Monday, February 28, 2011

Interview With Author, Taryn Kincaid

Today, I'm talking to my friend and fellow author, Taryn Kincaid whose latest book, Healing Hearts, will release today at Carina Press. Taryn started writing as soon as she could and never stopped. At times she’s been lucky enough to get paid for it. As an award-winning reporter and columnist, she covered everything from fires and homicides, to corrupt politicians and hero dogs. And also the fun-and-fluff stuff. Not usually a bit like TV. Nowadays, she haunts courthouses. That’s not usually a bit like TV, either. Taryn reads and writes all genres. She’s a member of Hudson Valley RWA and RWA’s Beau Monde, and Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapters. She’s the author of Healing Hearts, a Regency novella, and Sleepy Hollow Dreams, an erotic paranormal. If you pin her down, she’ll admit to being addicted to the blogosphere. And Twitter. You can check out her blog here. Without further ado, let’s find out the good stuff about her.

Me: Since you and I have only been friends for about a year, can you tell everyone how our friendship came about? (I love this story!!)

Taryn: Oh, sure, shame me, right off the bat! (Sigh.)

You noted above that I’m a member of the Hudson Valley Chapter of RWA. I’m also the president. And, at the time this awful saga occurred, I was a new prez, at that. So I get an e-mail from one of my members, to the effect of, “Hey, did you ever hear of this blog, Mysteries & Margaritas? They are holding a contest called ‘Hook, Line & Sinker’! How dare they!?! Do something!”

Now, it’s not like HVRWA has copyrighted the name or anything (you can’t), but our chapter has been running a contest with the same name for 25 years. We’re a teensy chapter and the contest – and dues – are our only way of making money. So without thinking things entirely through, I dashed off a snarky comment on the blog post announcing the Mysteries & Margaritas contest. About the only thing the contests had in common was the name: ours is for the first three pages of a ms. And M&M’s was the first sentence of the first chapter, last sentence of the first chapter, and a three-line blurb.

Liz graciously agreed to judge our contest for us if we didn’t get bent out of shape. (My words, not hers!) She also challenged me to enter the M&M contest. Which I did. With, believe it or not, a romantic suspense I am still working on. Of course, two other books, my erotic paranormal, SLEEPY HOLLOW DREAMS, and my current release, HEALING HEARTS, went to contract and then publication between then and now. But I’m looking forward to getting back to COLE IN HER STOCKING. Because I love those guys! (Some of you regulars may remember…I became a frequent poster here under my other name. Then real life sort of took over, as it is wont to do, and I couldn’t visit as much as I’d have liked.)

And, Liz, thank you so much for your generosity in judging our contest. We just announced the winners. Much appreciated.

(And for giving me some much-needed tips on the art of short blurb-writing!) Are you thinking of doing another contest this year?

Me: First of all, Taryn is being modest. She came in second in the blog contest. I also wanted to say, I loved judging the Hudson Valley RWA contest. It really made me aware of how you really have to hook a reader in the first few pages. The caliber of the entries was so good, I gave several perfect scores. And lastly, we are thinking about a new contest but right now, all three of us are really busy with deadlines. Thought we'd call it "Hookers"!!

Now on to the question. You write in several different genres. Do you have a favorite?

Taryn: I love reading just about everything. But my brain does not work in a fashion that would ever allow me to write a mystery, cook up a plot, introduce red herrings and tie everything up in a body bag. So I envy you that! And I’m looking forward to your Berkley series in the fall.

I think I would have to say I like writing romantic paranormals and historical romance best. For me, and I realize this sounds backwards, there is less of a need for a suspension of disbelief. I really enjoy exploring worlds that are not my own, that are so different from my day-to-day life. There is greater leeway for your fancy to take flight. As a reader, I am far more willing to put up with things that may seem a little far-fetched if they happen in another century, another planet, or the supernatural plane!

Me: Whoa! Thanks for that shout out about my new series!!Can you tell us your story about getting “The Call”?

Taryn: It’s kind of strange, actually. I had been following the news about the brand-spanking new digital-first Harlequin imprint, Carina Press, on Twitter and the blogosphere. I had followed Angela James, the Carina Press executive editor, on Twitter for a while, and I began reading her blogs on the new Carina Press blog. I was getting more and more excited about the launch of Carina Press in June. So when I saw Angela tweet that writers who wanted to be “brave” could send novellas her way, I sucked it up and sent off HEALING HEARTS the last week of May. Two weeks later, I started a new day job, with long hours. Came home one Friday night and the answering machine was flashing. Angela James had left a message earlier in the day (around noon, I think) saying she wanted to “talk” about HEALING HEARTS, and she’d call back later that day. No second call. Loooong weekend. On pins and needles. On the one hand, she hadn’t said, “Don’t bother us anymore.” But she also hadn’t said, “We want to publish it.” I e-mailed. (But of course, editors are allowed to have weekends off just like the rest of us.) I saw her on Twitter. I tweeted. She teased. Then, that Monday, this e-mail: “I'm sorry I was unable to reach you by phone Friday, and that I drew the anticipation out over the weekend, but I am happy to say that Carina Press would like to an extend an offer to publish your book, Healing Hearts.” (Yep, I saved it.) Shortly thereafter – very shortly -- The Wild Rose Press extended an offer for SLEEPY HOLLOW DREAMS. No calls there. All e-mail. And because SLEEPY HOLLOW DREAMS has an autumnal theme, TWRP wanted to get it out before Halloween. And SHD ended up being released first.
Me: Writers are always interested in how other writers get things done. Since I know your day job as a lawyer must take up a lot of time, I’m curious how you find time to write. Pantser or plotter?

Taryn: Oh, I’m a total pantser. I wish it were otherwise. I can’t. My characters lead me around by the nose. They do want they want. I’m just the innocent bystander in the mix. I can’t write during the week. By the time I get home from work, I’m brain dead. So Saturday is pretty much it.

Me: Here’s the blurb for Healing Hearts.

As a girl, Emma Whiteside asked Adam Caldwell, Viscount Riverton, to wait for her to be of marriageable age. Now, twelve years later, Emma hates Adam as much as she once loved him, holding the former army major responsible for the death of her brother on the battlefield.
Adam already blames himself for the loss of the men under his command. But the fiery young woman Emma’s become sparks his arousal, as well as emotions Adam thought long dead. The passion between them makes him want to reclaim the man he was before the war.
Though she tries to hold on to her hatred, Emma’s longing for Adam is undeniable, especially after the two share a smoldering kiss. Still, Adam is certain no woman would want a man so damaged. Can Emma prove him wrong?

Wow! There is nothing I love more than damaged characters. Who was more difficult to write with all the swirling emotions, Emma or Adam?

: I almost always seem to have a better time writing the man. Not sure why that is. Probably because I fall I love with the hero and want to give him the entire stage! Does anyone else feel that way? And because this was a novella, I had to compact a lot of emotions into a short space. Also…Adam is based on a hero I love in full-length Regency WIP, that so far has gone nowhere because the heroine gives me fits. Aspects of Adam’s story—his wounding on the Peninsula, his reluctant heroism, his pain regarding the men lost under his command--were already in my head. Emma is quite different from other heroines I’ve written, though. Her backstory was a lot of fun for me. Taking her from emotional A to B to C was something of a roller coaster ride for both of us!

Me: Is this a standalone or will there be a sequel?

I would love to write another Regency. I think HEALING HEARTS will be a standalone, though. The secondary characters in the story don’t really have enough stature. On the other hand, Adam could probably use a brother or a sister…maybe a cousin…

Me: And finally, what’s next for Taryn Kincaid?

Taryn: I’m working on the romantic suspense, have a couple of paranormals in various stages of disrepair, may revisit Sleepy Hollow, and would love to get going on another Regency. Especially now that I’m thinking about providing Adam and Emma with extended family… So many stories, so little time!

And there you have it, folks. You can connect with Taryn on Facebook as well. You can also find her at eHarlequin Community Despite Taryn's busy day job, she'll be around today to answer questions or just to chat.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Cassy's Corner- Welcoming CJ Lyons!!!

Folks, it is a true pleasure to have CJ Lyons with us today. Join us in not only welcoming her, but in also benefiting from her vast knowledge. It's normally Liz's turn to invite someone wonderful to be with us this Friday, but I confess to elbowing her aside so that we could enjoy time with CJ. Liz promises me that she is thrilled with CJ's generosity and won't hold it against me.

As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about. In addition to being an award-winning medical suspense author, CJ is a nationally known presenter and keynote speaker.

Her first novel, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), received praise as a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller" from Publishers Weekly, was reviewed favorably by The Baltimore Sun and Newsday, named a Top Pick by Romantic Times Book Review Magazine, and became a National Bestseller.

Her award-winning, critically acclaimed Angels of Mercy series (LIFELINES, WARNING SIGNS, URGENT CARE and CRITICAL CONDITION) is available now.

Her newest project is as co-author of a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich. You can learn more at and for free reads, "Like" her at

Cassy: You are a pediatrician. I know you aren't actively practicing right now, but once a doc--always a doc. As a "former" nurse I understand that. What took you from the excitement of the ER and your pediatric practice (not to mention all the other things you have done) to sitting before a computer screen creating the great drama you do?

CJ: Actually I was a writer long before I considered medicine--since I was a kid. Writing was my way of understanding the crazy world around me--still is, in fact! It wasn't until after 17 years of practicing medicine and having my first book contracts that I finally decided to take the leap of faith and leave medicine to write full time.

It was a tough decision to make. Becoming a doctor was a dream come true for a working class girl from rural PA--so now, being a full time novelist (still can't think of myself as a bestseller, lol!) is a second dream come true!

Cassy: How much of your stories are the retelling of what you have lived versus knowing what could have happened? You have a great balance of drama, characterization, action and intrigue.

CJ: All of the medical cases in my books are true--but none of the patients are. I take great care in fictionalizing all the patients.

So I might combine several case reports of, for instance, melamine poisoning, and then say, hey, what if this happened to such and such kind of person….how would they react, how hard would it be for my doctors/characters to diagnose, what complications could arise….

The characters always come first--then I'll find medical facts to fit what they need. Fortunately, strange medical cases abound, so that's usually the easy part!

Cassy: It's a huge transition from the potentially heart pounding moments in the ER and recreating that on paper. Was that difficult? I have a daughter who is a doctor and feeds off the high adrenaline situations. She never would want to tell stories rather than actually live them. How has that been for you?

CJ: I think it was easier for me since I was a storyteller long before I became a physician.

In my experience, understanding the story helped me to be a better doctor. Instead of cutting patients off or assuming I understood what they were talking about, I always put my patient's "stories" in a bigger context. Often this helped me to discover those tiny tidbits of information that are so easily overlooked because I instinctively knew when there was more to a story.

As far as the adrenalin rush--yes, I miss it, but it's almost as much fun creating chaos and raining trouble down on my characters!

Cassy: You have made a huge hit in the publishing market, a very rapid rise. First, congratulations! Second, how do you manage that? Your books have come out extremely quickly and each has been incredibly well received. Tell how that feels. I have heard from some that the pressure continues to increase, not decrease with the success.

CJ: Well, thank you—I'm blushing! The "pressure" has never been a problem for me--as an ER doc I'm used to time constraints (deadlines), multi-tasking (juggling marketing while writing the next book and revising the last one), and dealing with the other craziness that comes with publishing.

The main problem for me has been boredom. My answer has been to set new challenges for myself with each book. None of my books have fit into a "formula" (something my publisher isn't always happy about, lol!) or told the same kind of story twice.

For instance, LIFELINES is a pure, adrenalin-racing thriller. WARNING SIGNS, winner of the Daphne du Maurier Award for excellence in mystery/suspense is a classic "whodunit" mystery. URGENT CARE is dark, edgy psychological suspense.

And the finale of the Angels of Mercy series, CRITICAL CONDITION, is Die Hard in a hospital--the entire action of the story takes place in "real" time, about five hours. With four main characters/story lines to juggle and such split second timing needed to keep that real time pacing, I actually wrote CRITICAL CONDITION backwards!

My new series, co-written with Erin Brockovich, is a new and different type of challenge. It's the first time I've tried first person point of view and the books have no medicine, so I have the opportunity to research new topics, which is a lot of fun.
Cassy: Are you okay sharing with us your tale of "The Call" and how all that came together? Everyone loves a success story!

CJ: At the urging of several friends who were published authors, I entered a national writing contest, RWA's Golden Heart competition--this is also when I first joined RWA. To my surprise, I was a finalist.

I wasn't quite sure what that meant since I was so new to RWA, but the other finalists quickly convinced me to start submitting. I sent the first chapter of my novel around with a query letter….and then I got a call from a NYC editor.

Holy crap, batman! I was suddenly an author with real money on the table for my stories!!!

If this was a story, that would be the happy ever after…but it’s not a story. Besides, in any of my stories the good guys always have to pay their dues before they earn any hope of a happy ending!

Here’s what happened in real life: A few weeks before my first book, my dream debut, was to be published, it was pulled for reasons beyond my control—my first taste of the capricious nature of publishing!

(if you’re interested, I published it to Kindle and other e-platforms once I got my rights back, it’s now titled NERVES OF STEEL)

But I kept writing and a few months later I got a call from another NYC publisher and they asked if I'd be willing to write a new kind of medical thriller--one targeted at women. Of course I said yes and created the Angels of Mercy series, so all's well that ends well.

(if you want the full story of how I came to write crime fiction, you can find it here.)

Cassy: Continuing the conversation about promotion and connection, of all the activities you do, what do you consider to be the most productive both in terms of your craft and in terms of increasing book sales?

CJ: If I had to make a list, number 1, 2, and 3 would all be: Writing the next book.

I honestly don't market much. Until recently, I didn't even have my own blog--only did guest blogs. And the blog I began,
*Marketing with Heart* isn't your traditional blog--it's not about me, it's about sharing the resources I've discovered while learning to run my own business as a writer. More of a way to give something back to all those writers who mentored me as I floundered my way through this crazy business.

I seldom Tweet or post to Facebook, rarely do a book signing unless it's part of an event/conference, and the only promo items I usually buy are bookmarks.

What I do do, is try to play to my strengths. I'm good at public speaking and teaching so I do a lot of keynote speeches, talks to bookclubs and writing organizations, and teach a lot of workshops.

I also enjoy connecting with readers so I answer all my email and do a monthly newsletter that tries to always provide extra value to my readers in appreciation for everything they've done for me.

One new initiative that I've begun and that has already overwhelmed me with the response readers have had, is to begin a CJ's Street Team

How it works is that I offer a free e-book to any reader who is interested in reviewing it. They send me a link to the review and they can pick another e-book for themselves. A win/win for everyone.

I'm not even sure if it qualifies as "marketing" since I began it as a way to give something back to my readers, but I'm having a ton of fun with it and I think my readers are as well.

Cassy: One of the things our readers love to hear about is how you balance time. You always seem to have a new book in the works, you are promoting, you attend conferences, you teach on line, I see your name all over the place (including posting questions on crimescenewriter and other spots). The list goes on. Okay, tell us how you pull it off! What is your day like?

CJ: I'm a terribly undisciplined writer--I don't have a set schedule, no set word count or page count (I don't even keep track of pages—as a seat of the pants writer, I write in scenes and I don't write in order). But I think all of those years of practicing medicine ingrained an inner countdown so as long as I have a deadline, my productivity steps up and I'm always turning my work in early.

Like I said, I don't do much in the way of promoting, am rarely spending time on social media, so most of my Internet use is research (including asking and answering questions on loops like crimescene writer), teaching, or answering fanmail/email.

The hardest thing for me to juggle is when I have to revise one book while working on a new one. It's tough sometimes to divorce the two creative processes (they're quite different for me), especially when the new book is a different character's voice--I have to guard against letting their voice seep into the revisions or vice-versa.

Usually I'll write new material in the morning and edit/revise in the afternoon. Not sure why, it's just the pattern I've gotten into.

But all of this is subject to change. My only "rule" about writing is: No rules! Just write!

Cassy: How do you balance your characters book to book. Each has a critical role but takes center stage in different books. Do you plan that ahead with major arcs both for characters and plot? Or, does that happen as you move forward with the next one?

CJ: I don't plot ahead at all. Drives my editors crazy, as all I'll be able to tell them about the next book is something along the lines of "this character deals with ABC situation and somehow it all works out so she ends up at XYZ."

And all my stories are character driven. I start with a character and know what that character needs on an emotional level to complete their arc, so then I just have to figure out how to force them into that change--because no one likes to change, right?

For the Angels series it was tricky because I had four main characters with four complete story-lines in EACH book….but their character arcs overlapped from book to book. The only way it worked was that I knew those characters so very well that I was able to layer their emotional growth onto the needs of the plot--but the character always comes first.

Cassy: You have a new book coming out with Erin Brockovich. Can you tell us about that project? How did you meet Erin? How did the collaboration process work? How are you sharing the promotion? Okay, that's not one question, but you know the essence of what I'm asking.

CJ: Erin and I still have never met in person, lol! But that partnership came about when her publisher at Vanguard called me up and said, "How'd you like to create a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich?"

Well, duh, who could say no to that! Erin has always been a hero of mine--and it turns out, she really likes my strong women protagonists, especially the fact that they are flawed and human, not "superwomen."

We talked on the phone and discovered that we both share the same philosophy: that there's a hero inside us all.

From there it was easy--but thank goodness for email and cell phones, because with Erin's crazy travel schedule that's the only way we could connect. She's amazing! People say I have a lot of energy and think I multi-task well and get a lot of stuff done? Compared to Erin, I'm a sluggard!

And yes, she's just like in the movie, lol!

Cassy: What comes next?

CJ: ROCK BOTTOM, the first book co-written with Erin Brockovich comes out March 1st. You can find more info on it (or pre-order it, hint, hint) at my website.

I'm also releasing a new book, SNAKE SKIN, which is a mainstream thriller featuring a FBI agent/soccer mom who works crimes against children. It was published previously in Europe, but this is the first time SNAKE SKIN is available in the US. You can learn more about it here.

: CJ, I can't thank you enough for taking not only the time to be with us today, but also sharing so honestly how you tackle what you do. Truly, thank you.

CJ: My pleasure.

Cassy here: I want to add that USA Today has just published a piece on CJ's book with Erin. Here is the link Check it out. How fun is this???

Thanks for joining us today. We hope you stop by again and again.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Show Me The Money

First a quick announcement. Mary Martinez will no longer be blogging with us. You can read Mary's blog here. We wish her the best.

This is an encore post from last year, but in light of the way the market is now, I thought it would be appropriate to repost it.

If you’re reading this because you think I’m going to tell you about the average payouts from each publisher, move on to another blog. That’s already been done…and very well, I might add. Check out Brenda Hiatt’s “Show Me The Money” list.

No, I’ve decided to talk about advances. How important are they really? In today’s economy, midlist authors are finding their advances shrinking and more and more authors are turning to epubs where they get no advance. Some are even going the self-publishing route, hoping to cash into that market in a JA Konrath sort of way.

I signed a three-book deal with a major publisher and pretty much got the average advance. Like any d├ębut author, I probably would have signed on the dotted line for much less just to see the printed book in my hands.

But what exactly does the amount of the advance mean?

I decided to do a little research and here’s what I discovered.

The amount of an advance is an indicator of how many copies of the book the publisher thinks they can sell. Let’s face it. Unless you’re the next Janet Evanovich with a ten million plus advance for your next book, it’s unlikely your publisher will pay for the front-of-the-store stacks nor will they go all out for publicity of your book...two things necessary to sell a lot of books.
The truth is (from my research) you may earn out your advance for a first or second book, but additional royalties are probably not going to make you a millionaire. That’s just the nature of the writing beast. You have to go after book sales yourself. Add in your expenses getting that first book published…conferences to network, mailings, ads, promotions, etc… and it’s likely there will be no profit and maybe even a loss to claim on taxes.

And I just heard that one major NY publisher is paying out advances in quarters. That's 1/4 when you sign, 1/4 when you turn in the final edited manuscript, 1/4 when it's published, and 1/4 a year later. Huh? What part of advance do they not get?

One myth we authors have is that the bigger our advance, the more likely we are of getting an even bigger chunk of change the next time around. This is not always true and sometimes can even backfire and produce the opposite results. If sales on your book do not earn out that big advance, there’s a possibility no one will take a chance on your next one. Plenty of authors have been dumped because of low sales.

So, now that I’ve totally depressed you, let me offer a bit of advice. Despite the economy, publishers are still looking to discover the next JK Rowlings or Charlain Harris in the slush piles. What can we do to increase our chances of this happening and of getting bigger advances? Write the best damn book we can, turn it into our editor on time and go gung-ho with self marketing.

It’s all about the numbers, folks.

Oh, BTW, I’d love for you to buy my book when it comes out, and I promise to buy yours. That’s another way we can help each other. It just so happens it came out on Amazon yesterday and is available for preorder. OMG! That's a shameless plug!

So, let me hear what you think about this or any stories you may have about advances.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cassy's Corner- What is precious to you?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what tops the list of what’s important to me. Do you ever have those moments of just taking stock? Of course, without needing an explanation, the head of the list is my family. I have two great fantastic unbelievable kids, a husband I’d not trade in for the world, parents who could not be more “there” for me than anyone, friends who have would give the shirt off their backs for me (another story another time). Pretty good stuff. But, there is more.

What are the things that become “the somehow important” components of your day? Even the seemingly silly things? When one of my daughters was young, well, not so young now, a rabbit I made for her out of fuzzy fabric was her best friend. That poor thing has stuffing coming out through the thin material and I worry when it can no longer hold on- I hope my daughter won’t also suffer at a level I could not repair.

I have some things that are extremely important to me. I was in Italy over Christmas sitting in a tiny restaurant with my family and realized that I could twirl the diamond in my ring. I panicked. You’re not supposed to make the stone move. I took the ring off and put it in a tic-tac box I had in my purse, telling everyone at the table that when I couldn’t remember where I put it—that’s where it was. I would have been heart-broken if I couldn’t locate it or if the stone had fallen out. Why? It’s only an object. But my husband surprised me with it the Christmas of our 10th year of marriage. We could never afford anything like that before. Emotion. Commitment.

Family and certain possessions, that makes sense for those to be precious. I confess, though, there are many little things that I actually hold dear that make no sense at all. I hate to use the word “covet,” but it’s pretty darn close.

At the risk of sounding like a stanza from The Sound of Music, I give you a bit of my list. Please add yours along the way.

-Sharpened Number 2 pencils. Really sharp and long enough they aren’t stubby. Plus the erasers have to be good, not the hard, dried up, smudge the paper ones.

-White lined paper. Not a yellow pad, but white. Also it needs to be regular-sized. No legal size allowed.

-Uniball fine tipped pens. I’ll take them in black, blue and red.

-The candle holder my daughter gave me five years ago. The wax goes in the top and the tea light is underneath. It’s burning right now as I write this.

-My phone. Oh, God. What would I do without that?

-Cambell’s Soup- Tomato Bisque made with milk NOT water. I can rarely find it. If you have a source, let me know.

-Tulips in winter sitting in a round vase on my table.

-My two Golden Retrievers who never seem to stop loving me (what is better than that?- Well, don’t answer).

- A fire in one of my fire places. I love going room to room and having the warmth.

-A glass of red wine and talking with my husband after his many days of travel. Catch up time.

-Drive by phone calls. That’s what I label my daughters’ calls. “Hi, Mom, can’t talk. Just listen. I wanted to tell you……Okay, gotta go. Love you.” Click.

-And, very importantly, my time with ME. I write. I talk to myself. I work out the next plot. I fuss about why my leading lady is about to be too stupid to live. The noise in my head is at times resounding. No wonder people have been accused of hearing voices. I turn a corner in my house and bump into my characters, and the dogs.

The list is longer, but I stop here. Yours?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tuesday Tidbits with Kari: those crazy Denny girls & Granny Gert

Today I am blogging from sunny Florida! Temps are 75-85 every day...I am in heaven :-)

Speaking of Florida, my mother and some of her sisters live here. She is one of five girls who all have such fun and different personalities. And right now I am developing some fun and different characters for book two, Corpse in the Crystal Ball.

I always look to the people around me when trying to figure out how I am going to develop my characters. I thought I had all the characters I needed for this book, but my deceased grandmother Gertrude thought otherwise according to the signs I received...

We were getting ready to leave for Florida when the Hollywood director, Doug McKeon, who is adapting The Samantha Granger Experiment: Fused to a screenplay called Digital Diva, sent me the first draft to read. I loved it! Even though parts are different from the book (which they have to be in order to work on the big screen), he did a great job of portraying the plot and characters the way I had them and keeping it as much the same as he could.

Anyway, one thing he added which I loved was a pet rock named Gertrude. Sign number one :-) Then we get to Florida and I got talking about my main character from the Fortune Teller Mystery series, and how I wanted her grandmother to be in this one. I went on about some of the quirks and traits I was going to use for her, and my mother and her sisters were like, "Oh my gosh, that sounds just like your grandmother." Sign number two :-)

My grandmother Gertrude is telling me to put her in books, darnit!

So it's official. Granny Gert will be based on my grandmother Gertrude and will remain in the rest of the series. I love that we as authors can immortalize the people we want in our work. Using real people can help to make your characters real. I had the best brainstorming session with my mother and her sisters, hence the title those crazy Denny girls! I always get a lot of ideas from them, but this was great. I learned more about my grandmother than I ever knew and it really felt like she was there listening in with a grin.

You can have a really cool plot, but if people don't relate to or connect with your characters in some way, they will close the book. Great characters are the key to the success of any story...especially cozy mysteries.

So where do you come up with some of your great characters? Do you ever include people you know or family members? Do you change their name or like in my case keep the name the same on purpose to immortalize them?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Okay, back to your regularly scheduled program while I get back to my sun.


Monday, February 21, 2011

A Twelve Step Program for Writers

I was thinking the other day how much harder writing has gotten since I started dealing with the dreaded "D" word. And no, I don't mean divorce, although sometimes the man pushes the limits. I'm talking about a deadline…that one little day marked on the calendar that reminds me every time I look at it how much I haven't written.

Per my contract, I have nine months to write each book in the series. You'd think that would be plenty of time even for a snail writer like me. So why am I in panic mode two months before I have to turn in the manuscript?

It's that damn "P" word. I don't know about you, but for some reason when I know I HAVE to write, I find everything under the sun that has to be done immediately. You know, the important things like the closet that needs organized, the twenty episodes of 48 Hours that need watched, and oh yeah, I can't forget the pictures on my computer that have to be labled and catalogged. I can so relate to the PROCRASTINATING animals who missed the boat.

And yes, my closet looks amazing… all in the name of NOT writing.

So, I sat down and interviewed myself about why I do this, and I thought you might like to hear what I had to say.

Me: So, Liz, is there anything more important to you than your writing?

Procrastinating me: Of course, silly. There's God, grandkids, family, friends, strangers, TV characters, pets, starving children in India, and how many cans of Rotel I have left in my pantry.

Me: So, do you hate writing?

Procrastinating me
: Of course not, you ignoramus. I love writing. Sometimes I can't sleep at night because I'm creating dialogue in my head or planning who will die next in my story. Sometimes, that’s all I can think about even when I’m supposed to be paying attention to the Sunday sermon. (God understands. He has kids!!)

Me: Then why do you wait until the last minute to really get your writing juices flowing? Why do you let yourself get into that crisis?


Procrastinating me: Hi, I'm Liz, and I'm a CRISIS JUNKIE.

Why has it taken me so long to see this? I love feeling the rush of the deadline… love the pressure it puts me under. I do my best work under these conditions. How crazy is that?

Even crazier is that admitting it lifts the weight off my shoulders. Now, instead of worrying that I'm losing my love for writing, I know I'm simply gearing up for the very thing that sends endorphins pulsing through my veins.

My deadline for Book 2 is April 1. As of January 1, I had less than 100 pages written. Every week since then I have written and edited 25 pages. Not a lot to some of you guys who spit out chapters like cherry seeds, but it’s huge for me.

And you know what? I love the story I’m weaving. I have about 30 more pages before I type "the end" with enough time left for an entire month dedicated to editing and beta readers. I won't miss my deadline, but my book won't get to the editor one minute too early.

So, for the past two months while I've been working like a maniac, I’ve sacrificed e-mails, blogging, Facebook, and even my daily Sudoku while I write like a woman possessed.

Thank God I got that stupid closet cleaned out! Now, all I have to do is find time to haul all the junk to Goodwill.

So, tell me – how do you deal with deadlines, either your own or industry-generated ones? Do you need to go to a meeting with me?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Interview with Deborah Nemeth of Carina Press

Today we have something very exciting going on at Mysteries and Margaritas. Deborah Nemeth of Carina Press has agreed to stop by and answer your questions. Deb’s an avid mystery reader and one of Carina Press's freelance developmental & acquisitions editors, and she’s actively seeking more mystery submissions. And guess what, people? She’s willing to take your online pitch today only. Here are the rules. She'll take the first 50 mystery/suspense/thriller pitches (no longer than 5 sentences each and only one per person) but she won't comment online. She'll send her response directly to you (If you add your email address or send it directly to me at, it will be easier to get back to you.) So, sit back and relax, grab a margarita (okay, it’s early – better make that a coffee.) and pick her brain.

Good morning, Deb. We’re so excited you agreed to join us. I know the readers will have lots of questions for you. But first – on to mine.

Liz: Can you tell us a little about Carina Press and when it got started?

Thanks, Liz. I’m excited to be here today. Carina Press is the digital-first imprint of Harlequin Enterprises. We publish across a broad range of commercial fiction, pretty much everything except young adult—mysteries, thrillers, horror, suspense, science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, women’s fiction, gay/lesbian, and erotica, plus all subgenres of romance. Right now we’re releasing approximately 3 books a week, and I expect that number will increase midyear.

Our ebooks are available on the Carina Press website in either pdf or ePUB format, free of DRM (digital rights management) so readers are able to read stories on a variety of devices. They’re also sold through third-party retailers such as and Audible Inc. has produced audio versions of many Carina Press titles and made them available at, iTunes and

Although Carina Press is primarily an ebook publisher, some titles will be issued in print. The first ones to go to print will be part of Harlequin’s Mystery and Suspense DTC (Direct to Consumer) program and will also be available to order on Titles selected for this program so far include Fatal Affair by Marie Force, In Plain View by J. Wachowski, and Presumed Dead by Shirley Wells, with more to be announced.

Liz: As a mystery author, myself, I’m very excited that Harlequin is now in that market. Can you tell us what kind of mysteries you’re looking for? Do you publish thrillers?

I’m looking for all kinds of crime fiction, from cozies to police procedurals to hard-boiled private eyes to capers. I’m also interested in hybrid genres, such as historical, space opera or dystopian-set mysteries. I’d especially love to acquire a steampunk detective series.
I really enjoy clever writing and intelligent characters who are larger-than-life—memorable in a compelling way. If the story involves an amateur detective, the hero or heroine needs to have strong motivation for getting involved in a case. I want a mystery that’s going to make me work damned hard to figure it out—maybe even one I can’t work out, but makes complete sense once it’s solved. I generally don’t like it if too much information is withheld from the reader. I want a chance to pit my wits against the fictional detective.

Thrillers? Yes, yes, yes, yes, I want to acquire thrillers. I haven’t acquired any so far, but I’m actively seeking them.

If you’re not pitching to me today but are interested in submitting to Carina Press at a later date, you can visit our website to check out our submission policies.

Liz: A lot of people don’t realize there is a difference between a cozy and a straight mystery. Can you enlighten us?

A cozy mystery typically features an amateur sleuth in a local/confined setting, one with a strong sense of community and a limited group of suspects. While the bodies might pile up, the deaths are handled with a minimum of gore and violence. The tone is less gritty, the sexual content and language less graphic than you’ll get for example in an urban-set police procedural. The sleuth commonly has an occupation or hobby that serves as a theme or focal point of the book or series, such as a catering business or a quilting circle. Relationships and motives are important, as is the whodunit/whydunit puzzles. Cozies tend to be more escapist, engaging the mind, providing cerebral entertainment without edgy, hard, cold realism. I have a real soft spot for cozies and would love to acquire more for Carina Press.

Aside from cozies, there are a variety of mystery subgenres, including legal, medical, police procedural (focusing on the step-by-step process of crime-solving by professionals), and hard-boiled (first-person terse style featuring a tough-talking PI). If your mystery has a light, comic tone, possibly featuring a heist and/or offbeat characters, with feats of audacity and clever twists, it’s a caper. Mysteries featuring private detectives, cops, forensics specialists, crime reporters and medical examiners tend to be darker and grittier than cozies or capers, containing more violence, danger, sex, blood and guts, often in urban settings.

Liz: I have personally read Amy Atwell’s Lying Eyes and Kathy Ivan’s Desperate Choices, and both were excellent. What are some of the other authors you acquired from the slush pile and what caught your eye with them?

I can’t take credit for Desperate Choices, but I was lucky enough to pluck Amy Atwell’s manuscript out of the submission queue. Lying Eyes is an absolutely delightful romantic suspense caper set in Las Vegas, with a jeweler heroine and an undercover cop hero. I was very impressed with the energy of her writing and her ability to deliver emotional punch in a light tone, an uncommon skill.

Shirley Wells’s British PI mystery Presumed Dead was another one of my exciting slush-pile discoveries. I was captivated by Shirley’s natural voice and dry wit on the very first page, fell into the story and didn’t come up for air until I finished it. Dylan Scott is the most likable chauvinist I’ve ever come across, and her writing fits this detective’s character perfectly. This title will be one of the first Carina Press books to go to print. And I’m happy to announce that in August we’re publishing a second Dylan Scott mystery, Dead Silent.

My very first slush-pile find was Toni Anderson’s romantic suspense/mystery Sea of Suspicion. I immediately fell in love with her Scottish detective hero, Nick Archer, and I especially love the way he uses the heroine in his pursuit of revenge. The setting is depicted brilliantly, and the story works equally as well as mystery and romance. Toni followed that up with another Scottish-set romantic suspense, Storm Warning, this one with paranormal elements but a hero just as compelling.

Some of my mystery and suspense acquisitions came not from the slush pile but from authors I or other Carina Press editors worked with previously.
Shelly Munro’s The Spurned Viscountess is a Gothic historical romance set in Georgian England. I just love the way she layers in tension in this atmospheric novel.

Clare London’s Blinded by Our Eyes is a gay mystery romance set in the world of contemporary London art galleries. It’s a fascinating character study and psychological mystery, with a strong focus on whydunit.

I was thrilled to acquire Josh Lanyon’s upcoming release, Snowball in Hell, a gay historical mystery about a crime reporter and a police lieutenant in Los Angeles during WW2, the first in his Doyle and Spain series. Josh’s writing is so smooth, and his voice in this ms suits the period perfectly. It doesn’t release until April, but another one of Josh’s m/m suspense novels, Fair Game, is currently available from Carina Press.

Carina Press will be doing a romantic suspense spotlight the first week of September, and Anne Marie Becker’s Only Fear will be one of our featured titles. I was impressed by the intensity and clarity of her prose, and the use of fear in the story. Her villain, a killer who stalks a talk-show psychiatrist, takes “chilling” to a whole new level.

My most recent suspense acquisition is from W. Soliman. Her Unfinished Business, a Charlie Hunter mystery, features a reluctant private eye who loves jazz and lives on a boat on the south coast of England, and will be published in late 2011.

I also have a cozy mystery offer of publication pending. So, as you see, I like a variety of mystery and suspense books, with and without romance or sex, both dark and lighthearted. The common threads are good storytelling, crisp writing, conflict and suspense.

Liz: Mystery and Suspense is all about creating tension. Do you have a magic check list an author can use to make sure he/she gets just the right amount of it into their writing?

No magic list. The best measure is whether I can easily put the book down. You want to hook the reader’s interest as soon as possible. You can grab us with voice and character, description and mood, but above all, hook us with conflict and tension. Introduce questions in the readers’ minds and make us care about the answer, so we want to turn the page to find out what comes next. Will the woman walk home alone? What’s in that package that was just delivered? Why did the husband hide that letter from his wife?

In a mystery, it’s best to be concise with the story’s setup, so we get to the mystery as soon as possible, maybe a missing persons case or the discovery of a dead body. We also need stakes. Why is it important to the protagonist to solve this crime? Why should the reader care? Give us well-rounded, strongly motivated characters whose goals we’ll care about, then stack the deck against them. Feed us the clues, and increase the level of unease as we uncover motives and identify additional suspects, wonder which characters the heroine can trust, and worry when she’s alone with one. Raise the stakes as the story progresses.

Suspense is different from mystery. In a mystery, the focus is typically reflective, to discover whodunit and whydunit. Or, if we already know the perp (like in the old Columbo TV-movie series), the focus is on whether, how and when the detective will figure it out. We don’t need to have action or danger in a mystery, although we often get both at the climax.

In suspense, the protagonists are in danger of their lives, and we might get action, too. The focus is on stopping a villain—and surviving. It’s less cerebral and depends more on creating anxiety. The readers might know about the danger and be biting their nails over whether the killer hiding in the closet is going to jump out and clobber the heroine. There needs to be more pulse-pounding moments in a suspense novel than in a mystery. The odds against the protagonist’s survival need to grow as we reach the story’s climax.

In a thriller, the stakes are larger. It’s not just a small group of characters in danger, but a building’s worth. Or a city, country or planet, and it’s up to our heroine/hero to save all those lives. It should be packed with constant action and surprise. We don’t always see the villain loading the weapon, we just see the explosion. Pacing is hugely important in a thriller.

Liz: Is there anything specific that turns you off when you’re reading a manuscript, other than the obvious newbie mistakes like weird fonts, typos and bad grammar?

Tired openings can turn me off, and huge info-dumps, long expositions that stall the story. Lack of goals/motivation/conflict is another biggie. Pacing is important, and repetition and wordiness can make the pacing drag. I don’t like preaching, didacticism or political screeds, and for some reason I’ve seen a lot of thriller submissions with heavy-handed agendas that overwhelm the story.

Most rejections are of the not-quite variety. The writing is not quite there, not subtle enough, too overwritten. Or maybe the writing is strong but the story just doesn’t stand out quite enough or get me excited enough. Maybe the characters don’t engage me, or the mystery is too easy and feels too familiar. These are the ones that take me the longest to make up my mind about, often requiring a full read. They’re also the hardest rejections to send. On the other hand, a ms that I feel is “not quite there” may really appeal to another editor, because the acquisition process is just as subjective as reading published books—not everyone likes the same thing.

Liz: Can you take us through the process of making an offer on a submission and taking it all the way to publication?

When I read a submission that thrills me, I draft an acquisition recommendation and send it to Carina Press’s Executive Editor, Angela James. This includes my assessment of the title’s strengths, marketability, and editorial needs. A member of the Carina Press acquisition team will do a second read. A submission needs at least two editorial recommendations in order to make it to the next step. Once a ms receives a second acquisition recommendation, the team discusses it in a meeting and makes a decision to move forward with an offer of publication.

Once an offer has been accepted, terms are agreed and the contract is signed, the editor is notified, so that’s when I’d get involved again. I’ll send a new author a welcome letter, let him or her know if a new title will be needed, and get started on edits. Each manuscript is given at least three rounds of edits, using tracked changes. I do developmental (content) editing and line editing rounds, then one of Carina Press’s copyeditors does the final round of copyediting. The author is sent cover copy to review and a cover art form to complete, giving input on the cover design. Approximately a month before release, our titles are uploaded to Netgalley, a site that makes electronic review copies available to book reviewers. The editing process takes about three months, and the production process another four, so a title can sometimes be released as soon as seven months after an author signs a contract.

Liz: We’re hearing more and more about the way publishing is changing, and the road seems to be leading to e books and self publication. Can you tell us the advantages of epublishing to author?

This is a really exciting time for digital publishing. The sales of ebooks exploded this past year as ereaders and tablets became mainstream devices. Epublishing opens up new avenues for writers at all phases of their career. If authors haven’t been able to break into traditional publishing, digital provides additional opportunities to establish themselves and build a readership. Many ebook authors have successfully moved on to bigger print publishers, although it’s possible to earn good money in digital publishing itself. Last week, an ebook romance by Maya Banks hit the New York Times bestseller list.

Epublishing can benefit authors at other points in their career too. Perhaps an author didn’t earn out her advance, and the traditional publisher passed on her next book. It’s possible an digital publisher might be interested in that ms, even if it’s a series.

Digital publishing provides an author with creative flexibility in terms of length, content and genre. Perhaps your big, fat urban-fantasy thriller weighs in at 130,000 words, an expensive proposition for print. Or your mystery is only 38,000 words—too short for print, but not for an ebook. Carina Press accepts anything from 15,000 words and up. Maybe you’ve written a space opera mystery or other hybrid genre that’s hard for an agent to sell. Or maybe you write in a genre that’s out of fashion. Family sagas, glitz-and-glamour novels, chick lit, and historical romances set in unglamorous locales such as Poland are not something traditional publishers are likely to buy, but digital publishers are more willing to consider them. Digital also lends itself well to the interactive, choose-your-alternative multiple-endings story. At Carina, we’re looking for great stories, period.

I do advise authors to choose their digital publisher carefully. Not all houses out there give their editorial staff adequate training, and you don’t want to trust your masterpiece to someone who isn’t properly trained or paid to give it the care it deserves.

Liz: And finally, how involved does Carina Press get with author promotion? Any advice for any author out there on how to increase his/her sales?

Carina Press staff members conduct author training sessions on topics such as social media, web site design, author branding and promotions. Authors blog on Carina Press’s website during their release week, and CP supports their release on Twitter and Facebook. Carina Press has an online community, part of eHarlequin. Carina Press also runs banner ads on many sites and in specialty magazines.

Advice on sales? Always write the best book you can. Don’t send a ms out unless it’s your very best effort, so you never disappoint your readers. If you’re interested in maximizing sales, then I’d say the best way to develop and grow a readership is to keep giving them the same sort of book, and you’ll gain new readers with each release. By this I mean writing in the same or similar subgenres, and the same voice. If you follow up your gritty procedural with a witty romantic caper, they both might be books of your heart but you will confuse your readers, dilute your brand image and quite probably hurt your future sales. Also, write steadily. Try not to make your readers wait three years between books.

Find out where readers in your genre hang out online and engage them. Develop a social media strategy that works for you, whether it involves Facebook, Twitter or blogging or a combination of them. Keep your website updated and clean. Design your site so that it’s easy to find out about your new and upcoming releases, and to identify which books are connected in a series (and what order to read them in). Make sure buy links are prominently displayed so it’s easy for browsers to purchase a book. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is when authors make it hard to find them online.

Well, there you have it, folks. Even I now understand the difference between mystery/suspense/thriller writing. Now get those pitches and questions ready.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mary's Rants- Federal Probations – How to make your story believable.

This is a repost from another blog about a year ago. My guest will not be checking in today, but I thought this was interesting and helpful.

Special Guest, Anthony Maxwell; United State Probation & Pretrial Services Officer: Supervise pre and post-conviction offenders to monitor compliance with Court ordered conditions of release. Provide opportunities for offender rehabilitation while ensuring community protection. Prepare sentencing reports and recommendations for U.S. District Court Judges, U.S. Bureau of Prisons, and collateral agencies.

MARY: Thank you for agreeing to this interview, it will be very helpful to many writers. First, tell us a little more about what your job entails, maybe in terms most of us understand.

Anthony: In a nutshell, my job is to babysit criminal offenders to help ensure they do not victimize anyone/anything in the community again....while also providing rehabilitative opportunities to them so they can progress in life and become stable, productive members of society and within their own families. The basic purpose of a probation/parole officer (PO) is to provide community protection (similar to a police officer) and facilitate rehabilitation (similar to a social worker). This is accomplished by maintaining active supervision of offenders while they are living in the community and intervening in a punitive or rehabilitative nature when appropriate. An additional component is to help ensure that amends are made to crime victims....particularly when there was a financial loss caused by the crime/offender (steps are taken to make sure they pay restitution in an whatever amount is determined owing by the Court).

MARY: What is the basic difference between federal probation and a state probation officer?

Anthony: In short, the difference is the arena of jurisdiction. As a Federal PO, the caseload consists solely of those offenders convicted of Federal Crimes and vice versa for State PO's. As a general rule of thumb, any crime that involves 'inter-state commerce' can be charged in federal court....this encompasses a wide variety of criminal behavior as almost everything involves inter-state commerce at some level. Additionally, both the federal and state governments have overlapping laws involving drugs, violence, financial crimes, sex offenses, etc., that overlap in nature and feasibly be charged in either jurisdiction (but not in both for the same crime).
Additionally, as each state grants certain duties to their particular PO's (usually under auspices of that State's Department of Corrections), each Federal District dictates what their PO's can and cannot due. But as a general sketch, they all wear the hat of law enforcement, detective, social worker, victim advocate, etc, in their day to day responsibilities.

MARY: What type of training does your job require? How is it different than a police officer?

Anthony: The training I've required is essentially the same as that of a standard police officer. I had to complete the same academy wherein my fellow classmates were newly hired officers for all the various local police departments (Salt Lake City PD, So. SL PD, Midvale PD, WVC PD, etc). As with police officers, we are mandated to participate in ongoing training each year involving firearms qualification, self-defense, investigations. Similarly, all have innumerable other training opportunities during any given time that officers can engage in ranging from lie detector certification to survival courses to therapist certification....all to provide education/skills that further the mission of public safety and/or offender rehabilitation. For example, I will soon be attending training for 2 weeks at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in So. Carolina and we also utilize Federal Training programs via Quantico/Glynco.

MARY: What is a typical day for you?

Anthony: A typical day involves maintaining supervision of approximately 60 offenders. So
that will involve checking up on their compliance to Court ordered conditions of release via phone calls, home/employment visits, collateral contact w/therapy providers, communicating w/allied law enforcement agencies, and review of various documents that offenders may be required to submit directly to me. Each day is different in that one of my offenders may go off and do something really stupid, ranging from committing a new major crime to getting fired from a job. Whatever the circumstance that occurs in a given day I have to respond/intervene to try and ensure that compliance to Court requirements is maintained or that necessary violation proceedings are initiated. Yesterday, my partner and I were out looking for one of my offenders who was a potential suspect in a recent home-invasion robbery/ it resolved w/evidence to show the offender was not involved. Today things are relatively calm so it's paperwork and more paperwork; getting caught up so when something substantial interrupts my day I won't be to far behind!

MARY: What does this mean: ‘Prepare sentencing reports and recommendations for U.S. District Court Judges, U.S. Bureau of Prisons, and collateral agencies?’

Anthony: Probation officers, in addition to 'supervising offenders' in the community, also investigate crimes and prepare sentencing reports for Judges as they prepare to impose a sentence upon any given individual who has been convicted of a crime or entered a guilty plea to a crime. Sentencing reports prepared by PO's give all the pertinent details to the Judge (who, what, where, when, why ) about a crime as well as the defendant's personal background. This will involve contact w/attorneys, arresting officers, victims, family members, criminal background and financial background checks, community contacts, and a personal interview with the offender. The reports also spell out the different sentencing options that are legally available to the Judge.....the purpose being it saves the Judges a great deal of time and effort as they determine the appropriate and legally sound sentence they will impose. The PO provides a recommended sentence, based upon their investigation/report, but generally speaking it's ultimately up to the Judge's discretion and legal judgement as to what is appropriate. Similarly, there are various other reports that a PO may prepare for
'collateral agencies', prison officials, treatment providers, etc., so that each particular party that will be 'dealing' with the offender can make appropriate decisions regarding their area of involvement with the offender.... Kind of hard to explain each type of different report.

MARY: What roll do you play in the court system? Do you have to testify for your parolee? Is that what they are to you a parolee? Is there a better term?

Anthony: I am the 'eyes and ears' of the Judge. The Judge orders the offender to do (or not do) certain things and it is my responsibility to ensure compliance is exhibited, or report to the Judge if compliance is not shown. This is done through reports to the Judge, in chambers discussions with Judges, and/or open court testimony before a Judge. When called, I will testify before the Court as to the 'evidence' as I know it....whether that benefits the offender or has a negative affect on his supervision status cannot dictate how I testify. Generally speaking, 'testifying' usually only occurs during violation or sentencing hearings where the
offender has allegedly screwed up and the Court wants to know the information gathered or revealed by the PO, if any.

MARY: What determines probation? How harden are the criminals you deal with or have dealt with?

Anthony: It's a long and difficult legal explanation regarding probation. But a basic approach is to consider that most misdemeanors would involve probation as a potential consequence, while a felony involves the potential of prison (and subsequent parole) as a potential consequence. That doesn't mean every it has to be imposed, just that it's available.....depends on the severity of the crime, consequences, legal limitations, etc. My caseload ranges from misdemeanor marijuana possession cases to murderers, and everything in between. Some have done 30 straight years in prison and others haven't seen the inside of a jail. You conjure it up in
your literary imagination and chances are that type of offender has been, or is currently in, the "system". Some you would never want to pass in a dark alley and others are just like you and me but who made a mistake along the way.

MARY: On television all criminals insist they've been wrongly accused, they’re innocent. Has there ever been a time when you’ve strongly felt the criminal or parolee was innocent? Was there anything you could do to change the system’s decision?

Anthony: Simply put, No. But then again, my job does post-sentencing implications....everyone has the right to appeal their convictions but until they get to the point of having their conviction "overturned", they are responsible for adhering to the conditions imposed upon them by the
sentencing Court.

MARY: In a nutshell, what is the process from arrest to prison? Then the process from out on probation until a person is deemed capable of living without reporting in to an officer?

Anthony: Crime, immediate arrest or arrest following investigation, jail (bail, release?), court
process, guilt/acquitted/withdrawn, sentencing....depending on severity of offense.....(fine, probation, jail, prison, parole, singular of in varying combinations depending on crime), if paroled - successful completion and/or violation and a return to prison/parole.....

MARY: Do you or have you ever dealt with anything that involves a crime scene or forensics? When you’ve gone to visit someone, have you interrupted something and ended up making an arrest? Forgive me if I’m using the wrong terminology.

Anthony: Yes, to all..... When you show up unannounced you may encounter any given situation in progress. You are required to utilize training, experience, discretion, and/or varying resources to deal with each situation encountered.

Thank you, Anthony Maxwell, for making time in your busy schedule to answer my questions!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cassy's Corner- Time Allocation

How do you put it all together? I have been fussing lately about all of the bits and pieces I manage just for my writing. First there, of course, the writing. I have just finished edits on one manuscript and am starting the next. So, there is plotting time, outline time, and all the next steps we each know so well. Of course, you pansters just jump in. But, I need the structure.

That's not what I'm talking about today. The steps for the writing are what I love. It's all the other stuff. I feel obligated to:

-check my email frequently
-have my website up and running
-have a facebook page
-have a twitter site
-be on a million writers' loops (that of course send me tens of emails a day)
-read the magazines that arrive from the groups to which I belong
-post on colleagues' and friends' blogs
-attend conferences
-subscribe and comment to online workshops
What have I forgotten on the list?

I enjoy each of the items. I really do. But, as important as they are, they are a time suck. I could spend every hour of the day responding to emails, posting to blogs (of course this one is special!), adding comments to loops, and worrying about which conference is going to cost me a fortune.

The world of writing is one of the most accepting and collaborative groups I have met. I feel honored to be apart of it. But, the one thing I have learned is- I have to protect my time. Why? Because I have to write, and that takes time.

So, the question for today is: How do you set up your schedule so that you do all things I have listed above--and I know you do--and still have the blocks of time needed to put the right words on the page? You noticed I didn't include kids, parents, pets, groceries, laundry, phone calls, doctor's appointments, or a lot of other things. Just the stuff we do to stay in our profession. When you answer, feel free to add comments on all the other bits and pieces, we all love to hear about it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tuesday Tidbits with Kari: Featuring writing schedules and deadlines

Hi folks,

I am counting down the days until I leave for Florida....3!

I am so ready to have a vacation, but at the same time I have a deadline fast approaching. Corspe in the Crystal Ball is due May 1st....eeek!

So today's post is about balancing your personal life (family time) with your professional life (writing time / promotion) and meeting your dreaded deadlines.

In a word....ugh.

I used to love the days where I wrote what I wanted, when I wanted. But once you sell a book, you are no longer free to write at your leisure. You have a deadline. Your editor expects the book when the contract says it is due. And meeting multiple deadlines can be insane. Now, I know life gets in the way sometimes. And often times if you just talk to your editor, they will give you a couple weeks more. However, you don't want to get the reputation that you will always be late with your deadlines. It's unprofessional.

You also don't want to rush and turn something in early that's not ready yet. And then say, "Wait, read this one instead," and keep handing in new versions. That is also unprofessional. Even if I finish early, I tend to hold onto the manuscript until closer to my deadline, just in case I want to put it down for a while and give it a final read. You'd be amazed what you pick up on when you have some distance from a book.

So what I've come to do now is to create a schedule. I pull out my calendar and figure out exactly how many days I have until the book is due. Then I block out vacations, apts., school breaks, etc. I also only write Monday through Friday, taking the weekends off for family time. Once I know how many days I have to play with, I then figure out how many pages a day I have to write, leaving myself time for my cp to read it and for me to revise it.

Another good thing to know is how many pages an hour you can realistically write. I write 4 pages an hour when I'm on a roll. So I give myself 3 hours a day for writing time to make sure I can get 8 to 10 pages a day in. That leaves time for promotion, exercise, lunch, chores, etc. before my kids get home with evenings and weekends off to play Mom and wife. If I miss a day, I make up my pages on the weekend or in the evening. It's as simple as that.

When you break down your writing schedule, it really doesn't seem that difficult to finish a book in two months, leaving the third month for revising. Just be sure to stick to your schedule. It's only when you let other distractions take over, that you get way behind and finishing a book on time becomes overwhelming. I've been there, and trust me, it's not pretty. Not to mention your family will not be happy with you.

So tell me, how do you all stay on track? What is your writing process like? How long does it take you to finish a book? Do you make a schedule and stick to it?

Inquiring minds want to know :-)


Monday, February 14, 2011

Interview With Harlequin American Author, Pamela Stone

Before we hear all about my guest today, I want to announce that my interview with Deborah Nemeth, acquiring mystery/suspense/thriller editor for Carina Press will be posted on Friday. And she's going to take the first fifty online pitches, so get those polished.

Now, please give a rousing Valentine's Day welcome to my good friend and fellow chaptermate, Pamela Stone. Pamela is talking about her newest release from Harlequin American, Second Chance Dad. She's giving away a copy of this fabulous book to one lucky commenter, and she's even throwing in a copy of her first release, Last Resort: Marriage, to another. You can read all about her before I put her in the hot seat.

Pamela Stone has spent twenty five years in the technology field before becoming a romance writer. She is an only child whose classy mom put her energy into wardrobe, dance, and piano lessons. Add an amazing father who added go kart racing, slot cars, water skiing, and a pony to the mix. Toss in a wild imagination and summers in the country: lazy walks on her grandparent’s farm and another grandmother with a shed full of Harlequin romance novels to while away hot afternoons and voila you have Pamela.

Writing is pure escapism. Childhood imaginary friends developed into teenage fantasies. Later as a mother of two young sons, she began writing to keep in touch with the adult world; at least it was worth a shot. She continued writing as a method to wind down in the evenings from long, exhausting days spent in Corporate America. Anybody notice a pattern here? Not enough adult socialization – write. People overload – write. Either way, she claims that writing keeps her sane. Cheaper than a therapist and tons more fun.

She still resides in Texas with her childhood sweetheart and husband of; well we won’t mention how many years. In her spare time she enjoys traveling. From Hawaii, to California, to Florida, to the Caribbean, if there’s a beach, she’s there. She also loves spending time with friends and family, especially four adorable grandkids.

LIZ: First off, let’s talk about you as a writer, when did you start believing you really could write?

PAM: As far back as I can remember I’ve made up stories in my mind. Doesn’t everybody have people talking in their heads? Maybe that goes along with being an only child. But I never thought about putting them on paper until my boys were babies. I was reading voraciously, but my own imagination kept getting in the way and taking off on tangents from what I was reading. Even then it took years before I got the courage to actually join RWA and go to my first meeting. I believe that was in 1998 when both my boys decided to join the Army six weeks apart and I was trying desperately to find any way to keep my mind off worrying about them.

LIZ: Can you tell us about “The Call” for your first book?

PAM: Believe it or not I got the call on Friday the 13th, June 2008. Friday the 13th is now my lucky day. I work from home and I was sitting at my desk engrossed in my job when the phone rang. The woman told me her name and still in work mode, my mind started flipping through my virtual index. One of my customers at the bank? One of the engineers I’d been trying to reach? The name was familiar. But it wasn’t until she said the words, “I’d like to buy Last Resort: Marriage.” that my brain kicked in. I didn’t scream or yell, in fact I couldn’t speak at all for a few seconds. To this day, I’m not sure what I said, but I remember her asking if I’d like her to call me back later. She said it takes some people a few days for the reality to kick in and to think about what questions they might have. I told her no that patience was not one of my virtues. Then we laughed and I was able to carry on a conversation.

LIZ: What about your writing schedule? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

PAM: Oh, I’m a pantser who my critique partner is trying diligently to reform. I am learning to plot more these days, but I am character driven. We joke that she knows exactly what her characters are going to do, she just doesn’t know why. Me – I know exactly why my characters do what they do, they just don’t do much.

Since I still work a demanding day job, I don’t have as much time to write as I’d like. When working on a deadline, I typically wake up at 6:30 when my husband’s alarm goes off and write for an hour before showering and signing into the day job. I also spend a couple hours each evening writing. Usually 9PM – 11PM after dinner and chores when the house settles down.

LIZ: Now on to your book. Today is Valentine’s Day and what a wonderful time to be talking about this tender love story. Second Chance Dad is the heart-warming story of two single parents, both struggling with the trials of raising pre-teen children and carrying emotional baggage of their own. My question - how did you come up with this story line?

PAM: Typically my stories are a compilation of some special place I’ve visited and characters I can picture living there. The Texas Hill Country is such a tranquil, beautiful part of Texas, I always wanted to set a book there. I enjoy writing children, although these are the youngest kids I’ve written. Having my own kids and now the grandkids, they fascinate me. I wanted to tackle a blended family story as that is something I’d never written. And given that it was a small town, I also tossed in the small town grapevine that always amused me when I was at my grandmother’s house. So with the exception of the blended family, Second Chance Dad is a compilation of elements from my own life with a little humor thrown in.

LIZ: I couldn’t help falling in love with your characters. Both Hanna and Vince made me care about them immediately, especially Vince who is trying to raise a daughter just on the cusp of becoming a woman. Be honest. Is he the favorite male character you’ve ever written?

PAM: Giggle. Whatever book I’m writing, I tend to think that the hero is my favorite. I think if I’m not in love with them, a reader won’t be either. But yes, Vince is definitely a favorite. I was very close to my own dad growing up and there is a lot of Daddy’s dry wit and common sense approach to parenting in Vince. I love the way he raised his daughter, but also the way he stepped in with the heroine’s son, even when she wasn’t too thrilled with him doing so. Which added some interesting conflict.

LIZ: Ah...tubing down the Guadalupe...I love that Vince, Hanna and the kids did this. It brings back memories of my San Antonio days. Is this something you like to do in your leisure time?

PAM: I love anything that involves water. I’ve spent some time floating in an inner tube, but I’ve never had the opportunity to actually tube down the Guadalupe River. It is on my To Do list though. I grew up water skiing and swimming. I’m a beach person who likes to body surf. Just take me to a beach and I’m in Heaven. Even if it’s too cold to swim, I can just sit and listen to the surf for hours.

LIZ: And the wonderfully romantic Riverwalk in San Antonio with the fajitas, margaritas and Mariachi bands was the perfect place for their love affair to blossom. Is this also something you and Mr. Stone like to do on a romantic getaway?

PAM: We love San Antonio. Love the food and the riverboats. I have no idea how many times he’s insisted we tour the Alamo. It was fun the first time, or maybe two. But Robert is into Texas History. The last time we went, he’d found a ‘Good For’ token from an old San Antonio saloon when he was metal detecting. So we had to go there and eat and have a beer. Many of our weekend excursions are based on some token he finds or story he reads.

LIZ: What are you working on now and when can we expect the next book?

PAM: I haven’t officially sold any other books, but my editor does have a proposal for a trilogy set on the Florida coast. It’s three stories that all take place in a rented beach house on Barefoot Beach. In addition to the three love stories, I hope to unfold the story of the couple who built the house after WWII, little by little through each of the three books, using a guest registry and pictures kept at the beach house. The house now belongs to their grandson, the hero of the third book.

LIZ: We’d love to see an excerpt from Second Chance Dad.

Slowly, Vince approached Hanna as she straightened a shelf of knick-knacks, putting them back in the exact same place they were before she started.

The corners of her bow shaped mouth turned down. “Thanks for the lovely compliment, Vince. But...that kiss Saturday night was...a mistake.”

“I don’t see it that way.” He moved in closer and wrapped one of her silky brunette curls around his finger. “As hard as I’ve tried to stay away this week, to not rush things, I couldn’t stop thinking about you. We have something here and you know it.”

She leaned her face into his caress. “Yeah, but we’re at different places.”

Leaning in, he brought his lips within a hair’s breadth of hers. “I think we’re at the exact same place. I’ve just been here a little longer.”

Her gorgeous brown eyes searched his for a long moment, then fluttered closed. “Convince me.”

He followed her as she leaned against the wall, then cupped her face and took her mouth for a slow, sensuous kiss. “We’re both single parents.” His lips traveled down her jaw to nuzzle her neck, just where it curved into her shoulder.

She sighed. “Um hmm.” Her tongue touched her lips and her eyes remained closed, long lashes dark against her creamy complexion.

“Both our lives center around our kids and they get along.” He slipped a hand behind her neck and nibbled her ear, breathing in her faint perfume. His other hand glided lower to her bottom.

“True.” Her husky voice sounded breathless as she arched her back and pressed against him.

“But as much as we love our kids, we both need adult companionship.” He adjusted his position so they were touching full length and covered her mouth again, deepening the kiss.

She tilted her head back and threaded her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck. “You’re a romantic sort. Direct and to the point.”

He slid one hand beneath her shirt and up her torso to cup her breast. “Gotta be specific about what you want or you end up with a green tie with a dopey looking Santa on it for Christmas.”

A smile curved her lips and her eyes slowly opened. “Or a new Hoover vacuum with all those snazzy attachments that nobody uses. Figuratively speaking, of course.”

Vince winced. “Hope he slept on the figurative sofa that night.”