Monday, January 31, 2011

Dump the body

by Rebecca Cantrell

Your protagonist blows a tire on a deserted road. When she checks for the spare, she finds the body of a young girl (mid-teens.) What does she do?

Living in Berlin in the 1930s with a small income, Hannah doesn’t have a car. In “A Trace of Smoke,” she couldn’t even drive, but by “A Night of Long Knives,” she was a good enough driver to steal Ernst Röhm’s staff car and light out after Hitler. In the upcoming “A Game of Lies” a certain wine-red Opel Olympia plays a key role too.

Here’s a quick step through the cars in Hannah’s life:

Boris’s car in “A Trace of Smoke,” except that his was black and had that fancy flask of expensive whiskey in the glove box (and gloves too).Hitler’s staff car, a twin to the one Hannah steals in “A Night of Long Knives.” (and no, I don’t actually know what kind of car Röhm drove, but if you’re going to steal, steal big)

That wine-red Opel Olympia in “A Game of Lies,” except that this one’s not red. But it did come in dark red, plus white, sea blue, green, medium blue, beige, medium green, green and five shades of gray (light sand gray, dark gray, German khaki which is more gray than green, light gray, and grayish beige). That many shades of gray under the Nazi regime. Oh, the irony.

So, what if she found a body in any of those? Hannah was a nurse, so the first thing she would do is check for a pulse. Assuming there was no chance of resuscitation, she’d dump the body somewhere and hope it would be found and sorted out. Then she’d sort things out but good with the owner of the car.

After that she’d stick with the transportation she’s most familiar with: trains, subways, buses, and zeppelins.

How about you? What would you do with a body in the trunk?

Speaking of bodies in trunks, I just realized that today is the release of our own Kelli Stanley's THE CURSEMAKER!!! Here's a teaser:

THE CURSE-MAKER, Kelli's newest book in the Arcturus "Roman noir" series and follow up to her award-winning debut novel NOX DORMIENDA.
Booklist starred: " engrossing mystery ... Stanley serves up fascinating and never heavy-handed information on Roman life."

Publisher Weekly pronounced that "all will wish this historical series a long life"

Library Journal said "if readers enjoyed Stanley's first Roman noir, they won't want to miss this."

Kirkus added that THE CURSE-MAKER "captures the details and rhythms of daily life in the ancient empire."

That's the blessing of the big three reviewers, folks!

Set in the beautiful but corrupt spa-town of Aquae Sulis (Roman Bath), it's a story about greed, revenge, ghosts, necromancy and a curse-maker whose curses come true. It's available online and nationwide at Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores or in an e-edition for Nook, Kindle, etc.!

Go, Arcturus!


This week’s writing challenge:
Your protagonist blows a tire on a deserted road. When she checks for the spare, she finds the body of a young girl (mid-teens.) What does she do?

Oy vey! Doesn’t my poor protagonist have enough problems? Anastasia Pollack, the reluctant amateur sleuth in ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN is already up to her eyeballs in trouble. Her husband permanently cashed in his chips at a roulette table in Vegas (she thought he was at a sales meeting in Harrisburg, PA), leaving her with a mountain of debt, his communist mother-in-law,
and his Mafioso loan shark. The bill collectors are calling night and day, her mother-in-law is a royal pain in the ass, and the loan shark is demanding fifty grand or else. Oh, and did I mention Anastasia is the prime suspect in the murder of a coworker?

And now you want me to dump another dead body on her? Jeez!

Anastasia used to drive a late model silver Camry with all the bells and whistles. Her newly acquired financial quagmire has forced her to shave expenses wherever possible, so she traded the Camry in for a used, stripped-down, bottom-of-the-line, eight year old mud brown Hyundai.

The body may have come with the car. Anastasia never bothered to check the trunk prior to the flat. Her first thought after pounding the steering wheel and uttering every four-letter word she knows is hoping the car has an inflated spare and a jack. She took the dealer’s word for it when she bought the car. Not a bright move in hindsight.

So there she is, standing on that dark deserted road, freezing her buns off (did I mention it’s February?), praying for a workable spare and a jack, as she opens the trunk. And wouldn’t you know it? The trunk light doesn’t work! So she doesn’t see the body. She treks back to the front passenger door and opens the glove compartment in search of a flashlight.

That’s when a police car pulls up on the opposite side of the road and asks if she needs assistance. Anastasia is thrilled. What a stroke of good fortune! Of course she isn’t aware of that dead body yet. Flashlight in hand, the cop gets out of his car and walks around to her trunk.

The next thing Anastasia knows, she’s slammed up against the hood of her car. The cop slaps cuffs on her. And she has no clue what the hell is going on.

Welcome to Anastasia’s world.
Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun is the first book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. PW said, “
Crafty cozies don't get any better than this hilarious confection,” and Booklist stated, “Winston has hit a home run with this hilarious, laugh-until-your-sides-hurt tale. Oddball characters, uproariously funny situations, and a heroine with a strong sense of irony will delight fans of Janet Evanovich….” Kirkus Reviews called it, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum. Funny, gutsy and determined, Anastasia has a bright future in the planned series.” Read more about Lois and Anastasia at and

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Filling in for me today is my dear friend and award-winning short story author Darrell James.  Look for the release of Darrell's first novel, Nazareth Child, coming October 2011 from Midnight Ink. -- Sue Ann

Consider, if you will, a mansion retreat, deep in the Bitterroot Wilderness. The original, cast of Clue, the board game, have come together for a final reunion. A chance to rekindle old relationships, repair lost loves, and reminisce about the glory days. Aging thespians, all, perhaps stuck in a time-warp between Pick-Up-Sticks and Game Boys. A place where bandied accusations, go hand-in-hand with murder and cocktails. A place we’ve come to know as… The Twilight Zone.

Snow had begun to fall, blanketing the mountain retreat in a white lacy shroud. Inside the expansive winter lodge, the festivities had all but come to an end. The wait-staff had been excused to their quarters. The bulk of the guests had said their goodbyes, comported their wishes for a long and prosperous future, and had beat a hasty retreat down the hill ahead of the storm. All that remained, looking bleary-eyed and full of drink, were the seven original cast members of the board game Clue, and one lone server to tidy up.

“Well, I guess old Boddy has done well for himself,” the Colonel said, taking a draw on a cigar stub that had been mostly chewed away. “This place is some kind of mansion, wouldn’t you say, chap?”

He was talking alone to Angelo Green, the two of them near the bookcase at the far side of the great room. Green had donned his signature leather jacket for the event, over his faux, man-of-the-cloth collar. He swigged beer from a bottle, as he always had. His eyes seemed to never stop shifting. He gave his shoulders a familiar jersey shrug. “What’s to guess. Know what I’m sayin’? Playing the victim can be lucrative? Look what it did for Shirley Booth. Am I right?”

“Still,” the Colonel said, “one has to wonder how he’s managed to hold on to so much of it. I mean, look at the rest of us. You’d think we’d all be millionaires after our run of good luck. Instead, we all look like refugees from the silent film era.”

 Green followed the Colonel’s gaze across the room.

Sitting close to one another, gathered in confidence before a Queen Ann settee, was Mrs. White and Mrs. Peacock. They sipped tea, speaking quietly. Fostering rumors, no doubt, about the fates of one late-failed celebrity board-player or another. Near the fireplace, shapely legs crossed beneath her skirt, was Miss Scarlet. Always the vamp, she sipped brandy quietly, looking indifferent, maybe bored.

“You gotta admit,” Green said. “Miss Scarlet, whoa! Still the babe, huh? Got them gams, them brilliant headlights. I wouldn’t mind taking another run at that.”

“You can claim Scarlet, Old Chum?”

“Can’t we all? I mean, come on!” Green said, elbowing the Colonel, as if it was a known frat house confidence they shared.

“Well, damn nice of Boddy to host this reunion for us, just the same. I still say he’s come by his fortune by some licentious manner or another.” The Colonel hesitated, taking a brief headcount around the room. “Where is the old fellow by the way? I don’t see him or the Professor.”

“Last time I saw them, they were taking a walk out front,” Green said, squeezing in a sip of beer. “I was nosin’ around in the library a little, you know? Saw ‘em through the window. I ask myself then… Angelo, where the shits are Boddy and the Professor going in this kinda weather? Then I remembered the heated stables at the end of the walk. Probably showing them off. Plum in his hooded parka, Boddy in some full-length ermine kind a thing. You got his bucks, you can wear all the rat-coats you want, I guess.”

Just, then, the double doors, leading in from the main foyer, burst open. All eyes were drawn to where the sole attending servant stood, hanging onto the knobs as if he might collapse without their support. His eyes were wide, his face flushed from the cold. He seemed to want to say something, but was too breathless to speak.

 “Well, what is it? Speak up, man,” the Colonel said.

“Mr. Boddy…” the servant managed. “He’s dead!”

A hush ran about the room. Colonel Mustard brushed anxiously at the cigar ash that had broke free to skipple down the front of  his yellow uniform. Angelo Green’s jaw dropped, he pulled at his collar. The biddies huddled closer. Scarlet lit a cigarette and blew a plume of smoke toward the ceiling.

“Are you mad!” the Colonel said. He quickly crossed to the window and parted the curtains to peer out.

There, a few feet off the stone path leading to the stables, lay Mr. Boddy, their host, face down in the snow, his ermine coat spread out around him.

“Are you sure he’s dead?” the Colonel asked.

“I’m sure,” the servant said, leaving the support of the doors to collapse into the chair against the wall. “He’s been murdered.”

“Who would do such a thing?” Mrs. Peacock queried, her face drawn-up in disbelief.

“It could only be one of us, dear!” Mrs. White responded, her manner ever patient. “We’re the only ones left. The other guests have long since departed.”

All eyes seemed to turn at once to Angelo Green.

“What? What’s everybody looking at me for? I look like I could kill our distinguished host?”

“Are you sure it’s murder?” the Colonel asked, letting the curtains fall closed. He stepped  away from the window now and turned to the servant.

“What else could it be? I found this next to his body.” The servant proffered a rather lethal looking candlestick, an ice-cake of blood, frozen to one end. He tossed it onto the floor in front them. The candlestick landed with a solid thud, offering proof positive it was fit for the job.

“Well, there you go,” Green said, “the answer to Mrs. Peacock’s question. It’s  obvious, ain’t it… Mrs. White is the killer!”

“What?” the accusation drew a rush of breath. Her hand came to her bosom, her eyes went wide expressing absurdity.

“It was Mrs. White, on the sidewalk, with the candlestick. My unbiased opinion,” Green said. “It’s always the quiet ones that harbor the secrets. Know what I’m sayin’?”

“That’s ridiculous! What motive would I have?”

“Who needs motive. We haven’t had one in over sixty years. It’s never means, motive, and opportunity. It’s always been who, what, and where. All you need in this business.” Green leaned back against the bookcase and crossed his arms, as if to say his job there was basically done.

“Not so fast, Green,” the Colonel said. “Didn’t you say it was Plum who left with our host. ‘Taking a walk toward the stables,’ I believe were your exact words.”

“Yes! Where is the Professor?” Peacock added.

Just then, Professor Plum stumbled out of the upstairs hallway and onto the stairs. He was in his socks, t-shirt, and boxers. His hair was disarrayed. He looked somewhat confused.

“What’s going on? I feel like I’ve been slipped a roofie.”

“What are you doing there? We thought you were with our host at the stables?”

Professor Plum stumbled down the stairs to join the gathering. “Stables? Host? What are you talking about? What time is it? Where are my clothes?”

“Well if it wasn’t Plum with the candlestick, then who was it I saw in the man’s parka and pants?” Green said.

“It had to be the Colonel, on the sidewalk, with the lead pipe,” White said.

“Perhaps, Mrs. White with the gun!… Sorry, dear,” said Peacock.

“Fool! There were no gunshots,” Scarlet said, stubbing out her half-smoked cigarette, and taking up her brandy again.

“Then, it had to be Green with the knife.” White said.

“I didn’t do no one. Maybe it’s our own fem fatale, Scarlet. She’s been awfully quiet this whole time.”

“No! The Professor still could have done it!”

“I think it was Peacock…”

“The Colonel would have more reason…”

“I think Plum…

“No, White…

… and, so, witness wisely, for your own edification, what welcomes the antiquated board character. A never ending cycle of hellish death and accusation. Heed wisely, the warning. Because, should you fall prey to the seductive lure of boardmanship, you too could one day receive invitation to a reunion. An invitation sent from… The Twilight Zone.

Okay, well, that was fun. When Sue Ann Jaffarian first asked me guest post on her behalf, I let out a groan, seeing the topic at hand. But, being the anything-for-a-friend kind of guy that I am, I readily agreed. I have found pleasantly, however, as others have stated here, that it became something of an enjoyable challenge, not to mention a trip down memory lane. Thanks, Sue Ann, for thinking of me. And thanks to all of you for letting me participate.
… Darrell James, author of the forthcoming, Nazareth Child.  

Saturday, January 29, 2011

What Fresh Hell Is This?

Reece Hirsch

When everyone came downstairs for breakfast, we found Mr. Boddy’s body lying face down in the kitchen. To everyone else, there was no evidence of foul play, but they were all at least entertaining the notion. How could you not with such an abundance of motives and suspicious characters all gathered in one spot?

A weeklong snowstorm had left mountains of snow piled against the walls of Boddy’s mansion like buttresses. All roads were impassable so no ambulances or police cars would be arriving anytime soon. The landscape was as bleak as a Henning Mankell Wallander novel, as bitingly cold as Stieg Larsson’s Sweden. But if this were a Larsson book, I’d at least have a coffee and cigarettes.

My name is Colonel Mustard, and I’ll save you all the trouble of parsing the contrived clues – I did it. The question is whether my grating, two-dimensional companions will figure it out. I rather wish they would. This is a situation that needs to be brought to a boil.

A French philosopher once said that hell is the others. He must have met my companions.

First, there’s Mrs. Peacock, the widow in blue, with four husbands who have either disappeared or died mysterious deaths. She’s so obviously a black widow that she might as well a have a scarlet hourglass stitched on the back of her vintage Chanel jacket. When this is over, I’m going to have to ask who does her criminal defense work, and perhaps her wills and trusts as well.

Next, there is Professor Plum, who is so absent-minded that he couldn't be trusted to find his spectacles, much less a murderer. I think that losing his tenure at the university must have unhinged the dotty old fool. If he leaves his glasses in the library again, I’m going to abrade his skull with the oft-discussed candlestick.

Finally, we have Miss Scarlet, once a beauty but now somewhat carp-faced from collagen injections. She tried her hand at movie acting, but botox has now limited her range of expression to a single look of mild surprise. Like everyone else here, she’s quite capable of murder, but I happen to have gotten there first.

And please don’t get me started about Mrs. White and Mr. Green, whose personalities are every bit as monochromatic as their names.

Which brings us to the crime itself. While my companions blather on about candlesticks and poisons, they fail to spot the weapon that is right in front of them in the kitchen wastebasket.

I had served with Boddy in the Falklands War and knew that he had a severe allergy to shellfish. Yes, the murder weapon was a prawn, the deadliest of the crustaceans when administered properly. They all knew that I had a long history with Boddy and they all witnessed the single, manly crocodile tear that I shed at the sight of his body prone on the black and white tile kitchen floor.

I had prepared our dinner for the coming evening, promising everyone my signature dish from the mess hall during the war – beef stew a la Mustard. A stew is best when it’s allowed to marinate overnight, so I let everyone know that I was leaving the pot in the refrigerator. I had spent enough time with Boddy to know that he tended to wake in the middle of the night and eat anything in the kitchen that wasn’t nailed down.

As expected, Boddy had helped himself to some of the stew and rinsed the spoon so as not to be found out. But before he could leave the kitchen and creep back to his bedroom, his throat had constricted and then swollen shut from an allergic reaction as he gasped his last breaths writhing about on the floor.

Tonight, our sorrowful gathering will enjoy the rest of my beef stew with no ill effects. While Boddy had made a fuss about his dietary restrictions, this was a beef stew and obviously contained no shellfish. What my fellow diners won’t know is that the secret ingredient in the stew that gives it its subtle flavor is the ground prawns that I had found frozen in the refrigerator. If any of my imbecilic housemates would examine the contents of the wastebasket and find the prawn shells, even they could deduce that I was the murderer.

So now I must listen to that charlatan Mr. Green droning on about conducting a séance so that Boddy might identity his own murderer. As if he would know who killed him, anyway. I feel like a piece in a board game that no one knows how to play properly. My role is predetermined, by fate sealed, and yet still it fails to arrive.

Oh, but wait a moment, now I get it. I’m already in hell, aren’t I?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Get A Clue

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

I don’t know a single mystery writer who doesn’t have a couple of “go-to” quips about Colonel Mustard in the Conservatory with the candlestick. I am no exception. Like all games, the first step is to pick your piece. Now, I would like to be Miss Scarlet but girl shoes hurt my feet and red is not my color. Therefore, I shall be Mrs. Peacock, wealthy socialite wearing a Chanel suit and a blue silk scarf that brings out my eyes.

The only rule in my version of Clue is never split up to search the basement while a creepy soundtrack plays. Easy enough. And why is it that no one ever seems to realize that if the murder is an inside job, and you split into pairs someone has just drawn a seriously short straw? Of course, I am dismissing the Murder on the Orient Express let’s play together approach because what would be the point of searching for clues if everyone is in on it? Wouldn’t you really just hang out drinking Mr. Boddy’s best cognac next to a roaring fire and wait until the weather clears so you can go your separate ways? Our investigation is going to keep us within sight of everyone all the time.

Time of death is the first order of business. It pays not to be squeamish. One meat thermometer from the kitchen, Grey’s Anatomy and a sharpie from the Library, put the corpse up on the billiard table where the light is good, thrust deeply and you have liver temp. 0.8K drop in liver temperature for every hour post mortem allowing for ambient temperature and conditions. If the body is in the Ballroom, empty and closed off, the body temperature might have fallen faster. Next to the Kitchen’s working oven or in the hot house of the Conservatory (where moisture might be a factor, too), the temperature would drop more slowly. I know that he wasn’t killed before he offered to auction off his little black book of secrets and headed into the Study alone, turning the key in the lock. Do the math and you have a window of opportunity for committing the crime.

Cause of death is trickier. Some things might be eliminated but, without a lab and actual training, some of it will be guess work. Mr. Boddy could have had a convenient heart attack. Really convenient. There’s hoping the autopsy bears that out when access to the rest of the world is restored but only an insane person wouldn’t at least consider foul play especially when the circumstances mean you not only passed a murderer the potatoes over dinner, they might want to kill the remaining witnesses, including you, just to be sure. No visible trauma, upon a close inspection using Mrs. White’s coke-bottle spectacles, eliminates some causes and weapons. Gun, knife and candlestick probably didn’t play a role although they were readily available in the Kitchen, Dining Room and Study respectively. I assume a felon inviting his victims for dinner would be an advocate of the Second Amendment. The wrench, possibly kept under the sink in the Kitchen or in the Conservatory with its misting system would also leave a dent. The analysis isn’t full-proof. Mr. Boddy could have been bashed without the skin breaking, maybe in his hair, without bruising appearing yet.

Lifting an eyelid, Boddy’s eyes appear bloodshot. That could mean strangulation or suffocation. Or the bottle of wine he had at dinner. The inspection of the body didn’t show a ligature mark like rope would leave (lots of handy weapons in a Conservatory) but not every method of strangulation or suffocation would leave a ligature mark. A pillow, like those on the couch in the Lounge or even on the chairs in the Dining Room or Ballroom, would do the trick. It might be worth having a look at those things. See if anything is slimed with saliva or mucus. And check the neckties of the men. Anyone askew? A cloth ligature is less likely to leave a mark and even if one does appear, it might not show until after the body comes out of rigor mortis . Putting Mr. Boddy on ice, literally in the freezer, would speed the process. The cops won’t be thrilled the DIY liver probe probably already put them in a bad mood. So suffocation and strangulation are still options. This theory suggests either a stronger individual or an unconscious victim. Did he have enough to drink at dinner to render him unconscious? Could someone have drugged him? Who has drugs with them? Mrs. White with her arthritic hands? Mr. Green with his hacking cough? Miss Scarlet with her date night party pack?

If turning out pockets and searching handbags yields any pharmaceuticals, recreational or otherwise, Mr. Boddy could have died of an overdose. Of course, that could be self-inflicted although it would fall into the same lucky ducky cause of death category as a brain aneurism gone bust at just the right moment. Still, he’s well-heeled (on the fruits of others’ labors) and not a rule follower. He might have been naughty in more than one area of his life. A personal drug stash in a house where Boddy lives alone is probably in a place where the living really happens. A search should start with the Study and Lounge. And the Conservatory. I mean a Conservatory in the private home of a bachelor in this day and age makes me think two words: grow operation. If there isn’t any indication that Mr. Boddy had become easy pickings, I might concentrate my efforts on the men. Both methods are up close and personal. Both require some degree of strength. Is Colonel Mustard and actual Colonel? If so, he might have training. Mr. Green is a big guy, he might have been able to use brute strength to suffocate Boddy. Professor Plum looks like a fop but so did the Scarlet Pimpernel and that dude could throw down.

Poison could explain the lack of trauma. Statistically, poison is a girl’s game. Less messy. Less about size, speed, strength. Every house has plenty of things that will kill you and clean your drain. But without Boddy’s cooperation, poisoning him would be pretty hard. No one else is sick so a communal introduction in the bouillabaisse isn’t likely. Unless some of the guests had an opportunity to be alone with access to food or drink before Mr. Boddy made it clear that he was going to continue to blackmail everyone in the room, the actual poisoning would require premeditation in the form of bringing the poison and David Copperfield’s sleight of hand ability to deliver it while everyone was snacking on the entrée. Maximum bold points but we’re talking a pretty cool customer. A serious risk taker. Not the kind of person who’d hedge bets by paying blackmail. That person would play offense, not defense.

We don’t have the definitive cause of death we’ve tried to duplicate scientific methodology. We’ve narrowed the pool of suspects suspects based on educated guesses and the things we’ve found and haven’t found in the house. In looking for possible weapons, we’ve been in every room, opened every drawer. We even checked Boddy’s computer for internet connectivity to bring in the professionals. Or at least that’s what we said when we were really looking for the mother lode of information he had on us. Okay, so maybe the whole investigation was nothing more than a neighborhood scavenger hunt but even the computer in the Study, once Professor Plum figured out there had to be a secret passage from the Kitchen, was a bust. The hard drive had been reformatted. Maybe some whiz kid would have eventually figured it out but, given our group priorities, we decided it would be better if the hard drive lost a fight with the fish pond in the Conservatory. After falling victim to the wrench, the candlestick and the revolver.

It doesn’t matter. I can explain my prints in every room. Any fiber or hair is mere transfer during our investigation. And without the information from the computer, there is no motive. The same information that fits neatly on the flash drive I slid into the ticket pocket above my right suit pocket. Chanel does make a nice suit and when I turned out the full pocket, the upper slash isn’t even visible. As for the weapon, the scarf could have been my late husband’s favorite. Before he became my late husband, of course. As for method, I've never been a girlie girl. Offense, not defense.

Rule to live by: Never, ever let yourself be blackmailed.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Butler Didn't Do It (unless of course he did)

(Warning to all readers: the following contains a glimpse into the workings of the authors brain. It's not for the feint of heart or sound of mind.

It was a dark and stormy night... (Snoopy would be so proud.)

But inside the room was warm and the flames danced in the fireplace.

Colonel Mustard stood with a snifter of Brandy in his hand, a pith helmet on his head. A walking cane with a Sphinx head handle rested against the wall. He glanced around the room. Tudor Mansion's main hall looked a little past its hay-day. A few stains on the Persian rugs, tarnished silverware and the wallpaper, though top notch, was looking rather dated.

Still, the chandeliers shone brightly, especially with the new halogen bulbs and the company was as marvelous as ever. Professor Plum stood in his favorite corner rabbiting on to an attractive young woman.

Mrs. Peacock sat beside a handsome young gentleman, proudly displaying her recently purchased, surgically enhanced umm... feathers.

Fortunately for her, Reverend Green was to busy losing money to Mrs. White at cards to notice her unbecoming behavior. Strangely enough Mrs. Scarlett was nowhere to be found.

Just then, the doorbell rang.

"Don't be alarmed," Colonel mustard said, twirling his white handle-bar mustache. "It's just the door. I'll get it."

The guests sat down back down, but as Col. Mustard stepped toward the door he caught one of them gazing at him with a sort of goo-goo eyed look. If he remembered rightly, the little minx was Alexandra, 26, a business executive from Austin Texas. Strangely, she was the only executive he'd ever met that looked like a cheerleader and twirled her hair.

In the meantime the door bell rang again and then a fist began pounding on the door itself.

Colonel Mustard opened the door to find Mrs. Scarlett standing on the other side. Her face was, well... Scarlett from the cold and snow covered her hair.

"Where the devil have you been, Mrs. Scarlett?"

"Where the devil indeed," she growled, stomping her way in.

The snow and wind swirled in behind her as the eyes of the group watched. Despite not being a 24 year old Appellate Judge from Saginaw, Michigan, Mrs. Scarlett was still a sight to behold, especially in full fury, a form he guessed they were all about to see.

"It was one of you!" she roared, looking around.

"One of us what?" That comment came from a young guy with spiked blond hair, an admirably chiseled physique and swirling tattoos that would probably resemble deflated paisleys if he ever stopped taking steroids or HGH.

"Never mind that," Mrs. Peacock said, "She's always been so dramatic. Have I told much money I have lately?"

"Tell me again baby," chiseled boy said, "you know I like it when you talk about money."

Before she could speak a shoe flew out of nowhere and nailed him in the side of the head. A Scarlett shoe. Chiseled boy went down like a sack of potatoes. Mustard took notes, Mrs. Scarlett, in the parlor, with the shoe. Just in case.

"Look," Scarlett shouted, pointing out the door.

There, half covered in the falling snow lay a body. A relatively normal looking man with close cut brown hair, and a non-descript face. A microphone was attached to his lapel of his expensive suit.

"One of you killed him," Scarlett said.

Col. Mustard stepped to the body, brushed the snow away from the man's face and gasped.

"It's Chris Harrison - our host."

"What?!" The others shouted in unison. "Who could have killed him and why?"

They dragged Chris Harrison into the parlor and dropped him like a frozen fish stick. They searched his body for marks or other signs of foul play. All they found was a small almost worn out cue card in his inside pocket.

Col. Mustard studied it. "This is the most dramatic moment in Bachelor history." Only the word Bachelor had been scratched out and the word Clue had been handwritten underneath it.

Bloody penny pinching networks, Mustard thought, couldn't they at least spring for new cue cards. Bad enough they made him wear the same ridiculous wardrobe he'd been wearing since 1949. Who the hell even knew what a pith helmet was these days?

Still as he stared at Chris Harrison, his mouth frozen as if in mid-sentence , Mustard knew how the man had died.

"Verbosis Repeatosis," he said confidently.

"Is that like E-bola," one of the young women said.

Mustard wouldhave figured she'd know better, every time she walked by he saw the words: Sindy, 22, Neurosurgeon, from San Diego California, stenciled in white letters that seemed to float before his eyes. Apparently they skipped plagues at her Medical School.

"Verbosis Repeatosis is a dangerous condition that occurs when one says the same thing over and over and then tries to divert from that well worn path, it results in shock and if not treated by cutting to a commercial soon enough...then death."

All of them stared at affable but now frozen host.

"Well that explains why you've never died from it," The Reverend said piously.

"Then we all killed him," Scarlett said. "This unnatural combination of board game and reality TV series was just wrong from the beginning."

"Not to mention illegal in the great states of Wisconsin, North Carolina and Nevada," Professor Plum said - also piously.

"Nevada?" Mrs. White said. "Something is illegal in Nevada?"

"Yes," Plum assured her.

"It doesn't matter," Colonel Mustard said. "We're in England, and lots of things that don't go in the U.S. are allowed here. Warm beer, driving on the wrong side of the road and Football where you actually use your foot on the ball."

Just then the lights flickered and went out, only the candles and the fire remained on. Suddenly a group of flaming torches could bee seen making their way down the stairs, holding them were members of the original CLUE game designed in 1949, Colonel Mustard's almost twin brother, Colonel Yellow, along with Mrs. Silver and Mr. Gold. With them was a square jawed man wearing cargo shorts and a olive colored khaki shirt with buttoned pockets.

"Jeff Probst," Mrs. Peacock exclaimed, "Now there's a host I could warm up to. Do you know how much money I have, Mr. Probst?

"If you don't have the immunity idol, you mean nothing to me," he replied.

"What the hell is going on here?" Reverend Green exclaimed.

"Were doing everything we can to become more relevant and user friendly," Colonel Mustard said. "We have to keep updating ourselves or no one will want to buy us anymore."

He turned to Jeff Probst. "Do you how Chris died? Is there some challenge we can endure to get the information?"

Probst shook is head. "Actually," he said. "Chris isn't dead, he was voted off the island."

"But we're not on an island," Mrs. Peacock said.

"The whole country is an island," Colonel Mustard said, exasperated.

"Oh," she said. "Right."

"But he is dead," Professor Plum noted.

Probst looked at Harrison, curiously. "Wait a minute," he said.

Reaching into one of his cargo pockets, he pulled out a remote control and studied it.

"Just as I thought."

"What is it?" they all asked.

"He's not dead," Probst said. "Someone just TIVO'd him, and he's been paused. A little unfortunate that it happened while he was out in the snow but..."

With that, Probst pressed the right button and suddenly Chris Harrison came to life.

He sputtered and then spoke. "... and most dramatic moment in--"

"No!" Colonel mustard shouted, cutting him off. "You musn't say it, old boy. Trust me."

Harrison stood. "Why the hell am I cold and wet?" Then he spotted the Survivor host. "And what's he doing here, he's on another network?"

"Take it easy Chris, I just un-paused your ass," Probst said. "Don't make me erase you."

"This is insanity," Hanson said and then he turned and stormed out muttering to himself. "This never happened before, not even on stupid video show I used to host."

At the same time Probst and the Jury marched away, a phone to Jeff's ear. "Marty, this is Jeff, get my agent on the line... My contract says tropical, dammit. Not damp, drafty and cold. I wearing shorts for goodness sakes, Shorts!"

As they left, the beautiful, bubble gum popping neurosurgeons and captains of industry marched off too, their little graphics following them as they went. And then, all that remained were the original characters.

Quiet surrounded them. The clock on the wall ticked methodically as they stared at one another.
Finally Reverend Green spoke. "I kind of liked it better when we were just little plastic game pieces, anyway."

"I have to agree," Mrs. White said.

"Seriously," Mrs. Peacock said. "Didn't need any enhancements, just a good dusting now and then and keep us away from the dog."

Even Colonel Mustard could see that his idea had been a failure. "Bloody well right," he said. "Perhaps some things don't need updating after all."

The looked around at each other - old friends in a comfortable and familiar home. The fire crackled, soft Jazz played on a Victrola phonograph in the parlor. It was peacful. The kind of place a person could think in.

Then they heard a scream.

"I've found a body!" someone shouted.

And all was right in the Clue Universe.

Graham Brown is the author of the novels Black Rain and Black Sun. His third book The Eden Prophecy hits the book stores this fall. He is also admittedly a huge fan of Survivor, The Bachelor and Clue - although not mixed together.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Communism was just a red herring

by Josh

The seven of them stared out through the crossbeams of the lodge's casement windows and watched with quiet anxiety as the sun began its dip below the distant hills of snow. In less than an hour, the world outside would be bathed in a darkness so deep that nothing would be discernible, not even the corpse of their easy-going friend Mr. Boddy, lying face-up in the snow drift two feet from the lodge's front door.

The colonel had been the first one to spot him. He tossed the brown nugget leftover of his Cuban cigar into the red-brick fireplace and made for the door, the lodge's only door, but the jamb, which had been wonky all week, was frozen shut. By now, the others had noticed the commotion and, one by one, floated away from their conversations about politics and religion to the front windows. The matronly widow and the green-eyed reverend screamed. The professor nearly fell to the floor; the half-eaten fruit in his hand did. Only the ornithologist and the floozy maintained their composure, the former due to having a scientific disposition bordering on sociopathy and the latter due to having a brandy alexander disposition bordering on alcoholism.

The reverend, as was his duty, asked the obvious question. "What happened to him?"

"He said he needed some fresh air, but he's only been gone five-and-a-half minutes," added the professor and he waited impatiently for one of them to ask how he could be so precise. No one rose to the bait.

Of one fact they all agreed: sometime in the five-and-a-half minutes between Mr. Boddy - the shared friend they each had, the one man who could and would comfortably refer to them each by their first name - leaving the cabin and the colonel spotting him out there on the snow drift, their amiable pal had become a corpse. From the unblinking, heavenward stare of his eyes to the unmoving, akimbo arrangement of his limbs, that much, at least, was certain. And although the weather outside was chilly, it was nowhere near the chasm-like temperatures required to kill a man in so short a time, especially a man in as LL Bean a snowsuit as Mr. Boddy wore.

"Maybe he had a stroke," suggested the floozy between sips.

"No," replied the widow. "His face isn't contorted enough."

She didn't add that two of her five husbands had died of strokes. Everyone in the room was well-aware of the fact, and thus deemed her opinion as expert. They also deemed her motives as suspect. During this week-long winter rendezvous, had the widow made an advance on Mr. Boddy that he, perhaps, had rejected? Hell hath no fury like a widow scorned...

The colonel took this opportunity to announce that the door was stuck. Nobody seemed to care.

Meanwhile, the light outside the cabin dimmed and dimmed and dimmed. Gradually, one by one, the cabin guests left their viewpoints at the window and settled back in their armchairs and love seats and sofas, and the solipsistic fire, as fires tend to be, continued its cracking-pop heat-dance in its brick nook.

Only the ornithologist remained at the window, and soon there was nothing to see out there by a black void, but still she remained, staring, until finally she turned around and faced the group and said:

"I know how he died."

They looked up from their drinks and conversation.

"Furthermore," she continued, "I know who killed him, and why."

The professor cleared his throat. "With all due respect, madam, you know these facts how?"

"Empiricism," she replied. "Do you need a definition, professor?"

The professor cleared his throat again, but said nothing. So, unchallenged, she proceeded:

"In my study of birds, I've come across recent literature regarding the flu viruses - especially the avian flu - and the vaccines being developed to treat them. There is significant evidence to indicate that a small percentage of these vaccines, when administered, induce anaphylactic shock."

Now the widow raised her hand. "Are you implying that one of us shot up Mr. Boddy with a syringe? If so, feel free to search me. I'm deathly afraid of needles."

"Perhaps 'deathly' is a bad choice of words," muttered the reverend.

"This," the ornithologist explained, "is by way of saying that I have become well aware of the symptoms of anaphylactic shock, and it is entirely possible that Mr. Boddy's need for a 'breath of fresh air' was a sign that his esophagus was closing up."

"So he was allergic to something..." mused the colonel. "...and one of us knew it..."

"Colonel, I merely postulated that anaphylaxis was the cause of his death. As it turns out, the truth is much, much simpler. But thinking about anaphylaxis got me fixated on the notion of needles and I wondered not only what other injections could cause a reaction similar to this but also what injections would be commonly found among a group of friends, and there can only be one resulting answer."

"Heroin?" warbled the floozy.

"Insulin," replied the ornithologist. "And so in our midst we have a type-1 diabetic."

The professor chuckled. "Madam, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but diabetes is hardly a crime."

"You would know," she said to him, "wouldn't you, Professor?"

All eyes turned to the professor, who shrugged and reached for a plum from the bowl of fruit on the table.

"Insulin injected into a diabetic regulates the blood sugar," she explained to the group. "Insulin injected into a relatively healthy person can lead to hypoglycemia, one symptom of which is light-headedness, which I'm sure we can all agree would lead someone to want to seek 'a breath of fresh air.'"

"And how do you expect to prove that I shot Mr. Boddy full of insulin?" Again, the professor shrugged. "Huh? Did you happen to see a needle mark on his body? By the time the door jamb unfreezes in the morning, his skin will be so destroyed with frost that any evidence will be gone."

"Spoken like a killer," the widow said, narrowing her eyes.

"Actually, Professor, you're providing us with the evidence right now. Because, you see, the diabetic who gives someone else his insulin shot is in a pickle, which is to say he still needs his own insulin shot for the day to regulate his abnormal blood sugar levels. Insulin, of course, is not the only way a diabetic can battle his own condition, which leads me to ask, Professor - is that your second piece of fruit in the past hour or your third?"

Silence. Then:

"You bastard!" The colonel charged forward at the professor, slapped the plum from his hand, and gripped him tightly by the wrists. "Why? Why?"

"He kept calling me by my first name!" the professor replied. "I have tenure, damn it!"

Shortly thereafter, the ornithologist led them all in a science experiment of her own, demonstrating what happens to a type-1 diabetic over the course of 14-hours when he is tied to a chair by the fire and denied access to insulin or fruit.

Ah, science.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Boddy in the Snowbank

by Jennie Bentley, in for the fantabulous Jeannie Holmes

“When I walked outside that morning, he was facedown in the snow, still wearing his tuxedo from last night and no overcoat. There was no mark on him, no footprints in the snow, nothing to show what had happened.

The last time I saw Mr. Boddy alive was at dinner. Veal Parmesan. There were five guests. All were there to, quote, ‘assist Mr. Boddy with his research,’ unquote.

On Mr. Boddy’s right sat Mrs. Peacock, wife of Marcus Peacock, the reclusive millionaire, and over dessert, Mr. Boddy accused her of having done away with no less than four of her previous husbands. The real reason she was there, however, was so that Mr. Boddy could see the look on her face when he told her that her current husband had been caught on camera coming out of Scarlet Begonia’s apartment in the wee hours of the morning one day last week. Lavinia was furious, of course, and it didn’t make Scarlet happy either, especially when Lavinia threw an entire glass of Cabernet Sauvignon in her face, completely ruining her make-up.

Boddy had another reason for inviting Scarlet. Professor Peter Plum was among the guests. Five years ago, Plum lost his license to practice psychology after word got out that he had made sexual overtures toward a patient. Well, that patient was Scarlet Begonia, and she was only fourteen at the time. So the scandal was even more scandalous than anyone originally thought.

Boddy had gotten that piece of intelligence from the Reverend John Green, who has some sort of strange connection with Mrs. Begonia, Scarlet’s mother. She seems to be one of these crazy women who finds solace in bogus TV evangelists. According to Mr. Boddy, she has given all her money to Reverend Green, and that’s why Scarlet set her sights on Marcus Peacock and his millions. Incidentally, the money Mrs. Begonia gave the Reverend Green, was the money she had gotten from Peter Plum in return for keeping her mouth shut about the scandal, so Professor Plum wasn’t too happy after Green spilled the beans that Plum had paid through the nose to keep buried.

Mr. Boddy’s tame investigator, Michael Mustard, seemed to be the one who had procured the photographic evidence of the affair between Scarlet and Marcus Peacock. And not only that, but Mr. Boddy had figured out that Mustard was Lavinia’s first husband, the one who disappeared in the Congo six years ago. Neither of them offered an explanation, but either way, Mrs. Peacock clearly isn’t Mrs. Peacock at all. She’s Mrs. Mustard, and a bigamist.

All in all, it was a memorable meal. Everyone was scowling at everyone else, while David Boddy sat in the middle of it all and took mental notes, grinning from ear to ear.

After dinner, everyone went their separate ways. Lavinia retired to her room—and who could blame her?—while Scarlet did her best to stir up trouble in the library, where the men had retired to drink. Plum and Green almost came to blows, and Mustard had to break them up.

After that little brouhaha, Mr. Boddy retired to his study to work on his latest exposé. I could hear the click-click-click of the keyboard from my room behind the pantry. Everyone else went upstairs, and then the migrations started. Lavinia Peacock headed for Michael Mustard’s room, Professor Plum headed for Scarlet’s—and found it empty because she was already in with the Reverend Green. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have found any one of them dead the next morning, by someone’s hand, and that’s the truth.

However, when I woke up and went outside to pick up the morning news, it was Mr. Boddy I found facedown in the snowbank.

The first clue to what had happened, even before I got outside, was that the front door was locked. From the inside. With a deadbolt. And not only that, it was chained, too.

There was nothing about Boddy that gave any indication of how he had met his demise. No gunshot wound, no blunt force trauma to the head, no lingering odor of almonds. No footprints other than his own. He was just dead. Cold and dead. Clutching a matchbox in his hand.

It seemed obvious. Mr. Boddy had come outside to smoke a last cigarette before bed, the way he always did, and someone had locked the door behind him, causing him to freeze to death. He couldn’t have planned to stay outside long, or he would have worn an overcoat. He probably used the matches to try to keep himself warm. If he pounded on the door, no one heard him. Not surprising, as the guest rooms are upstairs and most of the guests were busy with other things. The less said about that, the better.

But was it murder?

I’m afraid I believe it was. And it’s obvious who the killer is. If Lavinia Peacock was with Michael Mustard, and Scarlet was with John Green, then Peter Plum was the only suspect without an alibi. He must have come downstairs after he failed to find Scarlet, to have it out with Mr. Boddy. Finding the study empty and the front door ajar, he must have snatched at the opportunity to get rid of Mr. Boddy once and for all, before the author could turn Plum’s venality into another of his sensational exposés.”

Stopping for air and to give the nice policeman taking her statement enough time to catch up, Mrs. Blanche White, cook and housekeeper to the late Mr. David Boddy, leaned back on her chair and crossed her ankles demurely. “That should do it, I believe. The events of last weekend in as much detail as I can recall. Is there anything else I can do for you, young man?”

The young constable shook his head. “I don’t think so, Mrs. White. Open and shut case, seems to me. If you’ll just sign for me.” He uncapped a pen and placed it on the desk next to the witness statement.

“Of course, dear.” Mrs. White signed her name with a flourish. “Yes, it seemed that way to me, too. Open and shut. I suppose all of Mr. Boddy’s research is gone?”

“If he had any research on his computer,” the young constable confirmed, “we couldn’t find it. The hard drive was wiped.”

“Professor Plum must have gone into the study and done it, I expect. After Mr. Boddy was dead.” Mrs. White clicked her tongue and shook her head. “As a professor, he would have the know-how, of course. I would have no idea how to do something like that myself, but then I never did get much of an education. Been on my own since I was sixteen, I’m afraid.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, ma’am.”

Mrs. White got to her feet. “If there’s nothing else, I guess I’ll be on my way.”

The young constable stood as well, his face concerned. “Do you have somewhere to go, Mrs. White? It’s not easy, losing a job in this economy.”

Mrs. White smiled. “I’ll be going to stay with my sister and her husband for a while. We don’t have much, but we have each other.”

She bustled out of the police station, the very picture of the dowdy housekeeper. After a few seconds, a big car pulled up to the curb and the back door opened. Lavinia Peacock grinned at her sister from the passenger seat, and Scarlet scooted across the back to make room for her mother.

“Where’s John?” Blanche asked, looking around the interior of the car. It was Lavinia who answered.

“Back at work. He’ll be in touch. You know what he’s like. Did everything work out all right in there?”

“Of course.” Blanche took off her unfashionable hat, unbuttoned the top two buttons on her prim blouse, and crossed her legs. Above the knee this time. “What could go wrong?”

“He could have caught on to the names?” Scarlet suggested. “Any idiot should have realized they were fake.”

Blanche shrugged. “The boy’s name is Bruno Gray. He probably thought Green, White, and Mustard were perfectly reasonable names.”

Scarlet huffed.

“So no problems?” Michael wanted to know, from behind the wheel. “No questions about the fact that your room was on the first floor, and you should have heard David Boddy banging on the door? No suggestion that you didn’t have an alibi and might have been the one who locked the door behind him?”

Blanche shook her head. “Not a one. Bruno said it seemed like an open and shut case. Nice boy. You could do worse, Scarlet. It never hurts to have a policeman in the family.”

Scarlet sniffed.

Her mother continued, “Peter Plum is out of our hair, finally paying for what he did, and David Boddy won’t be writing about us—or anyone else—ever again. I think it was a good night’s work.”

She leaned back, smiling. After a second, she added, “But next time, Lavinia can be the cook and maid, and I’ll be the wealthy divorcee.”

“Fine with me,” Lavinia said, smiling. In the back seat, Scarlet rolled her eyes and turned up the sound on her iPod.

* * *

Author's Note: A couple of weeks ago, Jeannie asked me if I'd mind taking over her blog date on the 24th. She had a deadline, I had a new release; it made sense. She told me, “You'll really like the blog topic for the week!” (No doubt chuckling merrily to herself as she wrote it.) I said yes, and what did I get?

“The Clue characters are locked in a winter lodge. Mr. Boddy is found dead in a snowdrift with no visible signs of trauma. Who did it and how do you prove it using just the things in the lodge?”

I'm gonna get you, Jeannie. Just you wait. Sometime when you least expect it, you'll turn around, and there I'll be. With the candlestick.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Hedonist's Guide to Book Publicity

By Hilary Davidson

Book publicity is a thorny subject. Long before THE DAMAGE DONE came out, I started polling authors I know about their experiences. Here’s a sampling of what I heard:

“You need a great book trailer that goes viral.”

“A book trailer is a waste of money.”

“Getting a mention in Entertainment Weekly is gold!”

“A mention in Entertainment Weekly moves 100 books, tops.”

“You have to promote yourself on Twitter.”

“Twitter is just a big time suck.”

“You need to do a national book tour to build a following.”

“Book tours are a waste of time and money. No one comes out to see a new author.”

“The best thing you can do is hire a publicist.”

“Freelance publicists take your money and run.”

The more I asked around, the less I knew. For every opinion I got, there was an equal and opposite opinion. At times, my head was ready to explode with all of these competing, incompatible nuggets of wisdom rattling around. All of them came from people I respect. Everyone was being helpful by telling me about their experience promoting their books. It was just that everyone’s experience was wildly different.

After much agonizing, here's what I decided: Since I was planning to spend a lot of time and effort publicizing the book, I figured I’d go crazy if I shoehorned myself into doing things I hated or felt uncomfortable about. So, I would publicize my first novel by doing things I like to do. In retrospect, that sounds bizarre. I was going to enjoy doing book publicity? What kind of messed-up hedonist was I? But I realized I was stressing about doing the "right" things, even though I had no idea what they were. On the other hand, it was entirely clear to me what the fun things would be.

Since I love meeting people and public speaking, that meant hitting the road for a book tour that took me to Houston, Phoenix/Scottsdale, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Boston, Toronto, and a few other places (I also had six events in New York City). I went to ThrillerFest, Bouchercon and Noircon. I did a blog tour. I was on Twitter and Facebook long before I got a book deal, but I did join GoodReads. One publicity advantage I had was that I've published a lot of short fiction, so that made it a little easier to get reviewers to read my book. I wrote some new stories and tried to time their release dates to help the book. (That didn't work out as planned in every case; Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine is going to publish one of those stories in its April 2011 issue.)

There were lots of things I didn't do. I didn't hire a publicist or make a book trailer. I didn't design a bookmark (that would've taken me a month) or find cool swag to give away. I didn't come up with any gimmicks (seriously, would you eat chocolates sent with a murder mystery?). I don't knock any of these things, because they've worked beautifully for other writers; I just decided that they weren't for me.

I can’t tell you whether my hedonistic marketing strategy worked or not, because aiding and abetting my publicity efforts was a host of very kind people who helped me out without my asking them to (the acknowledgements for my next book are going to be very long; here are some reasons why). But I'm thrilled with the coverage I have received. Also, even though THE DAMAGE DONE came out on September 28, 2010, I'm still promoting it, albeit at a more relaxed pace: next week I head up to Toronto for a library conference; a month from now, I have an event in West Palm Beach, Florida; in April, I'm speaking at the annual conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors; in May, I'm on a panel at the New York Public Library. Later this year I'll be on tour again, this time for my second novel, THE NEXT ONE TO FALL, and I can't wait. A writer friend who looked at the "Book Tour" album I have on Facebook told me that she'd never seen an author look so excited at every event. The truth is, I'm having the time of my life.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ruth Cavin (1918-2011)

By Michael

In August, 2006, I received a phone call from a legend. Ruth Cavin, whose name had become synonymous with the publishing of great mysteries, was calling to tell me that my manuscript of The Last Striptease had won the Private Eye Writers of America and St. Martin’s Press competition for Best First Private Eye Novel. The award included the publication of the mystery and fulfilled a dream that I’d had since I was a teenager.

“That’s the best news I’ve heard . . . in a very long time,” I said.

Ruth paused, then said, “Oh, I hope not.”

Ruth had an ear for overstatement – and for the overwrought, the overly dramatic, the overly conventional. And while her news really was the best that I’d heard in a long time, she started our relationship with an editor’s critical check, and I knew that she would read every word of mine with a confident exactitude of the kind that you can’t pay for – but that, oddly and wonderfully, in the world of publishing can pay you.

Ruth was eighty-seven when we met, and she had been working at St. Martin’s since she was seventy – and as an editor only since she was sixty. A central part of her legend was that she started her best-known work at a time when most others were retiring from work altogether. I learned from – and about –Ruth over the coming years, during our dinners and lunches in Wisconsin, Baltimore, and New York. I learned about the path – through books, marriage, motherhood, and politics – that had brought her to editing. I learned that in the mid-1970s she wrote a book on trolleys about which she seemed as pleased as she seemed about her extraordinary work as an editor. I learned that as a child she had taken tap dancing lessons from Gene Kelly.

But I also learned about myself, especially myself as a writer. Ruth taught me to think clearly and carefully – and to punch hard and on target. When she agreed to publish my first book, it was still called Unrobed, a title that she told me was uninteresting and unmarketable. We bounced various names back and forth for a couple weeks, until (short of patience) she offered, The Last Striptease. I hesitated. Was this really the name I wanted for the book? (After all, no actual striptease occurs in the book . . . and friends and family would be reading it.) When I expressed reservations, she came back hard: the title should be (and would be) The Last Striptease. This editorial “advice” hit hard and on target: it made me open my eyes.

So, the next time I gave Ruth a manuscript, I gave it to her title-ready. It was called The Bad Kitty Lounge, I told her when I was ready to send it to her. She hesitated that time. Then she said, “That’s a great title. But . . . it’s not enough to have a great title. You also need a great book.”

She expressed confidence that I could write that book – as I imagine she expressed it to many, many other writers. (She acquired, edited, and promoted about 900 books.) I don’t know how many of us have achieved the level of great writing that Ruth expected from us (though I do know of a lot of great writing that has been published under her editorship), but I can say that she made me a better writer and, I like to think, a better person.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Do I Look Like I Know What I'm Talking About? or My Secrets to Successful Book Promotion

by Meredith Cole

Here’s everything I'm sure know about successful book promotion:

It takes time and/or money. Preferably lots of both.

On my first book, POSED FOR MURDER, I had a little bit of money and a lot of time. I hired a publicist. I went to BEA, ALA, LIM, Malice, Virginia Festival of the Book, Decatur Book Festival, Southern Festival of the Book. I guest blogged. I did radio interviews. I lost track of how many conferences, festivals and events I had been to. I tried to be anywhere and everywhere. Goodreads, Facebook, Myspace. I went a little crazy. My husband can tell you all about it.

Did my book blitz work?

Who knows? But St. Martin’s Minotaur bought my second book, DEAD IN THE WATER, so I must have been doing something right. At least I got a chance to do it all again.

On my second book, I had almost no money and practically no time. I told a friend that I was going to try to be “Zen” about my book promotion. She laughed and said she had no idea what I meant. We were both way too type A to be Zen Masters. But I really didn’t want to go crazy again, so I scaled back a little. I went to Malice, ALA (it was local), BEA (I happened to be in NY), I toured North Carolina with a group of mystery writers, and I went to Bouchercon. I blogged. I guest blogged. I did local events. And I said no when I felt I couldn’t do something.

Interestingly enough, stepping back on the second book taught me that I had a secret weapon at my disposal for both books that cost neither money nor time: guardian angels.

I’m not talking the kind of angels that flap around or wear crowns or sit on clouds. These angels are way subtler and they walk amongst us. I’ve had more than my share touch me on the shoulder and give me help on everything on my marketing journey. Usually they are a way more experienced writer who likes to help out newbies. Occasionally the angel was a reader, or a librarian or a bookseller. Anyway, when you are a new writer, any help at all feels like a huge gift. And I received a lot of gifts. (Thanks y’all – you know who you are…)

So here’s my book promotion strategy in a nutshell:

Find someone smart who is successful. Follow them around (with their permission of course) and ask lots of questions. Steal anything they do that seems like it’s working and is a good fit for you and your book. Try it. Then repeat from step A.

Does it work?

I'll let you know. I guess the best indicator will be on that day when I’ve got a crowd following me around and borrowing my ideas instead of the other way around. Meanwhile, I'll just keep learning the ropes. And giving gifts to other newbies.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why Do You Write?

It's a pertinent question to today's topic, and one I ask myself regularly. I mean, writing takes sacrifice ... of time, of money, of large chunks of your life that speed by with the velocity of a comet.

The reality is--as our CMs have pointed out all week--that writers who are not household names or NYT bestsellers do not have the luxury of NOT promoting their books. Even that's not entirely true: bestsellers need to continually promote in order to stay on top of the game--and move up the list (you can find ladders everywhere you look) ... but they more often than not can afford help or their publisher will pick up the tab.

Making traction in the slough of despond that is publishing in 2011 demands that the writer jump up and down as often as possible in order to be noticed in an ever crowded and more cacophonous field. So ... where to put your time and energy for the greatest return? And (scary thought as it is) ... does it do any good?

Two schools of thought here. I've talked to well-respected midlist writers who say "None of this matters a damn--just concentrate on writing the best book you can because ultimately, you can only control words on a page."

This is true. And yet ...

An attitude of this sort is more easily adopted if you already have at least one successful career already. And that brings us back to question one. Are you planning to make writing your sole source of income? Are you happy in your "other" career? Is writing about fun and personal satisfaction more than about numbers and longevity?

If so, you may be happier if you minimize your promotion efforts. If not--if you think of writing as primarily a business rather than a creative pursuit--you may want to spend some time on your marketing plan.

I can only speak for myself, of course, but going on tours (virtual and real), checking in to social networks, writing articles, making book trailers, etc. etc. makes ME feel better ... because at the end of the day, I want to feel like I've done everything I can to help make my books successful. Because, at the end of the day, I started my first book with the idea of making this a career.

Does it do any good? I wish I knew. I do know that I've made friends and forged professional relationships through nearly every channel of communication I've opened (book tours, Twitter, Facebook, conferences, etc.) I think it's necessary, though, to set boundaries--personal and professional ones, so that you don't get burned out.

Because, what seems like a long time ago but was only five years ago, I thought I'd write a book and try to become a writer. I didn't know then that you'd need to be a marketing guru and write like the wind to build up a backlist--or somehow juggle promotion and marketing to stay profitable for your publisher while you took time to write that backlist. I didn't know that demographics are misleading (you find readers in unexpected places) and that e-books would become the present and future of reading. I didn't know how much luck plays into publishing (it's a leading role).

I also didn't know how supportive, kind and generous the community is.

I know these things now, and I'm still here--in fact, THE CURSE-MAKER launches February 1st--and the cycle starts all over again. I learn something new with every book. And I hope some day soon I can have the full-time writing career I dreamed about.