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!


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.

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

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.      

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.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Collecting Strays

by Meredith Cole

When I first started writing my mystery series set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, my character did not have a pet. She didn't have a boyfriend either. She had friends, a rent stabilized apartment, and a very extensive clothing collection. But she shied away from commitment of any kind.

Once I got to know the mystery community and meet more mystery writers, I was introduced to the cozy cat phenomenon. Every cozy mystery had to have a cat it seemed. And if you didn't put an animal in your mystery, the publisher would sometimes put one on the cover anyway. Or a puppy. it was kind of like writing a chick lit book with a main character who wore berkenstocks--and then having a pair of stilettos on the front.  Animal ownership is a serious business.

I have cats (no dog) and I revel in their funny quirks. They are great companions for a writer. They're up at weird hours. They like to sit on your lap (or some do) and they're extremely independent and opinionated. So as a joke, I introduced a cat in my second book. A stray cat warns Lydia of danger and saves her life. She feels obliged to take him home to her apartment.

I thought it was incredibly funny to have a commitment-phobe have to deal with a new roommate. She buys him food and a litter box. I wasn't entirely sure she was going to keep the cat. She certainly doesn't think so. She tries to get him adopted. But the cat started to tug at her heart strings. People made her feel guilty for thinking that she might give it away. And she started to like her cat.

So in the end she decides to keep her cat. And commits to him by giving him a name. Fred. So now there's no going back. The only question is whether I'll have a cat on my next book cover or not.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Footloose and Pet-free

By Hilary Davidson

If there's a profession less suited for pet-guardianship than travel writer, I haven't heard about it. Lily Moore, my main character in The Damage Done and The Next One to Fall (and the upcoming Evil in All Its Disguises), travels the world, writing about the places she visits for magazines, newspapers and guidebooks. She's never in one place — including her own apartment — for long. If she had a pet, it would be the loneliest critter ever. Even the most solitary cat or sleepiest lizard wants more attention than a travel writer can give.

Like Lily, I don't have a pet. In a way, that's strange for me, because my parents' house, when I was growing up, was filled with an intriguing menagerie of creatures, including (at various times) cats, snakes, frogs, and one particularly squeaky guinea pig. (My brother Christopher still hasn't forgiven me for eating guinea pig when I was in Peru.) I love animals (especially llamas). Most of the people I know in my neighborhood, I've met because I was admiring their dogs. But I know how much love and care pets need, and I'm not at home enough to give a steady supply of either. Even though I'm not a full-time travel writer anymore, I'm on the road as much as ever to attend book festivals and to speak at bookstores and libraries. I keep thinking that one day, I'll be ready to have a pet again, but it hasn't happened yet.

*          *          *

Speaking of travel, I have a fantastic trip coming up. This month, I head to British Columbia for a crime spree at libraries and bookstores with fellow mystery writers Robin Spano, Deryn Collier, and Ian Hamilton. We're calling it The Crime Tour, and if you'd like to see us in action, here's where we'll be:

Real Vancouver Crime: Sunday, June 17th from 2-5 p.m., W2 Media Cafe 
Join Sean Cranbury of Books on the Radio as he hosts The Crime Tour for an afternoon of readings in a funky upstairs space on Vancouver’s Lower East Side. $5 cover. Books will be available for sale on site.

Murder in the Woods: Monday, June 18th from 6:30-8:00 p.m., Squamish Public Library
The Crime Tour travels up the Sunshine Coast for an evening of chatting mystery and writing in the wooded beauty of the Sea-to-Sky highway. This event is free and open to the public. Books will be for sale on site by Armchair Books.

Meet and Greet at Chapters: Tuesday, June 19th from 1:00-3:00 p.m. Chapters (Robson & Howe)
Come down to Chapters on Robson & Howe to meet and visit with The Crime Tour authors and get your books signed. Books will be available for sale/signing.

A Mystery Evening to Die For Tuesday June 19th from 7:00-9:00 p.m. at the Richmond Public Library Brighouse (Main) Branch
Join up with The Crime Tour for a full evening of author readings, a panel discussion on the writing process and a lengthy Q&A. Books will be available for sale on site from Dead Write Books.

Triple Threat: Chicks Who Solve Crime! Thursday June 21 7:00-8:30 p.m., Burnaby Public Library, McGill Branch
Join The Crime Tour chicks for a fun, all-female night of mystery readings and discussion in Burnaby. Books will be available for sale on site from Dead Write Books.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Law of the Dog

By Reece Hirsch

Will Connelly, the ambitious young corporate attorney who is the protagonist of my legal thriller THE INSIDER, is not a pet owner.  He’s a lonely workaholic still recovering from a bad break-up when the book opens, and he could certainly use a little companionship.  However, Will spends far too much of his time billing hours at his law firm to have a dog.

However, to paraphrase the Dos Equis man, if Will Connelly were to have a dog, then it would be Simon, the furry little guy pictured above.  I can attest that Simon, a Brussels Gryphon and occasional Criminal Minds guest blogger, makes the perfect lawyer’s dog because he demonstrates so many of the characteristics of an attorney (at least the better ones).

Powers of Persuasion.  Whenever food is involved, Simon lays down, places his chin on you and delivers the sort of sorrowful gaze usually reserved for black velvet, sad-clown paintings.  Clarence Darrow was never this convincing.

Brains.  Simon is smart enough to ring a bell when he wants to go outside and he can distinguish between the sounds associated with every type of plastic bag and container in our kitchen based upon whether it holds something that he likes to eat.

Bluster.  Sometimes when your arguments are less persuasive, a little bluster is needed to win the day.  With his fearsome bark and dead-eyed gaze (see below), Simon has backed down a herd of cattle, a family of deer, and a flock of wild turkeys.  The raccoon that he encountered gave him pause – but Simon understands what every good lawyer knows – bluster will only get you so far with a potentially rabid adversary. 

I know that in a previous post I promised to never again pimp out my dog to promote my writing, but I can see now that I will revert to my prior bad habits when desperate.  So sue me.