Friday, January 29, 2010

Guest Blogger - Wendy Lyn Watson

Out of Chaos, Order.

Thank you to Pamela and Terri for hosting me today and for coming up with such an intriguing theme: the mayhem of writing mysteries.

I thought about writing about the mayhem I thrust on poor, goody-goody ice cream entrepreneur Tallulah Jones (mortal danger, emotional heartache, public nudity ...), but I’d rather let Tally tell you about it herself in the Mysteries a la Mode (“I Scream, You Scream” and the forthcoming “Scoop to Kill”). And then I thought about discussing the mayhem in my personal life, but figured you didn’t really want to hear about our cat box biohazard or the drifts of dirty socks that have mysteriously taken over my kitchen.

Instead, I decided to tell you about the little tidbits of real-life craziness that work their way into my books. This is really a story about imposing order on mayhem, but hopefully Pamela and Terri will forgive me for straying from the assignment a bit.

I lack the evil genius gene, so I need to find inspiration in the outside world. I pick up ideas for stories, tiny kernels of fact and narrative, from a huge variety of places. Moreover, my mama raised me right: my conditioned response is to follow the rules and tell the truth. Which isn’t terribly mysterious. So to crawl inside the head of a criminal or a suspect--and make that person believable, sympathetic, AND deceptive--I need to observe the ways in which people rationalize bad behavior.

After law school, I spent years working in the state and federal court systems of Minnesota, witness to all the ridiculous ways greed and lust and plain ol’ stupidity can lead people to hurt one another (in ways both criminal and civil). Now that my court days are over, I have developed an unseemly addiction to reality TV: shows like COPS, Judge Judy, and The First 48 provide all sorts of glimpses into the minds and machinations of the criminal element ... and of fundamentally good people who nevertheless do very bad things.

Real-life criminals are more creative than you would think. Take, for example, the two small-time cons who decided to “make” money by ripping four five-dollar bills into five pieces each, and then taping them back together with one piece missing from each ... and then taping the four leftover pieces together to make a fifth (incomplete) bill. Creative! Stupid, but creative. I might be able to do complex statistical analyses and whip up a pretty tasty pan of enchiladas, but I would never in a million years come up with such a low-tech and deceptively ingenious plan to scam the world.

Real life doesn’t always translate into good fiction. My job as a writer is to take the chaos of real life and impose a narrative structure on it. Many of the raw ingredients come from the real world, but it’s my job to turn them into an aesthetically pleasing confection. I may take a motivation from one real criminal, a method of murder from another, and throw in an interesting social trend I’ve picked up from my students, then streamline the whole process to make it follow my protagonist’s internal narrative arc ... stir, bake, garnish with some humor, and voila! A cozy mystery that is hopefully much richer and more delicious than the sum of its parts.

What about you? Does your fascination with mystery and crime extend to the real world? Or do you prefer to stick with the more ordered world of fiction?


Wendy Lyn Watson writes deliciously funny cozy mysteries with a dollop of romance. Her Mysteries a la Mode (I Scream, You Scream (October 2009) and Scoop to Kill (September 2010)) feature amateur sleuth Tallulah Jones, who solves murders in between scooping sundaes. While she does not commit--or solve--murders in real life, Wendy can kill a pint of ice cream in nothing flat. She’s also passionately devoted to 80s music, Asian horror films, and reality TV. (

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Review - The Black Opal by VIctoria Holt

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Page count 373
ISBN: 0-449-22271-3

Carmel March was a beautiful baby and as she grew up in Commonwood House she knew there were dark secrets and hostile feeling.s Her one bright spot was when Uncle Toby came to visit. The visits were magical and Toby made her feel as if she belong. Then one day everything changed and Carmel went with Uncle Toby who is the captain of a ship. It was wonderful and she could be the free spirit she was meant to be.
Soon she learned many secrets, such as she had a mother who was a gypsy and Uncle Toby was actually her father. They used Austrailia as a home base. There Toby had a wife and she loved Carmel. Again things changed and when Carmel wasold enough she returns to Commonwood as a young woman. There is haunting dreams, three men who fall in love with her and opals play a big part in Carmel's present, past and future. However one loss after another doesn't mean the end of Carmel instead it's beginning and she starts by solving the mystery of Commonwood.
This book has mystery, murder, intrigue, love, loss and it's one of the best books I have ever read. I connected with Carmel March and soon found myself rooting for her with every turn of the page.
I haven't read a book this down to earth that could make me care for the characters (all of the characters) in a long long time.
Victoria Holt has spun plot into gold and left us with a masterpiece of fiction.
Pamela James

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Guest Blogger - CJ Lyons

Unleash Your Inner Chaos!
by CJ Lyons

Chaos is good! Chaos is our friend--at least it is, if you're a thriller writer. 

As a pediatric ER doc who practiced for seventeen years before becoming a full-time thriller writer, you'd think I'd be used to chaos, thrive on it.

Usually I do, I love nothing more than to embrace my inner chaos and unleash it on my poor unsuspecting characters.  But this new book, the fourth in my Angels of Mercy series, is quite frankly kicking my butt!

Here's the premise: Die Hard in a hospital on New Year's Eve.

Sounds like fun, doesn't it?  And believe me, it is--this book has everything!

Which is part of the problem--because my series centers on four main characters, every book is a juggling act with four complete stories in one book, all converging together at the climax (or during the multi-climaxes, lol).  Plus, I'm known for my "breathtakingly fast-paced" plots.

So, with each book, I've upped the bar as far as intensity and giving the reader an adrenalin rush of a thrill ride.  Book #1, LIFELINES, was pretty much pure thriller with increasing stakes until the entire city of Pittsburgh was at risk.

Book #2, WARNING SIGNS,  was a different kind of challenge: combining a coming of age story about a medical student suffering from mysterious symptoms with the whodunnit mystery behind the deadly symptoms.

URGENT CARE, book #3, was a true book of my heart and the toughest to write--in it, I explore the psychological effects of surviving a trauma.  It's a dark, gritty suspense, very emotionally honest.

So for book #4, the finale of the Angels' quadrilogy, I wanted to go back to the intense pacing of the first book.  Only I set myself an even bigger challenge--instead of taking place over 4 days, this book takes place over four HOURS!

Yep, you got it--you'll pretty much read this book in real time--which means juggling not only four characters and their story arcs but down to the second timing between each scene.

Plus, after the dark intensity of URGENT CARE, I wanted to give readers a bit of a smile, so there are all sorts of unexpected happenings (unexpected even to me, lol!  Don't you love it when that happens, you're just writing along and you surprise even yourself?  Talk about chaos!) and fun twists and turns.

The only way I could figure out how to perform this juggling act was to....write the book backwards!

I've always been a seat of the pants writer, often writing out of order, but never have I pushed it this far.

I've done more than embracing my inner chaos, I'm eating, sleeping, drinking, breathing it every second...and you know what?  It's been a hell of a ride.

Not just because it's been a fun book to write and I'm so excited to see these characters come into their own and earn their happily-ever-afters, but also because I know I pushed myself not just to the limits, but past them.....

Of course, my main worry is, how the heck am I going to raise the bar even higher for the next book?!?

Oh well, whatever I come up with, it will be tons of fun!!! 

So go for it, embrace your inner chaos today! 

Thanks for reading!

About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels.  Her debut, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), became a National Bestseller and Publishers Weekly proclaimed it a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller."  The second in the series, WARNING SIGNS, was released January, 2009 and the third, URGENT CARE, in October, 2009.  Contact her at

Monday, January 25, 2010

Young Frankenstein: The Muscial

Its been a couple of weeks since I went with Jane, but I have to recommend this show. Of course, I absolutely love the original movie. This is just another concept to enjoy.

Many of the original jokes and great moments are recreated so the fans can savor them like old friends. But it also has a bonus - MUSIC and DANCE. The mood throughout is just plain fun.

Some of my favorite routines were Join the Family Business which is a dream sequence and He Vas by Boyfriend (during which Frau Blucher does an homage to Liza Minelli's Cabaret chair dance).

The sets were great as well, but I will say the strobe lights got to be too much at times. All that lightening is great for mood but hard on the eyes. LOL

All in all, I am glad I went and reocmmend you give it a try if it comes near you sometime.


Is it still the month of January?

Is it still the month of January? Why can't we zoom into May because I could sure use sunshine and flowers to color my world. I suppose this means that I'd better head to the nearest fictional world so I don't have to think about snow, ice and the whole bleak winter scene. Better days are probably ahead but this year I am not handling winter months as well as I did in past years.
Okay for good books I've read lately here is the list:
The BLOOD BALLARD by Rett MacPherson (A Torrie O'Shea Mystery), Thai Die by Monica Ferris (I think she should win an award with this book) the research and fun she had writing this one shows and I loved the plot, BULLS ISLAND by Dorthea Benton Frank this is one book where dysfunctional family doesn't quite cover it. Dorthea blends her setting, her plots and sub-plots very well and the atmosphere of the whole book kept me turning pages night after night long past my bedtime. I think I mentioned The BLACK OPAL by Victoria Holt before but it deserves mentioning again because it is another book that kept me up long past my bedtime. BOOKPLATE SPECIAL by Lorna Barrett/aka/Lorraine Bartlett I love this series but this book in the book town series brings to attention food pantries, hunger and homeless all wrapped in one, the plot is tightly woven and it's nice to cozy up with a cozy mystery you can count on to bring a good story. If I want a dark cozy I don't go to Lorraine's books but if I want a cozy of substance she is at the top of the list.
Speaking of dark cozies once in a while I like a darker cozy mystery but I won't touch them if they are harming children, animals or have an uncomfortable scene. If I want to read something like that I'll read it in another genre but not cozies. Now having said this I am big fan of dark cozies maybe a stalker scene or gaslight type plot even an evil twin is fun sometimes and so it goes but I know my limits as a reader and what I expect from each genre of books I read.
Okay back to my book list APPLE TURNOVER MURDER by Joanne Fluke is probably the best culinary mystery I have read in a long time she really gives us a good plot and subplot in this book of the series. Not to mention the recipes are among the best she has ever included in her books.
Okay I am going to have a second cup of coffee this morning and so I say to everyone I hope your week is filled with plots and many wonderful hours of reading.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Guest Blogger - Sheila Lowe

When I started thinking about your question, “how do you add mayhem to my mysteries?” I decided I’d better start by looking up what mayhem really meant. I thought I knew, but confess to being a little surprised when I saw the dictionary definition: the willful and unlawful crippling or mutilation of another person. Yikes! Of course, as a mystery writer that’s exactly what I do; I just hadn’t thought of it quite that way. Crippling? Mutilation? Oh, my. Then I considered the mayhem I’ve wrought in my books. I’ve killed by drowning, strangulation, anaphylactic shock, skiing into a tree. I’ve written shootings; a taser attack; some hand-to-hand violence, too. Sounds pretty mayhemmy to me all right.

I will confess, as a mostly non-violent person myself, those are not the easiest scenes for me to write. There has been murder far too close to me, and as a result, hearing gunshots in my mind, or visualizing looking down the barrel of a gun is harder than it once was. But I am interested in the psychology of violence, from both victim’s and perpetrator’s point of view, so when I’m writing about it, I put myself in the position of each party to the action and try to understand how it might feel to be a killer, or come face-to-face with one.

Regardless of the mode of killing or other mayhem, there’s usually an underlying need for control that has pushed the perpetrator to the point of no return. Sometimes the killer is an ordinary person under extraordinary stress who goes to extreme lengths because of a situation he’s created or landed in. It might be the need of a betrayed lover grasping for control, trying desperately to hold on to the last wisps of the relationship he’s lost. It might be a serial killer whose need to dominate and control drives him to murder over and over. Maybe he felt totally powerless growing up, and seeing the fear in the eyes of his victim, knowing he’s in control for the first time in his life, gives him an amazing rush that he wants to recreate. There are all sorts of reasons why people commit mayhem.

As mystery writers we get to create any situation that appeals to our imagination and resolve it in a way that pleases us. That’s so much better than the real-life version!

Like her character Claudia Rose in her award-winning Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series (NAL), Sheila Lowe is a real-life court-qualified handwriting expert who testifies in a variety of handwriting-related cases. With more than forty years experience in the field of handwriting analysis, she’s a frequent guest in the media when there are interesting handwritings to comment on. Most recently, Us Weekly magazine online asked for her opinion about Tiger Woods’. She’s also the author of the internationally acclaimed The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis, and Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous, and Sheila Lowe’s Handwriting Analyzer software. and Twitter: @sheila_lowe

Sheila Lowe
(805) 658-0109 - Forensic handwriting mysteries. Dead Write in stores now

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Guest Blogger - Chloe Neill

Mayhem In Writing

Hi, everyone! In case you don't know me yet, I'm the author of the Chicagoland Vampires series, and the Dark Elite
series. My first book was published on April 7, 2009; my fourth book will be published on July 6, 2010.

I'll let you do the math--that's four releases in just over a year.

Am I incredibly grateful to be selling books? *Absolutely.* I can't tell you how grateful I am to the people who've put
me in this position--my family, my friends, my readers, my editor, and my agent.

On the other hand, could I use an interruption-free nap on a sunny beach? Absolutely. :)

It would seem logical to suggest that the most important part of working as a writer is, of course, the *writing*.
Actually getting the story down on paper. And while that may be true, writing is definitely not the only part of
working as a writer.

That's where the mayhem comes in.

In an average day, I may be doing multiples of the following:

(1) Editing (on a deadline) the next book out the door;
(2) Writing (on a deadline) the second-to-next book out the door;
(3) Tweeting, Facebooking, and updating my Goodreads site;
(4) Researching images or information for current or future manuscripts;
(5) Designing or ordering marketing materials;
(6) Updating my web site, blogging, guest-blogging or guest-interviewing (on a deadline);
(7) Responding to reader e-mails;
(8) Updating my mailing list;
(9) Communicating with bookstores, media representatives, or other folks for marketing purposes;
(10) Making travel arrangements; and
(11) Communicating with my agent or editor about any of the above.

In addition to all that stuff, I'm also doing the normal life stuff--cleaning, cooking, errands, bills, taking care of the
dogs, taking care of the house, getting the mail, taking out the trash, etc.

Oh--and then there's the day job.

So, yeah. There's quite a bit of mayhem, depending upon where I am in the publishing/writing/blog-touring schedule.
There are a few things, though that keep me on track.

1. The Events page on my website ( functions as my writing calendar. It's very
helpful to have a single place to turn to figure out where I'm supposed to be at any particular time.

2. I recently downloaded Evernote, which I'm really enjoying as a place to hold ideas, images, web clippings, etc. It's
allowing me a very functional (and very green) way to stay organized.

3. To Do lists: I'm pretty forgetful, so I'm a big believer in prepping to do lists to remind me of what I need to do,
and what I'd like to do, in the future.

4. Mnemosyne notebooks: The name is hard to pronounce, but I love these guys. The big notebooks are great for
writing, and the little ones keep a tidy to do list in my bag.

All those little tools keep me generally on track. There may still be mayhem, but it's manageable.

But really, there's one thing that keeps me going--getting that e-mail or Tweet or Facebook message from someone
who really enjoyed what I read. Someone who got to spend a handful of hours thinking about Merit or Lily instead of
their cleaning, cooking, errands, bills, taking care of the dogs, taking care of the house, getting the mail or taking out
the trash. Someone who got a few hours of respite from their own mayhem.

And that, my friends, is the wonder of it all.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Review - Apple Turnover Murder by Joanne Fluke

Culinary Mystery Series
ISBN; 978-0-7582-3489-6
Page count 304

Lake Eden, Minnesota's mayor Bascomb and his wife Stephanie are hosting a huge fundraiser. They need dessert for several events of the fundraiser so Lisa volunteers that they can make some apple turnovers. The problem is neither Lisa nor Hannah have ever made apple turnovers but they soon rise to the occasion. Along with the funraiser there will be a talent show Hannah has to be Herb's asistant one more time which means she has to wear that dastardly purple dress one more time.
Hannah is also babysitting cuddles while Norman is out of town at a reunion of his college friends and soon we learn that Hannah's little sister Michelle is dating the same college porfessor thah Hannah dated in her college days and he is the one who broke her heart. Hannah dislikes the man which is uncommon for Hannah to dislike anyone but when he turns up dead at the fundraiser she feels duty bound to find out why someone had enough passion to kill him.
Hannah and Mike work together to solve the crime but Hannah can't shake off the feeling that Norman is acting strange first hot then cold, she has little time to worry while he is out of town because Andrea has her own problems and they are a doozy. Her husband has been offered the job of a lifetime in Florida and Andrea doesn't want to move. Chocolate is the only thing holding Andrea together.
Speaking of dessert recipes (and we were weren't we)? This book is chalk full of desserts that will make your mouth water and you will be adding to the must try on your culinary to-do list. I don't think you'll want to miss finding out what Vanilla Crack is or how to make watermelon cookies.
As our plot closes and we find that all good things must end Norman comes home and he makes an announcement you won't want to miss. I don't think anything will be the same again in Lake Eden, Minnesota.
******** out of ten
Pamela James

Friday, January 15, 2010

Guest Blogger - Leslie Caine

How to Put Mayhem in Your Mysteries
By Leslie Caine

“Trap your main character on the ledge of a cliff, then throw rocks at him.” That excellent piece of advice was given by Barbara Steiner in her writing-for-children class that I attended twenty years ago. Perhaps I took her words so literally that my children’s fiction was the stuff of nightmares. I only sold one short-story for children—and even at that, it was for young adults. However, her advice proved to be perfect for creating mayhem in murder mysteries. HOLLY AND HOMICIDE, released from Bantam in November of 2009, is my 17th mystery.

Whenever my pace seems to be dragging—aka: the middle of the manuscript—I realize it’s time for the situation to grow truly dire; a second body hits the floor. If I feel the story has slowed to a crawl, I will heap an extra challenge on myself and make my own prime suspect be the second victim. That creates wonderful mayhem in my story arch, but also in my plotting; few things alter an ending as drastically as, with a third of the book yet to be written, having the killer turn out to be not merely innocent, but dead.

A second excellent writing tip, this one from Jack Bickham, is: “Good news for your characters is bad news for your book.” When your sleuth is trying to figure out who dunnit, what he finds instead until the very last page is mayhem. He finds unreliable witnesses, misleading clues, multiple motives from multiple characters, lies, and obfuscations. When he finally discovers the correct path to point him to the murderer, he finds that the path has placed him on the face of a cliff, and that his antagonist is fully armed with rocks.

How, then, do you choose your particular brand of mayhem? One excellent source is your own life. Whenever something terrible happens to me, I take some solace in telling myself: I can have this happen to one of my characters—and make it even worse! Some of my most embarrassing moments are plot points in my characters lives. That said, the truly horrific events in my life haven’t worked on the page; they don’t feel appropriate to fictionalize or—as in the case of when I was taken hostage in a robbery—they feel forced and, ironically, unreal. Even so, your primary job as an author is to elicit an emotional reaction on the part of your reader. The experience of holding your mother’s hand as she dies or riding in the ambulance with your child might never be a scene in your mystery, but those raw emotions that you so unwillingly endured are now invaluable tools for your storytelling.

My first mysteries were written when my children were young and I was often exhausted and overtaxed. In those days, I would get the ideas for my mysteries by finding myself short-tempered with pushy salespeople, with bureaucrats, or at endless PTA meetings; someone in real life would tick me off, and I would kill them on the page.

Perhaps the initial spark for your mystery novel is a vivid setting, a quirky neighbor, or a snippet of conversation you happened to overhear. Just remember to put your protagonist on a cliff, then throw some rocks. Voila! Mayhem!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Guest Blogger - Maddy Hunter

I love calm. It's my default setting.

I'm the person who makes molehills out of mountains, who plucks the fly from the ointment, who hammers the lid back onto the can of worms.

I'm a born problem solver. While some people fret over solutions to everyday problems, I have a penchant for providing solutions to problems that haven't arisen yet.

The first decade of the twenty-first century was the least calm decade of my life. While I was meeting deadlines for my Passport to Peril series, I was also accompanying a precious family member through weeks of radiation and months of chemotherapy. Add to that a raft of emegency room visits in the wee hours of the morning, endless CT scans, the inability to control intolerable pain, long hospital stays, and the extraneous pancreatitis attack and gallbladder surgery, and I had a recipe for enough mayhem to last me for the rest of my life.

Mayhem in real life is exhausting.

On the other hand, mayhem in fiction is exhilarating. There's nothing I enjoy more than piling on the agony and seeing how my characters will react. Chaos and mayhem supply the fuel that advance my storylines. And there's plenty of chaos to go around when you're writing about a dozen senior citizens who have strong opinions and hearing problems.

How do I creat chaos in my series? I've discovered the easiest way to do this is by gathering at least six or seven of my Iowans in the same place and presenting them with a simple question or problem. In ALPINE FOR YOU, the question that prompted one of my favorite scenes of mayhem was posed by Windsor City's local pharmacist: "Is that supposed to be a cow?" the woman asks Emily, referring to the cartoonish caricature on Emily's watch face. The resulting conversation is complete verbal chaos, but it allows the characters to "strut their stuff" in more depth. It's also a humorous diversion that demonstrates what happens when "people raised on iowa grain farms decide to talk animal husbandry." I actually had this conversation years ago with an agricultural engineer. It was so convoluted, I knew I had to use it in a book someday!

The majority of the mayhem in my books starts out with verbal exchanges and misunderstandings, which pretty much tells you that my characters lead with their tongues. In G'DAY TO DIE, chaos ensues on Kangaroo Island when Emily asks the group, "How many of you have ordered food already?" The characters' ability to turn such an uncomplicated question into sheer mayhem both amazes and delights me. Each member of the tour group has become so real to me that I can't tell them what to say. They tell *me* what to say. I guess it's a little like channeling. I have no idea how it happens, but it's ever so helpful that it does. When I throw them all together, I know something is going to happen, because they're like a big extended family with all the good and bad dynamics ready to explode. And they do it so consistently. So I'm always arriving at a new place in the story, which slowly allows me to *build* my novels. The outcome, information, or new dynamic from one scene propels me into the next. This is fuel use at its best!

In NORWAY TO HIDE, chaos erupts in the group's Lapland hotel when resident bellyacher Bernice asks of a police officer, "Further questioning? Why are you picking on us?" In HULA DONE IT, the catalyst is more comment than question as someone yells near Kaui's Secret Falls, "It's Bigfoot!" And in TOP O' THE MOURNIN' and PASTA IMPERFECT, I introduce Emily's transgender ex-husband, Jack/Jackie, who creates mayhem every time he/she opens her mouth. As much as i despise chaos in my own life, I seem unable to write a novel without including tons of it!

Simon and Schuster cancelled my series after NORWAY TO HIDE, but as I write this, there's a very real possibility that another publisher might pick it up, so Emily, Nana, and the rest of the Iowa gang may be packing their bags and traveling the globe once more, spreading mayhem wherever they go. And better yet, the precious member of my family is in remission, so I've hit the reset button on my life, and, for the moment, all once again is calm.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Guest Blogger - Joanna Campbell Slan

The Mayhem (and Magic) of Being an Author

By Joanna Campbell Slan

“Detweiler would never say that!” My husband insisted after reading an early version of a scene from Cut, Crop & Die, the second book in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series.
I nearly fell off my chair laughing. After all, I created Detective Chad Detweiler. Wouldn’t I know what my character would or would not say?
Apparently not.
(Confession: I changed the dialogue. My husband pronounced it, “Much better!”)
You see, being an author is a lot like parenting. You only think you’re the person in charge. We writers create characters who have lives of their own. Characters who make demands on us. Who keep us up at night. Who don’t do what we tell them to do.
Sigh. Sad but true.
In fact, our characters do just about everything but borrow the car keys.
Just last week, my protagonist Kiki Lowenstein surprised me. She decided to have a romantic interlude (ahem!) with someone. (I’d have to kill you if I told you who it was.)
Here I sat, typing merrily away, and WHOA-DOGGIES! An unexpected sentence appeared on the computer screen. Kiki had decided to end her four-year vow of chastity.
I checked my outline. I re-read my synopsis. Neither included Kiki’s encounter.
“Where’d that come from?” I wondered.
I’m not sure whether I should let Kiki do this or not.
Kiki insisted this was none of my business. She’s been lonely for what? Three, almost four books? That’s a long time when you’re a fictional character.
But wasn’t I supposed to be in charge? I mean, wasn’t it up to me to authorize and approve all the details of Kiki’s life?
Um, I guess NOT.
Who’s actually in charge here?
Welcome to the confusing world of being an author.
Truthfully, Kiki Lowenstein is often more real to me than most of the people in my Rolodex. I understand her better. I relate to her. I know what’s ahead for her. (Until recently, at least!)
When authors get together, we talk about our characters as if they are honest-to-gosh people. We say, “So-and-so would never do that!” or “She’s going through a difficult time.” An eavesdropper might conclude we’re gossiping.
And we are. The problem is we’re talking earnestly about non-existent people. We’re discussing our imaginary playmates.
We’re clearly off our rockers.
But trust me, it’s all good. Especially for our readers. See, if we don’t believe our characters exist, if we don’t think of them as living and breathing souls…you won’t either!


Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of the Agatha-nominated Paper, Scissors, Death, featuring single mom and scrapbooker-turned-sleuth, Kiki Lowenstein. The second book in the series—Cut, Crop & Die—was released June 2009. Photo, Snap, Shot is now available for pre-ordering at Go to

You can read an excerpt from Photo, Snap, Shot at

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Guest Blogger - Cricket McRae

Keeping the Mayhem at Bay

First off, thanks to Pamela and Terri for inviting me to guest post! When I learned the subject would be the mayhem of being an author, I first thought of the good kind of mayhem.

See, as a mystery writer I get to create mayhem for my characters on a regular basis. It’s required. Every time my sleuth, soap maker Sophie Mae Reynolds, gets into another bind I try to make it just a little worse. And then, a little worse than that. Near misses, rotten people, bad behavior and even murder – it’s all great fun.

And then I thought of the not-so-good flavor of mayhem. The kind that reduces writing time and productivity, and has a negative impact on creativity. For me, that’s being unorganized when working on multiple projects.

My office isn’t exactly a Superfund site, but let’s face it: I’m not a terribly neat and tidy person by nature. So it is with some effort that I’ve developed a few ways to keep the potential mayhem under control.

First there’s the big picture. I use a Gantt chart in an Excel spreadsheet to schedule all my projects for the upcoming year. It’s a bar chart that illustrates projects over time and allows you to break them down into smaller tasks and track progress. I plug in everything I know about then tweak it until things look reasonably doable. Every three months or so I update and adjust the contents, and add upcoming items to my master to-do list.

A year might include final edits on one book, researching and writing my next Home Crafting Mystery, launching a new blog, writing three short stories, writing a series of articles, promoting a newly released book with a blog tour and/or signing tour, mentoring a teen writer, and developing a new series. That’s on top of daily promotional activities, blogging on Inkspot, working with my critique group, interviews, guest blogging, keeping up with what’s going on with the publishing industry and, of course, the ubiquitous email.

It’s not possible to do all of it at once. Some deadlines come from others and some I determine from my personal goals. The chart lets me figure out how to fit it all in so I can relax, let go, and deal with what’s in front of me at the moment.

The yearly chart also includes vacations, conventions, conferences, holidays, classes taught and taken, the uber-productive months in the middle of winter, time in the spring for getting the gardens in, and time in the fall for harvesting and food preservation.

Other ways I organize my office and my time tend to be paper based. My desk blotter is a big monthly calendar with lots of space to write. Next to it is a daily planner with a page per day for to-do lists and notes. Several notebooks stand at attention on the return behind my desk chair. One contains my master to-do list, with urgent, upcoming and important tasks highlighted. I go through the whole list about once a week, adding items and crossing others off. I try to break each task down to its smallest component parts to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Each project also has its own notebook full of ideas, reminders, research, scenes, character studies, etc. Most have pockets where I tuck the myriad of notes jotted throughout the day as thoughts occur to me. When I turn my attention to a given project I go through those notes and transcribe or toss them. One notebook is devoted to blog post ideas. Another tracks marketing contacts, bookstores, etc., including notes about whom I’ve contacted, when, and what it was regarding. All the notebooks are hodgepodges of loosely organized information.

And finally, when I start plotting a new book I usually do a rough outline using index cards and then tack them to a length of blank newsprint hanging all along one wall. The more tension in a scene, the higher the card goes on the wall. This allows me to see the flow of the book in general, track subplots, rearrange scenes, and spot holes and potentially dull pacing.

Wow. Now that I’ve related all these specifics, I feel terrifically organized and on top of things! That’s an illusion, of course. I barely manage to keep the mayhem of writing at bay with these admittedly old-school methods. But barely is good enough.

Speaking at Third Place Books in Seattle, comedian Lewis Black described his predominant mental state while writing. He said, “You know that feeling you get when you’re twelve years old, and it’s Sunday night, and you haven’t done your homework yet? When you’re writing a book it feels like that all the time.”

He was right. It really does feel like that.

I’d love to hear how other people organize their busy lives!

Author of the Sophie Mae Reynolds Home Crafting Mysteries
#4: Something Borrowed, Something Bleu, July, 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010

Review - Hush my Mouth by Cathy Pickens

Author: Cathy Pickens
(Southern Fried Mystery)
Page Count 319
Avery Andrews is a small town lawyer and when her first case turns into part of a cold murder Avery can't help but wonder what will get the better of her, fixing up the home she now resides in which used to be a Funeral Home or a cold murder case?
To top off her day group of ghoster hunters arrive in Dacus and wanting directions to the nearest haunting.
in one day life turns into one surprise after another as Fran French enters Avery's life with the news that her friend Neanna has disappeared and she is sure that it is linked to what happened to Neanna's mother a long long time ago.
Delving into family trees and secrets is always interesting but this time Avery can't close the coffin lid until she know who and what is buried where and how, and as southern as she is she knows the best way to find out what you need to know is to shut up and make others talk. Sounds easy but try it sometime and you'll understand why one case leads to another which lead to murder. Why a suicide isn't always a suicide and why ghost hunting can be rush you to the other side faster than by way of the cemetary.
In other words you have to read this cozy and you'll be trapped because then there is no way you can't pick up another southern fried mystery.
Tongues will be wagging for years to come over HUSH MY MOUTH by Cathy Picken ********
Pamela James

Review - Jinx by Jennifer Estep

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Berkley (September 2, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0425220621

Bella is surrounded by superheroes in her family and friends. Her father killed by one of the city's Ubervillans. She even has a power of her own - Luck - which she wants no part of. Yet at a museum robbery, she meets the attractive rogue hero/villain? Debonair. He likes her and she wants no part of him. And he certainly is persistent. Not to mention he comes with Hangman, his own personal ubervillan. Nothing which could be more of a turn-off for her.

A very fun fictional world right out of the comics. Often tongue in cheek or over the top.

This is the third book in the series and now I definitely need to go back and read the first two.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Guest Blogger - Chris Grabenstein

What a coinkydink.

Just when Terri and Pamela asked me to be a guest blogger on the topic “the magic of being an author,” I’ was wrapping up the first draft of a holiday story for middle grades readers that involves the magic of Christmas and a few peashooter blasts of magical pixie dust.

And I didn’t know the novella (I think that’s what you call a book that’s bigger than a breadbasket but under 40 thousand words) PLEASE DON’T CALL ME CHRISTINA KRINGLE would involve pixie dust when I first sat down to rework “The Elves And The Shoemaker” as a modern day Christmas tale.

It just happened. Magically. Mysteriously.

That’s one of the big magic tricks of being an author that I still marvel at: Not knowing exactly where I’m going when I sit down to write the first page of something new. Yes, I have a general idea of where I might end up, just no idea of the detours and interesting sights along the way. For those, I trust in magic (pling!).
(At this juncture, you might want to hum a verse of “Do You Believe In Magic?” by The Lovin Spoonful, my first writing instructors.)

I have been writing professionally since 1984 (when I started writing advertising copy for James Patterson at J. Walter Thompson, New York and made Burger King Whoppers sound magically delicious) and have been counting on ideas magically popping into my head the whole time. I start with a big “What if?” and keep adding on the “And then’s” as I go, delighting myself when I magically discover them. This is why, when I’m out walking the dog or jogging (slogging?) around Central Park, I always make sure I have note cards and a Sharpie pen. The Sharpie is key. The ink doesn’t run when you sweat on it.

I am forever jotting down the next thing to happen and then pinning the note cards to one of several bulletin boards hovering over my writing desk. And the photos on the boards? Faces and places for my characters and settings that magically come alive inside my computer.

When I was writing TILT A WHIRL, winner of the Anthony Award for best first mystery, I had the character of John Ceepak but knew he would make an annoying narrator. It took a dog walk and (pling!) magic for me to come up with Danny Boyle, the wise guy summer cop who tells the stories.

On one of my daily runs around Central Park, I was woolgathering about roller coasters and all those warnings about not riding the ride if you’re pregnant or have a heart condition when the idea for Ceepak Mystery #6 magically popped into my head. ROLLING THUNDER, coming out May 2010, starts with a bang: a heart attack on a roller coaster!

Magic helped me discover a whole cast of ghosts I didn’t know would be haunting THE HANGING HILL until I “built” the summer stock theatre where the story takes place and these terrific characters just started popping up in the wings.

I liked some of these folks so much, I’m bringing them back for Haunted Places Mystery #3 THE SMOKY CORRIDOR, which Random House will publish in August, 2010.
When I saw three teenagers sneaking cigarettes outside a school a few blocks from my apartment, I magically had a whole short story in my head by the time I got home. “The Demon In The Dunes” will appear in DEATH’S EXCELLENT VACATION, an anthology of paranormal tales edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner that will also come out in August 2010.

The magic that guides so many authors is probably the subconscious bubbling up when we least expect it. I often think of my writing day as dreaming while being awake and sitting up. That’s when the magic takes place. It takes about twenty minutes of fingers dancing on keyboard for me to slip into The Zone, where the world outside my window magically disappears and all that exists are the characters and the scene in the story.
My wife now knows that if she tells me something while I’m in the zone I will not remember it when I return to the real world after writing my two thousand new words for the day.
I’m not really in the room when I’m writing.
I’ve been transported to a haunted theatre, or the Jersey Shore, or a middle school with voodoo zombies prowling around in the basement.
How’d I get to these places?

Magic helped me discover a whole cast of ghosts I didn’t know would be haunting THE HANGING HILL until I “built” the summer stock theatre where the story takes place and these terrific characters just started popping up in the wings.

I liked some of these folks so much, I’m bringing them back for Haunted Places Mystery #3 THE SMOKY CORRIDOR, which Random House will publish in August, 2010.
When I saw three teenagers sneaking cigarettes outside a school a few blocks from my apartment, I magically had a whole short story in my head by the time I got home. “The Demon In The Dunes” will appear in DEATH’S EXCELLENT VACATION, an anthology of paranormal tales edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner that will also come out in August 2010.

The magic that guides so many authors is probably the subconscious bubbling up when we least expect it. I often think of my writing day as dreaming while being awake and sitting up. That’s when the magic takes place. It takes about twenty minutes of fingers dancing on keyboard for me to slip into The Zone, where the world outside my window magically disappears and all that exists are the characters and the scene in the story.

My wife now knows that if she tells me something while I’m in the zone I will not remember it when I return to the real world after writing my two thousand new words for the day.

I’m not really in the room when I’m writing.

I’ve been transported to a haunted theatre, or the Jersey Shore, or a middle school with voodoo zombies prowling around in the basement.

How’d I get to these places?



And for those who don't know Chris:

Chris Grabenstein

Chris Grabenstein did improvisational comedy in New York City with Bruce Willis before James Patterson hired him to write advertising copy.
His John Ceepak mystery TILT A WHIRL, published in 2005, won the Anthony Award for Best First Mystery and mad several Best Mysteries of the Year Lists. It was followed by MAD MOUSE, WHACK A MOLE, HELL HOLE, MIND SCRAMBLER, and, in May 2010, ROLLING THUNDER. A John Ceepak short story “Ring Toss” will also appear in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in June 2010.
Chris is also the critically acclaimed author of the holiday thrillers SLAY RIDE and HELL FOR THE HOLIDAYS and his short story THE DEMON OF THE DUNES will appear in Charlaine Harris’s “Death’s Excellent Vacation” Anthology in August 2010.
His first book for middle grades readers, THE CROSSROADS won both the Agatha and Anthony awards for best Children’s/YA Mystery and has been optioned to be made into a movie. The sequel, THE HANGING HILL just came out from Random House and will be followed in 2010 by THE SMOKY CORRIDOR.
Chris also wrote a children's play CURIOSITY CAT, "the play within the book" from THE HANGING HILL, which will have its world premiere at the Children's Theatre of Knoxville in April 2010.
Chris’s dog Fred has even better credits: Fred starred on Broadway in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Review: Blotto, Twinks and the Intimate Review by Simon Brett

Blotto and his friend go see  Light and Frothy;   a new popular show and his friend falls for the star of the show.  After his friend is k...