Thursday, December 31, 2009

An interview with Nancy Atherton

1. Tell us what your typical writing schedule is like.


My typical writing schedule is extremely unhealthy and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, but it works for me. I write at night and sleep during the day, which makes it difficult to interact with the daylight world, because I almost always feel jet-lagged. If you see me awake during the day when I'm in the midst of a writing frenzy, I'll probably look (and act) like a zombie. Now you know why.


Even so, I prefer writing at night because there are no distractions---the doorbell is silent, the phone doesn't ring, and it's dark outside, so there's no point in looking out the window. The absence of distractions allows me to sink into a story and stay there for hours at a time. I like getting lost in a book!



2. Tell us how long it takes you to write a mystery.

It takes me anywhere from seven months to a year to write an Aunt Dimity novel.



3. How many books have you written?

AUNT DIMITY DOWN UNDER, to be published in February 2010, will be my fifteenth book. I'm currently working on number sixteen.



4. Talk about the paranormal market from when you wrote your first paranormal book to date as they seem to be very popular.

I know nothing about paranormal markets past, present, or future, but I'm happy to hear that they're popular!



5. What's in store for your Aunt Dimity series in 2010?

Aunt Dimity and friends travel to New Zealand to solve a haunting, heartrending, hundred-year-old mystery in AUNT DIMITY DOWN UNDER, which will be published in February 2010. Kia ora! (For a translation, read the book!)




6. Tell us about the magic of being a mystery author.

Where to begin? There's the practical magic of being able to work in my pajamas at home, without having to punch a corporate time clock. Then there's the poignant and powerful magic of hearing from readers who've found solace in my stories during times of illness, depression, or despair. Finally, there's the personal magic of stepping onto a flying carpet every time I sit down to write. I never know where my characters will take me, but I know it will be a journey to remember!



7. What do you like to do when you take a day off writing?

When I take a day off . . . I head for the mountains, where I hike in the summer and snowshoe in the winter. Sometimes I take in a play or a film. Not infrequently, I sleep. And sleep. And sleep.



8. Will you be attending any mystery conventions this year?

I have a fantastic time at mystery conventions, but I stopped attending them when my publisher stopped paying my way. When you add up the cost of travel, local transport, hotels, and meals, conventions turn out to be expensive propositions. I simply can't afford to attend them as well travel to England, and if it comes to a choice between the England and a mystery convention, I'll take England every time. Sorry!



9. Since you write a series, how do you keep the characters flowing from book to book?

Once my characters came to life, it was quite natural to follow their progress from one book to the next. It's their story, after all. I'm merely writing it down.



10. Do you have a favorite Aunt Dimity mystery?

My first book, AUNT DIMITY'S DEATH, will always be my favorite, because it introduced me to writing and to a world filled with characters I love beyond reason.



11. Do you have a favorite Aunt Dimity book cover?

May I choose two? I'm enchanted by the twinkly, wintry color palette used in the cover art for AUNT DIMITY: SNOWBOUND, and I'm endlessly fascinated by the cover of AUNT DIMITY AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA, which tells the entire story without giving one single thing away---ingenious!



12. Tell us a little about your personal life and what you are looking forward to in 2010.

I live in a small house with a grand view of Pikes Peak, which never fails to lift my spirits. I live for the happiness of my two cats, Chloe and Emma. I love figure skating, tennis, good meals, museums (of any kind), archaeology, the theater, gardening, traveling, reading, spending time in the Great Outdoors, and having good conversations with interesting people. I really, really don't like visiting the dentist (although he is a very nice man). I'm too busy enjoying 2009 to think about 2010!



13. Is there something you'd like to say to your readers?

Thank you, thank you, thank you. And thank you. You mean more to me that you will ever know.



14. What advice to you have for the novice mystery writer who wants to become an author?

First, don't listen to anyone (including me). Writers are like snowflakes. No two are alike. What works for me may be the worst possible scenario for you, so don't let anyone browbeat you into believing that there is only one correct way to write a book. It's a lie!


Second, don't think you have to know everything about a book before you write it. You don't. Your characters want their stories to be told, so give up the illusion of control and let them lead you. They may not take you where you thought you wanted to go, but they'll never steer you wrong. If you have faith and go with the flow, you'll end up with something much better than you ever imagined. (But as I said above, pay no attention to me. You're the only person who knows how to write your book.)


Third, finish your book. Take joy in finishing your book. Don't worry about marketing or publishing or movie deals or walking the red carpet until you've finished your book. Did I mention finishing your book?



15. Last but never least, leave us with some Aunt Dimity words of wisdom.

I'll leave you with something from AUNT DIMITY AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA. It's a bit of dialogue between Lori Shepherd and Aunt Dimity. Aunt Dimity begins:

/It's pointless to fight evil by destroying life./

"How do we fight it, then?" I demanded.

/We kiss our children. We make sticky lemon cake for our husband. We cherish our friends. We leave the great hedge standing tall, to serve as a haven for birds and mice and spiders. We defeat evil every time we commit an act of kindness. When necessary, we hit it with a rock./

"I get it." I nodded slowly. "Fill each day with acts of grace, but keep a rock handy, just in case."

/I couldn't have put it better myself./

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Guest Blogger - Dorothy Howell

MAYHEM AND MAGIC BLOG/Dorothy Howell

December, 2009

Becoming an author seemed nothing but “magical” years ago when I was struggling to get published. I was passionate about writing, dedicated to learning the craft, compulsive and obsessive about carving out time to put words on paper.

Of course, it wasn’t easy. Nothing worthwhile in life is easy, I’ve found, and breaking into the world of publishing was no exception. I had a teenager and a baby, a husband in the Air Force who was often gone for weeks or months, and a full time job. When I finally figured it all out and got my chance, it truly felt magical.

I’ve sold 23 historical romances, most under the pen name Judith Stacy. Now I’m writing the fashion sleuth Haley Randolph mystery series under my own name. Check them out at www.JudithStacy.com and www.DorothyHowellNovels.com.

I soon learned, however, that writing isn’t about the author. It’s about the reader.
And seeing my words in print was nothing compared to the magic of hearing from readers.

Feedback from readers is rewarding, eye-opening, and humbling. It’s rewarding because they’ve taken time out of their busy lives to e-mail. Eye-opening because you never know what they’re going to say (so far it’s all been good, whew!). Humbling because they sometimes share very personal stories of how my books have touched their lives.

I’ve been blessed to hear from mothers, daughters and grandmothers who connected through my books. Readers have shared with me how the humor in my stories made them laugh after the loss of a loved one. Others have told me how they bought my books to help a friend or family member get through cancer treatment. A woman in England told me how her mother had died during the Christmas season and she hadn’t celebrated for years until she read a Christmas novella I’d written.

To touch someone’s life and make it better is, for me, the real magic of being an author.

Looking ahead, 2010 is shaping up to be lots of fun. SHOULDER BAGS AND SHOOTINGS, the third book in the Haley Randolph series, will be released in July and is already available for pre-order on Amazon. PURSES AND POISON, now on bookstore shelves in hardcover, will be released in paperback in June. I’ve accepted another 3-book deal from Kensington Publishing to continue the series so I’ll be doing a lot of writing.

After attending about a dozen romance writers conferences, I’m going to my first mystery conference, the Left Coast Crime conference in Los Angeles in March. I’ll be touring, conducting workshops, and making appearances when the new book is released. And, hopefully, hearing from readers!

Best wishes to everyone for the warmest and brightest holiday season,
Dorothy

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Reviews

Today I would like to announce that I will be accepting more books to review in the genres and sub-genres of mysteries, suspense, legal thrillers, historical mysteries, cozies, time travel and romance.
At this time I cannot accept ebooks and please contact me at pamelasuejames@gmail.com
If you would like me to review your book/s.

Thank you,
Pamela

Guest Blogger - Alice Duncan


Magic and Mayhem, eh? Well, I suppose there’s something magical about characters popping into one’s head and demanding to be written about. And heaven knows, there’s mayhem aplenty in this world.

My most magical creation so far is the heroine of my “Spirits” books. God alone knows how Daisy Gumm Majesty entered the sphere of my cluttered brain, but suddenly there she was: a phony spiritualist in Pasadena, California, in the early 1920s, trying her very best to support her war-ruined husband, Billy. Poor Billy Majesty had been shot in France and then gassed when he crawled out of his foxhole. To put it mildly, he’s a mess. Daisy is an extremely young woman and carries a ton of burdens, but she’s very matter-of-fact about it all. She does what she has to do and appreciates the good things in her life even as she agonizes over Billy.

Daisy’s books started out being historical cozy mysteries. To my dismay my publisher at the time, Kensington, decided there wasn’t enough mystery in them. Also unfortunately, Daisy was already married, so the books couldn’t be considered romances. Therefore, the wonderful, late Kate Duffy asked me to remove the dead bodies, add a subsidiary romance, and they’d market the books as romances. Big mistake. The poor books fell through two cracks (romance and mystery) rather than the one my books generally fall through. Kate called and apologized, which I appreciated greatly, but Kensington published no more Daisy books. I was crushed. This illustrates merely one example of the mayhem rampant in the publishing industry.

Shortly thereafter, a friend of a friend of mine began a publishing company of her own, New Age Dimensions, which published e-books and trade paperbacks. My friend (Mimi Riser, a wonderful author) asked if I’d be willing to pen a book for NAD. I decided what the heck and wrote a historical cozy mystery set in 1923 in Roswell, New Mexico, where I live, and whose heroine is a spunky gal named Annabelle Blue. That book, PECOS VALLEY DIAMOND, came out in 2005. I was pleased to have another twenties’ story alive and being read, even if it didn’t feature Daisy Majesty. So I wrote a second book for NAD, PECOS VALLEY REVIVAL, which they were all set to publish. Then disaster struck. 2005 was the Great Hurricane Season of the century (so far) and NAD, based in Florida, was wiped out by Hurricane Wilma (Wilma, by the way, was my mother’s name. Somehow, I don’t think this is a coincidence). So there would be no more Annabelle Blue and her friend Phil Gunderson stumbling around solving mysteries in Roswell. Mayhem strikes again.

About then Mercy Louise Allcutt, a Boston Brahmin transplanted to Los Angeles in 1926, showed up. Mercy moves west to live with her sister and brother-in-law, who’s a bigwig in the silent pictures. Mercy actually wants to get a job and earn her own living, a wish that scandalizes her family back east. She ends up working for a jaded P.I., Ernie Templeton, and she’s pleased as punch. Truth to tell, Mercy was a consolation prize when I believed Daisy Majesty had bitten the dust. Lo and behold, Five Star bought the first of Mercy’s books, LOST AMONG THE ANGELS, and I had yet another cozy historical mystery series started, even though it starred someone other than Daisy Majesty or Annabelle Blue. I love writing stories set in the twenties, by the way, because so much was happening then. However, this is another example of magic at work in publishing. Mercy might not be Daisy or Annabelle, but at least she has her own series going for her. ANGEL’S FLIGHT, her second book, actually got a favorable Kirkus review. I stoutly declare that this review had nothing to do with Kirkus’s demise. Really. Honest. Mercy’s stories being bought is magic. Kirkus dying is mayhem. I feel sad that Kirkus won’t be around to review Mercy’s next book, FALLEN ANGELS, which will be published in May of 2011.

Gee, I never realized how often magic and mayhem go hand in hand in the publishing biz until Pamela asked me to write this blog!

At any rate, since I was being published by Five Star, I decided what the heck, and asked if I could continue Daisy Majesty’s travails with them. Lo and behold, I was given the go-ahead by Kensington, Five Star bought HIGH SPIRITS, and I’m getting to finish Daisy’s story! So far Daisy’s lived through four books, and I just turned another one in to my publisher. In order, they are STRONG SPIRITS, FINE SPIRITS, HIGH SPIRITS and HUNGRY SPIRITS, which will be published in June of 2010, and has probably the best cover I’ve ever been blessed with (I have to admit that, if publishing has kicked me around a good deal, the cover gods have generally been kind to me). If Five Star buys GENTEEL SPIRITS (the aforementioned just-turned-in book), Daisy will live to see another book. Magic!

Then it was that I recalled PECOS VALLEY REVIVAL, all written and disked and waiting for somebody to do something with, and I thought again of Five Star. By gum, they bought the book! Annabelle Blue’s second book will be published by Five Star in January of 2011. This is another historical cozy mystery, and I, who had thought my stories set in the twenties were totally defunct, now have three (count ‘em) series set in the twenties roaring along. Magic.

I’m sure more mayhem will dog (so to speak) my publishing footsteps, and probably soon, but for the time being, I’m happy.

Speaking of dogs, I belong to a group of dachshund rescuers called New Mexico Dachshund Rescue. I play the role of foster mom to dachshunds needing homes until they can be adopted. On Friday, December 11, I drove to Artesia, New Mexico, approximately 45 miles from Roswell, and picked up FIVE (egad) dogs needing homes. Mind you, my home already possessed six canine inmates.

If you want to know what real mayhem is, try being foster mom to eleven dachshunds and semi-dachshunds for any length of time. I expect to survive, but it’s I must admit to being slightly overwhelmed for the time being.

Please visit my website: http://aliceduncan.net/

Review - The Baker Street Letters

TITLE: The BAKER STREET LETTERS

AUTHOR: MICHAEL ROBERTSON

PUBLISHER: MINOTAUR BOOKS

IMPRINT OF ST.MARTIN'S PRESS

Hardback

ISBN:13-978-0-312-53812-5

Page count:277


An eight year old little girl wants her missing daddy found. She writes a letter to Sherlock Holmes at 221 Bake Street. Now occupied by law offices Nigel Heath is a occupying one of the law offices and part of his duties is answer all the Sherlock Holmes Letters that arrive at the office. he reads the letter a little girl wrote twenty years before and she strikes a cord in his heart. Nigel flies to California where the now woman lives for he feels he must solve the mystery of why her father disappeared. There are factors to be condsidered one is that Nigel is expected to go in front of the Law Review Board the very day he hops a plane. Leaving his lawyer brother to make up any excuse Nigel doesn't look back. It turns out that he should have at least looked around his office.

By the time Reggie Heath goes looking for his brother he finds the a dead man on the floor in his brother's office. A dead man his brother was arguing with and who is the office manager, not to mention the law review board.

Reggie has his own problems with his actress and sometimes lover Laura, both brother are besotted with Laura, and she can see the good in both brothers.

Reggie feels he has no choice but to hop a plane to California and locate his brother before more trouble happens, but he's too late because soon his brother is on the run for a murder in California and because Reggie is ensared in a game of cat and mouse with the real killer.

The twists and turns of The BAKER STREET LETTERS will have you in his grips, page after page well find drama and danger and we find that the heart wants what the heart wants, and what was once a worried little girl is a woman who trust no one and a woman whom no one should trust.

I could almost hear the clock ticking as I delved into this page turner of a mystery. By far the best book I've read in a long long time.

***********

Pamela James

Monday, December 28, 2009

Guest Blogger - Nina Wright


She’s No Fairy Godmother

When Pamela asked me to blog this month about the “magic of being an author,” I initially assumed she meant the enchantment of being published, of seeing your name in print, of developing a series of books in which characters grow, change, and even give birth. I add that last winking possibility because my own heroine Whiskey Mattimoe discovers she’s pregnant in her latest mystery, Whiskey with a Twist. A development I didn’t see coming, which brings me to the real magic of being an author.


Yes, it’s thrilling to see your stories bound into books and translated into languages you can’t speak. But I wouldn’t call that magic. What mesmerizes me is the creative process, whether I’m working as a novelist or a playwright, whether I’m hoping my words will come to life on a published page or a lighted stage. Trusting a higher power—Divine or otherwise—to work through me ignites an engine of creativity that I can neither explain nor take credit for. However, I do know how to conjure it.


For the magic to happen, I have to be engaged in my craft, committed whole-heartedly to a project. That might be a symptom of my stern Midwest-Swedish upbringing, a life of dark Lutheranism leavened much later by Saint Garrison Keillor. This writer was raised to work hard and take life seriously. Although I now find that life makes sense only if we can laugh about it, I still work hard.


My muse is no fairy godmother waving a wand above my idle brain as I await a story’s arrival. She’s more like a magician for hire, willing and able to produce amazing feats if I pay my own way. Do I want to “channel” voices and scenes? Then I must pony up some dedicated desk-time, actively immersing myself in the world of my fiction. For me, thinking or talking about writing isn’t writing. Neither is Googling, as productive as it may seem. For me, the way to invite the magic in is to roll up my sleeves and write, write, write.


But what about those times when I can’t write because the insights aren’t coming? My story is stuck. My characters are flat. Nothing short of magic will do. Here’s how I get some:


· by writing without trying to write (drafting a scene just for fun, skipping to the end or the next “easy” part, interviewing characters, turning a story into a script or vice versa)
· by reading earlier scenes aloud
· by thumbing through my Idea Notebooks
· by taking my draft to my critique group
· by going for a long walk, swim, or bike ride
· by grabbing my man or my cat and dancing around the room


Those are my incantations. I may have to try more than one, but the magic will come.
Sometimes the magic appears before I know I’ll need it. I may dream a scene or a character so vivid that I add it at once to my notebook even though it has nothing to do with my current projects. My muse knows I’m working, so she rewards me. I like to think she pays it forward.
As I tune in to overheard pieces of conversation, posted signs, and bizarre situations, I write them down; if I mishear or misread, so much the better: Lapgevity, the sign in front of a business, looked to me like Largevity and spawned a brood of amusing notions. By recording my inspirations, I invite the magic and encourage my muse. The result is a stock of fiction fodder I can turn to whenever I’m stuck. As I thumb through fifteen years of notebooks, I’m amazed at how many notions I’ve morphed into fiction. If something stirs me enough to write it down, I’ve been touched by magic, illuminated by a spark of the creative process.


So here’s to magic, mystery, and an overdeveloped work ethic! I wish you happy conjuring in 2010.
* * *
Nina Wright is a playwright and novelist. She has published five books in the humorous Whiskey Mattimoe mystery series and two paranormal novels for teens, Homefree and Sensitive. Booklist says of Whiskey with a Twist: “Fifth in a consistently appealing series, this installment continues to provide the perfect mix of cozy and dog.”

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Guest Blogger - Blaize Clement

From Blaize Clement, author of the Dixie Hemingway Mystery Series:

I frequently get mail from readers asking why I chose to make Dixie Hemingway a pet sitter, a widow, or a woman who lost a child. Every time I get those questions, I try to go back and remember what was going through my head when I wrote the first book in the series. Some answers come immediately, but others will probably always elude me.

Choosing Dixie's name took several weeks. I wanted a name that embodied a southern woman, but I also wanted to convey the idea that the series was more than a light-hearted romp through kitty land. I take writing seriously, and I wanted readers to know that. So after a lot of rejected names, I came up with Dixie Hemingway. Dixie for the south and for down-to-earth humor, and Hemingway for a literary touch. Hemingway seemed especially fitting because Papa lived in Florida and had six-toed cats, but mostly I liked the music of the two names together.

I made her a pet sitter because I wanted a protagonist who was on the move and had legitimate access to a lot of people's houses. Since inclusiveness as a philosophy is important to me, and since I see pets as examples of unconditional love, making Dixie a pet sitter was a logical move.

Those are the questions I can easily answer. But when it comes to the details of Dixie's life, I don't have any idea where they came from. Once she had a name, Dixie stepped into my mind fully realized. She let me know she had been a deputy sheriff and an excellent shot. She let me know her deputy husband and her little girl had been killed in a freak accident. She let me know that grief had driven her mad for a year. All the other details came from Dixie, too. The fact that her brother is a firefighter who looks like a Viking god, and that his life partner is an undercover officer with an uncanny ability to disguise himself when he's investigating criminals. Dixie told me all that, I didn't make it up. She also told me that her mother had been an alcoholic who abandoned her children, so Dixie and her brother were raised by their grandparents in a sturdy house at the edge of the sea on Siesta Key.

In my files, I have letters written to me from all the major characters in the mystery series. I do the typing, but they dictate the details. That's how I learned what the hunky homicide detective's full name is, and why her brother's partner is called Paco. I didn't know those things myself until the third book. And with each book, the characters reveal new things about themselves which I dutifully report. Sometimes I'm shocked by what they tell me, sometimes I sort of suspected it all along.

If the day ever comes when I'm straining to create characters, or when I stop being curious about them myself, I'll know it's time to stop writing the series. Until then, I continue to type and they continue to tell me about themselves. Sometimes they make me cry, sometimes I laugh my head off, sometimes I say, "Listen, I can't use that kind of language in a book!" They are patient with me. If I try to move on without their guidance, they just sit down and watch me run into a wall. Then I backtrack, ask them humbly for help, and they point me in the right direction. And they're not the least bit arrogant about it. They don't even ask for their names to be on the book jackets. Well, Dixie does, but she's the star so she deserves her name to be above mine.


Best,
Blaize
Author of The Dixie Hemingway Mystery Series (St. Martin's Minotaur)www.BlaizeClement.com
"Kitty Litter" blog: http://www.DixieHemingway.wordpress.com

Happy Holidays!

Dear Readers,

Terri and I would like to wish everyone Happy Holidays and would like to thank both readers and our authors for helping make this blog a success. We have grown since the eight members we started with this year.
Terri and I have even more plans for mayhemandmagic2 over the next year. We hope you will continue to take the time to come over and read what others have to say and of course tune in to the reviews, short stories, and interviews.
Today in Parsons there is thunderstorms and rain also the high will be 61 and on Friday we'll have a high of 29 so while everyone else is preparing for another snowstorm or digging out from the last one, I am wrapping Christmas Presents with thunderstorms.
I hope everyone gets a lot of good books to read or at least amazon, Barnes & Noble gift cards so you can buy what is on your wishlist.
I am going to try my best to have a book come out by this time next year.
Frank and I have had more than one computer glitch happen this year to the tune of three computers have bit the dust. Finally I am hoping that 2010 will be a better year in my office than it has been in 2009.
Terri has dealt with her own crisis when her condo flooded and is just now seeing that 2010 will be a better year.
On the home front we are dealing with my father's pancreatic cancer and my mother Alzhemiers, looking forward to the birth of our next grandchild in March (it's a boy and they named him Cade) and so with the twinkle in his eye I hope Santa gives you the joy and peace of knowing like a brand new baby, a brand new year is just around the corner fresh and innocent.
I hope and pray we have peace on earth and a year of contentment.
We'll be here with our thirst for blood, magic and mayhem because for Terri, me and our readers and authors that is what we know how to do bring entertainment and escape from our daily duldrums by the magic of words and books.
I'm waving my magic wand over 2010 for the best reading year ever and I hope you know we love all of you, wish you much success and many books.

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas & Happy Soltice

Pamela & Terri

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Guest Blogger - Kate Kingsbury

CHRISTMAS AT THE PENNYFOOT.

Ah, Christmas! Tree lights glittering, bells ringing, chestnuts by the fire and carolers singing. The warmth and excitement of the Holiday Season is all around us, so why would we want to spoil all that wonderful, comfortable, fuzzy atmosphere with something as heinous as murder?

Well, first and foremost, mystery lovers are a dedicated bunch. They’ll read a good murder tale any time of the year. Yet there’s something about mixing all that fun and festivity with the dark deeds of a devious killer that makes a Christmas murder mystery seem all the more intriguing.
Perhaps it’s the contrast between heavenly grace and evil, or maybe it’s simply an antidote to all that hectic celebrating.

I started writing the Pennyfoot Christmas books more or less by accident. I had ended the original series, but Cecily Sinclair, former owner of the Pennyfoot Hotel, would not let me rest. Nor would her fans. Cecily had retired to London with her new husband and former manager, Baxter. She became restless, missing the hotel life and the people she’d come to know as family. She also missed the excitement of tracking down a killer and bringing him to justice. So she kept intruding in my mind, waking me up at night, complaining that she was bored.

Fans had been writing to me for two years, asking what had happened to her and why she had sold the hotel. I finally had to listen. I promised Cecily, and the fans, that I would get them all together again with a Christmas Reunion book for one more romp in Badgers End.

NO CLUE AT THE INN saw Cecily back at the Pennyfoot, this time as manager, and once more on the trail of a ruthless killer. I had so much fun combining the merriment of the holiday season with a menacing murderer lurking about. Apparently so did the fans. That one book turned into six, and still counting.

It isn’t easy to maintain a festive atmosphere with dead bodies and scared witnesses scattered around. Especially since I write most of it in the dog days of summer. The Pennyfoot Christmas books, however, are a labor of love for all my incredible fans, so many of whom take the time to write to me. Cecily and the gang are alive and well, and I couldn’t be happier.

I wish all of you a wonderful, happy holiday season, and the very best the new year can offer. Bless you all.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Guest Blogger - Peggy Webb

The Magic of Being an Author

Peggy Webb

I’m delighted to be a guest blogger today. When Pamela asked if I would talk about the magic of being an author, I jumped at the chance.

In a twenty-five year writing career, I’ve taught private seminars, convention workshops and college courses that delve into the creative process. I’ve given aspiring writers and college students the tools they need to turn an idea into a completed work of fiction. I’ve dissected the writing process six ways to Sunday in an attempt to understand – and make my students understand – how all the elements of a story come together in a way that compels the reader to keep turning pages.

Always, though, there is the element that can’t be dissected, analyzed, taught, bought or learned. The beauty of magic is that no one knows how it happens, or why. It simply does.

And so, I won’t discuss magic. I won’t argue whether my sixty-five plus books are the product of a muse who sprinkles me with fairy dust or the brain children of a fertile imagination. I will present anecdotal evidence and let you draw your own conclusions.

My most recent magical manifestation can be seen in my Southern Cousins Mysteries. Elvis was supposed to be a ghost. I’d spent all day plotting the first mystery with the Elvis ghost as the centerpiece. Then my dog had to go outside, my muse started singing Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hounddog, and KAZAM! Magic happened. I knew Elvis was a sleuthing basset hound who couldn’t keep his opinions to himself.

Another big hint came when Elvis (the dog, not the real McCoy) started talking to me. Late at night, of course. While I was in my gown with no pen and pad handy. Naturally I rushed to my office to take dictation.

This is not the first time I’ve heard voices. Early in my career I spent a sleepless night arguing with the voices that my hero was NOT a soccer coach; he was a lawyer. You know who won, of course. The voices. When I finally caved in, I told the hero who wouldn’t shut up and let me sleep that he’d better be the best soccer coach ever! And he was.

The book was a delight to write. I might even say, “The book wrote itself,” which, of couse, is another way of saying, “It’s magic.”

When “books write themselves,” I’m merely a body at the keyboard whose heart, mind and soul have disappeared into the magical world of my imagination. I can hardly type fast enough to keep up with the flow – that amazing, endless stream of conversation and poetic description that pours forth.

When I say, I disappear, I’m not kidding around. One fine August day when the temperature in Mississippi climbed to one hundred and the air was so hot birds refused to sing, I sat at my computer shivering in the winter storm raging through the pages of my story. I got so cold I had to put on a sweater and heavy socks.

When the mailman tooted his horn, breaking the spell, I raced outside and nearly fainted with heatstroke. Might I also add I became the talk of the neighborhood? Here’s a writerly hint: if you want people to leave you alone, wear winter garb in hundred-degree weather.

And then, of course, there’s the amazing magic of Driving Me Crazy. I had stopped writing to take care of Mama, who never ceased pestering me to go back to doing what you love best. After she died I put together a synopsis (about two older women taking care of their feisty, dying mom) then contacted beloved editor and long-time friend, Tara Gavin. She fell in love with the Mama character (guess who?) and bought the book on what would have been my own mother’s birthday. Additionally, I wrote the book in five weeks while I was teaching nine hours at Mississippi State University (a round-trip commute of a hundred-forty miles three days a week).

Don’t tell me there’s no magic!

Let me hear about your magical experiences. I’m here all day and would love to chat.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Guest Blogger - Toni L P Kelner

When I was younger, I dreamed of creating magic, though I wasn't picky about how. Either "real" magic or illusion would do. Of course I would loved to have been able to cast spells like Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, I figured I wasn't born on Middle Earth, so I realized pretty quickly that that wasn't going to happen. Then I tried to go the Houdini route and learn those kinds of illusions, but eventually realized I didn't have either the manual dexterity or the patience for that kind of magic. As Harry Potter would say, I was a born Muggle. That's why I was a little worried when I was invited to do this blog on the magic of mystery writing. What I could say? I'd given up on finding a wand I could use long ago.


So I thought I'd step back a little about what the word "magic" means. It's an overused word, after all: the magic of Christmas, the magic of love, the Orlando Magic. Even as I went online to check it out, there was a banner ad for the magic of Disney. But when I found the top two definitions for magic on dictionary.com, I started thinking that maybe I'm more mystical than I'd realized.

1) the art of producing illusions as entertainment by the use of sleight of hand, deceptive devices, etc.; legerdemain; conjuring: to pull a rabbit out of a hat by magic.

Obviously this is talking about the Houdini kind of magic. But isn't it what I do, too? Illusions as entertainment? I sure hope my mysteries are entertaining--that's all I'm really going for. Sure, as I write the "Where are they now?" novels, my love of Boston and old TV shows and comic books is going to show. But I'm not trying to convince anybody that Massachusetts is the best place on earth to live. I just want the story--the mystery, the romance, the suspense--to entertain folks

Sleight of hand, deceptive devices... Doesn't that sound perfect for mystery writers? Guilty characters who look innocent, innocent characters who look guilty, important facts snuck past in hopes that the reader won't notice them--all deceptive devices. I do try to write fair mysteries, in which readers know everything Tilda does, but that doesn't mean I make it easy on them. Now I could mention a fact or two from my upcoming book Who Killed the Pinup Queen to illustrate that, but then I'd blow the whole point of sleight of hand. So instead, I'll remind you of Poe's "The Purloined Letter," where a clue is right there in front of you. A lovely bit of legerdemain.

Then there's the second definition:

2) the art of producing a desired effect or result through the use of incantation or various other techniques that presumably assure human control of supernatural agencies or the forces of nature.

Art? Maybe. Incantations? An incantation is made up of words, and mysteries are made up of words. Pacing, metaphor, plot--those are all techniques for producing an effect. Of course, my spells aren't trying to create bolts of lightening or supernatural servants, but in Curse of the Kissing Cousins, I am trying to create a mood when I describe my protagonist Tilda's world, and invoke suspense when I talk about her being stalked by a killer, and arouse satisfaction when she solves the murder. I think those emotions would count as forces of nature.

So maybe mystery writing is a kind of magic. We take our bits and pieces of spell components, and create something we hope is magical. Admittedly, some days I feel more like Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer's Apprentice than Gandalf or Harry Potter, but sometimes the magic happens.

Earlier this week, I was a guest on "Communicating Today," a talk show produced and hosted by a gentleman named John Monsul. We were talking about my book Curse of the Kissing Cousins, which is about a freelance entertainment reporter trying to outsmart a murderer and track down the missing cast member of a seventies sitcom called Kissing Cousins. John said several awfully nice things about the book, but the part that really tickled me was when he asked, "Was Kissing Cousins a real show?"

It wasn't--I made it up: the characters, the setting, everything. But John asking that showed that it felt real to him, meaning that I'd cast at least one successful spell with that book.

Maybe I don't need a wand after all.

Friday, December 18, 2009

An Interview with Cynthia Riggs




Cynthia Riggs Interview
By Pamela James

Cynthia, how many books have you written and published?

My ninth book, "Touch-Me-Not," is scheduled for publication by St. Martin's Minotaur in Fall 2010, and I'm currently working on my tenth book, "The Bee Balm Murders."

Tell us about your writing schedule

I'm not terribly disciplined in my life, but when it comes to my writing, I'm a stickler. I write every day, seven days a week, usually starting at 10 am and keeping at it until 5 pm. I'll take breaks to pick up the mail, make beds, work in the garden, but I get right back to writing. Discipline makes all the difference.

Tell us about the magic of being an author.

The creative process is magical. To think that a mind can conjure up people and places and situations out of no more than the mind's electrical currents, set down those people and places in a form that another mind can interpret with its own electrical currents -- how magical can you get! I think of that a lot. The characters that eventually take shape in my books are not entirely under my control, nor are their actions. I laugh out loud at some of the unexpected twists and turns in personalities and bizarre behavior. When I take my place in front of my keyboard and screen, I have no idea what's likely to emerge. And to think -- nothing but electricity holding it all together. Sheer magic.

Tell us about your latest book and how long it takes you to write your mysteries.

My latest book, the one I'm working on now, is "The Bee Balm Murders." I'm an avid gardener and I run a bed and breakfast. In my garden, I have seven beehives. In my B&B, I have a man who's installing an underground fiber optics cable throughout the Island. I thought, wouldn't it be interesting (and fun) to try to combine those two unusual and timely threads in my book. It's been a challenge, but I think it's working out. It takes me six months to a year to write each book, depending on how much I allow myself to get distracted by life-other-than-writing.

Break down for us how you plot and how you keep your series going from book to book.

Plotting? What's that? Despite the fact that reviewers of my books use terms like "tightly plotted," I don't plot. At all. I come up with the title first and a vague idea of the subject matter. But my books are character driven, and I let my characters decide where the story will go and how it will tangle and then resolve itself. All my books are set on Martha's Vineyard, an interesting setting that will provide me with subject matter for decades. When my agent asked me where I got my sense of the absurd, I told her I attend the selectmen's meetings. Each of the Island's six towns has a board of selectmen, a conservation commission, a planning board, a zoning board of appeals, a shellfish board, its own school, library, fire department, police department, and its own fence viewers. With that many diverse characters striving for power in his/her own small fiefdom, there's a possibility of murder afoot every way you turn. (The last real murder on Martha's Vineyard was in 1940.)

As far as keeping a series going from book to book, I keep in mind that some of my readers are long term fans, some are brand new. I need to identify recurring characters for my new readers without boring my long termers. When I bring a character on stage I make the introduction short and try to spread it out thinly over several chapters.

My protagonist, Victoria Trumbull, is a 92-year-old poet. I had to decide at the beginning how to handle the passage of time. Clearly, I can't afford to let Victoria age much. At the same time, I realized if I froze time in the background, I'd have to research what happened way back in 2009, when we didn't have the forensic tools we have now, in 2029. So Victoria will stay 92 forever, and time will pass in the background allowing me to write about Tasers and fiber optics and touch DNA.

What are your plans for 2010?

My plans for 2010 are to sell a second mystery series I've started involving life on the Washington, DC waterfront. I lived on a boat in DC for twelve years within sight of the Jefferson Memorial. In spring, cherry blossoms would drift into the channel from the Tidal Basin and form a fragrant pink carpet around the hulls of our boats. I'll continue my Martha's Vineyard mystery series featuring Victoria Trumbull. The next book may involve the restoration of a China Trade painting that's been hanging on Victoria's parlor wall for 150 years, mostly unnoticed. I'm trying to think of a plant name to use in the title -- Indian paintbrush or painted daisy or painted tongue or...?

Is there something you would like to say to your readers?

Yes -- a very big thank you to readers for reading my books, whether you borrow them from the library or buy them at your local independent bookstore, many thanks from me and all the other authors whose books you read.

Do you have a favorite book in your series or a favorite book cover?

My books are like my five children. All are different and I love them all for different reasons. My favorite cover is probably for "The Cemetery Yew." It's by Ken Joudrey, who's done all of my covers. "The Cemetery Yew" cover shows an open grave, a lichen-covered tombstone, and an overhanging yew branch with a toucan ornament (the time of year is November) hanging from the branch.

What can we find you doing when you're not writing mysteries?

When I'm not writing mysteries, I'm probably out in the garden or turning the compost heaps. Or I'm involved in one of my writers' groups, making beds, teaching writing, doing laundry, or fomenting political trouble in my town.

What mystery writing advice can you give to the novice mystery writer?

Sit down at a regular time and write. Set a goal, even if it's only to produce one paragraph. Writing is a job, so go to your writing place whether you feel like it or not and write.

What conferences, or conventions will you be attending this year?

Probably Left Coast Crime, Malice Domestic, and New England Crime Bake. There are so many wonderful conferences, it's all too easy to attend conferences and forget entirely about writing.

Give us a little background on you the woman, the author and the reader.

I live on Martha's Vineyard, where I was born, and run a bed and breakfast catering to poets and writers in the old family homestead. I have a degree in geology from Antioch College and an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College. My first book was published in 2001. Before that, I was a boat captain on the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. I held a US Coast Guard Masters License (100 ton vessels) for 20 years.

Leave us with some mysterious words of wisdom that only your character would tell us.

Stop thinking about yourself. Worry about others.

What is your website addy?

The address is: www.cynthiariggs.com. My daughter, Ann Ricchiazzi, designed the website and is my webmaster, and I'm proud ot it. The website is clean, easy to navigate, informative, up-to-date, and has no weird dancing stuff to give one migraines.

Cynthia, thank you so much for answering my questions and thank you for all the wonderful books you've written.

Happy Holidays,
Pamela James


Thursday, December 17, 2009

An Interview with Parnell Hall

Parnell, how many book have you written?

I don't write any of my books. Other people write them for me. It doesn't matter. They all make the Best Seller List. This leaves me time for- Oh. Wait a minute. I had myself confused with James Patterson. Let me see. I've written 11 Puzzle Lady crossword puzzle mysteries, 17 Stanley Hastings private eye novels, and 5 Steve Winslow courtroom dramas. I guess that's 33. I know some guy named J.P. Hailey claims he wrote the Winslows, but he's just an old sourpuss.

Tell us how long it takes you to write a book?



The Stanleys take 3 to 6 months, the Puzzle Ladys 6 to 9. The private eye novels are quicker because they're a first person narrative, which is great, because you only know what your narrator knows. So if your protagonist isn't very bright, you don't have to do any research at all. The Puzzle Ladys are in the third person omniscient, which is a royal pain, because if you don't know anything, it's hard to be omniscient.

What is your writing schedule?



In the morning I sit around in my underwear drinking coffee and reading what I wrote the day before. I have quite a reputation at Starbucks. Then I try to figure out where to go from there. I don't outline, so I never know. I dictate into a microcassette recorder, then type it up in the afternoon.

Tell us about the magic of being a mystery author.



The real magic is becoming a mystery author. Which is sort of like winning the lottery. There are a lot of good writers out there. All it takes is someone saying yes. Luck has a lot to do with it. An agent read my first manuscript and wrote me a nice letter saying he was semi-retired and wasn't taking on any new authors, but he thought it was worth publishing and I shouldn't give up. I immediately gave up, and didn't show it to anyone else, and if my wife hadn't bumped into an old school friend who happened to know an agent, who read it and said of course I can sell it, I wouldn't be published today.

Okay, we want to know all about your latest book


There's two of them. The Puzzle Lady takes on her Japanese counterpart in The Puzzle Lady vs. the Sudoku Lady (that battle of the century!) coming in February 2010. The book features crossword puzzles by Manny Nosowsky, and sudoku puzzles by New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz!

It seems Cora Felton's sudoku books have edged Minami, the Sudoku Lady's books off the Japanese Best Seller List, and Minami shows up in Bakerhaven, Connecticut to challenge her rival. Bad move. A body shows up, a sudoku is involved, Minami is arrested for murder, and it's largely Cora's fault. Now Cora has to save her rival, preserve her secret, and trap a killer, not to mention posing as a lawyer at a conflict of interest hearing.

Stanley Hastings has a much easier time in Caper, due in July. A young mother hires him to save her teenage daughter from a life of sin. Only the young lady doesn't want to be saved, Stanley has to drug her to bring her home, and faster than you can say Mann Act, Stanley is busted for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and has to call his boss, negligence attorney Richard Rosenberg, to bail him out of the hoosegow. He should have stayed there. Then he wouldn't find a corpse, leave the scene of the crime, and become the perfect alibi witness for the man arrested for the murder, only he can't admit to being there. Oh. Maybe it isn't easier.


What advice do you have for beginning mystery authors?



Don't listen to advice. Every writer is different. What works for one person won't work for another. Find what works for you.

Give us a little background on you, your life and what we might find you doing when you don't have a deadline?



I wanted to be an actor. If I'd had any luck at it I wouldn't have to write. My problem is I couldn't get any work. If I had to point to the biggest single reason for the failure of my acting career, I would have to say lack of work. I did summer stock, regional theater, a few movies. I was in Arnold Schwarznegger's first film, Hercules in New York. I wore a leopardskin costume and ran down Broadway chasing a chariot. It's on YouTube. It's even more embarrassing than it sounds.I also had a failed career as a singer-songwriter. I sold a song to Peter Seeger when I was sixteen, never sold one since. But I still sing at mystery conventions, despite great opposition. When I sang at the banquet at the Bouchercon in Chicago, the Guest of Honor, Dennis Lehane, stood up and offered me $40 not to. I sang anyway, figuring if I held out, the price would go up.

However, my music career is taking off! I have a music video on YouTube. Kill 'em by Parnell Hall. It's a guide to writing mysteries, a must for any aspiring writer.

>Will you ever tie in your love of music with your series?

It's a frightening thought. But not out of the question. Donald Westlake wrote several songs for his book, Baby, Would I Lie? When he was Guest of Honor at Magna Cum Murder, in Muncie, I sang one of them, If it ain't Fried, It ain't Food, to him during his interview. It must have been torture.

>Can you tell us about being your character, The Puzzle Lady, at Malice?

The worst part was buying the bra. I explained very patiently that I was playing the part of a fictional character, but I don't think the saleswoman was buying it. Then they didn't have any falsies, and they sent me to Danskin. By the time I got to Malice I was a basket case. I think the panel went okay, but I was so busy adjusting my skirt and my wig and all that I don't remember much of it. All I know is no one hit on me, and I felt rather insulted. I don't know if anyone took pictures, but I'd be willing to pay to suppress them.

Last but never least what are your future writing plans for 2010?


KenKen is the new Sudoku. The New York Times now carries KenKen puzzles along with the daily crossword puzzles. KenKen, like sudoku, involve placing numbers in squares without duplicating any number in the same row or column. But any squares grouped by a thick black line will have to satisfy a mathematical function (addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division) indicated in one of the squares.

So the Puzzle Lady will have to solve The KenKen Killings!Squeeze, do not jerk, the trigger.


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