Friday, September 28, 2012


by Earl Staggs 

My guest is a man with an impressive background and resume. He also has serious thoughts about writing and is sharing some of them with us today.  

Shelly Frome is a member of Mystery Writers of America, a professor of dramatic arts emeritus at the University of Connecticut, a former professional actor, a writer of mysteries, books on theater and film, and articles on the performing arts appearing in a number of periodicals in theU.S.and the U.K.He is also a film critic and a contributor to writers’ blogs. His fiction includes Lilac Moon, Sun Dance for Andy Horn, Tinseltown Riff and the trans-Atlantic cozy The Twinning Murders. Among his works of non-fiction are the acclaimed The Actors Studio and texts on the art and craft of screenwriting and writing for the stage. Twilight of the Drifter, his latest novel, is a southern gothic crime-and-blues odyssey.  


Making a Case for the Slow Simmering Process

by Shelly Frome

            Judging from the daily posts e-mailed via countless writers’ sites, the watchword is that writing fiction is just a casual pursuit among kindred spirits: Here’s a sample:

            “Hey, everybody, how do you mine your ideas?” “On average, how many plot twists do you need?” “Is it okay to do a stand-alone or should you have a sequel or two up your sleeve?” “What’s trending in paranormal romance?”

            And here are some friendly tips on offer:

            “Try these power words that add punch.” “Try on different hats--writing for two or more age groups at a time.” “Taking it seriously without having to take it seriously.” “Find your readers with this fun site.”

            At first glance, though Writer’s Digest has a huge circulation, it seems the easy writers must have skipped over an article in the current issue featuring Andre Dubus III, the bestselling author of House of Sand and Fog. This son of a literary icon declares that “the story has to percolate in your mind for a long time. There’s a profound difference between just making something up and letting it fall into your psyche and imagination rather than pushing it out. Doing the real work first and then painstakingly crafting the words.”

Of course this is the same magazine that plays both ends against the middle. The same magazine that shouts “Readers of fiction are faced with saturated genres and a limited amount of time and money. Any title has to immediately grab their attention. The market doesn’t lie.”

In one previous issue, someone calling herself a literary change agent seemed to echo this selfsame outlook. So no wonder. If the denizens of the net read this magazine at all, here is a woman who claims that reaching readers is a matter of blanketing social media, blogging anywhere and everywhere, and “passing out fliers on street corners.”

To meet these demands, contributors billed as successful pros offered sure-fire tips like these:

“Use plotting strategies that make the book a winner. Give readers a hook at the get-go. And be sure to leave them with a take-home thought.” “Make them laugh and cry. When readers laugh and cry they’ll get that emotional high they’re looking for along with that walloping payoff.” “Before you start, come up with a logline that makes buyers sit up and say ‘gotta read it’.” “Try this for a ploy. Redesign an old hit TV show for the texting, tweeting, Lady Gaga generation. It’s a great reminder how important it is to always have your readers in mind.”

            Having just returned from a major conference in Portland, Oregon, with its 800 attendees, I have to admit the attitude wasn’t that much different. The focus was on generating a marketable product rather than on creative development. Being a paid professional rather than going through all that labor or, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s terms, being a true novelist with a peasant’s soul.

            Admittedly, every time I happened to mention some literary icon like, say, Eudora Welty, no one had the foggiest idea who I was talking about.

            So, even though I may be fighting an uphill battle, let’s at lest consider Ms.Welty’s approach as an option. Take the time when Willie Morris (another writer some of you also may have never heard of) was a youngster and his mother introduced him to Eudora Welty in Jackson, Mississippi. “Willie, this is Ms. Welty who writes books her own self.” What his mother meant was, this lady wrote from the inside out. Using her imagination she first made sure she had a story to tell and knew exactly what was in her characters’ hearts at all times. In that way she never wrote anything that didn’t spring naturally to mind. Welty’s way of working also required a firm sense of time and place. “It tells me the important things. Steers me and keeps me going straight. It’s a definer and confiner of what I’m doing.”

            In short, Eudora Welty allowed each creation to take it’s time falling deep into her psyche and never once pushed anything out.

Moving on, we can take into account what Harper Lee had to go through spending over a year transforming her tales about her Depression-era small-town in Alabamainto the full-fledged To Kill a Mockingbird. By her own admission, she couldn’t have done it without the prompting and abiding encouragement of her New York editor. In every case, something meaningful seems to spring from the same kind of sensibility and work ethic. More recently, there’s the example of Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, with its neglected 14-year-old girl, isolated on a South Carolinapeach farm, a mysterious crime hanging over the narrative, a search for a long lost mother and a hovering image of a Black Madonna.

            If you want to, you can find literary threads anywhere and everywhere. You can trace Edgar Alan Poe’s inauguration of the detective novel down to yesterday and today’s P.I.s who take us inside the sun-drenched mansions of Beverly Hills and down the mean streets to reveal something extraordinary. And that includes James Lee Burke from the banks of Bayou Teche and Iberia Parish as he captivates readers with his vivid descriptions, crackling dialogue and sudden acts of violence. At the same time, he holds the record for rejections (111). Undaunted, he kept at it and at it till that particular work found a readership.

            The stories can be as light as Agatha Christie’s cozies, but underneath it all was a lot of research and a great concern over making the world right. The stories can be as fanciful as Ray Bradbury’s science fiction taking us to other realms, with his own universal concerns and work ethic as he strived to make the extraordinary human. You can switch to Steven King, a disciple of Bradbury whose fascination with what’s lurking beyond the veil of the ordinary causes him to put in at least four to six hour days.

You can get far more serious and turn to Reynolds Price’s novels set in his native North Carolina. His tales tell us life is all about getting through time and what time does to you. How to endure when, bit by bit, parts of your freedom have been bartered away. All this dovetailing with the complications of sexuality, white racism and loneliness within the backdrop of his region and its history. Needless to say, a lot went into this before it was even close to seeing the light of day.

I know what you’re thinking. What about something a lot more in-between? What about somebody like John Grisham. A guy who knows that readers have an insatiable appetite for stories about lawyers and scandals. A guy who says novels that don’t work use too many words. The generator is your big idea. To locate it, you steal something. “Everything is fair game. We all steal, that’s what we do.”

            Then you narrow it down to a half-dozen one-sentence pitches and run them by someone. Like his wife who never fails to pick the one with the best hook.

Granted it’s something to think about. Granted also, he put in a lot of work painstakingly honing his craft bit by bit, day by day, month by month. As if tossing it around and telling anyone what he was up to would cause his muse to flit away and leave him empty and bereft.

            All told, I guess it comes down to the simple words uttered by Marlon Brando in Bud Schulberg’s On The Waterfront. “There’s more to this, Charlie. A lot more to this than meets the eye.”


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bickering Over Joe Pike

A Blast-from-the-Past
By Jackie King
Getting into an altercation with a mystery reader and avid fan was the last thing I ever expected to do. I write mysteries, for goodness sake. But such an unforeseeable thing happened at the 2011 Bouchercon in St. Louis, where I had a slight altercation with a reader/fan.

Robert Crais on Tour for SENTRY

The great Robert Crais was present and handing out, “I Like Pike,” buttons, and of course, I took one and pinned it to my jacket. After all, I’ve been in love with Joe Pike for years. Although the main hero of Crais’ best-selling series is Elvis Cole, who is both brave and handsome, my heart was stolen by his dark-hero sidekick, Joe Pike.
This is how such an anomaly came to pass while chatting with a reader and bonified fan.
“I’m in love with Bob Crais,” this ultra-respectable looking woman said. “I would drive hundreds of miles to see him or hear him speak.”
“I can understand that,” I rejoined. “He’s a good-looking guy and a dynamite writer, but it’s Joe Pike that I fancy. You’re welcome to his creator.” I flashed my Pike pin.
“I’ll bet I’ve been in love with Joe longer than you.” Her eyes took on a proprietary glint, and to my surprise, a surge of jealousy rose inside my chest. Just as swiftly, the absurdity of the situation dawned on me, as I guess it did with her, because we both grinned and backed away. (Just after I handed her one of my own bookmarks, of course.)

I blame this whole kerfuffle on Robert Crais. If he didn’t create such sublime characters, none of this would have happened. That writer has made addicts of thousands of women. Maybe I should tattle to his wife?
Carolyn Hart, Jackie King and Judy Rosser at Bouchercon 20l11

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


By Mark W. Danielson

The movie Dave is one of the most brilliant political comedies ever made.  In the movie, presidential look-alike Kevin Kline steps into the US President’s role in order to keep the chief executive’s ailment a secret.  While acting as president, Kline manages to solve nearly all of the United States’ problems in minutes at a Cabinet meeting.  Sadly, our political system prevents such progress.

I don’t care much for politics, but I am constantly amazed at how We the People manage to bury our heads in the sand, hoping that those we have elected will somehow muddle through the messes we have created in order to form a more perfect union.  We do this repeatedly with little accountability, choosing instead to blame the politicians we chose to represent us.

We, as a nation, face many issues, and most agree that our economy tops the list.  Of course, few would admit that we are to blame, but America’s thirst for cheap products has sent too many jobs overseas.  Walmart, which had originally billed itself as a company that brought cheap prices to small towns with American-made products, now carries nearly all foreign-made products.  But don’t blame Walmart.  Like our elected officials, it couldn’t survive without our support.

In the current bid for president, neither candidate is addressing the war, even though this war is the principle drain on our economy.  And in spite of our attempts to buy loyalty from other nations, like the Beatles said, money can’t buy you love.  So why not save lives and money by pulling out of the Middle East and let our returning troops re-build their own country while serving out their military commitments?  I feel certain that Dave would have said that.  

A recent Wall Street Journal article by George Schultz who is a former Secretary of State, Secretary of Labor, and longtime thinker on national issues, along with four other men from Stanford’s Hoover Institution listed significant events in the past four years resulting from Federal Reserve Board decisions.  According to this article, in each of the past four years the Federal government has gone over budget by more than a trillion dollars:  1.4 in 2009, 1.3 in 2010, 1.3 in 2011, and 1.2 trillion and growing in 2012.  As a result, our federal debt to GDP ratio has risen from 40% to 80%.  And since Americans and foreign governments aren't buying many federal bonds these days, the Fed has been using Federal Reserve money to purchase huge amounts of US Bonds.  The end result is We the People now own one dollar in six of our national debt because the Fed prints the money and then uses it to buy new bonds that we owe to ourselves.  In the last federal fiscal year, approximately 75% of our deficit was financed by the Federal Reserve, raising our debt ratio even higher than that of Greece.  If Dave was president, we wouldn’t be facing these issues.   

We are all accountable for the decisions our lawmakers and money managers make.  If we don’t like what’s going on, then we have an obligation to speak up to promote change.  As the saying goes, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.  Dave would agree with that one, too.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Vitamin pills, toilet rolls and philosophy

by Bill Kirton
I don’t know if it’s a writer-type thing but in many ways I inhabit a strange world. Let me give you a couple of examples. Most mornings I take a multi-vitamin pill. I know, I know, the scientists have proved that they make no difference but I’ve been doing it for years and, since it doesn’t seem to have harmed me, why stop? 

Anyway, the pills are in the normal sort of container, which I tip and shake in order to ‘dispense’ one into my hand. But sometimes, two or three come out, occasionally with such force that they bounce off my palm to roll across the work surface. And so my mind starts speculating about them. Is it an escape bid? If so, what do they intend to escape for and to? I mean, how many career choices does a vitamin pill have? Alternatively, it might be a suicide mission, clamouring for my attention, each wanting to be the one I choose to send down into the acids that await them. So deciding which ones to put back becomes a question of ethics.

And the speculation continues. What’s life like for them inside their container? They just lie there, cuddled up against one another in the dark, for around 24 hours,  at which point they start realising that one of them will soon be taking its last journey. Is the boredom of such an existence so great that they try to shuffle to the top of the heap to give themselves a chance of being that lucky one? Or is being part of that tight, localised community reassuring to such an extent that they burrow down to make sure they stay a little longer with all their pill pals? Do they, in the other 23+ hours, discuss their condition, share their angst?

And when it comes down to there being just two left, then one … well, the scenario is appalling. Those last two obviously didn’t want to go, they’ve avoided the drop into my palm but it’s now become inevitable. And I feel sorry for them.

For the second example, I won’t go into the same amount of detail for reasons which will be obvious. It involves toilet rolls. No, I don’t mean is it better to be one of the sheets at the outside end of the roll in order to get it over with quickly. After all, the manufacturers have dictated the fate of the individual sheets and, if you’re on the outside, that’s it. It’s rather like our Great British aristocratic hierarchy. – some of us are just cheap, thin tissues on the roll of life, others double-padded, dimpled, luxury creations. We’re all headed for the same … er … end, but have wildly different experiences before we get there.

So my concern isn’t with individual sheets, but with the rolls themselves. You see, my toilet roll holder is a sort of stainless steel pole which sits on its base on the floor and holds three rolls, one on top of the other. I have the power to grant long, long life to the roll at the bottom while those stacked above it, especially the top one, exist for mere weeks. The ethical dilemma this time is whether, in fairness to each roll, when the top one is finished with, I should just put a new one back on top of the other two or move them up and put the new roll on the bottom. (Notice my admirable restraint here as I avoid exploiting the juxtaposition of the words ‘toilet paper’ and ‘bottom’ to make ribald jokes.)

And that, friends,  is the nature of the strange world I mentioned. I find myself giving inanimate objects feelings, desires, ambitions. I feel sorry for them, admire their fortitude, courage and stoicism, I empathise with things such as staples and glue.

Which is, of course, stupid. But it’s stupid in a specific way because I’m imposing my values on them. Just because I lead a meaningless existence, it doesn’t mean that they do. Vitamin pills, toilet rolls and all the other things are brought into the world with a single, specific, dedicated purpose. And they fulfil their destiny. The pill delivers its goodies into my system and vanishes, just as it was ordained it should. In other words, all these things are much better off than I am. They have the security of a function.

In fact, now I come to think of it, they should be feeling sorry for me.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Visit to the Morgue

Last week I had a chance to take a tour of our local morgue. The things that mystery writers consider interesting! The pathology technician showed me the whole layout and answered my myriad questions. Ours is a small morgue with only one table. Plans are underway to build a new coroner’s office and expanded the morgue within the next several years.

I duly donned a pair of blue Nitrile gloves. I was not witnessing an autopsy, only viewing the empty room. The cold storage area contained one decedent in a body bag.

Here are a few tidbits I picked up:
  • The autopsy team extensively photographs the process before and along the way.
  • The coroner notifies the next of kin of initial findings.
  • Toxicology reports take three to ten weeks.
  • The decedent can’t be released until identification is confirmed.
  • The body bag is kept locked with an identification code before the autopsy and returned to a body bag afterwards with a new lock.
  • They take fingerprints after the autopsy.
The technician talked me through the steps of an autopsy, and I took copious notes. I also asked about a case that had been in the newspaper recently. An elderly woman died from blunt trauma to the head, and the coroner ruled the death undetermined, since it was inconclusive if the death was the result of an accident or something more sinister. Police investigation continues. I was particularly interested in this case, since I have a similar death in one of my manuscripts. All in all an informative expedition. 

Mike Befeler

Saturday, September 22, 2012


WRITING IN VARIOUS GENRES By June Shaw Do you like for an author to stick to the same genre? Do you want that person’s books to all sound similar? Would you want that person’s voice to be unique? What about if you’re an author? Do you always stick to the same genres: mystery, romance, romantic suspense, historical romance, thriller—and maybe a children’s book thrown in for good measure? If you do change genres in which you write, how has that worked for you? I’d like to be an author who writes in the same genre and keeps a series going for many years like so many mystery authors do. But that’s not what’s happening. I’ve sold three books in a series of humorous mysteries and might like to pen others in that series, but have ideas for another cozy series and began writing for that one. And my mom died, and everyone insisted I tell her inspirational story, so I did. It’s called NORA 102 ½: A Lesson on Aging Well. Before I finished that one, my youngest granddaughter said she wanted to write a book with me, so together we created HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR PET GHOST. Her adolescent sisters who’re avid readers, saw their little sister’s checks rolling in for her ipad; they asked to write a book with me, too. They really enjoyed HUNGER GAMES; so did I. We’re creating a story in that genre. Okay, so even if I say I want to write in only one area, I may be wrong. I’m enjoying every genre I enter. Creating a story and individuals who live through it appeals to me, it seems, no matter the genre. How about you?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Return of the Sock Puppets

by Jaden Terrell

There's been quite the uproar of late about authors using "sock puppet" accounts to review their own books and, in some cases, to trash the books of their competitors. Other bestselling authors paid for positive reviews to raise their visibility on online bookstores, particularly Amazon. Both practices seem to me like clear violations of a reader's trust, though some might say it's a tough world out there, and that whatever an author can do to call attention to his or her work is A-okay. "It's just the way things are," they say, and "Everybody does it," and "All's fair in love an publishing."

Some have suggested that the recent scandals call the entire review process into question. I don't know. While it certainly makes me think a little homework might be necessary before I take a review at face value, I like to think the number (or at least the percentage) of people who post dishonest reviews is fairly small, and I would hope the number who would post negative reviews of competing titles is smaller still.

The discussion spread all over the internet, bringing out a number of responses criticizing authors for other behaviors like trading blurbs or reviews, and reviewing books by friends or books published by their own agents or publishers. For me, those lines are a lot grayer. After all, while I consider Tim Hallinan a friend, I was a fan of his books months before I met him. Does our current friendship negate the fact that I adore his books--and would adore them even if I'd never laid eyes on or exchanged an email with the man? How about Chester's books? I have always enjoyed them, so much so that I always buy three copies, one for myself, one for my mom, and one for my mother-in-law. Should I refuse to review a book I enjoy just because I happen to know the author?

What about author collectives, in which members of the collective like each others' books and collaborate to promote each others' work?

What are your thoughts on sock puppets? Buying reviews? How about reviewing books by people you know?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How to kill people

by Carola Dunn

One of the difficulties in writing a long series is trying to find new ways to kill people. I'm not really keen on incredibly complicated devices such as some Golden Age authors used--carefully aimed rifles that were fired by invisible twine when the victim opened the garden gate, or when a candle burning down set the twine on fire, for instance.

Yet I don't want to repeat myself too much. By the time you get to the twenty-first book in a series, it's a real problem.

Let me see--I've had drowning, shooting, ye olde blunt instrument to the head, poison, prehistoric stone knife, dagger in the back, ceremonial halberd, thumbs to the carotid arteries, smothering with a pillow, blowing up with coal-gas, breathing coal-gas, breathing nitrous oxide, crushed by a stone angel, strangling with a stocking, chucking overboard, fall from a cliff...

[No, Daisy did NOT push him over!]

You see the trouble? I just may have to add "run over by a tram" to the list. Come to think of it, that's not a bad idea!

Just looked up the relevant city and this is what I found: 

"City chaos

Despite Council promises, from June 1903 until the opening day, havoc had reigned.
Tram in Worcester copyright Leslie OppitxTram in Broad Street copyright L Oppitz
All the main streets in the city centre were dug up for the removal of the old lines used by the former horse-drawn tramcars and for the installation of wider lines and overhead power cables for the new electric trams.
The city was cast into total chaos and the whole operation led to what became known locally and nationally as "The Tramway Siege of Worcester 1903-4".
Citizens had to get around the central area entirely on foot to shop or to do their business, some pushing prams or other makeshift two-wheeled trolleys to carry their goods.
The Council remained optimistic claiming: "What is in view is cheapness - a welcome penny fare to each boundary of the city, a more frequent service, and trams to and fro on every route every ten minutes’.
1904 tram copyright L Oppitz1904 tram - copyright Leslie Oppitz
All cars were fitted with slipper brakes because of gradients in Rainbow Hill and London Road."

The trams ran until 1928--the year after my book takes place, when they were replaced by buses.

Yes indeed, I think someone's going to get run over by a tram...

Friends of Daisy: can you remember any methods of murder I've forgotten?


Monday, September 17, 2012


by Ben Small

How high is your TBR stack? And what forms do you use? I have thousands of books, inherited from my college literature professor grandmother, then more from my father, a law school dean and author. Many of these books have notes of those who have read them.

I can't throw this stuff away.

But have I read them? Nah. Will I? Probably not. And that's sad, too, because there's probably a lot of good stuff in there I'm missing.

So that stuff goes into the TBR pile.

Then you gotta consider my stuff. I'm an avid reader and I seem to collect books. I can't pass by a bookstore without buying something, and I attend author conferences, where people give me books, sometimes bags full of them. Then there's the mail. People mail me their books.

 I live in fear one of my TBR stacks will topple someday, perhaps crushing me and launching a haboob of a level unseen since the Mummy. Yes, one of mine. There are others. I live dangerously, keeping my windows closed lest a breeze shift one of my leaning book towers. And my Kindle's so full, Jeff Bezos sends me holiday cards.

Okay, that's just the book side. I collect magazines, too. I have to keep rounding up the little critters on the floor lest somebody moving through doesn't do a half-gainer into the fireplace. The pile in our bathroom keeps growing.

But that's just books and magazines. I'm on the internet, too. I've got thousands of links in my CEOExpress link page, hundreds more in my Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and Firefox bookmarks.

When will I ever get through all this stuff?

But frustration that I can't make a dent in my TBR pile doesn't stop me from adding more to it. You can't stop a charging train. I'll collect more, make more excuses as people wait for comments, and find new places to stash additions. It's been this way for all of my years, and I won't change.

Guess I'd better rent a larger storage unit.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Emperor Dom Pedro II -- "The Greatest Brazilian"

by Leighton Gage

During the (almost) 59 years of his reign he’d rise daily at 7, seldom retire before 2, and spend the vast majority of his 19 waking hours attending to affairs of state. No Brazilian politician has ever worked longer, or harder, at governing the nation. He inherited an empire on the verge of collapse and left it a place of political stability. Brazil, in his time, was distinguished for freedom of speech, respect for civil rights and vibrant economic growth. He was Pedro II, the last emperor of Brazil, and the very epitome of a philosopher-king.

Here’s his earliest surviving picture. It was taken in 1848, when he was just 22 years old.
In addition to Portuguese, Pedro could read and speak Latin, French, German, English, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Mandarin, Occitan and Tupi-Guarani.

His library contained more than 60,000 volumes - and he was reputed to have read every one of them. His palace contained a photo lab, another lab dedicated to chemistry and physics, and an astronomical observatory.

In addition to the sciences, he loved literature, poetry, art and music.
He won the respect and admiration of scholars such as Charles Darwin, Victor Hugo and Friedrich Nietzsche. He was a friend to Richard Wagner, Louis Pasteur and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He was elected a member of the Royal Society, The Russian Academy of Sciences, The American Geographic Society and the French Academy of Sciences, an honor previously granted to only two other heads of state: Peter the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte.

He financed the creation of the Institute Pasteur.

and helped underwrite the construction of Wagner's Bayreuth Festspielhaus.

It was said of him that he kept his emotions under iron discipline, that he was never rude and never lost his temper. He was exceptionally discreet in words and cautious in action. He was diligent in appointing only highly-qualified candidates to positions in the government, insisted that every politician put in a workday of at least eight hours, and sought to curb corruption.

Here you see him with the weight of his years and his troubles upon him. This photo was shot shortly before he was deposed and sent into exile.
What brought him down?

He hated the practice, called it a “national shame”, never owned slaves of his own, but he couldn’t abolish slavery by imperial decree because his was a constitutional monarchy.
Nevertheless, he spent years struggling against it.
But, when he finally succeeded, the rich and powerful coffee farmers had a fit.
They regarded emancipation as confiscation of their personal property and launched a coup, a unique instance of a successful monarch overthrown despite the love of his people and at the pinnacle of his popularity.

When he heard the news of his deposition (15 November, 1889) Pedro simply commented: "If it is so, it will be my retirement. I have worked too hard and I am tired. I will go rest then."

This is the last photo of the imperial family in Brazil

His last years were spent in Paris, where he lived in modest circumstances and in cheap hotels.
One very cold day he took a long drive in an open carriage along the Seine. He felt ill, contracted pneumonia and died at  00:35 a.m. on  December 5, 1891.His last words were, "May God grant me these last wishes—peace and prosperity for Brazil.."

While his body was being prepared for burial, a sealed package was found in the room. Next to it there was a message in Pedro’s own hand: "It is soil from my country, I wish it to be placed in my coffin in case I die away from my fatherland."

The package contained earth from every Brazilian province.

In accordance with his wishes, it was placed inside the coffin.

This is the last picture of Pedro II, taken on the day after his death, December 6, 1891. You see him clad in the dress uniform of a Marshall of the Brazilian Army. The book beneath his head symbolized that his mind rested upon knowledge, even in death.

The establishment of the republic began a long downhill slide for Brazil. The country slipped into a period of anarchy, dictatorship and economic crises from which it has only recently recovered.

Winston Churchill quipped that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.

In The Republic, Plato has Socrates steering us toward a benevolent monarchy as the best form of government.

Study the life of Pedro II.
And, in this one case at least, you’ll agree with Socrates, not Churchill.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bestselling Author Alina Adams and the Soaps

by Jean Henry Mead

Alina Adams is the New York Times bestselling author of Oakdale Confidential, The Man From Oakdale and Jonathan's Story (with Julian London). She has written figure skating mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime, and romances for Avon and Dell. She's currently in the process of converting her entire backlist to enhanced ebooks with audio, video, and more, as well as creating original works such as "Soap Opera 451: A Time Capsule of Daytime Drama's Greatest Moments."

You have an interesting background, Alina. Born in Russia and learning English at age seven by watching soap operas on TV in San Francisco must have influenced your later writing.

I have a very hard time stopping a story. As a reader and as a writer. As a reader, if I fall in love with a particular set of characters, I want the story to continue forever. I feel the same way as a writer. I want to know what happens next. And what happens after that. And after that. And after that. That's why my next project, "Counterpoint," is going to be a continuing series of novels. But, inspired by a project I launched for Procter and Gamble in 2009,, I am actually going to ask readers to chime in on where they want the story to go next, and then I'm going to write it according to their specifications!

Tell us about your writing background?

I've published a dozen novels - regency romance, contemporary romance, non-fiction, and women's fiction with various publishers, ranging from Avon to Simon and Schuster. Now, I have gotten the rights back to a majority of my books and am in the process of releasing them as enhanced e-books. For instance, for my Figure Skating Mystery series, I made a deal with Ice Theatre of New York ( to include their performances in my books to represent the various fictional characters. I also produced a book for a fellow author. Dan Elish is a Broadway writer ("13") and he'd published a children's book in 1988, "The Worldwide Dessert Contest," as well as written a musical score to go with it. I combined the two to create "The Worldwide Dessert Contest: Enhanced Multimedia Edition." I am also developing other titles with writers of romance, Young Adult, and non-fiction to re-release them all as enhanced ebooks. Authors who think they have titles that might benefit from enhancement can contact me at:

What was it like working for Proctor and Gamble Productions as website producer for the soaps, “Guiding Light” and “As the World Turns”?

I was there for 10 years, and I had a wonderful time. Writing the websites meant writing in the voices of characters from the show, characters I hadn't created but still needed to bring to life through words (without the help of actors!). It's a great skill for any writer to have.

Tell us about your latest groundbreaking project, Soap Opera 451: A Time Capsule of Daytime Drama's Greatest Moments.

Soap fans love to talk about their favorite moments. And there have been books written on the history of various soaps and stories. But, up until now, you could only read about how great they were, you couldn't actually view the scenes themselves. That's all changed now. Soap Opera 451: A Time Capsule of Daytime Drama's Greatest Moments is a one of a kind book in that, after asking fans and soap experts what were some of the greatest moments of all time, I interviewed the actors, writers, producers and directors involved with those moments - and then I added links to where you could actually view them. It's a completely interactive experience that's never been done before.

How did you become a bestselling author?

Doug Wilson, who directed ABC's figure skating coverage for many, many years tells a story of how, during the 1988 Olympics, he was planning to open Brian Boitano's Long Program with a shot from across the ice. But, the camera he'd designated for it broke down, and he had to improvise what became Boitano's dramatic, opening head-shot, which is still used on retrospective shows today.

According to Doug, "This just goes to show, that if you work hard and prepare and plan everything out... there's not telling how lucky you can get." Like Doug, when it came to being a bestselling author, I got lucky. In December of 2011, I wrote a biography of skater Sarah Hughes, hoping she would at least make a respective showing at the Salt Lake City Olympics. Two months later, she won the whole thing.

In 2006, I pitched the idea of doing a book based on "As the World Turns" to coincide with their 50th Anniversary. The show wrote the book into the on-air story. And "Oakdale Confidential" debuted at #3 on "The New York Times" best-seller list.

Advice for novice writers.

Writing is a job. Treat it like a job. Don't wait for inspiration to strike. Just get up in the morning, do what you have to do (in my case, it's get three kids off to two different schools, pack lunches, and periodically remind my sleepy husband what time it is, so he can make it to work on time), and then sit down and write. (This advice also works if you're an evening person. In that case, just substitute doing the dishes and putting kids to bed for waking them up and packing lunches.) Write one word. Then write the next word. And the next sentence. Keep writing. I think it was Danielle Steele who said, "It's much easier to rewrite a bad page, than a blank page."

Oh, and here is something really depressing. You know those days when the writing flows and it's brilliant and easy? You know those days when every word feels like pulling teeth and sweating blood? Go back and read the whole book a year after it's published. Both passages will read exactly the same.

Finally, don't for a minute think that your job as a writer is done once the book is on the shelves and up at Amazon. Promoting your own work is the most important part of being a writer. As the frustrated artist laments in Stephen Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park with George," "If no one gets to see it, it's as good as dead."

We may not like it, we may wish matters worked differently, but keeping your work alive is your job. Same as writing it.

Alina can be reached via her website:

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Where Do Writers Get Their Ideas?

By Jackie King

The most common question asked by readers is, “Where do you get your ideas?”

There are as many answers to this question as there are writers. One of the most honest answers was given by T.D. Hart on her blog T.D.Hart Mysteries and Thrillers “I don’t know.”

T.D. Hart is a soon-to-be published writer of mystery and thrillers, and her enthusiasm and honesty charms this sometimes jaded writer. I highly recommend a trip to her blogsite. Her real name is Jennifer Adolph, but she uses a pseudonym for fear readers might be turned off by the name she married into. "Most people misspell our name by using an ‘f’ as the ending letter," she said .

[It’s a very good that this charming man’s last name didn’t put Jennifer off dating him, falling in love with him, or marrying him. Both are veterinarians and as a married couple have produced three of the most delightful children I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.]

But back to my question “Where do you get…”

The truth, in my opinion, is that everyone has a bottomless pit of such ideas. Most people who aren’t writers don’t understand what to do with these passing thoughts. I came to that conclusion when I heard the famous author Jodi Thomas, speak at a writer’s conference. When discussing this reader-question, she confided to the group, “I always want to ask these folks, ‘Where did your ideas go’?” But being very polite, she didn’t, of course.

The truth is that only writers need such ideas.

My ideas for the three historical mystery novellas I wrote for the “Foxy Hens” series,” came from memories of my grandparents, who as very young pioneers, homesteaded in the Oklahoma Panhandle.
Two Foxy Hens and One Big Rooster

Foxy Statehood Hens and Murder Most Fowl

The Foxy Hens Go Bump in the Night
Grandma Hodges, whose given name was Lillie Bell, told me stories of how she and Grandpa lived in a dugout and gathered cow-chips for fuel. (Cow-chips are dried cow dung.) And no, they didn’t smell bad when burned. Perhaps the reason for no bad smell is that cows eat grass. And I know the information is true because Grandma said so.

To the writers who might be reading this post, my advice is to pay attention to whatever is going on around you. Listen to what folks have to say, especially those raised in a different generation. Oh! How I wish I’d paid more attention and asked more questions when I could. I think of so many now, when it’s too late.

Everything that happens to a person becomes grist for her or his writing mill.