Friday, June 29, 2012

Mitch and Murray Sent Me

Describe myself in six lousy words, huh?  Some years ago, I was in a training to do door-to-door sales.  It wasn’t vacuum cleaners or Veg-O-Matics (and you have to be a certain age to remember those), but I can’t for the life of med remember now what the heck the thing I was supposed to be selling.  Anyway I do recall two bits of memory from that time.  There was a Don Draperish head of sales (a laid back sort of guy actually, definitely not in the Mamet mold of the Glengarry Glen Ross Mitch and Murray sent me go for the jugular type…”What’s my name?  My name is…”)in a pin-striped suit who admonished us young cats when knocking on doors to never if invited in to make your spiel, enter the home of a woman alone.  There was some joking at this point about the allure of the lonely housewife but as this is a family blog, I shall eschew trying to recount such.

Anyway, at some point in this process, which dragged out for several sessions, us would-be Willie Lomans had to take this supposed psychology test to determine out fitness for the gig.  The thing I do remember is the Draper-like guy telling me I got good points for tenacity.  He smiled when he said that.  In the end though, I didn’t wind up shilling whatever the heck it was I was supposed to sell but I do like to think that in all those ensuing years, tenacity has served me well when a book gets rejected, several times, when a story I’ve written comes back with red all over its pages, or when I talk with an editor who sings my praises then never returns my messages afterward. 

Though I will admit there is something to Alec Baldwin's "brass balls" motivational guy in Glengarry Glen Ross that does play in my head when I'm pitching a project that I replay sometimes in my head to pump myself up.  So let’s see, I’d say my six in no particular order are:






ABC -- Always Be Charging (Forward)


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Oooh, Look! Another Shiny New Career!

by Alan

Today’s assignment: Describe yourself in six words.

Where to start? On a personal note? How about: Husband, father, son, brother, uncle, friend. Accurate, if a bit sappy.

Maybe: Tall, dark, handsome, cosmopolitan, urbane, delusional. Well, one out of six.

Let’s try six words describing my professional side:
Oooh, look! Another shiny new career!    Yeah, let’s go with that.

nuclear-submarineWhen I graduated college, I took a job with General Electric, in their manufacturing management program. This program for engineers consisted of four different jobs, in different locations and business units, in two years. See the country! And I did. I worked in Syracuse, Richmond/Newport News, and Tewksbury, MA. Some of the jobs were interesting (nuclear subs, anyone?), and all were educational, at least in some respect. The best: I was a foreman on the manufacturing floor, supervising about 25 people. All ladies who were older than me. As a fresh-faced 22-year-old, I sure learned a lot there (most of which I can’t repeat)!

After my training rotation was complete, I went to Louisville to work at the GE plant (actually, it was five plants) that made major appliances. My job? I was a buyer responsible for purchasing more than $40 million dollars a year of…cardboard boxes (in mid 1980 dollars). That’s a lot of corrugated!

But, I didn’t cotton to engineering, so I went back to business school, got an MBA, and hit the corporate world again. First stop: The Washington Post. A great place to work. Of course, back then I wasn’t a writer, so I toiled on the business side, in the Budget Department. Which, in case you weren’t sure, was a lot more boring than working with Ben Bradlee.

Then it was off to Arbitron Ratings, as a marketing manager. Fun, but… not too much fun. From there, I moved to Virginia and took a job with a small tech company whose mission was to assist in the commercialization of technology developed for the Star Wars defense program. Sounds fascinating. In reality—less fascinating.

Fed up with working for the Man, I started my own company in the 1990’s, publishing newsletters. Fun! I did that for a while, until this new information delivery system, called the Internet, doomed my business model. Not so much fun!

Then I worked for a debit card system developer, marketing hardware and software solutions. Also fun! But… but… Oooh, look! Another shiny new career!


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Six Words

by Tracy Kiely

  • Anglophile
  • Janeite
  • Sarcastic
  • Procrastinator
  • Chatterbox
  • Pale

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Six Words: I have always been very lucky.

Vicki here today. 
Do you believe in luck?

I do. We often hear that people make their own luck, but sometimes it’s just fate. 

Take me, for example.  I may not have scaled great heights in my writing career but it’s solid and prolific and something I can be proud of, and I have three great publishers I respect.  There’s a lot of persistence in building a writing career, to be sure, but a healthy dose of luck is pretty important also. 

I didn’t inherit money, but I was lucky enough (that word again!) to work for a number of years for a company which gave us stock options. And, even better luck, their stock just kept climbing no matter what the rest of the stock market did. I was also lucky not to take the advice of any financial advisors who told me to diversity. I kept my company stock.  If my luck had gone the other way, I could have lost it all.  But it didn’t, and so I was able to retire early and become a full time writer.

I am blessed with good health, although I should say I am lucky to have good health, because other than keeping my diet light on junk food and processed food, I don’t do much to keep myself healthy.

I am lucky that all my children grew up to be strong, healthy, intelligent, passionate women.  (Perhaps I had a little bit to do with that, but as we know, sometimes, it’s just luck).

I’m lucky to live in a peaceful time, in a peaceful place.  I certainly can’t say I had anything do to with that.  I was lucky to have good parents who gave me good genes and support and a good education with which to make my way in the world.

And I was certainly lucky to have been invited to join the crew at 7 Criminal Minds.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Just Call Me Huff 'n Puff

Several years ago, I was asked in an interview to describe myself in six words. I don’t know where my response came from, but I do remember not thinking about it more than a nano-second.  My response:  THE FAT LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD.
All my life, people have laughed when I said I wanted to be a novelist.  And why not? I’d wanted to pursue that path all my life and talked about it - a lot - but talk is cheap, and even though I made several feeble attempts over the years, it wasn’t until I was in my mid-forties that I put my butt in front of a keyboard armed with one of the most serious words in the world:  Commitment.
And I did it.
I chugged up that hill, word by painful word, until my first novel was finally done. And even though that book snagged me my first agent and short listed me with a few publishers, it’s still sitting in a drawer. But did the little engine give up? No. I kept going and am happy and proud to say that in September Midnight Ink will release my 12th published novel, Hide and Snoop. And between Midnight Ink and Berkley, I have contracts for seven more books waiting to be fulfilled.
But The Fat Little Engine Wasn't Satisfied. In my mid-fifties, when I said I was going to enter the Camp Pendleton Mud Run, people eyed my considerable bulk, rolled their eyes and laughed. Well, I entered and completed the course in the official time.
Now, as I stand on the precipice of sixty, I’m tackling another long-time dream.  This time calling on THE FAT LITTLE ENGINE THAT DID to do it again. That dream I’ll talk about another time since the engine is still in the station, working up a head of steam to tackle the next hill.
I know I can. I know I can. I know I can...

Friday, June 22, 2012

The charming world of mystery cons

by Meredith Cole

Unlike Chris, I have been to quite a few mystery conventions. And, like Chris and Hilary, I find them tons of fun. But I'm also not one of those introverted writers who freezes up in front of a crowd. Unchained from my computer, I enjoy chatting, hanging out and meeting new people.

If you want a great experience at a convention, try to go out of your comfort zone and try to meet new people. And, this may be obvious to you, but don't lunge at everyone with your bookmarks (it comes across as a bit, um, aggressive), or complain incessantly about your panel placement/horrible publisher/book deal. Instead, ask people about themselves. Before you know it, you'll have ten new friends/contacts/drinking buddies.

I don't get to go every year, but I went to Baltimore and San Francisco and had a blast at both. Baltimore was one of my first cons, and it was huge and a bit overwhelming. San Francisco was my second Bouchercon, and it was full of familiar faces and I got to hang with fellow Criminal minds in San Francisco and find out how fun they are.

If you love mysteries, you'll also see some of your favorite writers.

Here I am with Sara Paretsky. It's a terrible picture, but I have to keep it because I'm such a fan girl!

Here's a tip: Go to local Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America meetings, if you're lucky enough to have them in your vicinity, before tackling a big con. That way you're sure to see some familiar faces and not feel so overwhelmed.

Malice Domestic:
If cozies and/or traditional mysteries are your thing, then you can't miss Malice Domestic. Held every year in DC, it's super convenient for me. And Malice is where I won my award (the St. Martin's/Malice Domestic Best Traditional Mystery Competition) and got nominated for an Agatha.

Like Bouchercon, you never know who you'll meet in the lobby or see in the halls. At the last Malice,  I met the delightful Becke Davis from B&N's mystery book club.

Virginia Festival of the Book, Crime Wave:
Talk about super convenient--this festival is literally a 15 minute walk from my house. More intimate, it's only about 20 or so invited mystery authors. You're sure to have some time with the honored guests, and get to meet many of your amazing fellow writers. About 250 writers come to the whole festival, and attendance (by readers) is over 20,000 every year.

If you're a writer (of any genre) and would like to go to the festival, just fill out a simple form online at, and then send your books in.

Now--I'm going to add lots of photos like Hilary and Chris for your viewing enjoyment...

So--what are your favorite festivals and conventions?

Best First Novel Agatha panel at Malice Domestic

Southern Festival of the Book with JT Ellison and Laura Benedict
Another favorite author: Laura Lippman--at Bouchercon

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Prose and Cons

by Chris F. Holm

Okay, you want the skinny on crime-fic cons? The good, the bad, the ugly? Well buckle up, buttercup, 'cause I'm about to drop some knowledge, raw and unvarnished.

(Editor's Note: Chris is going to do no such thing. He's been to exactly one book conference in his life, Bouchercon 2011, and had an unqualified good time. No, really, here's proof. So any negatives he manages to muster up must have been plucked out of... let's politely say the clear, blue sky.)

The Bad: Like books? Maybe you even wrote one? Well, then, I hope you like public speaking, too, because there's a good chance you'll wind up on a panel. 
The lovely missus, alongside Donna Andrews, Rosemary Harris, Julie Hyzy, and Shirley Damsgaard (L to R).
Christa Freakin' Faust, S. J. Rozan, Jonathan Woods, Benjamin Whitmer, Scott Montgomery, John Rector, Scott Phillips, and, uh, me (L to R).
The Good: Once you get up on said panel, all your jitters will disappear in a crazy geek rush of HOLY HELL LOOK WHO I'M SITTING NEXT TO. (In my wife's case, comedic-crime-legend Donna Andrews, whose books Kat has read and loved for years. In my case, Scott Phillips, who showed up late, drink in hand, and told one of the filthiest stories I've ever heard to a crowd of hundreds, while sitting six inches from me. It was one of the best moments of my life.)
The Bad: Wherever you think you're headed, you're not. The bulk of your time will be spent in hallways. Gotta go to the bathroom? Feel like heading up to bed? Too bad for you. The hallway cannot be escaped.
Josh Stallings, Neliza Drew, yours truly, and the missus (AKA Katrina Niidas Holm), snapped by Sabrina Ogden (L to R).
The Good: The reason you'll spend most of your time in hallways is you'll keep running into wildly interesting people with whom you've loads in common, and at whom you wish to babble for hours on end.
The Bad: Say goodbye to sleep, because the bar closes late, and the programming starts early. For folks like me who barely keep from throttling strangers when they get less than seven hours' sleep, it can be brutal.
Me, Kat, Neliza "I'm totally pulling off this hat" Drew (and she was), Brad Parks, Joelle Charbonneau, and Sabrina Odgen (L to R).
The Good: You'll be forgoing sleep to hang out with lovely folks like those pictured above (taken at a 7:30 breakfast at which Charlaine Harris was the guest of honor.) Added bonus: CM alumnus Michael Wiley was our table's resident author. If possible, he was even more charming than his posts would lead you to believe, and all before his morning coffee, no less.
The Bad: After four straight days of drinking, dancing, and God knows what else, your supposedly ringer-heavy trivia team may not be all they're cracked up to be.
Hilary Davidson, moi, Kat, the almost always lovely and ever-charming Brad Parks, and my boo-in-law Lauren O'Brien (L to R)
And now, because the question of the week mentioned good, bad, and the ugly, I leave you with a few examples of said ugly... because even the most photogenic among us (I'm not) get tired, cranky, and/or caught unawares sometimes (with apologies to the 99% debonair Brad Parks for exposing his one fleeting moment of B'con exhaustion).
Bill Cameron and Blake Crouch looking on while I, presumably, uh, break cross-eyed into song?
In our defense, it was, like, hella early.
Lest you think I'm blowing smoke regarding my love of cons, I'd encourage any of y'all attending Readercon in Massachusetts 7/12-15, Bouchercon in Cleveland 10/4-7, QuebeCrime in Quebec City 10/25-27, or Murder and Mayhem in Muskego 11/10 to drop me a line; maybe we'll hang out in the hallway.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

It's All Good

By Hilary Davidson

This week, I'm supposed to reveal all about crime-writing conferences. The good? I've got plenty to say about that. The bad? Well, I'm sad when they end. The ugly? I have no idea what you're talking about.

I can't even tell you how much I've gotten out of conferences like Bouchercon over the past couple of years. These events introduce me to new people, solidify friendships first formed online, and give me a chance to hang out with cool people who love books as much as I do.

Maybe I can't tell you how much I love crime conferences, but I can show you. Some great moments from conferences I've attended:

Murder & Mayhem in Muskego 2011
Bouchercon 2010
Bouchercon 2011
ThrillerFest 2011
ThrillerFest 2010
Bouchercon 2010
Bouchercon 2010
Bouchercon 2010
Bouchercon 2010 
Noircon 2010
Noircon 2010 
Bloody Words 2011
Noircon 2010
Bouchercon 2011
Bouchercon 2011
Bouchercon 2011
Bouchercon 2011
Bouchercon 2011 
Left Coast Crime 2012
Left Coast Crime 2012
QuebeCrime 2011
Bouchercon 2011
Bouchercon 2011
Left Coast Crime 2012
Bouchercon 2011

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Running Man In The Suit

By Reece Hirsch

I'm going to opt to answer last week's question -- if I could no longer write the sort of books I write, what would I write instead?

I currently write what might be described as "running man in a suit" books, also known as legal thrillers.  You've seen the book jackets, which inevitably display the shadowy outline of a dude in a dark business suit, briefcase in hand, running.  If the guy is in so much danger, why doesn't he drop the briefcase?  I can't answer that question.

I suppose if I couldn't write legal thrillers, I'd still end up writing from my experiences as a partner in a law firm.  I'd write books in which the dude in the suit takes a breather and doesn't run so much.  I'd slow the pacing down a bit, show lawyers doing more of what they do in real life -- sitting behind desks and practicing law.  I know the drama isn't quite so heightened, but, believe me, it's still there.

In particular, I'm fascinated by the mega-lawsuits that some large law firms handle, the kind that go on for decades like the case of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce in Dickens' "Bleak House."  I can think of a few current and former colleagues who started working on a case as first-years fresh out of law school and, twenty or so years later, were still litigating the very same matter.  I find this phenomenon fascinating because over the course of a single, massively expensively, knock-down-drag-out litigation, the attorneys grow old and some die (unlike legal thrillers, by natural causes), the cultural landscape shifts, law firms rise and fall, and even the law itself is altered.  The combatants also change, as the corporations embroiled in the dispute cycle through several generations of management.  When there are hundreds of millions or billions of dollars at stake, corporations tend to fight to the bitter end, like dinosaurs tearing at each other until they disappear together into the tar pit.

I think there are a lot of interesting storytelling possibilities in that sort of mega-case because so many changes in the world at large end up getting refracted through the prism of the lawsuit.  Maybe one day I'll write that sort of book, but I don't think it would qualify as a legal thriller.  But if that book were to be written and published, I'm betting that it would still have that running man in the suit on its cover.

Note:  Despite my grousing, it should be noted that the cover of my novel The Insider actually did not feature the running man in the suit.  My publisher opted for the more tasteful "man in suit staring pensively out of office tower window" pictured above.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Phantom Raider

What else would I write, eh?  Well, I’ve written speeches for political candidates, ad copy (though this was package cruises for the bingo crowd and definitely not in the Don Draperish mode), grants for nonprofits and tied to that, tried to make the assessment reports to those funders not too dry in quantifying what we did with their scratch.  I’ve written book and film reviews and could see doing more of that, but the inevitable itch would arise about doing my own books or pitching TV ideas so that could become very frustrating.
Jazz and blues music critic?  That could be a cool job.  Getting comp’d to go hear a new dynamic trio or catch an old pro like Mose Allison or Marcus Miller?  But I’d feel bad if I had to give one of these cats or kitties a bad revue though of course would feel obligated to be honest and hopefully not snarky but offer constructive criticism.   Maybe what I’d really want to be is a jazz photographer on the scene like William Claxton was all those years. Staying out until the wee hours – at this age I would have to take a nap prior to the set – being part of the backdrop yet being able to capture the intimate shot like he did with Ella, Miles, Prez and so many others.

How about writing my secret memoirs as a masked adventurer called the Phantom Raider, a sort of Batman crossed with Tony Stark?  Rich, gadget inventor, brainy chicks dig you, obsessive, dedicated, in tip-top shape, and master of various fighting forms.  But honestly, could you imagine each day donning your armor – and finally after all these years it’s been established Bats’ costume is made of Kevlar material ‘cause you know, gangsters aren’t that great as shootists but they aren’t that bad in their aim – getting punched, kicked in the groin, socked in your head and having your teeth rattled constantly?  Talk about PTSD.  Let alone no matter how much body protection you have, all those bruises and trauma to the body takes its toll.  You’d be a physical wreck. But my deterioration would make a swell book.
Comic book artist and writer.  That would be the best.  As I’ve often noted on panels, I became a prose writer because I can’t draw.  But when I was a kid, I desperately wanted to write and draw my own comics and spent many hours at the draft table, composing panels on Strathmore paper, dipping various nibs of various widths attached to my Speedball pen into India ink and inking my pencils and letters.  Turns out I stunk, but damned if I didn’t feel fulfilled when I got a page done.  What I wouldn’t give to be a able draftsman, sought after by comics editors hungry for the look I brought to the project.  Having so much clout I could pick and choose my assignments.
Of course I’d write and draw the comic book, The Astounding Phantom Raider, Scourge of the Underworld.      

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Little of This, A Little of That

by Alan

If I could no longer write mysteries, what would I write instead?

I like mysteries; I read tons of them. But I also like thrillers, horror novels, YA books, coming-of-age stories, and science fiction novels. So I could see myself writing books in any of those genres.

Here’s a little admission: when I write, I try not to think in terms of genre. I think in terms of story. If I’ve thought of a great story idea, then I’ll seriously consider writing it, no matter what section it might wind up in at the bookstore.thetastecoverforwebsite

Truth be told, I’ve already dabbled. You see, my alter ego, Zak Allen, has pubbed two original ebooks: THE TASTE (horror) and FIRST TIME KILLER (thriller). I had a blast writing each of them and they came out pretty close to my (twisted) visions.

In addition, I’ve written a YA book (currently being shopped by my agent) and I’ve also written another coming-of-ager (not sure what I’m going to do with that one). Of my list of “alternate” genres, the only one I haven’t tried (yet) is science fiction (I’m afraid my agent might kill me if I do that).

Of course, I’ve always wanted to write a TV show or screenplay, or maybe a cookbook (I like to eat), or a book on poker, or maybe…


And speaking of books in different genres, this Saturday, June 16, at 2:30, I’ll be at The Taste of Reston festival (Reston Town Center in Reston, VA), reading from one of my childhood favorites, My Side of the Mountain. Look for the Family Fun Zone Stage and bring your friends (and your appetite)!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pets and Working Dogs

Vicki here, on my new day of alternate Tuesdays.  Hope you all like the new daily lineup.

As I didn't get to answer last week's question about pets, I'm going to do both today.

What would I write if I couldn't write crime novels?  Long, lush, historical romances set in Venice in the 15th - 17th centuries.  Why, you may ask, don't I just go ahead and write such a book?  The answer is simple, because I don't know know much about the history of 15th - 17th century Venice. And it would take me too long to learn it well enough to write a realistic book.

And, because I like writing crime novels!

As for pets: Most of my books have dogs in them.  Not only because I like dogs and find them fascinating, but because a dog in a scene can help to give the scene action and momentum.  A group of people are sitting around a kitchen table talking? Stick a dog under the table, scratching and sniffing and twitching. Adds a bit of action and colour to what might be a boring scene of an exchange of information.

But you can’t just add a dog to have something living under the table, it does have to have a reason to be there.

In the Smith and Winters series, neither Molly Smith nor John Winters have any pets.  Molly’s a young single woman living in a small apartment with a job that requires her to be on shift 12 hours a day. No room in her life for a dog.   Similarly John Winters is a cop and his wife Eliza used to travel extensively for work so they couldn’t have a pet.  It is also implied that each is the centre of the other’s world so completely that they don’t need an animal.

Molly’s mother, Lucky, however has a dog. A sloppy shaggy Golden Retriever called Sylvester.  Lucky lives in a big place in the country; she’s a gregarious person with plenty of friends; she’s got a big heart and need to live surrounded by people.  Nothing more natural than that she should have a dog. I can’t recall even deciding to give Lucky a dog, it was a given.

Dogs of course can be more than pets. Because Molly Smith doesn’t have room for an animal in her life, I brought one in another way. Her boyfriend is the police dog handler.  The dog’s name is Norman.  As an added bonus, I’ve enjoyed learning about police dogs and how they live and work.  It's Norman on the cover of Among the Departed. 

An eager student

A Handsome Officer

Monday, June 11, 2012

Ideas? I Got A Million of Them!

So, let me get this straight, someone comes to me and says, "You can no longer write humorous amateur sleuth mysteries about ghosts and plump paralegals. So what else ya got?"

So glad you asked.

While many readers complain: so many books, so little time. My major complaint is: so many stories, not enough time.  I have had a laundry list of plots, characters and settings whirling around in my brain for years. It's frustrating. They want to come out and play. They want me to pay attention to them. They demand equal time. But as any writer will tell you, you have to put your contracts and commitments first.

Oh yeah, you do.

I currently write two books a year for two different publishers, with contracts for 5 more Odelia Grey novels and 2 more Granny Apples novels waiting to be fulfilled.  But if for some reason those contracts went away, I'm confident I wouldn't find myself with time on my hands, struggling to find a suitable hobby. If these commitments disappear, I have books lined up like planes waiting to land.

Every now and then, while talking to my agent, I tell her, "Have a I got a great idea for a new book." That's usually followed by a loud groan on her end. But the groan isn't with displeasure, but with concern, underlined with excitement. You see, she LOVES my ideas and would love for me to be able to produce every one of them. We talk about it all the time.  But a few years ago, I took on a third series, and that proved way too much for me physically. So never again.

Here's a sample of what's waiting in the wings, although please forgive me if I don't give details. I have them all pretty fleshed out, but am not ready to share:

A hard novel about an unlikely call girl
A YA novel
A caper series featuring an unmatched pair
A novel about a man struggling between long held beliefs and his family
A sci-fi short story series

I turn 60 years old this year, but with the above list, and who knows what else brewing inside my head, I suspect I'll be writing as long as my mind and my typing fingers hold out.

And with that, I must get back to work. There's a deadline straight ahead and I have to meet it head on, with as little carnage as possible.