Friday, October 30, 2009

Pittsburgh Highs and Lows

Working Stiffs welcomes the super-fantabulous (yes, I know it's not a real word) CJ Lyons today! Woo-hoo!

Pittsburgh Highs and Lows

by CJ Lyons

Thanks for having me back here at Working Stiffs!!! Instead of focusing on crime fiction or my new release, URGENT CARE, I thought I'd take a trip down memory lane of the best and worst of Pittsburgh in the news lately.

Even though I've recently moved away from PA, I still read the Pittsburgh papers every morning (thank you Internet!) and here are some of the highs and lows:

High: The Steelers!!! What a Super Bowl! White-knuckled until the final seconds, I loved it!

High: The Penquins!!! While I lived in Pittsburgh the Pens won two Stanley Cups and I was at several games including a finals game. Plus, I had a bet with a friend from Detroit about the Cup and won tons of money for St. Judes, double yeah!

Low: The Pirates....say no more.....

High: the relative lack of drama around the G-20 summit--although I'm sure anyone caught in the commute and traffic snarl would call it a low.

Low: G-20 protestors smashing the window of Pamelas--I mean really! Who could have any problems with Pamelas pancakes???

Not-so-sure: the Greenpeace demonstrators hanging from the West End Bridge. Very out of the box thinking, but how much good did it do their cause? Think of all those rescue boats, trucks, and other vehicles....not exactly carbon neutral!

Low: closing the Carnegie Library branches.

High: the successful move of the Children's Hospital to its sparkling new facility in Lawrenceville

Bottomless pit low: the line of duty deaths of three police officers in Stanton Heights

And, finally, a high point for any fiction writer: the alligator who started a fire in an old school that was also filled with rabbits and other assorted critters......I gotta figure out a way to get that gator in one of my stories!

(BTW, the gator in the photo isn't the Pittsburgh gator, it's one I found ten feet from my steps!)

So you tell me, have I missed anything in my Pittsburgh top ten? Let me know!

What wild and wacky stories are you wanting to include in your books?

Oh, and for all you writers out there, I'm hosting a contest where you can win a critique of your query package from my agent, Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Agency. Go to my site for details.

Thanks for reading!

About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her debut, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), became a National Bestseller and Publishers Weekly proclaimed it a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller." The second in the series, WARNING SIGNS, was released January, 2009 and the third, URGENT CARE, on October 27, 2009. Contact her at

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sisters, sisters--there were never such devoted sisters...

by Joyce

My baby sister turns 50 in a couple of weeks.

Last year around this time, she sent everyone in the family an email saying she rented a big-ass house in Deep Creek for the week of Thanksgiving. She invited everyone to come down for the week and celebrate her big day. On her dime. Make that lots and lots of dimes. I'm looking forward to it.

We're splitting up the cooking duties--each of us will take a night to cook, then we'll all make our "specialties" on Thanksgiving. I'm already being nagged to make the apple pie. And of course, we'll all pitch in to make our mom's recipe for the stuffing (made with butter and sausage--definitely NOT low calorie!). I also volunteered to make a couple of breakfast meals (I have killer recipes for bacon-cheese fritatta and orange-cinnamon baked french toast).  

We stayed at the same house several years ago for a long weekend and had a blast. Baby sister made the unfortunate choice of a bedroom in the basement next to the room with the pool table. She thought it would be quiet down there.


My guys took fireworks. And beer. Lots of beer. All the guys played pool and drank beer. And set off fireworks right outside baby sister's window. Heh.

This time, she picked an upstairs room. I'm not sure who gets stuck with the basement room. Probably me. You know what they say about pay back.

Hmm. Maybe I need to get a few more gag gifts for her gift basket.

It seems like the older we get, the more time we want to spend with each other. For the last few years, we've gone on a "Sister's Weekend" every spring. With one sister who lives in North Carolina and one who travels a lot for work, it's one of the few times the four of us can be together. And it's fun!

Does anyone else do anything like this with family members? Or friends? It's not too late, you know!

Just for fun--no prizes--does anyone know what the title of this post is from? No Googling!

Since Paula guessed where that line was from, enjoy this:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pay Attention!

By Annette Dashofy

I’ve been complaining for quite a while now about people on cell phones tuning out the world. From the relatively benign, but annoying practice of chatting on the phone in the check-out line and totally ignoring the sales clerk (RUDE, people! This is RUDE!) to the downright scary practice of talking and/or texting while driving. Multitasking only works to a point. Something has to suffer. Your brain can’t put 100 percent on two things at once. If I’m walking along the road or riding my bike and you’re in a car—or a tractor trailer—I’d really prefer your attention be on not hitting me rather than on the text message you’ve just received.

But this whole techno-multitasking trend has hit a new low. Or high.

Last week, two experienced Northwest Airline pilots missed their destination city by more than a hundred miles because they were using their laptops instead of paying attention to the instruments and the messages being sent to them by air traffic controllers.

Truthfully, this doesn’t qualify as multitasking. They’d taken their headsets off and apparently were single-mindedly focusing on their laptop software (one pilot was teaching the other how to use it).

Excuse me. Aren’t you guys supposed to be flying the plane??? If a flight attendant hadn’t intervened and basically asked them, “Aren’t we there yet?” who knows where they may have ended up. Would they have noticed if they were about to run out of gas? Probably not.

Since this news broke, I’ve been picturing where this trend will end. Will the space shuttle completely miss Planet Earth and end up at Venus because the crew was busy playing Wii?

Okay, okay, I’m exaggerating.
I hope I’m exaggerating.

I think we all need to learn how to focus. Do one thing at a time and do it well. I can hear the screams now. We’ve become a multitasking culture. How will we ever get anything accomplished if we’re stuck to doing one thing at a time?

And I’m not claiming to be blame-free. I’ve burnt dinner a number of times because I had to run into the other room to check email. But I’m working on it.

I do think, though, if you’re multitasking when ONE of those tasks involves motorized equipment that could potentially maim or kill others, you really should pay attention to the road or sky in front of you. No text message or phone call is more important than another life.

At least the pilots have had their licenses revoked.

So what do you all think? Should cell phone use while driving be outlawed? Do you call or text behind the wheel?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Where Do You Get Your Material?

By Martha Reed

People who read my fiction look at me differently once they’re done. I’ve noticed it on more than one occasion especially if it’s someone I work with during the day. You see, my 9-5 job is in financial services and it’s very focused on a specific product. My associates see the Me in the suit – that’s the Me they’ve come to know and then they read one of my horror stories or my mystery novel and then they ask: Hey, Marth? Where do you get this stuff from?

1)    I get it from reading. Honestly, I read everything I can get my hands on because you never know where an idea will lead you. I can remember the first time I tried to weave three unrelated items together to create an entirely new story and I was amazed when it held up and took on a life of its own. I’ve even taken this cool tool one step further and I can now identify something going on in the new that I will probably circle back to later to use in a future story. I already know that I will probably be using some version of the kidnapped child/sex slave kept in the backyard at some future time.

2)    I get it from listening. You never know what you will hear. It’s the only reason I like riding the bus – I overhear massive amounts of private conversation. For instance, one morning I was heading into town when an obviously upset middle-aged woman climbed aboard. You could tell she was just dying to find someone to talk to and luckily, she did. She plopped down and started complaining that her mother-in-law had called her because the basement was flooding and she (the mother-in-law) wanted her son to come home from the union hall to help her get stuff up out of the water. The daughter-in-law/woman on the bus then called down to the hall to get her husband Donny to go help his mother but the receptionist told her that Donny wasn’t there just then he was over at his girlfriend’s house.

Bam. You could have heard a pin drop and I wasn’t the only one who rode that bus every morning for a solid week waiting for the follow up. We never got it. I even read the paper every day looking for a domestic disturbance or homicide notice but the story went cold. I didn’t get discouraged, though – that’s where fiction can step in. Someday I may need a character like Donny’s First Wife and there she is, already neatly in hand.

3)    I keep my eyes open. Characters are out walking our streets. Since we’re coming up on Halloween, I’ll tell you a spooky one. There’s a character in my first novel, Addie Simpson, a heavy-set fifty year old woman who sports a goatee. Addie is a complete fabrication although I did give that character a lot of thought when I was starting out since Addie was a pivotal character. Years later, I was standing in the A&P on Nantucket with my niece who was admiring the lobster tank when I looked up and damn if Addie Simpson wasn’t standing there in the chip aisle grinning at me. The woman had it down to the dirty navy peacoat she was wearing. I stood there, conflicted – I couldn’t leave my niece alone but all I wanted to do was run up to the woman and touch her to see if she was real.

Which brings me to the question of the day: Where Do You Get Your Material? Please post your answers. Inquiring minds want to know.

Monday, October 26, 2009


by Gina Sestak

Did you ever have one of those days when nothing goes right?  I seem to be having one of those lifetimes, but it's been particularly annoying over the last few months.

First, one of my cats died.

Then I got really sick and vomited for a week, before I ended up in the ER and in surgery.   The operation started laparoscopically, then got complicated, so I ended up with this hideous huge incision across my upper abdomen.  I was planning to take a picture of it, so I could show you all what it looks like, but I couldn't get the digital camera to work -- see what I mean about nothing going right?  So decided to draw it using PhotoShop.

My incision looks something like this:

It's almost 8 inches long.  The dots are where the staples went in.

But, anyway, this post isn't about my incision.  It's about dealing with adversity.  Writers are good at that.  We incorporate life's traumas into our books, following the adage:  When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  Life gave me this nifty scar and Halloween is coming, so I'm trying to think of ways to  incorporate it into a costume.  I'm open to suggestions.  What do you think?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Welcome, Freelance editor Kristen Weber

Paula here...I'm delighted to have as today's guest, freelance editor Kristen Weber. I highly recommend Kristen to anyone who's ready for an insightful, hardworking, enthusiastic editor to help get your manuscript into shape.

Kristen Weber has worked as an in-house editor for her entire book publishing career (except for a brief stint as a subsidiary rights assistant) before relocating to Los Angeles for her husband’s job. She’s currently freelance editing in between relearning to drive and hanging out with her pug. You can learn more about her services here:

By Kristen Weber

“Do I have to take a test?”

That was my first question when I was approached for a job as an editorial assistant. My only real qualifications were that I had been an English major and I was a voracious reader. I didn’t know exactly what being an editorial assistant entailed, and I wasn’t sure I could pass any kind of test.

But as I quickly learned, you either know how to edit or you don’t. While some houses will give tests, becoming an editorial assistant is really an apprenticeship. You absolutely need to have the editorial “eye” - being able to crawl inside an author’s manuscript to find the heart of the problem while helping them maintain their own vision and voice. If you have that eye, you’ll learn to hone it by reading and discussing the submissions of a more experienced editor and editing behind them on manuscripts. It is an absolutely intense experience, filled with days and nights of an overwhelming edit and reading load but it is the best way to learn the business.

The thing about editing, though, is that there isn’t really a “right” way to do it. I know how I personally edit, but different editors edit in their own way. You can do it with a red pen or with a pencil, sitting in your office or sitting on your couch. And there isn’t really any way to know if you’re doing it “right” – except by the caliber of the books that you end up helping to get published.

The point that I’m making is that editing is a subjective art form. That’s why I always told the authors I worked with and I tell the freelance clients I work with now not to get discouraged. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure…and one day you’ll find the person who sees your work like you do.

One of my first acquisitions was a book that had literally been passed on all over town. But it only took a few short pages to steal my heart. I knew I could help the author make it into something amazing and I was right…it went on to win awards and receive phenomenal reviews.

In the end, the most important person to believe in your work is you. Of course, if you continue to get the same exact same kind of criticism on your manuscript from your writing group and even agents if you go that far, that’s where a freelance editor like me comes in. I consider it my job to help push your work out even further while helping you keep your own vision and voice intact. Sometimes you just need a little professional help to push your manuscript to that next level.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The End is Near...

...The End is HERE!

By Annette Dashofy

Yesterday afternoon at exactly 3:46PM, I typed every writer’s favorite two words on my manuscript page.

The. End.

I thought it would never get here.

This has been a work in progress for almost two years. Might as well round it off to two, since I still have lots of rewriting and revising to go. “The End” does not mean DONE. No one is popping out at me with a microphone saying, “Annette Dashofy, you’ve just finished your first draft. Now what are you going to do?”

Me: “I’m going to Disney World!”


I may take today off to celebrate. And to work on the article I owe Pennsylvania Magazine. Or I may jump right back in. I have a couple of slave driver/critique buddies who are demanding another chapter. Since they’re reading Chapters 17 and 18 (the final chapter is number 29—unless I split my very long Chapter 28 into two), I need to step back in time and whip the words I wrote months ago into something resembling readable shape.

Or maybe I’ll make the slave driver/critique buddies wait another day.

My plan is to print out the entire manuscript. Sit down with a notepad and pen. And sticky notes. Read the whole thing beginning to end and jot down comments along the way. I know I’ll find things that make me say “Oops! I forgot about that!” Changes will need to be made to create a cohesive story.

Then, I’ll need to rewrite the first few chapters. Completely rewrite. Some folks stress over their openings and never get to the end. I just say “I’ll figure that out later,” in my best Scarlett O’Hara manner. Tomorrow’s another day.

But now that I’ve typed “The End,” I need to start stressing and obsessing over my opening chapters. They need to be perfect. Or at least a lot closer to perfect than they are right now.

THEN, I’ll take my notes and go through the entire manuscript. I’ll fill in the holes and patch the gaps. I’ll delete scenes and add scenes as needed.

And then… I have a line-up of first readers. Some folks call them beta readers. Whatever the name, they get to read what I consider to be my SECOND draft.

That, my friends, is when I finally take a break. I’ll sit back and work on something else until I receive their comments, suggestions, and feedback. At that point, I’ll dive into the third draft.

At least, that’s the plan.

For now, though, I’m simply celebrating a milestone. The completion of the shitty first draft.

The End

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Tragedies of Picture-Perfect Days

By Pat Remick

A perfect fall day – the piercingly blue cloudless sky, the gentle warmth from the sunlight dappling the trees, and the air crisp from the tiniest hint of cool weather to come.

Those of us who live in the Northeast can never forget that September 11, 2001, began as a picture-perfect days like this. By the time it ended, our world had changed forever.

In my mind’s eye, I still see the dark sedans parked across the street that confirmed my fear that the American Airlines pilot who lived there was aboard one of the planes that slammed into the World Trade Center towers. Although I did not know him well, I was certain even then that my neighbor would never have flown that plane into a building, even at gunpoint. This could only mean that an unknown force of unspeakable evil was involved.

The terror and heartbreak of that horrific day left scars on us all. For me, they added to another wound that also refuses to heal – the pain of a similarly gorgeous autumn day two years earlier.
The foliage blaze of glory that greeted me as I drove out of the neighborhood with my son on that October morning remains seared into my memory. Trying to concentrate on the day’s to-do list led by his dental appointment, I nearly missed the approach of my cousin’s car from the other direction. I was late, as always, and considered not stopping. But her unexpected appearance was too unusual to ignore.

I hit the brakes, put the car in park and hurried toward her vehicle, which by now had turned around and parked behind me in the middle of the intersection. When I saw her face, I knew something was terribly wrong. I never expected to hear that her brother had been murdered.

This month marks the 10th anniversary of his tragic death at the age of 34. The man who stabbed him with an 8-inch fishing knife after the two argued outside a bar, and then drove away to leave my cousin bleeding to death in the middle of a darkened street, is petitioning to get out of prison early. The indescribable pain continues. I only hope this feeling adds a dimension to my crime fiction that reminds people of the humanity of the victims and the enduring grief of their loved ones.

On a lovely fall day not long ago, I glanced up at the unblemished blue sky and rather than be grateful for nature’s gift, I uttered a silent prayer that the perfect autumn day would end quickly and without tragedy.

When I told a friend about the unease I feel on such beautiful fall days, she admitted she feels it, too, after 9/11. Another acquaintance says she and her husband descrube them as "9/11 days." I suspect the term will end up in a book someday because so many of us would understand it. Dramatic events seem to have that kind of collective effect.

How about you? Do you have vivid memories that fill you with dread -- or better yet, with joy -- when you experience a certain type of day?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bouchercon 2009

Wilfred Bereswill

Well, another Bouchercon has come and gone.  And if you ask me it was a resounding success.  Jim Huang and all the B'con organizers did a terrific job.  The city, setting and hotels were fantastic.

I'm sure I'm not telling you anything new, but Bouchercon is not a writers conference.  You don't go as a writer to learn how to write.  It's a convention designed to bring fans and authors together.  So why the hell did I go? I don't have a new book to promote.  I wasn't on a panel.  I had to place books on consignment with Mystery Mike's bookstore to have some available just in case.

So again, why did I go?  I did consider bailing at the last minute. I mean I had to use the last day of vacation I have in my day job until next March.  My middle daughter was coming home from college to pre-celebrate her 21st birthday.  And I could come up with a dozen other reasons I shouldn't have gone.  But then I remembered how much friggin' fun I had last year.  I remembered how energized I was when I came back.  I remembered just how great the community of Mystery Writers is.

I wasn't disappointed.  I had a great time.  I'me ready to pull that Work In Progress up on my screen and finish it.  I'm ready to make it as good as I'm capable of making it.

Speaking of how giving the Mystery Community is, I was participating in the Continuous Conversation and that very subject came up.  One author (to remain nameless) said "Mystery authors are generally not assholes.  There are exceptions, but for the most part, we're pretty nice."

It didn't take long to reconnect with a number of authors that I consider friends.  And some of them hit it big this year.  For example:

Brett Battles

Julie Hyzy

Brett Battles won the Barry Award for best thriller (I think, I guess I shouldn't have had that last IPA Wheat Beer... or the first or second or...)  Julie Hyzy won an Anthony and Lori G. Armstrong who couldn't be there, won the Shamus for her book Snow Blind.

Where it's at: The Bar and a great Wheat Beer.  I had several meaningful and meaningless conversations here.

My friend, John Lutz and the Edgar Allan Poe Panel with Michael Connelly, Sue Grafton,  Peter Lovesy, and Sara Paretsky

It was a Mega Panel

And of course, the lovely couple Tasha Alexander and Andrew Grant.

A Little about Tasha and Andrew.  I don't think I've met two nicer people.  They are both extremely talented and giving.  And Andrew, if you read this, I will not sell the book you signed for me on Ebay.  I'm really looking forward to reading EVEN.  And, by the way, they look fabulous together.

The signing lines.

Now about the party.  Lee Child had a fantastic party at The Slippery Noodle.  The Slippery Noodle is a Pre-Prohibition Blues Bar where Lee hosted his Jack Reacher Party.  I was invited by Andrew Grant, Lee's brother.  You can't tell so much from the pictures, but it was wildly popular.  It was a great way to end the weekend.

The Band

My beautiful wife Linda and I at the Jack Reacher Party. 

The crowd including Kelli Stanley and Alexandra Sokoloff

My wife Linda (I'm a lucky guy)

I'd be remiss if I failed to mention my friend, Austin Camacho.  A talented author in his own right, I met Austin last year at Magna Cum Murder in Muncie, Indiana.  Thanks Austin.

Upcoming Guest Bloggers

Kristen Weber, former editor at NAL, now a freelance editor--Thursday, October 22nd.

CJ Lyons, whose 3rd medical thriller will be released this month--Friday, October 30th.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cruising The Maritime Provinces and New England

By Pat Gulley

I’m back! And it all went rather smoothly. Printed out all that paper work and barely got a glance at one piece of paper and didn’t need the rest. As I said before, my waste of paper not theirs.

I really worried about that new 50 pound limit for baggage as when I cruise I pack a ton. And though I didn’t put in my rock garden, kitchen sink and extra 10 pairs of shoes as I normally prefer, I did go out with 38 pounds, not including carry-on, and came back with 46 pounds. Who knew T-shirts could weigh so much? Okay, some books and boxes of candy too. And a bunch of hotel and ship miniature sample bottles. And a jacket. And….hmmm, shocking it was only an additional 8 pounds.

I was actually quite surprised how smoothly everything went. All the flights were on time and my luggage made it and was off the carousel within minutes.

My cruise started in Quebec City, a city I wanted very much to go back to, and it did not disappoint. We booked a pre-cruise hotel night at the Chateau Frontenac, that fabulous looking castle up on the hill. Needless to say we didn’t get one of the front rooms or suites, so if anything, I was just a bit disappointed with the room, though not the hotel. After hoofing around the old city below the chateau, we took a tour out to the island of Orleans. Very delightful, and I wouldn’t mind going back again.

Transferring to the ship went off without a hitch, luggage made to our room, and though in the cabin was in the back of the ship it was very comfortable. I don’t like being forward or in the rear, but a speech from the captain explained that these newer ships are no longer ‘pushed’ along by a screw, but rather are ‘pulled’ by a computer operated engine in the middle of the ship. And the stabilizers are different too, so all was smooth sailing except for one night—between Gaspe and Corner Brook, Newfoundland, when we were a rockin and a rollin pretty badly. We were awakened by a bump that made me feel we either ran over a whale or a submarine. Never did find out what caused it, but someone speculated that they might have been ‘adjusting’ the stabilizers. (????) Anyway, two ambulances awaited us in Corner Brook. After that I saw an ambulance in two other ports. We did have a very senior citizen passenger list, and since the ship was full that meant 2000 passengers. Didn’t feel like it though.

Our routing was Quebec City, Gaspe with a trip to Parse, Corner Brook Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, St. John’s New Brunswick, Portland Maine, Boston, and Newport RI. We got off in New York City, where we had booked our own transfer to the airport—this was not a normal disembarkation port for the cruise line, so they had nothing to offer—and luckily the van service was willing to come earlier than arranged after a weird little bit of disembarkation. All through the cruise we were told that we could get off at our leisure in the morning but had to take our luggage off ourselves. We intended to have a BIG breakfast so as not to have to buy any of that c—p the airlines want to sell you, and be picked up at 1000A for a 100P airline departure. NOT! We got a letter the night before saying that customs in NYC was like no other and we had to have our luggage ready to go between 6A and 630A, and we had to be off by 745A. UGH! Who eats at 630AM??? Not this kid, but I did anyway, and it felt like I didn’t eat at all. And wouldn’t you know it, even though the move through customs was thorough, we blew through in fifteen minutes. Good thing our transfer was willing to come early. We stood by for an earlier flight to Chicago—went great—and had a chance to run back and forth between two terminals (good time killer, since we were early for our next flight) because they changed the gate on us.

Gosh, nothing to complain about. How weird is that?! Had a great time, and as I sit here I really do miss having 10,000 pounds of food per day to choose from, and never a thought to cooking it or cleaning up after myself. I didn’t gain an ounce, though I ate more that I normally do and had two or three desserts for lunch and dinner. Heavy sigh!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


by Joyce

I had originally planned to write about the proposed closing of four branches of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, but it was too depressing. One that's scheduled to close is the West End Branch, where I worked in my first "real" job. I was a clerk and only made minimum wage, but I loved every minute of it.

This branch has been there since 1899. That's not a typo. Really. 1899! The city and the county manage to find money for stadiums, casinos, the G-20, and who knows what else, but they let libraries close.

It stinks.

That's all I'm going to say about that.

Annette's post yesterday really put me in a good mood, so I thought I'd continue the youth theme, especially since mine gets further away every day. When I was doing a search for old TV shows, I found a site called Crazy About TV. This site lists shows I've never even heard of--and a few I wish I'd never heard of. David Cassidy-Man Undercover? Really? I was a big David Cassidy fan in his Partridge Family days, but somehow I missed this one. Probably a good thing. It didn't last very long.

It would be much too hard to decide which show was my favorite. In the 60s, I watched The Brady Bunch, The Big Valley, Hogan's Heroes, Get Smart, and Here Come the Brides (I had a crush on Bobby Sherman). Oh, and I can't forget The Monkees. And Batman. And The Mod Squad. And on Saturday mornings, HR Pufnstuf and Scooby Doo. I remember my mother never missed The Fugitive. I wasn't allowed to watch it. Medical Center was another favorite and I remember one summer the electricity in the neighborhood would go out every Wednesday night at 9:00--just when Medical Center came on. I never did figure that one out.

The 70s was even better. How about Charlie's Angels, The Bionic Woman, All in the Family, Happy Days, Black Sheep Squadron, Starsky and Hutch, and my favorite--The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. (Although the Hardy Boys were way more interesting than Nancy Drew.)

Even now, if there's an old show on, I'll watch it. Every Sunday night I watch Newhart on WGN. I love that show and it's still as funny as it was the first time around. How can you not laugh at Larry, Darryl and Darryl?

These days, I watch NCIS when I remember it's on. I also like The Mentalist, but I've only watched it once this year since they changed the day and time. Castle is pretty good (be sure to check out Lee's reviews of Castle every Tuesday on The Graveyard Shift.). I think my new favorite show this year is Three Rivers. I'm not sure if it's the show itself or just how cool Pittsburgh looks. Maybe both.

So what shows do you remember? Any favorites? Any you absolutely hated?

The Soundtrack of My Youth

By Annette Dashofy

Apparently, I’ve reached that age where the songs of “my era” are now considered “classic rock.” A little over a week ago, I attended a festival with live music. One of the bands drew me to them, playing all my old favorites. When I checked the program to find out who they were, the designation under their name was just that: Classic Rock.

I stood and listened and sang along to American Pie. I knew every word. And I’m talking the long version. Every. Word.

How is it I can’t remember the name of someone I met yesterday, but song lyrics from long ago? No problem.

So I began pondering music. Is American Pie my all time favorite song? Maybe. Or maybe I’m thinking it is because I just heard it at that festival and it continues to roll around in my brain.

Actually, I think my all time favorite song goes back a little further. Yesterday by the Beatles. I know all the lyrics to that one, too, but there are a lot fewer of them.

As I made a list of my favorite “classic” songs, the soundtrack of my youth, I realized a lot of them were dark, sad, melancholy. Nights in White Satin, Cat’s in the Cradle

Weren’t there any upbeat songs I liked???

Oh, yeah.

Crocodile Rock by Elton John, Joy to the World by Three Dog Night (honestly anything by either Elton or TDN goes onto my list), Brandi by Looking Glass, Dancing in the Moonlight (the 1973 version by King Harvest).

Shaking off the seventies, I have owned and worn out two copies of the soundtrack for Footloose.

I love dancing movies and soundtracks. Click here for the treat of the day.

You're welcome.

Your turn. If you were to compose the soundtrack of your life (or your youth), what songs would be on it?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Change Your Life for $1,000, please, Alex.

By Martha Reed

It’s strange the things that can bug you. I can ignore the porch that needs a coat of paint or the tremendous pile of laundry hiding in the hamper but then I read something and it gets to me to such an extent I actually have to do something about it.

Here’s the latest thing that got to me: I read an article about dust mites. Harmless little critters that are so microscopic you can’t even see them and yet – this article stated – if your pillows are more than 5 years old then half the weight of them is dead dust mites.

Yikes! I didn’t sleep well that night. Kept tossing and turning. Can’t imagine why.

The next day my logical mind took that information one step further. If half of my five year old pillows were dead dust mites then what for God’s sake was in my mattress? I hauled that thing up from Texas eighteen years ago!

Imagine that. For the first time in my life I slept on the outside of my comforter.

Anyway, so the story goes, I went shopping for a new mattress. It’s been so long since I shopped for the last one I couldn’t even remember how to do it but let me tell you, it’s hilarious. It’s as campy as a Monty Python skit. Casually, you walk into a mattress store with all these empty beds on display and then you’re supposed to lie down to test out each one for ten minutes, pretending to sleep in front of strangers. Uh-huh, right. Like that’s going to happen.

Surprisingly though, eventually you do find one that makes a real difference and then you realize just how lumpy and awful your old mattress was. Traveling can have this effect, too, once you get back home and you realize it’s time for a change when a hotel mattress feels better than your own.

So, I bit the bullet and ordered my new mattress. It cost significantly less than $1,000 and I can’t believe the difference it makes supporting my back and helping me sleep. True, I do feel a bit like the princess and the pea as I climb up onto it but man, do I feel nurtured.

Other than voyaging to a strange land or joining a health club, it’s probably the best grand I’ve ever spent. What have you spent $1,000 on that changed your life?

Monday, October 12, 2009


by Gina Sestak

I've speculated in prior posts about the difference between writers and other people. There is, of course, the obvious one: writers write. Other people may talk about writing, but they don't really do it.

Beyond that basic fact there are other distinctions. Writers enjoy words. We like to talk and read about word origins, and to debate usage and grammar in our critique groups. We like the way words sound, and how they look upon the page. We like our silly typos - in the midst of a horrific torture scene, I found myself repeatedly typing "gingernails" instead of "fingernails."

But other aspects of the writing life are more problematic. In a prior post, I mentioned standing by my dying aunt's bedside, unable to stop myself from mentally translating everything that happened into sentences. Those sentences formed the basis for my essay, Breathe Out, that won a PennWriters non-fiction prize one year. I think it captured the experience of what happens when a family gives up hope, authorizes the breathing machine to be turned off, then spends those agonizing bedside hours waiting for someone to die. I'm proud of the piece, but I felt like a ghoul while writing it.

This past August I spent a week and a half in Shadyside Hospital having gallbladder surgery. There were complications so, in addition to the extended stay, I got this lovely huge incision scar that makes my abdomen look as if it had been designed by Tom Savini. I don't want to talk about that now, though -- maybe in a future post. Now I want to talk about my roommate.

Ellie [not her real name] came into the hospital about mid-way through my stay. She's a 93-year old woman who needed emergency surgery and who, after the first day or so, began to speak almost non-stop. I'm not sure who she was talking to. Clearly not to me. I should point out that I love to eavesdrop, which is another trait that distinguishes writers from other people. Other people get annoyed about having to listen to someone else ramble. I get fascinated. She didn't tell stories, exactly. Whoever she was talking to already knew the substance of the conversation. She got belligerent. She challenged the unseen hearer, and used language that I wouldn't have expected a church-going woman of her age to even know. As one of the staff members put it, Ellie has a mouth like a trucker, although most truckers I know don't cuss half as much.

The staff kept offering to move me, or move her, and seemed confused that I kept turning them down. I wanted to listen!

I should mention that the hospital employees - nurses, aides (now known as "patient care technicians"), dietary, housekeeping, and other personnel - were very patient and kind to Ellie, even when she called them names and made inappropriate remarks. Watching their reactions was fascinating.

So I've listed a few things that distinguish writers from other people. What other traits can you think of?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Roses for Kate . . . and Ben

by Sherry Dare

Kate Duffy died last week. She was editoral director at Kensington books. I considered her a friend and mentor.

Through an odd set of circumstances I met Kate several years ago at RWA nationals in Atlanta. We hit it off and did a quick lunch at the conference site. She was interested in a fantasy romance project I was working on, and asked me to send it on to her in New York. We worked it over a bit, and ended up mutually agreeing that it wasn't right for Kensington.

I moved on in my writing and started writing darker, more mysterious stuff. Kate would email me every couple of months to check in and encourage me to submit, submit, submit. When she was here in Pittsburgh we even had a chance to meet for another lunch. I remember her telling me that we were now lunch buddies and to let her know if I was going to New York so we could meet again. Unfortunately that never happened.

Sometimes life gets in the way. And sometimes death does too.

Kate was a real friend to a lot of writers.She was warm and boisterous. And I've heard she could be tough as well. She was 57 when she passed. By all accounts she was winning her battle with cancer, but an infection took her life.

I've had one other mentor in my life, Dr. Ben McKulik, my creative writing professor from York College where I got my undergraduate degree. He and I were close friends, and he pushed me to excel in my writing. He critiqued me well beyond college. Ben was one of those genius people. He even knew Einstein. And though he wrote in a very literary style himself, he approved of my desire to write popular fiction. He forced me to look into my heart and follow what I love.

Twelve years ago Ben suffered a brain aneurysm. He never came out of a coma and died a week later. I had trouble dealing with the loss of not only my mentor and close friend, but to lose his great mind was disturbing on other levels as he was well versed in so many areas.

Today I remember both Kate and Ben not only as friends, but as champions of writers. As lovers of the art and craft of telling stories. And even the wanna be artists..Like me.

I hope you have had a chance to have mentors in your life. And I urge you to pass the favor on when you get a chance. I know I plan to. Who do you honor? Do you have a mentor?

Deadlines, Do-Overs and. . . Dedham

By Paula Matter

*Deadlines as in I didn’t make mine. Well, unless I work twenty hours a day for the next week, I won’t make it. I don’t know if everyone here knows or not, but after 8-10 days of revising, I lost my manuscript. Gone. Kaput. Outta here.

I had a few people do their best to find it, but no luck. I mourned for about four days. I went through four of the five stages of grief in 96 hours. When the Geek Squad Guy couldn’t locate it, I knew I’d done all I could and I moved on into acceptance, the final stage.

Unfortunately, denial kept coming back and I’d spend time searching my computer again and again. Too much time wasted. And I was beginning to scare myself over how damned obsessive I’d become. Wasn’t pretty at all.

*Do-overs as in I wish we were still allowed them. I’d go back to September 18, 2009 7:36 PM. (A time in which I had no business being in my office because I had already worked for over 8 hours that day. And I was beyond tired, getting real close to punchy. And, no, I have no friggin’ clue what I did when I went to turn off my computer that evening. And, yes, I now have an external hard drive installed. And, yes, I certainly am getting over my obsession, thank you very much).

Anyway, that’s what I’d do if do-overs were available.

*Dedham as in Massachusetts. As in the location of the Crime Bake conference. As in I’m all registered and official.


This will be my first time attending this conference, and I’ve been looking forward to it. I know a handful of people who’ll be there and registration is capped at 225 -- a nice size. Nice as in this shy person will feel comfortable around all these new-to-me people. (I heard that, Annette! I am shy and I try to behave around new people).

Knowing well how running a conference can be, I even signed up to volunteer. As of this writing, I don’t know what I’ll be doing. Probably timekeeping during a panel. One of the options was to pick up someone at the airport. Uh uh. I’ll be lucky if I manage to get myself to the hotel in one piece. This will be my first road trip to Massachusetts by myself. I love my road trips and haven’t been on one since late June.

So. That’s my update. Whatcha y’all been up to? Who else is going to Crime Bake? Anyone else have writing horror stories to share?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Summit Summarization

By Annette Dashofy

Since I had last Wednesday off from my blogging duties, I didn’t get a chance to follow-up on the G-20 Summit. That’s just as well, I suppose, since the biggest part of the melodrama is still going on.

The expected violence and destruction of property was kept to a minimum, compared to what has happened elsewhere. Sure, there were some demonstrators run amok, complete with broken windows and dumpsters overturned. But the numbers of protestors were much lower than anticipated. The police presence was massive and kept them at bay.

More or less.

There was a bunch of Pitt students who say they were just hanging out on campus—their campus—and who were manhandled and arrested when they refused to disperse. Or they tried to disperse, but were blocked from returning to their dorms.

The Citizens Police Review Board is now getting involved. Did the police use excessive force? Possibly. I don’t know. I wasn’t there.

Which is kind of my point. We all knew these G-20 Summits bring out all the wackos of the world for a kind of “Let’s bust things up convention.” None of us who live in or around Pittsburgh wanted to see our city trashed. So a lot of police were brought in. A LOT of police.

Some are saying it was overkill.


Would anyone have said that if only half the cops showed up, but all of the expected protestors did? I think not.

The massive police presence was a preventive measure. Ordering crowds to disperse was a preemptive strike so that things wouldn’t get out of hand like they have in other cities.

So my question to the students who are crying foul is this? Why the heck didn’t you stay off the streets when the media and the Internet was buzzing about how bad it was going to be and how many cops were going to be out there? Were you surprised to see police in riot gear? In this world of all-encompassing news, be it television, Internet, or cell phone generated, how could you not know what you were in for?

Do you have a right to hang out on your university’s campus? Sure. Is it the smart thing to do when all hell is breaking loose around you? Um, probably not. Seriously, folks, if there were rioters and police clashing on the street in front of my house, I can guarantee I would not be sitting on my front porch watching it, even if it is my own property and I have every right to be there.

Just so I don’t sound like I’m totally taking the cops’ side on this (although I am), I will say I’m sure the police probably overreacted to the peaceful gathering of students on the campus. I’m also sure I’d rather have them overreact than sit back and let the mob mentality take over.

One last thing that bugs the hell out of me. All the folks who were protesting banks and corporations…tell me, how did you get to town? In a motor vehicle? Didn’t a big corporation build that car? And isn’t it fueled by gasoline from a big oil company? Did you pay cash for it? Or did you take out a loan? From a bank?

Because unless you rode into town in a horse and buggy, I’m thinking you’re being just a little bit hypocritical.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Most Important Stranger

Working Stiffs welcomes guest blogger Mark Arsenault!

by Mark Arsenault

One of the most influential people in my writing career was a homeless heroin addict who lived under a bridge. Her name was Julia. Without her, I may never have tried to write a novel.

I met Julia in 1997 while working as a reporter in Lowell, Massachusetts, an old redbrick New England mill town north of Boston.

One day, the newsroom police scanner reported a body under a railroad bridge, and I went out to do the story. But by the time I found the place, the action was over and the police, the paramedics and the body were gone.

What was left behind—on a concrete ledge hidden beneath the bridge, maybe 20 feet above some railroad tracks—was evidence of a community. I discovered dirty bedding and old clothing, crates of cutlery and candles, canned goods and cat food, damp campfire ashes, and mounds and mounds of trash.

The dead man under the bridge had overdosed on heroin. I learned that his nickname was Ebby. Through the local homeless shelter, I also found Ebby’s longtime girlfriend—Julia.

I only saw her once. Now, 12 years later, I can’t picture her face in my mind. From my notes, I know that she had rough skin and rugged hands, but dainty eyebrows.

Ebby and Julia had lived together under that railroad bridge for two years, through nasty New England winters, as part of a small, invisible community of homeless addicts.

Julia told me her story in a coffee shop. People with nothing to lose are the most honest people you’ll ever meet.

Heroin, she told me, knows exactly what a person is missing inside, and that’s what it provides, every time. Do it for one week, and you’ll have a habit. At the time, she had recently cut back to two bags of heroin a day, and was hoping to quit. She was devastated by Ebby’s death. “We weren’t hurting anyone but ourselves,” she told me. “Why couldn’t we just have our little lives?”

That was when I realized her tale was one of the oldest in the world: a love story with a tragic ending.

I raced back to the newspaper with plans for a feature on this underground community of addicts, to take the readers into a world they never knew existed, which is the job of any newspaper.

My editor had other ideas. He wasn’t interested in these people. He told me to go find some “respectable” folks to write about.

I was equal parts crushed and infuriated. I would have quit my job on the spot, except that I was two missed paychecks from joining the homeless.

So I had to suck it up, get back to my desk and try to forget about the story.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Julia called me one time. I told her I was having trouble getting her story in print. She asked me: If you can’t write it for the paper, can you at least write it for me?

I promised I would.

Having that story spiked by the editor was the kick-in-the-pants I needed to try to write my first novel. Five years later that book was published under the title Spiked. It includes a fictionalized scene inspired by Julia and Ebby’s story.

Three books later, I’ve realized that a key ingredient to finishing a novel—especially a first novel—is having a reason to write. Anybody can do this. Find a worthy person to write for, and then finish your book for that person. (Worry about trying to sell it later.)

I don’t know what happened to Julia. Part of me prefers not to know because I’m afraid the news might be bad. I like to think she’s out there somewhere. She might not know that I kept my promise to write her story. She might not know the book was dedicated to her.

So, if you had to choose somebody to be the inspiration for finishing a first novel, who would it be? If you already found that inspiration, who was it?

Mark Arsenault is a Shamus-nominated mystery writer, a journalist, a runner, hiker, political junkie and eBay fanatic who collects memorabilia from the 1939 New York World’s Fair. His new novel is LOOT THE MOON, the second book in the Billy Povich series that began with GRAVEWRITER, a noir thriller praised for a fusion of suspense, humor and human tenderness. With 20 years of experience as a print reporter, Arsenault is one of those weird cranks who still prefers to read the news on paper. His Web site is:

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Day Jobs and Writerly Things


Wilfred Bereswill

Lot’s of things going on in my life right now. As day jobs go, I actually reached a bit of a milestone last week. You see I was hired to start a new Environmental Department at a well established company. There is a logical reason why the company never had an environmental group before, but suddenly they’re in the game and there’s a lot of catching up to do. Honestly, it’s been so overwhelming that I haven’t been able to think about much else. It’s sapped all my creative energy and I’ve gotten nowhere on book two. But I see a dim, pinpoint of light at the end of a long tunnel.

After 25 plus years in Environmental Affairs it didn’t take me long to figure out I was in a train that was heading full speed into a train coming the other direction. It’s taken my 4 long months of thinking and presenting and meeting and revising, but I’ve finally gotten a program approved and jobs posted for two people to help. I’m a long, long, long way from feeling comfortable about things, but I’m taking baby steps.

I liken the situation to getting in a car in a foreign country not knowing anything about the speed limits or what the signs mean, or even which side of the road to drive on. So you get in and start driving. You drive at a speed that’s comfortable and you turn the way you always have, until you get a ticket or someone explains the rules, you’re not going to know what you’re doing wrong. I’m the new sheriff in town. Awareness!

So on to writerly issues. Let’s see, Bouchercon is rapidly approaching and I’ll be attending with a much different plan and attitude. I don’t have a newly published book this time and I didn’t score a panel, except for a spot in the continuous conversation. I will be trying to make connections with an agent, of course. But otherwise, I’m just planning on relaxing and talking to then many authors I met there last year.

On Wednesday I have the pleasure of meeting with a book club that invited me to come and chat with them about my book. I’ve done one before and enjoyed the hell out of it. The best part is, the ladies are taking me out to a restaurant to buy my dinner while we talk.

And finally, last Monday, Gina wrote about dreams. I mentioned that I dreamt the premises of a short story and even wrote the first paragraph in my sleep. The dream wasn’t visual at all; only words. I went on to write the story. Actually, I was fascinated by it. I think it tipped the scale at just under 5,000 words.

I have sent it around for publication. Three times. Here are the comments I’ve received with the rejections. “Your story started out intriguing and quirky, but soon turned into a bloody mess. Sorry, not right for us.” “One of the best first lines I’ve read lately. And then it went south.” “Like a bad accident, I couldn’t put it down. I’m not sure what to make of it, but I won’t be publishing it.”

Now, with comments like that, you’d think I’d be upset. BUT, the way I look at it, it stirred the emotions of each editor that read it. Enough of an emotional reaction to garner a personal response. And this from my wife, “If you ever get this published, you need to do it under a pen name. I don’t want anyone to know you wrote it.”

Yes, my little 5,000 word story has gotten a lot of reactions. Yes, I REALLY pushed the envelope on this little tale. It does have a split personality. It does start quirky and it does turn very disturbing. I have tried to rewrite it several times. I’ve tried to soften it up, but it just doesn’t work that way. For the time being, I’m leaving it as is and I’ll continue to submit it to publications that it may be right for. To give you a taste, I’ll give you the quirky part.


I was having a pretty good day until Neville killed me. He walked right up to me, shoved a gun in my chest and pulled the trigger. I guess I can’t blame him. I’ve been pushing him away for the last eight months. It just so happens that, during that time, I developed a taste for women. I say that rather tongue in cheek, because I mean in the Jeffery Dahmer, Hannible Lecter sense.

You see, somewhere along the line. something hit me. An overwhelming curiosity washed over me. A culinary curiosity. I developed a taste for aureoles. Yes, that’s right; nipples. It’s quite a shame really. Rather like the Asian’s fascination for shark fin soup; catch the shark, kill it, harvest the fins and throw the succulent flesh away. Or the Russians slaughtering Beluga whales merely for caviar. But you see, areola are like little drops of sunshine--human truffles.

Reflecting back on the events of the last eight months, I realize my little problem had been a long time in coming. You see, for several years now, those little urges that tug on the strings of curiosity have been pulling at my consciousness at an ever-increasing clip. I’m sure you know what I mean. Those ‘I wonder what’ thoughts that pop into your head at the strangest of moments. “I wonder what that woman would do if I walked up to her and kissed her on the lips?” “I wonder what my boss would do if I cold-cocked him while he gives me my pathetic raise?” “I wonder what it would feel like to step off the roof of a tall building?” “I wonder what nipples taste like?”

Of course, we are all brought up to know right from wrong and these simple moments of weakness are quickly and promptly dismissed and never, ever brought up lest someone judge us as being evil. However, over the course of the last several years, these indulgent thoughts that tickled my curiosity were not so easily evicted. Like a bad tenant, they lingered. A little longer each time. Until eight months ago. The eviction notice was given, only to be tossed aside. My silly little compulsive thought, built like a gathering wave until it crashed on my consciousness and overwhelmed me. “What do nipples taste like?”

I'll stop right there, because as one editor indicated, this is where the story goes south. I'd prefer to say it changes direction.

So have you ever written something that pushed the envelope? If so, what did you do with it?

Friday, October 02, 2009

Another Month, Another Blog Post...

by Jennie Bentley

As you can probably tell from the heading, I'm having a hard time finding something to blog about this month. You'd think with a single, lousy day a month to be pithy and interesting, I ought to be able to do that, but it isn't always that easy.


It's October, finally. My favorite time of year. The leaves are starting to turn. The heat of summer has broken and it's finally getting cooler. (Not that I'm complaining. We haven't had a bad summer at all this year. I don't think I moaned about the heat more than a handful of times. Heck, I don't think we went up above ninety for more than a week or two at a time!) The kids are back in school, which was always an exciting thing for me at that age. New friends, new teachers, new crushes... Halloween is coming, too, and so is my birthday. (No, I'm not going to tell you how old I'm going to be. Let me just keep the illusion going for another year or two, all right?)

Before all that happens, the second weekend of the month, we here in Tennessee have the Southern Festival of Books to look forward to. 300+ authors and 30,000 readers, all crammed together in downtown Nashville. Mostly outdoors. It's hellish when it's raining, but lots of fun when it isn't. And the best thing? It's all free.

Well, not the books, of course. Those are for sale, and I hope people buy a lot of them!

(Which reminds me, "Fatal Fixer-Upper" has gone into a second printing. Thanks to all of you who bought copies!)

But everything else is free. There are panels and workshops for three days straight. There are musical performances, childrens' events, cooking demonstrations... you name it, we've probably got it. Last year I got to be on the radio, broadcasting directly from War Memorial Plaza and the festival. The TV stations usually send people out to report on the festivities too.

In case you're thinking of stopping by, you can find me in room 30 on Friday the 9th at 4:00 PM - Emyl Jenkins and I will be holding forth on Whodunits and How-To's: Cozy Mysteries. And on Saturday, you can find me in room 16 at 3:00 PM, along with Chester Campbell, brother in crime and illustrious president of our local SinC chapter. Also on the Sisters in Crime Panel: the brilliant JT Elllison, who writes the bestselling Taylor Jackson thriller series for MIRA books, Beth Terrell, local vice-president of Sisters in Crime, and Margaret Fenton, visiting SinC member from Birmingham, Alabama, debut author ("Little Lamb Lost" - Oceanview Press) and arranger of the wonderful Murder in the Magic City. We'll be talking about researching the mystery; Where Does It All Come From? A good time should be had by all.

I hope to see some of you there. If not, I'll see you in a month, for my regularly scheduled appearance on the first Friday of November. By then, hopefully I'll be able to report that the first draft of DIY-4 is in the bag. I'm at 56,000 words currently, with 30,000 or so to go. Wish me luck!

Until next time!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Where Do Your Stories Come From -- Part 2

In Monday's blog "Virtually There," Gina Sestak asked the question: "Where do your stories come from?" Here's one man's answer:

Invariably when I go to writer conferences like the New England Crime Bake (Nov. 13-15 in Dedham, MA, with Sue Grafton as this year's guest of honor), one of the most frequently asked questions is “where do you get your ideas?”

And invariably the author’s answer almost always has something to do with some soaring experience or the depth of their soul. Some build their stories around a character they conjure, others fashion them after a recent event.

Those aren’t the answers I’m looking for. When I ask, “Where do you get your ideas,” I literally mean “where are you when you get your ideas?” Are you at the grocery store? In the shower? At the gym?

Whenever I write fiction, I start with the scene. I don’t start with “the character” or “the event.” I start with the surroundings.

The idea for my short story “Liberty” (Seasmoke anthology, Level Best Books) came to me while I walked my dog around my neighborhood. The triggering thoughts were, “What kind of crime could be committed here?” “If a criminal was doing exactly what I’m doing, what kind of crime would he commit?”

Since then, I’ve found that approach has worked time and again. After attending a few author readings at my favorite book store (RiverRun in Portsmouth), I started mulling, “what kind of crime could be committed here?” That question led to “The Greatest Criminal Mind Ever,” which will be published this November in "Quarry: Crime Stories by New England Writers."

Likewise, a spring morning and the annual ritual of cleaning out the basement led to frequent trips to the local recycling center. Those trips ultimately led to the story, “The dump at the Dump.”

My wife Pat Remick’s award-winning story “Mercy 101” (Still Waters anthology, Level Best Books), came from her frequent commutes on Highway 101 from Portsmouth to the state capital in Concord.

Again, first came the scene. Second, came the crime. After that, it’s matter populating the plot with the right characters.

The point here is that story ideas need not come from some grand place or exotic situation. Entertaining ideas come from the most mundane places. And let’s face it, we’ve all considered writing, “Murder at the DMV.”

But, awkwardly transitioning back to where I started, one of the great things about going to Crime Bake is listening to other authors talk about where they get their ideas and, of course, listening to experts suggest how to carry them out.

I have listened to Jeremiah Healy discuss the best way to stab people without getting blood on yourself, and I have learned as Chuck Hogan (Prince of Thieves) taught me how to rob banks. And I have been relieved to hear poison lady Luci Zahray assure, “Don’t worry, coroners almost never test for these things.”

It occurred to me then that the greatest criminal minds in New England aren’t in prison. They’re at Crime Bake.

It also occurred to me that the local SWAT team probably had the building surrounded.

Frank Cook is a short story writer, real estate and business journalist, professional development book author, a longtime mystery fan currently working on two crime novels, and the long-suffering husband of Working Stiffs blogger Pat Remick.