Monday, May 31, 2010

My favorite ghost do do do....

As you are reading this, I will be on a ship cruising around Alaska, so this is an encore blog posted on a fellow mystery writer's site several months ago. She asked if I could talk about something paranormal. Until last year, I laughed when people spouted off about weird things they blamed on the supernatural.

Well, I don’t anymore!

In 2009 I entered a paranormal mystery in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest against my better judgment. I hate contests. I only mention this to let you know where my mind was when I entered the ABNA. It was free, so I thought what the heck and I sent it off. I forgot about it until the day they were supposed to announce the quarterfinalists – March 16th.

I was nuts that whole day, checking the Amazon site at least every ten minutes. Finally at midnight, I went to bed, but when I woke up at 3:30 am, I HAD to check. Sure enough, there was an email from Amazon time stamped 12:30 am which made it March 17th.

Now here’s where it gets spooky. TALK DEAD TO ME is a story about four sisters who come together for the funeral of the fifth sister, fashioned after my own relationship with my four sisters, one of whom died many years ago. The dead woman, a loner all her life, and the heroine have been estranged for over nine years. At the funeral home, the ghost appears to the heroine to convince her to help her find her killer. I’ll spare you the details except to say, TDTM is a story about starting over, healing relationships, murder and mayhem. I made my ghost a wise-cracking, smart-mouthed woman (nothing like my real sister) who adds humor to the mix.

I sent out emails to all my relatives and told them to read the excerpt. I can’t tell you the chills I got when my nephew commented about how appropriate that I found out on the exact day his mother, my sister, had died twelve years earlier. I swear to you, in that moment when I realized he was right, I knew Theresa, my sister, had a hand in this. Knew she must have hexed the two people who reviewed my entry and bullied them into choosing it.

Amazon posted the first chapter of all the quarterfinalists’ manuscripts as a free download. To drum up reviews and send people for downloads, I guest-blogged on several sites talking up the contest. On one particular blog, I was responding to comments and I was telling a story about my sister before she died.

Theresa was 2 years older than me and we fought like cats and dogs growing up. It wasn’t until our older years that we finally developed a closer relationship (much like my characters in TDTM.) About a year before she died, she shared a secret with me, making me swear not to tell my other sisters. After she died, I was on the phone with my younger sister, who is still my best friend today, and somehow she managed to get me to tell her Theresa’s secret. At the precise moment I did, the lights in my house dimmed.

I kid you not. I was so freaked out, I have never told her secret again.

Now comes the “do do do do” Twilight Zone moment. Since it was a blog, there was an anti-spam word for that particular comment. My sister’s name is Theresa but we called her Tessie. My ghost is Tessa, and the anti-spam word was TESSE.

OMG! I’m a believer. And you know what? I think I feel closer to her now than I ever did when she was alive. It’s like I know she’s watching from heaven and telling me she’s okay.

I’m crying now just thinking about it, so I’ll end this and let y’all tell me about any spooky things that happened to you.

Oh, and TDTM never sold, although an editor at Berkley loved it but couldn’t use it because she was acquiring cozies. With my smart-mouthed ghost, gruesome murder scenes, etc, she would have had to change too much of the “good stuff”, she said. Instead, she offered me a three book deal to write a cozy series. The first one, Ducks in a Row, comes out in July of 2011. No ghosts in that one.

Now to explain the picture. My dear friend, the very talented, Sylvia Rochester, made this voo doo doll and sent it to me. Who says I don't believe in this stuff???

Okay, Wow me with your spooky stories. (I should say Wow my fellow blogmates!!)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Cassy's Corner: Getting Organized!

Cassy’s Corner

First, I want to let folks know that beginning in June I’ll be moving my “day” to Wednesday. We’ll have guests on various days during the week plus on Fridays. We are hoping this will even out the postings plus offer all you dear readers more diversity. Mary has taken command (thank you, girl) and posted the guest list. More guests will be added within the week. Keep coming back to check. You’re not going to want to miss anything!

Second, I thought I’d share my latest fussings. I have been trying to organize my office. I work from my home so my office is really the battle station for the house. Bills come in, junk mail, notes to myself such as “don’t forget to call the plumber,” or “why hasn’t the rug been delivered yet?” The list goes on.

Of course, then there is my writing. (Yes, Christine, dear agent, I am writing!) So that means I have piles of notes, cards, pages, books and stickies. You might remember that I’m the queen of stickies. When I’m dead and gone my office could become a satellite store for Staples.

Then, there are my computers. I have a desk top, an old lap top and a new lap top. Well, they are supposed to communicate via the Airport in the Mac system. Wireless. Some days they are fantastic. Some days they refuse to sync with each other like some children on the playground. I move among them (don’t ask why, I just do) and on a Monday all the files are right there, no problem. Two days later—poof—they have decided not to play together. I am sure it’s my fault, that’s what all mothers say. But, really, how many old files, old emails, old bookmarks do you have living on your computer?

So, where I’m really going with this is: organization. We all have beyond nutty lifestyles. We all are managing more than we probably even realize. How do we create systems that help us rather than control us? I started a filing system that I was pretty darn proud of. Well, it was so good it took over. I was working for my system.

My husband and I like things pretty neat and tidy. I dread the day he opens one of the closets in my office and discovers the stacks and piles that “keep” my office neat and tidy. I’ll be found out soon, I’m sure.

What do you do? How do you keep office and writing separate from home and details? How do you work when the phone keeps ringing, and that means new notes to yourself about what you now need to remember to do? Shall I keep listing the challenges? Chime in here, people. I know we can collectively pool a wonderful list of solutions.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mary's rant on triggers

Time to take a break from exciting. No that is not a cue to run to another blog. I hope I won't be boring. However, after the week we've had, I'm going to have trouble keeping your interest.

I have no one to interview, no contest winners to announce. No contest to announce we're having. It's just me, folks.

I'm going to rant a bit about triggers. All kinds. Do you have any? I have food triggers. Salt water taffy comes to mind as one, but to be honest, food in general is a trigger to make me eat like a pig. What other triggers do I have? Email. I'm addicted--I blogged a bit about this on my personal blog yesterday. I'm looking for an intervention. However, a dear friend called me after reading and gave me some advice. I'm working on it, keep your fingers crossed it works.

The whole thing started me thinking about what other triggers there are. As writers do we have triggers that get us in the mood to hunker in to our chairs and write for hours? Or do we have triggers that set off an idea?

I have had something trigger an idea, and have acted on it. What sets off the trigger in your brain? Are we wired different than other people? Have you ever had people ask you "Where do you come up with your ideas?" I have all the time, and I usually shrug and say "I don't know."

The truth is, I come up with all my ideas because something triggered a germ of a thought and it grew. Some stop after a blurb and others grow into stories. While writing this I've thought over my ideas and their triggers. Is there one thing more than anything that will trigger my germ of an idea? Yes, music. Then the hard part comes, growing the germ to a blurb, then synopsis and finally to a novel.

Tell me, what are your writing triggers?

Readers do you have triggers that germinate in your mind and make you crave a certain genre when you go to the book store? Or do you usually buy the same genre over and over?

Thanks for stopping by M&M hope to see you all back tomorrow, and the next day and the next...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mary chats with Sue Grimshaw of Borders

Welcome, Sue Grimshaw romance buyer for Borders, to our Mysteries and Margaritas.

Mary: First before we start with the interrogation… er I mean questions. Tell us a little bit about yourself, Sue Grimshaw, not the buyer of Borders. We’ll get to that.

Sue: I was born and raised in the Midwest. I’ve been married to my husband Bill 19 years.  I am a voracious reader of romance and when I’m not reading I enjoy biking, skiing and just being out of doors.

Mary: Skiing? Let's hope for snow then when you come to Utah! Now, please tell us a little about your hard job with Borders. What is it like reading romance books for a living?

Sue:  Not only do I read as much as I possibly can, but I also spend quite a bit of time at the computer researching trends and analyzing our business.  I am also responsible for marketing, merchandising and promoting the romance genre, which now includes the Borders True Romance Blog ( and our True Romance videos.  They are fun- filled days where I have something to do every minute.  I also have the opportunity to travel visiting conferences (RWA, RT and Romcon) and speaking at RWA chapter groups.

Mary: Do you suggest what books for Border to buy, or do you actually buy the books? If so, how do you select them? I know Romance Sells goes to libraries and book stores, are their other publications?

Sue: It is my responsibility to choose and buy the Romance books for all stores.  (I have another person in my department who works with me on allocating the orders to the stores.) Publisher reps visit us monthly selling roughly 5 to 6 months in advance of the release of a new book. During these appointments, we determine the buy based on review of the author or category trends, promotional ideas and the like.  Sometimes a buy is based on author history and sometimes not.  Publishers usually indicate who they are promoting and then we’ll see if that makes sense for our business. 

Mary: As you probably have guessed, I’m an aspiring writer. I’ve published a few books with small presses, but now I’ve contracted with an agent, I hope to publish with a large press. Most small presses have Print on Demand books, and it’s a struggle to order them in, with the return factor, etc. Do you ever order small press books for Borders?

Sue: Small press is usually ordered through a distributor and it is primarily based on what sort of discounting is offered, returns policies and such. 

Mary: Yes and if there is the POD has not returnable then you cannot order, I've found that out. I have taken many a workshop on marketing, as we all have. A few years ago we had the local buyer from our Utah Borders visit our Utah RWA meeting. He gave us a hand out of what Borders expected to see in a ‘press packet’. I spent a lot of money compiling one and sending to all the Borders and your competitor. I received several rejections-yes from bookstores-implying that my book was self published. Do you consider authors published with small publishers self-published and if so, why?

Sue: Any author published through a publisher is a published author in my book.  Therefore, small publishers published authors are published, not self published.  If an author pays to have her book published, that is self publishing; if an author is published where the author does not give an advance to be published, her book is then considered published.  The challenge we face is the book needs to be available thru one of our distributors. . . and available at a fair market price.  Small publishers sometimes are not as competitive & that is where we need to make a business decision & it maybe to not carry a book.  Very confusing is it not.

Mary: Yes it can be confusing, even for myself who is published with a small publisher. I must say this has been a fun interview . Sue has a blog called True Romance I got caught up in reading everything—for two days—watching her interview with Nora Roberts, etc. Everyone needs to check Sue’s blog out. Sue, how do you keep your blog fresh? How do you consider a guest blogger?

Sue:  The blog has been a lot of fun and I am fortunate that viewers are enjoying the content we offer.  There are lots of people in house that work with me on the format and such and I think the key to keeping it fresh is having guest bloggers.  We are always looking for guests to post, whether an author, reader or bookseller, as everyone has a view of romance and we like to hear from them all.  The goal has always been to create a community for romance readers and I think we’ve done just that.

Mary: Sue will also be a guest Key Note speaker at the Utah RWA annual Heart of the West Conference Out, Out, damned Plot—A conference in five acts. I’m very excited about her visit! Sue when you visit a conference, what do you usually do? Do you listen to pitches at a conference, if so, do you then refer that person to an agent or editor? Or do you only take pitches from published author’s who pitch their book to you for Borders? How do you pick the conferences you attend?

Sue: Typically I’m asked to hold a workshop to talk about the state of the industry and trends and more  -- and of course to promote Borders.  I’ve only listened to pitches once and it is mainly to give authors a bit of practice more than anything. Of course, if something sounds interesting I may take it back with me.  I typically travel once a month either to a convention or chapter group meeting.  In terms of picking the conferences I attend, my travel expenses need to be fully funded. Other than that I will go anywhere.

Mary: With the knowledge you’ve gained over the years in this industry, what advice do you give new authors? And what advice do you give veteran authors vying to keep their place in the spot light?

Sue: I give the same advice to both new and veteran authors:  write the best book ever including creating strong, emotional characters that endear the reader from page one and draw them through the story.  So many times I’ve heard from readers that they’ll follow great characters anywhere.

Mary: As I mentioned, I watched your interview with Nora, can you tell me what author you’ve met that caused the most butterflies in your tummy? And were you lucky enough to interview that person?

Sue: Nora by far would be the answer to those questions.  I was just exchanging emails with an author and mentioned how much I envy authors and their storytelling.  It just amazes me how someone can put so many words on paper and make them work, obtaining emotional reactions from their readers.  If only I could be that clever . . . !

: And as an author I strive for that success! I see you on Twitter, a lot, do you find Twitter a good marketing tool? Do you use Facebook also?

Sue: Sheila Clover of Circle of Seven introduced me to Friend Feed which links up the social networks. Now I Tweet and FB and who knows what else I’ll do!  It has been a lot of fun and it’s a great marketing tool too.

Mary: Is there anything I’ve not thought to ask that you think would be beneficial to add to this interview?

Sue:  Let me thank you for being so supportive of Borders and for interviewing me today.  Borders is such a staunch supporter of Romance and I am pleased that you’ve given us this opportunity to chat about it.

Thank you, Sue Grimshaw, for agreeing to join me on Mysteries and Margaritas. I know that everyone will have a wonderful time getting to know you!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tuesdays Tidbits With Kari: Featuring Mystery Author Luisa Buehler

Please welcome author Luisa Buehler. You can find out more about Luisa and her books at: and
Grace Marsden Mysteries ~ Think Monk in a skirt solving Cold Cases ~

Kari: I love your tagline: think Monk in a skirt solving cold cases. Your Grace Marsden Mystery series sounds fascinationg. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Luisa: Grace is a warm, good hearted person who is loyal to a fault and fiercely protective of friends and family. I blame Nancy Drew for Grace's inability to draw the line, say no, back away and in general, not go there. Both Grace and I read Nancy Drew when we were in junior high. Grace, however, resembles Nancy not one bit. Grace is not perfect, not slender and expertly skilled and successful in whatever she attempts. She is shorter than stylish, leaning toward the wrong side of her weight chart and oh, yes, she suffers with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Each book involves a cold case and wherever the bones are discovered, I weave in a ghost story. Because of the spirit involvement, another tag line I'm considering is, When Mr. Monk meets the Medium. Grace becomes involved in these cases not so much because they affect her directly but because a friend or family member becomes embroiled in something nasty, and loyal Grace rushes to their side. It is only in the first book, The Rosary Bride, that Grace makes the actual discovery behind the fireplace at her Alma mater of a skeleton in a tattered wedding gown. Nuns, a cloister walk, underground tunnels and the resident all girls Catholic school ghost kicked off the series.

Grace is never alone for long as she follows the decades old clues. Her English husband, Harry Marsden, ex-British Intelligence, her best friend Karen Kramer, and Karen's older brother Ric Kramer, police Inspector and Grace's early suitor aren't far from her side when trouble comes calling. The series has been called "a cold case sizzle" as it follows the cold trail of bygone crimes blending a traditional whodunit with a hint of romance and a touch of the supernatural.

Kari: You have quite an interesting background. How do you juggle it all? What's your writing schedule like?

Luisa: My secret weapon is the wonderful guy I married 26 years ago, Gerry. (no relation to Harry). He is supportive of both my passions. When in 2002 I bought the business I had been working at and signed a contract with Echelon Press for two books he stepped up and helped with both businesses. When I worked late at the office, he handled dinner and homework with our son, Christopher. When I needed to write instead of clean house, we wore thick socks and dragged our feet when we walked over the tiled floors. I'd thought of spraying the socks with that anti-static, pick up dust, product but never did.

I am joking about the socks but not about Gerry's support. My husband was always a self-sufficient sort of fellow--Army, living on his own, no steady squeeze to do chores and our son learned to do his own laundry, cook some basic meals, sew on the occasional errant button, etc. He's in college now and does more than his share of the grocery shopping and cooking for himself and his roommates and they are girls!

Now about the MIND SET of juggling life. Having help and support are important. Having an internal game plan is key. Since I have a business to run, I have to carve out time to write, research, noodle the ideas and fine tune the WIP. I get up at five a.m. every day (maybe sleep in until six on Sundays). I am a morning person, and a tad obsessive (write what you know,eh?) So I have a routine that helps me stay focused and not fall behind on deadlines and not get tense, anxious and overwhelmed. I turn on my laptop on my desk on the landing of the second floor. While it's booting up, I go downstairs, make the coffee, say my morning prayers (how else does one get through anything), head upstairs to write until about sixish, head to the kitchen for a second cup, step out to get the paper for Gerry (the least I can do) back up to write until seven. I usually (unless I have an early business meeting) walk two miles around the neighborhood. Depending on the season, I either spend a few minutes in my garden watering potted annuals and veggies and pulling the ubiquitous mustard weed, or I loll in one of the sitting areas in my garden and think about Grace and what she'll be doing.

Once I'm back inside, I do my Swiffer 15. This is my way of feeling that I'm not a housework slug. I choose one area and set a timer (heaven forbid I'd clean longer than necessary) and clean. If I don't finish, I put it on the next day's schedule. I leave for my office at about 8:30. I do bigger chunks of cleaning on the weekends (honest) which I try to spend with friends and my family. The short answer to how I juggle career, family, writing is 'haphazardly and usually on one high-heel!'

Kari: What's on the horizon for you? More books in this series? Any plans for a new series or even trying your hand at a new genre?

Luisa: The Grace Marsden series will end with book seven, The Re-Enactors: A Staged Death. I love writing about Grace and her pals but since she is an amateur sleuth, it becomes increasingly difficult to find compelling reason why she continues to become embroiled in murder. People joke about the Cabot Cove Syndrome, and I don't want that to be the case with Grace. I have some ideas for a stand alone thriller novel that would certainly be a departure from the cozy genre.

Currently I have completed a novel for middle grade boys. It's an adventure story about six American Boy Scouts attending Jamboree in Dover, England. They discover the meaning of friendship and loyalty when they meet a ghost patrol of four English scouts killed sixty years earlier during the evacuation of Dunkirk. I am looking for an agent for this book. As for another series, I have thoughts for one centered around an employment agency (my day job), a few characters roughed out but the concept still needs work.

Kari: Who are your favorite authors?

Luisa: Too many as my TBR pile will attest to. I love the classic writers, Christie, Sayers, Allingham. In the here and now, I enjoy reading Anne Perry, Barbara D'Amato, Marcia Muller, Margaret Maron, all great storytellers. Not to leave out the guys I enjoy reading Willian Kent Krueger, John Crais, John B. Parker, Michael Connolly; they write wonderfully heart bruised characters.

Thank you so much for being with us, Luisa! Can't wait to read your series!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

And The Winner Of The Hook, Line, and Sinker Contest Is…….

First Place……………..Kathy Bremmer (Katt)…Critique by CW and a M & M tote

He’s in the business of helping people disappear and she’s making a lifework out of finding them. He plans to shut her down using trickery and seduction but she twists him up like a pretzel and he can’t derail her from her mission. Their battle of wills is put on hold when another player rudely steps between them and starts shooting.

Second Place……………Terri Hall……M & M tote

In a deadly race to crush a threat to national security, an ambitious journalist and straight-arrow FBI agent reluctantly team up to bring down the terrorist cell her investigative reporting has uncovered. When her relentless digging unearths chilling links to the bureau itself, she’s forced to flee—but he can’t let her. Now they’re on the run, both guarding secrets along with their hearts and, despite the passion that flares between them, unable to trust each other…as the bad guys close in.

Third Place………………Cindy Carroll…..M & M tote

After almost being murdered by a serial killer, a skeptic in all things other worldly starts to see ghosts. An investigative reporter, she teams up with the villain’s latest victim to track him down, while trying to convince everyone she’s not insane for talking to people only she can see. She must catch this man before he can kill his current captive, her sister.

Wow! This was a fun ride. First off, I need the three winners to email me with a snail mail address so we can get our great tote bags sent out.

Katt, if you’ll send me a file with your first chapter, I will get that to Christine to critique.

But wait! There’s more good news. Although Katt is the only contestant who will receive a critique from Christine, she wants to see a first chapter from all three winners.

Yeah!! She was impressed with the blurbs and had to really work at picking the three best.

We, at M & M want to thank everyone who was brave enough to put their stuff out here for all to see and for hanging in there with us to the very end. We’ve decided this was so much fun, we’re going to make it an annual event (with another name. LOL) Stay tuned for the contest to NAME the contest!!

In the meantime, keep coming back to check the blog daily. We’ve planned some fun things along with our regular writing/craft related topics and as we’ve found out, it’s way more fun when everyone chimes in. We have a great lineup of guest bloggers for June. On Friday the 4th, we have the very talented, Karin Harlow, who’s got a new RS series coming out soon and who’ll talk about what’s happening in the industry. She doesn’t hold anything back, so get your questions ready. On June 11th, the successful and talented Cleo Coyle who writes the Coffee House Mysteries will be stopping by and she’s bringing a yummy recipe with her. And here’s a date you will definitely want to mark on your calendar. On June 18th, I will be interviewing the amazing Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary Agency who also shoots from the hip and will hold nothing back. In the past six months, she’s gotten book deals for five debut authors. Drop by and ask her what it takes to add you to the list.

Friday, the 25th will be a surprise, which in Liz talk means I don’t have anyone yet!! Count on it being someone great, though.

Again, thanks for making this so much fun for all of us. Without your comments, this would have been just another contest. And if you see any of us in Orlando (all four of us will be there), come up and say hello. Actually, if you tell one of us that you love M & M and give us your business card, your name will be entered in a drawing on Saturday afternoon, July 31 for an M & M tote bag.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Cassy’s Corner- A Conversation with Jeri Westerson

Noir and hard-boiled fiction seem to be in Jeri Westerson’s blood. She was born and bred on the mean streets of Los Angeles. Reporter, would-be actress, graphic artist; these are the things she spent her time on before creating the newest hardboiled detective, Crispin Guest—ex-knight turned PI, solving crimes in the tough setting of the fourteenth century London in her popular series. The Boston Globe called her detective, “A medieval Sam Spade, a tough guy who operates according to his own moral compass.” Her 2008 debut, VEIL OF LIES, garnered nominations for the Macavity Award for historical mystery and the Shamus Award for Best First PI novel. Her second, SERPENT IN THE THORNS, is also a 2010 finalist for the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award, and her third, THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT is due for release October 12.

Please offer a welcome to Jeri. She is more than generous to spend time with us today on Mysteries and Margaritas.

Cassy: Jeri: First, thank you. This is a delight to have you here. Would you tell me about your work? You write novels that take place in the medieval times. Give us a little of your background.

Jeri: I write what I call “Medieval Noir.” It’s something a little darker and grittier from most medieval mysteries with a nun or a monk protagonist. It’s hard-boiled detective fiction set in the Middle Ages. You might want to think of my protagonist as a Medieval Sam Spade.

People ask all the time if I have a degree in history. I don’t have a history degree and I never taught history. My degree was in graphic design! Though by way of medieval history. Let me explain.

My parents were big fans of English history, the Middle Ages in particular. And so there were always books around both fiction and nonfiction. I used to love the books with the illuminated manuscripts in them, with the great little drawings and amazing calligraphy. So I started getting books from the library about calligraphy and I taught myself how to do it. And then I began inventing my own fonts. And I was always drawing and writing stories that I illustrated. I never knew ‘til much later that people get paid good money to do the kind of artwork. So though I always loved history as something kind of cool it led me to a graphic design career.

Cassy: How did you decide the 14th Century was where you wanted to spend so much time? Is there something unusually appealing to you about that time frame?

Jeri: The late Middle Ages, particularly during the reign of Richard II, was an interesting time. First off, Richard comes to the throne when he’s ten. It’s the beginning of the Hundred Years War. They’re still recovering from the Plague Years. It’s also the time of Geoffrey Chaucer, jousting, courtly love—all kinds of cool things. With Chaucer, we have the emergence of English as the language of both the people and the court. Prior to that, after William the Conqueror conquered England, the language of the elite was French. Sometimes the British monarchs didn’t even speak English. But now, King Richard is speaking English (Middle English, that is) and everyone can understand everyone else. It’s the beginning of their sense of Englishness that culminates centuries later with Henry VIII.

Cassy: This is so intriguing. Would you describe your research process for us? We've had a number of posts about research, but nothing on subjects that are centuries ago. This is a group that LOVES to hear about process, so share all you can.

Jeri: Well! How long have you got? I do a lot of old-fashioned book reading, prowling my local university library for the best sources. Then there’s the Internet to connect with people across the pond in archives in England. They have been most accommodating by helping me out and copying maps and floor plans that I just can’t get here. At one time, I was researching an old priory in England that is now a bed and breakfast. The people who currently own it were nice enough to take pictures of their house and gardens and do a hand drawn floor plan of the original priory and send it to me!

Doing research on websites, like Wikipedia should not be the end of anyone’s investigations. If you find good information, look to see if the website has a bibliography and then go back to the library for further study. I’m also lucky enough to belong to the Internet’s oldest list of medieval scholars, professors, historians, and a few authors. They tell me the best books in which to find my information and at the same time the ones to avoid. I’ve obtained translations in Latin and Medieval French from the folks on that list and all sorts of other little bits of information I never would have known how to find.

And there are also other great resources on the Internet. I have found people who are big into re-enacting the medieval period. Not just Ren Fair people but folks seriously into the research. There is a woman who writes a diary of her costuming history with lots of pictures, talking about the various vegetable dyes she used to get the results, how to make covered buttons, all the careful stitching. Amazing detail of people who are living it.

And then I do my own hands on research. I’ve made medieval recipes and brewed medieval ale. I’ve worn the garb and learned how to use medieval weapons. There is nothing like a little hands on research to know how it all feels, how you move with armor, how heavy the weapons are and what kind of damage you can do with it. It gives tremendous insight.

Cassy: Crispin Guest is an ex-knight turned detective. Tell us about him.

Jeri: Crispin is a man born and bred to be a leader but also to serve his king and his betters honorably. He’s skilled in all the finer accomplishments of a man of his class—hunting, fighting, jousting, swordsmanship, courtly manners, languages, how to rule other men as he did back on his own estates where he was part of the nobility. All that is cast away when Crispin sees that the ten-year-old son of Prince Edward of Woodstock (the Black Prince), son of King Edward III is to take the throne. His mentor the Duke of Lancaster, the man who raised him when his own father and mother died, was the better statesman and should be on the throne. He heard of a conspiracy to do just that and he joined with the conspirators. But the plot was revealed and all the knights involved were executed in nasty ways. Crispin was the last and before he was to die, the duke spoke up to his nephew the king and begged for Crispin’s life. His life was spared but all else was taken from him and he was doomed to wander London with no means of support, no help. He reinvents himself as “The Tracker,” solving crimes and finding lost objects. It satisfies his keen sense of justice and honor and helps him do his personal penance for his act of treason. But he hasn’t left his presumption of nobility behind. He doesn’t belong on the mean streets where he makes his way but neither is he allowed at court. He is a man between, just trying to live day to day while still keeping his tattered honor in tact.

Cassy: I’m being totally swept away by your descriptions. Could you talk about what it's like to write from the male's perspective?

Jeri: I’ve always been more comfortable in the masculine mind, even as a kid playing games. Always a bit of tomboy and I never really lost that. But I find the male psyche fascinating, their motivations, their primal urges that propel their actions, particularly in this time period where they can vent their more violent urges in bloody warfare and the treatment of the lower classes. I am also intrigued by the whole “band of brothers” mystique that is unique to men. Women gather into close-knit groups but not in the same sense that men do when they are comrades in arms. I love it! It’s infinitely fascinating. Crispin is such a torn and angst-ridden character who still manages to keep his wry sense of humor. That’s a lot of fun to write.

Cassy: Two of your "Crispin" books are out and the third is in the hands of your editor. Writing a series is hard. What do you see as the pros and cons of working with the same characters across books?

Jeri: I started out writing historical novels that were standalones. I did that pretty much for ten years without getting published before I switched to mysteries. When I decided that a mystery was the way to go, I knew that it would have to be a series and I was a little intimidated, first by the prospect of writing a mystery which I thought was going to be difficult, and second by the idea of continuing to live with these characters in book after book. But once I got into it, I realized what a wonderful format it was. Basically, you are writing the biggest novel of all time! Since these days your characters have to change over time, there is a story arc playing throughout each successive book and more and more of the character’s backstory and future story can be revealed. And you don’t have to wrap it all up in 300 pages. You get to keep going! So I’m really loving living with these characters for book after book. We started with VEIL OF LIES and moved to the current book SERPENT IN THE THORNS. I’ve outlined what Crispin will do for the next fifteen books and the only downside would be if the publisher didn’t wish to continue to publish them. Now that I’ve got in my head where Crispin will be and what will happen, I want to tell that story, but it’s all a numbers game. So everyone, buy new books!

Cassy: Marketing our work is a major challenge at times. Do you have any strategies you'd like to share?

Jeri: Don’t wait until you have that contract to start networking or getting a website. Now more than ever, a web presence is vital to marketing yourself and your books. Have a website and start a dynamic blog. Even if you don’t have any writing credits, you have your own series, so find something in that to make it the theme of your blog. It’s your series. Own it. Become the expert. If it’s quilting, make it a quilting blog. If it’s procedural, make it a CSI blog. Anything to put you above the crowd. Interview interesting people and advertise it to all the connections you are making on Facebook and Twitter. Bring people to your blog and get them to know your name. And, of course, continue to write your excellent books. And don’t give up if the first one doesn’t sell. It might not. Jump into book number two as if it were book number one and keep writing. Nothing succeeds like perseverance. It took me fourteen years to get published and I’m not stopping now.

Cassy: Jeri, we can’t thank you enough for joining us today. Folks, bring it on. Jeri knows you have questions and is ready to respond. Isn’t this great? We are all in this together. Questions? Ideas? Techniques for getting it just right? We want to hear. And, Jeri the Queen of the 14th Century, is standing by.

Thanks again to each of you for sharing this time with us. We love it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Critique partners: The good, bad and the ugly!

I’ve wanted to write a novel my entire life. I’m sure this is a common statement among writers. I started my first book when my children were small; twenty some odd years ago and before the Internet. This meant trips to the library for research with three small children. Chasing two boys and trying to keep an infant quiet was no easy task, and not conducive to concentration for research. Needless to say, the pursuit of my life long dream for authordom was necessarily postponed.

About ten years ago, when the children had grown and were starting families of their own, I decided the time was right to pursue my dream. I wrote a book. I wish I had known about the wonderful support network available to writers in this day and age.

Then a few years later I decided I needed to have some type of formal instruction to help me continue. I took a creative writing class that Community Education offered. In this class I learned about a wonderful concept: ‘A Critique Group’. This is a group of writers who have the same hopes and dreams; they support each other, cry over rejections and cry with happiness over successes. No matter who’s! I wanted to join! Where could I sign up?

At the end of class one night two young people (I say this because I was old enough to be their mother) asked me if I would be interested in joining the critique group they were organizing. I told them I was very interested. That group was my first experience with the concept of critique groups. I learned a lot from that group, good and bad.

Eight months in, I realized I really needed to be involved in a group, but that particular one was not the one. By that time there were five members, two women who wrote romance, and three men, one wrote paranormal, one wrote poetry and one wrote fantasy. While all the writers were good people with the same goal, to be published, there was too much diversity of genres in the group. Most of us did not understand poetry and the poet did not understand romance, or fantasy for that matter. One member had a tendency to over analyze a sentence to the point of redundancy. On top of that, was so harsh the poor recipient of his critique would leave feeling battered and bruised.

We would meet at someone’s home and each would take turns reading out loud. Then the rest of the group would have time afterward to critique or brainstorm ideas. This sounds like a good format for a group. However we got in the habit of bringing food and the first half-hour tended to be socializing, that could sometimes turn into a party instead of focusing on the intent of the gathering. It became harder to pull ourselves back to the seriousness of reading and critiquing our work. As the time dwindled, most weeks only one person had time to read and then receive suggestions. Some felt self-conscious to read their work out loud and would find excuses not to read and only one or two people were constantly reading their work and the others were left out. It was time to move on.

I turned to research, both on the internet and books. I found several wonderful articles on how to form and conduct critique groups. I decided to organize my own. I found some women from the local RWA® who were interested and two from my first group. I also formed an online critique group with four other writers that I met through the National RWA® site.

I wanted to take what I had learned from the first group and combine it with the knowledge that I had found from my research. I sat down and made a list of things that needed to be addressed when critiquing someone’s work. I took pieces of information from the two best sources that I had found in my research and from personal experience. I was certain that reading out loud and meeting at a private home hadn’t been conducive to a critique group.

I came up with a checklist to use and guidelines (*see below) to keep the group focused. The two groups run very similar, although the meetings are a little different. They are invaluable for the information that the group gives to each other. Both groups send, via email, up to 10 pages a week before the meeting. The local group meets at a coffee shop and each person takes a turn to go through the checklist of suggestions and comments for the writers. Being in a public place cuts down on chatting and socializing. We do have fun, but it is easier to stay focused.

Because we email in advance, no one is on the spot to read their work and it takes the stress out of the group. Because we do not take the time to read, everyone has a chance to give their critiques and to hear the critiques on their own work.

The online group is similar with the exception of the meetings. Once a week each member emails their work, then right before the meeting one of the members who is having a hard time on a scene or chapter emails a list of questions to the others. Then on Sunday evening we all log on to a messenger group and chat back and forth. We have the members list of questions in front of us and we brainstorm until we have resolved our issues.

Having someone who not only understands the genre you are writing but loves to read it is priceless. I’ve found that my groups point out things in my work that I never would have found on my own. There are always new ideas being suggested and small minor errors being found. The copy that you as the writer can read over a thousand times and never spot an error, another reader may find at the first glance.

That is not the only benefit of a critique group. Everyone has had different experiences, and members share those with each other. I find myself constantly learning new ways to do things. As I said before, the members of the group are made up of fellow writers; they have the same goals as you do, so each member is a source of encouragement for the other. If one of us goes to a workshop or class and gets valuable information, it is always shared with the group.

In conclusion, I wanted to let everyone who has never joined one to know how beneficial a critique group can be, especially to a new writer. But before you do, do your homework. In order to be beneficial you need to have the right combination.

*Here is some Critique Guidelines I've come up with.
Set Rules:
1.    Every member must submit work
2.    Miss only for a good reason
3.    Don’t be late
4.    Pick a schedule that everyone can make so that no one gets cheated
5.    Don’t turn in the same chapter over and over.
6.    Don’t invite a guest to join without permission from the other members

How a on-line critique group can operate: (Example)
1.    Each person will email 1 or 2 chapters to the other members every Tuesday.
2.    Make suggestions on the pages of the document sent to you. (Track Changes is good for this)
3.    At the end of the document, add any comments or suggestions about plot etc.
4.    Email the critiqued document back the following Monday night.
5.    As you critique use your checklist to make sure you hit all the points.
6.    Always give positive with the negative.
7.    Write on a regular schedule, so you’re not frantically composing the chapter on critique day.
8.    Celebrate your successes. Feel proud when a member succeeds, because you helped.
9.    Discuss writing techniques. Each member has strengths and weaknesses; each member can learn from the others.

How to Critique:
1.    Critique is more than grammar and punctuation.
2.    Examples of areas to watch are inconsistencies, character development and growth, motivational problems, repeats, stilted dialogue, purple prose, point of view problems, logic, passive sentence construction, tying up loose ends, telling rather than showing.
3.    Write all y our comments on the manuscript, so the author can refer to them later.
4.    Although good writing should be recognized along with suggestions for change, a critique group is not a mutual admiration society.
5.    Hook – Did it grab you? Did the story fulfill its promise?
6.    Conflict - Was it strong? Did the hero/heroine work toward the
resolution? Was it significant enough for you to care if it was resolved?
7.    Resolution - Was it satisfying? Was it achieved by the hero/heroine?
8.    Characters - Were they interesting and believable? Did you care what
happened to them?
9.    Setting - Was it appropriate for the story?
10.    Conversation/Dialogue - Was it entertaining and realistic? Did it
move the action of the story along?
11.    Plot - Did it make sense? Has it already been done to death?
12.    Pace - Did it drag in places? Was it too fast? Did it move evenly?
13.    Other - Was there something NEW in this story? Was there a lot of
"telling" and not enough "showing"? Was the concept interesting?
14.    Red Flag - Did something confuse you or just totally not make sense?

Presenting a critique:

1.    Go through the manuscript page by page. You can learn from someone else’s errors or by hearing another member’s solution to a problem.
2.    Emphasize the positive as well as the negative. You may want to put a star beside a good piece of writing. We all need encouragement included in a critique.
3.    Don’t go off on tangents. Focus on the manuscript.
4.    Be professional. Don’t defend yourself on every point questioned.
5.    Keep the discussion short. Don’t waste time and end up shortchanging someone else.
6.    If you see a problem in someone’s work, offer a solution.
7.    Brainstorm to help the author solve a problem.
8.    If the author still disagrees with you after the problem is discussed, go on. The decision to make any change belongs to the author.
9.    Remember only criticize the story, never the author.
10.    Write a paragraph or two on what you liked about the chapter. Even
if the story seems very bad to you, TRY to find at LEAST one thing the
author didn't do wrong. Saying something nice in the beginning helps to
cushion the blow of the criticism to follow, and it sets up the author to be
predisposed to listen to what you say. If all you have are bad things to
say, the author may feel that you are hostile towards her, perhaps for
personal reasons of your own.
11.    Then, write a paragraph or two on each *MAJOR* thing you believe
could be improved. Remember, telling the author what is wrong is only half
the critique; you must be able to suggest what she might do to improve it.

Wrong: I thought the characters were dumb and I didn't like them.
Right: There were many very obvious clues that should have tipped George
to the fact that someone was trying to kill him (list clues). The fact he
couldn't see something that was so obvious to me made him seem stupid.
Either make the clues a lot more subtle or have George know he was in
danger. If he knew and took steps to try and escape, it would heighten the
tension and the villain would have to be cleverer.

Wrong: The part where they were talking in the garden was boring.
Right: The conversation they had in the garden had no story movement. All
they did was talk and the talking didn't produce any real reactions in
either of them or change anything in the story. Its only purpose seemed to
be to tell the readers that there was a rebellion going on (the dreaded
Background Disguised as Conversation trap). I'd suggest dropping it out and
coming up with a more interesting way to tell the readers about the
rebellion. Maybe a wounded soldier rides up and George overhears him gasping
out his story to the gate guard.

Wrong: The ending was obvious.
Right: When he saw the snake in the garden and was so afraid of it that was a dead giveaway as to the end. Having the rustling noises was just overkill. I think if you dropped the snake in the garden, the rustling would become a lot more mysterious and
intriguing, and the ending not so obvious.

Wrong: The whole story was boring. Nothing happened.
Right: It's a lot harder to come up with a "right" for this one. Try to focus on what
elements a story ought to have. If a story is boring, it is probably lacking
in conflict. It may also be that the characters are unlikable, so that
readers don't care what happens to them. It is much better to comment on
specific elements of the story than to give an all-over rating to the story.

Critique Checklist
  •     Opening
  •     Conflict
  •     Plot
  •     Setting
  •     Characterization
  •     Dialogue 
  •     Point of View
  •     Show versus tell
  •     Format of the text 
  •     Grammar and spelling 
  •     Style
  •     Write down your impressions as a reader.
  •     Comments at the end of the chapter, suggestions, etc. What you liked, what needed improvement.
  •     Give your relevant experiences (optional).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

E-books vs Paper-books - Interview with Sandra Hicks CEO/Owner of Aspen Mountain Press

E-books vs. Paper-books: are E-books the next step, is this where new/established authors should put their focus? Special Guest Sandra Hicks CEO/Owner of Aspen Mountain Press.

Mary: Thank you for agreeing to an interview on Mysteries and Margaritas. Sandra, before we get started though, would tell us a little bit about your background, and what led up to you putting on the CEO/Owner hat of Aspen Mountain Press (AMP).

Sandra: Thank you, Mary, for inviting me to answer your questions. To make a long story very short, I started Aspen Mountain Press because of some of the things that happened to me as an electronically published author. I was with a company that treated some authors preferentially, one that didn’t pay in a timely manner, another that didn’t pay at all or even send statements, one that blamed the authors for the company’s poor decision making, and one that bounced checks. I said to myself those infamous words – I can do better. Then I put my money and my time where my mouth was and Aspen Mountain Press was the end result.

Mary: Before we start on the debate about E-Books vs. Paper-books, let’s chat a bit about what you look for in a new author. Do all the queries come to you? If so what is the best hook?

Sandra: First, all the queries go to our submissions department. From there I get recommendations and either I, or my editorial director make a contract offer.
What we look for in a new author is not as complex as one would think. We look for someone that can tell a complete story, someone that has a solid grasp of grammar and spelling, someone who has put a unique twist on a story. Additionally, we look for someone who isn’t egotistical and who is capable of following directions.

About 90 percent of the time these characteristics will show up in the query letter. I know it is a fine line between presenting your writing resume and making your query spotlight you like you’re the next best writer to hit the market since Barbara Cartland, Sherrilyn Kenyon, or Nora Roberts. I’ve had query letters come across my desk where the author has said they know they can make us lots of money if only...(insert your named reason here, we’ve seen them all) or they blame the other publisher for their lack of success...My manuscript would have done better if only the publisher had...(insert your named reason here too).

Mary: As far as I know AMP is completely digital at this time, is this true? If so do you have plans to bring in a print program?

Sandra: Currently, we are completely digital, but we are moving forward with plans to go into print, having signed contracts with a couple different print companies.

Mary: If you haven’t already answered this, what made you decide to open AMP? I know that you are an author, and have been or are published with other publishers. Has it been a hard road?

Sandra: I knew I could do a better job for authors than that of several other companies I’d been published with. One of the things I think makes Aspen Mountain Press unique is the fact that I’ve been an editor, a publisher and an author. I try to keep that in mind for all aspects of the business. This is a business that doesn’t have to have a “them versus us” mentality, and when we work together we are far stronger. My teaching background has also helped. I believe part of my job as a publisher and an editor is to help authors hone their craft. All our editors want our authors to learn and grow as writers!

If anyone has ever operated their own business and done a good job at it, they know. Running your own company requires a lot of time. For the past three years my writing hasn’t been my main priority, although I still manage to get at least ten pages in a week (which, I know is absolutely nothing for a lot of your readers). Prior to making the decision to open, I wrote about fifteen to twenty pages a day. A business, any business, takes a tremendous amount of time as well as a financial toll.

Still, I did manage to complete NaNoWriMo for the first time ever last year, and I had a 25k novella included in a vampire anthology that came out in July. 

Mary: Okay time to open the debate on E-books vs. Print Books. What are your thoughts on the industry focus?

Sandra: Currently I believe there is room for both print and electronic works. I think for the most part authors understand this. I do feel strongly that print authors are being ripped off by print publishers who don’t pay their authors a fair rate for the electronic version of their work.

I’d like everyone to remember this: IF you get paid by someone for the purchase of your book, in whatever format they buy it in, AND you haven’t had to pay to have it edited or produced other than your hard work in getting your story onto paper, THEN you are a published, professional author.

Yes, there are huge gaps in income (e verses print) for a lot of authors, but someone else PAID to read your story. Think about how totally awesome that is. Tell it to yourself again. Someone PAID to read MY story.

Mary: Do you think the publishing industry, or organizations like RWA will ever fully accept E-books?

Sandra: I don’t see it happening for a long time. The publishing industry has a lot of traditionalists. I can’t remember exactly when or who, but this summer Publisher’s Weekly had an article announcing the formation of an electronic publishing division at a major house (Harper Collins or Random House I believe) that was accepting NEW material as well as converting existing books for the purpose of an electronic line. Additionally, one of these houses also started a new line that was not going to be taking returns, a practice that is a dinosaur from the Great Depression.

Mary: Can an author make a career of writing E-books?

Sandra: Absolutely. It is not easy, but it can be done. Genre, quality, quantity and building the author’s name brand all go into making a successful career in the electronic market.
Additionally, there have been authors who’ve made the leap from electronic to print simply because they cut their teeth in the electronic market, honed their craft, learned about promoting and then got noticed by bigger houses. Electronic is an excellent stepping stone to the big boys although there are a number of authors who are no longer interested in print publication because of the delay in timely payments. A lot of electronic houses pay quarterly or more frequently. At Aspen Mountain Press we cut checks every month.

Mary: RWA has this theory that those who do not receive $1000 in an advance and/or royalties for one book they are not series writers. Anyway, that is what is required to reach PAN status. (Published Author Network) What is your take on this as a publisher?

I think you mean ‘serious’? RWA couldn’t be more wrong. I’m sure your readers could come up with other, better definitions, but the RWA one is not only personally invasive, it just doesn’t work or take into consideration the large number of options individual authors have in getting their work recognized as “serious”.

What makes a serious writer? One who writes every day for the purpose of publication could be one definition. Or an author who has completed a number of works equaling X amount of words in Y amount of time. An author who submits to companies with the purpose of having their writing published in a non-vanity, non-subsidized way would be another definition.

If you think about what it takes to get into PAN, isn’t that what really sets a person apart as a serious author? That you had the courage to send out your work to a company for potential publication? Perhaps organizations like RWA would better serve itself and its members if they required annual updates from PAN to “prove” they are serious authors. Frankly, requiring information from an author regarding their income is not anyone else’s business anyway. Can you imagine requiring your doctor to disclose how much he makes in order to be considered qualified as a professional doctor?

RWA needs to be pro-active in the things they offer their members. Information on houses, sure. Who wants to be a part of a house that doesn’t pay its authors according to their contracts or in a timely manner? Continued education in the craft of writing…absolutely! Every author and publisher will reap heaps of rewards by learning more about various aspects of our craft. How about promoting the romance industry? RWA does a great job to librarians, but that is an area that could be expanded. How about making sure print authors are getting a minimum of 30 percent on their electronic download sales (the average electronic sale is 35-50% by the way) and an equal split from third party distributors such as Fictionwise or 1RomanceEbooks?

Lastly, RWA shouldn’t forget the power of networking that is provided in local chapters. It’s the local chapters that truly support authors via local meetings, guest lecturers, critique groups, and it’s the seasoned writers that can share wonderful encouragement to their chapter mates.

In the end, it’s not a dollar figure that distinguishes anyone as a professional. Commitment and dedication, willingness to learn and grown, conducting oneself in a manner that reflects professionalism are the true measures of one’s seriousness.

And in the words of Sean Connery in The Untouchables (make sure you do the accent now)...”Here endeth the lesson.”

Thank you again Mary for the opportunity to chat with your readers!

Thank you Sandra Hicks of Aspen Mountain Press for taking the time to give us your thoughts and opinions!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tuesday Tidbits with Kari: Featuring Author Cathleen Ross

Interview with Cathleen Ross: author of Dirty Sexy Murder available July 1st 2010
Kari: What has the transition of switching from erotic romance to writing a mystery been like?
Cathleen: People see me as erotic writer because my first published book, Man Hunt, was an erotic book way before erotica became a strong selling genre. I’ve always seen myself as a popular fiction writer as apart from DIRTY SEXY MURDER, I have just sold LOVE, LUST AND LIES a women’s fiction Cougar book where the heroine has to confront her Italian/American catholic culture when she leaves her marriage and takes up with a gorgeous young man.
Kari: Love the cover of your book by the way :-) Can you tell us more about your psychic murder mystery called DIRTY SEXY MURDER?
Cathleen: Often when we write, the worries we have in the back of our minds come through in our work. When I was a young girl, I saw a ghost. Since it was only once, it was no big deal, though I never forgot it. When my daughter was old enough to vocalize, she started to tell me about the people who visited her at night and stood by her bed. This kept up until she was about twelve. She also knew things she couldn’t possibly have known about the dead people she saw as some of them were family. When she was eight, I sent her to a ski boarding school for five weeks. She was in a dorm with other students and she used to see a nurse dressed in a long gown with a pinny over the top. She drew the costume for me. I later found out that her dorm had been part of a demountable hospital last century.
My own powers started to develop too as I approached forty. I could sometimes hear other people’s thoughts. If I knew the person, I would tell them and ask them if they had been thinking the thoughts. My friends would own up. Sometimes, I would be woken up in the night and see a person coming down a white tunnel. They’d always have a message for a relative. I have to admit I worried was I going mad, which is why my character, Marina, worries about her psychic abilities and wonders if she is going nuts. She works as a Brazilian Waxer and she has visions that her clients end up murdered, which come true. Evil looks like black swirling energy. Marina is intuitive and can sense the evil but she doesn’t know who it is coming from. She works as a Brazilian Waxer and she has visions that her clients end up murdered, which come true.
In DIRTY SEXY MURDER, Marina has to learn to trust her “gift” and understand how to use it. It doesn’t help that the man she is in love with has a computer science background and doesn’t believe in psychic phenomena. The hero, James, is based on my husband, who studied engineering at university. In terms of structure, these mystery/crime novels work well when the author has one believer and one non believer.
Kari: What has it been like to study with a spiritual teacher?
Cathleen: It’s been wonderful to study under my spiritual teacher because she taught me how to meditate and ground myself. There are universal rules on how to use psychic gifts with integrity. I’ve learned how to pull in my aura so that I don’t accidently go into people’s head spaces. I also learned how to pass on psychic messages so that I don’t distress the receiver. I only work for good and when I see something I prefer I didn’t, like men who are cheating on their wives or when I deal with murderers, I’ve learned how to handle that too.
What kind of "gift" do you have?I can see into the future for others but not for myself, which is annoying. Through either dreams or meditation, I get messages from souls who have passed over, which have deep meaning for those left on earth. If someone wants to know something, I hold a piece of their jewelry and I can give them an answer. I use the gift for good only and I never charge.
Kari: Any tips or pieces of advice for your fellow mystery writers seeking publication?
Cathleen: My novel is set in a Brazilian Waxing Parlor and my heroine is a waxer, so DIRTY SEXY MURDER is quirky from the get go. Several editors recommended to their publishers to buy it but for market reasons, it didn’t sell. I sent it to a small e publisher call Lyrical Press and the publisher also offered me a print contract. I think the smaller publishers have opened the door to newer writers. I would suggest others who are hoping to break into this tight market should enter contests to get feedback, hone their craft, connect with editors at conferences and send out to big and small publishers.
Kari: Who are your favorite authors?
Cathleen: Linda Howard, Gena Showalter, Nalini Singh, Vicki Lewis Thompson.
Thanks so much for being here, Cathleen and good luck with your new release. DIRTY SEXY MURDER is coming out in print on July 1, 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010

Blurbs from the Ten Finalists

As promised, here are the ten blurbs from the finalists posted last Thursday. Well, kinda. Unfortunately, one of the finalists didn’t get her blurb to me in time and was disqualified according to the rules. Fortunately, we had the foresight to name an alternate, Lauren Sweet, who jumped at the opportunity to send her blurb. As a way to introduce Lauren, here are her first and last lines (first line in italics.)

Leaving the genie in the recliner, Amber grabbed her keys and went out to rescue her mother from the Officers of Darkness. It started out so innocently -- with a chamois cloth, some silver polish, and a bottle of Brasso.

So without further ado, in random order, here are the final ten blurbs that are already on Christine Witthohn’s desk.

1.When Coroner Cassidy O'Brien befriends an aspiring author with outlandish capers and serious grammar problems, she believes the writer is harmless. Until the adventures turn into real-life crime scenes documented on her computer, albeit misspelled. Now Cass has to figure out if her I-told-you-so staff was right when they warned her there’s no such thing as an innocent thing called murder.

2. Children’s mental health workers are being abducted, tortured and their lifeless bodies returned to the scene of the crime with a videotape of their murder. The key to the crimes can only be found by a child psychologist who’s searching for her past and a cynical cop who is running from his.

3. In a deadly race to crush a threat to national security, an ambitious journalist and straight-arrow FBI agent reluctantly team up to bring down the terrorist cell her investigative reporting has uncovered. When her relentless digging unearths chilling links to the bureau itself, she’s forced to flee—but he can’t let her. Now they’re on the run, both guarding secrets along with their hearts and, despite the passion that flares between them, unable to trust each other…as the bad guys close in.

4. A police victim specialist takes a break from her two-timing detective boyfriend and heads home to rural South Texas under the guise of attending her high school reunion. When the former prom queen is found murdered on the night of the reunion, she gets thrown into the case when the main suspect, her high school sweetheart, is also the victim's husband. Confronted by the past, she decides to look into the murder and finds she's much closer to the killer than she realized.

5. An American philanthropist is determined to save lives, even if it means closing the doors on a failed Haitian clinical study, while a young Haitian doctor needs a cure for her dying patients, even if it means opening her heart to the man cutting off her funding. But when two old voodoo priestesses alter the future to save their granddaughter’s life, they are all accidentally plunged into the epicenter of the largest earthquake Haiti has ever known. The clock is ticking as the injured American scrambles to find the buried doctor in his greatest battle for life to save the one woman he loves.

6. He’s in the business of helping people disappear and she’s making a lifework out of finding them. He plans to shut her down using trickery and seduction but she twists him up like a pretzel and he can’t derail her from her mission. Their battle of wills is put on hold when another player rudely steps between them and starts shooting.

7. The good: a sexy genie, who grants Amber Polaski’s wish to find her long-lost father. The bad: Dad’s got a computer drive full of stolen data and gun-toting mobsters hot on his trail. The ugly: unless Amber and her New Age, crystal-wielding mother can come up with a rescue plan, the Mob will make Dad disappear again -- permanently!

8. After almost being murdered by a serial killer, a skeptic in all things other worldly starts to see ghosts. An investigative reporter, she teams up with the villain’s latest victim to track him down, while trying to convince everyone she’s not insane for talking to people only she can see. She must catch this man before he can kill his current captive, her sister.

9. When the last gavel falls, the bad guys in Dallas own her event-design business, her money, her house, her husband, and even her reputation, just like her mama had warned her they would. An unexpected legacy promising a fresh start propels her to a ghost town on the California coast, where the moody Pacific rouses her soul while a washed-up sailor makes her forget all of her mama’s wise words. But among the oddball remnants of the town’s population, she discovers secrets that lead to her closest allies back home as she keeps reminding herself that bad guys look just like good guys till the trouble is well underway.

10. Political consultant Pen Smith has been thinking about making a change to his life but he never envisions being summoned to Panama by his dead Uncle Henry, inheriting a fortune, and being shot by an unknown assailant. Desperately trying to outwit his determined and lethal adversary, Pen chases an embezzler across one of the most dangerous jungles in the world and falls in love with a beautiful Panamanian fashion designer, who just happens to be his uncle's former lover. Along the way, he learns about his uncle's mysterious fortune-making and uncovers a family secret that involves justice, retribution – and the value of a long memory.

Well, there you have them. I’m glad I’m not in Christine’s shoes and having to pick only three. The winner will be named on this blog May 24th at which time all three will send me their snail mail addresses so we can send the prizes, beautiful M & M totes. Of course, the top winner gets to send the first chapter.

Yippee!!!!! Now go drink a margarita. You’ve got a long wait. For all the rest of us, what do you think? Which one has real shot of impressing Christine?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Synopsis

My synopsis for the next book is due to my agent, well, our agent as each of us on this blog is represented by the incredible Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary Agency. I’ve been struggling with it—the synopsis, not Christine. It morphs into too much detail then changes to too little detail. Then, it is too dry, too folksy, too cute, too tongue-in-cheek, too much information and finally, too boring.

Yesterday I started yet again. I really need to get this done. I know the story—probably too well. I know where to begin it, I know the climax scenes, I know the turning points. I even know who the bad guy is (hopefully you won’t until the very end). I know the backstory of my protagonist. I know why the bad guy is bad. I have the major plot, the subplots and the romantic elements. You are seeing my point. I know this baby pretty darn well.

Yet, the synopsis is killing me. There is so much to say. I have read tons of examples of synopses. I have read the books that tell you what to do, you know—always present tense, single spaced, action oriented, be sure to include the capstone scene. But whoever is writing those rules isn’t sitting at my desk coaching my fingers across the keyboard.

Today’s goal is to finish this puppy. Out the door. Well, maybe one more draft, or two. I fly home from Italy on Sunday, so the days are dwindling. I've run out of time and excuses.

When you write a synopsis, what do you include? How do you approach it? Spill, folks. I need all the help I can get. Plus, you never know what might be shared that pushes YOU to the next level. So, let us have it. We want to know.

Hook, Line & Sinker’s Ten Finalists

Here are the top ten finalists in no specific order. For those who didn’t make it, take heart. All three judges whined about how hard it was to choose because the lines were so good.

Congrats to the finalists. Celebrate for a few hours, then start working on a blurb. You have until 5 PM Central time tomorrow, Friday, May 14th to get a blurb to me at I will post them on Monday, May 17th.

There will be no reminder emails for this last leg of the contest. You snooze-you lose. You can have as many as three lines for the blurb, but anything over that will automatically be disqualified. The blurbs will go to Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary who will pick the top three. Those winners will be posted on Monday, May 24th. Prizes are as listed.

The first place winner will receive a first chapter critique by Christine PLUS a beautiful Mysteries and Margaritas tote bag with the new header on it

The 2nd and 3rd place winners will each receive a M & M tote.

Although only the last line was judged, the first line is in italics.

2. Kathy Bremmer (Katt)

My real life -- the one in which I live simply, work hard, and don't sleep with strange men -- is about to come apart, ugly. Friggen appropriate, the bathroom door opens and my live goes down the toilet.

3. Cindy Carroll

Before her eyes, Tracey went from solid to see through, into a puff of white smoke, then she was gone. If she’d been a bad girl when she had the chance, she probably wouldn’t be dying right now.

7. Donnell Bell

“Cassidy, it’s your harmless writer friend on one saying she’s been arrested for an innocent thing called murder.” My mother always wanted me to become a beautician, and as I unzipped the body bag of the three-hundred pound corpse, I snapped the lip of my neoprene glove for not heeding her advice.

9. Claudia Ybarra Lefeve

Wish I had the foresight to bring Grandma Lou's .20 gauge last night, thought Maggie. If you’re running from the law and you are the law, don’t forget your sunscreen.

13. Kimberly Troutt

“Crank it up bongo-boy, me and my sista got us some evil-a** kickin’ to do.”
The two old Voodoo priestesses faced each other in the single-room shack, their eyes wide with fear.

15. Terri Hall

This time he’d make damn good and sure Lara Nash, girl reporter, never left his sight. The stitch in Lara’s right side stabbed like a shiv.

17. Deborah Gilbert

"I've got a horrible singing voice, and all the time in the world." The dead girl stood below Gate B4 of New York's Greater Rochester International Airport.

19. Lyn (Mellyn Tremaine)

Doyle didn't come home till Friday, and he didn't come alone. "There must be sixty billion dollars on the hoof down there in my living room, and my idiot husband is schmoozing the dollar-ninety-eight seance sister."

23. Patrick Vasarhelyi

For now, I gulped three of the industrial strength pain pills I always packed, made my cautious way back to the lobby, and begged my body not to turn to jelly in front of dozens of strangers. Death turned its sights on me Tuesday morning when dying was the last thing on my mind.

24. Donna Labbe

Paige Logan was headed straight for him with a full head of steam. The elevator doors opened facing the sign for Children’s Psychiatry and Seth Bellingham froze.

Good luck, everyone.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mary's interview with Amanda Bergeron - Avon/HarperCollins

I’d like to welcome Amanda Bergeron of Avon/HarperCollins to Mysteries and Margaritas today. I’m very excited she has agreed to let me interview her.  First I’d like to find out a bit about Amanda Bergeron, the person, not the editor.

Mary: Where did you grow up? Or where are you from?

Amanda:  I was born and raised in Maine, about 45 minutes north of Portland.

Mary: Do you know Stephen King? Just kidding. What are some of your favorite hobby’s? Other than reading.

Amanda: I love to learn to cook and create new recipes, play tennis, hike, visit new places, and take advantage, as much as I can, of all the culture available here in NYC.

Mary: But do you like to clean up the mess? It does sound like you're very active, even in the big city. When you were ten what did you want to be when you grew up?

Amanda: A geologist.  I'm not entirely sure I knew what that meant though.

Mary: Having met you, I can actually picture you studying and researching the history and structure of the earth. On to the next, were you a girly-girl growing up or a Tom boy?

Amanda:  I took ballet and gymnastics at some point or another, but when it came down to it I could always be found playing soccer with the boys at recess or street hockey with the guys in the neighborhood.  I also loved my dolls and barbies, so I guess I had a fair balance.

Mary: I love NYC and I don't live there and can not answer this next question. What is your favorite thing to do in New York?

Amanda: While there are a lot of "big city" fun things to do (museums, shows, restaurants etc.) I particularly love going for walks up in Fort Tryon Park or by the Hudson River up near the GW Bridge.  It's always so nice to find pockets of nature within the city.

Mary: Next time I'm there I'll have to visit both those places. Okay let’s get to know the Amanda Bergeron the editor: If you didn’t want to be an editor when you were ten, when did you decide you’d like to be one? Are you in your first Editing position?

Amanda: I think it was in the back of mind for a long time, but I actually went to college for print and multi-media journalism. It wasn't really until the end of my junior year (and about 5 months into a 6 month newspaper internship) that I realized what I really wanted to do. Yes, this is my first position.

Mary: Did you actively pursue Harper Collins for your editing career?

Amanda: Like any college grad, I applied anywhere and everywhere I saw an opening.  Luckily, I wasn't too far along in my search when I moved to NYC and was able to get an informational interview with Human Resources at HarperCollins.  That apparently went well, and I was invited back for further interviews when a position opened up…and then I got lucky.

Mary: Apparently it was meant to be. LOL. Walk me through a typical day for Amanda.

Amanda: Around here, no two days are quite alike, but I'll try!  Let's pretend it's a Wednesday:
9am- Arrive with coffee in hand, and start checking/answering emails.
10am- We have a cover conference with the art department to plan and discuss artwork for upcoming titles.
11am- Answer more email, check snail mail. Do any of the following: send out checks to authors/agents, work on fact sheets for upcoming titles, transmit a manuscript to production for copy-editing, pull together a contract request for recently acquired books etc.
12:30pm- Lunch, hopefully with colleagues (and outside in the summer)—but sometimes at my desk
1:30pm- Any of following: Read a submission, respond to an agent, respond to more email, work on an edit letter to an author etc.
2:30pm- Editorial meeting—editors, publicists, sales rep, publisher all meet to discuss recent submissions, acquisitions, rejections, etc.  Bounce ideas around and get second reads on projects
3:15pm-end of day: Work on any of the things listed previously.

Honestly each day holds a fun and different set of challenges.  But I'd say the biggest misconception is the idea that editors actually get to read and edit all day—generally that stuff actually happens outside the 9-5.

Mary: A lot more goes into your day than I though. Like others I thought a good portion of your day was reading/editing. What is the Avon/HarperCollins process? In other words, you receive a query, you request a partial and you want to read the full. Who then would you pass it too if you didn’t reject it? And so forth until an offer is made?

Amanda:  If I read a manuscript I just love and can't stop thinking about, I'll first ask a colleague or two to take a peek.  If I am able to rally enough support around a project, I would take it to our editorial director to get the okay to make an offer.  If that happens, I would then touch base with the agent to begin negotiations.

Mary: Okay something for me to strive for, make a manuscript a reader can't stop thinking about! I know a lot of editors and/or agents say they are looking for the ‘Wow’ factor, or that fresh new voice. Or something that grabs your attention and holds on for the ride. As a writer I’ve heard it all and believe me I try to achieve it all. So what does Amanda Bergeron look for? What would a manuscript need to have, for you to not just ‘submit’ it to your senior editor, but campaign and lobby for that manuscript through the entire process until an offer is made to the author and/or agent?

Amanda: If a writer has a fabulous voice and has a natural instinct for creating chemistry then I am always more willing to consider more heavily even if the story isn't entirely wonderful.  Certain things can be taught, but voice and the ability to make a reader's heart stop are something special.

Mary: My favorite stories 'make my heart stop' so I know what you mean. Last but not least, if you could only offer a single bit of advice to an unpublished writer, what would it be?

Amanda: I would say, continue working to hone your craft and DO YOUR RESEARCH.  Look for an agent that is the best fit for you, and pay attention to which houses are publishing the type of stories you write.

Thank you, Amanda for spending your valuable time to give me and others a glimpse into your life. We really appreciate it.