Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Describe your Reader

by C.L. Phillips

Arrgghhh....I'm working on a marketing plan.  Step 1 : Describe your reader.  Okay.  Sounds easy enough, right?  So I dare you.  Do it.

Describe your reader.  Who reads your books?  What attributes do they share in common?  How do they read your books?  Electronically or trade paperback or hardback?  How do they find your books?  Where do they hang out?

I'd love to see your answers.  Maybe you will inspire me and help me learn how to describe my own readers.

I'm sequestered without internet access today, so I'll be checking your comments late in the afternoon.  And many kind thanks in advance for helping me crack this tough nut.

Keep writing!

Monday, February 27, 2012


by Gina Sestak

Good morning, gentle readers.  Let me propose a fun thing we can do today.

Many years ago, when I was a wall painter [see my post, Making a Difference in the World, for details], my co-workers and I would rush through our work every day so we could play a game.  The game consisted of taking two headlines from the front page of the newspaper and writing them vertically side by side.  For example, the first page of Sunday's Post-Gazette includes these two headlines:  "Santorum faces flap in GOP for help to Specter" and "Why is it so difficult to separate good tweets from bad?"  We would have written these as:

                      S          W
                      A          H
                      N          Y
                      T           I
                      O          S
                      R           I
                      U          T

We would then try to come up with famous people or characters with each pair of initials, i.e., S W = Sam Walton, A H = Andy Hardy, etc.

Today's puzzle is based on this same principle, but is a little more complex and writerly.  I have taken the first five words of the remaining headlines from the same page ["NATO pulls Kabul staff after 2 U.S. officers slain,"  "Some in Peters divided on issues involving coach," "A nonprofit wants to use solar power to help town," and "Tenacity, technology reveal Livingstone's words"] and lined them up as follows:

     NATO      Some           A                    Tenacity
     pulls          in                 nonprofit         technology
     Kabul        Peters          wants               reveal
     staff           divided        to                     Livingstone's
     after           on                use                  words

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to compose a short, short, short story using the words from one horizontal line.

For example, the first line might give rise to:

"Some people have more tenacity," Josh mused.   "Take my brother for example.  He's been on a NATO peace-keeping mission for the last two years."  He peeled off the nicotine patch and tossed it into the road, then pulled a cigarette out of a brand new pack.  "Me, I give up easy."

See what I mean?

Now it's your turn.  Post your stories as Comments.

Ready, steady, GO!

I don't have any prizes, but you'll win the respect and admiration of us fellow writers if you post an entry.  Honest.

OK.  Those of you who are regular readers know I've developed an obsession with Bollywood films and have been including clips with these posts.  Here's the Bollywood clip du jour, which has absolutely nothing to do with today's puzzle.  It's just a lot of fun to watch.  This is a dream sequence from Shakti in which the guy on the cot (Shah Rukh Khan) fantasizes about dancing with a famous movie star (Aishwarya Rai).

Friday, February 24, 2012

Judging a Book By Its Cover

by guest blogger Mary Sutton

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” We’ve all heard this phrase before. Usually we hear it from our mothers and it’s usually a reference to not judging other people by skin color, race, or other external features. And usually that’s good advice.

But I have a dirty secret: I judge books by their covers all the time.

Oh, not in reference to people. In reference to, you know, books.

Here’s a recent example. I follow Linda Rodriguez on Twitter. For a couple of weeks, I’ve been seeing tweets about her upcoming book and how it won an award from Malice Domestic. I thought that was cool, but I didn’t feel compelled to check out the book.

Then Linda tweeted an image of her cover. That I looked at – and I liked it. So I Googled the title and found the synopsis. Murder in a college town? Sign me up. I preordered the book.

Let me repeat that chain: cover à jacket text àpurchase.

I distinctly remember wandering the library or book store growing up, looking for interesting books by cover art. I don’t think I’m alone. In fact, when I posted about this on social media, a friend of mine said, “I used to do that all the time, roam around the aisles of books and picked up what grabbed me, if I liked what the back said I got it. But I wouldn't pick it up unless it had an intriguing cover.”

When I mentioned this topic to my SinC sibs, one of them immediately mentioned a new app –Flipbook. It allows her to see images related to posts on Facebook or Twitter, like a magazine. If the picture looks interesting, she can read more.

All three examples have something in common: interest starts with cover art, with a picture. Yes, the story has to be good, the old “Content is King” concept, but we humans seem to be hardwired for images. We authors know this. Otherwise, why would we obsess about the cover art for our books? Why would we get so excited about it?

Yes, a beautiful cover does not guarantee a great book. I am sure there are copies of Moby Dick with gorgeous cover art; that doesn’t make the story any better. But a great cover does something incredibly important in the process of selling books: it makes the reader pick it up and (hopefully) read the jacket blurb. This is no less important in the e-book world, which is why authors such as Joe Konrath are so insistent on self-pub authors not skimping on the cover art.

A lot of readers will never hear about the Edgars, the Agathas, or Malice Domestic. But they will see your cover. That image might be your only chance to hook them. Why not make it great?

So what about you? Do you judge a book by its cover?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

What Would Your Perfect Day Be Like?

by Joyce

Following up on Annette's post yesterday--

If money were no object, what would your perfect day be like? Would you spend it writing in your villa in Tuscany? Reading on a beach somewhere? Or as simple as doing nothing at all?

I can think of a lot of ways to spend a perfect day, so I'll choose a couple.

1. If I had that bed and breakfast in Gettysburg I mentioned yesterday, I'd get up early to put the orange pecan french toast and the bacon cheese frittata that I prepared the night before into oven. I'd put a pot of coffee on (with freshly ground beans, of course) and arrange assorted baked goods purchased from a local bakery on a platter for my guests. After breakfast, knowing that my two perfect part-time helpers would have the guest rooms in order, I'd retire to the library to work on my latest bestseller (hey, a girl can dream!), while my hubby heads for his workshop where he's building some lovely oak tables.  The rest of the day depends on what activities are going on in town and/or the battlefield.

2. We're snowed in at our cabin in the mountains. There's a fire in the wood burning stove, homemade soup and bread in the kitchen, beer and wine in the refrigerator. While the soup simmers, I curl up with my laptop and write.

Every perfect day scenario I came up with involved writing. I've come to the conclusion that no matter how crappy the day is, if I can write, I'm happy. I tried to not open the laptop one day over the weekend and it drove me crazy. I couldn't make it a whole day without at least tweaking a few words. I haven't decided if that's good or bad.

How about you? What would your perfect day be like? Writers--does it involve writing, like mine does?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The If Money Were No Object Game

My hubby and I took a drive this weekend to check on our camper in Confluence. It was fine, as I expected. After all, we haven’t had any real snowfall this winter. Mostly it was an excuse to get away for the day.

The drive to Confluence is about two-hours long on mostly two-lane, scenic roads. The trip is as pleasant as the destination. And it tends to spark some interesting conversations, most of which begin with If money were no object…

The rest of the question varies each time we play this game. This trip the question was, If money were no object where would you want to live?

My answer was New Mexico.

After being together for over 30 years, I actually surprised my husband with this one. I think he expected me to say Confluence or Clarion or Lake Erie. All favorite Pennsylvanian spots of mine, but come on. IF MONEY WERE NO OBJECT requires thinking BIG.

(Okay, some of you probably think I'm not thinking big enough and should have picked someplace like Paris. But this is MY fantasy and I'm sticking with New Mexico.)

He probably wouldn’t have been too surprised if I’d said Wyoming. I’m pretty sure I lived there in a previous life because I’ve always been drawn to that state. In my mind at least. In reality, I’ve never made it farther west than Indiana. Eastern Indiana.

Anyhow, I figure winters might be kinder in New Mexico than in Wyoming.

So now it’s your turn to play. If money were no object, where would you want to live?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Not Enough Hours In The Day

By K.M. Humphreys

                That might seem like an odd topic for a blog post, or maybe it’s just perfect.  I’m sitting at the computer writing this blog after a long day at work.  A lot to do and not enough time to do it. 
                That seems to always be the way it is anymore.  It’s not just at work that this problem occurs.  It happens at home, too. 
                Spent most of the weekend doing cleaning around the house.  Floors were swiffered, furniture was dusted, dishes cleaned.  It seems to never end.  My husband is catching up on the laundry and I’ll put it away when it’s done.  Bills need to get paid and bathrooms need to be scrubbed, dog needs to be walked and fed. 
                Exercise? Sleep?  Who has time?  There are too many other things to do in the 24 hours that we have each day.  Meals are often on the run, or eaten much too quickly to be healthy. 
                We all try to squeeze so much into our days.  If we work a full time job that just takes up more of our time.  Not only do we spend time at work, we spend time commuting to and from which takes precious time from everything else we have to do.  There are time I bring work home which keeps me from getting other stuff done that I want to get done.
                We all need a break every once in awhile, but breaks are hard to come by.  If you’re like me, while you’re relaxing, you think of all the stuff you should be doing.  Of course, I think of all the stuff I would rather be doing while sitting in boring business meetings as well.
                Bottom line is our lives have become so busy and so overwhelmingly crowded with tons of stuff we “have” to get done that we don’t often get done the things we “need” to get done.  These things include having a nice, relaxing meal with family, exercising, and getting plenty of sleep.
                Now, I’m off to do the ten million other things I have to get done before I go back to work tomorrow morning.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Music and Mystery

by C. L. Phillips

My heroine is in trouble.  As Adele would put it, she's rolling in the deep.  Deep doggie do.  Deep trouble. Deep tension.

But I can't find the right song to play while I'm writing the scene.  Does anyone else play music while writing to evoke a mood?  In the early part of this novel, the heroine is steered to an unconventional twelve-step program.  I bet you can guess the song I played while writing her rejection scene, can't you?

Rehab by Amy Winehouse.

And when she hitches a ride on a desperate escape attempt with her seventh-grade boyfriend, a man who is now a grown-up illegitimate businessman?  What music plays in the background?  Jack and Diane by John Mellencamp. Okay, the timeframe for the song didn't synchronize chronologically, but I decided Jack and Diane is a rock and roll classic.

So now my heroine is trapped.  Restrained on a gurney in the killer's basement.  Nobody knows she is there.  She's been drugged, and when she awakes, she starts to fight.  She must free herself.

And her song?  The music you hear in the background?  What is it?  Tell me.  I need help. :)

Admit it.  You're still singing Rehab in your mind, aren't you?  I know I am.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Shorter Fiction: Novellas and Pamphleteering

By Pat Gulley

With the success of all things ‘e’ in publishing doing so well, much has been written about the shorter novel. So, I thought I’d write a bit about old and older norms that are new again.

            Seems the 100,000 word, over 300 page book is falling by the wayside, debunking the general assumption of big publishers that one size fits all. Younger readers, and a lot of older ones with eReader are much happier with less. Short stories are a bit longer, but books are getting shorter, leading to popularity of the novella.

            Does this mean that the American reader’s attention span is shrinking? Some may say so as they deplore anything changing, but I’m not inclined to believe it. Mostly, I believe that we are all looking for a well told story and an interesting to-the-point article and we do not want a bunch of extraneous words because the publisher demands a certain word count.

            Shorter should not mean less information, but making words count and have a broader meaning. It provides writers with a flexibility not seen in some time. Like around the time of the Gutenberg Printing Press, well no, just teasing about that. Another format that hasn’t been seen for a long time is Pamphleteering (almost a century) and quite a few writers are returning to it for ePub.

            Granted some publishers have always preferred the 200 to 250 page novel, while others favored just over 300 pages. They all tend to be in a specific genre, while literary writers and publishers are appalled that you can’t write 50 pages on the beauty of your feet touching the gorgeous patina of wood while descending a 5-step staircase.

            I’m not going to ask you to make a choice, just comment on what is being expected from you as a writer by your agents, editors or fans.

I’m away today, will be home Monday and will look in then, but Cindy is minding the posts today.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Readers and books and pies, oh my!

By Barbara Poelle

Thanks for having me back to guest blog! I had suspected that my inane ramblings may have excluded me from further invitation, but Paula has indicated to me that perhaps the rest of you are not quite normal yourselves, so MY PEOPLE!
And hey, how is it FEBRUARY again? It seems like it comes EVERY YEAR or something. Aside from the birthdays of some of the loveliest people, I feel like living through February is like buying a pair of pants for an oyster: funny for a minute, but then OH MY GOD why is it so cold?!?!!?
The ONLY thing I look forward to in February are the weekend days where it is too cold to make plans with friends so I HAVE to stay inside and read all day. Please, who are we kidding, I don't care much for "activities" or "others" so I am THRILLED to stay in and read anytime. However, there is something about it being bitterly cold outside, but warm with a book inside, that really makes me feel like I am getting away with something, like that time I bought a pair of pants for an oyster. Aaaaand with the Edgar nominees  out (gestures WILDLY to the Mary Higgins Clark Award Nominees where Tracy Kiely's Murder Most Persuasive is nominated) I can have a new reading list to work from. THE DEVOTION OF SUSPECT X by Keigo Higashino was stupendous,  so I feel like that might have me pinned down for best book. And come on, you HAVE to backflip for Steve Ulfelder's Purgatory Chasm, and the rest is just a grab bag of delicious reading. And I like having a list to systematically work through, like a big neon arrow saying YOU WILL LIKE THESE.
Which wait, totally brings me to a new point. Is it me, or do people still go mainly off of word of mouth when they are looking for a new book to read ? If I had a personal pie chart, or wait, I want a personal pie. Okay, I want to eat a razzleberry pie while I talk about this pie chart. Yes, razzleberry is a real pie option although I think it has cartoon ingredients and, like, 4000 calories. Anyway, get me a spoon. Okay. So pie chart while eating pie of how I hear about books:

Holy CRAP! I just MADE A PIE CHART! Is this something that people know how to do!?!?! I think I might be some kind of GENIUS!
Although now my keyboard is covered in sticky pie filling.
Here's the thing, even with the influx of ebook retailers and their helpful suggestions, I am still an old fashioned kind of gal as far as purchasing new titles. I want someone to tell me they loved it first, and that someone is usually a reader, NOT a blurb from another author. I also still loooove to wander through Hudson Books, or Barnes and Noble and just scoop up 4 or 5 titles that speak to me through the cover art and back copy. Taking those kinds of chances led me to books like FALL ON YOUR KNEES (Ann-Marie MacDonald) and THE DEVIL'S TEETH (Susan Casey).
I would LOVE to hear from you on the way you discover new readers. Oh! Let's do this: You tweet me that you have made a comment in the comments section here (and throw the link of the blog in the tweet) about how you find new authors and books and I will read all of the comments and then I will pick several to win fun new books! Wait, does that need to be another slice of pie up there? The agent giveaway slice of pie. Mmmmmm, pie.
Anyway, tweet me at @Bpoelle after you comment below so I can find you again for the drawing.
Can't wait to hear from you!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Would you like Sookie if she had a different name?

by C.L. Phillips

True confession.  I never watch True Blood and I just started reading Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris.  I'm seventy pages into the book, and it hit me.  I liked Sookie before I even knew her because of her name.

Her name?

I kid you not.  Something about Sookie Stackhouse makes me want to cheer for her.  Even though, I'm not so sure I like her flirting with that Bill character.  After all, he's a vampire.  She should know better.  And reading people's thoughts is no excuse for hanging out with a vampire.  Not in my book.

That's when it hit me.  A name works on so many different levels.

So, tell me, which characters do you love simply because of their names?  Who did you dislike because of their name?  When is a name more than a name?  How do you name your characters?

Keep writing!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Changes Too

By Martha Reed

This month’s theme seems to be about introspection and change. That’s not a bad thing, and I wonder if I would ditch all introspection if I moved somewhere warmer where I wasn’t trapped inside my house for three months of the year. Would I ponder the meaning of Life as much if I spent my mornings walking along a sandy beach under some restless palms? Probably. That’s what I do.

But I also think this viewpoint is a big part of being a writer. It’s more than merely observing details and drawing conclusions – there are those quiet moments when you sit in stillness and try to connect the dots. I’ve noticed that I naturally try to connect larger themes – life experience, the concept of God, world religions, common sense, economics and money matters, courage in the face of war whereas some of my friends, especially the married ones with children try to connect themes between the people they know. Who is engaged and how that engagement extends the dynamics of the family; who is doing well at school and who is struggling and how to help; how to support those precious children who want to become soldiers and ballerinas.

This insight made me rethink my latest novel because I think when I drafted it I was too focused on connecting great themes and I lost the bit that makes us human, and recognizable – the bit where the individual goes walking along the tideline on the beach looking for sand dollars while she/he ponders the universe. So, for this next revision, I’m going in low and pinning my characters to the page. What do they think and feel? I have the plot; it’s the skeleton on my story. What I’m going to do next is put some meat on the bones.

Louise Penny does this really well in her Inspector Gamache novels. I highly recommend that you start at the beginning of her series with STILL LIFE. But I’m also on the lookout for other recommendations. Is there anyone who writes a human mystery so well that you would recommend it to the world? Inquiring minds want to know.

Monday, February 13, 2012


by Gina Sestak

Good morning, gentle readers.  It's been an eventful week.  Not as eventful as the final day of last year, when my car was totaled by a drunk driver fleeing police, but eventful nonetheless.

For one thing, I had a birthday.  I am now officially old enough to collect early social security - 62(!).

I've had two parties and lunch, and gotten several gifts, mostly gift cards, which is good.  For myself, I bought a prep table for my kitchen, where there's way too little counter space.  I'm hoping I can resist my usual impulse to cover it with piles of stuff so there will be room to cook.

When I was young, I always expected to have life figured out by now, or at least have some idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.  No such luck.  I tell people that I'm very immature for my age.  They think I'm kidding.

So, what have I done with my life?  Not much, I'm afraid.  I grew up.  I got educated.  I got a lot of jobs.  I got married.  We bought a house.  I got divorced.  I kept the house.  The house caught fire.

Sorry.  Getting older leads to introspection.

Ahem.  How I spent my life, by Regina Marie Sestak:

Well, just look back at my early posts.  The whole story is there.

Right now, things are going pretty well.  I got a brand new car, courtesy of State Farm Insurance.  It pays to keep up those premiums!
The new car - a bottom-of-the-line Chevy - even drives well in the snow, which I've been shoveling a lot these last few days.

I'm still writing novels and short stories and still not getting published.  Maybe someday I'll give that up, but not quite yet.  Right now, there are still too many things I want to write about.  And it's not as if I've never been published.  Just not recently.  And not fiction.

I'm still writing screenplays, although none of them has been made into a film yet.  I'm crossing my fingers
but not holding my breath on this year's entries in the Steeltown Entertainment contest.  I'm pinning most of my hopes on Alcyone Pictures, though.  Does anybody want to invest in a movie?

I've also activated my account with Mosser Casting.  Does anybody want to put me in a movie?

See what I mean about being immature for my age?  I should be winding down, thinking about long term investments and looking forward to Medicare, not chasing dreams.  

Instead, I'm working part-time at a law job, making enough to live on (now that the house is all paid off) and investing in dvds of Bollywood films.   Go figure.

Today's clip is from Billu.  Billu (Irrfan Khan) is an unsuccessful barber until a movie company comes to film in his small rural village and word gets out that Billu knows the film's star, Sahir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan).  Then everybody seeks Billu's company, except the elusive Sahir, leading to all kinds of complications.

Billu is one of the guys sitting in the tree, trying to get Sahir's attention.  Sahir is the primary male dancer.       Not to be a spoiler, but it all really does come out right in the end.

Oddly enough, four out of seven regulars in my critique group have had birthdays within the last month.  Maybe it's a writer thing.  Is anybody else celebrating a birthday this time of year?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Three Questions for Two New Authors

Today, the Working Stiffs are delighted to welcome Edith Maxwell and Liz Mugavero. 

Liz and Edith share the distinction of sharing many distinctions--both mystery authors, both members of Sisters in Crime's New England chapter, both Guppies, both cat lovers. Both have writing day jobs, both are as-yet-unpublished in the novel arena AND they met at the Seascape Writers Retreat, so both have the benefit of wonderful teachers (Hallie Ephron, Roberta Isleib and Susan Hubbard). Even better, last year Edith and Liz signed with the same agent, John Talbot, who sold their manuscripts to the same publisher, Kensington, who will publish both of their books in 2013.

Edith and Liz have agreed to answer a couple of questions for our  readers.

Question 1 – What can you tell us about your journey to publication?

EDITH SAYSSince childhood, I’ve written fiction, journalistic news and features, academic articles, essays, memoir, and software documentation. Fiction is my passion, though. I’ve written two dozen short stories, with four published and one more accepted. My first finished mystery, Speaking of Murder, is out as a full with several independent presses now, and is a finalist in the Linda Howard Award for Excellence Suspense category.  Speaking of Murder’s sequel is almost done, too.

I credit Sisters in Crime with helping me get to actual publication, including the contract for the Local Foods Mystery series. The President of the New England chapter, Sheila Connolly, connected the membership with agent John Talbot. After I worked with him on the cozy proposal, he sold the series to Kensington Publishing within a week. More basically, I have learned almost all I know about the publishing field from SINC and the Guppies chapter.
LIZ SAYS: I’ve been a writer since I could hold a pen. Poems, stories--I even wrote a proposal for a soap opera at one point (sadly, it never made it to the small screen). I majored in English and communications in college and went on to grad school to study writing and publishing. There, I finished my first full-length novel as my thesis, though it will never see the light of day.
I went on to work as a journalist at various papers around New England and wrote the first book in my first series, which is still looking for a home. I moved on to marketing and PR and started another series, which I just started shopping around. When Sisters in Crime NE president Sheila Connolly offered this wonderful opportunity with agent John Talbot, I jumped at an alternate route to publication and the chance to work on something fun, since I tend to write dark. I talked with John and we settled on the idea for the gourmet pet food mysteries, I wrote the proposal, made a few edits, and he sold it to Kensington shortly after. The whole experience was awesome and reinforced the benefits of organizations like Sisters in Crime and Guppies.
Question 2 -  Why were you the perfect person to write your story?

EDITH SAYS: I pitched an organic farm-based idea to John Talbot in my query letter and he called me the next day, saying an editor friend of his had suggested a locavore series. Since I farmed and co-owned an organic farm a couple of decades ago for some years, and currently eat locally with fervor, I told him I was his writer! It was about the most perfect fit I could imagine.

At the end of my farming days before I become a technical writer, I had written about two-thirds of a mystery novel set on an organic farm. I use much of the world I set up in that book, including Cameron Flaherty, the protagonist, in the current series. I’ve added a Locavore Club and a CSA but it has given me a head start on the first book in the series, A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die.

LIZ SAYS: I love animals and have been involved in rescue for a number of years. Along the way I’ve learned a lot about nutrition and how the foods our pets eat affect their health, and I’m thrilled to be able to use that knowledge in this series and increase awareness out in the world through the Pawsitively Organic Pet Food Mysteries.
I’m also excited to showcase some of my real-life friends in the books--under aliases, of course. Kneading to Die features Nutty the Maine coon cat, based on the real-life Tuffy cat, and a mini Schnauzer-poodle mix named Scruffy who bears a striking resemblance to Shaggy the rescue Schnoodle. Trying not to let stardom go to their heads is another story.
Question 3 -  For Edith, why should we read Liz’s book?

Liz is a fabulous writer. I first met her at the Seascape writers’ retreat/workshop several years ago. I was impressed and entranced by the scenes she read there. I predict this new series is going to be a big hit. She let me read the first chapter from her proposal, and I wanted to read the rest of the book right then and there. She knows the world of pets, rescue animals, and small-town Connecticut life, but more importantly, she knows how to write about it with humor and suspense all at once.

Question 3 -  For Liz, why should we read Edith’s book?
Anyone with an interest in local farming, food co-ops, organic nutrition and overall good food will love Edith’s book. Not to mention, Edith is a natural storyteller and creates characters who grab your interest from page one. She let me read the first two chapters and I’m already engrossed in the story and Cam’s life. Plus, the topic of organic farming and local food is so important and Edith knows it well and is passionate about it. That’s key to a good story.
Edith Maxwell currently resides in Ipswich, Massachusetts, but she’s originally a 4th-generation Californian. She has two grown sons, and lives in an antique house with her beau, their four cats, and several fine specimens of garden statuary. Look for her as Edith M. Maxwell on Facebook, and @edithmaxwell on Twitter. She blogs weekly at

 Liz Mugavero currently resides in Connecticut, but is Massachusetts born and bred. You can find her on Facebook as  and @lizmugavero on Twitter.

Thursday, February 09, 2012


by Joyce

Last year, as soon as I heard Antiques Roadshow was coming to Pittsburgh, I dashed to WQED’s website and promptly signed up to volunteer. I’d been a fan for a long time. I routinely bore my hubby by insisting we watch the show almost every Monday night. While he makes comments like, “I can’t believe that ugly thing is worth that much!” I daydream about the yard sale I’ll go to one day and pay a dollar for some other ugly thing that’s worth thousands. Or the day I find an unknown letter written by Abraham Lincoln tucked into an old book I pick up at a used book sale. Or…well, you get the idea.

After waiting not so patiently for months, I finally got the notice that I’d been accepted as a volunteer. When Roadshow arrived in August, I’d be there on the set. Be still my heart! The night before the big event all the volunteers were required to turn out at the convention center for training. We walked through the set—which is a lot bigger than it looks on TV—and the producers gave us our instructions. These guys and gals were some of the nicest people I’d ever met. They really seemed to like their jobs. They told us to be sure to wear padded, comfortable shoes as we’d be standing on concrete for over twelve hours, and gave us pointers to make our jobs go smoothly the next day. They stressed how much they appreciated us and that they couldn’t pull this off without the more than one hundred volunteers.

All the volunteers arrived bright and early the following morning. We gathered in a banquet room where they had a breakfast buffet set up—they also had snacks, coffee, and lunch for us. After breakfast, we got our final instructions and headed to our assigned spots. Right before the doors opened to the public, the staff and volunteers gathered in the center of the set for a Roadshow cheer. And we were off.

The day passed quickly. My job was to direct people to the lines for prints and paintings. Most of the attendees were friendly and cordial. Every once in a while I had one who complained about having to wait in line and I explained that even though the tickets were timed, the appraisers could only go so fast. And if they found a gem among the junk, everything stopped. Those little minute or two appraisals that you see on TV can take an hour to set up.

The appraisers were all very modest and down to earth. During some slow times, I even had a chance to chat with a few of them. Nice guys. And when the host, Mark Wahlberg made his appearance, you’d have thought a rock star walked onto the set. The ladies went nuts having him autograph their tickets. He was all smiles and seems like a nice guy. And I heard he liked the Primanti sandwiches.

Volunteers were permitted to bring two items to be appraised. I took a German beer stein and a gold expansion bracelet that had come from my mother-in-law’s house. Neither was worth very much. The stein was WWII vintage—a souvenir that soldiers usually bought by trading a pack of cigarettes. It was only worth about $25, but it has a good story. The bracelet was European, circa 1860s and worth about $200. Not too shabby. I know the appraisers do this for a living, but I was still amazed that they could come up with information and values in a matter of seconds.

Before I knew it, the day was over and my feet were killing me. I had a blast, though and would do it again in a heartbeat.

The Pittsburgh shows air on PBS for three consecutive Monday nights beginning next week, February 13th. Be sure to tune in—maybe you’ll see me in the background passing by a camera. I’ll be tuning in for sure (wearing my official blue Roadshow polo shirt). Even though I was there, I missed a lot. I gotta catch up!

In the meantime, check out these links:

And if you’re on Twitter, be sure to follow @RoadshowPBS, @marklwahlberg, and @NichoLowry for live tweets of the show on Monday nights.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Ready or not, here it comes

I’ve posted on occasion about the impending gas drilling near my home. It’s been in neighboring townships for several years. There have been whispers and speculation about when it would show up here. In the summer of 2010, we signed a lease agreement with Range Resources, but that didn’t mean they’d actually DO anything.

Then they purchased my neighbor’s farm. We received letters regarding water testing because they MIGHT drill somewhere nearby. They came out and tested our well, our creek, and our spring.

Note: I could have gone merrily along my way for quite some time without knowing what was actually in my well water. Reading that report was like reading the list of ingredients on your favorite junk food. You really don’t want to know what’s in there.

Anyhow, there’s been a lot of activity happening on the hill behind my house. I can’t see anything from here, but I can hear the big machinery. I don’t know what they were doing the other night, but I was sitting in my office listening to a distant thump thump thump, as if Big Foot were hiking across our hillside.

From certain vantage points along the road, you can see the mound of dirt they’ve moved, as well as the massive trucks and dozers. Something is definitely going on up there.

On Monday, it became official. A man from Range knocked at my door. He was notifying everyone within a certain distance of the new well site, that drilling was indeed imminent. He had to confirm contact numbers. In case of an emergency, someone will call us immediately.

Oh, goody.

He gave me a folder containing a letter describing what was about to happen and what we could expect to see (increased truck traffic…Meanwhile, I can hardly get across the road to pick up my mail NOW) and several pieces of informative literature about natural gas and what’s in the stuff they’re going to pump into the ground, etc, etc, etc. And if we have any other questions, he gave me a card.

I’ve stated before that I’m on the fence about this. I’m definitely looking forward to royalty checks. But I’ve hated to see our rural area die. There used to be cattle and horses everywhere. I used to wake up each morning to the bawling of cows calling to their youngsters. I used to mark the coming of spring by the increasing numbers of romping calves in the fields surrounding my house.

Now the farmers have all sold off their livestock. There are still several active horse farms within a mile radius, but not within sight of my windows. The landscape is void of animal life.

And now it’s about to become industrial.

That bothers me.

But there’s no going back. Moving isn’t exactly an option. Where would I go? The entire region is being drilled.

So I’m resigned to sit back and see what happens. Roll with the tide. Hope my water well isn’t made even WORSE as a result of the gas well just over the hill. And hope the royalty money is worth the aggravation. 

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Monsters, Villains and Bad Guys

By K.M. Humphreys
I’m currently reading a book called Bullies, Bastards and Bitches by Jessica Paige Morrell and I’m reading a chapter on Monsters.  This inspired a blog post on Monsters and Bad Guys. 

Throughout literature and film, there have been monsters and villains lurking.  Every type of monster from Hannibal Lecter to the Abominable Snowman are found in the pages we read. There’s Frankenstein, The White Witch, Captain Hook, and Count Dracula.  These are the characters who keep us at the edge of our seats.  We hold our breath as we turn the pages wondering what terror they are going to cause next. We see Cruella DeVille and the wicked step-mother from Cinderella in our children’s stories.  We also hear about the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot and Godzilla.  Whether it’s myth, folklore, movies or books, we cannot escape these monsters, villains and bad guys. 

Bad Guys, Villains and Monsters hold appeal.  They make us want to continue the story until it’s end to see what all they do to reach their goal.  Without the conflict and danger they bring to a story, we wouldn’t have the excitement that keeps us begging for more.  For us ordinary folks, it’s a departure from our normal worlds.  We pray we never run into these monsters, but yet we can’t stop reading about them.

I know I’ve missed some above, and I would love to hear from our readers as to who your favorite Monster, Villain or Bad Guy is and why.  What draws you to these characters?

Happy Reading!

Monday, February 06, 2012

What would you do?

by C.L. Phillips

Scene : Central Texas suburbs; upscale neighborhood

 2:57 a.m. : Chevy Impala is involved in a single car accident, striking a stone mail box.  The driver exits the car, flees the scene, scales a five foot tall iron fence and crawls under a minivan in a homeowner's driveway.

3:06 a.m. : Three shots fired.  All find their target, the driver of the wrecked Impala.  The shooter?  The homeowner, wielding a .40 caliber Beretta.

3:30 p.m. : The homeowner is charged with murder.

Question :  If you heard the crash, saw the driver crawling under your minivan, what would you do?

A)  Lock your doors and go back to bed.
B)  Call the police.
C)  Go outside with your loaded gun.

In Texas, we have this law called the Castle Law (no, not after Richard Castle of ABC TV fame).  The law says something to the effect that if you believe your life is in immediate danger (mortal risk) AND an intruder is on your property, you can shoot to kill.  No problem.

The problem lies in the details.  Immediate mortal danger.  How do you prove it when the body lies one hundred feet from your front door?

Does your opinion change if the dead man is a twenty three year old Hispanic man?  Does your opinion change when you discover he's not an illegal but a man who grew up in the neighborhood, a stellar student at the local high school?

What if the homeowner/shooter works for the IRS?  What if the homeowner/shooter is Muslim?

Do the details about the victim and the homeowner/shooter change how you view the case?

Whatever you think, two families are shattered, one by death, and one by choice.  I ask again, what would you do?

Friday, February 03, 2012

Not As Easy As It Looks

Treat for you today, fellow Stiffs: Please put your hands together and welcome my buddy Jaden Terrell, author of Racing the Devil and president of the Middle Tennessee Sister in Crime chapter as well as executive director of the Killer Nashville conference. She's also my friend, and one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. Oh yes, a writes a pretty good book, as well. If you like PI novels, you'll love Jared McKean!

Here's Jaden, come to talk to us about fingerprints. Suitably so; you'll notice the one in the background on the book cover:

It’s week 4 of the FBI/TBI joint Citizen Academy, and my classmates and I troop down to basement of FBI headquarters. We huddle close together, eager but nervous, like wild horses catching an unfamiliar scent. The fluorescent lights hum as our instructors shepherd us to our groups, six to a table, each table sporting a centerpiece of bottles, brushes, tissues, and other common household paraphernalia. We look at each other and grin. We’ve seen this done a thousand times on TV, and it looks simple enough. Just brush on the fingerprint dust, apply the tape, and lift the perfect print.

We’ve spend the better part of an hour listening to a fingerprinting expert tell us about the history and techniques of fingerprinting. I’d taken pages and pages of notes on arches, tented arches, loops, and whorls. We learned about latent prints (invisible to the naked eye and made when someone touches an object and leaves behind secretions like oil and sweat), patent prints (visible to the naked eye and made when a dirty or bloody finger touches an object), and impressed prints (visible to the naked eye and made when a person touches a surface like blood, clay, or wet or viscous paint). We learned that criminals sometimes burn or sand their fingertips in the vain hope of obscuring the prints, but that sanded fingerprints still show their original patterns, and burned fingertips usually show at least some of the original pattern. We’ve heard about powders and brushes and the best ways to get a clear print.

Now it’s our turn to try it.

I slide into a chair as the instructor is handing out items from the plastic tray at the center of table. The woman to my right, an elegant woman in khaki slacks and a while silk blouse, has a picture frame. I get a shampoo bottle.  

Our instructor shows us the black fingerprint powder, the brush, the tape, the pristine white card. Our goal is a clean, crisp lift. He shows us how to dip the brush lightly in the powder and tap off the excess. Don’t press too hard, he says. Brush it on lightly. If you apply too much pressure it will smudge.

I focus on the middle of the bottle, the part you’d wrap your hand around if you were picking it up. I dip the brush. Tap off the excess. Brush as lightly as I can. Black smudges appear around the circumference of the bottle. Nothing identifiable, just some blurry oval shapes and a few black streaks. A few of the ovals show a hint of a pattern. The instructor says it’s not always effective to try the part people are most likely to grip. Those tend to get smeared by palm prints and other fingerprints. Too much traffic, in effect. He points to a place near the bottom of the bottle. “Try here.”

The woman on my right says, “Look, I have one!” I look at her picture frame. Sure enough, a perfect print with whatever pattern has emerged on the surface.

I brush on more black dust. No luck. I try a spot near the screw-on top. More smudges.

The woman on my right has torn off a piece of clear tape and laid it gently across her print. Lifts it off carefully and places it gently on her pristine white card. You can see every swoop and whorl. The rest of us exchange envious glances.

Finally, I find a well-defined oval with a visible pattern. Huzzah! By now my fingers are smudged with black. I snag a tissue from the plastic tray and scrub until my fingertips are a dingy gray. The others are finishing up, so I give up on the tissue and tear off a one-inch length of tape. I lay it gently over the print, then place it carefully on my clean white card. The woman next to me holds up her card and beams. Three crisp prints in a row, their patterns standing out against the white of the card. I steal a glance at her hands. Her fingertips are pink and clean, her French tips polished to a sheen.

I look down at my card. A cluster of blurry gray fingerprints mars the edges of the card, and there’s a smear of gray on each end of the tape. In the center of the tape is a perfect…smudge. 

* * *

I've never tried to lift fingerprints. This makes me want to. Or maybe not. 

Although I do have my own fingerprint story: a few months back, I needed to renew my green card. So I went to the ICE office and filled out the paperwork and had my picture took, and it was time for fingerprints. Rolling the fingers on an ink pad, rolling the fingers on a tiny plate of glass.

Now, I may be an alien, but I only have ten fingers, just like the rest of you. And it took an hour. Swear to God. And at the end of it, although the tech said she had what she needed and sent me home, I had to come back a month later and do it again, because the original prints weren't good enough. I'm a person without clear fingerprints. Oh, the crimes I could commit!

The really funny thing, though? The reason why... is because I type too much. Never thought that would be one of the side-effects of becoming a writer. But apparently all the typing is wearing down my prints. There's a story in that... 


Thursday, February 02, 2012

A Guessing Game

By Paula Matter

I've uploaded a few videos/images.

Can you figure out what story I'm telling?