Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Shining—in Tahiti?

Kathleen Kaska
          Sherlock Holmes has become so popular you can find him almost anywhere—even in outer space. But most of us can’t imagine the Great Detective without thoughts of Victorian London, or Miss Marple without St. Mary Mead, or Nero Wolfe without his Manhattan brownstone.  
         How much thought do you give to your mystery's setting? Is it mere backdrop or an integral part of your story?
          I think we all agree that when a story's setting is more than just a physical locale, the story’s plot is greatly enhanced. And when the setting is powerful enough to become a principal character, the story is impossible to forget. Take for example Stephen King's bestseller, The Shining. Had King set this story in tropical Tahiti, would it have had the same impact? King undoubtedly could have put a spin on the plot and produced another memorable thriller, but for those of us who have not yet acquired King’s Midas Touch, it wouldn’t have worked. 
          Each time I've read The Shining I felt the frigid winter of the Colorado Rockies, the evil spirits haunting the Overlook Hotel, and the desperation of Wendy Torrance to flee the shackles of her prison in the blizzard. 
        My selection of settings for the Sydney Lockhart series is fairly easy. Each mystery occurs in an historic hotel. I look for relatively famous ones that are still in operation. I stay a few nights, study the history, and eventually concoct the plot. Using the uniqueness of each hotel enhances the atmosphere of each story, but making the place come alive has its struggles.
         When story and setting work together, you’re on to something big. As much as I love the place, The Great Gatsby wouldn’t have worked in Waco.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

5 reasons you shouldn’t be blogging.

I'm addressing the writers or wanna be writers in the group today.  I've seen a lot of posts about blogging to get your name, and your book out, into the world of social media.  I've been on a blog tour for two new releases since mid-April.  I may be grumpy as I write this.  Usually I love blogging. Maybe a bit too much.  So bear with me as I list out the top five reasons you shouldn't be blogging.

Reason #1- Blogging is Facebook or Twitter on Crack.  If you can say something in 140 characters or a short Facebook post, why spend 350 words or more waxing nostalgic about your high school prom memories? 

Reason #2 – Blogging is not writing your manuscript.  On deadline? You’re better off using that time to slough you way out of the dreaded middle of a book where you’re certain you totally suck as an author.  (Breathe, you don’t really suck.)

Reason #3 – Blogging in a group isn't going to earn you more readers. Well, it might. If you have a quality book out there for people to buy. Blogging gives news readers a chance to see you in action.  Remember that when you decide to blow off your scheduled blog day. Your actions are speaking volumes.

Reason #4 – Blogging is fun. It’s easy. Blogging is spending your Saturday at a local food festival. It doesn't seem like work. Writing is work. And writing is the work you need to be doing.

Reasons #5 – Blogging is not a one way conversation or a lecture. If you’re blogging, you should watch your comments and respond. The commenter’s took the time to write to you, it’s only polite to write back. Think of it as having a lot of mini-pen pals. I work a day job where I may or may not be able to drop into a blog to comment. I’m not ignoring you, but you may have reached me during a time when I had my imaginary do not disturb sign posted on my door.
Michael Hauge - responds to comments at a St. Louis event.

So, to blog or not to blog, that is the question.  For me, the answer always comes down to my WIP. If words are flowing there, then I can give myself permission to blog. Many of my blog posts are written during my lunch hour. That way, I feel like I've moved forward without trying to get into a story only to have to quit a few minutes later.

Do you blog? Are you a faithful blog reader?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Some more facts about Neanderthals

I posted some of the results of research that I did while writing DEATH IN THE TIME OF ICE (published by Untreed Reads) a couple of weeks ago. Some of it is used in the book, but not in this form. I’d like to post some more this week, just in case anyone is as fascinated with prehistory and Neanderthals as I am.

Here are some notes for chapters 6-8, with source references:

Chapter 6

La Ferrassie…Placed in the graves with the man and several of the children were flint tools…. Yet somehow little attention had bee paid to the broader implications of burials for Neandertals’ beliefs and behaviors.
--The Neandertals Erik Trinkaus and Pat Shipman, p. 255

It is an Iraqi cave, Shanidar, that has produced the largest sample of Neanderthals from the Middle East…. Some of these Neanderthals, at least, seem to have been deliberately buried, and it has even been suggested that the Shanidar 4 man was buried with flowers, although this has recently been seriously questions.
--In Search of the Neanderthals Christopher Stringer and Clive Gamble, p. 98

Excavations reveal Regourdou as one sacred site where Neanderthals returned repeatedly to bury brown bear remains, whose bones show marks from stone tools. Yet only a single human [young man] has thus far been unearthed. His people put him on a brown bear skin in a stone-lined pit. They placed ritual offerings of bear meat and stone tools on a slab above his body, and these in turn were covered by many smaller rocks and a deer antler. Finally they set wood on top and lit a funeral fire…. The figures in this scene are based on careful study of many skeletons.
--Sign accompanying a re-creation of this burial in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum depicting the young man with his limbs folded and tied.

Chapter 7

The teeth and jaws of the Cro-Magnons are larger than in modern Europens, as was average stature and (probably) lean body weight. Estimates put early Cro-Magnon height at about 1.84 m (6 ft 1 in) in males and 1.67 m (5 ft 6 in) in females, with lean body weight at perhaps 70 and 55 kg (154 and 121 lb) respectively. So while body weight was comparable with that of Neanderthals, the weight was distributed differently, and the body proportions certainly contrasted strongly…
--In Search of the Neanderthals Christopher Stringer and Clive Gamble, p. 183

Chapter 8

On the remote island of Flores, in what is now Indonesia, scientists in 2003 made a remarkable discovery -- the remains of a pre-human being, only about three feet tall, who lived and thrived there until about 12,000 years ago.

The skeleton was different enough from other fossils that scientists said it was a previously undiscovered species, separate from those that led to modern human beings. They called it Homo floresiensis, though everyone quickly nicknamed it the "hobbit."

And that would have been that, if not for other scientists who weighed in. They said the newly found "hobbit" wasn't a new species at all, just a stunted version of other prehistoric humans.

But now the original team has backed up its original argument. They took the hobbit's skull, along with 10 others from beings known to have had "microcephaly" -- a long word for abnormally small brains.

They did CT scans of the skulls, then used them to make computer-generated renditions of the brains that would have been inside.

"It's not showing the shape of microcephaly," says Dean Falk, an anthropologist at Florida State University who led the research. "So we nailed that, we think.

"In addition," she says, "we can say that there are other special features which are unique and set it apart from anyone else."

In other words, the "hobbit" of Flores island was not one of us -- not an early Homo sapiens who simply suffered from stunted growth.
--From abcNEWS article, “Prehistoric ‘Hobbit’ Was Definitely New Species” by Ned Potter, Jan. 29, 2007

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Remembering Cinderella

by Janis Patterson
I don’t suppose there’s a one of us unfamiliar with the story of Cinderella – the rightful heiress to her papa’s wealth and mistreated stepchild of her father’s second wife and her ugly daughters who ended up marrying the Handsome Prince. It’s a fairy tale that has – in one form or another – enchanted millennia of little girls.

And has also been one of the worst role models for little girls ever written.

I can already hear the outraged cries of those who love Cinderella – and I love her too, but that doesn’t stop me from being honest. Think about it. She is quiet, obedient, unfailingly kind to the step-family that mistreats and abuses her and works unquestioningly like a slavey. She shows no spine or protest or anything – she is a doormat. Her only reaction to this grossly unfair situation is to weep as she sits in the kitchen fireplace trying to keep warm.

But it’s worth it, her fans cry. She ends up marrying the Prince.

Agreed – but through no action of her own. She just allows things to happen to her. In the commonly accepted versions, the mice and birds help her and the Fairy Godmother provides everything else. Dear little Cindi is acted on, but never acting, simply trusting to others to make things right for her. Hardly a good role model for anyone.

Yet the archetype persists – good girls win by doing nothing. Good girls win by being sweet. Good girls win by being passive. Thank goodness this view of womanhood is changing. I do believe in good manners and good behavior (but not to the extent of extreme doormattishness). I applaud some of the strong, self-responsible heroines who get into messes and pretty much get themselves out. I even like some of the kick-ass heroines who belong to the FBI or CIA or fight their way to their goal – to a point. Some are undeniably vulgar and some – to my mind – are downright psychotic. These are as bad in their own way as Cindi is in hers. Extremes are never good.

So what got me started on this rant? I was reading a book, or trying to, and it kept ending up against the wall. Three times. I try to give writers some wiggle room, so I kept trying. I have officially given up.

The heroine is a Mary Sue. She is just too totally perfect. She’s gorgeous, but of course doesn’t realize it. She speaks several languages fluently and knows everything from how to bake a cake from scratch to how to field-strip a 50mm rapid fire gun. She is unfallably kind, thinks of everyone else before herself and holds only the most politically correct ideas. She would never dream of holding a grudge or creating a scene or demanding anything. Everyone she meets loves her, in fact the villain hates her only because she won’t love him back with equal fervor.

In other words, she is a complete bore. I’ve seen paper dolls with more believability than this creature. There is no depth, no touch of real humanity in her. (And guys, this is not a purely feminine thing. There are plenty of books in which the male protagonist is just as revoltingly, boringly perfect.)

There is a place for fairy tales; they are part of the archetypes of our culture, but as a people we must progress beyond such animate homilies into the world of real (albeit fictional) people. If we are to make our characters real, if the people we make are to resonate with readers, they must be human. Perhaps a little prettier, a little smarter, possessed of a wider range of knowledge, but still with recognizably human foibles and flaws. Perfection is boring. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Graduation Time Once Again

Because I have a big family I've been to many graduations and there will be more to come.

This week I have two graduations to attend--great-grands who are in the same family.The oldest is graduating from the high school he attended from the beginning. His sister decided last year to switch to another school where she could accelerate her learning and graduate early-and she's succeeded.

Both this kids have big plans for the future. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Sometimes I've been unable to attend a graduation because it was too far away, or had other commitments, which always makes me sad. What I have watched with interest is the path these kids follow after graduation.

Though not many have gone on to or completed college, but they've all followed interesting and diverse paths.

One grandson who we feared wouldn't finish high school but did has over the years become an ink-mixing specialist for an ink company. (I didn't even know there was such a thing.) He has a great marriage and three wonderful children.

His sister graduated from college and became a speech therapist in the public school system, also married with two great kids.

The oldest girl in my second daughter's family, graduated from high school, some college and is the mother of the three grown kids and is active in our church in the youth ministry with her husband and works for another church also.

Other grandkids have followed interesting paths, one is an electrician, another works in construction, one has his own company, another is a police officer, most are married and raising kids, one is still taking college classes and hasn't quite decided what her career path will be.

Grandma/great-grandma is proud of them all and I plan to keep going to as many of the graduations as I can.

Most of the graduations around here are outside in a football stadium like this one. But I've been to others held in gyms, big stadiums, and smaller auditoriums.

And Springville Middle School graduations are held in a grassy area, always outside.

Oldest great-grandson's graduation.

Youngest granddaughter's graduation.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Keeping the important on the to do list...

So, you all know, I released two books last month.  GUIDEBOOK TO MURDER – BOOK #1 OF THE TOURIST TRAP MYSTERIES and THE BULL RIDER’S KEEPER –BOOK #3 OF The Bull Rider Series came into the book world with a bang.

At least in my world. And anyone who reads my posts, my blogs, my tweets, my emails… well you get the point. Promotion is part of the author’s world now and since I’m not on a five city book tour like Richard Castle, I have to be creative in other ways. (Thanks Wikipedia.) 

One way to get world of my new releases is to send the book out to blog review sites. For GUIDEBOOK, my publisher handled that process and put up a copy on Netgalley. I was so excited the first day I got an email from a stranger telling me they liked the book. Branching out into a new genre (cozy mystery) was exciting but scary. I knew I loved the book. My editor loved the book. Even my copy editor loved the book. But when a stranger says she loves the book, well, that made it real.

I've been slacking on getting THE BULL RIDER’S KEEPER out into the review world, not for lack of wanting to, but instead, my to do list and my brain has been filled with must do today items.

When that happens, your need to do items (those that are important but not urgent) can fall by the wayside.
This week I’m returning to my focus on the important, not just the urgent. And trying to weed out the unimportant/un-urgent time wasters. Like watching almost an entire season of Castle to clean out space on my DVR for 24. Maybe that was urgent though?

How do you juggle everything into your day? Are you a list maker like me? Or do you have a different time management style? 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Got Shtick?

Wikipedia calls shtick a comic theme or gimmick. 

About a quarter through the cozy, A Good Man Gone by A.W. Hartoin, I must confess to enjoying the comical aspects of depicting the main character as a Marilyn Monroe double, who puts that likeness to good use while trying to solve a mystery. The Kindle edition, by the way, is still free today (Monday) at
(I'm not sure how long the freebie will last.)

In A Perfect Angel, my current romantic comedy work in progress, the shtick is my character's penchant for perfection, and her struggles to break ingrained habits.

Other gimmicks can be found in Joanna Slan's cozy series featuring Kiki Lowenstein, a scrapbooker, as well as Lois Winston's cozy series with Anastasia Pollack, a magazine crafts editor.

Outside the mystery genre are Celia Yeary, Cheryl Pierson, Caroline Clemmons, and other authors at the Sweethearts of the West blog. Their shtick is using the West as a setting for their romances.

Can you think of other examples from your own novels or someone else's? 

Find Morgan Mandel's mysteries and romances at

Excerpts at

Connect on Facebook:

Twitter: @MorganMandel

Saturday, May 10, 2014

My Malice Weekend

I know I’m very late posting Malice things. We have family in the DC area and just drove home today (through rain and over the mountains!). On the way there, the highway was lined with blooming redbuds and dogwoods, just like last year. I checked in on Thursday and caught up with a few folks.

Saturday, I was pleased to find all of my novels in the bookstore! I was even more pleased on Sunday when I went to offer to buy back the unsold copies and Kathy Harig put her hand on my stack protectively and told me that those were hers. How nice!

Malice Go Round was the usual breathtaking speed date affair. Well, breathtaking for the authors, and for the listeners when we learned about some great new books we took note of to read.

The Guppy lunch on Friday was well attended. That afternoon was a whirlwind for me. I met my agent, Kim Lionetti in the bar and am once again impressed by her and how much she’s doing for me and how much she cares about my whole career, even beyond the contract she secured for me. Right after that was the panel I was on, for the nominees for Best Historical Novel. 

Harriet Sackler and me on Best Historical panel--Laura Oles

And right after THAT, the Guppy Steering Committee met in the bar (with boas) for an official meeting. We discussed some business in person that probably would have taken days by email. And right after that were the opening ceremonies where I was presented with my certificate for being a nominee. Then was the dinner at Ruth’s Chris given by my next publisher, Berkely Prime Crime. This made me miss the live auction, but my item, a name in a future Fat Cat book, went for a very good price.

Saturday morning started out with the Sisters in Crime breakfast. All the Guppies wore boas by prearrangement. Some people didn’t understand, but that’s OK--we did.  I wanted to attend the 9:00 panel, but missed it and didn’t want to go in late, so instead waited until time to head for my signing at 11:00. 

Signing: Amanda Flower, Christina Freeburn, and me--Dru Ann Love

In the afternoon, my agency treated us to an elegant wine and cupcake reception. (That was probably the best cupcake I’ve ever had!)

I got a big surprise at the Saturday Guppy lunch, so I’m very glad I decided to attend. KB Inglee instituted a brand new award, given by her, called the Cadaver Award. She decided to bestow it on the author whose book she had recommended the most times in 2013. It was my DEATH IN THE TIME OF ICE! And what a fun award: a handknit cadaver who has had an autopsy. I was able to stick it in my name tag badge and wear it the rest of the day.

Me and Cadaver (and Laura Oles)--James M. Jackson

The awards banquet was at 7:00. My family came and helped me cart my goody bags down. Actually, my son in law carried all 8 of them. My table was very fun, with my hubby and daughter and son in law and a bunch of friends and fans. Here’s a link to the nominees and winners. 

Some of my Malice Banquet table--Teresa Inge

The New Authors’ Breakfast came very early on Sunday, then I was actually able to attend some panels, check on my books, and pick up my extra bookmarks before the tea.

Man, was I exhausted after all that!

PS. Thanks to people who sent me some photographs--I didn't take my camera to Malice!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Pirates, Shares and Thieves, or It’s Only an Ebook

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

Not too long ago I and some other writers were told about the differences between piracy, filesharing and theft. I’m sure there are true and legal distinctions, but as far as I am concerned, taking/using/sharing/profiting from the work of another without compensation to the owner is stealing, no matter what kind of label or fancy definition is put on it.

Simply, as I understand it, a pirate is one who takes a digital copy of a book and puts it up on the web for free. Presumably they get their money from the advertising that invariably proliferates on the site. A fairly new wrinkle in this form of theft is that on some sites there are no books actually involved – the site is a ‘phishing’ site preying on the something-for-nothing crowd by getting their information (credit card and otherwise). I find this vaguely pleasurable – a kind of instant karma. Gotta love it!

File-sharers are just that. They get a digital book, then put it up for free on what are called torrent sites where anyone can download. Sometimes there are subscription fees which must be paid for access to the site – in other words, the reader has to pay money to be able to steal. The torrents are notoriously unresponsive to writer complaints, because they say as there are no books stored on their servers there is nothing they can do – the exchanges of books are done between individuals and the individual must be contacted directly. Of course, they have a policy not to release the names or addresses of the people who post on them.

When cornered, file-sharers claim they have done nothing wrong; people have always shared books. There are used bookstores. There are libraries. People pass on paper books to others once they’ve read them. This sounds like a reasonable excuse – until one realizes that paper books have a built-in limitation. Books get old and decay or even disintegrate. There are only a certain number of times they can be read. By contrast, a digital file can be copied almost ad infinitum with little or no loss of clarity.

Thieves are in it for the money only. They sell copies of stolen books for enticingly low prices. A new and distressing facet of this practice is that some writers are seeing digital copies of some of their older books being sold – books that were never released in electronic format. Apparently some enterprising scofflaws are finding early paper books by popular writers, scanning them and selling them as e-books.

Need I say that the authors, the creators of these books, receive nothing out of all this?

(Also, I hasten to say that none of my vitriol is aimed at those writers who put one of their own books up for free as a promotion on a legitimate sales venue or on their own website. Offering a book for free is a popular gimmick by which some writers swear, and I have no problem with it as long as it is the writer him/herself who does it. Their book, their choice.)

DRM (Digital Retail Management, I believe) was once believed to be the Great Hope against theft. What a joke! All it does is anger legitimate purchasers who have more than one type of device, and generally it can be removed by a smart ten year old in a couple of minutes.

Every few days on a writers’ e-list someone will post that they just found their books on such-and-such a site. Others go to look and, more often than not, their books are there too. There’s a flurry of DMCA notices (Digital Millennium Copyright Act)  and copyright infringement protests, outraged reports to publishers’ legal departments and – if the writer is lucky – the books come down. For a while. They seldom stay down. Some writers I know keep lists of sites and check them every week or so for violations.

There are those writers who say that taking the time to go after thieves is counterproductive, that it’s a form of free advertising, that people who steal books would never buy one anyway, so there’s no loss involved. They have the right to believe such things, but I disagree with every instance. Taking something without authorization and getting some form of gain from it without recompense to the owner/creator is theft, pure and simple, and theft should not be tolerated.

Yes, I am a hardnose. I believe in the law.

Unfortunately, those who are supposed to enforce the laws don’t seem to care about us ‘It’s only an ebook’ is a phrase I’ve heard often. Only an ebook? Even if it were just a single ebook – which it never is – don’t these people care about principles? Imagine how the author who has labored months, perhaps years, to create that book, who has spent years learning her craft, feels when she learns (as happened to a friend of mine) that there have been 40,000 stolen downloads – 40,000 copies of her book stolen and she hasn’t received and won’t get a penny for her work.

When digital theft is discovered, unless the author has a powerful and responsive publisher with a big legal department, most if not all policing falls on her. She must first find if the site has a copyright infringement contact – or any kind of contact information at all. Then she must send a DMCA notice. Sometimes sites will have their own take-down forms that are so Byzantinely complex they are almost unusable. Sometimes the sites are offshore (China and Russia are two of the biggest offenders) and they just ignore everything. If things get too hot for the site, if there are too many take-down requests or if their ISP usage is threatened, many sites just close their doors and open up a couple of days later under another name and URL. The whole process of getting them shut down is rather like an obscene electronic version of whack-a-mole.

A good analogy would be someone stealing a loaf of bread from a grocery store and the police saying ‘hey, it’s only a loaf of bread – we can’t be bothered.’ Well, if Thief A got away with it, what if the rest of the alphabet gang think they can get away with it too? Pretty soon there’s a mass assault by thieves on loaf after loaf of bread, and the poor grocer is expected to take care of it himself – catch the thieves and, since the law is disinterested in punishing them, try to keep the thief from taking another loaf and then another on a regular basis.

It’s alarming that so many people regard anything on the internet as fair game. ‘Information should be free,’ they cry. Well, a book can be informative, but it is not information. It is a commodity, created through the work and sweat of an author, and stealing it is no different from carrying away a paperback from a brick and mortar store without paying. Digital is just a delivery system, not a license to steal.

What alarms me most, however, is the entitlement mentality of  some thieves. ‘It’s the writers’ own fault,’ one young man in a chat room cried indignantly. ‘I’d buy their books if they weren’t priced so high. My appetite for entertainment is so great that I simply can’t afford to buy everything I want.’

Wonder what happens when he gets hungry? Does he go into the grocery and take what he wants based on such startling illogic? Along more basic lines, has he never heard of living within his means? Nor, apparently, does he believe that the owner/creator has a right to charge what she wants for her work. The author and the marketplace should set the price – not the unbridled greed of some consumers.

Writers write books for any number of reasons – a message, a compulsion, a calling – but most of us work at writing like we work at day jobs. It is a profession, and one for which the author, like any other professional, should be compensated. The ideas of writing for no other reason than the sheer love of it, for the satisfaction of knowing people are reading and enjoying our words, that it is an intrinsic part of our profession for an artist to starve in a garret are pretty ridiculous. Writing is a profession, and professionals deserve to be paid for their work, not to have their works stolen without punishment.

One thing that these thieves have never realized – or do not want to accept – is that for most writers, for the good writers, for the popular writers, writing is a business, and that the purpose of a business is to make money in exchange for their work. Most professional writers don’t write for fame, or adulation or the knowledge that their words are being read by thousands of people. Those are nice perks, but they’re not the main reason. Writers write for money. It’s a job.

I have heard from many, many writers that if they can no longer make a decent return for their work, they won’t quit writing – they’ll just quit publishing. ‘I can always write for my own enjoyment. There are always other outlets for my writing; I don’t have to publish and watch my work being stolen. People don’t value what they don’t pay for.’ I’ve heard variants on all of these statements from more writers than you can count.

I wonder what will happen when theft is so overwhelming that the professional writers stop writing, leaving a vacuum filled with nothing but bad writers and wannabes. Will the thieves blame themselves? Of course not. ‘It’s only an ebook,’ as one thief said. ‘Writers are rich and I’m not. They should be glad people are reading their books. They’ll never miss just one ebook.’

Oh, yeah. And I’m so not going to get into those lower-than-the-low scum who copy a writer’s book, change a couple of names (maybe!) and then republish under their own name as their own work. My blood pressure wouldn’t stand it.

So what can be done about this, short of rewiring the brain of every ebook-stealing thief? The only thing I know is to keep after them. Complain. Even if the thieves are in a foreign country, usually the money passes through an American credit card or on-line payment company. Complain. Their sites are usually hosted by an ISP in this country. Complain. Send DMCAs. Complain. Report the offenders to the cybercrimes division of the FBI and any other law enforcement agency that might be appropriate. Complain. Sometimes you can find who owns the theft site (and be prepared for some surprises!) through and other such sites. Complain. If you have a publisher, even a small one, send all the information, including specific URLs to them. Complain. Hire companies whose job it is to track down such theft and have them send the notices for you. Speak out!

Yes, writers shouldn’t have to do this. Writers should be writing books, not being forced into spending their time chasing thieves, but if we don’t do it, it won’t get done and the problem will only grow. This is a problem that affects everyone who wants to write or likes to read, and right now it seems the solution is in our hands.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Hooray, It's May and My Blog Tour is Over

The whole month of April I was on a blog tour for Murder in the Worst Degree. Every day I promoted the blog I was visiting and it took up a lot of my time. I found out more about doing a successful blog tour and choosing blogs that didn't cause problems.

Blogs that moderate every comment don't work well when you're on tour because you must wait for the blog owner to approve the comment. A lot of time is wasted seeing if there are any new comments. And a blog tour only works if the one touring responds to people's comments.

Captcha codes discourage people too. If a person has to do a captcha code more than once to leave a comment, they probably won't. As the one touring, sometimes it took me four times to get the code right and I knew a visitor would not bother. Because some of the most popular blogs used captcha codes I'd probably use the sites again.

I still haven't gone back through and made sure I've counted every single person who commented so I can announce who is the prize winner. (The person who commented on the most blogs gets to have a character named after him or her in my next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery.)

I also had someone ask me to pass on the names of the blogs that were most popular. I probably will try to figure that out for me as well as her.

When choosing blogs to ask to be hosted on, my criteria has always been to find ones that aren't all linked to my publisher or friends. Oh, yes, I do use friends, but what I'm looking for are blogs that have different visitors/followers.

One thing that happened on this tour is I had far more unique visitors who commented, names I didn't recognize.

The big question everyone always asks is, "Did the blog tour result in sales?" I'm not sure. My numbers changed a bit on Amazon, but the final tally will come when I get my royalty statement which is a ways off.

Will I do it again? Right now I'm not sure. What I need to do is get back to the book I'm writing which is a Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery.

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith

Monday, May 5, 2014

Malice, 2014

I spent the past four days, from Thursday to Sunday, at Malice Domestic in Bethesda, Maryland.. Officially, this is a convention for fans of traditional mysteries, but I consider it the best mystery writers’ conference around. Of course I haven’t attended every mystery writers’ conference to compare, but this was my third Malice and for me, they only get better and better.

I didn’t win a chance to do Malice-Go-Round on Friday morning—when pairs of authors go from table to table, to speak very briefly about their latest book or books. But Saturday morning I was on a panel with Erika Chase, Kate Carlisle, and Kylie Logan, which was wonderfully moderated by Becky Hutchison. Out subject was “Murder By the Book: Book-Themed Mysteries.” I got to talk about my latest mystery, Murder a la Christie, the discussions my book club characters have about Agatha Christie novels, and the parallels between my novel and some Christie novels.

The best part of the weekend for me was catching up with friends, writers I’m in constant touch with via email, listservs, and Facebook. In some cases, I was finally able to meet them in the flesh for the first time, people I’ve known “electronically” for years and years.

Going out Friday night for dinner with ten friends, old and new, was a highlight for me. Every year I’ve been to Malice I’ve gone out with Th
eresa Inge and her pals. This year I brought along a slew of my own. The hotel recommended a restaurant a few blocks away, and it was a winner. The food with great, the conversation nonstop.

There’s no way I can speak about Malice without mentioning the Guppies. This group of supposedly unpublished mystery writers has grown. I believe we’re over 500 strong. The thing about the Guppies is that even after members are published, they rarely leave the group. And so it was that two Guppies won an Agatha, as announced at Saturday night’s banquet: Leslie Budewitz for Best First Novel and Hank Phillippi Ryan for Best Novel.

I’m honored to be part of my mystery writers’ world. My fellow mystery writers are from all over the country and have held all sorts of jobs and positions. Some still work at their "day jobs," as they write their books. Among my friends are a rabbi, a retired judge, a retired member of the navy. And Saturday afternoon I had a long chat with a former nun. All wonderful, vibrant people who share my passion for writing mysteries.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Writer as Watcher by Mar Preston

Writing police procedurals as I do, I read a lot of police procedural fiction because I enjoy it. It’s not as if I want to imagine myself in the role of the first on scene investigator. Imagine the stress of that in real life? And the smell? The bossing people around. And the responsibility.

I know I don’t have the personality to be a cop. I once checked out becoming a private investigator. In California it means indenturing yourself to a seasoned detective for thousands of hours. I went as far as meeting a private detective in a bar. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and told me he had a gun in the waistband.  I could have the job but I’d have to move to Denver. No, that wasn’t going to happen.

As far as being a cop, I made a mistake turning up for my ride-along.  The civilian who had made the arrangements sneered at me and told me straight out, “You could never be a cop. You can’t follow orders.”  Okay. It hadn’t occurred to me to want to be a cop.

One of the components in being effective either as a private investigator or law enforcement is being able to ask hard questions.  That would be questions that make people cry, run away, or punch you on the nose. I’m not good at that. I’m not good at asking a hard question and then being silent while the pressure cooks.

What I am good at is observing from the corner. I’m a watcher, as I suspect all of us writers are.
Lie detection is fascinating to me.  The latest research states that trained observers are only slightly better at spotting the liars in these videos than the average person. I took the tests and discovered I am slightly better.

Writers are trained observers, I suspect. Ever since we discovered the joy—and the agony—of recording the human experience we’ve been watching. We take the observations one step further with the what if? question. The truly talented among us can play the “then what happened” game and come up with clever plots.

The hard part will always be writing it down.

Are you a watcher from the corner? Can you ask hard questions?