bodies start dropping.

"Plaster and Poison" is available for preorder from Amazon right HERE... but without the pretty picture, so far.

So do y'all like my cover? Do ya? Huh?
(Oh yes, to give credit where credit is due: the designer of this beauty is Rita Frangie Batour with the Penguin Group, and the artist is Jennifer Taylor with Paperdog Studio. Just so you know who to ask for when it's your turn.)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Loooooonnnnnnnngggggggggg Sentences, and why I love them.

by Pat Gulley

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for the worst first line was announced recently on: and very funny the winner and runners-up are. Seems they are all massive sentences, punctuated oddly with multiple ideas on one subjects scrabbled together.

Side note: If you go to the site to read them, before doing so scroll down the home page to 2007 Bad Sex In Fiction Award for the laugh/scare of your life. Never mind that this stuff actually got published, it sort of makes your eyes cross in wonder how the world population got so high if this is considered reasonably good sex.

But I digress, which I’m sure you expect from me by now, so back to the subject I’d like to talk about: Very Long Sentences.

This is frequently a topic of discussion on many lists and is the subject of many panels at cons. The general view is that they are bad, almost evil, here in the US, and the above contest seems to be consistently won by those putting them forward at their worst. I don’t think the Brits agree with us. They feel good punctuation can overcome anything. I agree, and I like looking for and discovering the well written mile-long sentence.

So, surprise, surprise, when I was given a book I was sure I did not want to read, but being desperate one afternoon, I picked up Joy Fielding’s STILL LIFE and had a very pleasant surprise in the first line. It just blew me away. It told you so much in one sentence and set the scene for the whole first chapter that I read the chapter without stopping to question anything. Then I went back and reread that first sentence about 5 times studying and dissecting, and trying hard to learn something. Oh, and there were three sentences in that first paragraph.

Yes, I admit to loving those sentences. And I know several people who do too. We consider ourselves secret addicts, and we're probably like many British writers because they have no qualms about writing those paragraph length sentences. However, an American author who does a great job with them is Caleb Carr. His two Alienist books have a multitude of those let-me-tell-you-a-story-between-two-periods type sentences, much to my delight. A Canadian, who is so-so—but I’d read his St-Cyr and Kohler books no matter how many times I have to go back and figure his lengthies out—is J. Robert Janes.

So the question is: Why are they so disliked, and by whom? A writing teacher I once asked professed to liking them, but never advocating them because few students got them right—probably making her job harder—and she felt simple sentences allowed Them to express themselves more easily. I suppose fast readers and skimmers might dislike them if they have to stop and read more carefully. And since editors and agents have to read so quickly, maybe that’s why they prefer simple sentences.

So what do you think of long, long sentences? And why do you think those who dislike them, really hate them? And do you write long sentences, then go back and chop them up?

Oh, about STILL LIFE. It’s considered a mystery, but I have to say not the kind I’m interested in. After the first few chapters, I admit to skimming—looking for more of those sentences too—but the story just didn’t engage me. It’s about a woman in a coma, who could hear everything going on around her and came to realize her 'accident' wasn't. I would say that if you are in a bookstore, though, it is well worth picking the book up to read that first sentence, and then judge for yourself if the whole book is for you. The book is well written and smooth flowing.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Process and the Plot

By Annette Dashofy

Last night at a Pennwriters meeting, our discussion topic was “process.” As in how we write. I found it interesting that every single person had their own way of doing things. Some outlined. Some wrote by the seat of their pants. Some outlined in their heads, but not externally.

Considering that my brain is on sticky notes all over my house, is there any doubt that I would be an outliner?

I did try the seat-of-the-pants method when I wrote that last short story. The 4,000 word one that ended up being 9,000 words. If you expand that to novel proportions…well, you get the idea. Life is too short.

For my current work-in-progress, I’m trying a different kind of outline. In my office, I have a set of cabinets from Ikea. They have three, white, unadorned doors. Three doors: Act One, Act Two, and Act Three. I bought large, multi-colored sticky notes. One each sticky note, I jot down a sentence or two (occasionally more) about each scene. And I stick them on the door corresponding to the appropriate act.

Here’s a picture.

Yes, Act Three is a little bare at the moment. The pink note is the climax. The yellow note is a list of clues I need to remember. I’ll fill in the gaps before I get there.

The notes are color coded. (Don’t tell me I’m anal. I already know that.)

Blue notes signify scenes told from Pete’s POV. Purple indicate Zoe’s POV. Pink notes are scenes with both Pete and Zoe in them, so POV needs to be determined. The green ones at the beginning of Act One simply indicate character introductions. The yellow one in the middle of Act Two is the MAJOR PLOT POINT (AKA the second body drops). I have little flags attached. Those have something to do with red herrings and suspects.

It made perfect sense when I devised the whole thing.

The colors let me see if Zoe’s getting too much time front and center. The red herring flags let me know if I’ve gone too long without mentioning a suspect.

I can yank a note off and move it somewhere else if need be.

And the sticky notes don’t fall off! Amazing. (I tried this on poster board once and all the notes curled up and fell off. Not good.)

I’ve heard of people doing similar things using their dining room table. I don’t have a dining room table. The only table I have, we use for meals. And it’s not big enough anyway.

With this set-up in my office, anytime I suffer brain freeze, I can get up and study my sticky note outline. It usually helps get me back on track.

No, I am not suggesting that you all switch to my method of outlining. Heck, I’m not even sure I’ll use it for the next book. But I might. (Especially if this one finds a publisher!) I’m curious to hear about YOUR plot process. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Or a little of both? Do you have any weird methods of pseudo-storyboarding like I do? Time to share.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Magical Mystery Tour

By Martha Reed

I see a theme developing in my 2009 What I Did On My Summer Vacation story.

As you may know, last month I received a citation for fishing without a license – my first brush with the law in more than 20 years – but I added to it last weekend when I spent 36 hours in the Suffolk County Jail. Of course, I should note right away that the Jailhouse, located on the edge of swanky Beacon Hill, Boston, has been converted into an amazing boutique hotel and I just have to tell you all about it.

Let me go back a bit more to 30 years ago when I was a student at Boston University. I was really poor and I used to walk around Beacon Hill admiring the homes, especially in the wintertime because you could look directly into some of the brick mansions and it all looked so warm and cozy and posh. I can also remember at the time people joking that the best view in Boston was from the Suffolk County Jail – although I was never tempted to test the view that way. So, anyway, it turns out my nephew needed to go to Boston for a conference and my sister asked me to locate a hotel for the weekend. Where should we stay? She asked. Beacon Hill, I joked, but I googled it anyway and damn if I didn’t find out the Suffolk County Jail had gone all upscale and turned into The Liberty Hotel.

Even though the pictures are amazing, they don’t do the place justice. First off, the staff was wonderful – friendly, courteous, helpful (especially with maps) and genuinely warm. When you come in from the street you ride up a short escalator right into the central unit – and it still looks that way a bit, if you can get past the decorations. The room was spacious and with 2 queen beds we split it 4 ways, which made it relatively affordable (for the East Coast).

I also loved the humor I found there – the hotel restaurant was called Clink and the bar was called Alibi. Both were packed on Saturday night and it was great to be part of such a swinging scene – we don’t get that here in Pittsburgh or maybe I haven’t found it? We enjoyed our dinner at Scampo – linguini with clam sauce, delicious – and Lydia is the chef there, too but the capper was seeing my nephew completely lose it when Penguin defenseman Hal Gill sat down at the table next to us. It takes a lot to make a 13 year old boy lose his focus on food but I can attest that that pretty much did it.

I have to add that Hal Gill was extremely gracious when my nephew worked up the nerve to go over to the table to ask for a picture. All in all, it was a great, great weekend and I highly recommend The Liberty Hotel for anyone traveling to Boston.

Monday, July 13, 2009


by Gina Sestak

There are three basic principles of lying.

The first, and most important, principle is this: NEVER LIE.

The second: IF YOU DO LIE, DON'T LIE ABOUT ANYTHING THAT ANYONE CAN CHECK. In other words, you may be able to get away with making untrue subjective statements such as, "I think your hair looks fine." You shouldn't say, "Penn Avenue doesn't run through East Liberty." Someone will pull up a map and catch you every time.

The third basic principle of lying is: IF YOU DO LIE, NEVER ADMIT TO ANYONE THAT YOU HAVE LIED.

I am about to violate that third principle.

I recently required hospital treatment. During the tornado warning a few weeks ago, I was sitting on my cellar steps, watching empty laundry detergent bottles float around in the water that was flooding into my basement, when I began to experience severe chest pains, accompanied by shortness of breath and nausea. I stayed where I was until the tornado warning was over, then I went upstairs and vomited for awhile. When it became clear that this was not going to resolve itself on its own, I called 911 and was taken to Shadyside Hospital by ambulance.

One of the first questions I was asked upon arrival in the ER concerned the severity of pain: "On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the worst pain you can imagine, how severe is your pain?"

That's a trick question if I ever heard one.

I am a writer. The worst pain I can imagine is really, really bad. Level 10 pain would definitely cause me to lose consciousness. In descending order, the levels of pain, as I imagine them, are:

9 Fall to the floor screaming and writhing uncontrollably.

8 On the floor, moaning and shaking.

7 In fetal position, whimpering.

6 Unable to think of anything except how bad this hurts.

5 Able, with concentration, to form a coherent thought.

4 In severe pain, but generally rational.

3 Able to push the pain into the background.

2 Able to ignore the pain some of the time.

1 Able to ignore the pain most of the time.

0 Not in pain.

My level of pain was around a 5 on my scale, but I know from when I tore my Achilles tendon that if you tell medical personnel your pain is around a 5, they respond, "It's not too bad, then." They must not be able to imagine very severe pain.

I admit it. I lied. I told the ER staff that my pain was at level 8 or 9 and they admitted me.

After extensive testing, which included a cardiac scan and the removal of what seemed like gallons of my blood, one vial at a time, they determined that I hadn't had a heart attack. It turned out that a gallstone had gotten stuck in a duct; they were able to go down my throat with an endoscope and unstick it. Problem solved. Still, I'm convinced that if I had characterized my pain as level 5, I might have been sent home with instructions to take Tylenol. Sometimes, imaginative writers really have to lie.

So, fess up. What have you lied about? And how do you feel about pain?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Handwriting as entertainment

By Pat Remick

Although I am aware that my penmanship may not meet the standard that Catholic schools once were famous for, you’d think the man I live with might be able to figure out my handwriting after nearly three decades together.

After all, I can read his witing and it’s far worse – written left-handed in a slant that makes people dizzy. My kids -- they of the 'Net and texting generation – endured just one year of cursive training so they print if, God forbid, they can’t communicate by computer or text from their phones. This Gang of 3 claims that not only is my handwriting the worst in the house, it also can be a source of entertainment.

In fact, Husband No. 1 gets a weekly chuckle out of pretending he cannot interpret my notations on the grocery list – “What are tamdos wells?” he’ll ask trying to look innocent when clearly (at least to me) I’ve written “taco” shells. “Why do we need hot tomatoes?” he’ll say when we need potatoes. Sometimes he'll return from the grocery store without a critical recipe ingredient because “I couldn’t read your writing.” (Have I mentioned that he also hasn’t figured out that to use a cell phone to call me, he might have to bring it with him?)

Anyway, this written communication problem raised its ugly head again recently on the first day of July when I called him en route to work to ask him to flip the calendar, check the date for No. 2 son’s annual checkup and remind the child to make sure when he went into work that afternoon, to request the time off. A short time later I received this e-mail from Husband No. 1:

"The checkup possibilities are:July 13: "4:45 Pedo/Synod Mo Velly"
July 15: "-Dad"
July 23: "$70we"
July 24-25: "Doud"
July 31: "10:30 anyou"
Any of those look like it?"

Huh? Does my beloved truly believe notations like “$70we” or “anyou” merit being added to the family calendar? It makes me wonder what world he thinks I inhabit that I would need to remember something like “Doud” and “Mo Velly.” It took only one quick look at his e-mail message to figure out the appointment is July 13—“4:45, Pediatrics, Dr. Symonds” -- AND NOT “Pedo/Synod Mo Velly.”

My conclusion from this latest experience is that the man is just not trying hard enough. Maybe "Mo Velly" could do better.

This also has me wondering if difficulty reading someone else's handwriting has affected any of the books published throughout history. What if the person transcribing someone else's story guessed at a word because they had difficulty deciphering the author's penmanship -- and the word was not what the author wrote? I suspect that's happened somewhere along the way -- don't you? Imagine the possibilities....

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Excuses, Excuses Part 2

by Joyce

I'm taking Annette up on her suggestion to continue her theme from yesterday. As I mentioned in my comment yesterday, my progress on my book was interrupted by computer nasties. Since they're all taken care of, I have no excuse to not sit down and write. Right?

Um. Maybe.

I've been suffering from the "this book really sucks" syndrome. My manuscripts usually total somewhere around 300 pages (Times New Roman, 12 pt, 1 inch margins, etc.) and end up anywhere between 73,000 and 80,000 words depending on how much dialogue there is. Right now, I'm just past the 100 page mark in my still untitled book. Maybe the problem is that I don't have a title. In the past, I've always had a title before I finished the first chapter, which always seems to reflect the theme, even if I don't know what that theme is until I finish the first draft. For instance, in my first book (unpublished), Lost Summer, the theme is loss and redemption. In Buried Lies (also unpublished, but agents are reading), the theme is how things are not always what they seem to be.

Anyway, I'm at the point where SOMETHING needs to happen to propel Irma Jean (my protagonist) forward. She's already investigating against the orders of the mayor, so I'm trying to figure out what major thing needs to happen to make her HAVE to keep at it. (And Nancy M., if you're reading this, yes, I do have an outline. Sort of. I keep tossing it out.) Even though it's a funny book, I see a theme developing and I want to take advantage of it. So, that's where I'm at. If anyone has any suggestions, I'd appreciate hearing them.

Fortunately, after being away from it for a couple of weeks (we went to Gettysburg, and my computer issues), I'm ready to tackle it again. Deep down, I know it doesn't really suck. (But then, I could be delusional. ) I just have to keep focused.

Here's my plan:

1. Put my butt in the chair.
2. Write even if it sucks.
That's it. My plan for success.

Anyone else have any ideas? How do you get past that "this book really sucks" feeling? How do you keep focused?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Excuses, excuses...

By Annette Dashofy

Why is it that anytime I give myself a deadline or set a goal, life takes it as an opportunity to show me who’s boss? I know I’m not alone in this. So here’s your chance to pour out all your favorite excuses for not writing.

A while back, several of us posted goals, complete with deadlines. A couple listed their deadline as the end of June. So, Will? Elizabeth? How’s it going? Or not going? Considering Monday’s blog, Will, I have a strong suspicion as to what your excuse might be.

The rest of us are shooting for mid August. I, for one, pretty much expect to NOT meet that goal. Here is my list of excuses:

Doctors, dentists, and veterinarians, oh my. What possessed me to schedule every single yearly check-up for the summer months? Note to self: save these fun events for WINTER when I’m already grouchy and suffering from cabin fever.

Vacations. Well, that one doesn’t really qualify. I take my laptop with me and tend to get as much or MORE writing done when I’m at our camp. Especially, if it’s raining. Okay, that sunny week drove me to blow off writing, but I refuse to feel bad about having a good time.

Other writing commitments. Just as I was getting on a roll with the manuscript, I received my short story manuscript back with an editing letter and a deadline (NOT self-imposed this time!) for getting them done. What’s that old saying about a bird in hand? Here I have a real editor and a real possibility for publication. You bet I’m gonna put the novel on the backburner for a couple of weeks to do those revisions on the short story.

But I’ve made that deadline, so now I’m back to work on the novel. I’m also stuck on rewriting two of the latest chapters. And rewriting. And rewriting. (Relax, Paula, you’ll get them eventually.)

So that’s my list of excuses. Now I want to hear from the rest of you, whether you’ve signed on for our mid-August deadline or not. How’s the writing going? Are you on track? Off track just a bit? Completely derailed? And please feel free to share your excuses. If you can’t whine about distractions and procrastination here, where can you whine about it???

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Following or Stalking?

by Paula Matter

I'll jump in with a post for today if no one minds...

I took the plunge and signed on to Twitter over the weekend. Dunno why. I'm thinking it has to do with needing another reason to procrastinate.


The first item of business after logging in was to find people I know, people I've heard of, or find interesting. Mainly a bunch of authors I read or am planning on reading. Many are people I've 'friended' (I still shudder at that word) over at Facebook.

I'm now following 94 fellow Twitter-ers and I have 20 following me.

The term 'follow' bothers me. I feel as if I'm now stalking 94 people. Weird that I don't feel like I'm being stalked. (Okay, so tell me which is correct: as if or like in the preceding sentences? I used both figuring I had a 50/50 shot at one of them being correct).

I haven't updated since signing on to Twitter. And I dunno how often I will. I think it's going to take some time getting used to it, and to learn all that can be done.

And how it's supposed to be done. I admit I'm a little afraid of doing something wrong.

I'm all for etiquette and netiquette. As long as I know the rules. Then again, being the rebellious person that I am, I don't go much for rules.

Four people DM'd me. That's Direct Message for you non-twitter-ers out there. I didn't respond to any of them because I wasn't sure if I was supposed to.

Oh, hell, who am I kidding? I haven't figured how to respond yet. I'm sure it's easy, but I just haven't taken time to learn.

In the meantime, one of the DMs I received disappeared. No idea where it went or why it went. It simply went.

Did I piss off the person because I never responded? Is there a time limit as to how long a DM sits in my--my what? Inbox? DMbox?

Are there any Twitter-ers out there? I'll follow you if you follow me.

Excuse me while I go off to Twitter. I want to see if my son is on there and what he's up to.

Not that I'm stalking him or anything.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Crash & Burn - Mac or PC

by Wilfred Bereswill

I intended to write a more insightful blog, but I'm running on computer life support here. My little Asus EeePC Netbook is at my day job office, my laptop monitor is flickering uncontrollably making it useless and my desktop won't power up (not sure what the hell is going on there).

I'm borrowing my daughter's Macbook to struggle through this; something I need to get used to because I've just gone from a lifetime of PC to Mac. My new Macbook Pro is on order and should be here next week. I'll still have my little Eee PC, but that is for surfing and writing only. No website maintenance, etc.

I said I was a lifetime PC. Well, that's no exageration. Actually, my first computer was an IBM 1620 with 4 megabytes, YES, MEGABYTES, of RAM. I learned to use a keypunch in high school. I graduated to an IBM System 3, then used a Cray for a while when I worked for the Government in college.

My first job (1984/85) bought me a PC and IBM 8088. Two floppy drives and no hard drive. DOS on one disk, Wordstar or Lotus 123 on the other. A few years later I had my first Windows machine an IBM 8288. 20 Meg hard drive.

So this week I'll start a new chapter in my life, a move away from Windows.

How about you? PC or Mac?

Oh and here's a tidbit. This has been reported on the internet last week. I checked Snopes to see if it was authentic or not to no avail. Either way, there's a story here, waiting to be written.


Luxury yachts in Russia are offering pirate hunting cruises in the dangerous waters off the coast of Somalia with the hope of being attacked. Passengers pay about $5,000 to patrol and can pay an extra $7.50 a day to receive an AK-47 machine gun for protection and about $10 for 100 rounds of ammo.The yachts travel from Djibouti to Mombasa in Kenya and deliberately cruise close to the coast at a speed of about five nautical miles hoping to attract pirates.

Friday, July 03, 2009


Here's that guest blog you didn't get on Tuesday. I had something else planned for today, but this is so much better than anything I could ever come up with, that there was no contest, really. Enjoy!

Everything I Know About Writing, I Learned From My Dogs

By Beth Terrell

There is an old bumper sticker floating around that says, “Dog is my co-pilot.” As a writer, I could say “Dog is my muse,” or “Dog is my inspiration.” My husband and I share our home with two papillons: Luca (a.k.a., His Lordship of Eternal Cuteness, Light of a Thousand Suns) and our new puppy, Willow (a.k.a., She Who Seeks to Topple the Throne). While they never remind me to use the active voice whenever possible or to write 1,000 words a day (4,000, if I want to keep up with the tireless Joe Konrath), I have learned much about writing from them. Here are just a few of the lessons my dogs have taught me.

Love unconditionally. At first glance, this seems like a lesson for living, rather than a lesson for writing, but think about that manuscript you’re working on. Parts of it are polished and elegant, while others are awkward and rough. You give birth to a first draft that seems like the most beautiful baby in the world. Then you realize it’s a red, wrinkled, colicky creature that leaks at both ends and squalls like an air raid siren. You love it anyway. It’s that unconditional love that allows you to shepherd your little darling through the gangly, acne-pocked stage and mold it into the magnum opus you always knew it could be.

Take the time to do things you enjoy. Even a work-driven border collie occasionally takes a few minutes to gnaw on a bone or roll in a rotting squirrel carcass. We writers should do the same. Well, okay, not the rotting squirrel carcass. I lean more toward a Hugh Jackman movie and a box of Godiva chocolates. But you get the point: balancing work and play is important.

Savor every moment. We writers spend a lot of time in our own heads. I sometimes get so caught up in plans for the future (If only I could afford to write full time…Just wait until that hungry young agent comes to his/her senses and decides to offer me representation) that I forget to appreciate the wonder of creating worlds and people on paper. When Luca is sniffing the neighbor’s mailbox, he isn’t thinking about what he’s going to do when he gets home or which halter he’ll wear to his clicker class. He’s completely immersed in the messages left him by that sweet little terrier mix down the street. He’s living in the now. It’s easy to focus so intently on the goal that we forget to enjoy the journey.

Feel everything intensely. Can any creature express such utter happiness (“ahhhh, belly rub”) or such utter misery (“Crate? What do you mean, crate?”) as a puppy? It’s easy to fall back on facile descriptions of emotion, but a writer who can convey genuine emotion has a rare gift indeed. Watching the sincere emotion of my dogs reminds me to strive to be genuine in my writing.

Be gregarious. Luca loves people. On our walks, when he sees a stranger in the distance, he wags his whole body as if to say, “Look, Ma. Somebody over there wants to meet me!” His joyous greetings elicit smiles and outstretched hands. As a shy writer, I watch him work the crowd and realize that folks really aren’t so scary. All I have to do is show an honest desire to get to know them. (Of course, just to hedge my bets, I wrote Luca into my second book so he could accompany me to signings and attract the crowd.)

Don’t pee on the carpet. Okay. I already knew that one, but let’s think about it for a minute. Couldn’t we metaphorically equate our dogs’ soiling the carpet with the kind of self-sabotaging behavior some authors engage in (procrastination, missing deadlines, badgering his or her agent at all hours, boasting about his or her accomplishments ad nauseum, etc.)? A dog who can’t control his bladder misses out on opportunities to visit public places and other people’s homes, while a well-mannered, housebroken pup may go to the dog park, to a friend’s house, on puppy play dates, and outdoor craft festivals. Likewise, a writer who can’t control his or her behavior may alienate agents, editors, and potential fans. I know of at least one well-known author whose obnoxious behavior at a signing ensured he would never be invited back to the bookstore that held the event. On the other hand, readers will often buy books by authors who have been kind to them, even if those books might not ordinarily be in their sphere of interest.

And finally: Carpe diem, because no one can seize the day quite like a dog, especially one with literary aspirations.


Beth is the author of the Jared McKean mysteries, the vice president of the Middle Tennessee Sisters in Crime, and the coordinator of the Killer Nashville mystery conference. She's also one of the nicest human beings you'll ever meet. Make her feel welcome, people!


PS - happy 4th of July to everyone!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Independence, Liberty, Freedom and Giving Thanks

by Paula Matter

As an independent, free woman, I recently took the liberty of driving to Parsippany, NJ for the Deadly Ink conference.

What a wonderful little conference. And I say little with the utmost respect. Little as in intimate, cosy. Deadly Ink could easily become an annual event for me. I brought my husband's trusty digital camera and some of the photos actually were good enough to show you.

I knew very few people at this con. I knew of some, but hadn't met most. I made it a priority to introduce myself, and chat with a lot of other attendees. So, here's a shoutout (shout-out? shout out?) to Kate Lincoln, Robin Hathaway, Elena Santangelo, Sandy Cody, Kate Gallison, and Elizabeth Zelvin. I'd be remiss if I failed to mention Rosemary Harris, Jeff Cohen, and Ken Isaacson. And Jeff Markowitz. Oh, hell, just go see who all was there!

And a huge shoutout (whatever) and thanks to organizers Debby Buchanan and Christine Abbott.

Across the street from the con hotel
(aka playing with the camera)

Debby Buchanan, Christine Abbott, Amanda
Hardworking organizers

Ken Isaacson, Cheryl Solimini, Jeff Cohen

Elena Santangelo, Robin Hathaway -- Winner of the
David G. Sasher, Sr. Award for Best Mystery Novel

One-half of the Bennetts, wonderful booksellers.
(See, Betty? I promised I wouldn't post your photo!)

Five Star author Jeff Markowitz

Renee Gardner had Cheryl, Steven Rigolosi
and both Jeffs laughing.

There was a lot of laughter. A lot of fun, learning, and good times. Deadly Ink was truly an outstanding conference.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Working Stiff on Vacation

by Annette Dashofy

Last week, the Dashofy household had the great fun of dealing with a dental exam, a colonoscopy, and a breast biopsy. We’re such party animals. So when the weekend struck, we bolted for quieter digs that didn’t involve medical procedures.

Our most recent trip to our camp in Confluence had been soggy, to say the least. Plus, I decided my priorities had been slightly askew. Last time, we had one day of sun: the first day. But I wanted to get some writing done, so I spent that first day working on my manuscript.

Then it proceeded to rain for the next four days. I don’t mean drizzle. I mean RAIN. And cold. We never made it to the bike trail.

I did, however, surpass my intended word count for the trip.

This time, I rearranged my priorities. Yes, I brought work. But after the harrowing week we’d just survived, I decided I wasn’t going be the all-work-and-no-play gal THIS trip. The forecast was for two days of sun followed by a string of rainy days. Fine. We’d take advantage of the nice weather. Then when the rain hit, I’d settle into writing mode.

Saturday, we rode roughly fifteen miles. Now I realize that for some of you, that may be laughable. For us, this is just short of a marathon. But it was gorgeous. Warm, low humidity and a nice dapple of sunshine filtering through the trees. The air smelled of forest greenery and loam. Mountain streams cascaded over rocks enroute to the river.

We took a break at a favorite picnic spot for the whitewater rafters. This is their “parking lot.”

On our way back to camp, we made a loop through town to do a little grocery shopping. This is the town park.

And this is the Confluence Cyclery where I mooch wi-fi service.

Sidewalk sale!

On Sunday, we ventured south and east on the trail and rode another fifteen miles. The scenery was gorgeous. Along the trail, which is an old railroad bed, we spotted these old electric poles.

We also spotted a mama turkey and her babies crossing the trail in front of us. But they were photo-shy and vanished into the thick undergrowth before we got close enough to snap some pictures.

Once again, Skye the Camping Kitty, had her days and nights confused. She was very vocal and restless after dark. However, she caught up on her beauty sleep during the day.

I decided to grab my own afternoon nap. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Monday morning dawned foggy, but the sun soon burnt through. Wait a minute. Monday was supposed to be cloudy, rainy, and cold. I was supposed to write. And I did. Sort of. Hubby went fishing for a few hours and I worked on edits for my short story (this one), which is still in the running for publication. But then Hubby returned. We packed a lunch, loaded the bikes on the car and drove to Ohiopyle. Our ride was much shorter this day. Only eight miles round trip. We were lazy. Afterwards, we wandered around the park and I snapped these photos of the incredible whitewater and falls at the park.

Just last week, a man was swept over this waterfall to his death. Tragedies like this happen several times a year here. It’s beautiful, but nothing to be messed with.

I took some odds and ends pictures on the way back to camp. This is the church locals refer to as the Church of Immaculate Reception. It’s where they (and we) drive to when we need to use our cell phones.

Some of the incredible vistas around here.

And here are a few more shots of “my town” Confluence. This is the library, another source of Internet.

And this is a shot of the bustling center of town.

You gotta love it.