Friday, July 30, 2010

Cassy's Corner: Disappointment

I don't become disappointed very often. I am a pretty upbeat kinda person. But, my plans for heading to RWA's National Conference were derailed. I'm bummed. I have a dog who is ill and I just couldn't leave her. I'd love to be there and see all of you great folks. My list of "who I wanted to meet" is long. These things happen.

I wrote last week about loosing a friend's dog. At that time I didn't realize we were probably about to lose ours. It's hard to make the decisions that go with life and with responsibility. Our children, the rest of our family--they depend on us.

Early this morning I had a tough conversation with a close friend who lives in Italy. She needed me to be honest and let her know that she had choices. Difficult choices, but she was in the driver's seat. My husband overheard the entire conversation and commented that I had been the best friend she could have (thank you, dear husband). But, it was hard. I was tough on her.

It's difficult to make those choices. When do you really tell the truth and when do you worry about hurting someone's feelings?

Since we talk about writing on this site, it all comes back around. If I am writing a complicated scene, how do I know I have the emotion spot on? How can I make you cry? Or, laugh?

As I realize I'm disappointed in not being in Orlando, well?? What does that mean? Can I turn it into something that you can care about? As I help my pup down the stairs and help her with getting out doors, does that change how I tell my stories? Being disappointed, hurt, angry, in love, thrilled, or whatever emotion we identify must influence what we write. Finding the right words to share that, well, that's the challenge isn't it?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mary's Rants - Thursday at RWA

I had planned to post Thursday from RWA Nationals in Orlando. Then I realized I'd probably forget and there would be no post on my day. I'm not sure if that wouldn't be better. Especially now I'm in a quandary about what to blog on.

Liz and I have both posted about the conference, and though I'm racking my brain I can't think if Cassy or Kari did yet. I hope no one goes into conference information overload!

I'm spending the day packing for my conference trip. When you read this of course I will have been in Orlando a couple of days. But now however I'm preparing. My laptop is busy doing a virus scan. My Nook is charging. My M&M bag is here on my desk quickly being filled with things I'll need on the plane.

My mind is racing a mile a minute, what workshops are priority? Am I prepared to Pitch? Do I have the appropriate clothing to take? Will everyone like me or will I be annoying without realizing it? (Yes I do stress about this.)

Why do we put ourselves through this? Is it worth the work, the cost, the agony of preparation? Is a small conference less stressful? Is a small conference as beneficial?

No matter what stress I suffer prior to arriving at the hotel for any conference small or large, it is worth every dime I spent and every droplet of sweat. I learn more every year. I have unexpected opportunities and come away with a head full of knew ideas. I honestly cannot say if I benefit more from the national conference or our small chapter conference. I do hope I'm prepared to take full advantage of every opportunity this conference.

Those of you here in Orlando today and those who did not attend the conference. Do you go through this for a conference? And at the end of the day is it worth it to you?

If you're here in Orlando if you see me, say "Hi!"

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cassy’s Corner- Interview with Wally Lind

Folks: Please welcome Wally to Mysteries and Margaritas. I know many of you are in Orlando at the RWA National Convention. I wish I could be there with you, but had to cancel at the last minute. Have a great time and do leave a comment here if you have a chance!

Wally: I was born and raised in the Minneapolis area. I was in trouble as a kid, mostly related to running away from home (about 10 times). I was a medic in the Army in the 1960s, and was a combat medic in Vietnam, where I was wounded when the armored cavalry assault vehicle I was on was destroyed by an enemy anti-tank mine. I graduated from the Univ of MN in '78, and went to work for the U.S. Air Force as a Security Police Officer. I went to work for a suburban/rural sheriff’s office in 1980, and a suburban police department in 1984. In 1986, I was trained as a hostage negotiator and crime scene investigator. I processed thousands of crime scenes, including homicides. I was a patrol officer, detective, and administrative officer during my career. I retired in 2003, with 13 department commendations, two for bravery, but mostly for casework. I am the proud owner (along with Donnell) of the crimescenewriters yahoo group, and the Minnesota Department commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, a congressionally chartered veterans service organization.

Cassy: From your bio, it is clear you've held a variety of police investigative positions. Do you have a favorite.

Wally: Yes, crime scene investigator (called "physical evidence officer (PEO)", in my dept.). The detective runs the overall show, but the PEO finds and properly collects and preserves the physical evidence from a scene. Also in 99% of the cases, the PEO makes ALL decisions about what is evidence, what is not, and what will go to the lab to be processed. In homicides (the only crime where detectives go to every case-especially at night and on weekends), the PEO will decide what is evidence and the detective and prosecutor will decide what goes to the lab. The PEO is usually consulted, but the detective is required to know what the lab can do. I had a detective prevent me from processing part of a scene (a private home) because he couldn't get evidence to match his "theory of the case" in the other 3/4 of the house. After that detectives weren't allowed in crime scenes, but I got that changed because it went too far. A detective (at least one from the team) should intimately know what the scene looks like. Detectives should have immediate access to photographs of the scene (polaroids in the past, and digital now) to help them with interviews and just thinking about the crime.

Cassy: You transitioned from a medic's role in the military to police work. How did that happen?

Wally: Being a medic wasn't my choice, it was the Army's. I worked in a dental school microbiology genetics lab, while at the University of Minnesota, and was offered a place in the dental school class, but my wife walked around with her mouth open for a month to dissuade me. When I got out of college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. So I applied for a variety of jobs, and got a job as an Air Force Security Police Officer. A friend there has been a civilian cop, and kind of talked me into it. I sent out about 200 resumes to agencies around Minneapolis. and did tons of interviews and tests. I was number one on one list, and the young psychologist testing me asked if I had ever tried to kill or injure anyone. Being a combat veteran, I had to answer yes, and it must have been clear that I had done so with enthusiasm. She was horrified by this and flunked me. After that, I made sure that I left the enthusiasm out of my answer. lol So that's how my career started. And by the way, in my 25 year career, I used my night stick twice (a female partner has been jumped by three & I was outnumbered six-to one) and my mace once (bad idea: the guy I maced then became wet and slippery-lol)

Cassy: Wally, you have me laughing here. Tell us about crimescenewriter. Folks, this is a fantastic website I have been using for a good number of years. You can't believe the generosity of a large number of experts who answer questions about just about anything to do with crimes. Sorry, Wally, I ask you a question then jump in. So, back to the question- fill us in on crimescenewriter.

Wally: Its a group of about 1880 members, where people ask question about law enforcement procedures, forensics, and lots of other stuff. I have had a core group of about 10-20 people (changing over time) who are knowledgeable about the topics the writers ask about, and generous enough to give their time and expertise to new an experienced writers who have questions. We have experience crime scene investigators, detectives, doctors, and lawyers (from time to time), corrections officers, former FBI agents, private investigators, and others who have come and gone, and sometimes come back again. I guess if you have questions or can't afford professional research, we are the group to come to.

In recent years, I have been more and more busy with my veterans’ service organization, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and I have been a little late answering questions. That's when it is really nice to have others willing to answer questions, and I appreciate it very much. My co-owner Donnell Bell, has been invaluable in keeping the group going in an orderly way. By the way, If I don't know the answer to your question, I just don't answer. I have been tempted to say that, but it will clutter the site too much. I'm 64 now, and I hope to keep it going for more years. When I can't do anymore, I hope Donnell, or other interested people, will keep it going.

Cassy: What led you to start crimescenewriter? Isn't that a big jump from your prior work?

Wally: I was active in a Yahoo crime scene group (ICSIA) and people kept asking me questions about the work. It became clear that many were writers and some were other CSIs. So I started two Yahoo groups, one for writers and one for CSIs. My group owner from ICSIA objected to my "crime scene work" group so I did that kind of stuff on the ICSIA site, and ignored my site. The writers group started to grow, and answering the writers' questions kept my mind on crime scene topics, while I worked in the chief's office and after I retired.

Now, we are 1800+, a lot of writers like us, and it feels good to help bring a book to print. We sometimes get mentioned in an author’s acknowledgements page, which also feels good. Best selling author Allison Brennan has mentioned us in a number of her books, which is nice.

Cassy: I can't imagine how much time it takes to manage and respond to the number of inquiries you receive on the site. I have lost count of how many emails come into me each day from that site, with I will add, a huge amount from you. What does it take to run a site that's so popular?

Wally: I pay attention to the site only about once a day, because I am pretty busy with my "job" as Minnesota Department Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, my main veterans service organization. I read most of the messages and threads, until they get to long. I have a co-owner now, Donnell Bell, who approves 99% of the messages and keeps order in the ranks. Without Donnell, I would be a lot busier with the group. Thank you, Donnell! I answer the questions that I know something about and leave the others to group members who know what they are talking about.

Cassy: You have so many experts who chime in on the site, contributing answers to a variety of questions. Did you tap folks to pitch in, or has it grown on its own?

Wally: I have encouraged people to answer questions. Luckily, we have gotten a lot of writers/group members who are both generous with their time and knowledgeable in various topics. We have cops from all over the country, doctors, lawyers, and writers who have had to answer a question for themselves. All are appreciated.

Cassy: I know I have posted questions about a homemade bomb, starting a fire in a basement, a gun shot wound, as well as others (all for writing of course!). If you had to categorize the types of questions posted on the site, would there be one type that stands out?

Wally: Questions about autopsies, decomposition, and poisons stand out in my mind. I can answer some of them, but many are hard enough that I have to research the answers. The most fun questions are about crime scene investigation techniques I have used or are just being developed. DNA profiles in 45 minutes or less, starts my engine.

Cassy: This is a statement, rather than a question. I have met through your group a number of people who have stayed as wonderful resources off the list. And, one turned out to be in my own RWA group; I had no idea.

Wally: I'm happy you have found the group useful, even offline. My goals in establishing the group were to aid fiction writers in anyway I could, since I have a background (law enforcement and crime scene) that could yield useful information, and I wanted to use my time in something I really loved (Crime scene). It been fun, and I went from about 50 writer's/group members, when I retired to 1880+ now. Donnell and I now have the second largest Yahoo forensics group. It's also been a lot of fun.

Cassy: Wally, thanks so much for joining us today. Your expertise is definitely helping the accuracy of our writing and creating a community of participation. And, your willingness to be there for us is SO appreciated.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tuesdays Tidbits with Kari: Featuring author Elaine Isaak

I often think about why I am drawn to both reading and writing certain kinds of stories. I think where we come from and what we've experienced makes us who we are. So please give Elaine Isaak a warm welcome as we dig into her past and find out what makes her tick :-)

Kari: I truly believe our past is what makes us who we are and fuels our writing. You're very creative. You've moved around a bit and have a background in design. You even developed your own business called Curious Characters. Can you tell us what that was like?

Elaine: I like to talk about the writer as magpie--gathering shiny things to admire in the nest. You don't always know what you're going to do with the things you find, but the collection itself is a source of excitement and inspiration. One of the things that we don't realize we're collecting is experiences. Each time you enter into a different career or life direction, you're gathering new ideas, inspirations, metaphors. I find this is especially useful in different art forms. Photography and drawing hone the way that you see the world around you. Dance and martial arts make you think about how to use your body. And this new understanding then feeds into richer writing. So I like to throw myself into a new art every so often and make some discoveries.

Taking some of those artistic impulses and turning them into my business was very rewarding (if also frustrating and exhausting at times). I was designing custom and unique stuffed animals (including the stories to go along with them in some cases) some wearable art, and small-scale metal sculptures. I also learned some handy business skills, and got used to the idea of myself as an artist/entrepreneur. I'm comfortable thinking of my writing in business terms.

Kari: Our words are often a form of poetry. You won a couple poetry slams and even founded a poetry group. Can you tell us what that was like?

Elaine:One of the great things about poetry is that the attempt to capture a vivid moment in as few words as possible makes you really stretch to find the *right* word, the right order, the right phrasing to bring it alive for the reader. Often in fiction, I think we get sloppy just because we have the luxury of space (especially in novels) that we don't often focus on the individual word choices or short passages that are conveying the heart of the work. I also find that I look at the white space of words on a page, the placement of chapter breaks, and the rhythm of a text in a more poetic way. And slams really force you to present your work and engage the audience. If I'm any good at readings, it's because I was a slam poet.

Kari: Books are like pieces of fabric sewn together to make a whole. I see you did some freelance sewing for quilt squares and dance costumes. A big part of characterization comes in giving our characters quirks and making them unique in how they think, dress, act, etc. Do you think that helped you in creating colorful characters?

Elaine:I hadn't thought of it that way--but it's an interesting point. Characters definitely can emerge from the happy accidents of the magpie collection, placing this idea next to that one and seeing them begin to take on personality. In general, I think I work on my characters more from the inside out: I have an idea of what kind of person I want (proud, shy, angry) and a sense for what motivates him or her, then I develop or gather the external signs, speech, and actions that (hopefully) convey that person's reality for the reader. Costume is not a bad metaphor for this. I am clothing the unknowable, inner spirit with the garments that can best reveal and/or conceal what the story requires.

Kari: You write a Lady Blade Column on the craft of fantasy fiction. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Elaine:Alas, the fabulous 'zine that was running my column is shutting down, but I had a lot of fun. It was nice to have a deadline every two months that required me to produce new work. It also made me think more deeply about how I write and how I think about writing, especially fantasy writing, then be able to articulate that for my reader. I hope that people found it useful and thought-provoking.

Kari: You write fantasy books with romantic elements, but your latest book is framed as a mystery. Can you tell us about your latest release?

Elaine: I wanted to try a bit different approach to the structure of the fantasy story. The quest and the coming-of-age story are familiar to fantasy readers. So The Bastard Queen uses a mystery approach, a series of clues and red herrings that Fiona, the heroine, must uncover and piece together. There's still a romantic element, but it's not her prime motivator, at least at first. She's primarily a healer, so it's a medical mystery based on some research I was doing in medieval medicine for my other series, but it also involves arson, murder and conspiracy.

Kari: What's on the horizon for you? More fantasy books or maybe something in a new genre?

Elaine:My next release will be a dark historical fantasy, under a pseudonym which, alas, I'm not supposed to reveal. I have a new agent who's looking forward to marketing my contemporary romance novel set in Gloucester, and woking on my gritty romantic suspense. The dark historical series is going to take up much of my time, but I'm also researching for a sort of oriental steampunk world. . .

Kari: Any final pieces of advice for our fellow aspiring writers?

Elaine: The purpose of starting your first novel is to finish it--you can't get a good sense of how to write a novel until you've done the beginning, middle and end. It's easy to get distracted by a newer, more exciting idea, especially at that point about 70-100 pages in where you've introduced all the characters and conflict, and the initial energy of the piece tends to die down. Sometimes, you just have to push through that rough patch. Also, writer's block is often the way that my subconscious tells me that I've just taken a wrong turn with the text and I need to go back to the last bit and choose a new direction.

Kari Thanks so much for joining us Elaine! Can't wait to check out your books.

Monday, July 26, 2010

So You Wanna Blog…

Saturday, I attended my chapter meeting which I haven’t been able to do in a while for one reason or another. The speaker was Kat Rice, owner of Veribatim, a web design and consulting company. She is an internet consultant, helping businesses market their companies online through web presence, search engine optimization and other more creative avenues such as social media. She has a particular passion for bridging the generation gap between Gen Y and the Baby Boomers and has begun speaking and writing about this subject. She's been recognized as a viral marketing specialist after multiple successful grassroots campaigns in 2009.

I tell you this to assure you the girl knows what she’s talking about. She titled her presentation, Writing for a Blog: This Time It’s Personal!

Her intro states. “As a writer, you’ve probably considered using the Internet as a tool to promote your work or sharpen your skills within a community. So why haven’t you done it yet? Maybe you’re worried someone might steal your work. Maybe you’re not quite sure how to make a blog work. Or maybe you’re just not sure where to start."

She went on to say that blogging can enhance your writing skills, help you stick to deadlines and even help you promote your work.

How you ask? Twitter. She loves Twitter. Did you know 60% of Twitter’s community are men? That’s why the 140 character word limit works so well. They could care less about pictures of your cat or your last vacation or that you are in a relationship with Joe Schmoe. Men are not warm and fuzzy.

The key to Twitter is following three types of people and hash tags – industry people, people or groups near your location (EX –for me, it would be the Dallas area) and people from your target market.


I mentioned I hated Twitter because of all the personal messages between two people when I have no idea what they are talking about. EX – private conversations -Janie to Lou – I love that shade of lipstick, too.)

Not Kat. Not only does she NOT hate it, she sometimes jumps in and comments and usually ends up with another follower.

I won’t even try to explain hash tags since I am basically ignorant of them myself. I refer you to two successive blogs in M & M’s archives written by Krista Davis and titled Twitter 101 (April 25th) and Twitter 102 (April 28th.). Suffice it to say, my best interpretation is that anyone can make a hash tag about anything and people can jump in and follow. Two mentioned at the meeting were RWA10 and ASKAGENT.

So, how did I get off on this tangent when the post is supposed to be about blogging? Simple. She said both Twitter and Facebook are great places to post a short note about your blog entries to draw more traffic to the site. Once you get them there, great posts have to be in place to keep them. (You didn't think it would be that easy, did you?)Both venues are great and FREE marketing tools.

But wait! There's more good news about blogging. According to Kat, writing a blog improves your overall writing skills, helps you gain an audience, helps you stay on track with your writing goals, promotes your published works, and gets you involved in an online community.

Hold the phone. Isn’t that what Twitter does for you? I’m so confused. But what else in new?

So, if you’re on the fence about blogging, I suggest you consider all this and decide if you’re ready to make the commitment because trust me, there is a commitment. Kat suggests at least 2 blog entries a week and no more than 7. (Sheesh! Whoever is doing seven a week can’t be sleeping and really needs a life.) I took the sissy way out and asked people to join me on a group blog.

Best decision I ever made!

Now let me hear your comments about blogging, about Twitter, or hell, about anything. Let this be anything Monday since most of you are already in Orlando at Nationals and won’t be reading this anyway.

Hello! Anybody out there? Don't be doing shooters without me in Florida. I get there Wednesday.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Interview by Kari: featuring author Christine Merrill

Hi folks! I'm back again with the second author in the Regency Silk and Scandal series: author Christine Merrill. So please give her a warm welcom.

Regency Silk and Scandal is a unique 8 book author generated Regency continuity, featuring an ongoing mystery murder plot that runs through the whole series. It's about three friends, two scandalous affairs, and one secret code that leads to murder, disgrace and revenge. The stories will captivate the reader as they travel from the Cornish Coast to the heights of Hertfordshire, and from the ballrooms of London to the battlefields of Belgium.

Kari: What was it like for you in brainstorming an 8 book mystery plot?

Christine: I can’t seem to use the word “fun” often enough. I was more than a little overwhelmed at first. I didn’t know any of the other authors. And we were starting from ground zero and doing it all ourselves. I don’t think it even became a mystery until we were a few weeks into it. I remember a stretch of e-mails with a lot of people saying ‘ and then, we could do this…’ But once we’d divided up the characters and plotted each of our books, we had to be conscious of what clues we were leaving in each story for the big plot arc, and if any of the clues were red herrings. And we had to keep tabs on whose characters appeared at a few key points, and what they might have heard. Since I had the last story, I had a kind of imaginary bench mark for the place I wanted to be in at the start of the story, so that I could close it up. And one of my characters got beaten up pretty regularly, over the course of the series. By the end, I had to ask for a show of hands: Who shot/stabbed/etc. Stephano? And where are the scars?

And, then there was the time I started to take my characters to what I thought was an undisclosed location, only to realize that, not only did everyone know the address, but it had been set on fire. It’s a good thing I love surprises. Some days, I would open up the morning e-mails and sit back and laugh, because my story had taken a sudden left turn. But they always seemed to take me to the place I wanted to go. There was one moment of blind panic on my part, about a week before I finished. Bur everyone calmed me down by e-mail, Other than that, it was smooth sailing.

Kari: Wow and I thought plotting my own mystery series was hard! Can you tell us about your book in the series?

Christine: I have two books in the series, “Paying the Virgin’s Price” is the second book, out this month. The hero is the heir to the Wardale family, Nathan. His family was ruined when Nathan’s father was hung for murder and it’s been all down hill from there. He’s made a new life as a professional gambler, and taken an alias. But in one of his first big scores, he ruined a man who was so desperate that he was willing to bet his daughter’s virginity on the last hand.

Diana Price who appeared in Louise Allen’s book, “The Lord and the Wayward Lady” lost everything, and has been working as a paid companion for the Carlow family. But she’s been keeping a low profile because at any time, she’s afraid that Nathan Wardale will show up and call in the marker and take her to bed. Of course they meet. And things do not go as either planned.

The final book in the series is “Taken by the Wicked Rake”. I don’t want to give too much away. But it will wrap up the series mystery, and show what happens when Stephano Beshaley kidnaps the sweet and innocent Lady Verity Carlow.

Kari: Wow, they sound fabulous. The whole concept of collaborating like this is so fascinating to me. Is this something you would ever do again, and any tips for authors thinking about co-writing a book or contributing to a connected series such as this one?

Christine: Oh, I would love to! Of course, it depends on who is involved, since I think it’s important to have a tight knit group, and good communication. But our group was the best, and the whole thing was a joy from start to finish. Since we were starting from scratch and writing our own bible. Since we were writing simultaneously, we could change little things as we went along to make it easier on the others. But we used Yahoo groups for e-mails, and as a place to store research, time lines, and plot notes. And we spent a lot of time checking and cross checking, posting character sketches and asking questions.

At this point, I’ve read 6 out of the 8 books, and am amazed at how well the characters transfer from hand to hand. It is very smooth, very seamless. I was thinking, the other day, that this was almost more like writing fan fiction, than plotting original stories. We had a really solid idea of the cast of characters as we went along, and what was canon. And personally, I am having that same level of obsession, as I am reading the stories. I love all the characters. I want to know what happens to them. And since other people have written those six books, I can read them and be surprised by little plot points, and deftly handled scenes, even though I know what happens in the major arc.

Kari: Thanks so much for joining us, and I look forward to following this unique and interesting series.
NOTE: Christine will be giving away a free copy of Paying the Virgin's Price to one lucky commenter. So after you leave a comment, email me at: You can comment right up until midnight on Sunday night July 25, and I will randomly draw one name out of a hat Monday morning and notify the commenter who won.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mary's Rants - Dishes

I'm sure you're wondering what the heck dishes has to do with writing. Let me tell you how I found out how it does relate.

My dishwasher decided to spring a link and so until hubby checks it out I'm washing by hand. In my household this means--in the words of Jimmy Buffett--It's a permanent solution to a temporary situation.

While I have a pile of dishes to wash, I brainstorm. Now this has been going on for most the summer--yes I did say permanent solution--and yet it took we a while to realize that every time I'm there, my brain is working. Whether it's figuring where to edit next. What scene I need work on. Or what scene I'm going to write, my brain is processing.

The other night my husband got up from dinner grabbed a dish towel and helped me. I resented the intrusion. I told him "Oh go watch your sports, I can handle the these." But he was in a helping mood. So we chatted, because you can never tell a husband to get lost when he wants to help. Because if you do, when you really need his help you're not going to get it. However it really surprised me how much I had to force my jaw to relax and let myself enjoy a little quality time with Ron, when what I really wanted was to think.

I find myself looking forward to my time with the dishes. I used to think the shower was the best for brainstorming and ideas. But by the time I dress, feed whatever kids I have at the house, or hubby, do a few housecleaning chores, I've lost whatever thought I had. With the dishes, as soon as I'm done, most the time I can race to the computer.

My problem is getting it down on paper the way it is in my head!

So what is your favorite place to brainstorm?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cassy's Corner- The Incredibly Generous D.P. Lyle, MD

Folks: Today we have a real treat! Joining us is D. P. Lyle, MD. He is the Macavity Award winning and Edgar Award nominated author of the non-fiction books, Murder and Mayhem, Forensics For Dummies, Forensics and Fiction, and Howdunnit: Forensics as well as the thrillers, Devil’s Playground, Double Blind, and Stress Fracture, the first in his new Dub Walker Series. His essay on Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island appears in Thrillers: 100 Must Reads.

Doug has worked with many novelists and with the writers of popular television shows such as Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Diagnosis Murder, Monk, Judging Amy, Peacemakers, Cold Case, House, Medium, Women’s Murder Club, 1-800-Missing, and The Glades.

He is a practicing cardiologist in Orange County, California. Please jump in and first enjoy the interview and then ask questions or leave comments.

Cassy: Doug, you are a cardiologist. What led you to become both a writer and a fantastic medical resource for other writers?

Doug: I grew up in the South where everybody can tell a story, so I always had the ability to spin a yarn. Of course putting it on paper is much different than sitting around the fireplace telling tales. I always said that when I retired I would write. Then about 15 years ago I said to myself, “If not now when?” So I took some classes at the University of California, Irvine and joined a couple of critique groups and just begin writing.

As for answering questions for writers, as a physician if you go to a cocktail party people want to talk about their cholesterol and their gallbladder, but if you go to a writer’s conference they want to know about poisons and gunshot wounds. I first began answering questions in a monthly column for Mystery Writers of America that appeared in several of the regional newsletters. After that I set up my website and begin receiving questions from writers all over the world. Everywhere from Enid, Oklahoma to Bangladesh. It’s been fun and I’ve always said that I learn as much from the questions as I hope the writers learn from my answers.

Cassy: You have written both non fiction and fiction, all with either a focus on helping writers understand medical phenomena or using it yourself to craft a gripping tale. Do you have a preference for either in your writing?

Doug: I like writing both fiction and nonfiction. Each is challenging but in slightly different ways. With fiction, you first tell the story and then go back and get the facts and the writing correct. With nonfiction, you first gather all the facts and double check them and then begin the writing process. I usually have at least one fiction project and one nonfiction project going at any time.

Cassy: You are an incredibly generous person with your time and knowledge. I see your postings all over the loops to which I belong. Your responses to questions posted by writers on all sorts of medical issues are always to the point and very informative. Two days ago there was a posting on the SinC loop (I think it was that one) by someone seeking your contact information for she had heard you were the go-to guy for a murder she was plotting out. I have two questions stemming from this:

1) How does it feel to becoming one of the nation's most recognized resources for murder and mayhem?

2) What kinds of reactions have you had from your patients who learn you consult and counsel on all sorts of ways to kill people?

Doug: Well, I’m not sure about being one of the most recognized resources but I do have quite a few people who ask me questions on a recurrent basis. My patients love the fact that I write. They’ll bring my books in for me to sign all the time. I like that. It adds another connection between me and the patient, something outside the often dry and straightforward medical arena.

Cassy: Know I'm grinning here asking these kinds of questions. I'm a former nurse (if there is any such thing) and the mother of a medical student who is about to become a pediatrician most likely specializing in cardiology (!).

We've had many discussions on this blog about time management. Writing is time intensive. Well, a cardiology practice is too. On top of that, as I've already said, you donate huge amounts of time to answering questions from those of us who are trying to get it right. Any hints on how you put it all together?

Doug: The simple answer is to get a couple of cats. We have a Bengal named The Bean who is noisy and nocturnal to a fault. He usually starts about 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning, demanding attention and food. So our day around here usually begins around that time. I also stay up late, at least until 11 PM or midnight. I’m lucky in that I only need five or six hours of sleep a night and I’m okay. So I have plenty of time to get things done.

Cassy: Do you take individual editing or consultation clients? As I've said, you are very generous with your on-line time, but if someone wants your specific comments on a scene, do you offer that as well?

Doug: Yes, I do what I call manuscript consulting. I do charge a fee for that, however. I have helped people plot their stories, work out involved medical and forensic issues for them, read manuscripts and screenplays for veracity and storytelling, and in general offer whatever help I can and whatever help the writer needs to create a sellable manuscript.

Cassy: Stress Fracture is a change of direction for you. This is the fiction-side of your writing I mentioned above. How did it feel to be writing something so different than the other works you have done?

Doug: Actually I have two other novels out in my Samantha Cody series. Sam is a sheriff’s deputy in a small high-desert California town as well as a professional boxer. The first in the series is DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND, a horror thriller, and the second is DOUBLE BLIND, a medical thriller. My new series is the Dub Walker series and the first installment STRESS FRACTURE came out in April of this year.

Cassy: What led you to Dub Walker (the main character in Stress Fracture)? Are we going to see more of him?

Doug: Dub is a forensic and criminal behavior expert and consults on crimes that are unusual or particularly difficult. He has a knack for looking at the evidence in unusual ways and making connections that others might miss while at the same time understanding how the criminal’s mind works. All the stories are set in the South, in particular Huntsville, Alabama, my old hometown, and yes you will be seeing more of him. The next in the series is completed and will be out next June. Its title is HOT LIGHTS, COLD STEEL and it deals with robotic surgery.

Cassy: I know you attended Thrillerfest. Are there other conferences coming up where we can seek you out?

Doug: A couple of weeks after CraftFest/ThrillerFest I will be part of the faculty at the annual Book Passage Mystery Conference in Corte Madera, California. This is a great conference in that it focuses on the craft of crime writing. The attendees are mostly published and unpublished writers who are focusing on developing their craft. After that I will be at Novelist, Inc.’s Brainstorming on the Beach in St. Petersburg, Florida in October and then Bouchercon in San Francisco.

People can keep up with where I’m going to be through my website:

And my blog:

Cassy: Doug, we thank you so much for joining us today. I am beyond impressed with all you offer to the writing community.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tuesdays Tidbits with Kari: Featuring Author Louise Allen

Hi folks! I've heard of authors co-writing a book, which I've often thought of doing some day with my long time CP, Barbie Jo Mahoney. But I've never heard of co-collaborating on a series of 8 books connected by an ongoing mystery plot. I thought it might be fun to follow this group of 6 authors (2 of them wrote 2 books in the series) as each of their books comes out.

Regency Silk and Scandal is a unique 8 book author generated Regency continuity, featuring an ongoing mystery murder plot that runs through the whole series. It's about three friends, two scandalous affairs, and one secret code that leads to murder, disgrace and revenge. The stories will captivate the reader as they travel from the Cornish Coast to the heights of Hertfordshire, and from the ballrooms of London to the battlefields of Belgium.

Kari: What was it like for you in brainstorming an 8 book mystery plot?

Louise: Scary at first until I discovered how great it was working with the other five authors! Thank goodness for email and the Yahoo! group we set up, because it would have been impossible otherwise. Unusually, the editorial team at Harlequin Mills & Boon gave us a free hand, subject to editorial approval, so we really were starting from scratch with just an indication that they would like scandal and a wide variety of characters. Once we had broken the ice, there were so many ideas flying about that it was hard keeping a hold of them all until we developed systems with spreadsheets and charts.

For someone who tends to fly into the mist rather than plan intensively, this was a new way of working. Once we knew what the main storyline was, it became easier and we could work on our individual stories while checking back and forth with the others to make sure we were staying on track. In most cases characters would appear across the series - my two heroes are brothers and their sisters are heroines in other stories, for example, so there were a lot of emails flying about saying things like "Would Hal find this funny?" or "May I borrow Midge's stepbrother and get him wounded at Waterloo?" It was very strange writing by myself again afterwards!

Kari: LOL that sounds like a riot. Can you tell us about your books in the series?

Louise: I wrote two of the series - the first, The Lord & the Wayward Lady (June) and the seventh, The Officer & the Proper Lady (December). In the first the hero, Marcus Carlow, Viscount Stanegate, comes home to find his London home in turmoil, his father collapsed, a mysterious woman locked in the study and the shadows of a twenty year old murder and spy scandal risen to haunt them again. On the face of it, Nell Latham is a humble milliner who just happened to deliver the parcel that sets off this powder keg of vengeance, but she is more closely concerned with the old mystery than either she or Marcus realise. He has to chose between honour and desire as they fight an unseen enemy together.

In the seventh story Marcus's younger brother Hal, a rakehell cavalry major, finds himself involved with a young lady who is a complete novelty to him - the well-behaved, virtuous Miss Julia Tresilian. In the tense atmosphere of Brussels in the days leading up to the battle of Waterloo, both think that their unsuitable love affair is all they have to worry about, until someone tries to kill Hal on the battlefield - and it isn't the French! Back in London Hal finds himself trying to come to terms with his unsettling relationship with Julia and at the same time fighting alongside Marcus to protect their family from an increasingly dangerous nemesis.

Kari: Your books sound fascinating. Is this co-collaboration something you would ever do again, and any tips for authors thinking about co-writing a book or contributing to a connected series such as this one?

Louise: I would love to do it again - if I was sure I'd be working with such a fantastic team of fellow authors! If I was advising anyone else working on a continuity, I would say take your time to get to know the rest of the team; don't be afraid to say what you think will or won't work - but in a constructive manner; be prepared to compromise - and have fun!

Kari: Thanks so much for joining us, and I look forward to following this unique and interesting series.

Louise: thank you for inviting me to come along. I really look forward to hearing what your readers think about our series.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Ten Deadly Sins Of Pitching

As of today, there are only nine more days until RWA Nationals kick off with the literacy signing in Orlando. A lot of you probably have appointments with editors/agents to pitch your manuscript. I, for one, think that’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. I totally suck at it and pray I never have to sit through one of those ten-minute sessions ever again. I’m agented – she does all my pitching, right?

Wrong, Bucko! She does most of it, I have to admit, but what am I going to say when I find myself in the elevator with Edith Editor from the most perfect house for my next story?

“I’m sorry. Here’s my agent’s card. Call her to find out what I have.

Ah, no! We all have to be prepared for that golden opportunity in or out of an organized pitch scenario when we’re asked. “What do you write?” As a reminder to myself, I’ve come up with the ten deadly sins of pitching. Here goes:

10. "I have this great story about a lesbian vampire that will be finished sometime in the next year or so.”
NO! NO! NO! If you’re scheduled to pitch at Nationals, don’t waste your time (or their’s.) I guarantee no one will sign you with an unfinished manuscript unless they know you're capable of finishing a book to their satisfaction. Yeah, I know, both Kari and I sold on proposals but not before the editor had already read a completed manuscript that just wouldn’t work for the line.

9. Pull out a two-page, single-spaced synopsis and start reading.
NO! NO! NO! First off, you only have ten minutes, and trust me, you will probably have the editor thinking about Mickey Mouse long before you flip to page two. Keep it short and sweet. A pitch like this should begin with you introducing yourself and a little small talk before she asks what you have. Start with the genre and word count, and be aware, you probably only have the first five sentences to hook her. Make them count.

8. Wear your new skinny jeans and save-the-whales tee shirt.
NO! NO! NO! Business casual is what you need. I'm really jealous you look good in sexy jeans but save them for the night life.

7. “My friends say I write as good as Nora.”
NO! NO! NO! Number one, nobody writes as well as Nora, and number two, you will come across as arrogant. You can, however, say, you’ve read all her books and her style influenced your writing.

6. Pitch an erotica novella to an Avalon Editor.
NO! NO! NO! Do your homework. Know what your targeted person is actually looking for. If it’s an editor, find out some of her published authors and comment on that. For an agent, read one of her client's books. Believe me when I say no one is immune to that kind of extra effort.

5. Go to your appointment a little tipsy.
NO! NO! NO! I always swore I needed a margarita to get me though one of these sessions, but I never followed through. Anybody ever see me after one drink? I am a giggling fool. Don’t chance this.

4. Tell an editor/agent about your advanced degrees and that you are a single mother supporting three kids.
NO! NO! NO! She only cares about this if you’re writing a book about it. Now, if your story is about an undercover CIA agent and that’s in your résumé – go for it!

3. Notice her name tag in the elevator and start rattling off your pitch.
NO! NO! NO! That is right up there with stalking, and she’ll definitely remember you, just not in a good way. Instead, smile and let her start a conversation. Be prepared with your three or four line elevator pitch just in case she asks what you write. If she doesn’t ask, respect her privacy.

2. If she says it doesn’t sound like something she’s interested in, argue the merits of your story to convince her.
NO! NO! NO! Smile and say, “Bummer!” Then ask if she might be interested in something else you’ve written. If she’s not or if you don’t have anything else, ask her questions about her job or how she likes the conference so far. I once pitched to an M & B Medical editor and knew from her pinched brows she wasn’t that into me. “You write too much plot for this line,” she said. “Okay,” I replied. “Now what can we talk about?” By the end of the ten minutes we were both laughing. She might not have remembered my story at the end of the day, but I promise, she remembered me, even smiling when I saw her later.

And the number one Cardinal Sin of Pitching: “You’ll have to read my book to find out the end of the story.”
NO! NO! NO! I can almost guarantee you’ll walk away without a request. A pitch and/or a synopsis is NEVER the place to be mysterious, even if your story is a mystery.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way, work on your pitch. Make sure the hook is the first thing out of your mouth after the genre and word count.

“Lonely workaholic CEO hires a prostitute working her way through college to be his escort for a business dinner and ends up with more that just a one night stand.”

Do you recognize this? Is it not the entire plot of the story? Do you want to read it?

Now, go practice your pitch in front of the mirror.

If you’re brave enough to post your three or four line pitches, we’ll be glad to rip it a new one –just kidding. We will have a lively discussion about it and hopefully, help you make it the best it can be.

If not, just let me know what you think of my list.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Guest Blogger Anita D. McClellan

Please help me welcome the fabulous book doctor, Anita D. McClellan

Anita D. McClellan

In my book doctor practice as an independent developmental editor, I see many, many
writers who pay someone to edit or to copyedit a manuscript that has not yet been
revised and rewritten to near-submission readiness. Most of writing is rewriting and
revising. This, folks, can take years. Revision is looking at big-picture elements of the
current draft--each and every current draft of your fiction manuscript-- reading it, making
notes to yourself about it, listening to it or reading it aloud, and then shifting, fixing,
splicing in do-overs to get the draft closer to the book that you intend to write. Editing,
line and copy editing, comes after revision, when a novelʼs structure, its engineering,
and its major parts are in place and in very good working order.

“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way you can do anything really
good.” --William Faulkner

1. In a pocket-size revision notebook that you take everywhere, a day or two after
completing the first draft, write

• a description (50 words maximum) of what your story is about, where it begins,
what is at stake in the story for your lead character, what happens to the lead
character, the plotʼs resolution, and how the lead character is emotionally
changed as a result of story experiences;
• a list of everything that makes your lead character interesting to a total stranger;
• the point of your novel, what you want the reader to take away after closing the
book--in no more than 30 words.

These 3 elements serve as the compass to all revision work (and for your forthcoming
bookʼs jacket copy). You will be looking at each current draft in reference to them, and
you will thus see what aspects of your draft fit or do not fit the novel you intend to write.
In the process, you will run into parts of a draft that do not fit the novel you set out to
write. At those points, you will need to decide whether to delete or revise the parts or to
change the novel to fit them.

"Break up the larger story into its components, make sure you understand the exact function of
each component (a story is like a machine with numerous gears: it should contain no gear that
doesn't turn something), and after each component has been carefully set in place, step back and
have a look at the whole. Then rewrite until the story flows as naturally as a river, each element
so blending with the rest that no one, not even yourself two years from now, can locate the
separate parts." -- John Gardner

• Make an alphabetical list of each character by name or by function (e.g., “mail carrier”). Then in 10-12 words per entry, identify every character through his/her relationship to the lead.
• Map and chart from your narrative each sceneʼs setting, exteriors and interiors--every seascape, landscape, mountainscape, cityscape, roadway, pathway, and interior space. The reader should be able to walk, drive, or otherwise move through all the novelʼs spaces.
Once you finish a draft, put it in the freezer or somewhere it can compost for at least a month. Walk around in your life separate from the novel but always carry with you a revision notebook. Whenever something about your work--about any element or detail in your novel-- comes to mind, write it down there. "You generally start out with some overall idea that you can see fairly clearly, as if you were standing on a dock and looking at a ship in the ocean. At first you see the entire ship, but then as you begin work you're in the boiler room and you can't see the ship anymore.... What you really want in an editor is someone who's still on the dock, who can say, 'Hi, I'm looking at your ship and it's missing a bow, the front mast is crooked, and it looks to me as if your propellers are going to have to be fixed.'" -- Michael Crichton

2. When a draft has been on ice for a while, long enough that you feel you have real distance from it, make a scene-by-scene outline on 3x5 index cards as you read through the manuscript--use 1 side of 1 card per scene and note set, setting, character(s), Point of View (POV) character. Outline all scenes that are actually in the draft. Do not include scenes that you failed to write or omit scenes that you now find do not belong. Do not make a chapter outline. (Chapters are publisher-designed breaks to allow readers to stop reading, go do something else, and then return and find where they left off reading.) Scenes, which are grounded in time and place,
advance plot with action and change. Your scene outline will reveal whether the draft
actually does that.

3. On a large corkboard, a wall, or sheet of cardboard (big enough to attach 50 or so 3x5 index cards) mark 4 vertical columns. Label 1st column Act One for scenes that get your lead character into trouble and the story underway; label 2nd & 3rd columns Act Two and 2-Midpoint for scenes that get your lead in deeper and deeper trouble and reach a dark moment that looks like it's all over; label 4th column Act Three for scenes where lead saves the day in a climactic action and all the plot's & subplotsʼ loose ends are tied up in a resolution.

Cinderella's story as an example Col. 1/Act One: Cinderella's mom dies; widowed
father marries a woman with 2 daughters; father dies; life with evil stepmom and nasty
stepsisters. Cols. 2 & 3/Act Two: Prince's universal invite to ball energizes the
household with prime marriage prospect; C.'s make-work, last-minute chores done, she
is dressed and ready but unable to go with her family because they all made it
impossible for her to get there or be dressed appropriately. Fairy godmother does a
save; C's success at the ball; C. loses one glass slipper. The prince's emissary seeks
the mystery princess throughout the land. 2-Midpoint: Emissary arrives at C.ʼs door;
stepmother locks C. in her room. Col. 4/Act Three: While stepsisters try on the glass
slipper, C. escapes thanks to her allies and manages to catch emissary on his way out.
C. starts to try on glass shoe, stepsister bumps her, slipper shatters on the floor. C. pulls
the matching slipper out of her apron pocket and shows everyone how well it fits her
foot. Resolution: C. is happily married.

“A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end...but not necessarily in that order.”
-- Jean-Luc Godard, Breathless

Place scene cards under appropriate columns. Take as much time--weeks,
months--as you need to adjust pacing and flow by shuffling/discarding/adding scene
cards until the narrative moves forward with every scene. Does the novel begin where
the story begins? Does the middle sag? Is the ending just right?

Once you reach a dynamic scene outline, verify goal, motivation, and conflict in
each scene for every character. Check on Point of View--is it anchored? Does it work
well dramatically? (Suspense-thriller author Tess Gerritsen uses the character who is
the most offbalance or uncomfortable as POV.) Does each scene lead the protagonist
emotionally to your desired outcome for the character?

Consider whether every character is necessary. Can some be combined? Which
characters would leave gaping holes or never be missed?

Fill in missing details; make everything consistent with the imagery scheme,
charactersʼ profiles, clues and red herrings, verify that action and character logic fits the
story worldʼs.

Does all dialogue serve to bring out conflict, however hidden, and to advance plot
as well as to show character? Read dialogue aloud before you decide.
“All the information you need can be given in dialogue.” --Elmore Leonard

4. Put the manuscript back into the freezer. Breathe. Take a walk. Go for a swim. Better
yet, go away for a week or more and leave it behind, but donʼt forget to keep your
pocket revision notebook with you at all times along with the scene outline, list of
characters, settingsʼ maps and charts. Ruminate over the current draft without looking at

“One of my students wrote a story about a nun who got a piece of dental floss stuck between her
lower left molars, and who couldn't get it out all day long. I thought that was wonderful. The
story dealt with issues a lot more important than dental floss, but what kept readers going was
anxiety about when the dental floss would finally be removed. Nobody could read that
story without fishing around in his mouth with a finger.” --Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

5. Do the opening 300 words make the reader want to turn the page? No one keeps
reading to find where a book starts to get good.

• Read the opening pages of 5 favorite novels in your fiction genre or of any novel
that engages you, deconstruct and list in your revision notebook what craft tool(s)
make(s) each opening work well. Try any that might work in your novel.

“If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write.” -- Stephen King

6. Review the list you made of what makes your lead interesting to a stranger. Does it
hold up in the current draft? If not,

• Read 5 novelistsʼ introductions to and fleshings-out of terrific lead characters.
List what makes those characters engaging to you as a reader. Is there anything
that you can use to strengthen your lead?

7. Does your lead have a clear goal--want something that the reader can identify in the
opening pages? Are there constant, conflict-generating, tension-raising obstacles to
leadʼs attaining it, both tangible, exterior blocks and internal character flaws or
personality quirks? If not, deconstruct 5 gripping novels to see how pacing is done,
how tension is racheted up, how suspense is created, what makes you, as a reader,
turn a page. Write that in your notebook. Try using those craft tools for conflict and
character to rachet up your fiction.

8. Is your setting established so well that the reader is oriented in its story world? Can a
reader smell, taste, feel, see, and hear place in your fiction? Is there sensory
experience on every page? How is place connected to your lead character?

• Read and deconstruct how 5 novelists known for solid sense of place create
setting and set in their fiction and then list craft tools used that might work in your fiction.

9. Check all facts, dates, names, work/school/transportation schedules, weather, climate
and region, calendar dates, and other real-world information for accuracy.

10. Read the revised manuscript aloud into a tape recorder or have someone read your
current draft to you as you listen. Follow along on hard copy, if you can still hear
what is being read, and make notes for revision as you listen. Also notate what you
like, what bores you, what words and phrases stick in your mind, what you fail to
understand, where as the listener you need to know more, dialogue that does not
ring true to character or to situation, where the plot lags, where the pace slows,
inconsistencies, missing details, facts that need checking, redundancies. Take out
all the parts that a reader would skip over.

11. Keep in mind Kurt Vonnegutʼs rules for fiction:

• Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was
• Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
• Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
• Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
• Start as close to the end as possible.
• Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful
things happen to them in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
• Write to please just one person. If you open a window to make love to the world, so to
speak, your story will catch pneumonia.
• Give readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with
suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on,
where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat
the last few pages.

• Use “SaveAs” in your word processor with a “NewFileName” on the most recent draft
so that you will never lose the earlier version. Keep deleted passages in an “Outtakes”
file for future use or reference.
• Print out each succeeding draft on different color paper, so that in a heap of hard copy
you can identify which pages came from which draft.

Poet and teacher Sheila Bender wrote a wonderful piece about giving feedback to
writers titled “About the Three-Step Response” []. To it I would add a book by Joni Cole, Toxic Feedback: Helping
Writers Survive and Thrive.
Bell, Susan. The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself
Browne, Renni, and Dave King. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to
Edit Yourself Into Print
Fiske, Robert Hartwell and Laura Cherry (Editors). Poem, Revised: 54 Poems,
Revisions, Discussions [getting from first to polished draft]
Gross, Gerald C. Editors on Editing: What Writers Need to Know About What Editors Do
Klein, Cheryl. “The Art of Detection: One Editorʼs Tips for Analyzing and Revising Your
McCormack, Thomas. The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist: A Book for
Writers, Teachers, Publishers, and Anyone Else Devoted to Fiction
Prose, Francine. Reading Like a Writer
Provost, Gary. Make Your Words Work
Scofield, Sandra. The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer
Sexton, Adam. Master Class in Fiction Writing: Techniques from Austen, Hemingway,
and Other Greats
Steinbeck, John. Working Days [Before Steinbeck began each day's work on the first
draft of The Grapes of Wrath, he warmed up by penning a journal entry. Working Days
is the annotated version of that journal.]
Woolf, Leonard (editor). A Writerʼs Diary: Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolf
Yagoda, Ben. The Sound on the Page: Great Writers Talk about Style and Voice in

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mary's Rants

It's Thursday and only a week and a half left before conference. So much to do and so little time. As much as I love to network and see old and new friends, the conference is a career opportunity, one I must use wisely.

As I mentioned last week I color code everything in the workshop outline RWA gives us. Pink for 1st choice, yellow for 2nd, etc. But how do I pick what I attend? That's the hard part. Every year my career is at a different place, so my choices reflect where that place is.

This year I honestly do not know what I want to focus on. The three themes are career, craft and publishing, what way to go is the delimma.

This next week will be spent scouring the blurbs of each workshop. Cross referencing what is on the discs I purchased from D.C. last year. What's the newest trend, and what workshop are new and haven't been presented before.

Once I have a list of everything that interests me and that I do not have on disc from a previous year, then I'll start to narrow it down. That is when I will know what my focus will be. Every year it is a challenge for me to wring the most our of the conference to make it worth all the dollars I've spent.

And every year I bank on that one workshop that will tell me the golden advice that will take me to the top.

For those who are going to Nationals this year, what will be your focus?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cassy's Corner- An Interview with the Great Lee Lofland

Lee Lofland is the author of the Writers Digest bestselling book Police Procedure and Investigation, a 2008 Macavity Award nominee for best non-fiction mystery. Lee is a former police detective with nearly two decades of law-enforcement and crime-solving experience. He was in charge of major felony cases, including homicide, narcotics, rape, kidnapping, ritualistic and occult crimes, fraud, and robbery. Lee is a recipient of the esteemed Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police Award for Valor. He was also awarded the General Nathaniel Green medal for his courageous conduct against an armed bank robber.

As a nationally acclaimed expert on police procedure and crime-scene investigation, Lee has appeared on CNN, the BBC (How To Commit The Perfect Murder), and on NPR’s Talk of the Nation along with FBI criminal profiler Clint Van Zandt, the agent who successfully profiled The Unabomber and The Oklahoma City Courthouse bomber. Lee is also a popular conference, workshop, and motivational speaker. In addition, he's the host of the Writers' Police Academy, an event designed to provide writers with actual hands-on police training.

Lee writes freelance articles for publications, such as The Writer magazine, and for newspapers and newsletters across the country. He has worked with many bestselling authors, film writers, television shows including Spike TV's MURDER, marketing for network television, and he has consulted for online magazines such as Slate Magazine. Lee writes and edits the wildly popular, The Graveyard Shift, a blog that's visited each day by thousands of readers in over 130 countries.

The Graveyard Shift

Besides the planning for The Writers' Police Academy, Lee's current works-in-progress are a thriller and a nonfiction book about law enforcement.

Lee and his wife, Dr. Denene Lofland, live in North Carolina and Georgia. He's a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and the National Sheriff's Association. He has also served as a board member for the Northeast chapter of Mystery Writers of America and for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, NCADD in the Silicon Valley. Lee currently serves on the advisory board for ECPI's criminal justice program, Greensboro, N.C. campus.

Cassy: Welcome, Lee. This is truly a pleasure to have you join us today. On M & M we love to hear about both the craft of writing and the research it takes to pull it off. You certainly qualify in both areas. Let's start with your background. My short introduction doesn't begin to speak to your vast career- that's not an age comment . Is there anything you want to add?

Lee: Thanks so much for having me. Actually, I've been a lurker here for a little while. I met Kari Lee Townsend (online) quite a while ago and I've tried to keep up with her writing career. Somehow I knew she was going to do well, and I was right. Plus, I'm a big fan of literary agent extraordinaire, Christine Witthohn. You guys are lucky to have her in your corner.

Cassy: What took you from the direct investigative work you did for so long to writing and working with writers who want to get the details right?

Lee: Actually, the transition was easier than you'd think. I've always been a reader. When other kids were outside playing ball I was usually somewhere curled up with a Hardy Boys mystery, or a reading one of Poe's fabulous works. Did you know that one of my relatives, Dr. John Lofland, was a good friend of Poe? In fact, John Lofland was Delaware's first great poet.

Anyway, I'd always wanted to write. And after I left the business of cops and robbers we moved to California (for my wife's work—more on that later) where I saw an ad in a local paper advertising a creative writing class. I signed up, much to the surprise of my wife who had no idea of my desire to write, and joined a group of other fledgling, wannabe writers. Our teacher was Becky Levine (The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Make Revisions, Self-Edit, and Give and Receive Feedback) and she was absolutely wonderful. Becky has an uncanny gift of being able to bring out a person's creative abilities, abilities you never knew you had.

One of my favorite exercises in the class was writing flash fiction with twisted endings, and I seemed to do well. So, long story short...Becky encouraged me to continue writing. And, she invited me to speak about police procedure to her critique group. One of the members of that group just happened to be a conference director for a very well-known California writers conference. And, as I'm sure you've guessed, one thing led to another and I haven't stopped since.

Cassy: You are represented by a top-notch literary agency and your name is out there everywhere. Not to mention that the blurbs you have supporting your work come from the TOP NYT bestselling mystery and suspense writers. Tell us about your books.

Lee: This one's easy. I have the book about police procedure that seems to turn up everywhere. It's even used as a text book in some schools around the country. I'm quite pleased with how well that particular book has sold. I'm also very appreciative, and humbled, by the endorsements from many of the superstars in the mystery writing world. To have names like Jeffery Deaver, J.A. Jance, Tess Gerritsen, Jan Burke, Hallie Ephron, Rhys Bowen, S.J. Rozan and Lee Goldberg attached to your work is quite overwhelming. And to top it off Stuart Kaminsky, a former Grandmaster of the Mystery Writers of America, wrote the wonderful foreword for the book. When Stuart passed away a short while ago I was contacted by one of his immediate family members. He'd read Stuart's words about my writing and said that Stuart must have really liked and believed in my work to have written the foreword. His comment really took my breath away. So, I'm forever grateful to those kind folks.

Becky Levine (yep, my very first writing teacher) and I co-wrote a kid's book about police officers. The book sold quickly, but hasn't been released and I have no idea when it will. Currently, I'm finishing up the re-writes on a thriller. Everyone seems to be pretty excited about it, so we'll see how it goes. I should have it in my agent's hands in a few days.

I've also written for several newspapers around the country, The Writer magazine, and for various newsletters and online magazines.

Cassy: I know you were a police academy instructor, so teaching comes naturally to you. I suspect that's part of why you are so good at sharing information with writers. Comments on that?

Lee: I enjoy teaching classes and workshops that are helpful to others, and I can't think of anything more meaningful than helping writers hone their work. Several writers stepped forward to help me get started, so it's my turn to do the same. But I could never do enough to repay the kindness that's been shown to me.

Oh, here's a little-known fact for you: I once taught business math and drafting at a small high school in Virginia. I have to admit, I'd rather face two dozen armed bad guys than a class full of high school students. My hat's off to today's educators. They're a brave bunch of people!

Cassy: Can you tell us a story? What would you say was the most unusual encounter you had as a member of our law enforcement network? I say it that way because you have done so many things I don't want to pick just one title for your position.

Lee: There are so many stories to tell, and so little space to write them. But there are a few events that stand out, like my story of Takin' Bacon, which is very popular. Then there's the one about the car I stopped on an interstate highway late one summer night. Since I've written the Bacon story for another blog I'll go with the latter. Let's call it Locked in Love.

This event unfolded on a boring graveyard shift. I'd already answered the usual he-said she-said calls, locked up the usual drunks, and broken up the usual Friday night fights. It was time for a break, so I was on my way to an all-night restaurant to rendezvous with the other sleepy officers who were stuck with working midnights.

I pulled out onto an interstate highway and immediately got behind a beat up old jalopy. Soon, the bucket of bolts began to weave from lane-to-lane. Then the driver slowed to a near crawl. Then he sped up. Faster and faster. Brake lights. And back to the snail's pace. Yep, a classic drunk driver and I had to get him off the road before he killed someone. So I called dispatch to let them know my location and that I was stopping a car. Then I gave them the plate numbers and reached for the switches to activate my lights and siren. There would be no breakfast for me. Processing a drunk driver could take two or three hours, if you hurry.

Well, things immediately went downhill.

When I first got behind the car I saw one head, the driver's. When I turned on the blue lights a second head suddenly popped up, from left to right—a passenger who'd been leaning over with their head in the driver's lap. Needless to say, I didn't need to consult the detective's handbook to figure out this little puzzle.

And as soon as I flipped the light switch the driver immediately braked, turned on his right turn signal, and pulled to the shoulder. Quickly, snappy, and abrupt. Definitely not a drunk.

I pulled over behind the car, angling mine in the classic felony-stop position. You never know what to expect during the weirdo hours of 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. That's the time when the "crazies" come out to play.

The car sat idling in front of mine, like a tired old beast with little puffs of steam spouting from dual exhaust pipes. I was pretty sure I knew what had been distracting the driver, therefore my assessment of the offense had changed from drunk driver to hanky-panky.

Still, for my safety, I decided to approach the car from the passenger side, so I turned on my takedown lights (I was still in uniform working patrol at the time) and aimed the spotlight at their rear view mirror so they couldn't see me as I walked up.

I got out of my car, dreading and embarrassed about what I knew I would find when I looked inside the car.

No moon. No stars. High, thick humidity. Crickets chirping and frogs burping in the area just behind where the brightness of my lights turned to black on the shoulder of the road. The music in the old Ford was pumping steady and hard enough to rattle the car's cheap hubcaps. No other vehicles on the road. Darkness as far as the eye could see behind me. In front of me, the jalopy's round headlamps cut through the night with two pale yellow beams. A Stephen King setting if there ever was one. I reminded myself to never again read Christine before going to work at night.

I walked up to the passenger's window and couldn't believe my eyes. I was speechless, which is not something that usually happens to me.

The driver, a rail-thin book-wormish sort of guy, was wearing a Department of Corrections uniform (he was a prison guard) and the passenger, a very chubby man with more than his share of man boobs and body hair, was wearing only his birthday suit. Yep, he was completely nude. And his right wrist was securely handcuffed to the door. Both men sat staring at the driver's window, waiting for me appear. A tent-size copy of the driver's prison guard uniform lay crumpled on the back seat.

I used my flashlight to tap on the passenger's window. Startled, both men jumped and turned to face me. The naked guy used his free hand to roll down the glass. The driver leaned forward so he could see around the mountain of bare flesh seated between us.

"Is there a problem officer?" said the driver, with a perfectly straight and somber face.

I was absolutely stunned. "You're asking me if there's a problem?" I asked. "Let's see, for starters..."

Anyway, I'll spare you the details of the conversation, but I will say that their explanation was centered around love and the only way they could spend any quality time together was after work, in a car. I guess their wives probably wouldn't let them play with handcuffs at home. Yep, they were each married, and to a woman who was at home waiting for her darling husband to come home after a hard day at work.

This was probably not the weirdest situation I've ever seen. But it was definitely one that'll never leave the place in my mind where gross images are stored.

Cassy: I’m sitting here laughing. It makes asking the next question a challenge. Tell us about the Writer's Police Academy. What happens there? How many days is it? I know this year's academy is coming up. How many people come? Are they all writers? How do you put together the lessons and how to teach them. Who joins you as additional instructors? Any spaces left? Sorry, guess this wasn't just one question.

Lee: The Academy is a hands-on event designed especially for writers, where they'll have the opportunity to train much like actual police recruits. They'll learn about police procedure, police equipment, firearms, defensive tactics, accident and crime scene reconstruction, search warrant service, autopsy, death investigation, and much, much more. We're even offering FATS training (firearms training simulator), where attendees will be placed in life-like, life-size virtual shoot/don't shoot scenarios. FATS training incorporates real Sig Sauers and Glocks, flashlights (for night situations), pepperspray, and Tasers. And the bad guys shoot back! We'll also featuring fire and EMS training. Since this event takes place on the grounds of a working police and fire academy we have access to all their equipment and facilities, including a working fire station, burn building, trucks and ambulances, and other emergency care equipment. As a result, we've added workshops on arson, firefighting and crime scene response by EMS workers.

The event is open to anyone who has an interest in this sort of thing, but we have aimed all workshops toward writers. Still, anyone with an interest in action and fun would have a great time. This is truly a Disneyland for writers, and we're starting it off with a bang!

Writers from nearly all genres have signed up—mystery, romance, suspense, romantic suspense, thriller, YA, erotica, and even poetry.

Generally, the workshop topics are based on questions I've seen arise on various online writer groups, from my blog, and from emails I've received from writers. But, we've added some topics that are just plain interesting and fun.

Yes, we do have space available. However, the FATS training workshop is at capacity. But there's just so much going on you'd never miss it.

Jeffery Deaver is our keynote speaker. And we're featuring New York City medical examiner Jonathan Hayes. Jonathan is also a food writer for Martha Stewart Living magazine, and he's a fantastic medical thriller writer. ATF Special Agent/firearms instructor Rick McMahan will be on hand to teach firearms and other workshops. Literary agent Verna Dreisbach, also a former police officer, is presenting a couple of sessions, and I'll be doing the same. We'll be joined by the staff of a real police academy whose instructors are teaching classes just like they'd teach their academy students—fingerprinting, crime lab, jail and cell searches, arrest techniques, etc.

Cassy: You have a fantastically successful blog- The Graveyard Shift. What are the topics you cover? (Folks, this is a set up question. I visit this blog all the time for there is SO much there to learn. Lee doesn't hold back when he can teach). So, back to the question, The Graveyard Shift and topics you cover.

Lee: Another easy answer. I cover everything and anything related to police, forensics, and CSI. I also feature guest experts from all areas of law enforcement and beyond, including TV and film actors, screenwriters, producers, literary agents, judges, artists, photographers, attorneys, authors, and even a preacher. My only stipulation is that each article must relate in some way to the business of cops and robbers. But I have, on special occasions, waived that rule (relatives who might cut me out of their will if I don't).

Cassy: As a writer, I'm always amazed by the incredible network of professionals who willingly support us. You are constantly offering advice on many loops. It's fantastic. Thank you. What is the nuttiest question from a writer you've been spurred on to answer? This the quirky side of me coming out.

Lee: I'll never forget it—Do cops taste blood at crime scenes to see if it's real?

Cassy: Lee, I’m starting to snort I’m laughing so hard. You’re making this tough on me! Your wife, Denene Lofland, Ph.D is a specialist in clinical laboratory sciences. Do you collaborate with her in your work?

Lee: Denene has worked and taught in that field, but she's more well-known for her work as a microbiologist in new drug discovery. Her PhD is in pathology and she's worked in biotech for many years. She's worked on the discovery and development of drugs that were approved by the FDA (anti-infectives) and are now on the market. Another is nearing the FDA-approval stage. In Boston, she worked as the director of microbiology for a pharmaceutical company. Most recently she was the manager of a company that did top secret things for the government. I can't reveal the company name or what they did, but I can say that I can't say. But, and I'm very happy about it, Denene has decided to get out of the fast-paced world of biotech (no more overseas travel and top-secret missions) and return to teaching at a university. So, I'm making the announcement here that we're officially relocating to Savannah, Ga. in a couple of weeks. Maybe I'll hear Paula Deen say, "Hey, Y'all," in person.

Cassy: Lee, we can't thank you enough for joining us today. I look forward to reading the comments and questions that fly in.

Lee: Again, thank you for having me. And, good luck to all of you. Oh, and please do join us at the Writers' Police Academy. I really meant it about the bang. We're kicking off the Saturday portion of the program with a really big bang!