Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Witch and A Sherriff walk into A Blog

Catriona writes: you have to try quite hard to find a mystery writer who's dull, selfish or nasty. They are a pretty stand-up bunch overall. But even among such rich pickings a few shine extra bright. And two of the shiniest buttons in the American crimewriting box are my guests here at Casa Criminal today. Jess Lourey and Shannon Baker are stopping off on their mammoth blog tour to chew the fat and offer competition prizes and giveaways. 

And now: Jessie and Shannon.

Hey, thanks for reading. There’s a lot of other things you could be doing right now, and Shannon Baker and I appreciate that you’re hanging out with us today on Criminal Minds, a squatter’s home for some of our favorite writers!

Jess Lourey
Shannon and I are 11 stops into a 25-stop blog tour, an idea that seemed genius when we realized our next books both release on September 6. Shannon’s is Stripped Bare. It’s been called Longmire meets The Good Wife and is about a woman sheriff in the Nebraska Sandhills. Shannon’s writing is wry, darkly funny, with setting as beautiful and immersive as an O’Keefe painting. She can drop you into a story like no one I’ve ever read. My book is Salem’s Cipher, a breakneck thriller about a race to save the first viable U.S. female presidential candidate from assassination. Both books are available for preorder, but that’s not what we want to talk about today.


[But I want to a little bit. I’ve read the first three chapters of both books in manuscript form and am panting for the rest – CMcP]

We want to swap conference stories. What you’re about to read is a copy of what your ears would stumble on if you were seated next to Shannon and me at a bar, her drinking microbrew and me whiskey, as we share the good, the bad, and the funny of our combined 20 years in the writing business. With Bouchercon just around the corner, it seems like a good time to air this dirty laundry.

Shannon, what’s the worst panel you’ve ever been on?

Shannon Baker

Shannon: The very first panel I’d ever been on at a big conference. The moderator asked one question and went down the line to create the world’s most boring panel. But that’s not the bad part. At the last minute a self-pubbed first-timer was added to the line-up. She had some sad personal story, which I don’t remember, but what I do remember is her bursting into tears and sobbing up there on the podium. You can ask my kids about my compassion quotient and they’ll verify it is in the negative numbers. While I struggled with whether to pat her on the back or tell her to get over it, the rest of the room sat in uncomfortable silence. It wasn’t all bad, though. It was the panel where I met Terry Shames, whose first book hadn’t yet been released. You can ask her about the panel experience. It wasn’t pretty. Top that, Lourey…

Don’t throw down that gauntlet, Baker. My worst panel is hands down the Malice Domestic where the author next to me slipped into a diabetic coma. I didn’t realize this at the time, but the precursor to a diabetic coma looks very much like the person is drunk. When this writer started slurring her words and repeating how much she loved animals, we all assumed she had knocked back a few before the panel. Oy. The ambulance was there within 5 minutes of us realizing what was going on, and I shared a signing table with her the next day (she looked great!), but that was the most uncomfortable Writing Funny panel I’ve ever participated in. 

Shannon here: Near death vs. emotional breakdown. You win.

Jess: YES. I like to win. Shannon, for you, what are some conference no-nos? For me, it’s writers who hog the panel time, or who try to sell books like a Shaklee salesman with a habit. Other than that, I don’t think there’s much you can do wrong at a conference. We’re all there to have a good time, a whole bunch of goofy shut-ins who get to hang out with their tribe a couple weekends a year if we’re lucky.

Shannon here. Damn it, Jess. This addresses my most embarrassing moment(s). I like to drink. I am not an amateur. But for some reason, I had not one, but two back-to-back disasters at conferences. I don’t know if it was the excitement, that I’d forgotten to eat, or a bad combination. Sure, too much to drink, but not way more than what I’ve handled previously. Anyway, horrendous hangovers are not a way to get the most from a conference or to impress people. This leads to my steadfast Two-Drink rule. Listen to my words, children.

Jess: This is good advice. Shannon, do you bring any swag to give away? My first conference, Madison Bouchercon in 2006, I hauled along a gross of bookmarks splashed with the cover for May Day, my first mystery, as well as mood pens (they changed color when you touched them). My favorite swag was a flashlight with a B & E kit hidden inside of it. I handed that out with June Bug.

Here’s the thing, though. I have never picked up a piece of someone else’s swag and thought to myself, “I must buy any book associated with this.” Do you swag?

Shannon here. I have business cards to hand out and, because I feel like I should, I have bookmarks. But I’m with you. I’ve never bought a book based on swag, even though my favorite signing pen is another writer’s swag. I bought her book, not because of the pen, but because it’s good. I’ve enjoyed good swag, though. Hank Phillippi Ryan gave away lip balm and I scored a really cool pen light from Gin Malliet.

Jess: I have some of that Ryan chapstick! It’s the best. I always hope that when I use it, I’ll turn elegant and gorgeous, like her. Still trying…All right, let’s close with our best conference tip. Shannon?

Shannon: If you can, take a power nap in the afternoon so you can stay up late with the cool kids.

Jess here. Mine is to stay hydrated. I recommend red wine.

Join us tomorrow as we slide on over to Stuff and Nonsense and talk about our protagonists’ sidekicks. In the meanwhile, post your favorite conference story or advice or leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of Salem’s Cipher or a copy of Stripped Bare.

To add more fun to the mix:
If you order Salem's Cipher before September 6, 2016, you are invited to forward your receipt to to receive a Salem short story and to be automatically entered in a drawing to win a 50-book gift basket mailed to the winner's home!
If you order Stripped Bare before September 6, 2016, you are invited to forward your receipt to to receive a Kate Fox short story and be entered for a book gift basket mailed to your home.

You’re welcome to preorder both to enter both contests.

Jessica (Jess) Lourey is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing "a splendid mix of humor and suspense." She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft's 2014 Excellence in Teaching fellowship, and leads interactive writing workshops all over the world. Salem’s Cipher, the first in her thrilling Witch Hunt Series, hits stores September 2016. You can find out more at, or find Jess on Facebook or Twitter.
Shannon Baker is the author of the Nora Abbott mystery series from Midnight Ink, a fast-paced mix of Hopi Indian mysticism, environmental issues, and murder set in western landscapes of Flagstaff, AZ, Boulder, CO, and Moab, UT. Seconds before quitting writing forever and taking up competitive drinking, Shannon was nominated for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s 2014 Writer of the Year. Buoyed with that confidence, she acquired an agent who secured a multi-book contract with Tor/Forge. The first in the Kate Fox Mystery Series, Stripped Bare will release in hardcover September 2016.  Set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills, it’s been called Longmire meets The Good Wife. Visit Shannon at


Art Taylor said...

Hi, again! Didn't I see you over at the other blog where I'm a contributor? Y'all get around! (And thanks for the door prize there--no need to enter me again here!)

Enjoying the blog tour, and glad to have you at each of these stops. Fun reading all around!

Sarah H said...

I've only been to two mystery conferences in my life, so here's an embarrassing story from the first: A panel had just begun, and the moderator was...taking her own sweet time with it. She singled out each author and gave glowing (and long) descriptions of their work, punctuated with the moderator reading parts of the authors' books out loud, and how they had affected her personally. A good ten minutes- ten minutes that could have been spent listening to the authors- went by before the moderator put down yet another book passage and said "Now let's talk to the authors." A sweet looking little old lady (seriously, she was adorable) sitting next to me snorted and said in a loud clear voice "It's about time."
Everyone on the panel froze for a second, and everyone turned to me. Because my little old lady companion and I were the only ones sitting in the back (and right next to each other as luck would have it) no one knew where the voice had actually come from and if you were going by looks alone, I clearly looked like I had a few snarky comments in me. I stayed for the rest of the panel, but bolted as soon as it was done. Later I read about the incident in a writer's blog about how to be an effective moderator and, more importantly, what to do with rude audience members.

RJ Harlick said...

Great blog. Love the banter. Good luck with your books.

Shannon Baker said...

Aw, Catriona, you're a peach. Can't wait to see you next month, where we'll see if my two-drink rule can hold fast.

And, Art, we're only halfway through our virtual road trip. If I buy you a puzzle book at the next fuel stop, will you quit whining?

Sarah--if you were going to blamed for it, you should have at least had the fun of saying it!

Thanks for the good wishes, Robin!

Art Taylor said...

Ha! Can I get some candy too? Like my son, I always want m&ms at the gas station....

Seriously: Very glad to see you here! Was just funny to see you at both these blogs--a fun tour!

Shannon Baker said...

One more little bit of "buy my book-ness." There's a Goodreads Giveaway of Stripped Bare going on right now. Another chance for a freebie:

Aimee Hix said...

I was at that panel, Jess. It was before I knew you and, sadly, the whole audience assumed that lady was drunk, as well. She was a trouper to be sure.

Shannon, having been a moderator on a panel where I made a panelist cry (mistily only and they were happy tears) I can assure you that sometimes tears can unify the whole group and bond you all in a way that is transformative. That's not what this one sounds like though so I say if it every happens again, you tell the person to "buck up" and get back on track with the paneling.

Jess Lourey said...

Sarah H, that is hilarious! It's unfortunate that personal discomfort is the best fertilizer for a good story, but thank you for sharing.

Art, do you have any more blogs we can stop by?

Aimee, I didn't know you were in that room! I still feel bad for not asking her if she was okay earlier. I didn't want to draw attention to her or me on that panel. It's a lesson for my future--better to embarrass myself if I might help someone else.

Catriona, can you post a photo of your calendar reminder for this blog post? People should see how a powerhouse suspense and cozy writer stays organized. It's inspirational. :)


Jess Lourey said...

Shannon and I just touched on swagging above. If you're interested in more, Holly West has a great "To Swag or not to Swag" blog post up at do some damage:

Art Taylor said...

These are my only two blog panels, Jess--but looks like y'all are doing great on your own! Looking forward to following the tour. :-)

Barb Goffman said...

Oh, Jess, poor Judy McCoy. May she rest in peace.

As to bad panel experiences, after you've been a program chair for six years in a row, you've seen some things, and you've heard even more stories--things I won't repeat here. But I'll say this: I used to send out instructions to our moderators, and the following directions were a direct result of past actual happenings:

You should not answer your own questions, read from your own works, or mingle among the audience during the panel, giving away copies of your own books.

The Write Now! Coach said...

Thanks for a great post! I've been to and been on many writing conference panels--and unfortunately, everyone has been well behaved and healthy. Well, except for the panelist who monopolized the panel: blah, blah, ME, blah, blah, blah MY BOOK, blah, blah, blah MY KIDS ROCK, etc. And then there are the few panelists who are so shy, they give one-word answers.

Jess, so glad to hear you are hydrating well with my favorite beverage--red wine. Looking forward to seeing you at Murder and Mayhem this year.

Shannon, delighted to discover you and your work!

Happy touring!

Alan Orloff said...

Always nice to have a couple of stylish Criminal Minds visit the blog--it glams up the place! I was at that diabetic coma panel, too. Truly bizarre. Can't wait to read your books! (How's that for a segue?)

Jess Lourey said...

Barb, mingle among the audience during the panel and give away your own books??? Ouch.

Rochelle, looking forward to MMM! Thanks for stopping by Criminal Minds. :)

Catriona McPherson said...

posted on Facebook, Jess. Comments here won't let me put on a pic.

Shannon Baker said...

Alan--I'm sure no one ever called me stylish before. I knew traveling with Jess would class up my act.

Jess--Thanks for outing Rochelle as the Write Now! Coach, and thanks, Rochelle, for the kind words.

Barb--come on, spill the good stuff!

Art--you are a far nicer parent than I am. My kids weren't allowed chocolate or ice cream in my car.

Jess Lourey said...

RJ, how'd I miss your post up there? Thanks for stopping by, and for the kind words!

Susan C Shea said...

Barb Goffman's instructions to moderators made me laugh out loud! Most moderators and panelists are good sports and gracious but I also have been on panels where the moderator decided this was his or her Big Chance to sell a sparkling persona and a heap of books neatly arranged on the table. And then there was the man on a panel I moderated who interrupted every other panelist every time someone other than him had the mike....

Shannon Baker said...

Susan -- you are so gracious I'm sure you handled the boar with skill!

Jess Lourey said...

Now you have me thinking about hunting boor, Shannon Baker.

Susan, I'm okay if you want to name names.

Shannon Baker said...

Jess, I had to think about that, too. Because, of course, first of all I wanted to use another "b" word that might be too crude for this classy blog. And then I thought, bore? boor? Boer? and settled on boar, and now am not sure that's right.

Barb Goffman said...


Kathy Reel said...

So happy that I visited this blog today. I love the banter and now have two more authors I want to read and meet in New Orleans. Shannon, class is overrated, and Jess, I can't wait to experience the goofiness of the tribe in a few weeks.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Aw....thank you! SO lovely of you.

Conference tips--go the panels your friends are on. Buy books and make the shipping guy your friend. Sit by Jess and Shannon! xooxo

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

And , for panelists: if it ever crosses your mind: "Am I going on too long?" YOU ARE.

Shannon Baker said...

Kathy--let's try to find each other and say hi!
Hank--You're like peach pie with that a scoop of that really expensive vanilla ice cream.

Jess Lourey said...

Haha! Hank, as always, comes in with the best advice, short and sweet.

Jess Lourey said...

I'm thrilled to announce the winners for this blog stop! Kathy Reel, you're the winner of a copy of Stripped Bare, and Sarah H, you're a winner of a copy of Salem's Cipher! Please get us your addresses either in a private Facebook message or via our websites: for Shannon and for me.

Thanks, Catriona, for hosting us, and thanks all for reading and commenting!

Shannon Baker said...

Hugs and kisses to Criminal Minds and all who commented.

Jess Lourey said...

Oooh, Salem's Cipher is a Goodreads giveaway for the next 13 days (a very witchy number, yes?). If you have the two minutes to enter, follow this link and scroll down. Hope your Saturday is wonderful!