Friday, October 29, 2010

Don't Hate Me Cause I'm Perfect....NOT!!

Please help me welcome multi-pubbed, award-winning author and fellow Berkley sister, Kylie Brant, to Mysteries and Margaritas. She's the author of thirty-one romantic suspense novels for Silhouette and Berkley. She's a three-time Rita finalist and has been nominated for five Romantic Times awards, including a win for Career Achievement. She claims that her two Daphne du Maurier awards, won for mystery and suspense writing, are the only things she regularly dusts!

She's here today talking about her not-so-perfect characters, and as a bonus, she's giving away an autographed copy of her latest suspense novel, DEADLY INTENT.

So, take it away, Kylie

I Meet the Most Interesting People...

Okay, a lot of them are products of my imagination, but they *are* intriguing story people, at least. People who, if they were real, I could admire and respect. People I'd be proud to call friends. Not because they're perfect. Perfection is boring :) My characters are flawed, sometimes deeply. They struggle to overcome obstacles to do the right thing. They've become good people despite sometimes traumatic incidents in their pasts. They're complex, because the most interesting people are multi-faceted, with layers that aren't easily pierced.

When I'm coming up with a new story sometimes it's the suspense plot that will occur first, but more often it's the characters who first spring to life, fully developed. Then the suspense idea closely follows and I ask myself, 'How would these story people react to that situation? What will it make it particularly difficult for them to reach their goal?" There's always an external conflict of course, usually in the way of a villain. But giving characters a flaw or an emotional conflict means they have an inner struggle as well.

My characters, despite any other flaws, are extraordinarily patient :) Some linger in my mind for years, waiting for their turn to have their story told. Others are more demanding, surging to the forefront and beating on the walls of my imagination, refusing to be ignored any longer. Just as in real life, the squeaky wheel is often heard first.

From my earliest years I've always been fascinated by why people do the things they do. In that way I suppose I imagine them from a psychological point of view. Naming them and giving them physical attributes are probably the last things I do for character development, and are the most deliberate actions I take with them. Oddly enough, the physical description of my characters often requires the most thought. I don't necessarily 'see' them so much as I 'know' them--what and who they are and what events have shaped them. I often land on their descriptions simply through the process of elimination--let's see, I haven't had a green-eyed heroine in several books :) Perhaps because of this quirk, the most difficult question I'm asked is: if your book were a movie, who would you cast as the leading characters? I always have to go back and remind myself, okay, what did they look like again? I tend to think that who people are inside is ever so much more interesting than what they look like!

Somehow my cast always seem to have at least one character that adds some comic relief. I don't do this consciously but I have a slightly twisted sense of humor and it sort of works into the stories, even if I don't necessarily plan it that way at first. These characters, whether a health-conscious partner detective, a tattooed scientist with unusual luck with women, or a pint-sized angelic looking lab assistant with the mouth of a sailor lighten the otherwise dark subject matter. They also provide a foil for the main characters, and through their eyes we're given an outside look at the hero and heroine.

The villain, of course, is the most interesting character to write, because evil is riveting. Delving into what events twisted people into psychopathy is endlessly fascinating. Perhaps because I had a perfectly ordinary upbringing, devoid of homicidal maniacs or anything more traumatic than having to wear braces for three years, I have to dig deep for these crazed characters at times. Unfortunately, the news is awash with horrible things that people have been forced to endure. But its also full of stories that prove the resiliency of the human spirit. And I think that factor, when it comes to the closure of the story, makes for the most satisfying of endings.

Some characters I've read have stayed with me always. Scout, from To Kill a Mockingbird. Holden Caulfield, from Catcher in the Rye. Huck Finn. What unforgettable characters have you run across in your reading?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mary's Rants

Welcome to Mary's Rants. The year is coming to a close, where has it gone? I for one am glad to see it go, it hasn't been the best for me. However, that's not what I'm ranting about today. And I'm not sure I'm ranting, it's just time for me to get off my bottom and accomplish something.

November is a good month to do it. After all it's National Novel Writing Month! What is this you ask? Well I bet most of you didn't. It's exactly what the title suggests. Everyone gets together, registers on the site. They put their word count goals in and off they go. There are groups that meet around your town. They have merit badge buttons to help motivate you.

You can visit their web site and see for yourself.

I have tried this in the past, and it's great if you follow through. However, I got bogged down trying to remember how to log in, and where my goals went, etc. I haven't tried for a few years and I'm told that it's much easier and user friendly. Still I don't want to be bothered. Yes I do want the motivation and the accountability of something like this. It's nice to have goals that others can see. Then you feel you have to reach them, or have egg on your face.

I belong to a group call the AITC group. That would be Ass in the Chair group. Each month we have one week when one of us moderates and pushes. We have a database for our goals, and the moderator gives us daily encouragement. Plus we all support each other. And for the past couple of years we've done our own version of NaNo. And this year we are doing the same. We've broken it down into 4 sessions, so that we have 4 moderators, that way no one has to do it the entire month.

I am moderating the Kick off (first week). I've been sending encouragement, of what they need to do to get ready. Clear off their desk. Write the back story for their characters, have all the pre-writing process done so that November 1st they're ready to start.

There are a few of us who are actually doing both the AITC and NaNo. They will share some of their goals and experiences from NaNo, and we'll all benefit.

Most importantly for me though, is the accountability, someone pushing me to do something. As of now I still do not know what I'm going to write. But I will be ready November 1st!

Who out there will be doing NaNoWriMo? And have you done it before? How many words do you plan to write, what have you done in the past?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cassy's Corner- What is too Precious to Lose?

Today I'm picking up on Peter Morin's blog of yesterday. You should check it out. He is a funny delightful guy who is represented by the same agent as I, Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary Agency ( Pete tells a great story in this posting about cleaning out his parents' house. It got me thinking. What is precious?

I grew up in a household where anything and everything was special- as long as you had a reason for it to be special. By that I mean if it's a tool that will help you with a task, it's special. If it's a plate hand thrown by the potter presented as a gift, it's special. If it's an empty box filled with packing peanuts that just might be of use next year, it's special. If it's the apron hand painted by my four year old daughter, it's special (that one still lives in my drawer used frequently and she's in graduate school now).

On the other hand, I was also raised to let go. "Don't covet. Move on." I moved 11 times (I think I've counted right) before heading off to college. My parents continued to make many more moves, buying and selling houses with an ease that is at the professional level. Opportunities were out there. Exciting and wonderful things to be done. It's infectious. They are certainly not vagabonds, just incredibly brilliant people who always found something more to help them grow, do and learn. They now live in the special family house that has been with us for 102 years (all through the women, I might add).

When do you decide that the precious (the house my parents now live in) cannot be relinquished and when do you remind yourself "Don't covet. Move on." The beautiful glass dining room table my husband and I loved cracked after a cleaning person dropped the vacuum cleaner wand on the edge. I held my breath and then kept saying, "Don't covet. Don't covet." My wonderful Golden Retriever puppy brought me one of my cashmere sweaters. She proudly dropped it in my lap, then spit out a chunk of the sleeve along with the remains of the garment. "Don't covet. Move on."

One of my favorite stories belongs to my grandmother. She was a Bostonian and all that that can sometimes mean. One day when I was about 10 she was folding laundry and chatting with me. As a young woman, probably in her late teens or early twenties, she was given a pair of silk stockings. It was a special gift from her mother. She looked at those stockings every day, folded carefully in tissue paper and kept in her top dresser drawer. Each time an event of importance came around, she thought, "The stockings. I'll wear the stockings." Nope she would think. It's not special enough for these wonderful stockings. A particularly nice man asked for a date. The stockings.. No, it wasn't special enough. Finally there was the moment, the right time, just perfect for the stockings. She took them out of the drawer and there were moth holes throughout. She never wore those stockings.

The words I type that appear before me become a bit like that. The ones that today seem so perfect, so precious, so just right for what I want to say often look stale tomorrow. Do I use them? Is it a waste to cut them? Do I send them to the "out takes" file? Do I just move on? Will I be able to create new ones that will do a better job?

I think I do both. Some of those words deserve to be saved but need elaboration, like pearls added to my outfit for a nice evening out. Some deserve to be forever banished. Some stand just right.

How do you make those decisions? What is precious and speaks to who you are as a writer? How do you make that decision? We are so subject to critiques, commentary and others' opinions it can be a challenge to remember that for you-- precious is your definition.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tuesdays Tidbits with Kari: Featuring Author Mirande Neville

Kari: I see you grew up in Wiltshire in southwest England. That sounds so romantic. What was it like?

Miranda: Naturally it didn’t seem romantic to me as a child, but I suppose it was. The English countryside and the historic sites around certainly inspire my books, which are set in Regency England. We lived very close to a ruined castle where my siblings and I played and made up stories. Here it is, Old Wardour Castle. It appeared briefly at the beginning of the movie Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.

Kari: You attended the University of Oxford, then spent years writing catalogues of rare books and original letters and manuscripts for Sotheby's auction house in London and NY. With all that reading of personal correspondence of the famous, what's the most shocking or interesting thing you came across?
Miranda: It would be hard to pick one. The best thing for me was the thrill of holding a piece of paper that had been held and written on by a famous person, often centuries earlier. For the most part, the more intimate letters were destroyed, I believe, but sometimes I’d see a love letter or something else very personal. Strangely enough, I had a sense of violating someone’s privacy, even though they were long dead. Something that always entertained me was the way a husband would write to his wife in 19th century England and sign his letter formally. There could be all sorts of passionate stuff then the signature “John Smith.”
Kari: You write sexy, sophisticated historical romance, but your first two books have strong mystery elements. Can you tell us about those mysteries?

Miranda: My first book was sparked by reading about CarĂªme, a celebrity chef who spent about a year working for the Prince Regent. When I learned that leftover food from the royal kitchens was sold, I thought “suppose someone was poisoned by such a dish.” The heroine of NEVER RESIST TEMPTATION has to go on the run when she is suspected of being the poisoner. The plot ended up being quite complicated as, with the help of the hero, she finds the real murderer.
My second book, THE WILD MARQUIS, begins a series set in the world of Regency rare book collecting, drawing on my experience there. This time the clues to the murder of the heroine’s husband are found in books that also hold the key to her mysterious background.
Since both books are primarily historical romances, there isn’t room to include all the elements of a true mystery novel. There’s a limit to how many red herrings one can fit, and the solutions cannot be overly complex. I suspect practiced mystery readers would guess them fairly easily, but I hope the way the plots unwind is amusing anyway. I learned to have a great deal of respect for mystery writers. That’s a lot to keep straight! I shall never forget my panic when, two weeks before my deadline for THE WILD MARQUIS, I found a massive logic hole in the final twist. I thought I was going to have to rewrite half the book, but luckily it turned out to be a quicker fix.

Kari: Your newest release that came out this month is called The Dangerous Viscount. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Miranda: THE DANGEROUS VISCOUNT is a straight romance – no mystery, no subplots, and a pleasant change of pace for me. I call it “Regency Revenge of the Nerd.” The hero, Sebastian, is a shabby, misogynistic bookworm until he sets eyes on Diana and falls hard for her. When he learns she’s playing with him, he gets an extreme makeover and becomes the most desirable bachelor in London, intending to seduce Diana and then reject her. Needless to say, nothing works out quite as either intended. Both characters behave quite badly but they are fundamentally decent people and, of course, made for each other

Kari: What's your writing process and schedule like? Are you a pantser, a plotter, etc.? Do you write every day?

Miranda: Every book has been different. I started out very much a plotter, but I’ve become more of a pantser. I have to produce a full synopsis for my editor, but she accepts that after the initial set up the book may totally change. Once I’m deep in a manuscript I write almost every day, for at least a couple of hours. More time is spent researching, thinking, and planning.

Kari: I love finding new authors and books to read. Any favorite authors or great books you've discovered that you'd like to share with us?

Miranda: One of my favorite writers, and one who is brilliant at blending history and mystery into her romances, is Liz Carlyle. I recently read and loved To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, a wild blend of science fiction and history.

Kari: Any final words, pieces of advice, or topics you want to share that I haven't covered?

Miranda: In a sense, every romance is a mystery: why the hero and heroine are made for each other, and what do they have to learn about each other and themselves to get to the HEA. As a writer, I’ve found the experience of dropping clues about a concrete mystery very helpful in learning how to time the more nebulous emotional reveals of the romance.
Thanks so much, Kari, for inviting me here today. Now I’d like to pick your mystery-writing brains. Any tips about blending the plot and romantic elements in your books?

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Series Diary Even Pantsers Can Love

For some reason, I spent a lot of time either listening to the way other people plot or telling them how I plot. So, I decided today’s blog should be about that.

I recently went to successful writer and workshop teacher, Randy Ingermanson’s Workshop The SnowFlake Method. He starts with a twenty-five word or less blurb and builds it into a workable synopsis. On Saturday, the talented, Lori Wilde spoke at my chapter meeting about themes and plots. She has over 50 books out there, so she’s doing something right. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no right or wrong way. You have to do what works for you.

Even true-blue pantsers are finding they are doing more plotting nowadays than they used to, especially if they’re writing mysteries or selling on proposal. Die-hard plotters have been doing this all our writer lives. So, I decided I wanted to know how everyone else does it. I’ll start with my own writing and my latest wip.

I went to a “gathering” of a few writer friends a while back, and the question came up about plotting. I confessed I only had a blurb for my second book, BEEF STOLEN-OFF. Here it is:

Jordan finds herself smack in the middle of a cattle theft ring where the “steaks” are high and the cowboys are not what they seem.

Since my series title was about casseroles (or it was before my editor changed it to Clueless Cook, which actually fits better.) I had what I thought was a catchy title following that theme and an idea what it would be about.

That’s it. I had no clue where I was going with it, other than cattle rustling was involved. With the help of my friends, we threw out some “what ifs?” and I came home with a pageful of ideas.

The next thing I did was sleep on this for a week or so. That’s where I do my best plotting, and this time was no exception. Since I write long-hand, I list what I call plot points on a piece of paper.
Things like :

Jordan goes to Cattleman’s Ball so she can write a review and her escort dies in her arms.
Jordan goes to his funeral and his aphasic mother mouths “help me” to her.

I usually have a page and a half to two pages, and these eventually end up as scene hooks and/or red herring candidates. When I have this all on paper, I start my research. In this case, I needed to know something about cattle rustling, ways I could poison someone without it showing up in their blood, and Texas Barbecue. These printed research sheets are the things I study when I’m in the doctor’s office or on an airplane, and my imagination goes wild. My plot points get changed so often, I have to write them in pencil. The same goes for my character profiles.

Now it’s time for me to meet my characters. I have developed my own character profile sheet that I use for every single character in my book. It has important things like their GMCs, their backstory, etc, but it also has not so important tidbits like what kind of perfume they wear, what kind of music they listen to, what kind of clothes they wear. Since I am taking my first shot at a series, I can’t tell you how helpful this has been with my second book.

There’s nothing that ticks me off more than when I’m reading a book in a series, and I notice some minor detail that is different, like all of a sudden a secondary character is wearing jeans and tee shirts instead of moo moo’s. Kind of extreme, but you get the point.

Since my series involves a small town, I have given that its own character sheet as well – where the Pizza House is, how far does she have to drive to get to work. Things like that will appear in all the books of the series and trust me, they’d better be accurate. I’m on a loop with mystery readers, and those gals are educated and know what turns them off...and have no problem talking about them. God forbid if Aunt Suzie's hair changes from blond to brunette.

I once heard the wonderful Roxanne St. Clair talk at Nationals about keeping a diary, especially if you are writing a series. Said the fans get really bent out of sharp if you get something wrong in your own book. She didn’t do this and ended up paying big bucks for someone else to do it for her. ..after the first few books.

Thank you, Rocky, as that one thing stuck in my head and forced me to take the time while I was writing Book One. Number one – I don’t have big bucks and number two- it has really helped me know my story. I use my character sheets for my diary. It was great pulling out the original ones from LIVER LET DIE to use when I started on

Of course, there are different characters in BSO since I killed off a lot in LLD. Oh well, what’s a few more sheets?

So, let’s hear it. How do you plot? Inquiring minds want to know. If you’re brave enough to throw out your blurb so we can tear it apart – just kidding- go for it. Feel free to rip mine a new one on this glorious Monday in Texas where we’re still celebrating the fact that our Texas Rangers are going to the World Series for the first time in franchise history.

Now if only the Cowboys can beat the Giants tonight!!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Interview with Dale Mayer, Finalist in the Kensington Brava Contest

Please give a great big M & M welcome for my friend and fellow author, Dale Mayer, who is trolling for votes. Since getting published is hard enough and we can use all the help we can get, I talked her into coming on the blog today to ask for votes. She's a finalist in the Kensington Brava Writing contest, and the winner gets a contract. Woo hoo. Here's the blurb for TUESDAY'S CHILD, a wonderful RS.

SAMANTHA BLAIR, a psychic with a terrible gift, is forced to work with Detective BRANDT SUTHERLAND, a cop on the hunt for a serial killer, in order to save not only her sanity but also the women falling victim to an unusual killer preying on their small town.

When she asked what kind of blog I wanted her to do, knowing her sense of humor,I immediately thought of a top ten list since y'all know how much I love those. So without further ado, here's her top ten list for why you should vote for her. Take it away, Dale.

Hi everyone! My name is Dale Mayer and I live in beautiful Kelowna, BC, Canada. I am multi-pubbed in nonfiction, but my passion is the stories that weave through my mind. For the past nine years, I’ve written around the daily responsibilities of being a single mother of four to produce new stories each year. I write both adult and young adult fiction focusing on taut psychological suspense with romance and paranormal elements.

Thanks so much for the opportunity to visit today.

I am thrilled to be one of the ten finalists in the Brava Writing With The Stars Contest. It’s been a very empowering experience. The editors at Kensington picked the ten finalists from the large pool of entries and that alone means that my manuscript is good enough to attract the attention of the people that count. Even better, the winner of the contest receives a publishing contract!

However to actually win this contest I have to have voters – you!
But considering that all ten of the finalists are good writers, have worked hard to get here, and all want to win - why should you vote for me?

That’s where the trouble writing this blog started. You’d think being a writer would make it easy to think up things. But in my books, it’s my characters who speak. Then again, why wouldn’t that work here? I am a character in my own world.

Therefore I’ll let one of my alter egos speak today – the comic!
She came up with ten tongue-in-cheek reasons why you should vote for me:

10. I’m a blonde – everyone knows we need help to accomplish the most basic things - like win!

9. I’m short – and could use a hand up!

8. I’m hindered by having a male name as a romance writer – like really who’d name their daughter Dale?

7. I’m over 40 and have gray hair – but not enough to figure out how to do this on my own – refer to #1 if you’re confused.

6. If you vote for me I can rise above cat lady status to cat lady with a publishing career status and feed my gathering brood of cats.

5. If you are related to me, the never ending flow of cheesecake will stop – unless you vote for me!

4. If you aren’t related to me – there’s not going to be cheesecake either – but if you vote for me I can keep the cheesecake flowing for those that are!

3. If you vote for me I can ditch the day job and go on stage as a stand up comic – NOT!

2. I deserve to win – just listen to all my kids and extended family – they’ll tell you (or they will if they want to stay in my will!)

1. The biggest and the best reason to vote for me? Because TUESDAY'S CHILD is a damn good story and deserves to be turned into a book - Honest!

I’d continue but the next one my alter ego wanted to bring up was that I’m a woman and whoa Nellie, I’m not going to touch that one! No sane woman would.

Thanks, Liz, for the opportunity to be here!

You can vote for Dale by going to
You can also go find her website at

She's on Twitter at: or you can follow her on Facebook.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mary's Rants: Guest Clare O'Donohue

Please welcome to Mysteries and Margaritas, Clare O’Donohue, author of the Someday Quilts Mysteries. Anyone who comments or asks Ms. O’Donohue a question will be in a drawing for one of her books.

Clare, before we begin can you tell us a little bit about your background? I don’t mean why you write books, etc. I mean about you as a person.

Clare: I was raised on the South Side of Chicago, very working-class immigrant neighborhood. My parents were from Ireland, my friends had parents from Italy, Germany, Poland, Lithuania… I think I was about nine before I realized your parents could be born in this country.

I’m the youngest of four. My dad died when I was seven, so I was raised by my mom, an English teacher, who valued education. She used to talk about the fall of Rome at the breakfast table, and we’d quote our favorite Shakespeare passages at holiday dinners. I studied International Politics in college, because I thought I would become a political speechwriter. Instead I worked first as a newspaper reporter outside Joliet IL, then as a TV producer on shows for truTV, History Channel, Food Network and others. I still produce shows when I’m not writing books.

Now we have a little background about you, how did that shape you as the writer?

Clare: I think everything shapes the writing. Losing my dad so early certainly shaped me as a human being. It made the world less certain, which has oddly made me more willing to take chances and go after things that I want. But it probably also made me more cautious with people, more of an observer, which is a handy trait for a writer as it turns out. My mom was and is a huge influence. Words & stories matter to her and she passed that on to me.

The area I grew up in was a wonderfully close-knit community, but I remember the reaction when I said I wanted to be a writer. In my neighborhood I might as well have been saying I wanted to walk to the moon. As someone once told me, “Writing is what rich people do. We get jobs.” It wasn’t said to be mean, it was actually said with love. I think it makes me work harder, not get too caught up in patting myself on the back. I know how lucky I am to have walked to the moon, and I take that opportunity seriously.

Mary: We know why you love quilts and have woven them into your stories but why did you decide to write mysteries?

Clare: I like mysteries. I like the high stakes of a dead body on the floor, and the way people react to that. It automatically creates a situation where the characters, innocent or guilty, are slightly off balance. I think that’s an interesting place to start a story.

 I’m a big Murder She Wrote & Matlock fan because they’re fun, light, and yet satisfying. But as a producer, I’ve also worked on some true crime shows, like Forensic Files, and so I’ve met real life killers. There is something fascinating about people who kill, but the nuclear fallout for the victim’s friends and family is truly horrifying. I always walk away from those experiences trying to understand why it happened. Maybe writing mysteries is my way of exploring that.

Mary: Please tell us a little about your Someday Quilts Mysteries series. How many books do you plan to have in it?

Clare: I like to think of Someday Quilts as a modern take on a classic cozy. Nell Fitzgerald is a 26-year-old art student who lives with her grandmother and works at Someday Quilts, the grandmother’s shop. Nell’s openly nosy, doesn’t mind breaking a few rules, and is fiercely loyal to her friends. And because of that, when a murder happens she’s right in the middle of it. Mostly the focus is on the mystery, but quilting and romance are key elements, and I think I’m most proud of the intergenerational friendships between the women in the quilt group. I like how the women, from their 20s to their 70s, depend on each other for everything from romantic advice to help with the murder investigation.

I don’t know how many books there will be in the series. I want to tell Nell’s story until it’s finished, and then stop. While some series can still be fresh and wonderful after 30 books, others get repetitive after six. I love these characters so I want to make sure that each book is something new.  

Mary: Are you ever going to write something other than mysteries? And will there be other series in your future?

Clare: Funny you should ask. In May of 2011 I’m launching a new series, called The Kate Conway Mysteries, about a 37-year-old Chicago-based television producer, whose job (much like mine) gives her access to all sorts of people, from CEOs to prison inmates.  In the first book, MISSING PERSONS, Kate is in the middle of divorce when her husband dies mysteriously. Kate is used to asking questions, but now she has to answer them. And she doesn’t have answers. So while she tries to figure out what happened to her husband, and by extension their marriage, she also has to work on a true crime show that’s investigating the disappearance of a nursing student. Being objective is part of her job, but with her personal life unraveling, she finds herself connecting to the family and friends of the missing woman - possibly to her detriment.

Kate is a much more reluctant sleuth than Nell, and she’s also dealing with a more complicated life; in-laws, money issues, and the girlfriend of her late husband, who wants to be friends.  It’s a bit edgier and darker than Someday, and definitely not a cozy, so I hope the Someday Quilts fans will stay with me for it. It explores friendship and love the way Someday does, just from a very different point of view.

In terms of writing something other than mysteries, maybe at some point, but right now I’m really enjoying the genre and I know I have a long way to go before I run out of ideas for books.    

If you love it, then I say continue, what better way to make a living than by doing something you love? You obviously know about quilts, but how do you research the ‘mystery’ part of your story?

Clare: From my work on true crime, I know people who work in law enforcement and forensics. I email ballistics experts, coroners, cops and I ask a lot of questions. I will say though, even without my background, I think someone could make a few phone calls and find people very willing to help. These folks are rightly proud of what they do, and are more than happy to help novelists get it right.

For Kate, which is set in Chicago, I drove all the streets she drove, went to the police station she went to, just to make sure I described it correctly. For Someday, even though I quilt, I went to The International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska and asked a lot of questions to get the history of quilting right. I think that’s my favorite part of the writing process, getting to ask a lot of questions I’d want to ask anyway, but having an excuse to do it.

Do you belong to any writing organizations? If so, what are they?

Clare: I’m a member of Mystery Writers of America. I really love talking with other authors and getting/ giving support. Mystery writers are a really encouraging group, and it’s nice to have an opportunity to interact, especially since writing is so solitary.

What is your writing process? Do you plot and outline? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants?

Clare: I have a summary, but mostly I wing it. I love not knowing what will happen next. It’s what gets me working the next day – to find out. I know eventually I’ll have to think about the readers but as I’m working the first draft, it’s really for my pleasure. I’m the only audience. It does mean that sometimes I’ll have my character turn a corner and scream, and I have no idea why she did that, but isn’t that the fun part?

Mary: How do you organize your day? Do you have your schedule set as if you have a job? Or do you write whenever the story and/or your characters strike?

Clare:  I like to walk every morning to clear my head and because the rest of my day is pretty sedentary. Then, well, I have the best of intentions. I’ll either come back and get started right away, jumping into the manuscript and writing twenty pages, or I’ll check my Facebook page a lot and maybe download a missed episode of The Big Bang Theory to kill time. I’m still at my computer so it kind of counts as work. I don’t have a “I write five pages a day” thing that some authors do. I try to keep a schedule of writing 25-30 pages a week, which I find to be very do-able, but some days it’s easy and some days it’s not.

Do you have a web site? Do you belong to any social media’s? If so how can we find you on line?

Clare: My website is I’m on Facebook, and people can friend me (Clare O’Donohue) and/or join my fan page (Someday Quilts Mysteries). I’m also on Twitter (somedayquilts), but I’m really bad about remembering to tweet.

Mary: What is the most important thing you think a new writer should know about writing and/or the industry?

For starters, I guess, that it’s possible. People do publish their novels so don’t get discouraged by someone telling you it’s a pipe dream. But it’s also not an instant ticket to wealth and fame. Writing a book is hard, and sometimes lonely. It’s like running a marathon alone. And writing it is just the beginning. After you write it, you have to sell it, market it, and write the next one. You have to really enjoy the process, not just the idea of seeing your name on a book. If you love to write, then keep doing it. And if you need support or advice, organizations like Mystery Writers of America, are great places to go.

Thank you, Clare, for sharing your busy day with us.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cassy's Corner- Links we Love to Use

Welcome again to Mysteries and Margaritas! We love having you stop by. This is a special place for writers to share information, enjoy a conversation with each other and push our craft yet farther than we would have done on our own. In that vein, I'd like to do something a little differently today. Rather than write about me, interview a fabulous person, or pick a topic that would get us all jumping around, today I'd like to collaborate on a resource file.

I find that a lot of my research happens on the Internet. I think that's true for most of us. I have a number of sites that are my "special" go-to's that always seem to be there. You know, the ones that can tell you whether it's "lay or lie," what gun would be best handled by a woman and still have stopping power, what the uniforms look like for police in San Francisco, how to set off a bomb without being nearby, what is the scoop on xyz publisher, which conference turned out to be the most bang for the buck...I could go on and on.

So, today I'm issuing a challenge. Post for us the sites you love or hate- the ones that you have bookmarked- the ones that we all should find out about. I'll list a few of my favorites and then add to it as the day goes on. Yup, we know about RWA, local chapters (unless you have an unusual one), and some of the other national orgs (MWA, for example). What I'm looking for are those that most of us might not find. YOU know what is out there. Don't forget to include the URL if it's not obvious. Spill. I'm going to only put out a few now. I'll add to it as the day goes on. This is a tease.

At the end of the day, I'll assemble the full list and post that so we all can use the information.

A few of Cassy's frequently visited sites:

Lots of great information from experts in any field you can imagine that has to do with criminal activity. Guns, bombs, crime scene info and so on. Really friendly people from backgrounds all over the spectrum.

Alexandra Sokoloff
It doesn't matter if you write screen plays or not. Alex offers some great tips and processes for putting the story on the page and keep it moving. She is very generous on her web site to provide almost step by step techniques to keep the interest of the reader. She also has a book many have found useful. Click on the side bar that is about Screen Writing Tips.

Drugs and Poisons
Wanna know what's out there and what it can do to your poor victim?

Forensic information in a friendly format.
This is a chatty but fun site that has lots of information

Doug Lyle, MD
Doug is fantastic at offering all sorts of medical information on anything you can imagine related to the health care world. He is particularly good with the gruesome. He has published widely and is readily available for questions.

I have many others, but now it's your turn. Let's make our list fun. A romance writer? What do you use? A paranormal fan? Okay, what? YA? You know the question. Language use? Craft? Advice? Organizations that make a difference for you? Contracts (Jeff, join in here!)? Important sites for agents (Christine? Are there ones we might not know about?)?

Game on.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tuesdays Tidbits with Kari: Featuring author Lesley Diehl

Please help me welcome author Lesley Diehl.

Kari: What made you want to write mysteries?

Lesley: I’ve read mysteries all my life, beginning, as many girls did, with Nancy Drew. When I found all of the Nancy Drew books were checked out of the school and town library, I decided to try another Carolyn Keene mystery, The Dana Girls. Once I’d read those, the Nancy Drew books were back in and I could check them out. I got a double dose of Carolyn Keene, then graduated to adult mysteries.

At first I thought I should be able to solve the mystery before the end, then I found the mysteries provided me a challenging puzzle, a journey of sorts, and I went along for the ride the author provided. I thought the authors who wrote them were the cleverest people, and I wanted to be able to construct intricate plots. I like other genre literature and mainstream fiction, but nothing makes me itch with the curiosity more than does a good mystery.

Kari: Can you tell us about your newest release Dumpster Dying?

Lesley: Most peoples’ experience with Florida is Disney when they take their kids or grandkids there and the beaches, palm trees, warm weather, and blue waters of the ocean or gulf when they vacation or retire In Florida. I’ve loved those places also, but that is not the Florida I live in for half the year. In my Florida, herds of cattle roam the pastures, grassy areas distinguished from Texas and the old west by the palm trees under which these bovine creatures seek shade in the over ninety degree heat and the alligators which sit placidly beside the Big Lake or the many canals that cut through this land. And, oh yes, there are cowboys on horseback. I love cowboys on horses. I also am mighty fond of them without their horses, especially when they get all slicked up for a night in one of our county’s hopping country bars where the music entices a former country gal like myself to get up and do a little two-step.

I describe this Florida because it is not what most of us have experienced and, when snowbirds wander off the coastal highways and discover it, they are usually shocked to find there is no Macy’s, Neiman-Marcus or even a Ruby Tuesday’s anywhere in sight. Try instead the bar in my newest book, Dumpster Dying, where my protagonist, Emily Rhodes was employed as a bartender for part of a night and fired because she refused to serve the wealthiest rancher in the county because he was drunk. At her next job, bartender at the Big Lake Country Club in rural Florida, she lifts the lid of the club’s dumpster one night to discover the dead body of the wealthiest rancher in the county. The authorities are certain they have the killer since evidence at the scene points to Emily’s friend and boss, Clara, but Emily has doubts. She believes Clara is hiding a secret involving the dead man’s family, but unraveling how Clara and the rancher’s lives are intertwined competes with Emily’s own problems. Her life partner has recently died, and the only will she can locate leaves everything to his ex-wife. Despite the grief she feels over her partner’s death and the money problems it has created for her, Emily sets out to identify the rancher’s killer. She must outwit a vengeful widow, fend off the advances of the man she believes to be the murderer, get to know an adult daughter she’s never met, and flee a fire bearing down on the drought-ridden pastures and swamps of her adopted community. Suddenly, the golden years of retirement seem more like pot metal to Emily.

Kari: Can you tell us about the appeal of "Old Florida" versus new Florida with its beaches?

Lesley: I think I answered this one. The appeal is the cowboys. Really, there is more. This is Florida before the developers, before the interstate highways, a place where people live, not vacation. People here don’t dress up like cartoon characters or don bikinis to lie on beaches and have cabana boys bring them rum runners. Here the residents farm the land, herd cattle, fish the lakes, and live a life unmarred by high rise condos, housing developments, and, most of all, traffic and pollution. Bird life abounds, and Lake Okeechobee is still a fishing paradise. It is the people who make this place real for me. They are like me, and they are unlike me, allowing us to share some experiences and collide in other ways. Of course, all of this will change someday, and I’ll find the pasture across the canal from me will be turned into a mobile home park and the herd of horses running it will go someplace else. Cowboys will spend more and more time tending their cattle on all terrain vehicles, and spurs, when they’re worn, will be outlawed in the restaurants and bars. Until then, I’ll write about what it’s like to be a “winter visitor” in the county with more cattle than people.

Kari: What is your average writing schedule like on any given day:

Lesley: I get up and immediately check my email. Since I’ve become a published author, more of my day is dedicated to the “business” of writing than before, but I still try to write several hours each day. Some of that might be working on a short story, on a novel-length manuscript, revising previous work, writing notes on a future project, or constructing a synopsis, query, or blurb on a manuscript I want to send out to an editor or agent.

Kari: Have you ever thought of writing anything other than mysteries?

Lesley: I used to be a professor, so I wrote nonfiction, academic work all the time. I intend never to go back to that, but I do write poetry. I’ve played around with the idea of a mainstream piece of work, but I’ve never gotten an idea I thought I wanted to pursue more than I do the theme of murder and who did it. I have a manuscript I began last summer that I’m anxious to get back to. It is a mystery, but is perhaps more literary than any of my other work. I focus more on my characters than on the plot. I started it because I was interested in coyotes. We have many here in upstate New York and they are interesting creature, much larger than coyotes anywhere else in the United States. I’ve been doing some research on them and I have incorporated this into my work.

Kari: Who are your favorite authors?

Lesley: I love Elizabeth George, P. D. James, Martha Grimes, and Robert Parker. On the lighter side, there is Janet Evanovich, Susan Wittig Albert, and Mary Daheim. Oh, yeah, all of them are mystery writers.

Kari: Do you have any tips for your fellow aspiring authors?

Lesley: If you come from a background like mine, you will need to learn how to drop all that academic, stuffy, professorial, writing style. You will need to learn how to write mysteries, so here’s what I suggest:

Read everything you can get your hands on. It may be mainstream literature or romance or mystery, but read.

Join a writing group such as Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime (internet group, SINC) and its affiliated unpublished group, Guppies. These groups are great for providing information about good books and courses (internet) on writing and for setting up opportunities for manuscript exchange.

Get yourself into a critique group. It may take you some time to find one that works for you. Contact your local library as they may know of writing groups in the area. Or start one yourself which is what I did when I moved to Okeechobee. A word of caution: Not all such groups provide good experiences, so you may have to shop around. Don’t be afraid to get out of a group and find another. The group should be supportive, but provide constructive writing feedback, more than just “ooh, that’s good” and less than “Wow, don’t leave your day job.”

Finally, write, write, write. Soon you’ll become a great critic for yourself. Oh, and don’t throw away anything. Save it. You can go back and see how you’ve grown. Or, if you’re like me, it will provide you with a few tears and a good laugh.

Kari: Thanks Lesley! That was awesome :-)

A Deadly Draught, Mainly Murder Press; Dumpster Dying, soon from Oak Tree Press

Sleuthfest 2009 short story winner

Monday, October 18, 2010

Houston, We Have a Problem!

On Friday, I packed my car and headed out the door (without my make-up…argg!!) for a four–hour drive to Houston to meet with my agent. She was the luncheon speaker at the Northwest Houston RWA Lone Star Conference and had talked me into coming down to see her. Initially, I had planned on having dinner with her Friday night, and then hanging out in her room all day Saturday and having dinner again before I left to drive back home.

I’m at a place in my career where I have finally come to realize I am not a romance writer, but I’m unwilling to give up the friendships and camaraderie of RWA, especially my own DARA chapter. So, I have been cutting back on all things romance, and I had no desire to actually attend the conference, concentrating instead on my own genre conferences (mystery.) I’m actually going to my first one next month in Boston – the Crime Bake.

Anyway, I changed my mind since the program for the conference was not romance related and sounded interesting. Best money I ever spent!

Randy Ingermanson, author of Writing Fiction for Dummies, gave an all-day program that started with craft, and then the Snowflake Method of plotting, and ended with marketing. Wow! Although I was totally exhausted and my brain fried at the end of the day, I had learned so much. I would recommend his courses to everyone. And if I was exhausted, imagine how he felt! Since I am an OCD (or DCO as my new Houston friends refer to it..private joke!) plotter, I was happy to hear I already practice most of the techniques of his Snowflake Method. If you’re a pantser, it would really be valuable for you to check it out.

Anyway, this blog post isn’t about how wonderfully informative the program was…it’s about Houston and the Northwest Chapter.

I have always known that writers are a great bunch of people willing to share their expertise with fellow authors. I've always known writers knew how to laugh and to party. What I didn’t know was how easily they would take me under their wing and make me feel like I was a part of them.

Now remember, I was an outsider who was basically like the younger sister whose mother insisted she go everywhere with her older sister. (No, Christine, I am not calling you older!!) You get the picture. Yet, I was welcomed with open arms as if I really wasn’t the fifth wheel wherever Christine went.

It started Friday when Elizabeth Simmons picked Christine up from the airport and met me at Luby’s to guide me to the hotel. And then Tess Grillo welcomed both Christine and me with a surprise package (cookies and a loaf of homemade pumpkin bread – husband loves you, BTW!) Friday night Jaye Garcia chauffeured us to Stacey Purcell’s house where she and her lovely hubby…aka kitchen slave..Peter, along with the rest of the attendees wined and dined us.

As I mentioned, the conference was wonderful. Christine gave a rousing speech at lunch about how to get published and stay published in today’s world that gave hope to all the writers there. Christie Craig followed with her as-usual, hysterical self telling the mattress story that had me laughing as soon as she stood up. She followed up with her “don’t give up” presentation that included TONS of rejection letters. Christie won’t brag about this, so I am --- she just sold an as yet unreleased YA series to a German publisher for six figures!! Take that all you stupid people who rejected her!!

Anyway, Saturday night, the chapter’s officers and workshop planners took Christine, Randy, Amy Boggs of the Donald Maass Agency and Naomi Hackenberg of the Elaine English Agency to dinner at a really nice seafood place. As the drag-along younger sister, I was invited and I had a wonderful time. I sat next to Randy and the two agents, and I have to tell you, if I didn’t love Christine so much, I would have no problem submitting to either of the agents. They are both adorable.

After dinner, we were invited to Ruth Kenjura’s room where she had a potload of wines, cheeses, and chocolates. Seems this is a tradition for her. In Orlando this summer, she even shipped her wineglasses! What fun that was, and as always when women get together, the conversation turned to sex!! You had to be there!!

Anyway, what does all this have to do with writing? Nothing, except that once again my belief that writers are some of the most generous people on this planet was proven to be true, big time. I loved meeting all the people, especially Jaye, June, Jan and a slew of others whose names escape me. Those of you from Texas know there is always a little competitiveness between Houston and Dallas in everything, especially sports, so I was prepared to be treated like an outsider.

And therein lies the problem.

They acted like they had known me all my life, even made me an official chapter member.

So, today is officially Houston NWRWA Chapter Day at M & M. Take a bow, ladies. You’ve earned it.

Cost of the conference: $120
Miles Driven: 540
Time with Christine: Excellent
Finding new friends in Houston: PRICELESS

Oh, congrats to all the Lone Star contest winners and fingers crossed for Jaye who's a finalist in the NJ contest.

Now, since I want comments, tell me any good stories about writer generosity that you might have.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Interview With Jeff Mehalic Who is Talking about Negotiating Contracts

Let’s give a great big M & M welcome to Jeff Mehalic, my friend and go-to guy for anything legal in my stories (and personal life!!) Jeff is a practicing attorney with his own law firm in West Virginia and is well-versed in the intricate details of contract law. I’ve posed some very specific questions for him because I know there are a lot of you out there who will be getting contracts in the very near future and don’t yet have an agent to guide you through the confusing language of a literary contract.

So, let’s get right to it.

Me: Welcome, Jeff. Anything you want the people to know about you before we even get started?

Jeff: Liz, thank you for having me on Mysteries & Margaritas. Right now, I have a law practice in Charleston, West Virginia, and by the end of the year, I’ll be opening an office in New York.

In my practice, I negotiate on behalf of writers and authors, and also represent them in disputes and litigation arising from their contracts.

I also write a blog called West Virginia Business Litigation and have just started another one called The Write Lawyer, which may be of particular interest to your readers.


Let me add a disclaimer here. My answers are general in nature and should not be interpreted as legal advice for any particular situation. Any recommendations or advice necessarily depends on the specific facts.

Does an author really need someone to negotiate his or her contract in this day and age?

Jeff: There are two answers to your question. Can an author negotiate a contract without an agent or an attorney? Yes. Should an author negotiate a contract without an agent or an attorney? In most situations, no. I highly recommend that an author obtain an agent or an attorney. Most publishing contracts provide for a book to be published in a variety of formats, each of which comes with its own rights, and are simply too complicated for an unrepresented author to navigate. Add to that that the contract is drafted by the publisher and therefore is weighted in its favor, and an author really needs some professional assistance in his or her negotiations.

Me: What does it mean when the contract says the publisher holds all rights to foreign sales and TV and audio rights? Is this negotiable? Do we even want it to be negotiable?

Jeff: First of all, understand that publishers want to retain as many rights as possible because that provides them with the greatest number of opportunities to make money from their authors. Authors, on the other hand, want to retain their own rights where possible, so that they can negotiate with other entities, such as foreign publishers, movie studios, and production companies, and generate multiple revenue streams from the same work.

All of the rights that you mentioned are negotiable. That doesn’t mean that a publisher will agree to let an author keep them, but an author – or his or her representative – should absolutely try to retain as many rights as possible.

Me: Can you explain the option clause so even I can understand it?

Jeff: For anyone who doesn’t know, an option clause gives an author’s publisher the right to publish the author’s next work, subject to the negotiation of mutually-agreeable terms. Under the option, the publisher usually has a period of time within which it can exclusively review the work and make an offer – basically a right of first refusal. If the parties don’t reach an agreement or the publisher passes, the author is free to take the work elsewhere.

What happens when an author delivers a book (sold on proposal) that the editor finds unacceptable?

Jeff: First of all, it depends on the language in the contract. But typically, the editor will ask the author for changes in order to make the book acceptable. If the author can’t or won’t make the changes, he or she can refund the advance or risk being sued.

Me: What about if there is a really big conflict between the publisher and the author and the publisher threatens to pull out of the deal?

This is more complicated than it sounds. Even though the parties likely have a contract, it may contain language that restricts the author’s right to sue the publisher in such a situation. But in the absence of such language restricting the author’s rights, if the publisher reneges, the author can sue for damages resulting from the breach of contract.

Does a normal contract give away all rights to the characters in a series? In other words, if I decide to take my series someplace else when my contract is up, can I do it?

Jeff: Once again, it depends on the language in the contract (do you see a theme here?). Ordinarily, an author would not convey the rights to the character(s) beyond what was negotiated, whether for one book or ten books. This is where the option comes in. If the author and publisher cannot agree on a contract for the author’s next work involving the character(s), the author is free to shop the work elsewhere.

Me: I know every contract is different, but what is the medium advance for a debut author nowadays? How is this paid out – say in a three book deal?

Jeff: The size of the advance depends on a lot of factors, such as the genre, whether there is an auction – two or more publishers bidding against each other, whether the author has a platform, i.e., is a celebrity, politician, athlete, and whether the publisher sees potential for the story.

How the advance is paid for a hypothetical three-book deal is the product of negotiations, which to me really highlights the need for an author to have representation. But here are three examples, which are unrelated to the amount of the advance: a 50-50 split, where half of the advance is paid when the contract is signed, and the second half is paid on acceptance of the manuscript (in most cases, this is the author’s best choice); 40-40-20, where the publisher pays 40% of the advance when the contract is signed, the next 40% when the manuscript is accepted, and the remaining 20% when the book is published; and thirds, where the publisher pays one-third of the advance when the contract is signed, the next third when the manuscript is accepted, and the final third when the book is published.

Me: What if anything can a debut author expect to negotiate on his/her contract? What if anything is non-negotiable?

Jeff: There’s no such thing as non-negotiable in the sense that the author has no options. The author can always choose to walk away from the deal if the terms being offered are not acceptable to the author.

The chances are that a debut author trying to negotiate his or her own contract won’t know what is negotiable because the publisher will say “here’s your contract, take it or leave it.” An agent or attorney who deals with publishing contracts should know what is negotiable. By the way, if an author is going to hire an attorney, make sure it’s someone who is familiar with publishing contracts. You wouldn’t go to a tax lawyer for a medical malpractice case.

Me: Any important piece of advice for negotiating a contract without an agent?

Jeff: Don’t do it.

Thanks again for having me, and I will answer questions throughout the weekend as my time allows.

Okay, y’all. Here’s the perfect chance to pick Jeff’s brain without the hefty hourly fee. A lucky commenter will receive a copy of Janet Evanovich’s How I Write. Secrets of a Bestselling Author.

Somehow I ended up with two copies. So ask away.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mary's Rants - Guest P.L. Gaus

Welcome to Mysteries and Margaritas, my guest today is P.L. Gaus author of The Amish-Country Mysteries from Plume (a division of Penguin). Paul will be giving away three books today. All you have to do is comment and/or ask him a question.

Mary: Before we begin, Paul, could you tell us a little about you personally, not as an author? Where did you grow up, etc.

Paul: I was born in Ohio and raised here, so I guess you’d have to say I’m a Buckeye.  I have lived in several Ohio cities, but for my graduate education, I spent four years at Duke University.  I taught college chemistry for 31 years, while raising two daughters, and my wife and I love to travel in Holmes County, Ohio, where the largest Amish settlement in the world is found.  We have lived in Wooster, Ohio, for the last 33 years, just north of Holmes County.  My wife Madonna is also a retired teacher.

You took an interest in writing fiction in 1993, and you were encouraged by Tony Hillerman. Why did you pursue mystery novels?

Paul: I taught a college seminar on aspects of different, lesser-known American cultures, including Navajo and Amish culture, and I got to know Tony Hillerman because I used his mysteries in my seminar.  It seemed natural to write about Amish culture, since we have so much of it here, and because I had been teaching about it for so long.  But to answer your question, I write mysteries because that type of literature offers so many different ways to introduce culture and lifestyle into the story.  Hillerman did this with his work, too.

And most importantly why were you interested in the Amish in Holmes County?

Paul: We have so many different and interesting Amish sects in Holmes County, not to mention Mennonite and other Anabaptists, and the interaction of these religious groups with the so-called English (non-Amish) folk of the county offers a writer like me so many wonderful opportunities to draw out culture, lifestyle, tradition, and such.  A mystery gives me the chance to explore motives, and that always leads to important aspects of Amish culture and thought.  It is a very fertile setting for a story teller.

Tales about the Amish community are springing up everything. It’s almost the new ‘vampire.’ You have a six novel series coming out, why do you think readers are so hungry to read about the Amish?

Paul: I think American readers are ready for something other than what I call the grand spectacle of excess that we see in modern life.  I write quiet, thoughtful novels about people who take their lives seriously and have devoted themselves to simpler ways.  I think this serves as a natural draw for my readers.  People want to know that these pacific communities, set apart, are still out there, and they are curious to know how and why Amish people choose to live as they do.   We wonder, sometimes, I think, if maybe they don’t know a secret.

Mary: I see on your bio, that you grew up near a community of Amish so you must have learned a lot about their religion and their traditions over the years. Even so, how did you do the research for your books?

Paul: My wife and I have been exploring Holmes County for nearly thirty years, and wherever we go, we make it a point to stop to talk with people we meet.  We have gotten to know quite a few Amish folk, and the stories we collect and the insights we gain in our explorations serve as the basis for my writing.

Mary: What is the most common reaction you receive when you tell people that you not only write mysteries, but they’re based in an Amish community?

Paul: Some people seem incredulous, but most think about it a moment and realize that Amish are just people like all the rest of us.  But I make a bargain with my readers.  We don’t expect that an Amish person will be the murderer in one of my mysteries.

Mary: Do you ever plan to write something other than Amish Mysteries? If so, what?

Paul: I am working on a series about a wealthy pharmaceutical entrepreneur who uses his resources to help people, but it is very different from the Amish stories, and I don’t know if it will ever be published.

Mary:  If you feel strongly about it, I'm sure it will. And you have a good following, which means you're a fabulous writing. Can you tell us a little about your writing process? Do you plot out each chapter, or do you write by the seat of your pants?

Paul: I think about the story for a very long time before I begin to write it.  Each story has a theme based on a scriptural principle important to Amish faith, and I design the characters and the plot to serves that theme.  I would never say that I write by the seat of my pants, but I have also learned over the years not to outline a story too heavily.  Sometimes the characters show you an aspect of the story that needs to be addressed, and if I am wedded to an outline, it is difficult to adjust to these types of new insights.

What is the one piece of advice you wish someone had told you about writing that you’d like to a give new author?

Paul: I’ll give you two injunctions, here, and if violated, I think a writer’s work will suffer.  First, you can’t write what you don’t know, and second, you shouldn’t write what you don’t like.  That is - don’t set a story in Hawaii if you’ve never lived there, and don’t write about cowboys if you don’t like them.  So, write what you know, and write what you like.  You’ll be a lot happier as a writer if you do those two things.

Mary: Can you tell us a little about the series?

Paul: Each book In the series was written to illustrate an important aspect of Amish faith, culture, or lifestyle.  It is my goal in them to illuminate Amish culture as much as possible, and to let my readers see what it is like to think Amish, to live Amish, to pray Amish.  My books are for English folk who want to know more.

Mary: Do you have a web site? Are you on any social medias?  Please tell us where we can find you.

Paul: My website is, and I maintain several blogs that are linked at the website. 

Thank you, P. L. Gaus for joining us and sharing your insights with us today.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cassy's Corner- Writing Times and Techniques

How do you write? When do you write?

Today I am interested in hearing about how and where you write. Next week we’ll tackle the “tools of writing.” Simple things that can make our day. That is, if we’ve figured out where our match is.

Talking with my writing buddies, I've discovered that each of us has developed an approach to our writing that uniquely suits our own style and temperament. I have one friend who can write at soccer games, baseball practice and waiting in the car for kids to spill out of school. I have another buddy who sits at a Starbucks or a local diner “paying” for the privilege of the table with hefty tips. She claims it’s a lot cheaper than renting office space.

We all know the stories our colleagues tell. I’ve canvassed a few:

- I love the noise of the coffee house; it helps me concentrate.

- I put my iPod ear buds in and the music helps me focus on my work.

- I have different music I play for the different kinds of scenes I write. It helps me with the right mood.

- I get up early so I can get 3 pages written before the kids and my husband are needing my time. Then I get ready for work.

- I write late at night after tucking both the kids and my husband in, then it’s my turn. If I get 500 words written, I’m thrilled.

- I shower, get dressed in pretty clothes, put on the whole make-up deal, then begin writing. It might take all day. But I can’t even start without being ready to face the world. Yes, it’s just my world, but I need to do that.

- I live in my sweats. No make up, hair pulled back in a pony tail, maybe not even a shower until later in the day. When it’s time to write, that is the moment I can’t lose.

- I only write on deadline. Without that. Phew. There is so much in the way I have trouble with the discipline. So, bring on the calendar and tell me when I hit the “send” button.

- Don’t use my name. I have periods of down time at my job. I confess to sneaking time to write. I look busy. No one knows what I’m typing and I end up with a few extra pages.

For me? I can’t take any noise, any distraction, any fuss. No music. No email. No dogs begging for just one more bone. Nothing. It is so noisy inside my head I can’t handle any additions to the cacophony. If I were a cat (God, help me, for I am highly allergic to the little buggers), I’d use examples such as needing time to sniff my territory, sharpen pencils, make tea, circle twice around the fluffy pillow (except mine is a warm wrap that I love around my shoulders) and finally settling in. This is about setting up the moment, then off I go.

I need the rituals of getting ready. Knowing this is my time to put my words on the screen. Time that is like putting the "Do Not Disturb" sign outside the door.

What are your experiences? What works for you? I’d love to hear your stories. We are in a crazy business and each of us has come down a different path. Making it work for you is knowing what really does work for you. Then, after that, we can begin the plotting, the pacing, the sagging middle, and typing THE END. Next? Well, we start again.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tuesdays Tidbits with Kari: Featuring Margaret McPhee

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?

Margaret: Scary. Exciting. Educational. Inspirational. Fun.
All of the above! Especially for a shy, back-of-the-room kind of person like me.
I didn’t know any of the other authors, other than through the names on my bookshelves, but my initial nerves were soon dispelled by their friendliness, generosity, and helpfulness. It really was fun getting to know them via email and the Yahoo! Group we set up. Once we made our intros and got chatting, the bones of the overarching plot and the backstory came together with remarkable speed. Maybe this was down, in part, to the HMB editors giving us such free creative rein and, in part, to the mix of personalities and approaches.

Writing can be isolating but being a part of Regency Silk and Scandal has been a breath of fresh air. Working with such a talented and enthusiastic group of writers made me feel connected and inspired, and very privileged to be writing alongside them.

One of the most exciting aspects of the project was the fact we all wrote simultaneously and so didn’t have the luxury of reading the books preceding our own in the series before starting to write. I’m reading each one for the first time as it’s published and, although I know the who, the how, and the why, I’m still hooked! It’s very strange because I’m reading about characters I feel I already know and had a hand in creating and yet, their own story is new and exciting, like a voyage of discovery. And I’m smiling to myself as I find the clues and red herrings hidden in such lovely romances.

Kari: Can you tell us about your book in the series?

Margaret: I would be delighted to, Kari. Unlacing the Innocent Miss is book 6 in the series and is out in November. It tells the story of Miss Rosalind Meadowfield and Will Wolversley (otherwise known as Wolf).
The events of twenty years ago have led Rosalind to lie about her name and background. But the past is coming back to haunt the respectable dowager’s companion in a form she has never imagined.
When she is accused of theft Rosalind escapes to Scotland unaware that the rugged, ruthless thief-taker, Wolf, is hot on her trail.
Tall, scarred and handsome, Wolf has good reason to hate women like Rosalind. And so the big bad thief-taker is especially determined to make this capture and bring her back to London.
The antagonism crackles between the thief and her thief-taker but neither of them have anticipated the deep smouldering attraction that ignites between them, nor do they know of the dark sinister watcher plotting behind the scenes...

Kari: 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?

Margaret: I would love to do it again, but the mix of authors is definitely a big factor to consider. I was very lucky, the Continuistas (as Louise termed us) are a great bunch. I couldn’t have asked for more flexible, accommodating or generous team-mates.

To anyone thinking of being a part of a similar collaboration my tips would be to set up good communication at the onset and talk a lot to one another throughout. Be willing to compromise and flex on ideas and agreements, and be considerate in all your dealings. And most of all, enjoy it.

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

Margaret: Thank you for inviting me, Kari. It has been a pleasure.

Monday, October 11, 2010

TSTL…….Or is she?

Most romance writers know that TSTL means a hero/heroine that is “Too Stupid To Live.” (Think about the stupid people in the Scream movies who go outside at midnight or down to the basement when they hear a noise, knowing there is a killer on the loose. I was surprised to find out it is not a common acronym with other genre writers, especially those who don’t belong To RWA (Romance Writers of America).

On the Book Cents Loop, we had quite a discussion about this and a few other acronyms writers use (H/H, HEA, GMC, etc.) It was suggested this would make a good blog topic, and since I had nothing prepared for today, here it is.

I’ll start with a story TCTH (too close to home). A few years ago, I was on a Caribbean cruise with my hubby, son and daughter-in-law. We had signed up for the excursions at the beginning of the week for each of the ports, and I was looking forward to them, especially the cave-exploring one in Belize. That was before clumsy me broke her baby toe and couldn’t go since it involved a lot of walking over rough terrain. So, I sent them on their way that day and decided to go ashore and check out the shopping.

The ship anchored out at sea, and we had to be shuttled to shore in smaller boats. There were two, long, storage-shed-looking units surrounded by a chain-link fence. In a matter of a few minutes, I had walked through both of them and was unimpressed. Being the shopper that I am, I wanted more. So, I walked to the edge of the fence where a policeman sat at the gate and many Belizean vendors (??) called out to me. I almost paid a guy $20 for a tour of the city in his limo, by myself, I might add. And then I decided I should stay close and shop since my toe had started to hurt.

I stepped outside the security of the gate and asked where I could find a souvenir shop. One young man appeared by my side and pointed to a little store about two hundred yards away. I headed that way with him right behind me, joined by a second young man. For some reason, I didn’t hear the Jaws music in my head (Da dump! Da dump!) I was hell bent on spending money since I had missed out on the excursion.

The little shop was a bust, and as I walked out the door, one of the boys said there was a really great shop in the alley. By now, I could hear the little voices in my head shouting “Get out of the water. Can’t you hear the music??” Suddenly frightened, I turned toward the cop and the safety of the fence and headed that way. One of the young men grabbed my arm and tried to persuade me to go to the alley with him. When I refused, he said he would be my bodyguard and not let bad things happen to me. Yeah, right! By this time, my smarter self had taken over my brain, and all I wanted to do was get back inside that fence. So, I handed each one ten dollars and made my way as fast as I could to the gate.

Back on the ship I was still shaking To this day, there is no doubt in my mind I would have been robbed or murdered or both. It was really a very stupid thing to do since we had been warned by the cruise staff to be careful.

So, for a few minutes, I became that heroine TSTL. Playing devil’s advocate here, I once heard Donald Maass say to think about what your character would absolutely not do and make him do it. But I don’t think he had stupidity in mind. I can’t tell you how many contest entries I’ve judged where I’ve had to take points off because of this. If you wouldn’t do it, why make your characters do it?

Oh wait, I forgot. I did do it! Does that make me stupid? Absolutely. For those brief minutes when I put myself in harm’s way, I was stupid. Fortunately, it only cost me twenty bucks. In today’s world we have to be on guard constantly for people who have no regard for our safety, especially in foreign countries.

But hold the phone! Just when you’ve declared a character TSTL for going down those steps to the basement, think about this. What if she knew her child was down there and needed her? All of a sudden, not only is she not stupid, she’s a hero, igniting every maternal instinct in our bodies. Think about those TV shows where a man straps a bomb on his back because some terrorist has his family. The Event (new show on TV right now) has a pilot who found himself in that same situation. Matter of fact, my sequel to my ghost story has a similar plot.

Moral of the story - it isn’t always black and white with the stupid thing. And you know what? I think that’s just what “The Donald” had in mind.

So, now I’m anxious to hear any stories you have about TV shows, your own writing, or your personal experiences where for a brief time, you transformed into someone TSTL.

And BTW, I didn’t come up with the “what if” scenario. Thanks go to my pal, Clarissa Southwick, on the BC Loop for thinking outside the box. Check out her blog tomorrow. She might be writing about the same thing.