Friday, July 29, 2011

Muses and Misa

Good morning, fellow Stiffs and readers: we have a treat today! The lovely Misa Ramirez AKA Melissa Bourbon is visiting us to talk a little about her new mystery series for Berkley NAL, and about her muses.

Without further ado, here's Misa:

It wasn’t until recently when I was writing the first book in A Magical Dressmaking mystery series that I began to think of my muse, or muses as the case may be, as something really tangible that I could summon at will, or that would betray me by being absent when I needed her/them most. In fact, I can’t say that I thought about my muses --because as I’m writing this, I’ve had an epiphany and do believe that I have more than one-- much at all.

But they’ve shown their true colors. I’d begun to think of them as fickle girls, but I’ve changed my tune. I’ll never look at them in quite the same way or take for granted the beauty of having them on the job, fully engaged in my creative process, or the power of their insight.

I have new respect for my muses and what they offer through song, practice, and memory.

It often takes a big shake up and the absence of something to really appreciate what you have. That’s how it happened for me. You know what they say about absence making the heart grow fonder and all that? It worked. They left, I was melancholy, and they returned with a new light for me to follow.

How very poetic, I know.

I’m not a metaphysical girl. My feet are firmly planted on the ground. Let me be clear, I don’t, like, sit around thinking about cliches and how they apply to my life. But cliches are cliches because there is truth in them and sometimes that truth is more palatable when taken in a pithy dose. The absence of my muses is what helped me recognize them in the first place. It also helped me appreciate the creative energy they bring into the my writing equation.

They deserted me several times while I was writing Pleating for Mercy, but it was through that desertion that I came to appreciate what they are to me and what they do. I can pinpoint exactly when they left, almost down to the very minute. My creativity had dried up. I had writer’s block. I was panicking, thinking I’d never finish this book, and if I did, it would suck.

But I can also look back and see when them returning--after I’d taken much needed time away from my project, had recharged, and had allowed my mind to open up, let fresh idea in, and see things in a new way.

What I realized was that those clever girls didn’t abandon me. I’d temporarily shut them out. I was on overload and completely unable to feel their creative energy flow into me. And so they stepped aside and led me away from my writing and back into reality where I could and did regain perspective on my characters and plot by doing the opposite of what I always think I should do. I always think I should keep going, push through the writing pain, persevere and give myself permission to write crap and revise later (which I do whether I give myself permission or not). I never think that stopping and taking precious time away from my writing is the answer.

But it is! I’ve completely changed my thought process on this idea and it’s been so freeing. If only I’d listened to the girls in my head sooner I might have staved off some gray hairs and wrinkles and the divot in my forehead from banging it against the wall.

Better late than never, right?

So my muses, yet to be named (though Lola and Harlow come to mind), are alive and well, ever-present, and an important part of my creativity. Thank God I realized it!

How about you? Have you ever felt that your muse(s) has abandoned you? Did you have an epiphany like I did?

Here's a taste of Pleating for Mercy, the brand new book in A Magical Dressmaking Mystery series. The release date is August 2nd!


Chapter 1

Rumors about the Cassidy women and their magic swirled through Bliss, Texas like a gathering tornado. For 150 years, the family had managed to dodge most of the rumors, brushing off the idea that magic infused their handwork, and chalking up any unusual goings-on to coincidence.

But we all knew that the magic started the very day Butch Cassidy, my great-great-great grandfather, had turned his back to an ancient Argentinean fountain, dropped a gold coin into it, and made a wish. The Cassidy family legend says he asked for his firstborn child, and all who came after, to live a charmed life, the threads of good fortune, talent, and history flowing like magic from their fingertips.

That magic spilled from the Cassidy women’s hands into handmade tapestries and homespun wool, crewel embroidery and perfectly pieced and stitched quilts. And into my dressmaking. It connected us to our history, and to one another.

Butch hadn’t wanted his family to be outcasts as he and Cressida had been, and so his Argentinean wish also gifted his descendants with their own special charms. Whatever Meemaw, my great-grandmother, wanted, she got. My Grandmother, Nana, was a goat-whisperer. Mama’s green thumb could make anything grow.

None of understood how these charms were supposed to endear us to our neighbors. No matter how hard we tried to keep our magic on the down-low--so we wouldn’t wind up in our own contemporary Texas version of the Salem Witch Trials--people saw. And they talked.

The townsfolk came to Mama when their crops wouldn’t grow. They came to Nana when their goats wouldn’t mind. And they came to Meemaw when they wanted something so badly, they couldn’t see straight. I was seventeen when I finally realized that what Butch had really given the women in my family was a thread that connected them with others.

But Butch’s wish had apparently exhausted itself before I was born. I had no special charm, and I’d always felt as if a part of me was missing because of it.

Being back home in Bliss made the feeling stronger.

Meemaw had been gone five months now, but the old red farmhouse just off the square at 2112 Mockingbird Lane looked the same as it had when I was a girl. The steep pitch of the roof, the shuttered windows, the old pecan tree shading the left side of the house--it all sent me reeling back to my childhood and all the time I’d spent here with her.

I’d been back for five weeks and had worked nonstop, converting the downstairs of the house into my own designer dressmaking shop, calling it Buttons & Bows in honor of my great-great grandmother, Loretta Mae, but Bliss was not the same without her. Maybe that’s the part of me that was really missing.

What had been Loretta Mae’s dining room was now my cutting and work space. My five year old state of the art digital Pfaff sewing machine and Meemaw’s old Singer sat side by side on their respective sewing tables. An 8 foot long white-topped cutting table was in the center of the room, unused as of yet. Meemaw had one old dress form which I’d dragged down from the attic. I’d splurged and bought two more, anticipating a brisk dressmaking business which had yet to materialize.

I’d taken to talking to her during the dull spots in my days. “Meemaw,” I said now, sitting in my workroom, hemming a pair of pants, “it’s lonesome without you. I sure wish you were here.”

A breeze suddenly blew in through the screen, fluttering the butter yellow sheers that hung on either side of the window as if Meemaw could hear me from the spirit world. It was no secret that she’d wanted me back in Bliss. Was it so farfetched to think she’d be hanging around now that she’d finally gotten what she’d wanted?

# # #
Melissa Bourbon, who sometimes answers to her Latina-by-marriage name Misa Ramirez, is the marketing director with Entangled Publishing. She is the founder of Books on the House, the co-founder of The Naked Hero and The Writer’s Guide to ePublishing, and is the author of the Lola Cruz Mystery series with St. Martin’s Minotaur, A Magical Dressmaking Mystery series with NAL, two romantic suspense novels, and is the co-author of The Tricked-out Toolbox, all to be released in 2012.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Character Bible

by Joyce

I recently began writing a second book in a series. This is the second time I've done this, so I'm no stranger to the process (I have two unsold books in another series). This time though, I found myself having to search through the first manuscript for character descriptions, where the characters either live or work, and I even forgot one's last name.

I didn't have this problem with the first series I wrote, probably because there weren't as many recurring characters to keep track of. The second book took place in another city so almost every character was new. My current books take place in a small town, so the only characters not in the new book are either dead or in jail. I needed a way to keep track of them all.

I've heard writers talk about character bibles before but I never needed to use one until now. So I sat down with my trusty Excel program and here's what I came up with. I assure you it's nothing fancy.

On two tabs on a worksheet I put Murder for the first book and Politics for the second. I made three columns on each page: Name / Who are they / Description. I may add another column and mark it Other. I then went through the first manuscript and entered all the names and filled in the other information. It was easier for the new manuscript. All I did was copy and paste the information from the first sheet. Then I deleted anyone who won't be in the new book and added the new characters. Now all I have to do is add people to sheet as they appear in the book.

Some writers also do this with the geographic places in their books. I haven't done that yet, but I do have a hand drawn map that I keep nearby. I drew it shortly after I started the first book and it's been a huge help.

Those of you writing series--how do you keep everything straight? Do you use a character bible?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What If

Yesterday, as Hubby and I drove home from Camp Dashofy in Confluence, we entertained ourselves with a game of What If.

What If should be familiar to writers. We ask ourselves what if such and such happened and then create an entire novel around the premise. Since I’m in Frenzied Rewrite Hell, I’ve been playing What If a lot recently. What if this character wasn’t a stranger to that character, but was an old friend? How would that change the story? Would it improve it? YES! Time for more rewriting.

As for Hubby and I, we went through our usual list of What Ifs including what if money were no object, what kind of car would you buy? What if money WERE an issue and something happened to my car, what kind of car would I replace it with? Argh! I love my car. I didn’t like that one.

Hubby threw a new one at me inspired I suppose by a recent viewing of The Bucket List. And since I’m in Frenzied Rewrite Hell and can’t think of anything else to blog about, I’m going to pose it to you.

What if you knew you were going to die and money was no object, what one thing would you do?

My answer was easy. I’d go out West. Colorado. Wyoming. Rocky Mountain High and all that. When I turned the question on Hubby, he replied that he was going with me and taking his fly rod.

Your turn. Money is no object. You only get one shot at this Bucket List. What one thing would you do with your remaining time on earth?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Few Questions for Tawna Fenske

Working Stiffs welcomes guest blogger, Tawna Fenske. If you don't read her blog, Don't Pet Me, I'm Writing, you're missing out. Disclaimer: Don't read it with food or drink in your mouth, or you WILL have to replace your keyboard. And be forewarned--it's a little naughty. She also blogs on The Debutante Ball. Tawna is the author of the romantic comedy, MAKING WAVES, which will be released on August 2nd.

Working Stiffs had a few questions for Tawna and she was kind enough to answer them.

1. If you were stranded on a desert island, which hero from which book would you want for company?
I’m trying to be practical and think about which guy might have excellent raft-building skills or the ability to cook a gourmet meal from palm fronds. Alas, I’m a romantic comedy author at heart, so I can’t think of anything beyond who’d crack me up and look great strutting around the island with his shirt off. I’m going with Phin Tucker, the hero from “Welcome to Temptation,” one of my favorite romantic comedy novels by Jennifer Crusie.

2. Boxers or briefs? Not for you, of course. What do you prefer your heroes to wear?
I seem to have my male characters outfitted in boxer briefs an awful lot, and I’ll admit a personal preference for those. I like the way they look on a guy, and I especially like the way they look on my bedroom floor.

3. If you could be any character who would you be?
Can I live vicariously through one of my own characters? I’d kind of like to be Juli, the heroine from my debut novel, Making Waves. She’s cute and quirky and more than a little strange, though you learn the reason for the strangeness about a third of the way through the book. She also gets to knock boots with Alex, who I happen to know is funny and smart and fantastic in bed because…um, well, I wrote him that way.

4. Since Working Stiffs is mostly a crime writing blog, who would you most like to kill off in a book? You can change the name to protect the not-so-innocent.
Once upon a time, I wrote women’s action/adventure/romance  novels for a special line at Harlequin called “Bombshell.” None of my books actually hit shelves since the line was canceled one month before my scheduled debut, though I’m not building up to a confession that I want to kill an editor over that debacle.

I want to kill my good friend, Larie Borden.

With each of the three books I wrote for Bombshell line, I named a character after Larie. Then I killed her.

It wasn’t her, exactly…she was a little old Argentine man named “Lorenzo Bordel” in one book, and an Iditarod competitor named “Lori Boardman” in another. I always delighted in finding new ways to murder Larie, and she seemed to enjoy being killed.

Though I adore romantic comedy and I know that’s what I’m meant to write, I really miss killing my friend for sport. I think she misses it, too.

Thanks for visiting us today, Tawna. Now everyone--get out there and order MAKING WAVES

Monday, July 25, 2011

Walk on the Dark Side

by C.L. Phillips

Is fact stranger than fiction?  When you develop your villains and take a walk on the dark side of life, how do you create those nefarious creatures?

Let's say for example, that you are a pleasant mild mannered person, always careful to treat others with respect and consideration.  How do you craft the nasty, ill-tempered thug who beats your heroine within an inch of her life?  How do you walk a mile in those shoes?

Where do you find your inspiration?   

I'm asking the question because I'd like to get a better understanding of how a writer travels to the dark places with authenticity and credibility.  For example, when I look at Steven King, I'd never imagine that mild mannered man would write what he writes.  Not in a million years.

Most of my bad guys are extrapolations of people I've known.  I recently read Acts of the Apostles by John Sundman (who I met at SXSW this year), and I swear I worked for his antagonist.  I even called John on the phone and asked him, "Is your antagonist based on He-Who-I-Refuse-to-Name?"  John laughed and said people ask him that question over and over.  Everyone thinks they know this bad guy.

Now that sounds like a ringing endorsement of an excellent character study.

So who is your favorite villain and why?  Better yet, introduce us to your current villain and tell us how you developed the character.

In my novel FIRST MISTAKE, Quattro Anderson, father of the murdered U.S. Senator wants vengeance.  Not because his son is dead, but because his plans for family legacy are in jeopardy.  Quattro thinks money and muscle can fix all of his problems because he's family has "owned" that Senate seat for as long as anyone can remember.

How did Quattro come to life?  I took an overbearing image of a public figure, added a dash of "the rules don't apply to me", mixed in a little Sixth Generation Texan, and baked it with a sprinkle of long forgotten humility.  Then I added a problem he couldn't resolve without help from the one person he couldn't buy.

Please share - one of your villains, and how you brought them to life.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Book Collecting

My Agatha Christie Collection
By Pat Gulley

Do you collect books? No, I don’t mean just buying tons of books and saving them in boxes—or if you are fortunate enough to have a lot of room in your house---put them up on bookshelves you are constantly buying or building. No, I mean a certain kind of book. Collecting for the sake of collecting, checking out older and older editions if you collect an author who has passed on, or collecting All editions if the author is published by different publishers in different countries, and especially if the titles have been changed.

Me, I have a huge collection of Agatha Christie. (I’ve also now started on Jane Austen; books written about her, and sequels written to continue on with the characters she had created.)

But back to Dame Agatha. I do not have every book she’s written. Some I’ve had and now find I don’t, so I scour book stores for the older editions and look for the British and Australian editions, and double that if there was a title change.

And how ‘bout those title changes? It really does make collecting Agatha’s books interesting, even though one wonders why. For some reason back in the 50s and 60s American publishers felt they had to change the titles. I don’t know if it was for legal reasons, probably not, but for some reason they didn’t think Americans would like the British titles. What’s the difference between Murder On The Calais Coach and Murder On The Orient Express? No possibility that Americans would know where Calais is? Wouldn’t Orient Express give the false impression that the train was in Asia???? Or did they think, for some reason, that the Orient Express Train, which had already been discontinued, was famous enough? I do understand And Then There Were None for Ten Little N---ers, which eventually became Ten Little Indians. But why did The Patriotic Murders become One, Two, Buckle My Shoe and Overdose Of Death? Too weird!

And when I say older editions, I do not mean collector or antique editions that could cost in the hundreds of dollars. No, I just look for the oldest edition date I can find. I definitely do not like the brand new ones because too often, the wording has been changed to reflect modern usage. A daydream of mine is to be garage sailing and come across a 1920 edition of The Mysterious Affair At Styles.

The ones that are giving me a heck of a time are her short story collections, because even though there are some that she put together herself, the fact is that her publishers worldwide also put together her short stories and gave these collections---yes, you guessed it—new titles. So, I’ve just gone to having a list of the short stories and making sure I’ve got them all and not caring about a collection that may only have stories I already own. (Have you assumed by now, I’m not bothering with short stories too much? What a headache.) Oh, but then we have to move on to her plays and their collection into book form.

My treasured books of Agatha’s are the odd ones like The Mysterious Mr. Quin and Mr. Parker Pyne, two characters that did not become popular like Poirot. And I do have a copy of The Big Four, an attempt at master-criminal-of-the-world sort of thing, which is not very good.

I keep track of this with my copy of An Agatha Christie Chronology by Nancy Blue Wynne--a book I wish I’d had the ability to research and write. It is in taters, but I couldn’t face buying a new one because it is annotated up the wazzzzzooooo. Thank heavens for paper clips and rubberbands! Also, is a very interesting site for information on Christie and especially all the sidekicks. Frankly, I think the sidekicks are great stories all on their own. But that’s another blog.

So do you collect books? Yes, let’s stick to books here, because I know what ‘collect anything’ can lead to, just in my own house alone! What books do you collect?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Sun on my Face, the Books in my Hand

From Paula: I ran into the fantabulous Barbara Poelle at the Pennwriters conference, and she told me she missed blogging. Not one to miss an opportunity, I quickly extended an invite to blog here at Working Stiffs. Barbara, thanks so much for joining us today!

By Guest blogger Barbara Poelle

I am mere DAYS away from a vacation, I can already feel the sand in my suit, sun on my shoulders, and the delight of the waiter when he sees my hand in the air for yet another mai tai. Well, maybe that is more of a judgmental grimace, but SIR, I AM ON VACATION.

Despite owning an ereader for work, I am still a book girl, so per usual, I am packing an extra carry-on full of delightful titles. (I am not kidding, I even did this on our HONEYMOON).  See, despite being ensconced in prose all day, I still find reading to be my favorite leisure activity as well.  It's like the male gynecologist; just because he's dealing with lady parts all day, doesn't mean he isn't delighted to see his wife in the evening.  (For those of you who have never read a blog by me, sorry. The rest of you, you KNOW that was tame.) But here's the thing, I have a bit of room in my roller bag and I would love to find something surprising and delicious to lose myself in. Let me tell you a few titles I have so far and perhaps you can help me add a few more (and you'll notice no client pimping. A) Because I read everything by my guys already, and B) YOU should be reading everything by my guys already):

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
I know, I am several months behind on this one, but COME ON, it isn't vacay without a King. I was in Mexico for my 21st birthday (and we will NEVER speak of those events again) and the morning after I decided to recover on the beach under an umbrella with THE STAND, and I read it cover to cover in one delicious, languid afternoon.  A tradition for me since.

(Okay, okay, and I cannot help ONE shameless plug...if you are looking to have a Stephen King-like adventure like I did in Mexico over a deca--uh,  a few short years ago, here is the recipe for that:
5 parts tequila, 4 parts Dos Equis, chips and salsa, shake well, preferably to Latin club music, sleep for 4 hours, then buy yourself Sophie Littlefield's AFTERTIME and the second one in the trilogy, REBIRTH. There is a reason why people are comparing the series to The Stand. After you read, you will want to thank me profusely and send me gifts. Don't deny that impulse.)

Born to Run by Christopher McDougal
Okay, so I put in my puny 20 miles a week, (often times crossing the finish line at the Boat Basin on the Hudson  for a burger and a beer-  I NEED TO REFUEL, PEOPLE) but this book explores the science, technique and even anthropology behind long distance and ultra marathon running.  Supposed to be mind blowing.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
This is me cheating because this title is not out until September but I have an ARC. (The first taste is free, always seems to croon from this dark alley.) OMG, I read the first 30 pages of this when agent Holly Root was shopping it, and I have been rubbing my gums and thinking about turning tricks to get just a few more pages ever since.

The Snowman by  Jo Nesbø
Okay, I'll admit it out loud...I am not a huge fan of the Larsson series. (I am hiding under my desk as I type that, should lightening strike me down.) But I have heard that Nesbø's  book, although compared to that international phenomenon, is one of the best crime novels of our time. Alright, I'm game to try.

Iron House by John Hart
I sat next to him at the Edgars! Ahem. Okay, so now that we've confirmed that Hart and I are besties, let me just say that I have been waiting for his next one and even behaved myself, letting it sit there, untouched, until vacation, as a treat. If you haven't read him, you should.

So that is a cross section of my intent, (along with a few romance titles of which I have three, so good there)...anybody have any further suggestions?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Point of No Return

by C.L. Phillips

The Point of No Return.  Remember the last time you crossed it?  Not in your writing, not in the virtual world, but in real life?  That moment when you knew your life would never be the same again.  Not ever.

Question :  How often does that moment influence you?  Do you remember when it happened?  Can you describe how your life changed, now as you look back?

I'm thinking about one of those days, as I approach another.  When I was an infant, I would hold my breath until I passed out when I didn't get my way.  Even then, I knew the power of the Point of No Return.

Let me say the power of that choice has changed my life, my career, and my future.  As with all good mysteries that unfold in the fullness of time, I invite you to take a moment and contemplate your own Point of No Return.

Is there anything from this contemplation you can use to power your writing today?  I hope so.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Face of Shakespeare - Part II

By Martha Reed

I continue to be fascinated by the discussion as to the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. Of course, I know the life story of the Bard of Avon. I’m willing to say he was the face of the playwright. But recently another theory has stepped forward and I’m fascinated by it because this new theory proposes that some of the works of Shakespeare were actually written by Emilia Lanier, the first published English woman poet who may also be The Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets:

  Sonnet 130

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun,
Coral is far more red, than her lips red,
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun:
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head:
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks,
And in some perfumes is there more delight,
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know,
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet by heaven I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.

You can go online and read more about the discussion but I’d like to use this blog to post my two cents worth on it because there’s something in the discussion that strikes me – a modern author – as a modern truth even though it’s more than four hundred years old and that’s the way the plays run along to parallel tracks depending on their settings.
First we have the history plays, all the Henrys and Richards and even Macbeth; those make sense to me because the playwright was writing to entertain an aristocratic or royal sponsor and there’s nothing like polishing up your bosses’ ancestors to bring home the clink. But how do you explain The Merchant of Venice or The Taming of the Shrew? These plays have a different sensibility to them. It’s almost as if the writer (whoever it was) was working under a different contract. That’s what makes me think that “Shakespeare” was a writing team. A gifted but relatively undereducated man from Avon and his partner/lover, an extremely well educated woman who had ties with the Tudor court. 

Emelia had been the teenaged mistress of Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, Henry Carey, his natural son by Anne Boleyn’s sister Mary. Shazooey, these Tudor bloodlines were complicated.
I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about this in the four hundred years to come. But the thing that strikes me now is that it sounds reasonable. What’s your theory?

Monday, July 18, 2011


by Gina Sestak

I realized something a few weeks ago.  Despite security threats, inconvenience, confusion and delays, I still love to travel.  There's something exhilarating about stepping onto an airplane, no matter where it's likely to touch down.  It's fun to drag your luggage through an unfamiliar airport, or listen for the call of train arrivals in a station.  Standing in line, waiting to clear customs, I can imagine almost anything is possible.  So what if the bored guy in the booth barely glances at my passport and asks questions in a monotone?  It still feels like an adventure.

As you can tell, I lead a dull and boring life.

Last month I traveled to Kerkrade, Netherlands.  It's not an easy place to get to.

Rolduc Abbey, a medieval monastery, was the setting for the annual conference of a group I belong to, the International Association for the Study of Dreams.  Pre-conference directions made it sound easy to reach the abbey from several airports.  I saved a few hundred dollars by flying into Brussels, and that could have been where the fun began, but it began much earlier, in Pittsburgh, when the magic electronic ticketing machine couldn't read my passport.  I was directed to a special airline employee, who managed to verify my identity and notice that my planned flight to New York was running too late to make the connecting flight to Brussels.  She routed me through Atlanta at no extra charge.  So far, so good.

The flight reached Brussels only a little late.  Then I had to figure out how to find a train.  There is a train station in the airport itself, complete with a totally unhelpful ticket seller who sold me a ticket but who wouldn't, despite apparently being fluent in English, tell me which of three widely-separated tracks carried the train I needed to catch first.  [Yes, I did say "first."  There were three trains in all.]

I fell back on my standard way of dealing with such situations, which gets easier the older I get - I begged passing strangers for assistance.  One kind woman with a young child got me to the right set of tracks in time to catch the first train, which plunked me down in a great big train station with dozens of widely separated tracks.  By then I felt confident enough to try to read the schedule.  I found the train I needed.  It would be leaving from a particular track in a few minutes.  I ran to that track, dragging my luggage behind me and hauled it up a flight of stairs.  There was an elevator, but it was out of order.

The moving letter display that announces the next train was announcing a different train.  I glanced across two sets of tracks and saw my train being announced on the display above the platform over there.  It was due in one minute.  I grabbed my stuff and ran again - down the steps, through an underground passageway, up another flight of steps - just in time to jump onto the train which had arrived, its doors already open.

Then there was a long train ride - hours - through rainy countryside.  I managed to get off at the right stop and board the next train without too much trouble.   The conference instructions said taxis would be available at the Kerkrade station.  Problem was, there was no Kerkrade "station," just a parking lot.  Aided by another kind stranger, I managed to locate a taxi and make it to the abbey.

It wasn't until a few days later, when I started checking the train schedules again, that I realized I wouldn't be able to make it to the airport on time for my return flight.   Even if I got the first train out of Kerkrade and made every connection perfectly, I would arrive at Brussels airport fifteen minutes before takeoff - not enough time to get on an international flight.  The person at the conference center desk suggested taking a taxi - for about 150 Euros (more than $200!).    The trains all put together had cost around 35 Euros, plus another 10 Euros for cab fare to the abbey, which turned out to be out in the country.   I walking a mile or so into the nearest little town, where the nearest MAC machine was located, and drew out a lot of Euros.  I also posted a note on the conference bulletin board looking for someone - anyone! - going to the airport who could share the cost.

Luckily, someone else was going to Brussels airport, and he had a rented car.  Although his plane didn't leave until later, he had already decided to take another person to an early flight, and so I got a ride.  I gave him the money I would have had to spend on the cab and trains.  Believe me, it was worth it, even though he did get lost a few times and terrified me (and his other passenger) by trying to read a map while whizzing along a super-highway in heavy traffic.

I almost missed getting on my plane anyway.  I simply couldn't find it.  The monitor said the plane would be leaving from Gate 14.  There didn't seem to be a Gate 14.  I wandered around for a long time until I spotted a Delta employee who sent me to a different gate, and so I did manage to board.

Then the plane sat on the runway for a long time while I watched security personnel searching our luggage on the tarmac.  Somebody said there had been a bomb threat.

My fellow passengers were getting cranky.  A baby started screaming - and kept screaming for a few hours after we took off.  I'm never sure what to do in such situations.  You realize that the child is in distress and you want to comfort it, but then - especially after the first half hour or so - there's the impulse to whack it over the head with something large and heavy . . .

We got to Atlanta late and I rushed onto the next plane.  It pulled away from the gate, then stopped.  We waited.  Finally, a catering truck drove up and started loading boxes into the side of the plane.  They had forgotten to replenish the soda and pretzels.

And so I made it home.

Reading it here, it sounds like a lot of hassles, but I really enjoyed every minute of it.  There's a mind-set I shift into when I'm traveling, a state of having no expectations, that feels like a form of meditation.   Whatever happens, happens.  There is little you can do but go with the flow.  Sit back.  Enjoy.  It's an adventure!

Friday, July 15, 2011


by Ramona DeFelice Long

WARNING: This post contains graphic descriptions of child abuse, including rape.

Dr. Earl Bradley was an odd guy. His BayBees Pediatric clinic near Lewes, Delaware was known for its unusual décor: a real merry-go-round and small Ferris wheel in the yard, with a life-sized Buzz Lightyear nearby. The clinic’s VW bug was painted like a bee with black and yellow stripes. Inside, walls displayed posters of TV characters and shelves full of toys. One room held a small movie theater where Dr. Bradley showed Disney films. 

This was not your typical pediatrician’s office.

But it’s not against the law to be peculiar. For all his eccentricities, Bradley had a thriving practice. He seemed to love his little patients—so much so that he lavished kisses on them. He didn’t rush appointments—he sometimes spent a half hour, alone, with a child. He took little girls to a toy room to be rewarded with “princess dolls” and candy. If a child had an allergic reaction to an inoculation, he provided red Popsicles to soothe swollen lips. He gave up his weekends for three-day series of shots to treat ear infections.

And if children cried after an exam, well, sick children cry. Shots hurt. His patients were too young to explain their tears and fears, so parents did what parents do. They trusted their child’s doctor. A doctor, like a priest or a teacher or a camp counselor, operates in a position of trust. Plus, if there was anything untoward about Dr. Earl Bradley, there were licensing boards and medical review teams and police to catch that. Right?

Being odd is not illegal, but it is illegal to abuse children. Eighteen months ago, after  a year-long investigation that began when a toddler told her mother that Bradley touched her "in the basement and it hurt," Delaware State Police troopers went to BayBees Pediatrics with an arrest warrant. It listed multiple counts of sexual exploitation against Dr. Earl Bradley. In a search of the property, homemade videos that showed 13 hours, 35 minutes and 6 seconds of criminal sexual activity performed by the doctor on his patients were discovered.  

Over 100 children appeared on the tapes. The average victim was three years old. All but one were girls. During the videoed assaults, little girls turned “ashen gray” while being orally raped to the point of suffocation, after which their attacker—a trained, licensed and certified medical professional—performed CPR to revive them. Footage showed children in diapers screaming as they tried to escape.

The arrest date was December 8, 2009. A news photo shows a handcuffed Dr. Earl Bradley wearing a jacket with Mickey Mouse embroidered on it.

Since the arrest, Delawareans have reeled in disbelief at a horror tale the Brothers Grimm couldn’t fathom in their sickest imaginings. The Popsicles? To disguise lips swollen after forcible oral sex. The three-day series of shots? To allow repeated assaults on the same child. The toy room with the “princess dolls”?  Equipped with cameras so Bradley could record his sadistic acts. 

The toys, the movies, the candy, the kisses, the special attention? All meant to “groom” unsuspecting parents, to put them at ease, to show how much he cared about their little tykes. Because Earl Bradley might be an evil, deranged bastard not worthy of the oxygen he sucks into his undeserving lungs, but like many pedophiles, he was also clever and manipulative. He knew that to gain access to his young victims, he had to get past their parents. To do that, he relied on the trust people afford to doctors. 

In February of 2010, a grand jury indicted Bradley on more than 470 charges of abuse, rape and sexual exploitation of 103 children. The oldest victim was 14; the youngest three months. 86 victims have been identified. 15 have not. 

His trial was held last month. Bradley waived his right to a jury, so a bench trial was held. Only two witnesses called by the prosecution, both Delaware State Troopers. One was detective Thomas Elliott, the lead investigator who authored the search warrant.

The other witness was with the High-Tech Crimes Unit, a veteran computer forensics expert who analyzed the videotapes. Detective Scott Garland viewed 13+ hours of little girls—toddlers, babies--subjected to assaults he described under oath as violent, brutal,  beyond anything he had ever witnessed, scenes nothing in his years investigating sex crimes had prepared him to see. At one point, he testified that he yelled “Let her up!” at his computer as the little girl onscreen was orally raped until she lost consciousness. 

I’ve debated about naming Detectives Elliott and Garland. I have because I have to believe that somewhere in this horrifying situation are some good guys.  Some DSP troopers who worked the Bradley case required special counseling. I hope it helped them. The detectives deserve recognition for doing a job I, and most people reading this, could never want or perform.
The trial lasted one day. Bradley was founded guilty on 24 counts of rape, assault and sexual exploitation of a child. His sentencing is pending. 

At the trial, the defense didn’t put up a case. Why? Because there is an issue with the execution of the search warrant that uncovered the video tapes. An appeal is expected. If the video evidence is thrown out, it is unlikely that his victims can provide reliable testimony. Children don’t make good witnesses. In this case, some of the victims were not only too young to be considered reliable, some were still too young to talk.  

But the children aren’t the only victims in the Bradley case, and the complaint that result in his  arrest wasn’t the first. Since 1994, when he worked at a Philadelphia hospital, complaints were made to hospitals, to police, to state medical boards against Earl Bradley, by parents, nurses, doctors, even his sister and officer manager, about inappropriate touching, videotaping of patients, prolonged or unnecessary vaginal exams. He was investigated more than once, but there was never sufficient evidence for an arrest warrant. Now, Delaware’s governor has called for an independent review of the various  police, medical and legal bodies involved in the Bradley case. In February, the state medical board permanently revoked his medical license.

In a few weeks, after reviewing testimony and the videotapes, the judge will deliver a sentence. I pity that judge, just like I pity the state troopers, and as I pity the victims’ parents, whose nightmares I can’t begin to imagine. Most of all, I pity the tiny little children whose youth might, hopefully, spare them remembering what happened to them at the hands of a monster.

But pity doesn’t stop crime. Earl Bradley has been called the worst pedophile in American history, but few people outside of Delaware know about him. Some people here want it that way. People who got angry at constant news coverage. People who believe it makes the area look bad. People who find talk of child rape distasteful.  People who want to heal and put all this ugliness behind them. People who don’t want to believe that someone who is educated and with an important job, could ever do such horrible things to an innocent child. 

On the other side are people like me, who think that stories about monsters who hurt children should be shouted from the rooftops. A pedophile wants you to be in denial. A pedophile wants you to believe he can't live in your pretty little town. If you don't believe it can happen to you, to your child, in your town, by a person in a position of trust, all the better for the pedophile.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

An Author Interviews Her Sleuth

Guest blogger Marilyn Levinson Interviews Lydia Krause
(An Author Interviews Her Sleuth)

Marilyn:  Lydia, you must be very proud of yourself, now that you’ve solved your first mystery and helped catch the murderer. Tell us why you moved to Twin Lakes, that beautiful upscale retirement community on Long Island.

Lydia:  After my husband died, my older daughter insisted I live near her and her family. So I sold my company and my large house, and moved to the wilds of Suffolk County.

Marilyn:  Was it the right move for you?

Lydia:  I didn’t think so at first. Meredith’s plan was to keep me busy as a full-time baby sitter. Don’t get me wrong. I love my granddaughters. But when I found out what she was up to while I was watching the kids -- well, I had to take action.

Marilyn:  Tell us about the shock you received at your very first Twin Lakes social event.

Lydia:  I could hardly believe my eyes when my neighbor introduced me to the very man who had driven my baby sister to suicide. This convicted embezzler had the nerve to set himself up as the residents’ financial advisor. Some advisor! He was no better than Bernie Madoff. I told him then and there I knew who he was.

Marilyn:  I understand you and his wife had a shouting match in front of everyone.

Lydia:  Much to my regret. The stupid woman accused me of causing trouble for her husband, when he’d ruined hundreds of lives. Of course, I’m sorry she was murdered.

Marilyn:  Mowed down by your Lexus the following morning.

Lydia:  Can you believe that? I was shocked Detective Molina ever considered I might have done such a dreadful deed. Of course, I made it my business to find out who killed Claire Weill.

Marilyn:  And nearly got yourself killed for your trouble. I notice your grin when Detective Molina’s name cropped up.

Lydia:  Sol Molina and I got to be friends. Good friends, you might say. (grinning) If you want to know more about that, find out who else was murdered, and who did the murdering, you’ll have to read A MURDERER AMONG US.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

This Old Manuscript

Have you ever taken on a project or a job or a task that you knew from the get-go was going to be way too much work and take way too much time?

No, I’m not talking about being a conference coordinator, although that definitely falls into the category.

A few months back, my friend Nancy Martin proposed a summer project for six local writers. A critique boot camp. Four measly weeks, mid July to early August, during which we each pledged to submit 25 to 50 pages each week and give thorough, written critiques of the other five members’ submissions. In theory, that’s potentially 250 pages to read and comment on, in addition to our own writing.

I jumped on it very much the same way I jumped on the conference coordinator gig four years ago. These things always sound so far in the future that I’m certain I’ll have all sorts of time by then.

It’s a form of insanity. I’m convinced of it.

Also, in my defense, at the time we were planning this, I was going to run a completed manuscript through it…one that I had ready to start submitting.

Then, one week before our first submission deadline, I received one of my older manuscripts back from an agent I’ve been working with. It came with two pages of editorial notes and lots of comments in the margins. In other words: a lot of revision work to do.

I considered taking the easy way out. Stick to Plan A and use the polished manuscript for the boot camp. But I didn’t want to put off revising the one that had sparked an agent’s interest, especially since she’s put an awful lot of time, thought and effort into it. Plus, I’d be a fool to skip the chance to receive feedback on it from these five other writers, all of whom I respect immensely. It would be like tackling a complete home renovation alone when the THIS OLD HOUSE team was ready and willing to assist.

So I’ve been in panic-stricken revision mode for the last several weeks. I’ve turned down lunch invitations, put off doctor’s appointments… Heck, I even passed up a lucrative paying job (not a writing one) in order to focus on rewriting and revising This Old Manuscript.

We had our first meeting this past Sunday. The feedback was invaluable, as I knew it would be. But it also showed me that I need to revise my revisions. Again. How many times have I rewritten Chapter Two over the years? I’ve lost count.

Our next submission deadline is TOMORROW. Will I have at least 25 pages?

I keep thinking of Jonathan Maberry, who completed a manuscript DURING the Pennwriters Conference this year. In the middle of the bar. Between workshops and keynote speeches. All to meet his deadline the day after the conference ended.

So, YES. Between writing blogs, teaching yoga, and giving a mini-workshop for a Pennwriters meeting. I will have at least 25 pages by tomorrow.

Feel free to demand to know my progress as the day wears on. But don’t be surprised if I disappear for great stretches of time. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Excuse Me. There’s a Vampire in My Mystery

Ladies and gents, I'm happy to present to you the fantabulous Jeannie Holmes, here to talk to us about her new release, Blood Secrets (sequel to last year's Blood Law; a really fun read - and yes, a good mystery!)

Take it away, Jeannie!

Question: Can a mystery contain elements of the supernatural and still be a mystery?

Answer: Of course it can. However, playing with the supernatural doesn’t give the author free license to play fast and loose with the rules.

I’ve been asked—sometimes innocently and other times maliciously—if I chose to include vampires in my books because “they’re hot right now.” The short answer is “no.” The long answer is far more complicated…as any good mystery should be.

The Alexandra Sabian books are a blend of genres. I admit this. At their core is a mystery unraveling to the ticking clock of a thriller. They’re fantasy with a romantic twist, and science fiction that quietly slips into the dark realms of horror. And yet, it is a mystery that is the beating heart of each book.

Alex Sabian, my protagonist, possesses some unique psychic abilities in addition to being a vampire. She’s also a federal agent charged with policing the vampire population of a small Mississippi town. Playing with vampires and the paranormal does make for greater temptation to wave a magic wand and avoid some of the corners I’ve inadvertently painted myself into in the past. However, as I said, inclusion of the supernatural doesn’t free me from my obligations as an author to fulfill readers’ expectations. I could easily have Alex use her abilities to solve cases. But I don’t. I force her to rely on familiar police investigative procedures and practices, including the use of forensic science. This doesn’t mean I don’t alter these practices slightly to fit my needs and file the differences until the heading of “Vampiric Law.” After all, it is fiction and a little creative licensing is not only expected but encourage.

I can think of other authors who have included the paranormal in their mysteries—Carolyn Haines with Jitty the Ghost in the Sarah Booth Delaney series and Charlaine Harris with telepaths, vampires, and a host of other creatures in the Sookie Stackhouse series both come to mind.—and saw a continuation of their work labeled as “mystery.” But I can also think of others—Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan series and Diana Rowland’s Kara Gillian series for example—that rely heavily on a mystery as the central plot but are viewed more as fantasy than mystery.

Does an author working in a paranormal element make a story less of a mystery? Is it a sign of a poor writer? I say “no” to both questions. If it does anything, a supernatural component should enhance the story as adding spices to a recipe can enhance the flavor. Granted, too much salt can make a dish inedible, and pushing too far into the territory of deus ex machina with the paranormal can cause the reader to walk away. However, if peppered throughout the story and woven into the plot, the supernatural can take a mystery to an entirely new depth.

So when does a mystery stop being a mystery? Should the inclusion of the supernatural automatically shift a mystery into another genre?

# # #

Knock yourselves out, kids!

I'm in St. Augustine this week, so I probably won't be stopping by a whole lot, but have fun without me. I just wanted to say that cozy mysteries are all over paranormal. It has it's own sub-genre. There aren't vampires so much as witches and ghosts and things, but there are certainly a lot of paranormal cozy mysteries out there for anyone who likes them. And yes, they're mysteries. As long as the mystery is the focus, and the thing that gets 'solved' at the end, it's a mystery.

See you next month, and be sure to check out Jeannie's books!

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Ooooie" with B.J. Daniels - USA Today Best Selling Author

by C.L. Phillips

In April 2010, I had the good fortune of meeting B.J. Daniels at the Breakout Novel Intensive.  She's my hero.  She cranks out four books each year and is so open and encouraging to new writers.  She gave me my first real peek behind the curtain so to speak.  She's frank and honest about what it takes to write compelling mysteries, and what it means to have a full-time career as an author.  Then I read her work, and my life changed.  Oooie.  You know the sound, right?  When you read something that's really good.  Nod your head.  She does that for me.

Now that I've read more of her books than a stalker would admit, please welcome my friend, B.J. Daniels.

Question :  B.J., wasssup?  Tell us about your latest project.

I have been busy writing for Harlequin Intrigue. My latest series: Whitehorse: Chisholm Cattle Company  began with BRANDED in May, LASSOED is out this month. RUSTLED will be out in July with STAMPEDED out in August. There will be two more books in that series: CORRALLED (March 2012) and WRANGLED (June 2012).

This year I am also writing for HQN, with my first single title book set for fall 2012.
On top of that, I have rereleased some of my favorite short stories. I was a short story writer before I launched into novels. I have seven ebooks of short stories out: TAKING CHANCES, DESPERADO, CUPID'S ARROW, DANCE WITH ME, THE SNOW WOMAN, THUNDERSTRUCK and BURNING MEMORIES. Each ebook has 3 short stories in it, one long and two shorter ones. Those are available through both Smashwords and Amazon.
So yeah, busy. But I love it.
Question :  What?  E-books?  A big successful author like you?  Doing e-books?  What's your experience with e-books?

The short story ebooks are my first experience with digital publishing. It is fun to see readers finding them. I think ebooks are a great way to make available more of your work that readers might not otherwise have access to. I know that I had readers often asking about my older books and how they could find them. Before ebooks, their best bet was a used bookstore. Now, readers can get all my books for their ereaders.
Question :  Has your writing changed with the advent of e-books, and if so, please describe how.

My writing hasn't changed. I can't see it changing either. I never want to put out books so quickly that they aren't my best work. I think that a lot of authors are digging books out from under their beds and throwing them out as ebooks as quickly as possible to test the market. I think that putting anything out but your best work, could hurt a writer in the long run and I'm in this for the long run.
Question : Have you discovered any new tools, tips, or techniques that you now use in your writing?

I wish. Writing for me is sitting down in front of the computer every day and getting as much of my story down as possible. I try to write 10 pages a day every day. Some days I get more done. A lot of days I get closer to 5 pages. But it all works out and I can still meet my deadlines. I wish there was something new under the sun to make writing is easier. :) I certainly haven't discovered it.
Question : How has the internet changed how you interact with your fans?

It is wonderful all the ways that I get to meet and talk with fans. In the old days, it was a fan letter by snail mail or an email. Now we can talk on Facebook. I have a blog that I try to update every few days at I twitter a little @bjdanielsauthor. The biggest problem I see with all of the new ways to visit with fans is having enough time to write books. :)
Question :  What does it feel like to be on the USA Today Best Seller List?

I can't tell you how excited I was to make the USA Today Best Seller List. A friend called to tell me I had made the list. I couldn't believe it. Making the list seems to have definitely opened new doors for me, which is very exciting. Sometimes I have to pinch myself. But while it is fun to make lists, be nominated for awards and all that, I never want to lose sight of the fact that it is about storytelling. No matter how exciting all the rest of it is, I still have to sit down every day and write. You have to love that part the most and I love writing, especially writing mysteries. That's really what my books are, mysteries with a relationship.
Interviewer's Note :  I'm so proud of B.J. - her book HIGH CALIBER CHRISTMAS  was on the USA Today Best Seller list for two weeks and took the Romantic Times Excellence Award, the first series book to accomplish this feat, and is up for the Kiss of Death romantic suspense award.
Question :  Any special perks now that you've accomplished nirvana?  Just kidding!
My Intrigues now have the cool new covers. :) (My name is bigger than the title.) I really do have to pinch myself.
And there you have it.  Fifty books and B.J. still loves storytelling.  Now you know why she's my hero and inspiration.  She makes me go "oooie" when I read her stories.  May we all be so fortunate to do the same for our readers.  Thank you B.J.