Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Conversation with Jeffrey Deaver

by Jean Henry Mead

International bestselling novelist Jeffrey Deaver has had a varied background as a journalist, folk singer and lawyer. His first novel, Manhattan is My Beat, was published in 1988. His 25th thriller is The Burning Wire. His novels have appeared on bestseller lists around the world, including The New York Times and The Times of London. His books have sold in 150 countries and translated into 25 languages.

Jeff, have your past careers served you well as a novelist?

My other careers have always been ways to allow me to make a living while I went after my goal of becoming a full-time novelist. I began publishing various stories and poems in my teens and finally published my first novel in my thirties. Journalism taught me to research, and law, curiously, was helpful in organizing my books—I outline fanatically.

When and where did your writing begin and did your early environment influence your work?

I began writing when I was about 11. I wrote my first novel then (really a short story, though I called it a novel). I was a nerd when I was young and thus I was drawn to reading and writing. My parents were both creative and encouraged me. I was reading mainstream novels, thrillers and fantasy mostly, at a very young age.

How did Kathryn Dance come into being and why did you decide to write about a female California Bureau of Investigation agent and body language expert?

I realized that I had many ideas for what I thought would be compelling thrillers, but they weren't appropriate for my evidence-driven forensics novels (my Lincoln Rhyme series). So I decided to create a character who was the opposite of Lincoln: A woman, with children, who lives in California. She would have little interest in the science of crime solving, but rather focus on the human factor—body language, linguistics, interrogation and interviewing. The psychology of crime. I've been very pleased at how popular she's become. Even readers who love Lincoln Rhyme appreciate Kathryn's skills. After all, they are friends.

You’ve won or been nominated in a number of countries for too many writing awards to list here. Which one means the most to you and do awards translate into bigger sales?

I think I'm most pleased that my stand-alone The Bodies Left Behind was named the novel of the year by the prestigious International Thriller Writers organization. It was a book that I spent a great amount of time on and was challenging to write—it contains one of the best twists I've been able to work into my fiction. As far as sales go, certainly awards get readers' attention, but in the end it's a book quality that dictates high or low sales.

Which of your mystery thrillers required the most research and do you have CBI agents at the ready to call when you need information?

Garden of Beasts took the most research. It's set in Berlin in 1936, and I wanted the details and atmosphere to be 100% accurate. Apparently it was, since a fan who escaped Germany in the late '30s reported to me that it was the most accurate—and moving--novel about that time that he'd ever read. Regarding research, I tend not to use living, breathing sources much. I prefer book and internet research, since when you talk to practitioners, you tend to skew the story to tell theirs; I want to make sure to tell my story.

Your Roadside Crosses novel, third in your high tech trilogy, features a teenage boy bent on revenge for real or imagined abuse, and is chilling. Did your antagonist evolve from Columbine and the University of Virginia killings? And why the crosses along the highway foretelling his planned murders?

I was actually inspired to write Roadside Crosses by another tragic incident: the teenage girl in St. Louis who was "befriended" by the mother of her former friend, posing as a boyfriend. He then told her that the world would be better off without her—and she killed herself. I wanted to write about the responsibility of bloggers and the social networking phenomenon.

Were you pleased or disappointed in the screen adaptations of HBO’s A Maiden’s Grave starring James Gardner and/or Universal Studios’ adaptation of The Bone Collector starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie? Did you take part in any way in the filming?

My theory about movies is that I respect the process of filmmaking very much, but I don't want to have anything to do with it. My skill—and pleasure—is in writing thrillers, not scripts. I don't have a lot of patience for authors who complain about Hollywood's treatment of their books. How many of them have sent the check's back in protest? None that I know of.

What was it like to play a corrupt lawyer on your favorite soap opera, “As the World Turns?”

Exhausting! I've never worked so hard in my life. I have great respect for actors too, as I do for scriptwriters and directors, as I mentioned above. But, despite the fact I love to experience new things, I'll probably hang up my acting hat for the time being.

What’s your writing environment like and your schedule? Do you outline or wing it?

I work eight to ten hours a day, six days a week. I do at least one book a year, and so I work even when I'm on book tour (which generally amounts to about three months every year). Yes, I outline. I spend eight months outlining each book. And the outlines end up being about 150-200 pages. Thrillers of the sort I write must be structured. It's a waste of time to start writing and hope for inspiration along the way. Pilots and surgeons don't wait for inspiration. Why should authors?

Advice to fledgling mystery/thriller writers?

Write the sort of book you enjoy reading. Outline the books of your favorite authors (the successful ones only!) and study how they create their fiction. Write your own outline. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite and rewrite. Ignore rejection. Keep writing; never stop!

Jeff's website is

Monday, March 28, 2011

Baby Oranges and the American Dream

By Shane Cashion

Last night I stopped at the grocery store on the way home from my soccer game to pick up "a few items." The list wasn't long, yet the bill was over a hundred and fifty bucks. I couldn't believe it. I carried the grocery bags to my car without my shoulders slumping. When I got home I looked at the receipt (the first time I've ever done this) to see if the cashier had overcharged me. The first item on my receipt was a bag of underdeveloped oranges called "cuties." I don't remember them being around when I was a kid, but they obviously are now, and my family loves them. A small bag of these "cuties" was $7.99. I was shocked. I didn't know they were that expensive. Had I known, I wouldn't have spent the last six months throwing them at the kids in my neighborhood, or the side of our house, or the stop sign at the end of our block. Who knew they were spheres of gold? From now on I'm going to insist that we eat the skin, too.

The next item on my receipt was razorblades. Twelve bucks! Not for the razor, just the blades! No wonder I'm seeing more and more men sporting beards. It's cheaper! If I were single and had a profile on I'd list manscaping as one of my first attributes. If that doesn't scream RICH, I don't know what does. By the second item on my receipt, I'd seen enough. For the first time in a long time, I felt really lucky to have a job and clients, no matter how distasteful I usually find both. As everyone obviously knows, the job market is awful, and for lawyers, almost hopeless. Just this morning I got yet another resume from a kid looking for a job, his dream of working for a large, hidebound firm in an important city doubtlessly dashed months, maybe even years, ago.

I don't have a website for my firm so I'm not sure how these kids find my email address. I of course never have any work for them, but am nonetheless impressed that they find me, and often encourage them to pursue work as a private investigator or Internet hacker. They're usually grateful for the unsolicited advice. I try. As I was considering this particular resume, I couldn't help but think that he'd have been better off skipping college and law school altogether, which is a common theme in my daily ponderings. Could that possibly be true? No one values education for the sake of self-edification more than I do. Heck, I spent nearly a decade hiding out in school. If I thought the federal government would loan me more money, I'd go back, but I also recognize that at some point you have to be able to afford preemie oranges. It's what families want.

So, is an education the path to baby oranges, or is there something else that might be better? What about owning your own business? What if instead of spending $400,000 on undergraduate and law degrees, you bought 80 franchises? That's right, 80! Last year my uncle bought a waterproofing company for five grand, and it's making money. A quick Google search reveals hundreds of franchises ranging from hot dog carts to commercial cleaning companies, all for under five grand. The law of averages almost certainly dictates that at least one of the 80 franchises would prosper.*

I know what you're thinking. There are only so many hours in the day; how could one person run 80 businesses? It's impossible! Au contraire. There are loads of unemployed folks desperate to exchange their perspiration for a piece of the action. Partnering up with 80 hard-working people would be a snap. Spend a morning at your local unemployment office or an afternoon at your local immigration office and I guarantee that you'll find 80 potential partners willing to contribute their sweat.

Now that we've establed that there's a viable alternative path to success, what would you rather have, a fancy education or 80 companies? I know when the time comes for my kids to venture off to college; I'm going to present them with a choice: "Now Hon, I know you're going to do just great in Cambridge. You know how proud we are that you made it to Harvard, and we believe that one day you'll make an excellent attorney. We just wanted to remind you that college isn't the only path. If you'd rather get a business going, your mom and I will buy you 80 companies over the next seven years. Yes, you heard me right, 80. Just think, instead of sitting in a boring calculous class with a bunch of nerds, you could be helping an immigrant family realize the American dream by partnering up with them to run Cashion Cleaning or Cashion Critter Control or just about any business you can dream up. Wouldn't you like to help Uncle Arvon get back on his feet? Well you could! After all, you'll have 80 companies! So it's a lot to think about. Unfortunately, we don't have enough money for you to do both. You're gonna have to pick one or the other. Give it some thought and let us know what you decide."

*I recognize this is a risky proposition to foist upon your kids. If things don't go well, running 80 companies into the ground would likely result in irreparable psychological damage.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

How Brazil Got Its Name

by Leighton Gage

When the early Portuguese explorers first came ashore in what is now Brazil they called their new possession Ilha de Vera Cruz, Island of the True Cross. It wasn’t long, though, before they discovered it wasn’t an island. That’s when they changed the name to Terra de Santa Cruz, Land of the Holy Cross. And so it might have remained.

Had they not found this tree.

They’re a rarity these days, but five hundred years ago the country was covered with trees just like this one. And before gold, before precious stones, before sugar cane and coffee, they were the source of Brazil’s wealth.

Early on, it was discovered that the wood, ground up very fine, could be used to produce dyes and paints of a unique color. That color was often described as closely resembling red-hot embers. Embers, in Portuguese, are brasas. The tree came to be called Pau Brasil, (very) roughly translated as “wood that produces the color of embers”. Today, English speaking people call it Brazilwood.

Literally millions of trees were harvested over the course of the next four hundred years. Their sawdust was used to color fabrics, but also as a pigment by the great artists of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, most of whom mixed their own paints. By the nineteenth century such paints were being commercially produced. By then, the painters of Italy had corrupted brasil into verzino, the name by which the color became known.

It was available in several different shades, two of which are in the background of this painting of and by van Gogh.

These days, verzino has largely been replaced by cadmium and azo pigments, which can duplicate the same colors at lesser cost. But if a painting is over a hundred years old, and contains this shade of red, the likelihood is that it has a little bit of Brazil in it.
I know of no other country that got its name from a color.

But Brazil did.


Friday, March 25, 2011


by Earl Staggs

I watch a lot of true crime shows on TV. A&E has several of them, as do several other cable networks. CBS has an hour show on Friday and Sunday evenings called “48 Hours Mystery.” NBC does one called “Dateline,” although they often preempt true crime for the latest celebrity scandal. These shows offer, in documentary form, true crime cases filmed in the locations where they happened with many of the real people involved in the crime. You see how the crime (most often, a murder) occurred and follow the investigative steps taken to solve it.

I find it interesting how crimes are solved these days. My favorites are when an old (or “cold”) case is solved after years have gone by. In many of the cold cases being solved these days, the crime occurred either before DNA testing was available or when it was in its infancy. A lot of them are reexamined using modern DNA techniques and innocent men and women are being freed and the guilty are caught. I love it when that happens.

On scripted crime-solving shows such as CSI, NCIS, Law and Order and so many others, crimes are solved by following the book, so to speak. Police officers do all the things they’re supposed to do in their investigative steps. Crime scenes are taped off, technicians scour the place for fingerprints, footprints, DNA, hair and skin samples, and witnesses are interviewed and interrogated. That’s how it’s supposed to be done.

In true crime situations, unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way. Law enforcement officers are people, and people make mistakes and omissions. Not every city and town has the resources for the minute scrutiny we see on scripted cop shows. As a result, mistakes are made, evidence is missed or lost, and the guilty don’t always get caught.

In one cold case show I saw recently, the original investigation was seriously flawed. It happened in a small town and involved a police force not accustomed or equipped to handle a murder case properly. The crime scene was contaminated when everyone in the neighborhood and every police officer in the area tramped through it out of curiosity. Valuable evidence was ignored. Available fingerprints and DNA evidence went unnoticed. Fortunately, when a cold case squad reopened the case, they found an article of clothing in the evidence box with the killer’s DNA and tracked down a murderer who thought he had gotten away with it.

We writers may feel we have to make certain our characters, particularly police officers, follow procedures to the letter. If we don’t, someone may call us on it. “That could not happen,” they may say, “because investigative procedure requires. . . .” Or, “The District Attorney would never make a mistake like that.”

The fact is, we may choose to write about real life, and in real life crime cases, mistakes, omissions, and errors in judgment do happen. They happen especially in small towns with limited experience and budget limitations.

It’s too bad real life crime is not scripted like the TV shows. More cases would be solved.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The E-Revolution

By Jaden Terrell

For the past few years, writers, agents, and others in the publishing industry have been engaged in a dialogue about whether e-books were the future of publishing, whether the new e-book technology would make self-publishing the smart way for writers to go, and whether digital publishing and internet marketing heralded the end of traditional publishing. While it seems likely that traditional publishing is here to stay--at least for the foreseeable future and at least as a niche market, there are some signs that the ease of digital publishing has shaken the industry to its core. Joe Konrath, who, as J.A. Konrath, writes the Jack Daniels thrillers, became the first author to sign a publishing contract with Amazon and is making much more with his electronic books than he ever did with a traditional print publisher. Of course, Joe is a marketing genius and a fiend at promotion. There was no proof that his success could be duplicated.

Then along came Amanda Hocking and the Kindle Millionaires. People were making big money at this self-publishing stuff. Big, big money. Now, thriller writer Barry Eisler has turned down a $500,000 print deal in favor of self-publishing his new stand-alone. I got the link to this dialogue between Barry and Joe from two people on the same day: fellow Murderous Musings blogger Pat Browning and former literary agent Nathan Bransford. Barry says that, while traditional publishing has been kind to him, he can make much more money over time with digital self-publishing. From someone who was just offered half a million dollars, that's staggering. He has compelling numbers to back up his argument. Whether his numbers (or Joe's or Amanda's, for that matter) are any indication of what the rest of us might make is uncertain, but there's no doubt the opportunity is there.

Of course, there are still advantages to the traditional model as well. Currently, it's still the easiest way to get reviews and contracts for subsidiary rights, such as film and foreign. It will be interesting, though, to see how the landscape will change over the next five years. Some publishers are already reporting e-book sales that are higher than their print sales. If that doesn't bring about some major changes in the industry, I don't know what will.

I like Chuck Wendig's take on the subject (warning: Wendig's post contains some adult language) on his blog, Terrible Minds. Why choose one, he says? Why not choose both? Wendig says if you can write two books a year, why not write one commercial blockbuster for the traditional publishers and one niche-market book for the digital self-publishing market? I kind of like the way this guy thinks. While you're there, take a look at his post on the 99-cent pricing of e-books and jumpstarting a stalled novel. You won't be sorry you did. Only . . . did I mention the adult language?

So where do you think the e-revolution is taking it? Has it affected how you read and/or publish and/or market your books?

If a traditional publisher offered you a $500,000 deal, would you take it, or would you turn them down flat?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Not So Nice

By Mark W. Danielson

What makes films like A Christmas Story successful? The answer is we can all relate. Was this movie’s creator ever bullied? Probably so. And since people are either bullies or bullied victims, we will always see this theme in the fictional world.

Wikipedia says bullying is “a form of abuse that involves repeated acts over time attempting to create or enforce one person’s (or group’s) power over another person (or group).” The endless list of reasons for bullying includes, but is not limited to, sexual development (particularly in girls), economic disparity, immigration status, vocal accents, physical size, sexual preference, intelligence, social interactive ability, religious affiliation, and race. Bullies often have difficult upbringings and lack parental support. In many cases, a bully’s parents are bullies themselves. In A Christmas Story, the bullied Ralphie eventually strikes back. In 1999, two bullied Columbine High School students did the same, gunning down their peers before taking their own lives. Sadly, this act has been mimicked numerous times since.

I don’t normally address serious issues like this in my blogs, but the alarming rise in teen suicides and murders has drawn me to this subject. More than ever, our children are subjected to abuse from their peers. What used to be a problem at school has now spread to twenty-four hour bombardment through social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and cell phones. Too many television shows, particularly MTV’s Jersey Shore and Skins, encourage bad behavior and poor morals because yelling, fighting, and shallow values are the norm. In school, some coaches bully their students while some students bully their teachers. Bullying has even extended into the workplace. In fact, the bullying issue has become so prevalent that President Obama held an anti-bullying conference on March 10, 2011, to seek solutions to this global issue. To me, the problem is a simple case of us losing respect for one another. The solution isn’t as easy.

Audiences love fictional characters that fight back because so many people have been wronged during their lifetime. Clint Eastwood’s nameless character in High Plains Drifter played the ultimate vigilante hero by righting all the wrongs in a remote western town. If only life was that simple.

According to Rana Sampson of the Center for Problem Oriented Policing, eight to twenty percent of the population have been victims of school bullying, sixty-six percent of whom believed school professionals responded poorly to the problems they observed. I suspect the victim numbers are much higher because many don’t report their abuse out of fear or shame. Sixty percent of those who bullied eventually have criminal records. That staggering number is unacceptable and preventable. One thing is certain, so long as they live, bullies and their victims never forget their experiences.

There are multiple resources available on this topic, should you care to indulge. If you have children, it might be worth your time. If you are a writer, you might ask whether your personal experiences are the basis of your story. People need outlets, so in this regard venting novelists fill their readers’ needs. However, the real world needs respectful solutions, and monitoring our children’s’ behavior and what they are exposed to is as important as us listening to them and empathizing with their issues. Be as mindful of what your children are saying as you are about you are writing. Working together, we may find a solution.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The significance of a banana.

I’m beginning to understand how bloggers find so much to say. Fortunately, my lethargy will continue to prevent me spending too much time putting this new-found knowledge into practice but, with another train journey to fill, I can muse a little on a totally insignificant event which nevertheless managed to achieve some momentum – and which I think I can twist into something connected with the writing process.

I was in my daughter’s car, being driven to Loch Lomond, her two sons (aged 9 and 5) in the back with her, her husband at the wheel. In front of us, a VW Beetle. Dangling in the centre of the rear window was a plastic, half peeled banana – exactly the same colour as the car.

‘Oh look, an amusing banana,’ said my daughter, with the devastating satirical tone which is obviously my legacy to her.

Never one to be out-satired, especially by someone for whom I’ve striven to be a role model for years (with limited success), I challenged her choice of adjective, suggesting that it might actually be quite a serious banana. Bananas, after all, have a bad press in that they’re always held responsible for unfortunate slip-ups (NB and sic) by politicians and others. Rather than being mere instruments of comedy as they lie on pavements or in corridors of power waiting for unwary strollers, their intent may well be to draw attention to aspects of the ideology, theology or overall morality of those whom they target.

So compelling were these considerations that we didn’t even progress to speculating on the owners of the car, who’d chosen a dangling ornament which was colour-coded exactly with their paintwork, but implicit in that choice was a whole history involving jaundice, egg yolks, fluorescent safety vests, cowardice in the face of the enemy.

And so on, and so on.

Indeed, had my two grandsons not pretty soon made it clear that the various banana analogies were becoming homicidally tedious, we could have still been analysing the socio-political influence of bananas and their role in the development of Western Philosophy when Ben Lomond loomed over us.

I know that the main effect of this blog will be to make you vow never to return to it and certainly never to share a car with me, but it does have a point, at which we’ve almost arrived.
I put a short note summarising the above on my Facebook page, whereupon one of my friends wondered whether we’d considered there might be links with a banana republic.

So my point is this. When people ask ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ the answer is ‘Everywhere’. Because it’s not necessarily the original idea that’s so important but the life it takes on and the infinity of directions it can follow. Words generate other words, synonyms, antonyms, and all of them open more doors, bring more layers of meaning. The banana was a silly example but, for that very reason, it makes the point better. If the initial idea is of greater significance – the death of an individual, the revenge of one person on another, the pulsing of some extreme passion – its ramifications are correspondingly greater.

All of which means that writing’s dead easy, doesn’t it?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Early Spring Desert Hike

by Ben Small

Happy Rebecca
So why am I writing about a desert hike? Any number of reasons, but primarily because it's so unusual for me any more. While I used to be a mountaineer, scrambling up anything I could find, glacier or trail, these days I don't do much of that.

Peripheral neuropathy. I can't feel my feet, except for their constant stinging. I know, it sounds inconsistent. Trust me, it's not. Yes, there are meds I take, which ease the stinging, but I have to be careful about foot injuries I may not feel, and I stumble a bit. So, while I can still hike, I do it rarely, probably because it's usually so hot in the afternoons and I'm not an early morning person.

So this morning, my wife -- depicted here with a happy hiking face -- rousted me early. Seems I've been watching too much basketball lately, and the weather was hike-conducive, about 80 and sunny, as is almost always the case with Tucson weather.

And when it's cool here, there's almost nothing better than a desert hike. Especially, when the alternative is watching Duke. I'd much rather crunch sand and rock beneath my boots than grind my teeth as the officials giving Coach K yet another break on the calls. Coach K apparently still basks under the glow of Duhon's Rib.

So, having scoped out the map carefully and realizing we could get to Bear Canyon Trailhead, about three miles away, without having to traverse the mile-and-a-half walk from the main parking lot -- we'd found a little known alternative only a half mile from the trailhead -- we set out, our exposed skin sheening white from sunscreen coatings. We carried a water bottle each and our cameras.

Few people know that Tucson suffered a claimed one hundred year freeze last month. Temperatures dropped to around ten-to-fifteen degrees (F) one night, followed by another night just slightly warmer. Lots of prickly pear cactus died or suffered. One can see their butchered arms all over town. But our famous saguaro were also damaged, many of them, especially the older and younger ones. Problem is, however, saguaro damage doesn't often show up for months or even years. So no one yet knows how bad that freeze may have been. Meanwhile, we're dealing with destroyed fruit trees and waiting to see what other freeze damage we suffered, plant-wise.

The bright colors we usually see around Tucson aren't out yet. Plants are still trying to figure out what the hell happened and if it's safe to come out yet. Still, as the photos below show,  the hike wasn't boring.

We could have taken the trail shown above all the way to the Seven Falls, a series of waterfalls draining Bear Canyon, but we decided not to push it the first day. That's a five mile hike each way over tough terrain. Before I take on that challenge, I need to toughen my feet after a long winter of mostly sitting on my...uhm...assets.

We were both a bit surprised to see water in the creek. Tuscon hasn't had a meaningful rain in many months, but Mt. Lemmon is 9500 feet tall and seems to create its own weather systems, resulting in enough snow for two ski areas. Not many non-Tucsonans know this. The creeks have water still from that snowmelt.

We saw no wildlife, none at all, which is not that unusual when one is clomping around on rock and gravel in mountain boots. The snakes and javelina, I don't miss. But I'd love to see a mountain lion. We have lots of them, and indeed, the Park Service warns hikers about them, but they rarely cause a problem unless one's alone or a child. As the Park Service here says, on handouts or trail postings: Chances are you won't see a mountain lion; but for sure, they've noticed you.

And the great thing is, after a rigorous three hour hike in the mountains, I can lay around the rest of the day watching March Madness without feeling guilty.

And I was raised Catholic. I do guilt well.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Does Life Motivate Writing, Or Is It The Other Way Around?

Good morning from Cape Cod MA. Beautiful day here, blue skies, but cold. First day of spring, though, so I'm trying to remain positive that warm weather will arrive eventually.

I'm trying to remain positive...period. Which brings me to an issue that's been niggling away at me for weeks. I write cozy mysteries. Some kindly folks (even reviewers) have said I write funny cozy mysteries. At the moment, though, I'm not feeling the least bit funny. Two family/close friend deaths in the past 4 weeks, plus the news that my canine co-conspirator in the Baby Boomer mysteries, Lucy, has an incurable kidney problem and all we can do is keep her comfortable for the time she has left, have me down in the dumps. Or, as we say here on Cape Cod, down in the transfer station.

I'm sure I'm not the only writer who's had to deal with this. But it's hard to find the humor/writing muse these days.

Anyone have any thoughts to share?

Saturday, March 19, 2011


by June Shaw

Some writers believe they need an agent to sell any books, and some think just the opposite.

I'm somewhere inbetween.

I had an agent--a good one--back when I was trying screenplays. He came highly recommended but wasn't interesteed in a script I was shopping. He wanted to see the novel I had begun because like many agents in that industry, he attempted to sell books that would be made into movies.

The day after he received my partial, one of his readers phoned me. "I love this!" she said, adding that her boyfriend got mad at her because she was reading my work while they were on a date at a restaurant, but she liked it so much she couldn't put it down. "You have got to send me the rest of it--here's my address--hurry!"

I was thrilled. In no time, my book would be a best-seller. A few days later I received a contract from her boss, rushed to sign it, and send it back priority.

He shopped a partial of my manuscript to a handful of publishers. I asked who he'd sent it to, and he sent me names of places.

But all of those publishers focused on romance. My book was women's fiction. I did what I'd heard suggested and called him. We chatted a couple of minutes and I asked, "How do you like my book?"

"Actually, I didn't read it, but my reader is definitely picky, and she loves it."

I thanked him and decided it was best if I tried to get an agent whose main interest was novels. (I do know scripts are much shorter and faster to read than books.)

Since then I have sold three novels on my own. I probably would like an agent, but in the meantime, I have discovered it's not impossible to sell books yourself. I'd just want an agent who could get as excited about my work as that first agent's reader.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Guest Blogger: F. M. (Marilyn) Meredith

It's my pleasure to host Marilyn Meredith, who writes Dark Oak mysteries as F. M. Meredith. She's the author of nearly thirty published novels, her latest in the Rocky Bluff Police Department crime series is Angel Lost.

Angel Lost concerns Officer Stacey Wilbur, who, as she plans for her perfect wedding, is sent out to trap a flasher. The sudden appearance of an angel in the window of a furniture store captures everyone’s imagination and causes problems for the Rocky Bluff P.D. Subsequent events threaten Stacy's wedding.

Changes Happening Everywhere

by F. M. Meredith

The news is full of all kinds of upsets and changes. Of course the biggest ones are in the countries where the people want freedom and are willing to die for that privilege. People in our own country have done that a couple of times.

Now, because of budget cuts, people in our own country are protesting and asking for change.

Because the above is way out of my hands, I’m going to discuss change in the book and publishing world.

With the news about many Borders’ closures and unfortunately too many independent bookstores, it’s not too hard to figure out that there are several things behind this change beginning with the state of the economy. Buying books might not be what someone is going to do with a limited amount of cash. Of course, the advent of so many e-book readers has had an effect too since e-books, in most cases, are so much cheaper than paper books.

Because of the new readers, e-books have become more popular (remember e-books themselves have been around for more than 10 years, there just wasn’t so many easy ways to obtain and read them as there are now) the whole publishing industry is undergoing change.

The New York publishers have accepted the fact that in order to compete they must put their books out as e-book format too. What they haven’t yet realized is that the prices of the books must be lower in order to compete with the smaller e-publishers and the authors who are self-publishing.

For the author the changes presented by the above events bring about the question should he or she find an agent? Are agents as necessary as they used to be? In my own case, over the years I’ve had several agents and none managed to find a publisher for me. I kept on writing and finally decided to see what I could do on my own. Over the years, I’ve published with several small publishers and e-publishers and now I’m with two small presses who do trade paperback and e-books.

Yes, we are definitely in a time of change, but since I’ve been a writer I’ve experienced a lot of other changes such as going from a typewriter to a computer (with several steps in-between), sending queries via email rather than by snail mail with an SASE inside, sending manuscripts as an attachment to e-mail rather than the whole printed manuscript in a box with another box inside with return address and postage.

Another big change is having to do most of the promotion oneself and having your marketing plan ahead of time to submit with your query.

Promotion has made a big change. Though authors still do book tours, most arrange and pay for them. With the closing of so many bookstores, this isn’t going to be so easy.

Much promotion is done online these days with blog tours and all the social networking. Of course this takes time, but personally, I find it enjoyable.

I do have a couple of favorite independent bookstores where I always go and give talks about writing and my books. My favorite in person events are being an instructor at a writing conference, speaking to libraries and social and service groups, book and craft fairs.

As writers, all we can do is figure out ways that we can make the changes in the book and publishing world work for us.

Marilyn is a member of EPIC, Four chapters of Sisters in Crime, including the Internet chapter, Mystery Writers of America, and is on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America.

Visit her at and her blog at

She also has a great Angel Lost book trailer up at YouTube:

Marilyn is standing by to answer questions and read your comments.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Confessions of a Kindle Killer

by Jaden Terrell

I came late to the electronic revolution. I love books, love turning the pages, love the look of print on the page (which is not the same as e-ink, no matter what people say), love being able to carry them around with me and not having to worry about plugging anything in. Love everything about them.

Last year, my husband bought me a Kindle for my birthday. I liked the way I could download books so easily (though it took great strength of will not to burn through my paycheck ordering $2.99 novels from Amazon. I liked the way I could make the print larger if I needed to. Above all, I liked that I could carry hundreds of books with me when I traveled. The Kindle didn't take the place of my beloved books, but it was a pretty cool supplement.

Of course, there were downsides too. Although it held a charge pretty well, having to recharge it regularly was a bit of a pain--especially if I let the battery get low and had to plug it in at a crucial point in the plot. And I noticed that, for some reason, I found it easier to put down a book that I would, if I'd bought it in print, have read straight through, and I wasn't as likely to carry it around with me to read in restaurants or in free moments in waiting rooms. I didn't love it, but I liked it a lot.

I liked it even better when I found several books I needed to research my next Jared McKean mystery. They weren't $2.99, but they were cheaper than they would have been in print. Then Timothy Hallinan e-published all his Simeon Grist books and the first of a new series. A long-time Hallinan fan, I bought them all. I was starting to feel pretty happy with this new technology.

I started carrying the Kindle around the house with me, as if it were a regular print book, reading as I took my vitamins, brushed my teeth, brushed my hair, fed the cat. Well, you can imagine the rest. As I stood at the bathroom sink, toothbrush in one hand, Kindle in the other . . . I dropped the Kindle.

It struck the floor, face down, with a sickening crack. Oh no. I picked it up, a feeling of dread settling in my stomach. The screen was intact, but the image looked like an angry orangutan had thrown a tantrum on an Etch-a-Sketch. I tried to turn off the device. No luck. The fractured image was frozen on the screen. I told myself maybe it was in shock and just needed a little time to settle down. No such luck. By morning, it was clear.

The Kindle was dead.

Mike says he plans to replace the Kindle when my next birthday comes around. I have my reservations. It seems like maybe I should wait until they come up with a klutz-proof version. Still, I've managed to keep my laptop intact, so maybe there's hope. Maybe I could get one of those little slings like people carry babies in. Do they make padded Kindle-carriers? Maybe I could make a sort of safety belt for it--hook it to my belt with a carabiner?

Hmm. Maybe I could invent one and market it for a gazillion dollars. Surely I'm not the only Kindle-Killer around.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Crafting a Killer

by Carola Dunn

I'm cheating today--posting a guest blog I wrote for Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers last week ( It received a lot of positive comments so I thought you wouldn't mind it reappearing here.

Crafting a Killer

Killers come in all shapes and sizes. Having just finished writing the 20th mystery in my Daisy Dalrymple series, I'm constantly looking for new variations.

For a start, I prefer the word "killer" to "murderer." Not all homicides are murder. Some of the unnatural deaths in my books involve accident, self-defence or defence of others, or assault not intended to cause death. This allows some of my killers to be sympathetic characters. In turn this allows Daisy to hold—and act on—a different view of Justice from that of her husband, DCI Alec Fletcher of ScotlandYard, who's sworn to uphold the Law.

They haven't yet quite reached the point where they want to kill each other!

Of course, some of my killer characters commit deliberate murder. Their motives ring the changes on the basics: greed, jealousy, fear, revenge, anger. They are male and female, young and old, rich and poor. Some are crafty (pun intended); some are not too bright and are not arrested immediately more through luck than cleverness. They are otherwise pleasant people who would probably never kill again if they weren't caught, and unpleasant people who are a danger to society.

But however desperate for new twists, I don't create homicidal maniacs. I'm just not really interested in someone who kills for pleasure, or from an irresistible impulse to kill. I prefer to explore the motive(s) of a person who feels he or she has a compelling reason that we can understand, even if we can't imagine ever taking it to the lengths of murder.

This is the UK cover for Sheer Folly.

The one above is the US cover, now out in trade paperback.

As Susan asked, "Do you judge a book by its cover?"--just as a matter of interest, which do you prefer?

This is one of the comments I received on the Killer Crafts blog:

So Killing is usually a crime of passion or Of the Moment, and Murder has intent, and is plotted, planned and carried out? Killing is a response and Murder comes from deep within the murderer? [LibrarianDOA]

And my response:

It's not as clear-cut as that. I think, at least in
British/American Common Law, motive is generally taken into account when
it comes to sentencing, which is up to the judge. Of course, to work
backwards, the jury decides on guilt or innocence, and the public
prosecutor doesn't want to bring a charge that's likely to result in an
innocent verdict. Before that, you have the Coroner and his jury, who
decide whether there's a case to answer.

As far as Alec--the police officer--is concerned, if someone is killed by
someone else, that's homicide. Intent is more or less irrelevant as it's
not up to him to decide whether the killing amounts to murder,
manslaughter, self-defence, or accident. In the case of an obvious
accident, he might decide the evidence doesn't justify applying for a
warrant (he can only arrest without one if he actually sees a crime

It's where Daisy comes in--remembering that she's a purely fictional
character--that the grey areas widen and diffuse. At times, she's
prepared to back her own judgment and conceal information from the police
in what she perceives to be the cause of Justice.

And that's one of the things that makes it fun to write.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Another March Madness - Spring Break

By Chester Campbell

By the time you read this, we’ll be heading down I-65 through Middle Tennessee and the full length of Alabama to Orange Beach, a location that in the recent past was plagued with oily waste from the BP well disaster. That’s all behind us now, we’re told, and we’ll soon know for sure. It’s Spring Break time and we’re taking two grandsons aged ten and thirteen. It should be an interesting week.

We took the same two on a trip to Branson, Missouri in December a year ago. That one brought a pair of mini-disasters. We had just crossed the Mississippi River on the way to Branson when the younger boy sounded like he had suddenly exploded in the back seat. We were traveling along a levee and had no room to pull off and park until he had filled a plastic grocery bag with the detritus of car sickness.

Sarah had to get out in the freezing cold and clean him up with a bottle of water. Fortunately, we found a service station a short distance away to finish the job. But that was only half the story. On the return trip, the older boy pulled the same trick, though it was apparently from something he’d eaten. Needless to say, we’re looking forward to better times ahead.

According to a website called, the annual spring phenomenon dates back to the ancient Greek and Roman spring bacchanalia during which the younger set spent days drinking and dancing and indulging in the inevitable. The modern history began in the mid-thirties when a college swimming coach took his team to Fort Lauderdale to practice in the first Olympic-size pool in the state.

The practice of college swimmers gathering in Fort Lauderdale during late winter ballooned, and continued during World War II, though I’m sure on a more modest basis. After the war, though, it grew rapidly, numbering 15,000 students by 1953. Over the next decade it changed from a swimming exercise to a beach party and attracted 50,000 students by 1961. The rest, as they say, is history.

Since my classmates in the late 1940’s weren’t swimmers, we never made it to Fort Lauderdale. By the late sixties the Spring Breakers had begun their shift to Daytona Beach. I was way ahead of them on that score, however. In 1950 I joined a few colleagues from The Knoxville Journal staff on a spring trek to Daytona Beach. Some brought wives, but I was among the singles. We had a few student nurses from Knoxville General Hospital along, one I was dating and later married.

Though we’ll be staying at a beachfront hotel at Orange Beach on the current trip, we’ll spend some time in Pensacola, a few miles into nearby Florida. Pensacola Beach always swarms with Spring Break crowds. We’ll give our two wards plenty of beach time, but I doubt they’ll be terribly interested in the bikini babes. We plan to take them to the Museum of Naval Aviation at Pensacola NAS and watch the Blue Angels do a little practice at the airfield.

We’ll bore them unmercifully while I do a signing at the Pensacola Southwest Branch Library on Gulf Beach Highway Thursday afternoon and again Saturday at Barnes & Noble in Spanish Fort, Alabama. I’m sure we’ll indulge in more exciting things yet to be determined. All I ask is that everyone keep his tummy contents on hold.

Monday, March 14, 2011


By Shane Cashion

I had an unusually busy work schedule last week. I was at the office by six each morning and didn’t get home until nine in the evening, except Thursday. There were two basketball games that I wanted to watch that night, and I promised my wife I’d grill a big dinner for the family. After stuffing my face, I poured myself a beer in my favorite frozen mug and plopped onto the couch for an evening of basketball. No more than five minutes into the first game, my television froze. It continued to do so intermittently for the next twenty minutes. With each black screen, my blood pressure rose.

By halftime, I was maniacal, and banished to the basement. Apparently my wife was afraid the neighbors might call the police to investigate the screaming coming from our living room. "All I do is work. That’s it. The one bleeeeeeeeping moment I get to sit down and watch a game the bleeeeeeping TV goes out. I’m so bleeping sick of U-verse. I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do; I’m gonna call those bleeeeeeeeeping bleepers right bleeeeeeeeeping now." Because the kids were playing at the neighbor’s house, I could really let it fly.

As I was navigating my way through U-verse’s automated phone system, which does nothing more than ask you how you want to pay your bill a dozen different ways; I finally got an actual person. By this time, the first game was already over, and I was on my way to a full meltdown.

"This is Mark. How may I provide you with excellent service today."
He didn’t sound like a "Mark" to me. "Mark where in the world are you?" I asked.
"I’m on the phone."
"I know that. What city are you in?"
"I’m in the Philippines."
"Oh my God!"
"May I have your name please?"
"Great. May I have your address please?"
"Great. May I have your phone number please?"
"So I can call you back in case we get disconnected."
"I’ve done this before. You won’t call me back."
"I’ve never talked to you before."
"I mean you as in U-verse."
"It’s XXXXX."
"Okay. May I have your account number?"
"I don’t have it."
"I need your account number to look up your account."
"Well what was all the other stuff for?"
"I needed that too."
My wife keeps track of our bills so I screamed to her: "WHERE’S OUR U-VERSE BILL?!!!!!"
"I’m back. I have to go find the bill in the kitchen. Please hold on and don’t hang up on me."
"I have your number in case we get disconnected."
"Okay. The account number is XXXXX."
"Great. And what is your pass code?"
"I need your pass code."
"I don’t have any idea what my pass code is. You already have my name, phone number, address, and account number. What bleeeeeeping more do you need from me? A STOOL SAMPLE!?"
"Unfortunately because your name isn’t on the account I can’t help you without a pass code."
"It’s my wife’s name that’s on the account."
"Right. It’s the same pass code for both of you."
"Okay, I’ve got it. It’s XXXXX."
"That’s great! Now please tell me how I may provide you with excellent service today."
"It’s too late. Your service is awful!"
"I haven’t helped you yet."
"No! Not you! I don’t mean you every time I say you; I mean you as in your stupid company."
"How can I provide you with excellent service?"
"Well. You can start by talking normal and not off a script. After that you can help me figure out how to get my TV to work again. You people are relentless in collecting money, but not very adept at keeping the TV running. What I want is my bill to be reduced for the time my service was down and I want my TV to work. Now is that something you can do or do I need to talk to a supervisor?"
"You want to speak with a supervisor? Let me see if one is available to assist you."

Twenty minutes later the same guy returned to the line to tell me that the supervisors were delayed due to unusually high call volume. What’s strange is I almost detected a hint of pleasure in his voice. Throughout our call I’d felt like someone else was listening in, and that together they were laughing at me. At one point, after a long tantrum that I worry will one day appear on YouTube, as these conversations are recorded "for quality control," I said, "You couldn’t care less about my stupid service, could you? You’re in the Philippines. Why would you care?" Again it sounded like he was covering the phone to mask his laughter. Exhausted from it all, I finally just hung up.

No more than one minute after my last game ended, the television screen came to life and worked perfectly the rest of the night. Unable to shake my frustration, I logged onto my computer to see if anyone else hated U-verse. I of course found lots of people who hate U-verse and were more than willing to visit the Internet to vent. As with any large company that boasts millions of customers, some are happy; some are ready to riot. What really caught my interest was a class action firm seeking class representatives to initiate a class action lawsuit against U-verse for all sorts of alleged misrepresentations. I was so angry at having missed my games, I left them a voicemail at just after midnight volunteering to serve as a class rep. I’d be more than happy to devote a thousand hours of my time in hopes of one day receiving a check for $14.38 that I could frame above my mantel. That’s how angry they’d made me, although I must have sounded insane because no one has called to take me up on my offer.

The next morning, I had 52 emails from Uverse waiting for me. They wanted to know if I’d take a customer satisfaction survey. I kid you not, 52. I couldn’t help but laugh. In my mind’s eye I could picture Alejandro on a swivel chair in his call station, probably with a buddy, acting on a dare, laughing hysterically every time he hit the send button.

"Was he really that pissed?"
"Oh you should have heard this guy. He couldn’t watch his basketball games!!! Hahahahhaa."
"That’s hilarious. What did you do while he was screaming?"
"I just stuck to the script. They hate that!!!! Then I pretended I was looking for a supervisor. It was the best!!!!!"
"How long did you keep him on the line?"
"At least 45 minutes!!!!"
"That’s so great. Email him another satisfaction survey. Just one more."
"Okay. One more. Sometimes I really do love this job!!!!!"

For a brief moment, I thought about filling out all 52 surveys. As I was perusing the one attached to the original email, pretending as though I hadn’t received the others, two lawyers in my office stuck their noses in to see if I was watching the clips from Japan on my computer. At the time, I didn’t know the Earth had moved. Needless to say, I didn’t return to the survey. Somehow it didn’t seem quite so important when contrasted with the disturbing videos of cars trying to outrun the ocean. Nevertheless, I do still hate U-verse, and had I not ruined my relationship with Direct TV, Charter Cable, and Dish TV, U-verse would be out!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Amazon

By Leighton Gage

Father Gaspar de Carvajal was a Catholic priest who visited the coast of South America in the middle years of the sixteenth century and wrote a book about it.

The book begins in a perfectly believable fashion. They were, he said, following the coast, keeping it on their starboard (right-hand) side.
One day, the coastline veered from south to west. The water around their ship went from blue to brown and a current began to push against the bow, both signs seeming to indicate they’d entered an estuary.

Five days of steady sailing ensued, still with no sign of an opposing shore. The sailors began to have doubts. If they were on a river, it was huge, larger than any in Europe.

Then, on the morning of the sixth day, their ships were suddenly and viciously attacked. The assailants were a host of natives in canoes, natives who (according to Gaspar ) were all women, set on capturing our men for the purpose of procreation.

Mind you, the crew had been at sea, without women, for many months by then. They might have welcomed some feminine company, had not Gaspar, wise man that he was, claimed to have been in possession of superior knowledge, i.e. that the ladies weren’t after a lifetime of connubial bliss. They were after a date and dinner – with the seamen as the dinner.

Fear of cannibalism strengthened the crew’s resolve. The attack was beaten off. The women disappeared into the jungle, never to be seen again. And not one member of the crew accused Father Gaspar of being a mean-spirited Baron Munchausen of sexual angst for inventing the story. (Okay, I made that last part up.)

But Gasper made up more than the story. He also invented a name for the place where it all happened,
He called it the Great River of the Amazons, later (shortened and Anglicized) to become the Amazon River.
He was, of course, inspired by the legend of a similar tribe of warlike women in the mythology of the Greeks.
But who needs tall tales, and myths, when it comes to the Amazon? I sure as hell don’t. For me, the truth is impressive enough.

The Amazon is the oldest river in the world. Ten of its branches are larger than the Mississippi. Its length, from source to mouth, is almost equal to the distance between New York and Berlin. The total volume of the main river, and its tributaries, far exceeds that of the next five largest rivers on earth. The amount of water that it dumps into the sea could fill Lake Ontario in three hours. That amount of water exceeds, daily, the total volume of what flows out of the mouth of the Thames in an entire year. Almost one-fifth of all the river water in the world flows past the Amazon’s banks. As it pours into the ocean, fresh water pushes salt water back a hundred miles into the open sea. A thousand kilometers upriver, the depths in mid-channel continue to exceed 115 meters (350 feet), more than enough to completely submerge the Statue of Liberty. If every person alive in the world today were to dump a four-hundred pound bag of dirt into the ocean, the total would not add-up to the amount of silt the Amazon carries into the South Atlantic each year. When the river rises, the resulting flood inundates an area twice the size of Austria.

There are more species of fish in the Amazon River than there are in the Atlantic Ocean...

...bigger fish than can be found in any other river, fifteen times as many species as can be found in all the rivers of Europe. Twice a year, between the months of February and March, the Atlantic Ocean waters roll up the Amazon in a great tidal bore ( that the Brazilians call the Pororoca. It generates the longest waves on earth, sweeping along everything from piranhas to tree trunks. One Brazilian surfer, Picuruta Salazar, managed to ride one of those waves for 37 minutes. It carried him for 12 kilometers.

Most of the river is lined by jungle, a primeval rainforest hardly changed from Father Gaspar’s day. Within it are to be found more varieties of butterflies than anywhere else...

...half the world’s bird species, one-third of all the types of living creatures on earth. And almost three hundred varieties of mosquitoes.

One word of advice: Should you add The Amazon to your bucket list, center your visit around Santarem, not Manaus.

Santarem is a rather pleasant place as far as isolated jungle cities go. Manaus…isn’t.

Want to know why? Read my book, Dying Gasp.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Dealey Plaza

by Earl Staggs

I was in an office at the B&O Railroad in Baltimore waiting for a coworker to return from lunch so I could go. He came back early and stood just inside the door with a strange expression. After a minute of silence during which everyone’s attention turned to him, he announced, “President Kennedy’s been shot.” Friday, November 22, 1963.

It never occurred to me that all these years later, I’d be living in Fort Worth, an hour from Dealey Plaza in Dallas where it happened. I’ve been there three times, and each time is like the first. I’m immediately overcome with a feeling of awe that I’m at the spot where one of the most significant events in history took place.

Dealey Plaza is a pie-shaped park area near downtown Dallas, no larger than half a block wide at the top end along Houston Street. Elm and Main Streets slope gently downward from Houston. Elm bends toward Main and merges into it at the bottom end of the Plaza to form one street which goes under a railroad trestle. There’s a grassy area between the two streets and another one on the right of Elm. That one goes uphill at an angle of about forty-five degrees and is known as “The Grassy Knoll.” The entire area is smaller than you might imagine, less than the length of a football field from Houston Street to the trestle.

There are no huge signs identifying the site, no tour guides to show you around. The City of Dallas decided long ago not to overtly advertise it as a tourist attraction. Halfway down Elm Street is a faded white “X” no more than a foot square embedded in the gray roadway which approximates the point at which the fatal bullet (or bullets) struck the President.

If you stand on the sidewalk near the “X” and look back over your left shoulder, you see a seven-story red brick building at the corner of Elm and Houston. The corner window on the sixth floor is the one from which Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly fired. The building was known as The Texas School Book Depository then. It has since been renamed The Dallas County School Board Administration Building. The entire sixth floor is a museum whose name does not mention Kennedy or Oswald. It is designated simply “The Sixth Floor Museum.”

As you approach the building, a huckster hands you a tabloid newspaper detailing the assassination. “Look it over for free,” he says, “and if you want to take it with you, it’s five dollars.”

Once inside the museum, there are pictures, films, and displays chronicling the events of that day and those leading up to it. The ominous corner window, called “The Sniper’s Perch,” is sealed off in glass, but you can stand at the window next to it and look down at the “X” in the street, a distance less than fifty yards.

One of the interesting exhibits is a man’s light-colored suit. If you recall the news footage of Jack Ruby shouldering his way through a gaggle of news reporters and cops with a gun in his hand, you may remember Oswald was handcuffed to a large man wearing that suit. That police officer donated the suit to the museum a few years ago.

It’s hard to describe the feeling I have when I go to Dealey Plaza. I feel a chill down my back and I stand transfixed, taking it all in. My imagination kicks in and I picture the scene on that day.

Onlookers lining both sides of Elm Street to get a glimpse of their President and the First Lady. They’re filled with excitement, pushing closer to the street to get the best view, smiling and waiting, anticipating what may be a once in a lifetime experience.

The motorcade turns off Houston onto Elm and coasts toward them. Halfway down the street, a shot echoes across the Plaza. Another shot. One more. People run, duck, fall to the ground in panic and shock. The First Lady climbs onto the trunk of the limo, a Secret Service agent jumps on to protect her. People look and point in all directions, unsure where the shots came from. A man named Zapruder has the presence of mind to keep his 8mm movie camera trained on the limo. The motorcade speeds up and disappears under the railroad trestle. A scant few seconds engraved in history.

Standing there, letting my imagination play out the scene, I almost feel as if I was there that day. I had the same experience and feelings when I visited Gettysburg and Pearl Harbor.

We’ll never know for sure why Ruby shot Oswald. More significantly, we’ll never know for sure if Oswald acted alone. Despite all the investigations, analyses, and expert opinions, conspiracy theories still exist. Strong arguments can be made on either side of the issue. For my money, the truth could go either way, or lie somewhere in the middle. What took place in Dealey Plaza that day in 1963 is an indelible and irrepressible enigma, a mystery forever unsolved.

Here’s one more thing for anyone interested. In writing this, I became curious about Oswald’s widow. On November 22, 1996, the 33rd anniversary of the assassination, Marina Oswald Porter appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show. Marina revealed that she eventually came to some startling conclusions, and she offers proof to substantiate her conclusions that:

. . .her husband did NOT shoot Kennedy
. . .Oswald was not only a patsy, but an FBI informant
. . .there WAS a conspiracy covered up by the government via the Warren Commission.

Very interesting. You’ll find a complete transcript of what Marina said here:

To end this on a lighter note, there’s a line I love from “Shooter,” a film made from the Stephen Hunter novel POINT OF IMPACT starring Mark Wahlberg as former Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger. Swagger visits an elderly gun expert, and the conversation turns to famous guns and shootings, eventually getting around to the JFK assassination.

“The guys who killed Kennedy,” the old man says, “were buried in the desert three hours later. I still have the shovel.”


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Twofer Thursday

by Jonathan Quist

I'm going to do something today that I would never have dreamed of doing up until three weeks ago. I'm going to mention Jeanne Dams and Joe Konrath in the same breath.

As individuals and as writers, Jeanne and Joe are polar opposites of each other.

Jeanne is a lovely "woman of a certain age" who knows how to look great in a vintage hat.

Joe is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy who makes himself equally comfortable in jeans and tee-shirts or a coat and tie. Well, a writer's corduroy jacket, anyway. And I'm not sure I've ever actually seen Joe wearing a tie.

Jeanne is a former school teacher who writes both contemporary and historical traditional mysteries with strong female protagonists.

Joe is a former teacher who writes both horror (as Jack Kilborn) and thrillers with a strong female protagonist.

If you make a film about Jeanne's life, Helen Mirren would be an excellent casting choice.

If you make a film about Joe's life, try to dig up John Belushi.

I first met Jeanne Dams when she was the executive director, and just about everything else, of the old Of Dark and Stormy Nights writer's conference. (Dark and Stormy continues today as part of the Love is Murder conference in Chicago each February.) Jeanne happened to be the first person to greet me at registration, and though she didn't know it at the time, her welcome prevented me from chickening out and going back home.

I first met Joe through one of his lectures recorded at the same conference, and met him face to face the following year. (I nearly wore out the tape of that lecture, until I solved the problem by getting a car with a CD instead of a cassette player.)

I can say with all honesty that I like and respect both of them, as writers and as individuals, yet they are of two different worlds with very little intersection. But still I am compelled to review two of their books side-by-side. And that just blows my mind.

I love audiobooks, because I spend a couple hours on the road every day, and because I have seen the impact that audiobooks can have on the lives of readers who are unable to read print editions. I was fortunate enough to win an audiobook copy of Joe Konrath's Cherry Bomb at Love is Murder. So I popped it in the car player for a week and a half of commuting.

Cherry Bomb is the sixth in Konrath’s series featuring Chicago homicide detective Lt. Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels. I had previously read the first two in the series, so I had a rough idea what I was getting into. Konrath’s novels are intense, gritty, but also funny. He injects a lot of black humor into the mix. This is a good thing, because Joe Konrath writes some of the most seriously disturbing and generally creepy villains you’ll find anywhere. The humor, some of which could be judged in poor taste out of context but which works well in these books, leavens the mood without breaking it, and provides the occasional release of tension that these stories demand. Cherry Bomb in particular seems to run at one of two speeds: Catch Your Breath and Run Like Hell. And while I didn’t read this book with the idea I’d review it, one notable aspect jumped out immediately – Cherry Bomb has a lot more depth to it than the first couple of books in the series. It’s not that those were lacking anything – it’s just that Konrath is continuing to mature as a story teller. (Joe, if you're reading this, I never thought I'd mention your name and "mature" in the same breath, either. Yeah, you're welcome.)

Earlier in the series, Lt. Jack Daniels was responsible for the capture of serial killer Alex Kork. In Cherry Bomb, Alex is back, escaped from jail and out for revenge. And she’s getting it, through people close to Jack. Along the way, she is sexually abusing some of her victims. Sometimes for her own pleasure. Sometimes to hurt Jack. Sometimes both. But always with a seriously twisted method to her madness.

By the time I started on the final disk of Cherry Bomb, I knew I was going to need a big change of pace. I knew that my public library had several of Jeanne Dams’ novels in audiobook form. I found one I had not yet read in Silence is Golden, the fourth in the Hilda Johansson series. Hilda is a Swedish immigrant, and the senior live-in house maid in service to the Studebaker household of South Bend, Indiana at the turn of the 20th century. Because of her position, she is able to observe things in many places with a servant’s anonymity. But because of her position, her actions fall within strict boundaries that she must work inside or work around. But Hilda is bright, stubborn, and up to the task of solving the problem at hand. Dams treats setting as a character, with the result that Hilda’s world feels very much alive and like a visit home.

In Silence is Golden, the problem is that a local boy, a close friend of her 12-year-old brother, Erik, has gone missing. Erik reveals that the boy had wanted to join the circus passing through town. When he is found, he has been badly beaten, and is quiet and withdrawn. When Erik himself disappears, Hilda has to use all her wits and all resources at her disposal to find him and bring him home safely.

Perhaps it is because I was looking for a light story that I didn’t catch on right away. Or maybe it’s because Jeanne Dams’ characters strictly observe the customs and mores of 1905 South Bend. Or maybe it’s because she uses certain stereotypes as red herrings, later shattering the stereotypes. Whichever, this was not the light, predictable story I expected, and the crime under investigation was not mere kidnapping. Someone was capturing and sexually abusing young boys. And though Hilda could not say it outright, she was nobody’s fool, and wasn’t going to allow it to continue.

And neither was Jeanne Dams. Her work, particularly in this series, straddles the genre lines between “cozy” and “traditional mystery”. Cozies tend to include minimal violence, foul language and sexual content. In Silence is Golden, which was inspired by a real-life case reported in a 1903 South Bend newspaper, Dams has pretty much said, “No you don’t, buster, we’re not sweeping this one under the rug” and tackled a topic normally off-limits for her genre. She has done it masterfully, without her characters violating their own taboos, and she leaves the reader feeling the same passion for justice that Hilda herself feels.

And that is the heart of why I felt compelled to hold up these two books side-by-side. While Cherry Bomb does not have sexual brutality as a central theme, it is certainly present. Silence is Golden has a strong female protagonist who cannot imagine a world where such things take place. Cherry Bomb has a strong female protagonist whose life is crumbling brick by brick because she lives in that world. These two stories attack from completely different directions, and both yield the same result: I was left thoroughly entertained by the stories, and burning mad at the crimes they portrayed.

Cherry Bomb and Silence is Golden both represent the work of authors at the top of their game, and I highly recommend both, though not necessarily to the same audiences.

I cannot say for certain that my reaction would have been as strong had I read the books separately, but the combination of these two books hit me harder than many of the stories I’ve read that dealt with sex crimes in clinical detail.

How about you? Have you encountered combinations of books or short stories where the combination was greater than the sum of the parts?

Giveaway Time!
As I mentioned, my copy of JA Konrath’s Cherry Bomb was a lucky giveaway from Love is Murder. I want to share the love. So I’m giving away my copy.

This is the Brilliance Audio Unabridged edition, ISBN 978-1-4233-1262-8

Note the word Unabridged – if you give it to your grandkids, and they ask
your son-in-law,“Daddy, what does f*** mean?”, that’s your problem, not mine.

This is truly a twofer – the performance features two top voiceover artists, Susie Breck and Dick Hill. Both are award-winning voice talents. Many of you may know Dick Hill as the voice of Jack Reacher.

The Rules: I will mail this copy of Cherry Bomb anywhere in the world that can accept parcels from the U.S. Postal Service. If you are outside the U.S. and your country has laws that forbid delivery of literature containing profanity or sexuality, that is your responsibility.

The winning entry will be chosen at random from among those with correct answers to the following two questions:

1) What is the name of Joe Konrath’s personal favorite character from his Jack Daniels series?(Hint: The character appears in Cherry Bomb and on Joe’s web site.)

2) What is the title of the Hilda Johansson mystery being released in the fall of 2011?
(Hint: The answer may be found on Jeanne Dams' web site.)

If no entries contain both correct answers, a winner will be selected from entries containing one correct answer, then from all entries.

To enter, send an email with the subject Cherry Bomb and your answer
To Entries must be received by noon, US Central time on Saturday, 12 March 2011. (Please note - this email address is temporary for this contest.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Night Owl

By Mark W. Danielson

By nature, I'm not a night owl, but my profession has made me one. Night flying opens whole new dimensions. “To infinity and beyond,” as Buzz Lightyear would say. On moonless nights over oceans and barren land, the Milky Way is bright enough to mask our planets and constellations. Satellites can be seen tracking across the sky. Aurora Borealis dance while reaching for Heaven. Mushroom clouds light up from within. Large storms resemble nebulas. Australian wildfires and Japanese fishing fleets look like cities. Fireworks are sparks from a grinder’s wheel. My wingtip strobes become lightning.

The rising moon, distorted by the atmosphere, appears flaming orange. Flying east, shooting skyward at an alarming rate, it turns bright white. Full moons illuminate snow-capped mountains, cloud formations, airplane contrails, and bodies of water. Flying west, it sets slowly while the morning sky races to catch up.

Night flying has made me a vampire, my need to sleep before sunrise overwhelming. On good days, hotel maids won’t wake me until I’ve slept four hours, the “Please Do Not Disturb” sign on my door universally translating to “Please Vacuum Here Twice”. Working the back side of the clock has its challenges, but walking the streets of Singapore, Shanghai, Sydney, Paris, Dubai, Cologne, and so many others when I awake makes up for it. Mine is an odd, gypsy lifestyle, living in hotels five months out of each year, but it’s a wonderful life. Things I witness inspire me to write and my layovers provide the time. Night flying is serene compared to day flying. The radios are quieter and the pace is slower. Rather than fly my flight plan, I can often cut corners because there is less traffic. There is no squinting into that big yellow ball. Since I carry no passengers on my cargo MD-11, it’s just me and my co-pilot slicing the air at thirty-five thousand feet, drinking Diet Coke, and swapping stories. Never a complaint from the back.

Authors come from all walks of life and readers know little about them. That’s why I took this moment to share mine. My windscreen is my gateway to the world, my airplane, a pod circling Spaceship Earth. The next time you take a “red-eye”, you might want to check out the night sky before shutting your eyes. Every flight is different. You never know what you’ll see.