Friday, April 29, 2011

Barbie Jo's Bunkhouse: The Spy Within

Yesterday's fun post from Cassy got me thinking... Like what if M&M were really I havesome covert operation? What if all 5 of us had been brought together under the guise of authors but really we are the next line of super spy's?

I have always loved mysteries - to read them or watch them. I love to try to figure out the 'who dunnit' and the motive. And I would bet money, in another life I was a spy of some sort. Yup, I think so. I have dreams ALOT about being in different situations where I'm looking for someone, trying to return something...all under pressure of not being "found out". Oh yeah... it's quite the rush, actually.

But, alas that is me in my dreams. Although I've told my family that one of these days I would love to try my hand at paintball just to see if I could "survive" (ha ha). I did try laser tag once at my daughter's birthday. let me tell you, it was not pretty. Those little brats (not my daughter's friends, but others playing the game) are like snipers! And they just wait for your vest to recharge so they can shoot you again. After the sissy in me had a little whining fit, I channelled my inner spy and fought back. Yes, me against the 10 and under crowd. I still lost. and learned a valuable lesson:

Laser tag is not my thing. So maybe I should rethink the whole paint ball challenge?

Maybe I'm not so much the action hero now, as I would be the behind the scenes kinda gal.

So, do YOU have an inner spy? What kind of situation can you picture yourself in?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cassy’s Corner- Help Us Write Our Story

As you know, we have a new banner across the top of this blog site. It celebrates all five us, though I do confess that my husband is slightly nervous with idea that we might actually be gun carrying knife-wielding babes. So, I thought it would be fun to start writing our “history” and our “adventures,” with YOUR help.

I’m going to start this tale by inventing the very beginning of a story of how we came together and the work we do. The key word here is, “inventing.” Each of you needs to jump in with what ever comes next. Bring the story along in any direction you choose. The genre for your particular posts is your choice. We can mix it up all we want. Stop back here as often as you can during the day and see how the adventures unfold. Let’s launch the great banner in style. Ohh, I’m looking forward to this!

We have many many talented writers who follow this blog. And, I love the humor that often sparks in this group. So, my expectations are high. Just remember we’re at least “R” rated if not “PG.”

Mysteries and Margaritas

It’s so hard to know where to begin. Most of our backgrounds can’t be divulged. That would break contracts, violate a certain code of honor, and truthfully put us in danger. I’ll leave it to say that each of us brings to the group a unique set of skills that, when combined, allow us to accomplish more than anyone could do alone.

Skills, you ask? I’m not naming names, but we have a sniper who can split the part in her target's hair. Impressive. We have one who is the master of disguises. She somehow becomes the bored jeweled city-girl and then can haul the garbage along with the best of New York. We have talent that challenges the lock-smith industry and another with the best in strategic planning—you know, how to get by security with more than three ounces in your zip lock bag, how to change your identity in a foreign city, how to know who has the best sushi in town. Ever talked with a computer hacker who must not know one word of regular English? Yup, she’s dynamite. And then, well, there’s me. My strengths are a little different, not your normal resume material.

We came together under Madam Agnes. Even with our skills, we aren’t completely sure of her given name. Not that it matters. She found each of us and created the team. The early days were touchy, this isn’t exactly a “you know best, go ahead and do it your way” kinda group. But we’re getting beyond that. When you need a guy dead and you’ve got the fire-power on your side, you learn to love quickly.

As in Mission Impossible, we receive clear messages as to the next job. I say “clear,” but mud can be sold as a transparent mess to the right idiot. We take it from there. MA pays us well, no complaining there. But there are times when the cheese in the fridge has a blue tinge from having sat there too long and I can’t count the cities between last Tuesday and tomorrow.

A new assignment just landed. Parts will be fun. And, parts will be hell. I hope I have the energy to see one more round of “fake them out when they aren’t looking.”

Okay, build on this. What's happening? Who are we? What problems are we about to face? Or??

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Kari's Kave: What gets you in the mood?

Yesterday the weather was insane!

The sky darkened and clouds rolled and swirled about. Winds picked up, and then the rain started falling. Coming down in buckets is an understatement! Thunder boomed so loud the house shook. Lightening zipped across the sky in jagged streaks, lighting everything up around it.

Some areas flooded so high that people had to be rescued from their cars, and even parts of certain roads were closed. Hail started falling, making the sky look green mixed through the black. In some places the hail was the size of golf balls, in others the size of quarters, and where we were the size of marbles.

I loved every second of it.

It really put me in the mood to write a murder or suspense scene. That got me thinking about all the different types of scenes we write and how hard it can be at times to get yourself in the mood. I remember when I used to write romance. I'd light candles, have a glass of wine, and sometimes play soft music in the background as I'd sit down to write a love scene. Making your senses come alive and thinking sensual can really get the creative juices flowing.

I'm thinking it's the same with any genre or different type scenes. For mystery suspense, maybe watch a scary movie or read something intense, then dim the lights and put spooky music on. For dramatic scenes watch or read or listen to something that moves you first. Maybe for something cozy, have a cup of cocoa or tea, light a fire, curl up in something warm and fuzzy then type away.

I know some of these suggestions sound a bit silly, but I do have to wonder if there is some merit to them. Creativity really does take inspiration and a bit of getting yourself in the mood to write words of any kind. Heightening our senses with what we hear, what we see, and what we do can only help. From soft lighting and music for mellow scenes to bright light and peppy music for action scenes, etc. I know when I listen to rock music when I'm working out, it gets my heart pumping faster and makes me more "active." And when I listen to a great love song it makes me melt. Even things like Liz's hands on research HAD to put her in the mood to write when she got home from her cruise. The same thing happens when we get home from a conference. We are itching to put our fingers to our keyboards.

So tell me. What puts you in the mood to write? Do you do anything special? And do certain situations put you in the mood to write certain types of scenes?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Are You Starring In Your Own Book

Become Movie Stars

As writers, we create not just great plots, but characters to star in those plots. We dress the characters, give them histories, anxieties, families, and dreams. But I think we sometimes insert a little more of ourselves into them than we realize. For instance, you’re eyeball deep in revisions and edits and you realize your heroine is…You. No wonder she felt so familiar. Is this writer’s therapy? Are we working out our childhood troubles and disillusions through our characters? Are we living through them, or just so enamored of ourselves that we are certain we must belong in a book? Well, I hope your life has been so exciting, but I suspect we’re just slipping into the familiar.

As I was writing the character of Bree Kirkland, heroine of Awaken the Highland Warrior, I realized Bree bore some distinct traits that I have and some I would like to have. Bree is a quirky historian. Not boring and stuffy, but kind of Indiana Jones-ish. Okay, that’s not me, but I wish it was. She’s clumsy--that is me--and she’s always felt a little different than the other girls. Hmmm, maybe me. Of course, this is because she’s been destined to do something very unusual. She has to wake the Highland Warrior who’s been sleeping in the crypt behind her house for over a hundred fifty years.

So fess up, are bits of you in your stories?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Liz’s Lair: It was a Dark and Stormy Night…..

Okay, so no one would be stupid enough to use that as a first line, but it got me thinking. I need a great first line for Book 3 in my Clueless Cook Mystery Series. I’m just starting to plot it and get my stuff together to start the first chapter, and I want a really good first line.

Last year Mysteries and Margaritas sponsored a contest called Hook, Line and Sinker. We started with fifty first lines that were sent to 4 judges and were culled to thirty. Those thirty then submitted the last line of the first chapter. Again, judges culled them down to ten. The final ten submitted a blurb to go along with their first and last lines of Chapter One and our very own Christine Witthohn judged them. Along with M & M totes for all three winners, the number one entry received a one chapter critique from Christine. The entries were all so good, she ended up requesting all three first chapters, but only critiqued the winner. We are going to do that again, BTW. I just don’t know when.

Anyway, it made me realize how very important that first line really is. So, I decided to share a few of my favorites in no specific order.

She had to die!
(Through the Grinder, A Coffeehouse Mystery from the great Cleo Coyle.)

Irony was a fickle, messed-up bitch.
(Enemy Lover from the great Karin Tabke.)

Between the hot flashes, the hangover and all the spam on my computer, there’s no way I’ll get anything done before eight o’clock this morning. (Prime Time from the great Hank Phillipi Ryan.)

She felt his breath. (Shiver from the great Lisa Jackson.)

Oh, my God, you’re not going to believe this!
(The Samantha Granger Experiment: Fused by the awesome Kari Lee Townsend.)

“Bury it.” (Awaken the Highland Warrior by the equally awesome Anita Clenny.

See what I mean? Every one of those lines makes me want to keep reading. When I was looking for good examples I found a whole lot of not so good ones on books by big-time authors. I wondered how many more books might have been sold if the author had just knocked their socks off with a great first line, assuming a lot of readers are like me and head straight for that first page when making a decision.

I went back and looked at my books so far and decided I didn’t do too badly. I’ll let you decide.

In LIVER LET DIE, here’s the first line:

Single, white female, stuck in a dead-end job who barely makes the rent on the closet she calls home—looking for tall, dark, handsome rich guy who loves...

Book 2, BEEF STOLEN-OFF isn’t so good.

“You’re looking at the new permanent culinary reporter for The Ranchero Globe.”

That’s why I have to have a dynamite first line for Book 3, MURDER FOR THE HALIBUT. I’m looking for help here, people. The premise is that Jordan and her band of merry troublemakers go on a cruise where she is going to judge a Cook-Off (think CHOPPED on BRAVA.)

I’ve decided the winner will get a free download of my first self-published mystery, MORTAL DECEPTION, which will be available June 1st. And if I use the line, you’ll get acknowledged in the front of MURDER FOR THE HALIBUT.

So, put on your thinking caps and fire away. Here’s the first line of MORTAL DECEPTION. I think it’s a good one.

Before the night ended, Dani Perez would have sex with a total stranger.

Obviously, it’s NOT a cozy!!

So, bring it on. You can enter as many times as you like. If you don’t want to play, tell me about your best first line.

Friday, April 22, 2011


As most of you know, I started writing a few years ago. I had no idea what I was doing, other than I wanted to write a story. I worked hard, learned a lot, made a lot of mistakes, learned some more, got representation by the fabulous Christine Witthohn, and now our hard work has finally paid off. Awaken the Highland Warrior is almost here. In fact, Amazon has already shipped out orders, and Borders is expecting it in store any day!

It's been a long road to get here, and who knows what the future holds, but for now it's good. I can't tell you what a thrill it's been to read the nice reviews I've gotten so far. To know that an unbiased someone has read my story and got enjoyment from it. That's an amazing feeling for me. I know some not so nice reviews will probably come in, because everyone gets them, but for now, I'm somewhere between basking in the glow and deer in the headlights. So please allow me to share some of the reviews.

Reviews for Awaken the Highland Warrior:

"Clenney's Scottish paranormal debut is full of twisty subplots and sexy, romantic fun."..."there's plenty to keep readers looking ahead to the sequels."-- Publishers Weekly

"Scottish warriors, demons, vampires, time travel and two strong main characters are the elements that Clenney seamlessly weaves together to form an intriguing story.".. "she creates a romantic adventure that is hard to resist." -- Romantic Times Magazine

"Clenney’s debut, beginning a new paranormal series, showcases her ability to create an alternative modern world peopled with interesting, exciting, and compelling characters. Civil War historian and treasure seeker Bree Kirkland is shocked when she opens a crypt in her family’s cemetery and an ancient Scottish Highlander jumps out at her."..."Clenney’s series will be a favorite of those who love time travel and Highlanders." Booklist

“An exciting, riveting read! Nothing’s sexier than a time-traveling Highland warrior except one with the mission to save the world and the contemporary, courageous woman who lights his fire! A page-turner, I couldn’t put the book down!” —Terry Spear, Author of Heart of the Wolf, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year


“Engrossing and captivating. A true page-turner.” —Mary Wine, Acclaimed author of Highland Heat

Score: 5.00 / 5 - Reviewer Top Pick

AWAKEN THE HIGHLAND WARRIOR is the debut novel in a new series by Ms. Clenney. This is one of the best books I have read in a while. All I can say is Oh My Gosh, I want more. You get a series full of action, good vs. evil scenarios and romance. Plus don’t forget the hot, sexy, and kilted Highlanders. This author could very well become one of my favorites. I read this in one night. If I could have given it a higher rating I would. Look for the next book; EMBRACE THE HIGHLAND WARRIOR coming in November 2011.Night Owl Reviews

"A riveting story full of mystery, demons and hot Scottish Highland Warriors!"

I enjoyed this story so much I can't put it into words. The characters are colorful, gorgeous, and most entertaining. The excitement and suspense kept me turning pages way beyond my bedtime and first thing in the morning! This is a really great read with a fantastic plot and imagination to keep the keenest mind entertained. A definite keeper by Anita Clenney. This is the first of her novels I have had the pleasure of reading, but I can guarantee it will not be my last.Fresh Fiction

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cassy's Corner- Inspiration!

Yesterday was a long day. I had to fly to Cleveland and back for an appointment at the Cleveland Clinic. My day began at 2am and didn't end until late in the evening. I confess I was tired. Tired enough that this posting is many hours later than I usually like it to be. But, I had a wonderful experience that I'd like to share.

When it was finally time to head to the airport after many hours at the Clinic, I asked at the main desk to have a cab called for me. The kind woman told me to wait just a moment, she'd make the arrangements. Within ten minutes a shiny black town car pulled up. A doorman motioned that this car was for me. I expected a Yellow Cab, not a town car.

"Please," he said. "This car is for you and will take you to the airport."

I hesitated for a moment, then shrugged. It all looked respectable.

Then my adventure began. Mustafa introduced himself and welcomed me into his car. I was charmed the entire twenty minutes it took to get to the airport. I don't have a habit of chit-chatting (though my family would disagree) but this man changed my day. I had been traveling for hours, working through a variety of systems, managing the mundane, and hearing news of lab tests and getting set for a few hours of travel back home. Mustafa changed all of that.

He was cheerful, full of stories, and quick to notice I had had a long day. Out came the large note books full of letters, each in a plastic sleeve. Then there were the photographs, all carefully slipped into plastic. I wasn't sure how we were going to make it to the airport with him turned sideways in his seat, making sure I read each letter from a congressman, a senator, a patient on oxygen, the wife of someone who had just died. The letters went on and on.

Then the photographs. A smiling Mustafa stood with an arm around person after person. I lost count of the pictures into the third album.

Mustafa came to the United States eight years ago. He speaks six languages. When he arrived, he had no knowledge of English. Today his English is perfect. His son speaks only four languages, but Mustafa is working on improving that.

He earned his first dollars cleaning toilets and wiping out public bathrooms at the Cleveland Clinic. Mustafa made a decision that this "wonderful country" had given him so much he needed to decide how to give back. Those are his words not mine.

He decided that the way he could contribute was to start a car service. He envisioned one that was elegant, would give people a sense of dignity, would carefully avoid any reference to illness or pain, and "No Smoking." He now has eight employees and many cars. He repeated that his goal is to be there for his clients, whatever that means. I literally began tearing up, long day, lots of information to process, and a truly dear man capping it off. I looked out the window pretending that the tears weren't forming, only to find a Kleenex passed from the front of the car in my direction.

I had no idea that Mustafa would touch me as he has. He opened my car door and offered his hand to help me out. He gave me a sweet hug and told me "God's Speed."

We all have goals. We all have dreams. We all have paths we choose to take as we reach. Mustafa will stay with me. He proudly cleaned the bathrooms and then decided how he could make a difference. A difference I won't forget.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Kari's Kave: How to Outsmart our Brains

The human body is a magnificent creation. Complex and amazing in all that it is capable of doing, yet frustrating as hell.

When we work out, our muscles quickly adapt to the exercises we are performing. It doesn't take long before the exercise becomes easy and less effective. Therefore we have to change it up and surprise our muscles so they will say, "Whoa, wait a minute. What just happened? Ow, that hurts. Hey, that's not fair. I'm not used to you moving me that way. Damn, now I have to work harder to adjust." Thus the results we are looking for can then be achieved :-)

The brain is the same way.

Stubborn, very smart, and quickly adaptable!

It's like when we sit down to write. Many times we get stuck, and the harder we try to be creative and come up with something new, the more difficult the task. That's when it's pointless to keep sitting there. I'm not saying give in to writer's block. I'm saying "fool" it.

I like to multi-task. If the dishes need doing or beds need made, etc, I will tackle that chore. However, I keep the TV off and the radio off and start running through ideas in my head. Still thinking about my story but my brain is being divided and I'm not trying so hard. The next thing I know, the best ideas come to me. My poor house often gets left mid-task because when inspiration strikes, I drop everything and sit back down to write. The task can wait. The idea might be lost forever.

Another thing I've discovered is we tend to dream about the last thing we see, read, or talk about. Be it a movie, a book, or a conversation with my hubby. I will wake up with some crazy, vivid dreams. Back in college, I would always study right before bed, and I would be amazed that when I woke up, I remembered so much more.

Here's a great tip. Read the last scene you wrote right before you go to bed, and keep a notebook and pen handy on your end table. You'll be amazed when you dream about your characters and wake up with such vivid scenes and great ideas the next morning.

Lastly, when it comes to editing, our brains are very good at skimming over errors because they've seen the work a thousand times and know what you meant to say. That's why it's nearly impossible to be objective about our work, and so easy to miss simple mistakes.

If you sit in the same place and write at the same time, etc, your brain quickly adapts and compensates for that. So we must fool our brains by surprising them just like we did with our muscles. We want our brains to be saying, "Whoa, wait, is this something new? Have I seen these words before? I'm not really sure, so I guess I'd better pay closer attention and not skim."

The way to do that is to print the document, but in a different way. Change the color of the ink, single space the document, etc. Then print it off and sit in a different room, maybe even at a different time of day. Anything to wake your brain up and make it pay attention. Even reading your work aloud or having someone else read it to you will help. You will be surprised at the errors you catch.

So tell do you all outsmart your brains? Any tips to share?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cassy's Corner-- Multi-published Writer, Toni Andrews

Today we have the honor of the multi-published author Toni Andrews guest blogging on Mysteries and Margaritas. Please join us in welcoming her. If you tease her a bit, I'm sure she'll tell you more about herself and the path she's taken along her writing career.

So, You Want to Be a Writer...Toni Andrews

Before I decided to become a writer, I was a Business Analyst. This is a job title that, when you say it aloud, causes the listener’s eyes to glaze over. It’s just so...vague.

Actually we Business Analysts like that our job title is vague. It’s one of the things that allows us to charge those exorbitant rates. But the truth is, what a Business Analyst does can be distilled down to a single sentence: We figure out how to get there from here.

I knew nothing about 1) how to write a book or 2) how to get a book published when, one fateful day, I just decided to become a novelist. Just under two years later, I had a three-book deal with a major publisher.

This was because I didn’t just wander into a new career hoping that it would somehow work out. I was a business analyst. I knew where here was. I knew where there was. Without even thinking about it, I started off by trying to figure out the straightest line between those two points.

As the President of a fair-sized writer’s group, I’m often asked for advice on how others can get there from here. Since I always advise the same seven things, I figured it was time to put them to paper. So, here they are: A Former Business Analyst’s 7 Pieces of Advice on How to Become a Published Author.

  1. Have a plan, and write it down.

Whether you just want something with an ISBN you can show to your grandchildren some day, or intend to overtake J.K. Rowling on the charts, you need to have a written plan. Don’t worry if you don’t know all the steps yet--you can adjust as you go.

Here’s a hint: Some of the items on this list may become your initial steps!

  1. Join your local professional writers’ organization.

For any kind of fiction, not just romance, I recommend finding your local chapter of Romance Writers of America. When I went to my very first meeting, I sat down in a random chair and found I was sitting next to a New York Times best selling author! This is what a business analyst refers to as finding a “Subject Matter Expert.” If RWA isn’t for you, there are many other groups--do an online search for writers’ organizations and join more than one!

  1. Write a great book.

This may seem so obvious that it doesn’t need to be on the list but, as a former business analyst, I am compelled to start with the big picture.

I know you’re thinking “Of course, my book is good.” But, who says so?

News flash: Your mother, sibling, best friend and significant other may not be the most objective critics. This leads to the next couple of items...

  1. Form a critique group.

I don’t mean one of those mutual admiration society groups, where everyone goes to be stroked (you know the ones I mean). I suggest a small, tight-knit group of 3 to 5 people, who are all serious about getting their work published and are all-willing to give and receive tough, honest, constructive criticism. Make sure there are rules and guidelines, and that you have a way of “auditioning” new members before they become a permanent part of the group.

If you’d like to see a sample set of critique group guidelines, email me at and I’ll send you the rules that my personal critique group uses.

  1. Enter contests.

Many local chapters of those writers groups you’re about to join (because you were paying attention to Item #2) have contests. If your work isn’t ready for submission, you’ll get excellent feedback from the first round of judges. If your submission scores well enough to make it to the final round, it will probably be given to an editor or an agent to rank. If they like it, they might ask to see the manuscript. I made my first sale to an editor who had read the first chapter in a contest.

  1. Go to conferences.

Writers groups sponsor both local and national conferences. Depending on your budget, attend as many as you can.

These conferences have major benefits, including:

  • You will have the opportunity to network in a casual setting with published authors and industry professionals (I met my agent at the bar at a conference).
  • You can attend workshops and panels that will give you more information about writing and the publishing industry in forty-five minutes than you would learn in a university semester.
  • You can schedule a “pitch session,” where you actually get to sit down in front of an editor or agent for ten minutes and pitch your novel. This beats the HECK out of sending your manuscript to a slush pile.

And, speaking of slush piles....

  1. Get an agent.

Publishers receive hundreds, if not thousands, of unsolicited manuscripts every week. Even if their website says that they accept un-agented submissions, it’s just not possible for them to get around to all of those manuscripts. So, they are forced to rely on the recommendations of reputable agents.

For the many, many other questions you probably still have, I refer you again to Item #2. I have found writers to be very generous with their time, encouragement and advice. Also, I find it enjoyable to hang around with others who, like me, write down what the voices in their head are saying instead of taking medication to get them to shut up!

Best of luck with your writing career....


Liz's Lair: The Sacrifices We Make in the Name of Research

Sheesh! Nobody told me when I decided to get serious about writing that there would be hardships to endure. You know, the rejections, the hours alone at my computer, and the research required to make each of my stories authentic.

Last week, I bit the bullet and flew to Miami to begin getting background stuff for my third book in the Clueless Cook Mystery Series. In Murder for the Halibut, my girl and her band of merry troublemakers are dishing up mayhem on a Caribbean cruise. After MUCH deliberation, I decided the only way to get it right was to actually go on a cruise myself.

Last Saturday hubby and I boarded the Celebrity Eclipse (a brand new boat) for a 7-day Eastern Caribbean cruise. Now, mind you, this wasn’t my first rodeo as far as cruises go. I’ve cruised the Mexican Riviera several times, as well as Europe and Alaska, but I wasn’t paying attention to details then…just having fun and seeing how many excursions I could take and how many pounds I could gain.

I had already researched how much I could actually write off in taxes with the cruise and knew it wouldn’t be everything, but all the sites I visited, plus advice from two writer friends who are accountants, mentioned that I needed to take a lot of notes. And so, I journaled. I checked with Guest Relations the first day to set up meetings with security and the chefs, but they told me that had to be done BEFORE the cruise. They said they’d try, but they weren’t very hopeful. At this point, I was pretty frustrated.

We set sail for a two day trip to Puerto Rico where we snagged a great tour for ten bucks. Did you know the number one sport in PR is boxing? Or that the number 2 sport is baseball? And get this…the number three sport is womens volleyball. Our very funny guide mentioned this sport only shimmied up the popularity pole when the girls started wearing string bikinis!! Men are such predictable creatures!! And girl on girl on the beach barely clothed apparently ups the athletic appeal.

The next stop was St. Marteens. Did you know half the island belongs to the Dutch and the other half to the French?? The people were lovely and the shopping fantastic. We even discovered that all God’s creatures love to snuggle.
Does all this sound wonderful? It really was…except I got sick Sunday with some sort of stomach virus that lasted until Wednesday. Being the trooper that I am, I still managed to get my research done. On Sunday afternoon, there was a cooking exhibition and afterward, I introduced myself to the head executive chef and the head sous chef.
When I told them I needed plotting help and details worked out, they were really excited and agreed to meet me the next day in the coffee shop with ideas.

Well, imagine my surprise when FOUR chefs came by to help. Can you picture the faces of the people sitting around us listening as we plotted a couple of murders?? After many great ideas were thrown out, they said they would think about it, and if they came up with anything else, they’d call to set up a meeting.

Now, you have to know that food is the biggest thing on a cruise ship with 172 cooks of all nationalities. They are busy every minute of the day. So, when the Head Sous Chef, Maciek Kucharewicz of Poland came down off the stage after a cooking demonstration and found me in the audience to tell me he’d like to talk later, I was floored. But not nearly as amazed as when he handed me a bunch of typed notes, including his very own halibut recipe with a Caribbean flavor that has the murder weapon built right in. This will definitely be the dish that kills my first dead guy. Oh man! I couldn’t have asked for more…but I did. I picked his brain about what happens when there’s a dead body on the ship while at sea and who has jurisdiction. I still need to Google some things, but I have a great start to my plotting. Maciek wouldn't let me pay him, so I promised to send him an autographed copy of the book.

So, all in all it was a rewarding trip for research and I am ready to start the book. Of course, the people who sat at our table every night were fantastic, too. And the food…OMG! I had to force myself to eat so much…all in the name of research!!

So what kind of research stories do you have? Inquiring minds want to know!!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Barbie Jo's Bunkhouse: Things That Make You Go, Hmmm...

Being new here to M&M, I’m feeling the pressure to provide an informative yet entertaining post. Since subbing in for Liz on Monday, I’ve struggled through a crazy work week trying to think of a topic. While I received great ideas from a couple fabulous writer friends, I just wasn’t feeling it. And then without warning, the idea came to me literally on a breeze.

As I walked down the street, I caught the scent of something utterly intoxicating. I turned my head and realized it was the cologne of the hot little college guywho’d just walked by me. The scent lingered with me as I continued on my way. Oh yeah, I went there, people. For a brief moment, I was taken back in time to when I was 18 and all the guys wore some form of Polo or Brut. We’d give anything to put on their jacket or sweatshirt just-to-smell them!!! Siiiigh…

And all of this got me thinking about the senses and emotions we put into our stories. These things have to come from somewhere and I truly believe we pull from our own experiences, even if we don’t realize it. I mean, I am a HUGE lover of perfume. I have my favorites and one in particular that I consider to be my signature scent. And yes, I’m just romantic enough to fantasize that someone might just smell my perfume and be taken back to a great memory they had with someone special, or that someone might even think of ME when they catch that scent on the breeze. That’s what great romantic stories are made of…pure emotion!

But smells are only half of it. Have any of you ever had a Deja Voo moment? Been somewhere or driven past someplace and you KNOW you’ve been there before? OMG, this happens to me A LOT. So it’s not just memories of places I know I’ve been recently or a long time ago with friends, family, etc… But it’s that feeling of knowing you’ve been there, yet you can’t remember when or with whom – you just KNOW. Sometimes it’s kind of creepy, but most of the time I’m romantic enough to concoct some fantasy in my head about what I could have been doing there and with whom. See? There’s a reason why I write.

Even music can play its role in making us remember either good times or bad. Music tells its own story and I love my music. I do make playlists for my stories, and I have special playlists that remind me of certain times in my life. It’s very touching and bittersweet. And it never fails, I can be in the car and hear a song on the radio. You know the one I mean. The song that makes you think of the love of your life – and you smile. Or even the one that makes you think of the really crazy thing you did (like get drunk and sleep in the middle of a field with a bunch of friends and then somehow remember to catch a ride with someone at the crack of dawn because you have to babysit at 7 AM) Or even the fun you had singing karaoke with your peeps. Ahhh, music, it's everywhere!

And why the Hmmm??? Because the things that MAKE us go Hmmm I think can really get the ball rolling for a great story. On occasion I've used a few of those moments in my writing.

So what particular smell, item, song, etc…takes you back and makes you go – Hmm??? And have you used it in a story? I've got my coffee ready, so spill it!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cassy's Corner- Brainstorming and Writing

I have just returned from another trip to Italy. As many of you know, I go as many times a year as I can lie, cheat, steal and cajole the time and tickets. This trip was different, very different. It created a large "rethink" of my writing and how I approach my work. Let me explain.

I often make the trip alone. Family is better than great, but there are times I want to focus on my writing and the spot we have there is perfect for my honing in on my work. Two times I have made a special trip to attend the Women's Fiction Festival in Matera, Italy. It is a fantastic conference with an international attendance, lots of editors and agents, and tons of great sessions. It's one of the more intimate conferences I have attended; friends (truly) are made and held over the year. Not to mention, the food and wine is pretty darn spectacular.

Based on my continued contact with the woman who runs the WFF (Elizabeth Jennings), I received an invitation to participate in the first Brainstorming at the Spa (yes, there was a little "spa" involved) in Matera. This was not part of WFF, but its own event. We were about 18 invited participants plus Liz Jennings and the incredible Christine Witthohn leading the way. Christine presented more than nuggets about writing, the industry, the future of publishing plus much much more.

But, I am taking too long to get to the point. The truly best part of the 4 going on 5 days was the individual time given to each of us for brainstorming. We each had about an hour in which we presented to the entire group an overview of the book we were currently working on. Then it opened up. Comments were offered about the story, about the character arcs, about the best genre, about the marketability, about.....

We laughed for hours straight. We also worked very hard. This group focused with laser intensity on each person's story, thinking through what would make it better, what would change the tone if needed, what would increase the reader's attachment, and what would help the author move the work to the next level. Folks were supportive beyond belief. There were no "hatchet" jobs. But there was lots of honesty. I won't even tell you what needs to happen to my story--but I heard it loud and clear and they are right.

We had the inside jokes that grow from so many hours together both in the brainstorming sessions and over lunch, dinner, strolls through the sassi, and, yes, a bit in the spa. We've formed a Yahoo loop (thanks, Christine) and the emails are flying back and forth, continuing the conversations.

The genres covered the board. If I had thought that hearing about dragons, aliens, fantasy worlds, a woman's path to self-esteem, YA, and much more would shape my mystery writing--I'd have told you that you were wrong. Well, I was wrong. A good story is that, a good story. I have begun to look at my work with a very different, yes critical, but different eye.

I left the Matera retreat not able to write. My head has been spinning. I returned to the place we stay across the country and let the mental buzzing have its own course. Now I am ready to re-look at my work through my gained perspective with the wonderful help of nearly 20 focused and thoughtful minds. I never would have guessed the time spent would accomplish so much.

If anyone is interested in learning more about the WFF do feel free to contact me personally. They are hoping to offer the retreat on an annual basis. I’m not sure I could ever attend too many times.

What have your experiences been that have helped shape your writing?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Kari's Kave: When Characters Take Over...

Hi all. Kari here. I was trying to think of what to write about today. I am smack dab in the middle of Corpse in the Crystal Ball, and these darn characters won't let go. I get so mad at Sunny. Why does she put up with his bleep! But then Mitch appears, making me realize how vulnerable he is, and that he really does love the crazy woman who's not easy to love, but she doesn't make it easy for him.

When all of a sudden--

"It's his fault," Sunny said. "The man can't read signals to save his life."

"Me?" Mitch sputtered. "You were the one who said you wanted to just be friends. How am I supposed to read your signals?"

"Well, I would think you'd have a clue on how the female persona works...oh wait, you're a man. Never mind."

"And what's that supposed to mean?" Mitch sneered.

Major eye-roll here. "Since you're a man, I guess you'll never know."

"You know the world doesn't revolve around you. There are mysteries to solve and cases to close."

"Really? I didn't know you noticed. You're so grumpy being the Grumpmeister, I didn't think you cared."

"Oh, I care, all right. But I'm so busy taking care of you, Tink, that I don't have time to solve the ongoing case."

"And why is that, Detective?"

"I, er, um ... no reason, Miss Meadows. Let's just solve this case before things get really messy."

"God forbid..."

"Okay, you two, enough," I blurted to shut the two of them up.

This is how my life has gone lately. Ever try to finish a novel when the voices in your head won't shut up? I have to wonder. Either this novel will be brilliant or it will totally suck. Depends on what the "voices" have to say. Sometimes they really do take on a character of their own. At times I feel like they are real people. Every feel this way?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cassy's Corner: Guest Hank Phillippi Ryan

Cassy's Corner- Hank Phillippi Ryan

Folks, please join me today and welcome our Guest Blogger the wonderful and super-talented Hank Phillippi Ryan.

Agatha, Anthony and Macavity award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan is on the air at Boston's NBC affiliate. Her work has resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in restitution. Along with her 26 EMMYs, Hank’s won dozens of other journalism honors. She's been a radio reporter, a legislative aide in the United States Senate and an editorial assistant at Rolling Stone Magazine working with Hunter S. Thompson.

Her first mystery, the best-selling PRIME TIME, won the Agatha for Best First Novel. It was also was a double RITA nominee for Best First Book and Best Romantic Suspense Novel, and a Reviewers' Choice Award Winner. FACE TIME and AIR TIME are IMBA bestsellers, and AIR TIME was nominated for the AGATHA and ANTHONY Award. (Of AIR TIME, Sue Grafton says: "This is first-class entertainment.") DRIVE TIME, February 2010 from MIRA Books, just earned a starred review from Library Journal saying it “puts Ryan in a league with Lisa Scottoline.” And Breaking News! DRIVE TIME was just nominated for the Agatha for Best Mystery of 2010!

Hank's short story "On The House" won the AGATHA, ANTHONY and MACAVITY for Best Short Story of 2009..

Hank is on the board of New England Sisters in Crime and the national board of Mystery Writers of America. Her website is

The Thrillzie of It All

By Hank Phillippi Ryan

It’s such fun when there’s a new word! LOL was just okay’ed by the OED. And OMG, right? And a few others entered the list of acceptable and now-useable-in-educated-society words (NB and whoo hoo, fellow Scrabble players).

But here’s a new one that’s now making the rounds in mystery-thriller-romantic suspense world—and that’s Thrillzie.


From what I can glean, a thrillzie is sort of an amalgam of thriller-plus-cozy. A word to describe a book that has thriller aspects, but isn’t sexy or bloody or gory or violent or over the top. Like a cozy. A cozy thriller, you see? A thrillzie.

So whaddaya think? My first reaction was to laugh. The evolution of genres is so interesting to watch—and even more interesting to be part of. Who’d have thought in addition to mystery and thriller and paranormal and chick lit and mom lit and hen lit and “literary fiction” and the newly-cool “a novel of suspense” that there’d be steampunk, and zombie-lit, and…what else is there? And I do admit, I’ve wondered, with our ever-increasing need to “label” every genre, if there could be a cozy thriller.

And isn’t there a market, say, for a fast-paced, action-filled, high-stakes high tension, excitingly-finished (I’m not going to say climaxed) novel about a smart, competent, clever and tough heroine? What would you call that?

Romancing the Stone, a movie, I know, that’s a thrillzie if I ever saw one. (And I bet I’ve seen lots of them.) What would I have called “Romancing” if I didn’t have the word thrillzie? What other moves and books are there that would fill that slot? My own DRIVE TIME, I bet, could be in that category. Would I want that?

Hmmm. We all just got over the controversy about “cozy,” remember? And though many readers and writers embraced it, it does have just a bit of condescension attached. Doesn’t it? It now means—cute, and crafty, and a book with no, um, unpleasantness of any kind. And “cozy” certainly telegraphs “written by a woman.”

But how about a Spenser for Hire book? Robert B. Parker (and we miss him every day) didn’t do sex and violence—if act, part of the wonderfulness (oh, Microsoft word isn’t liking that word) of his books is how UN-graphic the sex and violence is. Which makes it even sexier. Right?

But hey, I wouldn’t want to be in the room with Robert B. Parker when someone suggested he call his books “thrillzies.”

To give something such a diminutive name—and thrillzie certainly is, along with cutesy and kittie and honey pie--is that a diminution of the value? Or is it something to kiss on both cheeks and welcome into the family of writing?

I just Googled it, and it’s not there. So we’re definitely in on the cutting edge. (OMG.)

And now Microsoft Word is bugging me about using Thrillzie. I just clicked on “add to dictionary.” And so it goes. Will you be adding it to yours?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Barbie Jo's Bunkhouse: I've got the "muse"ic in me

Welcome to a special edition of the Bunkhouse, as our wonderful Liz is off cruising for research - and yes, the rest of us here at M&M are green with envy! No fears, though, we are not jealous enough for murder. Well...wait a minute, Cassy has just returned from a lovely writing retreat in Italy....Girls, I think something's up here. Maybe their "disappearances" are a front for something else? Should we be worried? Naahh...They will come back and post their great adventures and what they've learned!

So today let's talk about having a musical muse. Do you write better with music in the background? If so, what kind? I know many people who create soundtracks for their stories. I am one of those people. Only when I write, the fresh creative stuff, I need totally peace and quiet to concentrate and let the movie play in my head. Now, when I finish a chapter or a scene, THEN I can play music, have the tv on in the background or be anywhere when I'm editing and polishing. What I really love is creating the playlist for the story, sometimes I'll hear a song that will remind me of a tender moment between hero/heroine or even the big black moment - and then I work around that so the music really parallels the story right up until the end! And I use that music to keep me motivated when I'm not behind the keys!

I've also gotten ideas from a song I've heard on the radio or seen the video for.
Here in the Bunkhouse it's mostly country music that motivates me. But I've been known to crank up the classic rock, and even some current pop tunes (thanks to my darling Diva!) And there are times when those tunes will fit with my story! LOVE it!

Are you motivated by music? Does your muse prefer a certain style? I'd love to hear how music moves YOU! Does your muse have any crazy musical habits?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Welcome to Anita's Attic!

Hi everyone. Welcome to Anita’s Attic. This is my first post as an official Mysteries and Margaritas blogger. First, I’m thrilled to be here, so climb up the creaky stairs, cross the dusty floor, pull up an old trunk, and have a seat. We’ll get to know each other…if the ghosts will leave us alone. Did I mention that my attic is haunted? My muse lives here. I didn’t know I had a muse, but turns out she’s the ghost of Attic’s Past and she insists I should give you a little of my backstory.

I’ve always loved reading, particularly mysteries and romance. A little over five years ago, just before my daughter started kindergarten, I had been on an intense reading fest and decided I wanted to write a story my way. Since the plan was for me to go back to work in a few months, which I really didn’t want to do, I decided it was now or never. If I could sell a book, I would have a legitimate career doing something I loved and that would be that. I would write a wonderful book and someone would immediately buy it. HA!

I had no clue how this business worked. I’m not sure I do even now. But I set out to work. I wrote and queried, got some rejections, and kept learning and writing. After a couple of years, I met Christine Witthohn at a conference. She really put me on the right track with my writing. Even though I wasn’t a client, she gave me great advice, and she wanted to see my stuff. She took a look and agreed to represent me. Finding her was the smartest move I’ve made as a writer. Because I was so new at writing, I kept revising and polishing my story. Finally, she and I were both happy with it and she submitted it. Three years, eleven months, and twenty-two days after I started writing, I sold my first book. I was on cloud nine. I’m still working on that series, a paranormal romantic suspense series about Secret Warriors, Ancient Evil, and Destined Love, and I’m also working on a cozy mystery series.

The paranormal series is about a secret clan of warriors that has existed since the beginning of time. Put in place by Michael the Archangel, these warriors guard unsuspecting humans from the demons hiding among us, disguised as our neighbors, and sometimes our friends, while they attempt to spread their evil and eventually destroy our world. These warriors are equipped with powerful senses, strong muscles, and speed. They have some cool toys as well: Swords, talismans that zap out a laser-like beam of light to destroy a demon (also any humans who get in the way), and time vaults created to hold demons until Judgment. Time stops inside these time vaults, and they won’t open for 150 years, just in case someone finds one and tries to open it, the demon would be powerless.

This is where the first story comes in. Faelan, one of the mightiest warriors, is betrayed and trapped inside the time vault he had brought to imprison the demon he was battling. Trapped inside, Faelan sleeps for 150 years. Along comes Bree Kirkland, a quirky historian who secretly wants to be Indiana Jones. She’s always been haunted by history and the lure of hidden treasure. When she inherits her grandma’s house, she finds a journal and a treasure map in an old trunk in the attic. (Aren’t attics great?) Bree follows the clues which lead to the crypt behind her house, but she finds far more than buried treasure, and her life will never be the same.

Awaken the Highland Warrior has Romance, Adventure, and Suspense. It's available for preorder at bookstores now. So, now you know a little about me. Now it’s your turn. Tell me how you came to be a writer and/or a reader?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cassy's Corner- Brainstorming

My head is reeling. I'm not able to write. I'm buzzing with ideas and new thoughts about how to fix my story.

For four almost five days I have been at a writer' retreat in Matera, Italy. This was not your normal writers' conference- no way. We were 18 people plus Christine Witthohn, literary agent par excellence, leading the charge. It is a tad hard to explain the dynamics. Christine gave many pearls each day, but the essence was each of us.

We presented our current work and for nearly an hour (for each of us!) the entire group brainstormed the project. Why this? Why not that? What if...? Tell me what you were thinking when you decided that....? Had you considered? I love this, but truthfully, that doesn't get me excited. What does this mean from an industry point of view? What really is your genre? If you are a cross-over, how would you market this? What is the best way to enter- traditional print or e-pub? The questions and comments went on and on.

This was nothing like I've ever attended before. Some people shared huge imaginary worlds. Some shared new takes on given stories. Some told tales of their own lives that would make you cry and reach for a tissue.

Every single person shared, laughed, and joked later about the silly things that emerge when spending so much time together. But, I left with many new ideas for my book and the next one to come. I also left with a reconnection with old friends plus the grand addition of new writers who will make a difference in my world. This was an international group, an important component.

Christine, you were fantastic. If you happen to read this, please know that you should be very tired. No one could have been more supportive, more rigorous about the quality of our writing or more ready to help each of us figure out the right path.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

And the winner is... Also, research vacation anyone?

And the winner is....

Huge congrats to Laurie Bumpus (Bump) for winning the "Where are Kari's Bookmarks" contest!

There were so many clever entries, it was hard to choose. But Laurie's conversation among the bookmarks from inside the envelope as they went on their journey was hilarious! Your tea set will be in the mail shortly :-)

And speaking of traveling and journey's...have you ever traveled in the name of research?

We all research in various ways and with the Internet today, so many authors have the luxury of going about their research from the comfort of their own homes. Can you imagine writing years ago when research of any kind had to be hands on or from books alone. We are so lucky today.


I would love to go on an actual research trip sometime. That would be so exciting and add that extra spark to our work as writers. Our very own Liz is going on a cruise this week all in the name of research. Her third Clueless Cook mystery is going to take place on a cruise, so she decided to take one. How thrilling to go behind the scenes. I can just hear her conversations...

"Oh dear Mr. Chef, can you tell me how to best kill someone off with food on a cruise ship?"

"Um, well, ma'am....SECURITY!!! Get this crazy woman out of my kitchen before she poisons us all."

"Ah, yes, poison. Nice! I just might have to use that. And I'm not crazy...I'm just a writer."

"Sounds to me like they're one and the same."

"You have no idea."

I can't wait until Liz gets back so we can hear all about her adventures. Hopefully there will be pictures, too.

I have never traveled specifically for research. Although I have done research while traveling for other things. Recording various settings I might use one day with notes and pictures. Studying the people and culture, etc. But to actually go behind the scenes to interview the real pros and get an inside look at what really goes on seems to me it would add another level of reality to a book. A more vivid account and accurate portrayal.

Yes the Internet provides us with all that we need, but I'll bet the details and descriptions a writer uses after having actually been to a place or actually done something themselves are second to none.

So tell me, have you traveled for research? Have you gone behind the scenes? Have you actually tried out some of the procedures? What lengths have all of you gone to "in the name of research?"

Kari wants to know :-)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cassy’s Corner- Lawyer and Writer Pete Morin

Please join us today and welcome Pete Morin. He is a guest blogger today at Mysteries and Margaritas. Be prepared. His knowledge runs deep and his wit is quick. We are delighted he was able to take the time to be here. In his words:

Pete Morin writes legal mumbo jumbo by day and fiction by night. His first novel, Diary of a Small Fish, is represented by Christine Witthohn at Book Cents Literary Agency. His short stories have appeared in several obscure anthologies and literary maggies. His first mystery short, Club Dues, will appear in NEEDLE, A Magazine of Noir, in 2011. Pete lives on the seacoast south of Boston with his stunning wife and two young adult children. He's an awesome cook and mean-ass blues guitarist.

Pete’s Thoughts on the Industry

I’ve been following the news in publishing pretty closely, and cannot help but be astonished at how far we’ve come, and how fast.

I began my first novel around February of 2008 (one of the very first – and very crappy – draft chapters is still posted at youwriteon). At that time, the “e-Reader” was an infant (the Kindle arrived late in 2007), digital publishing was still pretty much a novelty (Smashwords was born on May of 2008)(read a fascinating history of digital publishing here, and the Big Six held a de facto monopoly on an author’s access to readers. If you wanted to “self-publish,” you were pretty much committed to driving around with a trunk full of your books, peddling them to bookstores one-at-a-time.

By February of 2009 I thought I had a halfway decent product when Diary of a Small Fish finished in the top-5 one month on Authonomy and received a fairly complimentary review by a Harper Collins’ junior assistant editorial intern (heh). There might have been a modest number of pioneers out there, but self-publishing still carried that stigma – might be good but not good enough for a real publisher. No, you have to take a shot at the brass ring, right? A year of revising and editing ensued.

By February of 2010, well – I had an agent (and a damn fine one at that! The promise of acceptance (if not acclaim) was within grasp. So was the Kindle, for millions. And Nook and iPad and you-name it. By God, a revolution was in progress, and the Grand Dames of Mid-town Manhattan were on an extended cocktail hour. (A year-or tento respond to a manuscript submission? ) Why, they actually had their noses in the air at this silly notion of a digital revolution. These apocryphal anecdotes of authors actually selling a previously self-published manuscript to one of them. The very idea!

Another year of revising and editing.

And here we are today. Hundreds and hundreds of damn fine novelists (and yeah, okay, thousands of crummy ones), impatient with the glacial pace of traditional publishing’s reaction to a new paradigm – uploading manuscripts by the thousands, selling millions of copies. The number of self-published authors being offered deals increases daily. Joe Konrath waves the flag, Barry Eisler joins him. Amanda Hocking sells one million eBooks in a year and wows the world with her multi-million dollar offer, an exclamatory statement that a writer can do it either way, and damn successfully. But she’s just the biggest and latest example of the trend sure to continue.

I was trying to think of an appropriate metaphor for the contrast between the self-publishing phenomenon and traditional publishing. I think I have it. The former is like a street bazaar, thousands of vendors and buyers jostling in the dusty streets of the Agora. The latter is like a Sootheby’s auction of rare coins.

Okay, I admit it. I still want to be like so many of you – a rare coin, minted by a name brand. I still want the spine of my novel to have the word “Penguin” (and not in the title). But above all, I want as many people as possible to read it and enjoy it, and I want them to read it before the beginning of the next decade. I haven’t got all goddamn day.

Pete’s going to check in and out all day. Bring on your thoughts about this fast changing technology.

Pete: Thanks for blogging today, Cassy