Monday, January 30, 2012

Songs for Hannah Vogel

by Rebecca Cantrell

Write a soundtrack for Hannah Vogel's life? Hannah's life is way too complicated for that, but here's a theme song for each of her books.

A Trace of Smoke:
Mack the Knife, performed by Lotte Lenya and Louis Armstrong, lyrics by Bertolt Brecht and music by Kurt Weill. I know it wasn’t recorded until 1956, but the original Mack the Knife was first performed on stage in 1928 in Berlin, as part of The Beggar’s Opera. Since Hannah had money that year, she went. And its message of violence under the smooth surface sums up what she and Germany are dealing with.

Oh, the shark has pretty teeth dear…and he shows them, pearly white
Just a jackknife has Macheath dear…and he keeps it out of sight
When the shark bites with his teeth dear, scarlet billows start to spread
Fancy gloves though wears Macheath, so there’s never a trace of red.

Here’s a YouTube video of Louis Armstrong singing it:

A Night of Long Knives:
Song of a German Mother, performed by Lotte Lenya, lyrics by Bertolt Brecht and music by Kurt Weill sums up the fate of many of the mothers that Hannah stands in line with at Lichterfelde. They didn’t know what was going to happen to their sons, and now they do.

My son I gave you the jackboots, and the brown shirt came from me
But had I known what I now know, I would have hanged myself from a tree

Here’s Dagmar Krause on YouTube. I couldn’t find Lotte Lenya.

A Game of Lies:
It’s Only a Paper Moon by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra. This one I had to put in because Hannah sings it at the casino when she’s in an…umm…altered state. It originally came out in 1933, so she would certainly have heard it on the radio.

Say it’s only a paper moon, sailing over a cardboard sea
But it wouldn’t be make believe, if you believed in me

Any other suggestions for songs for Hannah?


The topic this week is to write a soundtrack for our protagonist’s life, but instead, I’ve picked a song for the title of this blog because it will be my last blog here at 7 Criminal Minds.

I work three full-time jobs. Along with writing the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, I continue to work as a designer and as an agent for the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency. All three jobs are deadline oriented. In addition, I maintain my own blog and post once a month on another group blog. Then there’s the book promotion we authors must do to help spur sales of our books. And did I mention I have a family who likes to spend time with me occasionally? There aren’t enough hours in the day to do all I need to do. Something had to go. That something, unfortunately, is 7 Criminal Minds.

I hope those of you who have followed me here will continue to do so at Inkspot, the group blog for Midnight Ink authors, where I post once a month, and at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers, my character blog.

Happy reading!

Lois Winston writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. The first book, Assault With A Deadly Glue Gun, was a January 2011 release and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Death by Killer Mop Doll will be a January 2012 release. Visit Lois at website and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Born to Play

By Vicki

Wow, is this a topic for me! I come from a long line of card players and my family are wildly enthusiastic board gamers. Christmas means at least one new game and pulling out the old beloved ones.

I fondly remember long games of Canasta at my great-aunt Maude’s house. I don’t even remember how to play Canasta anymore. But I do remember great-aunt Maude and those games. We never played cards on Sunday though – that was her rule.

If I was to pick my all-time favourite, it would have to be RISK. Who hasn’t played RISK? RISK means childhood – gathering around the board in some teenage friend’s basement (yes, we were nerds), and it means summer get-togethers – gathering around the board at the long table at my friend’s cottage on Lake Muskoka with beer and wine and big bags of chips close at hand.

World Domination. What’s not to love?

About five years ago one of my number-one board-game enthusiast friends introduced us to an online version of RISK called Warfish. I’ve been playing ever since, at the height I had about twenty games going, but sadly Warfish seems to be coming to an end. It’s totally browser-based and the web site is down more often than not and players are dropping out. After the last round I’m in, that’s the end of an era for me.

In the physical world I haven’t played RISK for years. Maybe too many other games became popular.

Our current family and friend favourite is Settlers of Catan. Build a civilization, what’s not to love!

The advantage of a lot of new games, such as Settlers, is that players don’t drop out the way they did in games such as RISK and many others. In RISK and Monopoly and the like, you can be out of the game in a half-an-hour while the others play on until the wee hours. Not much fun at all for the earlier losers. But with newer games such as Settlers, no one gets kicked out, the game ends when one person gets ten points.

What else do I like? I have Lord of the Rings Stratego which is a game for only two people. Nice for when I have just one visitor looking for a game. For three players we often play three-handed Euchre.

When it comes to card games, the old favourites are the best. Hearts. Euchre. Up-and-down-the-river, which is also called Oh Heck! The nice thing about cards is that the games evolve within groups and families. You might think you know the same game as your friends but as play continues new rules start to pop up.
I’ve never been a bridge player though, although I took lessons at the library last year.

I remember playing Spoons with my cousins when they were visiting for my father’s funeral. My brother and one of my cousins crashing across the coffee table straight toward a startled daughter. We were gathered for a highly sad event, but a simple game of cards had us all laughing and enjoying each other’s company.

And that’s the pleasure of games.

And, dare I say, what’s being lost when everyone gathers around their own personal computing device and plays against people they don’t even know.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

I Said Oh, Oh, Domino

To paraphrase Henry Hill in Goodfellas, “As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a domino player.”

When I was a kid and I’d go with my dad over to his cousin’s house to visit the relatives originally from Kansas City and big foot country, Seguin, Texas, the men at some point would depart to what would be termed a Man Cave today, a room off the garage really, to play bones – dominoes that is. Us kids weren’t allowed back there unless one of the wimmin’ folk had a message for one of us to deliver. When I got to do it, I’d just stand there in the doorway to their room, watching the fancy set of ivory dominoes, face down, getting mixed over the surface of the card table. The men would be smoking Camels or Lucky Strikes, my dad’s brand, cans of Hamm’s and Pabst beer at the elbow of each one of them.

I didn’t know then how they figured out, what with all those dots on those tiles, their scores. But the men would call out “ten,” “fifteen,” and sometimes one of them would be ecstatic and slap down a domino with gusto and yell out “twenty,” to the consternation of the others. I can’t remember now if it was pop who taught me or how I picked it up, but, wow, once I learned, I found out the game was part luck – you draw your dominoes face down so you don’t know what you’ve got until you got ‘em – and part strategy as there are moves when you can block another player form putting down a tile or you can lock up a fame if you think you have the lowest amount left in you hand, then you get the points of the others.

Dominoes, or so I’ve cobbled here from them internets, are believed to have originated in China in the 12th century, though Egyptian or Arabian origins are also theorized. Dominoes appeared in Italy in the early eighteenth century, and spread to the rest of Europe throughout the remainder of the 1700's, becoming one of the most popular games in both family parlors and pubs alike.

The word domino appears to have derived from the traditional appearance of the tiles - black dots on a white background - which is reminiscent of a "domino,” a kind of hood, worn by Christian priests.

Unlike chess, playing dominoes isn’t a metaphor for other aspects of life. But puffing on a good cigar, maybe a short glass of rum or scotch at your elbow, some Coltrane or John Lee Hooker on the juke, three or four other players around the table, coupled with some mild trash talking, and you got yourself an afternoon of fun and frolic, my friend. And as you can see from the graphic on the side here, there’s various domino tournaments sponsored by diverse entities. There’s one this one that seems to be a combination of playing the Madden 11 NFL game on xbox and dominoes. I wonder if like so-called Chessboxing, you have to play the video game, gain a level, then freeze the game and play a round of dominoes, going back and forth. Then there was also a domino tournament in Houston sponsored by La Gloria Cubana cigars, who make a fine product as far as I’m concerned.

But the best tournament has got to be the one in Abkhazia. A place that sounds like one of these countries you’d make up for your thriller novel. It’s on the Black Sea and apparently they see themselves as independent, though others would say they are part of Georgia. Anyway, skipping lightly over that deep bone of contention, turns out they get down in Abkhazia. They had themselves their 8th domino championship go-round last October. The Dominican Republic took the top honors with a team of Abkazian and U.S. representatives coming n 14th place.

So, snap, I know what I’m doing this coming October. Getting myself ready for the 9th annual world wide, smack down, camp-peen-ship…Abkazia here I come.

Friday, January 27, 2012

This Tastes Gamey

By Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

Like most of us who spend our time plotting against strangers and psychologically manipulating our characters, I love games. Love, love, love. I have since I was small. Confession time: I prefer to win. I’m talking everything from hopscotch to checkers to the master class we call Clue. I won’t cheat to win (okay I would if I still thought of it as winning under those circumstances) but I’ve been known to throw an elbow or two despite never having been officially asked to leave the pitch. It’s the game within a game that is the biggest rush. How do you get the best soccer player so distracted he doesn’t keep shelling your keeper? Or talk your real estate broker brother-in-law into trading you Pennsylvania Avenue and the green monopoly for a promise of cut-rate rent at the budget conscious yellow properties and a Get Out of Jail Free Card? The best games always turn out to be the ones where the real rules aren’t found on a slip of paper in a box (or in the case of Mille Bornes when the rules are written in French and no one is still sober enough to translate). My favorite games aren’t the ones in the middle of the table.

Gaming 101 starts with (insert evil laugh) scheming against friends and teammates. They may be playing Life but you can be living one. If your newly-dating brother picks up the card announcing the birth of twins, ask him what he’d name them. Horace and Mortimer? Bet on the new girl flinching for every turn and not lasting the week. Ever done a Dominoes fling pool? Quietly let the good sports pick a round in which your calling out numbers while the control-freak accountant counts points sets him to whipping the double-twelve at your head. Duck and collect your cash while he loses all ability to strategize. Or how about the Bananagrams post-game reveal? After everyone’s board is complete, take loud note of how many of the words on your up-tight neighbor’s space have some link, however tangential, to her sex life and how much too much information that is. This is a particularly effective game winning technique. Not only will she hesitate before using her tiles to make even innocuous words like leash and ache but the rest of the group will also drop to wolf-boy verbal levels. Take your near-perfect verbal SAT score and go to the head of the class.

Some of the newer games already have the insidious let me dig into your head element built-in. On a more sinister note, they even portend to be non-competitive. These malevolent cubes are called Tabletop Conversations like they are a happy walk in the park with a puppy on a string. So not true. If my neighbor is asked how old he was when he got his first kiss (Date Night Collection) and answers thirteen, you know his roommate will claim a pre-teen pucker. When you sputter for an answer as to your soul mate, your best friend will be quick to use your ex’s name when she gets asked to one animal she’d never let sleep in the house (Pets Edition). That’s what friends are for. If her husband lists the same former as the guy he’d most like to hang out with in a bar (Party Pack), you can return the favor by looking pointedly in his direction when asked who is most likely to be the next one camping (Travel). If things get really nasty, the cube itself weighs about five pounds and has sharp edges. Check your home owner’s insurance before throwing a game night, then have a ball.

Have I mentioned that I’ve been devising a political game of my own? This one is built to get the political reactionaries to double-check their issue positions and see a little common ground. Here’s a taster. What president said that “where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost?” You’ll never guess but if you do, let me know. I’d love to know I’ve got you on your toes.

Thanks for playing.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Most Dangerous Game

By Michael

I don’t play board games, a fact that annoys the rest of my family, especially my daughter who would happily spend every afternoon cycling through Monopoly, Risk, and Clue, reserving backgammon (her favorite) for the couple of hours between dinner and bedtime. My sons have started playing chess – a game I admire but little understand – and also play Risk and sometimes Battleship: the common themes are territorial incursion and world domination. My wife will play any game, though like my daughter she’s partial to backgammon.

My intolerance extends to most card games. I can manage a few hands of blackjack because they last, on an average, three or four seconds. If I’m in northern Canada and the weather is bad and the bookshelves are bare and the power is out, I’ll play a game of Gin Rummy without complaining. Same thing goes for getting stuck overnight in an airport -- as long as the airport is in northern Canada. I’ve sometimes enjoyed playing Scrabble, but only against linguistically challenged opponents, which is to say, only when I’ve won.

I suspect I would like these games better if we changed the rules every fifteen minutes. For instance, all the pawns would move like queens and then at the fifteen-minute buzzer if your fingers so much as touched a rook an electric shock would knock you off your chair. Or Colonel Mustard would be having an affair with Professor Plum and would refuse to betray him and then at the buzzer Mrs. Peacock would become a homicidal maniac and march over the board knocking down the other game pieces.

But for now, I’ll sit on the sofa reading a newspaper while the rest of my family maneuvers to buy Park Place. If my kids get upset because they’re losing, I’ll offer fatherly advice about how to be good sports. And if my advice fails to calm them (as it inevitably will), I’ll tell them to pretend the dice are asteroids and their goal is to wipe out the houses and hotels at Marvin Gardens.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

To Play The Game

by Tracy Kiely

I have to admit that when I joined 7 Criminal Minds, I didn’t foresee the amount of online confessing I’d be engaging in, but since I’ve been here, I’ve publicly admitted to a certain fixation to Jane Austen, Eric Northman, peanut M&Ms, as well as a host of other odd quirks.

And now I see from this week’s topic that once again I must bravely stand before you and admit yet another obsession.

Of course, at first glance one might think that the topic of “What is you favorite game?” is a rather innocent, even mundane question.

I am here to tell you that it is not.

Now, I could tell you that I love Blink, Rat a Tat Cat, and the Pride and Prejudice Trivia Game, and while I would still be within the realm of truthfulness, it would not be the complete truth.

The complete truth is that my favorite game is Minesweeper. And the complete truth is that I am no longer allowed to play Minesweeper.

It started out innocently, as do most obsessions. I found the game one day on my computer at work. The object of the game – if you are not familiar with it – is to clear an abstract minefield without detonating a mine. To play, you must click on the squares to reveal what is underneath; either a number or a mine. If the square contains a mine, it explodes, and you lose. If a number is revealed, it indicates the number of adjacent squares (typically, out of the possible eight) that contain mines. By using logic – or dumb luck – the player can deduce which squares are mine-free and which are mine-filled.

Trust me, it’s waaaaay cooler than it sounds.

Anyway, I started to play a little during my lunch break. Then I began to play all through my lunch break. Then I played while on the phone. Then I played instead of doing any real work. I got my husband hooked as well. We’d call each other during the day and good naturedly compare our times. Then it wasn’t so good natured. Pretty soon my wrist started to ache, and I began to exhibit the early signs of carpel tunnel syndrome. But that was nothing compared to the dreams.

Almost nightly, I found myself running across a giant grid, hopping from square to square with sweat pouring down my back as I prayed that my next hop wouldn’t land me on a mine.

I knew I had to quit.

I eased myself off with a bit of Spider Solitaire and then just plain Solitaire. It took some time and yes, there were setbacks, but I have been Minesweeper free now for almost five years. To be honest, I don’t even think about it anymore. Mainly because I’ve been playing a new game – one that I’m happy to say is not addicting. You might have heard of it – it’s called Angry Birds.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Most Dangerous Game

by Josh

Since life is a game we're all doomed to lose - thanks, Ingmar - I prefer playing games that I can win. Unfortunately, this considerably narrows my options.

There's baseball, of course, and football and basketball and ice hockey and field hockey and street hockey. There's tennis and badminton and ping-pong. There's even golf, although one could argue that golf, much like drinking, is less a game than a excuse for silly behavior. Interestingly, I can elevate silly behavior to a spectacle, but I am a terrible drinker and an even worse golfer.

This brings us, I suppose, to board games. To the surprise of no one, I have always fancied chess -thanks again, Ingmar - but I know I'll never be as good a player as I imagine I want to be. This actually strikes at the crux of my problem, and why detective fiction - especially that modeled after Poe and Doyle's genius-sleuths - leaves me so frustrated. When I was in second grade, my IQ tested at 139. This is one point below genius. Genius minus one. If I have a monkey on my back, in between banana chews that monkey is taunting, "Genius minus one, genius minus one!" over and over into my left ear while giving my right ear a wet willy.

Yes, my monkey can talk. Why? Is that unusual?

But I'm getting off-topic. I was talking about games. And I do enjoy poker, if only because it's little more than theatre with gambling. Every so often I'll play poker with friends or family and I'll have a grand old time, but the enjoyment is really 99% social and 1% game. Playing poker online, for example, leaves me sensationally bored.

So what's left? Ah yes. The game of love, baby, the game of love-love-love-love-love.

Well...the less said about this, the better.

In the end, I suppose, in this game as in the rest, it just comes down to the fact that I don't enjoy losing. But that won't stop me from making a fool of myself driving to the hoop or castling my king and rook or raising on a 10-high or asking a stranger on a date; like I said, I can elevate silly behavior to a spectacle. Come and see.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Wanna Play?

by Sue Ann Jaffarian
Playing indoor games is such a warm, cozy part of my childhood memories. Until I was nine, we lived in Massachusetts. During long, cold winters we played lots of board games and cards – even the adults. We watched very little TV. Every few weeks, my parents, or one of my aunts and uncles, would host a card night. While they had cocktails and played hearts at the dining room table, the cousins would be sprawled on the floor in various age groups, wolfing down popcorn and immersed in Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders, Sorry, Scrabble, and Candy Land.
My mother loved Yhatzee and a game called Chicken, which is an offshoot of Yhatzee. I spent several hours playing it with her the night before she died.
My father also loved Yhatzee and Chicken, but I’d have to say his favorite game was Cribbage, and my brother and I were taught it at an early age. Whenever I visited my dad, he and I would play it far into the night. When he died, my stepmother gave me my father’s hand-carved cribbage board, which sits proudly in my living room.
I still love cards and board games. Whenever I need to relax after a day of work and writing, I turn to playing Backgammon and Dominoes online. The fun thing about Internet games is that there is always someone to play with, no matter the time of day. And I’ve had some interesting Backgammon games with players from around the world.
And as much as I fought it in the beginning, I’m now playing Words With Friends. Me and Alec Baldwin.  No, I’m not currently playing Baldwin, but if he’d like to challenge me – game on!
So what’s my favorite board game? Hmm, so many games, so many memories … eeny, meeny, miny, moe. If I have to choose just one, it would be Backgammon, a game I learned in the seventies when it was very popular in night clubs.

I once referenced Backgammon in one of my books. In Booby Trap, Odelia Grey talks about meeting someone playing it online, who then becomes a real friend who needs her help.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Guest Stephen Blackmoore Talks About Joe Lansdale

Hilary here, with a guest I'm thrilled to introduce you to: my friend Stephen Blackmoore. If his name sounds familiar, that's probably because his debut novel, CITY OF THE LOST, released by DAW Books on January 3rd, has been racking up raves. That's not hyperbole: Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review, calling the book "A remarkable debut" and "A head-shakingly perfect blend of zombie schlock, deadpan wit, startling profanity, desperate improvisation and inventive brilliance." Judge for yourself: read the first three chapters of the book online at Criminal Element.

Stephen was already well-known—okay, fine, notorious—for his hard-kitting short stories, which have appeared in publications such as Needle, Crimefactory, Plots With Guns, and Thrilling Detective, to name a few. His work has also been featured in as anthologies such as Deadly Treats and Uncage Me. Stephen just had his launch party for CITY OF THE LOST at Mysterious Galaxy Redondo Beach, and if you're interested in finding out where else he'll be causing mayhem, check out his blog and Twitter for updates.

Glad to have you here today, Stephen. Take it away!

"Which author would you most want to take a master class from?"

Joe Lansdale.

What, you want more? You want to know why?

Man, you people are greedy.

Fine. First let's assume you don't know who I'm talking about. And if you don't you better not come 'round these parts, 'cause we shoot people like you.

Ha. Kidding.

We skin 'em.

Joe Lansdale writes horror, westerns, science fiction. He writes screenplays and comics. The man is a pulp writer's pulp writer. He's over the top and light as a feather. He can do humor and horror in equal measure. He can make you cry and think and laugh your ass off.

He's won eight Bram Stoker awards, nominated nine other times and recently got the Horror Writer's Association Lifetime Achievement award. He's been nominated nine times for World Fantasy Awards for his short stories, novellas and anthologies. He won the Edgar for Best Novel in 2001 for THE BOTTOMS.
He has a mastery of subtext. The things unsaid. The lines between the lines. And he does it the way a magician does a trick, hiding it among the outrageous, redirecting your attention to the pretty girl he's about to saw in half.

Take BUBBA HO-TEP, his novella about two men in a nursing home who believe they are Elvis and JFK fighting a soul-sucking mummy who's killing the residents. Only that's not what it's about. It's about old age. It's about fighting the inevitable. Pushing against entropy and time and going down fighting.

Or GODZILLA'S TWELVE STEP PROGRAM where the Tokyo destroying monster tries to go straight. It's a story about alcoholism, or maybe about anger management, or maybe it's about addiction in general and what it does to a person and how hard it is to fight it. Maybe it's just a jaunty little tale about a B movie monster who's hit rough times.

And then there's his voice. The way he phrases things is uniquely Lansdale.

Go read ON THE FAR SIDE OF THE CADILLAC DESERT WITH DEAD FOLKS, a twisted little zombie tale with post-apocalyptic cowboys. Here's a taste:
The last bounty hunter had been the famous Pink Lady McGuire—one mean mama—three hundred pounds of rolling, ugly meat that carried a twelve-gauge Remington pump and a bad attitude. Story was, Calhoun jumped her from behind, cut her throat, and as a joke, fucked her before she bled to death. This not only proved to Wayne that Calhoun was a dangerous sonofabitch, it also proved he had bad taste.
If that doesn't hook you, then, I got nothin' for ya.

You can learn a lot from reading Lansdale. Far as I'm concerned the man's a fucking living legend. And seeing as I can't actually, you know, take a class from him, looks like I'm just going to have to read everything the man's written.

Oh, what a hardship.

Thanks, Stephen. Now, since my modest friend hasn't said a word about his own book, let me tell you a bit about CITY OF THE LOST. A quick summary:
Sunday’s a thug, an enforcer, a leg-breaker for hire. When his boss sends him to kill a mysterious new business partner, his target strikes back in ways Sunday could never have imagined. Murdered, brought back to a twisted half-life, Sunday finds himself stuck in the middle of a race to find an ancient stone with the power to grant immortality. With it, he might live forever. Without it, he’s just another rotting extra in a George Romero flick.

Everyone’s got a stake, from a psycho Nazi wizard and a razor-toothed midget, to a nympho-demon bartender, a too-powerful witch who just wants to help her homeless vampires, and the one woman who might have all the answers — if only Sunday can figure out what her angle is.

Before the week is out he’s going to find out just what lengths people will go to for immortality. And just how long somebody can hold a grudge.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Criminal Minds Unbound

By Reece Hirsch

While I would love to have a one-on-one master class in writing from one of my favorites like Elmore Leonard or Richard Price, that is unlikely to come to pass. However, I recently picked up a new book entitled Now Write! Mysteries: Suspense, Crime, Thriller, and Other Mystery Fiction Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers that provides a far more attainable dose of writing wisdom.

Here’s some of wise writing advice dispensed by a few of our own Criminal Minds:

Graham Brown on “Humanizing the Character Arc”: “If readers connect with your main characters, identify and mentally put themselves in the place of those characters – in other words, feel their pain – then, when your heroes overcome whatever deadly and impressive obstacles you’ve put in their path, your readers will feel the great endorphin boost that goes along with succeeding, as if they’d done it themselves. And that’s what makes them remember your book, because the triumph of your novel is the reader’s victory as well as the character’s.”

Rebecca Cantrell (who has already mentioned the book here at CM) on “Murder from the Point of View of the Murderer, Victim, and Detective”: “In my early drafts [of A Trace of Smoke], Ernst talked from beyond the grave. Unfortunately, it was never quite right. My writing group struggled with it, and the first question my future agent asked was, ‘If I agree to represent you, would you be willing to consider removing the dead brother’s voice from the manuscript?

I was willing. … I also made a surprise discovery: Writing the murder from the victim’s point of view gave me a very clear picture of all the events surrounding it. It gave me the sights, sounds, and feelings for the very heart of the book.”

Kelli Stanley, “She Can Bring Home the Bacon”: “Playing right tackle in football demands a certain kind of strength. Caring for an ill relative demands another. Women can be quite tough – anyone who’s been through childbirth can testify to that. You don’t need to resort to gender clich├ęs to write a female detective.”

Michael Wiley on “Writing in Place”: “Robert Graves used to advise writers to adopt the perspective of ‘readers over their own shoulders’ when making revisions. In observing a familiar place, you need to defamiliarize yourself; try to watch yourself in the act of looking and notice both what you see and what you miss.”

And you will even find the mutterings of yours truly on “The Most Common Mistakes in Plotting a Thriller (from Someone Who Has Made Them All)”: “A thriller is like a rock-and-roll song. Immediacy is one of the most highly valued virtues of both forms and, while the basic elements are well established, there is nearly infinite room for variation and expression within that framework. You can take a few basic chord progressions and a time limit of three minutes or so and get everything from ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ to ‘Strawberry Fields Forever.’ But if you stray too far from the rules, like, say, the Beatles' ‘Revolution 9,’ then it may be interesting, but it ceases to be something that will ever get played on the radio."

There are 86 authors represented in the collection and anyone who is interested in reading or writing mysteries or thrillers will find these three-to-four-page exercises less addictive than crack but more addictive than Maui Onion Kettle Chips.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Can you be taught how to write?

by Meredith Cole

It's may be strange to think about the question of whether or not great writing can be taught--especially for someone who is about to teach another class on Novel Writing at the University of Virginia. But here goes. I would say yes--and no.

To just say that yes, you can go get an MFA, learn everything you need to and then go on to win a Nobel Prize seems wrong. I believe there is something special in a great writer that is present from birth. Writers have a drive to tell stories, a unique point of view, and the ability to live without the company of others for long stretches of time. None of these qualities can be taught.

But I would be doing myself and other writing teachers a disservice if I claimed we don't matter a whit. It's tremendously exciting to work with a student and see their writing grow and change. To be part of the moment when writing fiction "clicks" for them, and they finally see how they can write the kind of wonderful stories that they enjoy reading--that's incredibly satisfying for me.

So who would I like to learn from? All my favorites, of course. I have been lucky enough to hear Stephen King, SJ Rozan, Laurie King, Sue Grafton, Harlan Coban and Lee Child all talk about their writing life and their process. And I've learned something from every single one of them. But I've learned from so many more by reading their books. Every writer should read widely as part of their personal MFA program.

I hesitate to name one master I'd like to study with one-to-one because not every great writer is also a great teacher. I've been lucky enough to have had a few great writing teachers in my life for everything from poetry to screenwriting, and very few of them shared their writing with me. I took their classes for their teaching skills, not their writing skills.

So what does a great writing teacher do that makes them so great? They push their students farther out of their comfort zone. They point out what their students are doing right and help them to become braver about taking risks and trying new things. They help the student see the bigger picture of the work and how to see it as a cohesive whole. And they gently correct grammatical errors, tense problems and shifting points of view in order to help their students become better editors of their own work.

So many thanks to all those teachers over the years who read my work and helped teach me how to be a better writer--and a better teacher. Which reminds me, I've got to polish up that syllabus. Class starts in just two weeks!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"I felt a cleavage in my mind..."

By Jeannie Holmes

There are many types of authors. Yes, you could say there are three main categories: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. But, this is an oversimplification of the greatest magnitude. There are dozens of forms within each of these broader categories--thrillers, mystery, literary, memoir, biographers, ekphrastic poetry, limericks, etc. So when I was asked to fill-in for Kelli and take on the question of Which author would you most want to take a master class from? I not only had a lot of thinking to do regarding the author but also the form.

Now some of you may recall from my previous time here among the Criminal Minds that I write a lot of dark fantasy. Naturally I considered naming authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice, and Stephen King as my master class instructor of choice, but these are a little too obvious, don't you think? While I greatly admire each of them, I wanted to select an author whose writing is both celebrated and misunderstood and who wouldn't necessarily be considered for a mention on a blog full of genre fiction writers.

The author I would most desire to see seated at the head of a master class is Emily Dickinson. Yes, I, a humble fiction writer, would like to learn from a master of poetry. I've enjoyed reading Dickinson's work for years and as I stated earlier, her work is often misunderstood. Yes, it's filled with curious and dark imagery, such as the poem in which she seemingly shares a ride with Death, but it's also filled with intelligence and a biting wit. Her poetic forms may appear simplistic at first glance, but her command of the English language and willingness to create her own words when others fail show a level of mastery that few (in my opinion) have matched since her untimely death in 1886.

Dickinson expressed complex and complicated emotions and thoughts with an economy of words. Since we're all in the words business, I suggest that fiction writers would do well to study more poetry, to increase their vocabulary, and stretch the reader's mind. We taut Hemingway and Faulkner for their mastery of both beautiful language and the art of storytelling, but poetry can do the same and with fewer words. (Just for the record, I'd like to mention to that I'm not a fan of either Hemingway or Faulkner. Shameful blasphemy, I know, but it's the truth.) There is nothing wrong with adding a little poetic flair to your fiction. I'm not condoning the use of purple prose, but just a little poetic flourish here and there could lend an already interesting tale a vibrancy that others in the same genre lack. Who says genre fiction can't contain truly beautiful writing?

In closing, I'd like to offer one of my personal favorites from The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson and ask you, dear reader, to truly consider the writing and the story behind it.

It sounded as if the streets were running,
And then the streets stood still.
Eclipse was all we could see at the window,
And awe was all we could feel.

By and by the boldest stole out of his covert,
To see if time was there.
Nature was in her beryl apron,
Mixing fresher air.

- Emily Dickinson

Jeannie Holmes is the author of the Alexandra Sabian series and fears spiders, large bodies of water, and bad weather. She moved from the backwoods of southwestern Mississippi to the Alabama Gulf Coast where she now lives with her husband and four neurotic cats. For more information, visit

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Shoulders of Giants

This is a fantastic topic because we all learn from each other. I find myself picking up inspired thoughts and ways of doing things from reading so many other authors. And on rare occasion I think someone even learns something from me. It could be what not to do - but its still a lesson.

I've said in the past how several great authors have taken the time to talk with me about writing I think I learned something fantastic from each of them.

Steve Berry sat down with me and we talked extensively about the actual writing - not the plot or the story or the characters - so much of that is subjective but the actual way those things go down on the page - it was a revelation and he's brilliant at creating gripping prose in the most clear and concise way.

Linwood Barclay and I had a long conversation about suspense from which I came away with the realization that a book is more about what's looming in the future than what is happening right now on the page. I think its genius.

Another brilliant author who I've been fortunate enough to talk with is Clive Cussler. He's a genius at combining historical fact and present day fiction, and he has a way of connecting with readers that is unlike anything I've seen elsewhere.

I've learned something from every member of this blog and from countless others I've met at conferences, but what about those we can't meet.

Michael Crichton was and is one of my all time favorites. I love including science in my books as he did, but I'm well aware that I only gloss the surface of what he was able to do so well. Would have loved to take a class from him and get some insight and talk writing with him.

Herman Melville - Moby Dick is such a powerful story, not just because the whale is an unstoppable force of nature - a brilliant and prescient forerunner to almost all thrillers ever written, but because he created such a deep story around this force of nature - all the characters are revealed in their quest for the whale, and I can only imagine what secrets and fun would be had talking with him.

William Shakespeare - not just because I want to ask him why everyone always dies in the end of his stuff, but because I would love to speak with a man who changed the world with his words. In the end that's something we're all trying to do, if just a little bit. I wonder did he know what he was onto, did he sense the growing power, or was he just trying to pay the bills?

Of course there are hundreds of others, but these three would top my list for sure.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Author Master Class?

by Rebecca Cantrell

Judging by the lateness of this post, I might be better off taking a class in time management.

Instead of talking about writers I'd like to take a master class from, here's a list of those I have.
  • Stephen Spittler. He was my English teacher senior year. He loved literature and seduced all of us into loving it to. He was smart, enthusiastic, and he never cut me a bit of slack in my writing. Whatever good fundamentals I have, they came from him.
  • Sharon Dilworth. She was part of the creative writing program at Carnegie Mellon. She was kind and generous with her time, and made me feel like writing was a craft that could be learned and not just a talent given from the gods.
  • Christopher Keane. He taught at the now defunct Maui Writers Conference. He taught me to revise and throw things away and start with a completely different perspective, and the simple value of putting in the hours.
  • Michael Palmieri. Maui Writers Conference again. Structure. Structure. Structure. Michael knows it, and he teaches it with humor and intelligence and grace.
  • James Rollins. OK, also Maui. Pacing, setting, and moving characters through scenes. It sounds simple, but it wasn't for me.
  • Julia Cameron. A bit of a cheat, because I never took a face to face class, but her book "The Artist's Way" taught me as much about being a writer as anything else. I thank her most for this line (I'm paraphrasing, I'm sure she said it better). "If you had a job at the 7-11, you would show up whether the muse inspired you or not. So why are you treating your heart's work as something less than a 7-11 job?" Busted. Busted. Busted. And as soon as I was busted, I started taking writing seriously and within three months had started "A Trace of Smoke," my first published novel.
Thank you all, teachers and mentors, for helping me to get where I am today. You helped me more than you know.

How about you? What's your favorite writing class/teacher/book?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Which Author Would You Most Want to Take a Master Class From?

Which author would I most want to take a master class from? Hmm…here’s the thing: I don’t get much out of long workshops. I find that an hour is my limit. Maybe I have too short an attention span, but I find that after an hour, my mind begins to wander, and my eyelids grow heavy. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that most of the time these workshops are held in exceedingly warm conference rooms. If there’s a PowerPoint presentation, it’s worse because the lights are dimmed to perfect nodding-off conditions. And if the presenter isn’t all that good a public speaker (no matter how well a writer he or she is)? Well, that’s the Trifecta of Snooze as far as I’m concerned.

So chances of me ever taking a master class from someone are pretty slim. I’d learn more by reading their books and any books and articles they may have written on the craft of writing.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t authors I’d love to hear speak. Just not for more than an hour at a time.

I write humorous mysteries. Writing any humorous genre is hard, but adding humor to something as serious as murder is a real challenge. I’ve sat through talks by various humorous mystery authors, many of whom I greatly admire, but their talks are generally more about their journey to publication and less about the art of writing the humorous mystery.

I’d probably gain more knowledge from attending a workshop given by someone who makes a living writing humor, as opposed to humorous mysteries. Mo Rocca recently interviewed Kathy Griffin on CBS Sunday Morning. I learned more about humor from that interview than I’d ever learned listening to my favorite humorous mystery authors.

I’d love to have the chance to sit down with Jon Stewart for an hour. Just me and Jon. No cameras. No audience. I’d love to pick his brain about writing humor.

But the person I’d most like to spend time with is Alan Alda. Disclaimer: I think M*A*S*H is the best sitcom ever shown on TV. I own the complete eleven season DVD set. Every few months I’ll watch a season. The episodes that Alan Alda wrote are my favorites. The man had an incredible knack for taking something as serious as war and adding humor while still maintaining the seriousness of the subject. He showed how humor can help get people through difficult situations. And he did it brilliantly. That’s what I try to do in writing my humorous mysteries.

If Alan Alda were to give a master class on writing humor, there’s no way I’d start nodding off, no matter how hot the room.

Lois Winston is the author of the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. She’s currently on a blog tour to promote the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series. For a chance to win a copy of the book, stop by any of the blogs on her blog tour and post a comment. You can find the complete blog schedule at her website and Anastasia’s blog.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My Ideal Writing Retreat

Vicki here on a snowy Sunday.

What’s my ideal place to write? Right here. Where I am now.

That’s how I was planning to begin this post. And then I read Gary’s. Geeze how do I top that?

Now, I don't really want to write in the bat cave. But a villa on a Greek Island might be nice. Overlooking turquoise waters and white houses. While the cook prepares dinner and the butler brings a glass of chilled white wine.

A cottage on Lake Muskoka’s a good choice. Overlooking dark blue waters and wooden cottages. While a boy-toy prepares dinner after bringing me a glass of chilled white wine.

By the fire at a resort at Whistler in ski season. While the restaurant chef cooks dinner and the waiter brings me a glass of red wine.

Come to think of it, there are a lot of ideal places to write in this world. But if we had our choice, I suspect most of us would prefer to have help than a bucolic setting. Someone to do the time-wasting stuff. Such as not only cooking the meals, but cleaning the house, watching the kids. Most importantly - earning the money.

Isn’t that what a writer’s retreat is? Some place one can not only go to write for a period of time, but sometimes even get a grant or something to enable one to write.

But seriously, my ideal place is here. Where I live. I retired from a job as a systems analyst at a big bank a few years ago. I sold my house in the suburbs and bought a small place in the country surrounded by farmer’s fields.

I have a little house, but it’s big enough to have one room devoted to being my ‘office’. In the summer, I take my laptop out onto the deck to sit by the pool. In the winter, I sit in the office next to the wood store. Which is burning, even as
I type.

Although sometimes it gets so hot in here, I have to retreat to the dining room table.

A writer, as has been said, can write anywhere. Should be able to write anywhere. But of course the right environment helps.

You need quiet, a chance to be alone for hours at a time. A nice view out the window helps, I believe, for those moments when you’re stuck and you just lean back in your chair and look out the window. And inspiration strikes.

Here are some pics of my office and the view out my window

This last picture is of the work I have to do to create my writing retreat. Wood, stacked and piled by me, myself.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

To the Batpole, Old Chum

Aw snap, here’s my office supreme, yessiree, the Batcave. I get up on the morning, tell my high tech coffeemaker to grind some fresh beans and start brewing it strong and dark the way I like it. Take the secret entrance via the grandfather clock in the study decked out in a tasteful combination of old school and modernistic furniture. I descend via not a batpole but a forced air column that gently lowers me into my secret lair. In case of emergencies, should this air suddenly be shut off, naturally I’m in such great shape I merely fling out my grappling line – ‘cause of course I’m never without this bad rascal – catch hold of one of the designed metal outcroppings just for this purpose, and lower myself manually.

I sit at one of the bank of super computers I have down there, my coffee delivered by my assistant, Ms. D’Arcy, who’s so fine she makes Alicia Keys look like a buck-toothed tomboy. But it’s strictly business with us, naturally. So then, sipping my brew, I take note of current tweets as I have the likes of Lady Gaga and Mark Zuckerberg following me. The computer is programmed to tweet for me, and every ten minutes or so for a specific period each day it’ll tell me in that warm feminine voice of the computer from original Star Trek (because Hal’s from 2001: A Space Odyssey is way too creepy) what thread is going where and I can dictate my responses. The computer also corrects to make me sound witty and clever.

Meanwhile I’m in the midst of my workout in the gym area/level of the cave, easily benching 350, curling let’s say a set of eighty reps 100 pound barbell, and running a cool five miles on the treadmill – barely breaking a sweat. As I do this I go over my week’s schedule with the fetching Ms. D’Arcy, speaking appearances, workshops I’m giving over Skype and so forth. I shower off, get dressed in my smoking jacket and slacks, and sit down to pound out at least 3,000 words of sparkling prose. Afterward I take a break, have a wonderfully prepared late lunch prepared by my personal chef, then a light workout and meditation session. Next I get dressed in my gear for night patrol, for the crime I foil by such malefactors as Dr. Greyface or the Green Mamba, also serves as first hand material for my books, plays, scripts and short stories.

It’s a wonderful life…and slowly as I awake from my delusional daydream, a pearl of a tear appears in the corner of my eye as I blink at my humble surroundings. But I suck it up and get back to work on the keyboard, spinning them yarns.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Sound Retreat

By Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

What is my idea of a favorite writing retreat? I have gone on many an excursion with journal and pen in hand expecting the soothing quiet of a remote location and the not-available-at-my-house perfection of room service to provide the idyllic tranquility and undiminished concentration to dash off the great American novel. So far, mostly all I’ve achieved are frequent flyer points. As it turns out, preparing for the perfect writing experience actually strangles the moment for me. It’s too much pressure, too much opportunity, too much much.

When I think of the places I’ve actually written well, when the words flowed like honey onto the page, well, I am lead to the conclusion that more prisoners should be best-selling authors. And those Chilean coal miners? Well, they had time to brainstorm adventure series while waiting for daylight to break through. No distractions, no lovely beach, no tanned hard bodies wandering into view. Distractions, distractions, distractions. They are the nemesis of my moment of literary retreat.

A writer friend of mine told me that if I wanted to write more, better, faster, I needed to make my writing less precious. I needed to stop waiting for the retreat – the perfect moment, the picturesque location, the soothing environment – and find my retreat in every free hour, half-hour, ten minutes of unexpected time, in every location from parking lots to busy coffee houses. She encouraged me to discover my writing retreat serendipitiously, in every opportunity that presented itself. I may long for Maui and sultry tropical breezes but the best writing retreats now require the true writer’s passport --my journal. Basically, she taught me that to write I needed to retreat from retreat. I needed to live, make the words part of the daily life, the real life that gets lived and breathed without thinking.

In my journey during 2011, when I decided I needed to recommit myself to myself as writer, I made some changes that I hope will pay dividends in 2012. The first, to keep my journal always with me, seems to be working. I’m not writing stories in it, I’m just jotting ideas, capturing moments of life and laughter as they jump out at me. That journal is giving me daily “retreats” without requiring a budget or a rental car. More importantly, they string from day to day like fairy lights, magically leading me down adventurous paths built of imagination and grouted with language. Have you ever walked a labyrinth in your own town? Go online and see if you can find one. Take fifteen minutes and put one foot in front of the other, opening your mind and your heart to whatever comes. Then take forty-five minutes and write, write, write. Then give everything, anything, everything that comes into your mind as an offering onto the page right there next to the maze. And tell me if you don’t feel renewed. Rested. Re-energized.

Writing, for me, isn’t a retreat. Not when it’s good and pure. It’s the opposite, regardless of atmosphere and geography. It’s an advance. A charge into the life that gives me the stories. So for 2012 I won’t be doing any writing retreats. Forward charges only. I’ll look forward to meeting you all there.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Room of One’s Own

By Michael

My wife wants me to buy a desk. A fifty-year-old writer writing books on top of a piece of plywood that he has stretched across two banged-up metal file cabinets is – I don’t know what – Cheap? Pathetic? She also would like me to replace my desk chair, which I found in the basement of a house I rented thirty years ago when I was in college. The paint would be chipping off the chair if it had any paint left to chip.

After I sold my first mystery, my parents bought me a beautiful glass organizer for pens, paperclips, and the like – all those desktop items that I would keep neat if I owned a proper desk instead of a piece of cheap, pathetic plywood.

Recently, my aunt, who lives in Williamsburg, Virginia, bought me a quill and inkpot, which are, I assume, what writers in Williamsburg keep on their desks or once kept back in the pilgrim days.

Several years ago, my mother-in-law bought me a khaki safari jacket, telling me she thought it looked “writerly” – and it probably did in a Hemingway kind of way. If I wore it while writing, I could use the roughly two dozen pockets in it to store all the extra pens and paperclips that didn’t fit in the desk organizer. That is, if I had a desk.

But I like my workspace. It includes only the essentials, nothing that gets in the way –physically, emotionally, psychologically – when I’m writing. A laptop and a PC fit comfortably between my manuscripts and notes, my boxes of paperclips, my pens, and my post-office scale. If I’m thirsty, I can squeeze in a coffee cup. Pictures of my wife and kids smile at me from the top of an extra file cabinet.

At my smiling wife’s insistence, I agreed – reluctantly – to stain and polyurethane the plywood “desktop.” The fanciness of the glossy finish bothered me for a couple of weeks until dust started to settle. As for the rest, some day I hope to visit Williamsburg wearing my safari jacket. I’ll carry my quill in one pocket and my inkpot in another. When I do, I’ll bring my aunt a beautiful glass organizer.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Well-Appointed Room…

By Tracy Kiely

I once had a writing teacher tell me that “one doesn’t need a special place to write; that if one wants to write, one simply does.”

Among the many things I learned from this teacher was that I really hate the constant use of the word “one.” As in, “one got pretty sick of his advice once one had been to a few of his classes.”

I need my space, my nook, my niche. I cannot plop down in any random spot and produce anything more serious than a laundry list of tasks that I hope to fulfill (but know that I won’t as I am constantly losing said laundry lists). I have a study/office in my house that I lovingly decorated in anticipation of the day when I would ink my first book deal. The thing is I never use it. It’s downstairs and has no windows. At first, I thought this would be ideal as I would have no distractions, but the problem with that line of thinking is that I also have three kids. Three kids who, when not properly supervised, do things. Things like decide to bake cookies, despite a proven lack of ability to follow directions. Things like decide to reenact battle scenes from Star Wars despite being repeatedly told that when you whack someone in the head with a light saber – even if it is made of plastic – it still hurts. Things like decide to use the outdoors as a bathroom. (Don’t ask. Granted, it was years ago, but I doubt I - or the neighbors - will ever forget it.)

Where was I?

Oh, yes; the perfect office for the perfect book.

Well, until the children leave, I think I am stuck where I am now; at a desk off the kitchen where I can head off such inadvisable endeavors. I have trained myself to drown out Sponge Bob, iCarly, and horrible video games, only letting certain phrases penetrate my focus (“Bet you can’t do this!” “Want to see something gross?” “Where do we keep the vanilla?”). I make it work, but, in the meantime, I can dream. And in my dream study – which looks strikingly similar to a room one you might find if visiting Pemberly or Downton Abbey, I image I would create literary brilliance.

In addition to being a well-appointed, brightly lit room, my dream study has a breathtaking view of the extensive gardens for which the house is (of course) renowned. The ceiling is a masterpiece of molding and craftsmanship. The walls are papered in some faded French tapestry. There is a fire in the large, stone fireplace and an adoring dog (of me, not the fireplace) snoozes on the hearth.

Plus - if I did find myself writing in such a room, I’m pretty sure it would mean I was now the kind of wealthy usually described as “filthy.” (Either that, or I’ve wandered off the official tour and am mere moments away from being escorted off the property.) However, should this all really be mine, then it most likely means that there are servants lurking about as well.

Which means someone else can run interference on the children and I can focus on writing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Not goodbye

by Josh

I met Kelli Stanley's mother Trish for the first time this past September in St. Louis at Bouchercon...but, no, that couldn't have been the first time. It sure hadn't felt like the first time. The words of strangers dance awkwardly around each other. Ours glided.

Prior to St. Louis, Kelli and I had encouraged our mothers to correspond with each other. After all, they seemed to have a great deal in common. They both were hyperliterate woman who had raised hyperliterate children. They both were battling stage four ovarian cancer. There is always a certain comfort found in kinship, not matter what the source, and Mom and Trish had been emailing each other for a few months by the time September mosslessly rolled around.

At the last minute, Mom was unable to come with me to St. Louis.

I met Trish (but not for the first time - it couldn't have been) in the dealers room at Bouchercon and she immediately invited me to lunch. The level of company can raise the quality of a meal, and so the food in the hotel that afternoon was delicious. She, Kelli, Kelli's partner Tana, and I bantered about politics and religion. Strangers can't do that. I told Trish how much I admired her cane, which sparkled - much like her personality. Trish informed me that she had a small picture of Kelli as a child which she kept on a bracelet. She promised to show it to me the next day.

She showed it to me the next day. She was so proud of her daughter. Five minutes later, Kelli won the Macavity. Trish watched it happen from the first row.

Over the course of that weekend, I spent many hours in Trish's company. With pleasure and good fortune, I listened as she regaled me with vivid tales of her childhood. When, finally, we said goodbye, we didn't say goodbye. Later, too, when we continued our conversation via email, we spoke about how we would see each other again, perhaps at another convention where Kelli would receive another well-deserved honor.

This past Sunday, on January 7, Trish Stanley passed away. She did so on her own terms, not in a hospital but at home and in the presence of Kelli, and Tana, and love.

I never got to see her again. I never got to tell her goodbye. But that's OK. After all, how can you say goodbye to someone who is still with you, to someone who was with you before you even met them?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Office Envy

By Sue Ann Jaffarian

My desk 2009

This is a photo of my writing space taken on January 4, 2009. It's in a corner of my bedroom, which is quite large. As I wrote, I could hear traffic noise from Palms Boulevard three stories below and people arguing on the street. 

My desk 2012

This is a photo of my writing space taken on January 7, 2012. Same bedroom, same corner, same desk. It's tidier, has a new chair that the cats don't claw, and the tower has been replaced with a laptop. Across most of the top of the hutch are items sent to me by readers.  There are others, but they are out of camera range or in my office at the law firm where I have more room. The book to the left is a signed copy of Nose Jobs for Peace by Selma Diamond, who I consider my ghostly muse. My trusty, huge white board is still to my right. Three floors below, Palms Boulevard is as busy as ever. As you can see I haven't come far in three years. 

Well, that's not true. During the three years between these two photos, I've written 8 novels and 5 short stories at that very desk. But as far as location goes, I'm in a rut that doesn't look to change soon.

This week's question is to talk about a writing retreat that would inspire me to write my best book ever. I find it an odd question because my best book is going to be written no matter where I am. Writing comes from within, not from without. In the debate on nature vs. nurture, I'd say when it comes to writing, nature wins hands down.

Sue Grafton's Office
But it sure wouldn't hurt to nurture it a little, would it? 

There are two offices I envy. One is real; one fictional.  The real one belongs to Sue Grafton. I mean, just look at that awesome space!!! Miles and miles of counter tops and drawers, and a freaking big window with trees. I drool every time I look at the photo. I'll bet Ms. Grafton can't smell her neighbor's excessive use of lighter fluid on their barbecue, or hear sirens and city buses while she works.
The fictional retreat is the writing space Diane Keaton used in the movie Something's Gotta Give.  Although it was in her bedroom, like mine, it faces a fabulous window and was located in a gorgeous house in the Hamptons.
Office in Something's Gotta Give

I don't need to "retreat" to some secluded location to write. And, hopefully, I will always write my best wherever I find myself, but it sure would be nice to have a beautiful work space like one of these in a nice quiet cottage in the mountains or at the beach.

Maybe some day ...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Much to Look Forward to in 2012

My last post was a look back at 2011, and some of the many moments that I loved. But now it's a new year, and I'm looking ahead. Some of the things I'm eagerly anticipating:

The Release of The Next One to Fall: I'm not normally a person who gets excited about Valentine's Day, but this year it's my release date! If you're in New York City, the launch party will be at The Mysterious Bookshop on February 15th at 6:30. After that, I'll be on tour in Houston (Murder by the Book on Feb. 17th), Austin (BookPeople on Feb. 18th), Scottsdale (The Poisoned Pen on Feb. 21st) and Glendale (Velma Teague Library on Feb. 22nd)... plus plenty of other places after that (Long Island, Toronto, Denver, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco... and more in the works). If you happen to pre-order a copy before Valentine's Day, please enter the pre-order contest; not only will you be eligible for a prize, but I'm donating a dollar to Heifer for each pre-order, so every one absolutely makes a difference.

Joining Two Boards of the Mystery Writers of America: on the National Board, I'm a Director at Large, which I love because the "at large" part makes me sound like a gunslinging desperado, or maybe a miscreant from an FBI "most wanted" poster. On the board of the New York Chapter, I'm a general rabble-rouser. Seriously, it's a huge honor to be elected (twice!) to serve on an organization with the power to do so much to help writers, both established and aspiring. I hope to do much to justify the confidence placed in me.

Visiting Israel: I'm heading there later this month. In a way, I can't believe I'm doing this now, with so much on the go (second book coming out, third book being revised). On the other hand, I've dreamed of visiting Israel for so long that I can't believe I've waited this long.

Attending Crime Conferences: So far, I'm scheduled for Left Coast Crime in Sacramento, Murder 203 in Easton, Connecticut, Bloody Words in Toronto, and Bouchercon in Cleveland. I love going to conferences (when else do I get to see — or meet — so many of my friends?), and I'm hoping to wriggle one or two more into the schedule this year.

Seeing the Release of Friends' Books: Some of the novels are ones I've already had the pleasure of reading (Chris F. Holm's Dead Harvest, Jake Hinkson's Hell on Church Street, Frank Bill's Donnybrook); others, I'm just looking forward to (Stephen Blackmoore's City of the Lost, Brad Parks' The Girl Next Door, Chuck Wendig's Blackbirds, Sophie Littlefield's A Bad Day for Mercy)... it's a long list, actually. There's nothing more exciting to me than delving into a friend's latest work.