New Author Webpage

Meanderings and Muses isn't going anywhere.


I do have a new webpage which will focus mostly on my writing.

If you're interested in reading more about my books, anthologies, and events, please click over to

There are a few videos of me reading from "Whimsey: A Novel," and from other favorite authors' work.

With more videos still to come.

The new page is a work in progress with plans for still more to come
- I'm just still trying to figure out exactly what that might be -
so check back from time to time, please.

See you there!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Adapting Our Writing Routine...and How to Survive Our Kids' Summer Vacation by Elizabeth Spann Craig

Elizabeth Spann Craig  writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin as Riley Adams, the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink (under her own name), and blogs daily at,  which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers in its current issue.

Delicious and Suspicious releases July 6, 2010. 

As the mother of two, Elizabeth writes on the run as she juggles duties as Brownie leader, referees play dates, drives carpools, and is dragged along as a hostage/chaperone on field trips.

Adapting Our Writing Routine…and How to Survive Our Kids’ Summer Vacation

By Elizabeth Spann Craig

I have a week and a half until my children’s schools let out for the summer.

This time last year, I was completely horrified at that realization.

This year? Not so much.  Because I managed to write the better part of a novel over summer break last year.  It had to be done…I was under a deadline.  I developed my own routine last summer.

Now I’ve got a routine for every occasion, not just summer break:

My routine when writing at home isn’t working for me and I need to escape:

Yes, sometimes writing at home isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.   That’s because when you’re faced by a dog that sleeps a lot

and cats that hang off the side of small tables while they sleep,

 sometimes it can make you feel a little bit sleepy.
Or sometimes the house is too interactive.  The dishwasher stops running, the dryer buzzer goes off, a table sassily says “dust me.”
So I go out and write where the background noise is there but means nothing to me.  
  • I’ll write at the library, the coffee shop, or a diner. 
  •  If the background noise starts edging into the foreground, then I put headphones on and listen to music I’ve downloaded to my computer while I write.
The I’ve-only-got-15-minutes-to-write-today routine:
  • I make it count by planning the writing the night before. 
  • What am I going to cover? 
  • Where am I picking up the story? 
  • What’s the point of the scene? 

If I know ahead of time that I have a really, really limited timeframe to write in (I’m travelling, it’s a holiday, etc.) then I make every little minute count.

The it’s-a-beautiful-day writing routine
  • I go to the park after school with the kids. I take a laptop and a folding chair (and, yes, I look nerdy as heck and don’t care a bit.)
  • I write in the hammock
  • I use a notebook and pencil if the sun is glinting too much on the computer screen.
And now, for you parents out there, my routine for surviving the kids’ summer vacation (and still get a book written): 

Go completely with the flow.  There is no routine over summer break…that’s how summer break works! But I do have tips for you: 

Go on an outing—the kids and your manuscript. If your kids are older, the park, skating rink, bowling alley, swimming pool, etc, work out well. If they’re younger, try one of those indoor playgrounds with inflatables. 

Bring a friend for your child. Or more than one. They’re much happier if they are on outings with a friend or two. And they’re more inclined to let you get some work done. 

Plan some dedicated time with your child to play one on one. This time can be either before or after the time that you need to get some work done. Here’s the deal with this time: you need to be completely focused on your child. No thinking about anything else. You play Monopoly, read a few books, whatever they want to do with you---and then you explain you are going to spend X amount of time writing. 

Quiet time works for everyone. Even my older child (12) needs time to unwind in the afternoon. My kids unplugged for a while with a book or played quietly in their room while I worked on my laptop. When I had a toddler, I’d put her in her room and give her books. The rule was that even if they couldn’t sleep, they had to “read” (look at pictures.) 

Host playdates. I know—this sounds like more trouble than help. But usually (this depends on your kid and the kids you invite over), my children disappear to hang out with their friends. It’s the perfect time to write. 

Remember that the more adaptable we are, the more writing we can get done!  Best of luck, everyone!  And Happy Memorial Day!
 (My corgi, Chloe, desperately wanted a cameo in my post because she’s a huge admirer of Kaye’s Harley. So excuse the gratuitous corgi photos. :) )

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ceepak and Danny Rise From The Ashes Aboard The Rolling Thunder by Chris Grabenstein

Chris Grabenstein is an award-winning mystery writer and children’s book author, and a former advertising executive and improvisational comedian.

He performed in the same Greenwich Village comedy troupe as Bruce Willis back in the early 1980s.

Chris spent almost twenty years writing commercials for America’s top advertising agencies, representing clients such as Seven Up, Miller Lite, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dr. Pepper, and many others. He was, perhaps most famously, the copy writer who created Trojan Man, a radio campaign that still rides the airwaves today.

He went on to become an Executive Vice President/Group Creative Director at Young & Rubicam in New York.

Chris’s writing talent was first discovered by international bestselling author James Patterson, his Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson Advertising. Patterson had come up with a Writing Aptitude Test, which ran as a full-page as in the New York Times under the headline “Write If You Want Work.” Over 2,000 applicants responded. Chris was the first writer hired.

Chris has written screenplays, made-for-TV movies, Muppet scripts, and the occasional grocery list. In fact, he’s been writing since he moved to New York from Chattanooga, Tennessee—bringing along seven suitcases and the Smith-Corona typewriter he got as a high school graduation gift.

He won the Anthony Award for "Best First Mystery" (given at Bouchercon 2006) for his debut TILT A WHIRL—the first in a series of John Ceepak stories to be set "Down The Shore" in a New Jersey tourist town called Sea Haven. The second book, MAD MOUSE, was called one of the "Ten Best Mysteries of 2006" by Kirkus. WHACK A MOLE came out to great critical acclaim in 2007. The New York Daily News called the fourth Ceepak book, HELL HOLE, a "must-read." The fifth book in the series MIND SCRAMBLER was published by St. Martin's Minotaur in 2009. ROLLING THUNDER available in 2010, rounds out the first Ceepak six pack.
Chris’s fast-paced Christopher Miller holiday thrillers include Slay Ride and Hell for the Holidays.
On May 27, 2008, Random House will publish The Crossroads, the first installment in Chris’s ghost series for middle school children.

Chris is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. He lives in Manhattan with his beautiful, beloved wife J.J., along with their dog Fred and three cats, Jeanette, Parker and Tiger Lilly.

by Chris Grabenstein

It was about this time last year that I was making plans for John Ceepak’s funeral. Danny Boyle’s too.

MIND SCRAMBLER, book five in my Jersey Shore mystery series that started with TILT A WHIRL (winner of the 2006 Anthony Award for best first mystery) had just come out. We were holding our annual launch party at Partners & Crime, a terrific indie bookstore down in Greenwich Village. The wine, beer, and saltwater taffy were flowing. Mark the Magician was prestidigitating, because the murder in MIND SCRAMBLER takes place backstage at an Atlantic City casino during an illusionist’s act.

I glanced around the room. Friends and fans had assembled. My agent, the fantastic editor of my YA books at Random House, and the narrator of the Ceepak books for Audible were all in the house. So, of course, was my amazing wife who has been on this roller coaster ride with Ceepak and me since the start.

However, nobody from Ceepak’s second home, the folks publishing MIND SCRAMBLER, attended the event. Scheduling conflicts, I suppose. Not even an assistant to the assistant publicist’s assistant was there. Trust me -- this is never a good sign.

Anyway, I thanked everybody for coming, did a short reading, and then asked if anybody had any questions.

“So what’s the next book going to be called?”

Yep. It was the very first question out of the box

“Well, uh, um, I don’t know,” I had to reply, because Ceepak’s code won’t allow me to lie or fudge or prevaricate. “This may be the last book.”

To say the life was sucked out of the room would be an understatement.

You see, the Ceepak series had started at Carroll & Graf, a fantastic fiction and mystery imprint, which published TILT A WHIRL, MAD MOUSE, and, the purple one, WHACK A MOLE. Unfortunately, C&G was wiped off the face of the earth when its holding company was swallowed up by a bigger holding company that only held on to non-fiction imprints.

As luck would have it an editor who had been a fan of the Ceepak series soon acquired two new books for a Major Mystery House. But then, as often happens, Ceepak’s champion left that Major Mystery House to go off and write some Major Mysteries of his own.

And so Ceepak was orphaned. After HELL HOLE and MIND SCRAMBLER, we didn’t hear much about “future plans” for the series.

Crickets started to chirp. Carrion birds to circle. The verdict was clear: There would be no more Ceepak stories from publisher number two.

So, to keep the character alive, I decided to write a Ceepak short story, RING TOSS, and was thrilled when Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine agreed to run it in their June issue.

But then, the mystery fans started to speak up. I was moved to find e-mails like these in my in-box and on DorothyL:

“Please say you weren't serious when you said that Ceepak #5 was the last! I love this series and can't wait for each new one to come out. Now you're saying there won't be any more? It's just too cruel...!”

“I have to know, Chris, is there anything we can do? Would letters from librarians work? This is just too, too awful to contemplate.”

Yeah. Mystery lovers are amazingly fantastic.

On July 5, 2009, Oline Cogdill, one of the top critics in our field, IMHO, blogged that “Chris Grabenstein’s novels deserve to find a home”

I was quite dismayed when I heard recently that Grabenstein's series had been dropped. With the abundance of dreadful nonfiction "written" by celebrities and commanding big bucks, it doesn't seem fair that someone with talent such as Chris Grabenstein should be dropped.

Of course, Grabenstein isn't alone in being dropped. Many talented mystery writers with loyal followings also have been dropped. Many have found homes with other publishers. Others haven't.

I am not alone in my admiration for Chris Grabenstein's work. On the message board DorothyL, several readers have weighed in about his work.

Sheila Simonson, author of Buffalo Bill's Defunct and An Old Chaos (Perseverance Press), had this to say "Ceepak is a different kind of protagonist altogether. Under the surface simplicity, he is an ethically complex person in a world made for villains. . . Without being a boring superhero, Ceepak manages to come out on top, using his courage, intelligence, and honesty, and that is a very special kind of comedy indeed. When I finished reading the first Ceepak book, I turned back to page one and reread it. Surely Chris will find another home for Ceepak."

Sheila is so right.....and I hope there is a home for Ceepak.

And so, I said to my agent, Eric R. Myers, let’s see if we can find Ceepak and Danny yet another home.

Somehow, he did.

Folks, for a mystery series to live in two, let alone three, different publishing houses during its lifetime is nigh on impossible.

Miraculously, Pegasus Books picked up the series and published ROLLING THUNDER in May, 2010. They even brought back Michael Fusco, the original cover designer.

And, I am pleased to report, that this week Pegasus Books sent ROLLING THUNDER back to the presses for a second printing -- two weeks after its intitial publication date.

There’s a very reason Ceepak #6 is dedicated to Eric R. Myers.

My agent is a very good house hunter.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Returning Home by Meredith Cole

Meredith Cole started her career as a screenwriter and filmmaker. She was the winner of the St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic competition, and her book POSED FOR MURDER, was published by St. Martin’s Minotaur in 2009.  She was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Mystery Novel in 2010. Her second book, DEAD IN THE WATER, came out May 11, 2010, and continues the adventures of Lydia McKenzie. She teaches mystery writing and screenwriting and lives in Virginia.


Returning Home by Meredith Cole

Some people have trouble placing my accent when they meet me, so they ask me where I’m from. It’s a complicated answer. I explain that I was raised in Central Virginia, my father is English, my mother’s family is from the Mid-West, my mother was raised in Northern Virginia and I lived in New York for ten years. 

Now that I’m back in Virginia again, I find myself starting to slide back into a southern accent.  It’s not very heavy, just a touch here and there. But my six-year-old son is mystified by the accent.  “Everyone here says ‘y’all’,” he complains to me after a day at kindergarten.  I tell him what it means, secretly happy that he is hearing an accent that I find so pleasing. Don’t get me wrong, there are unpleasant southern accents and lovely ones, but I never did warm to the accents in New England and New York. They just didn’t sound like home to me.

What does it really mean to be from somewhere?  I have a neighbor who has lived here 20 years, moving in around the time that I left town.  But I grew up here and have family living here.  I feel connected to the ground, the red clay and curving hills.  So am I more of a local than she is? When I lived somewhere else and visited, I always felt a little different.  I walked faster then the other pedestrians.  I was sometimes impatient during the small talk.  Now that I’ve taken the plunge and moved back, I’ve mostly slowed myself down so the speed of living here feels just right.

In my mystery series, I write about an “outsider,” Lydia McKenzie, who has embraced New York with a

fervent love that I never felt. I wanted to. There are so many things there that I enjoy, and I am eagerly anticipating a trip back to see friends and celebrate the launch of my second book DEAD IN THE WATER on May 26th at Partners & Crime. I navigated the subway and bus system like a pro, walked fast, was impatient at any delay, worked in TV where everything had to be done yesterday, and made many good friends there. The next book that I’m writing in the Lydia McKenzie series is set there, and I think of our old neighborhood often. I wish I could be in two places at once, and perhaps I am with my writing.

Our life is quite different now that we’ve left the city. The house has more square footage than our apartment, actual green space, and requires more stuff.  All of it seems to mean more work. My husband has planted a wonderful vegetable garden. My son exclaims over the height of our peas, making me believe he might actually eat them someday, and is raising baby preying mantises. I have my own office with a door and a view of trees, our porch swing, the road, and the neighbors from my two windows. 

I used to see the tall buildings of Manhattan in the distance. Now I have the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding me.  There is no more beautiful sight to me than those mountains jutting up in the distance, gentle baby blue curves on the horizon.  Seeing them makes me relax and smile every time. I feel like I’m home.

Friday, May 21, 2010

the phone call no one ever wants to get

One week ago today, a series of events started playing themselves out that were totally unexpected - and completely unwelcome.

I had taken a day of vacation to get bags and boxes packed for our trip to Topsail Island the next day. Remember? The beach trip I've been squealing about? The latest loud squeal was right here -

Donald and Harley and I were going to the beach - Yay!!

But then, the phone rang.

Donald was at the hospital with chest pains, and next thing I knew I was by his side until two strangers strapped him onto a gurney, put him in a helicopter and whisked him away from me to Asheville.

Here's the story in Donald's words -

"I died last Friday from a heart attack. It wasn't for very long but a definite flat line on the monitors. Just like a light dimmer switch the light in my mind and the energy in my body were going to low in synch with each other and did go all the way to dark.
The emergency staff had given me blood thinner, clot busters, and even nitroglycerin. That was not enough. I found out much later that I had gotten the electric paddles. As I became groggily aware of my surroundings I spoke to whoever might be listening that I was not having fun and wanted to go home. There was some muffled laughter and someone told me that a helicopter from Asheville was coming to get me. I quickly requested a window seat and there was a little more muffled laughter.  
When the copter crew got there one of the crew was told by some unseen attendent that I had beat the ambulance fee by driving myself to the hospital and that made me laugh. My intent was never to cheat anyone out of a fee, but I was kinda of in a hurry. A special thanks to the quick actions of the Watauga Hospital emergency room staff who saved my life. Thanks to the Mission Memorial Hospital helicopter crew MAMA for getting me to Asheville alive. 
I would like to thank all the doctors, nurses, and other staff at Mission Memorial Hospital for taking care of me and fixing the broke part. They gave me a pat on the butt and sent me home yesterday around noon with Kaye Alan driving and Harley Doodle and I riding in style. Ms. Kaye is an excellent driver. It's great to be alive, home, and to sleep in our own bed. I want to thank everyone for their special support of Kaye Alan and I over the past few days

I am extremely grateful to be alive. Evidently God is not quite ready for me and the devil is not up to such a challenge. Both know I'd rather stand up and fight than do something I think is wrong. Thank you to all for your concerns and prayers."

So. There you have it. Today, Donald and Harley and I are together at home, almost as if nothing ever happened. Almost. But not quite. However - Donald is expected to make a full recovery and the damage to his heart was minimal (10-15%), and that's expected to come back.  He has a stent in an area that was 90% blocked and it is doing its job.

While Donald was being so wonderfully taken care of at the hospital, Harley and I spent our nights at the Marriott Residence Inn just a couple minutes away from Mission Memorial Hospital. The staff could not have been kinder. During our entire stay in Asheville we were surrounded by angels; both at the hospital and at the hotel.

And surrounded by friends and family - both in reality and virtually.

Donald's Mom & Dad were there, and my gal pals Nancy & Dindy were there. You've heard me speak of the importance of old and dear friends.  Donald and I are the luckiest people on God's green earth when it comes to being blessed with dear friends.  Nancy & Dindy have been a part of our lives for our entire married life, and were a part of my life even before Donald entered it.  We've been through all sorts of times together  -  the wild & crazy, and the saddest of the sad.  It's what has forged a friendship that will last forever.  I also had the virtual support of friends and family literally around the world, with a constant stream of emails and notes on Facebook and phone calls from people expressing concern and offering help in every way imaginable. We will never forget those gestures. Cherished and treasured are every one of the notes and calls. The warm feeling of having friends, family, neighbors and co-workers, along with the mystery/crime fiction community AND the blogging community sending prayers, warm wishes and positive thoughts is not something to be taken lightly. I will always believe it helped the doctors and the nurses pull Donald through.

We've had one incident which has hurt terribly. When I called the rental folks at Topsail to tell them we would not be arriving, I asked if they would be able to switch our week to a later date we would appreciate it greatly. Their response was that they would try and for me not to worry about it. So, I didn't. Silly me. I was naive enough to think that a near fatal heart attack would out-weigh contracts and money and that Donald and I would still be able to take our anniversary/vacation trip. Unfortunately, that's not to be. The contract and the money won - we won't be able to just change weeks, and we won't be getting any sort of refund.  So. We won't be having that beach trip this year after all, but I still have my Donald. And that's a pretty nice trade-off, don't you think? The beach? Maybe next year.  In the meantime - thanks everyone.  From the bottom of our hearts.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

In Which I Come Out of the . . . What's Smaller Than A Closet? by E.J. Copperman

In Which I Come Out Of The... What's Smaller Than A Closet? 
by E.J. Copperman 

On the very last page of my extremely upcoming (June 1!) mystery novel NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED (Berkley Prime Crime, first in the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series), there is an author biography that reads:

E.J. Copperman is a native New Jerseyan and an award-nominated screenwriter, mystery novelist and freelance journalist who has written for /The New York Times, Hollywood Scriptwriter, Writer's Digest, Entertainment Weekly /and many other publications.

All of which is true (and "award-nominated" means I didn't win, except, to be fair, I did once get a journalism award, but that was a very long time ago, and I didn't even know I'd been nominated until a week after the ceremony). But until now, the truth has never been known publicly.

E.J. Copperman is a pseudonym.

I know; you're shocked. As if the initials at the front of the name weren't signal enough, here I am telling flat out that I'm actually someone else pretending to be me. Or, someone else who actually is me, but doesn't say so, for fear of being associated with myself. Or, a writer you might or might not have heard about, but let's face it, probably didn't read, or else I'd still be me, and not someone pretending to be me.

My head hurts.

Here's how it works in the publishing biz: You start out as yourself (most of the time). You publish a novel or two. Or three. And either they take off with the public--that fickle lot--or they don't. Authors whose books have become popular will tell you it's the product of colossally hard work, endless promotion, sometimes great talent, and determination to rival that of the grittiest marathoner. Those whose books are now available as free downloads or taking up space in a warehouse next to the Ark of the Covenant will tell you it's all a crapshoot, and those other writers are just lucky.

Whatever. The point is, your books sell, or they don't. If they don't sell a lot, but they sell close to enough, the publisher (or another publisher) might be willing to give you another shot. But in order to "wipe the slate clean" with booksellers, particularly extremely large ones with the initials, let's say B and N, you will be asked to put a different name on the cover of the book.

This is not the tiny issue a rational human being might believe: Authors generally are not paid a king's ransom (or, to be fair, even the ransom on a 1976 Dodge Dart) for their work. We usually subsist on a "day job," which pays at least some of the bills, and book advances, royalties and such are a sideline out of necessity, not intent. I can tell you truly, college tuition doesn't pay itself. So that name on the front cover of the book takes on more meaning; if we're not going to get rich at this, at least we can tell the world that this is our work.

And then, we're asked to change the name. Well, publishers ARE in the business to make lots of money, and while we'd like that, it's not always realistic. We do have to pay their bills in order to keep getting published, and that's fair. A new name? Hell, writers love to make up names (actually, I HATE making up names, but that's another whole blog in itself). Sure.

So in my case, I asked my daughter Eve, my son Joshua and our dog Copper for suggestions. They couldn't come up with much, but somehow, I was inspired. Not sure what did it.

I've been very careful (well... a tiny bit careful, sort of) about protecting my identity, in the belief that my publisher wanted it that way. I never refer to myself by my original name. I'm careful about how I describe myself (see attached photo). And I have been reluctant about booking personal appearances, although to be fair, the door's not exactly getting kicked in with offers. There are no photos of me on my web site (in case you were wondering).
Being scrupulous about such things has been sort of a kick; it's fun to pretend and to have a secret that you can keep to yourself and a select few. So E.J. Copperman will remain E.J. Copperman in my eyes. It's a different kind of writing anyway--a twist on paranormal that recalls Topper in the era of Twilight. I hope you'll take a look; it's a fun read. But who I am? Nope, you'll be getting no hints from me.

Except here:

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Delights of Floral and Citrus Teas by Laura Childs

The Delights of Floral and Citrus Teas

Guest Blog by Laura Childs, New York Times Bestselling Author of the Tea Shop Mysteries, Scrapbook Mysteries, and Cackleberry Club Mysteries.

With subtle hints of Spring perfuming the air, my thoughts always turn to floral and citrus teas.  When only the leaves, roots, or flowers of a plant are infused in boiling water, the result is an herbal tea or tisane.  Blended with rich black tea or mild green tea, these floral and citrus brews become complex delights that delight the senses and seem like harbingers of warmer days.
Jasmine tea, for example, is fragrant, refreshing, and a little bit comforting, too.  You’ll often find jasmine flowers blended with fresh green tea.  I think it’s the perfect brew for those days when you’re cozied up inside watching the rain spatter down.
Rose hips tea always seems slightly exotic and holds a hint of promise -  garden parties and soft summer nights when fireflies flicker like heat lighting.  Chrysanthemum flavored teas are aromatic but only slightly sweet.  Originally dried and blended for Chinese emperors, chrysanthemum tea is made even more delicious by the addition of honey or sugar.
Chamomile tea imparts a slight apple flavor and hibiscus tea is slightly tart and lemony.  As days get warmer, both of these teas make wonderful iced teas as well.
Black teas lend themselves to blending and melding with unique flavors.  They’re often blended with ginseng, peppermint, peach, mango, or vanilla bean.  In my newest Tea Shop Mystery, The Teaberry Strangler, my characters from the Indigo Tea Shop serve up a wonderful blend of black tea with exotic teaberry and mint flavoring.
What do you serve as an accompaniment to these delightful floral and citrus teas?  Try cucumber, watercress, and cream cheese tea sandwiches.  Or shrimp salad on sourdough crostini.  Or cream cheese on date nut bread.
Better still, try these recipes from The Teaberry Strangler:

Pecan Pie Muffins     
1 cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup flour
1 cup pecans, chopped
¼ tsp cinnamon
2 eggs
½ cup butter, melted

Combine brown sugar, flour, pecans, and cinnamon in mixing bowl.  Beat eggs well, then stir in melted butter.  Add egg and butter mixture to dry mixture, stirring until moistened.  Spoon batter into foil baking cups that have been greased, filling about 2/3 full.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until done.  Remove from pan and cool on wire rack.  Yields about 8 or 9 muffins.

Hawaiian Tea Sandwiches

1 cup sugar
2 cups crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
1 pkg. cream cheese (8 oz.) softened
2 to 3 Tbsp cream

Combine sugar and pineapple in saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Cool, then stir in nuts.  Mash cream cheese with fork and add enough cream to create a good spreading consistency.  Combine cream cheese with pineapple mixture.  Spread mixture on thin bread and top with another slice.  Trim off crusts and cut into triangles or finger sandwiches.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Post-Book-Launch Blues by Kathryn R. Wall

Kathryn Wall wrote her first story at the age of six and then decided to take a few decades off. She practiced accounting for nearly thirty years in northern Ohio before retiring in 1994 with her husband, Norman, to Hilton Head Island, SC

Kathy self-published her first Bay Tanner mystery, In For a Penny, then was picked up by a regional publisher. After the publication of And Not a Penny More, she received “The Call.” An editor, having discovered the books while visiting family in nearby Beaufort, offered her a two-book hardcover deal with St. Martin’s Press, and she has been writing for them ever since.

She is a founding member of the Island Writers’ Network on Hilton Head, has served on the board of the Southeast Chapter of MWA, is currently the national treasurer for Sisters in Crime, and is vice-president of the board of Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry. She has also mentored in the local schools. She has two stepsons, four grandchildren, and two “greats.”

Kathy’s other books in the Bay Tanner series include, Perdition House, Judas Island, Resurrection Road, Bishop’s Reach, Sanctuary Hill, The Mercy Oak, Covenant Hall, and Canaan’s Gate, just released on April 27.


The Post-Book-Launch Blues
by Kathryn R. Wall

I’ve never had children of my own, so it would be presumptuous of me to compare launching a book with giving birth or sending a child off to school. Still, I have a feeling the experiences are not entirely dissimilar, at least emotionally.

Last Thursday, Canaan’s Gate, the tenth Bay Tanner mystery, had its grand unveiling. Getting my new books off the ground has become an annual event at Jump & Phil’s, a Cheers-like bar and grille here on Hilton Head Island. The owners, two guys who went to the University of Georgia together, were my friends before they were Bay Tanner fans, and it sure doesn’t hurt that I’ve set scenes in their establishment for the past nine books. In fact, “my” table sits in the back in the corner near the fireplace, and the wall behind it is surrounded with framed copies of my book covers.

Thursday night we had a great crowd. Since we’re now devoid of independent bookstores this side of Beaufort, a local gift and stationery store that stocks my mysteries handled the sales. I’d sent out postcards, and there were posters at Paper & Party Plantation, at the restaurant, and in the window of the Starbucks around the corner. There was a steady stream of folks, most having come to purchase Canaan’s Gate, but also some tourists who just happened to wander in for the best burger on the island. All in all, it was another highly successful event, and we all went home happy. I love it when something like his turns out to be a win-win-win situation.

So where do the blues come in? Where—and when—they usually do: about 3:30 in the morning when I woke up with my mind racing. Apparently some normally dormant part of my brain had been working overtime while I slept, and I woke suddenly with a feeling of sadness I couldn’t at first identify. I eased out of bed and wandered into the den. Curled up in my husband’s recliner in the dark, I tried to figure out what was bugging my subconscious enough to wake me out of a sound sleep.

And here’s what I figured out: it was over. All the planning, the long hours, days and weeks in front of the computer; the worry about getting the plot right and moving the characters along on their life journeys; the rewriting and revising, sifting through the feedback from critique partners and editors; wrestling with the copyedit and the first pass pages—all of that was over. For good or ill, my baby had been thrust out into the world, and there wasn’t a blessed thing I could do about it now. It would be read and dissected and commented upon by people who had spent their hard-earned cash for the right to laud or dismiss my efforts.

As I sat there in the dim light from the streetlamp down the way, it also occurred to me that part of what was making me sad was the realization that what I had sweat blood over for more than a year would probably be old news in a matter of days. People would read /Canaan’s Gate/ and that would be that. They’d like it—or not—and move on to other books, other interests, other ways to occupy their hours. I always hope they’ll close the back cover and be sad that it’s over, that they’ll wish that I, like some of my contemporaries, could turn them out more frequently. When people at signings and events chide me (mostly with good humor) for only producing one book a year, I always tell them it’s like Thanksgiving dinner: it takes a whole lot longer to prepare than it does to eat. Maybe not the best analogy, but it usually brings a smile, especially from women of a certain age who actually cook.

Still, I wonder sometimes if the average reader has any clue how much of a writer’s life and blood is poured into the creation of even the most fleeting work of literature; how long a journey it is from those first tentative keystrokes, eyes locked on an intimidating blank screen, to sitting at that table smiling proudly, surrounded by stacks of books. They probably don’t, and I guess there’s no good reason that they should, any more than I have a true concept of how an artist transforms a pristine canvas into a thing of breathtaking beauty. The creative process is a strange beast, and maybe it’s better not to try to dissect it too finely.

Sometime during all this rumination, I got sleepy again and eventually crawled back in beside my husband. The next morning, I woke feeling upbeat, the blues in the night a faint memory. I’m so lucky to be where I am, doing work I love, and, hopefully, bringing pleasure to readers. Can’t ask for much more than that, can you? And besides, I have next year’s book to finish.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sissyfriss and Lou Lou are going to the beach

Sissyfriss and Lou Lou came by for a visit last night!

I had not seen Sissyfriss Sockmonkey and Lou Lou Skiptoo since February. Remember - they dropped by out of the blue - during an ice storm, no less.

They ended up hanging around, we drank some wine

Then I noticed Lou Lou and Sissy were off having what appeared to be a serious chat

Then Sissy had what can only be called a bit of a crying jag

Then they both passed out.

The next morning they had decided to quit drinking.

and we had a book give-away.  that was fun.

But then they put on their snowshoes and trundled on down the mountain back to Auntie Coo Coo's house.  We've chatted a few times since, but we hadn't seen one another.

If you'll remember, the story was that Sissyfriss and Mr. Sockmonkey were experiencing some marital discord. For awhile after that things were better, but they're on the outs again. Mr. Sockmonkey just can't seem to get his act together, and Sissyfriss, as much as she loves him, gets a little weary of his childishness and has to take a break every now and then.

And Lou Lou is always there for her.

During our visit  last night we started talking about our upcoming vacation.   Sissy and Lou Lou asked if we wanted them to stay at our house while we were gone, but we've already got that covered.  Then we decided it would be fun for them to come to the beach with us, and they agreed!  Yay!  It's going to be TOO fun!  and don't you know we will have stories to tell.

They were still up jabbering about the trip when we went to bed.  Last I heard they were talking about where they were going shopping today to buy new bathing suits.

Stay tuned . . .

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Of Fairy Tales and Dragons by Suzanne Adair

Suzanne Adair writes a mystery/suspense series set during the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War. Her first book, Paper Woman, won the 2007 Patrick D. Smith Literature Award from the Florida Historical Society. In 2009, Camp Follower was a finalist for both the Daphne du Maurier Excellence in Historical Mystery/Suspense Award and the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction. Check her web site or blog for more information.


Of Fairy Tales and Dragons
by Suzanne Adair

When I tell someone that I'm an author, it usually generates a query about what I write. My response is that I write historical crime fiction set in the Southern theater of the American Revolutionary War. Categorizing my fiction satisfies people, stimulates additional interest among those who like reading that type of material, and earns me expressions of social acceptance.

Imagine the reactions, instead, if I told people that I write fairy tales.  They'd frown and recoil, as if I'd sprouted warts over my face, and find a polite excuse to leave my company. They'd think, Suzanne Adair's elevator isn't going to the top floor.

But I confess that I really do write fairy tales. At their cores, my novels published thus far — Paper Woman, The Blacksmith's Daughter, and Camp Follower — are each fairy tales. And I continue to write fairy tales, unabashedly.

The prolific English writer G. K. Chesterton said, "Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed."

Not all dragons possess the same strength. Some require extra effort to be slain. Thus fairy tales teach children about creativity and perseverance — good traits for them to develop in the midst of a copycat, instant-gratification culture.

Extra-powerful dragons have names like Disease and Poverty. What's interesting is that the same extra- powerful dragons that imperiled Assyrians, Celts, and Huns threaten us in the 21st century, in first-world countries. Consequently, when I write about these dragons in the 18th century, readers recognize them.

Historical fiction, like speculative fiction, removes the pressure to regard what's written as an in-your-face tale with an All-Important Lesson. What I'm actually doing is sneaking in stories about how people in the past might have dealt with dragons that have names like Psychopath, Addict, Shell-Shocked Soldier, and Child Molester.

Look for a traditional fairy tale that doesn’t terrorize children on some level.  You won't find it. In those old tales, lessons are taught well through fear. It is fear, not reward, that motivates heroes to slay dragons. When the hero stands beneath the dragon's shadow, the hero realizes that his/her existence is at stake. The dragon must be slain. Otherwise, the dragon will continue to imperil the hero's existence.

Some dragons will not be slain, no matter how a hero strives. But the hero doesn't stop striving, just because he or she cannot kill the dragon. As the Pirkei Avot says, "You are not expected to complete the work, but neither may you cease from doing your part."

What is my "part" as a writer of crime fiction? I believe mysteries and thrillers are actually fairy tales for adult readers. They appeal to people who have been denied justice in the real world or who have seen loved ones denied justice. These readers embrace crime fiction so they can see wrongs righted. They read to escape the grimness of a world in which some dragons will not be slain.

Each time I receive letters from my readers who thank me for helping them forget about a real-world dragon for a few hours, I believe I've done my part. By writing what I write, I make a difference in the lives of others — but not just by helping them escape.

You see, fairy tales aren't fluff. Every time you read one, whether it's traditional or contemporary, you're exposed to dragons that hobble the human race. You see them from different, often fresh, angles. These angles challenge you to ponder prickly issues anew, search yourself for resolutions perhaps invisible behind the defenses you've erected about your own soul.

The next time you read crime fiction, look for the dragons. Look for the angles. And ask yourself, "What is my solution to this dilemma? Might my solution benefit others?"

What dragons have you slain, and how?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Was it "really" that good? memories.

One of my literary heroes is Laura Lippman.

The first Laura Lippman book I read was totally by accident.

How many of you have discovered some of your favorite writers this way?  Not by reading about their books, or hearing about them from a fellow book loving friend, but by simply browsing through a book store and happening upon a book that leads you to discover a writer you fall in love with.  All of us have done that, right?

It just so happens that two of my favorite writers were discovered in an airport bookstore.

Laura Lippman and Linda Fairstein.

I was in the Baltimore airport waiting for a plane to fly back home.  Our new home in Boone, NC.  Brand new.  I didn't really know a lot about  Boone yet except that it was where my husband was, and had been for months.  It was where I had not been because I had stayed in Atlanta to sell the house.  Who knew it was going to take so long?  And during this time I got so homesick for the home of my heart I could hardly bear it.  Looking back now, I think I was homesick for the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where I grew up, because I was between homes and feeling untethered.  Not a good thing for a nester like me.  I need my "stuff" around me - including my husband.  We had, at this point, been married for 10 years and had never spent a night apart.  All of a sudden we were spending lots of nights apart and came to the realization that it took the two of us to equal one fairly responsible adult.  Separate we just weren't functioning all that well.

Sharing our day over the phone didn't hold a candle to sharing our day face to face.  And having an argument over the phone is the pits.   And celebrating our 11th wedding anniversary apart was harder than I can ever say.

Anyway - the house finally sold, we were finally together in that little mountain house we had dreamed of.  But I needed to get back to my roots.  I needed to cross bridges over huge expanses of water.  When I mentioned this need for water to Donald he pointed out that we had a creek, and we had a pond - a pond chuck full of rainbow trout, by golly.  True enough.  And quite lovely.  But.  Not big enough for need of a bridge, and certainly not big enough that I'd ever see sailboats out there.   I needed to smell marshy smells and eat crabs that had very recently been innocently swimming along minding their own business.   I needed to spend a little time with friends who had known me since we were kids.  People I could just be myself with; even in a state of upheaval - excited about our new life; scared to death about whether we were doing the right thing; and acting a bit manic about it all.  So home to Cambridge I scooted where Pam & R.T., and Debby & Gordon opened their arms and their hearts once again and gave me back my sense of home.  (I love these dear to my heart people, and I hope they're reading this 'cause I don't tell them so near often enough). After a too short visit, they pushed me back out of the nest and into the Baltimore Airport - whatever its name is - - Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, I think.  It used to be named Friendship Airport.  Don't you love that?  Can you imagine having an airport with that name these days?!  

I got to cross my bridges over huge sweeps of water.  The Bay Bridge makes my heart swell and I love it.  The bridge crossing the Choptank River into Cambridge, however, makes me cry buckets.  Either way.  Going or coming.  Doesn't matter.  I am going to cry buckets.  Better that I'm not the one doing the driving.  And after boo hooing and trying really hard to make sure Pam & R.T. didn't see it happening, next thing I knew I was in the airport.

Where's the first place you head when you're in an airport?

For me, it's coffee first, then the bookstore.

And there right inside the bookstore door was a display for a local writer named Laura Lippman who was a reporter for The Baltimore Sun.  There were two books; BALTIMORE BLUES and CHARM CITY, and I grabbed them both.  


I love Baltimore.  Cambridge is a small town and trips into "The City" were always a treat.  Catching a Baltimore Orioles game with my Mom and Dad was always something to look forward to for weeks ahead of time and then talk about for weeks following.  We loved those Orioles.  I never got to a Colts game, but my Dad did.  He always got home later than he said he would, and he had always had a tad too much to drink, and he always brought my mom a little souvenir thinking it might make her less angry at him for being later than he said, and having had a tad too much to drink.  Bless his heart - he just never really got it.  And bless my Mom's heart for never really being as mad as he thought she was.   And for actually keeping those tacky things he brought home.  I mean - truly.  WHERE are you going to shop in the middle of the night on the road between Baltimore and Cambridge other than a truck stop, and are they known as great spots to shop?  Well, maybe it just depends on what you're shopping for.


Along with these two books, I grabbed another one 'cause I just thought it sounded interesting.  FINAL JEOPARDY by Linda Fairstein.

Turns out, it was one of my lucky days.  I loved all three of those books and Ms. Lippman and Ms. Fairstein are both, 13 years later, still on my "auto-buy" list.

In addition to reading Laura Lippman's books, I also read her Memory Project.  Are y'all familiar with it?  Most of you are, I know.  But if you're not, do scoot over there.  It's wonderful.  Here's an excerpt from her webpage explaining it - "The point of the Memory Project is two-fold. First, it functions as a memory and writing exercise for me. I start with something I do remember -- the cost of a candy bar in my childhood, for example -- and see how many more memories it can summon back. 
But the Memory Project is also meant to be the interactive piece of this web site, a place where my frequent correspondents, or not-so-frequent correspondents, can play the same game with their own pasts."

Read the whole piece about Memory Project here.

The reason I'm bringing it up now is because the piece she most recently wrote has bounced around in my head for the past couple of weeks.  It's about pizza.  Donald and I are always searching for good pizza.  It's a constant quest.  I don't think we've ever taken a trip that we don't search out the local pizza place, usually supplemented by suggestions by as many  local people as we can work up the nerve to ask.  It's a fun thing and we have lots of memories surrounding our restaurant experiences.  We may not always remember everything about a trip, but we can always recall what we ate.  Because of all this, the piece Ms. Lippman wrote, and the comments following it, have been particularly fun for me to  read.  I think you'll also enjoy it, and I'm going to be especially interested in hearing how you react to it.

She starts with this -

"The best slice of pizza I ever had was . . ."

she then tells where and it in turn sparks a memory, which she writes about in her own inimitable style, and you can read it here.

and I ask each of you - was that special meal you remember so vividly REALLY that good, or was it that elusive "something else" that made it so.

What do you think?