Sunday, January 29, 2012

More Progress on "The Little Library" AND on "The Book"


and that's the philosophy that led me into this project.

And I still stand by it.

It's impossible to explain to anyone who doesn't already feel this way - but to those of us who feel comforted by books, it's hard to imagine a life without them.  And most of us don't even want to imagine it, truth be told.



It's beginning to shape up and look more like a little library.

Donald has finished putting the bookcases together.

Next comes shifting and sliding and moving them to where they're going to live and then anchoring them to the walls.


One little sidestep took place during all this.

Remember that pile of "stuff" that was under the bed?  I've been frettin' about all that.  But I found this cupboard, which Donald put together and we've put it in "The Little Library."  The first thing I'm planning on doing (once it's been anchored) is putting the stuff that was under the bed in here.  Cross your fingers that at least most of it fits!

Then I get to start putting all the books in order and getting them on the shelves.  They won't all go in this room, of course, but at least now (maybe) there will be enough room to have them fairly nicely shelved through the house and not in the mess they are now.

source: God's Patience

AND - - -

While Donald was busy doing all this hard stuff in The Little Library, I was busy writing. 

I'm now, I think, moving into the final third of "The Book."  After not writing a single word all week, there was apparently a lot of stuff making its way into my head and storing itself in my brain, 'cause the words just came pouring out.  And I'm still loving the story, still loving the characters.  Not loving all the words, but for now they're working, at least.  And this is, after all, just the first draft - but a first draft that I keep tinkering with.  I can't seem to just write straight through without going back and tinkering.  But I do feel as though I'm moving forward.  And that's a good thing.  Right?!

source: God's Patience

Saturday, January 28, 2012

My Black Baby Doll: The Sources of Killer Frost by Judy Hogan

Judy Hogan’s first mystery novel, Killer Frost, will be published by Mainly Murder Press in CT on September 1, 2012 in both trade paperback and e-book formats.  Judy founded Carolina Wren Press (1976-91) and was co-editor of Hyperion Poetry Journal, 1970-81).  She has published five volumes of poetry and two prose works with small presses. She has taught all forms of creative writing since 1974. She joined Sisters in Crime in 2007 and has focused on writing and publishing eight traditional mystery novels.  In 2011 she was a finalist in the St. Martin’s Malice Domestic Mystery contest for Killer Frost.  The twists and turns of her life’s path over the years have given her plenty to write about.  She is also a small farmer and lives in Moncure, N.C., near Jordan Lake.

My Black Baby Doll: The Sources of Killer Frost
by Judy Hogan

I can scarcely remember when I became aware that black people were different.  It was probably while I was three to six years old, during visits to my grandparents who lived in Pittsburgh and employed a maid and cook named Rose.  Rose was and wasn’t part of the family.  She was always very kind to me, as if she were a kind of extension of my grandparents’ enjoyment of their first grandchild.  Yet, at the end of the day, she put on different, outside clothes and a hat, and then she went home.
            I was seven when I learned that black people were treated differently.  In 1944, my father was a Navy Chaplain in the Pacific, and my mother, little sister, and I lived in Norman, Oklahoma.  Mother was the YWCA Secretary at the University of Oklahoma, and we lived near the campus.  One day at lunchtime, she brought home two black women to use the bathroom.
            When she returned after the meeting was over, she explained to me that, because Norman was a “sundown” town, no black people were allowed on campus or in town after sundown, and there were no bathrooms on campus or in the town that they could use.  I was shocked and upset, so Mother told me I could write to the Mayor of Norman, and I did.

            As an adult, I learned that Mother had worked during the war years on a legal case under the “Separate but Equal” law to get Lois Sipuel admitted to the University because there were no law schools in Oklahoma for Negroes.  She was eventually admitted, but she had to sit behind a screen.
            Not long after that incident, I wrote to my father and said that, when he left the Navy, I wanted to live in a town where I could have Negro children as my friends.  This didn’t happen.  In 1946 we moved to Jacksonville, Florida.  My father was the minister of the downtown Congregational Church, and he belonged to the Urban League.  I remember secret discussions between my parents and other liberal ministers in our home about racial justice.
            Across the street our friend Cletus had a black maid and yardman.  I was eleven, when I was in the front yard with Cletus, and my little brother, from his playpen, threw his ball into the street.  Cletus’s yardman brought it back and handed it to me, and I gave it back to Billy.  Cletus protested: “He touched it.  You should have washed it first!”  I objected, angry that she would even suggest such a thing.
            Because Jacksonville had a large black population, I saw in the dime store black, as well as white, baby dolls.  I asked for a black doll for Christmas and got it.  That doll represented my wish to do something to make things better for black people.  But it wasn’t until college and the Campus Y at O.U., and my church youth group, that in 1955-59, I was able to make black friends.

            One year after the Supreme Court desegregation ruling, O.U. admitted its first black student under this ruling, a Freshman girl.  I was also a Freshman girl that year, and I met her.  But it was through my Presbyterian Church group that I was able to have real conversations with Negro students.  Our leaders arranged for exchange gatherings with the young people in Langston, where the black college was.  The Y also had regional and national meetings I attended. 
            I remember at one conference, our little discussion group decided that intermarriage was the answer.  Then we’d all have a nice tan.  We were so pleased with our simple solution.
            But a life-changing event occurred in the summer of 1957, between my sophomore and junior years, when I attended a national Y conference in Miami, Ohio, and stayed over the weekend for a board meeting.  I was representing the Southwest.  John Crawley was there from Virginia State, representing the Southeast.  1957, I would later learn, was very tense period as the South took in the implications of the 1954 school desegregation decision.  John and I fell in love.  We wrote letters for awhile, and then he stopped writing.

            A year or so later, he wrote me a long letter explaining that he’d had to give me up.  He said that it was too much to ask of me to marry him.  I had been willing to for many months, but when I didn’t hear from him, I dated other people, and when the letter came, I had another boyfriend.  Later still I would read Thulani Davis’s book, 1959, about the racial tensions in a small Virginia small town, and understand better why John wrote that letter.
            In 1998 I ran across my letters to my parents about John and found his full name and old address.  Then I found a current Petersburg address for him by internet and wrote to him.  His mother, Pearl Crawley, called me.  She told me John had died in 1996.  I told her we had loved each other, and she said, “I would have welcomed you as a daughter.”  She did, when we met soon after.

            We became close quickly, and I learned about John’s life.  He’d grown up in a sharecropper’s family, graduated from Virginia State with a B.A. and a Master’s, but he hadn’t become a minister or a professor, as I’d expected, given his intelligence and convictions.  Instead, he’d spent his life working first on the War on Poverty in New Jersey, and then later for homeless shelters and food banks in Southside Virginia.  Pearl Crawley died a year ago, in 2010, but I am so glad I was able to know and love her.
            When my husband and I moved to North Carolina in 1971, things were still tense racially, because the schools were beginning to be desegregated.  You were either for or against racial equality, and I was for.  I was co-editor, with Paul Foreman of Hyperion Poetry Journal, and fairly quickly black poets sent me work, and I met them: Jaki Shelton Green, her husband at the time, Sherman Shelton, Lance Jeffers, Julia Field, Jerry Barrax, and T.J. Reddy (one of the Charlotte Three–in prison in 1973-4 for a crime he and his friends didn’t commit: burning a stable).  I would later, as Carolina Wren Press Editor, publish poetry books by Jaki, T.J., and still later, C. Eric Lincoln.  Jaki went on to be given the North Carolina Award for Literature, the state’s highest literary award, in 2003.
            I also set up a Minority Book Prize in 1983, and Linda Brown won it with her first novel, Rainbow Roun’ Mah Shoulder.  The second time we offered the prize, Gloree Rogers won it for Love, or a Reasonable Facsimile (1990).
            Meantime, the writers had been educating me, as had living in integrated Interfaith Council housing in Chapel Hill with my children 1975-78, where I’d learned that I knew very little about the reality of black life in the South.  I think now that, because I was a white woman, it was easier for me to get away with publishing black writers, and by the early eighties, my doing that was useful to the Durham Arts Council and the North Carolina Arts Council, who were under the gun to show minority participation.
            When I taught the “Roadmap to Great Literature for New Writers” under a N.C. Humanities grant, in 1981, we held it in the Stanford Warren branch, formerly the black library in the Durham County system, and we had more black participants there.  So when I could reserve the auditorium in the Main library for our lectures during a later grant and realized I was losing black participants, I started having a second session at the Stanford Warren branch for black writers.  They could be more at ease and discuss issues around race, which they did.  Gloree Rogers was in that class.
            Curiously, to me, one of my Carolina Wren board members, Pauletta Bracey, who taught Library Science at North Carolina Central University, told me, after we got C. Eric Lincoln from Duke to come to the Stanford Warren Library to talk about Malcolm X (we were reading his autobiography), said, “Judy, you’re more accepted here in the black community than Eric Lincoln is.”
            When I was looking for land and a house for my old age in 1998, I used a realtor whose mother I’d come to love when I did some Roadmap programming in Rougemont for senior citizens.  I told Liz that I thought I’d be more comfortable and safer in the black community, and we found three acres and the shell of a house in Moncure, and I bought it, had the house finished and began part-time farming.  My neighbors are black, and the best neighbors I could have.  We help each other.
            So when I needed a job in 2004, and I was offered one at historically black St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, to teach Reading to Freshmen who hadn’t done well on the entrance exams, I took it gladly.  I taught there three years and came to love the students.  Killer Frost grew out of that experience, as all my novels are based on experiences I’ve had and then fictionalized.  When I write mysteries, I write about what matters to me, people I love, things I want to change and make better.  I realize I’m still carrying that black baby doll in my deep mind.

A Story About A Guy And Some Shelves

I met Donald in 1984.

We had just started dating when he came to my apartment one evening to watch a Braves game with me.

I was a huge baseball fan - he was not.

While we were watching the game I noticed he seemed more interested in the hanging shelves on the wall surrounding the TV and I thought, "oh, goodie, he's interested in the books."

After awhile he said, "who hung your shelves?"

I, very proudly, said, "I did."

and he nodded.

We watched the game a little longer, and then he said, "Did you use a level?"

I looked at him like he's lost his mind.

"A level?  Why would I have a level?"

"Well, 'cause you like to hang stuff."

"No, I don't really like to hang stuff, but I just do it 'cause I want it done."

"So.  What do you use to make sure your shelves are level and stuff won't fall off them?"

I grinned.

Mistakenly thinking he was applauding my handiness, I walked across the room to where I had a pottery Tic-Tac-Toe game sitting on a table.  I picked up one of the pottery "O's" and handed it to him.

"I used this."

He just looked at it and held it for the longest time before he finally looked at me and said "This.  You used this as a level?"

Still grinning and still proud as punch, I said, "Yes!  Pretty smart of me, huh?"

"Kaye, this little ball is not round."

"Yes, it is too round."

By now he was laughing and NOT trying to hide it.  "It's not round enough to act as a level.  Actually, it's pretty flat in some places."

Me, being me, snatched the little ball and put it back where it belonged.

"I think the shelves look great.  I love them. AND, I'm pretty damned proud of myself for hanging them all by myself."

"I'm pretty impressed that you did that too."

He shook his head and said, "But Kaye, those shelves are crooked as hell."

I was crushed!

"They are not."

"Yes.  They are.  But if you're happy with them, that's what counts.  So.  What did you hang them with?"

"Toggle bolts."

He nodded.  "Do you have a lot of tools?  Other than a level - I know you don't have a level."

"I have a hammer and I have a screwdriver.  My dad gave them to me."

He nodded.  "What else?"

I think I looked at him like he was nuts here.  "That's all.  What else do I need?"

"Just one screwdriver?"

"Yes."  (I probably said this pretty sharply).

By now he was up looking more closely at the shelves and he did exactly what I was praying he would not do.

He picked up the one book I was hoping he would not pick up.

It was one next to the bracket I had had particular trouble putting up.

He wasn't looking at the book, he was looking at the hole surrounding the bracket.

"Wow.  That's a pretty big hole."

"The toggle thing didn't want to go in."

He nodded.

"I really had to fight to get it to go."

He nodded.

"What did you finally do?"

I cringed.

"I used a spoon."

"A spoon."

"Mm hmm.  And don't think I'm so dumb I don't know you're making fun of me here.  I don't want to talk about this any more.  I'm sure you would have done a better job."

"I am not making fun of you.  I'm just - - -  admiring your creativity.  And, like I said, I'm pretty impressed that you did all this all on your own.  Really.  But I'll help you the next time."

And, unbelievably, by now I was actually laughing.  Because, yes, the shelves were crooked as hell.  Even I could see that.  And yes, some of those holes were awfully big.  So - somehow, while my feelings could have been hurt, the man made me laugh.  And made me realize how good it felt to laugh with someone.  At myself.  Someone I liked lots.  

And sure enough  -  several months later we decided to move in together (very long story for another day), and he did hang shelves for me.  A lot of shelves.

We moved again and he hung shelves.

We moved again and he hung shelves and put together bookcases.

We moved to Boone in 1996 and he did it all again.

And now he's putting together more bookcases.

When I offer to help, he always says, "I'll holler when I need you."

And he does, always, holler when he needs me, but it's never when he's working on shelves.

And, he's still making me laugh.

even at myself.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Moving Right Along - - - update on "The Little Library"

I'm happy to report that "The Little Library" is coming right along!


The painting is all done and Donald is in the process of putting the bookcases together.

The man is a saint.

I can't even begin to remember how many bookshelves he's built me over all the years we've been together. Or how many bookcases he's put together.

It's just one more way he's made my world a happier place to be.


More pictures to come - stay tuned!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

2012 Dilys Award Nominees Announced

The 2012 Dilys Winn Award Nominees have been announced.  The winner to be named at Left Coast Crime.  The "Dilys" is given each year by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association (IMBA) to the book independent booksellers most enjoyed selling during the past year.

The 2012 Dilys Nominees Are:

TAG MAN, Archer Mayor

Congratulations to all the nominees!!!!

I have not yet read WICKED AUTUMN or TAG MAN, but certainly plan on doing so.  I always look forward to hearing what the IMBA recommends.  

FAITHFUL PLACE, A TRICK OF THE LIGHT and GHOST HERO were all on my "Best Of List" for 2011.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

That little home project . . . . Part 1


You know we're working on a little home project.

Converting the little guest room into a little home library.

Some of you asked for before and after pictures.

I'm an idiot!

I love before and after pictures and can't believe I didn't think to do this all on my own!

I was sure I had pictures of the guest room, and I know I must since I take pictures all the time - of anything - of everything!  But I'm not able to come up with one.

So we'll start an "IN PROGRESS" blog about the library with some pictures I took today (I have a love/hate relationship with the timer on my camera).

The bed is down and now lives in our storage building.

All the stuff that was stored under the bed is now scattered here there and yonder with final resting place(s) yet to be determined.  (It was all under the bed for a reason, you see).

The bookcases we ordered have been delivered and are still packaged and cluttering up another room.

So far, I've put primer on the walls, and I've painted the ceiling.

Today is "Paint The Walls" day - Hooray!!

And pretty soon (Hooray!), we'll put the bookcases together (well, that would be Donald), and arrange them in the new little library (Whoopee!!!!!!).

And then, we'll start taking all the books off all the shelves and bookcases throughout the house (that would be me), DUSTING them, sorting them, and putting them back on shelves and bookcases throughout the house (because the little library isn't going to hold all of them) alphabetically rather than the oh so haphazardly manner in which they're now shelved.  (My librarian friends would die).

And I'm excited!   'Cause then I get to decorate the room, which is something I love to do.

It's going to be wonderful and I am going to adore it!

More later, but right now I have to get back to my painting.  This project is interfering badly with my time at the gym!!!  And my reading time!  And my writing time!  EEK!

Don't be messin' with a woman on a mission!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Discovery by Jen Forbus

Jen Forbus is above all else a crime fiction reader and fan. She’s been blogging at Jen’s Book Thoughts for the past four years and is always concocting schemes to encourage awareness of great crime fiction. When she isn’t doing that, she’s probably vacuuming pet hair from her two chocolate labs and four rescue cats. 

by Jen Forbus

We as humans, by nature, like what we know, what’s safe and comfortable. Our reading choices don’t tend to be different from that. We have our “must reads” from those authors we’ve come to know well.  And if we’re honest with ourselves, many of us continue reading an author religiously long after he/she has started “phoning it in.” It’s safe and comforting. Sometimes that’s exactly what we need.

But what about the new authors you discover? How do you go about that? Do you seek it out actively or do you find yourself saying, “I don’t have time for a new author; all my favorites take up my reading time”?

Part of the fun of reading for me is discovering new authors.  Last year I read 97 novels and of those 97, 51 were from new-to-me authors. Some I’ll not likely read again. Not that they were bad, necessarily, just that they weren’t the right fit for me and my reading preferences. But a good number of those new-to-me authors are going to be authors I look for in the future.  And I’m thankful I took the chance to read them.

Let’s face it, it IS taking a chance. You’re giving up more than the money you might spend on the book; you’re giving up hours of your life on something you don’t know about yet.

I say “new-to-me” because many of my “new” discoveries are authors who have been around awhile: Mike Lawson (, Laurie King (, Ace Atkins ( These are fun because you don’t have to wait for them to write more if you want to read more immediately. There’s already more available.

Other “new” discoveries were 2011 debut authors: Daniel Palmer (, Sara Henry (, James Barney ( There’s something special about getting in on the ground floor with a brand new author.

I come across these “new-to-me” authors in a plethora of ways: I may be assigned a book for review or receive a pitch letter that is too enticing to pass up. I may agree to participate in a blog tour. Or I might encounter that individual on social media and establish a relationship of sorts. I get to know that author as a person and then want to read his/her work. And then of course there are recommendations from people I trust.

2012 is already taking off like gangbusters in the new-to-me department. I’ve experienced Kyle Mills (, David Ellis (, Charlie Newton (, and Dana Stabenow (, as well as debut author G.M. Lawrence (

I’m looking forward to Owen Laukkanen’s THE PROFESSIONALS ( and Robert Greer’s ASTRIDE A PINK HORSE ( 

I’ve been reading a lot more non-American authors of late. I intend to add more new-to-me authors from this category as well, among them: Sarah Blædel ( and Liza Marklund (

I’ll continue to be a devoted fan to my tried and trues. Elvis Cole still makes my toe curl and Ellie Hatcher will always be my hero. Visiting Absaroka County and Sea Haven are bonus vacations. But I’m going to continue to take chances as well because at one time, all my tried and trues were brand new, too.

How about you? What was a great new discovery for you in 2011? Do you know someone you’re going to take a chance on in 2012? How do you decide which books to take a chance on?

A little home project . . . .

You know how home projects always start out sounding fairly simple?

Well, okay - right off the bat - we do know that they're not going to be simple.

But, I think human nature allows us to simplify the project somewhat in our brains.  Otherwise none of us would even consider taking on another home project ever.

Donald and I are just getting into doing something I've wanted my entire life.

A library.

My very own little personal library.

And because Donald is one of the good guys - maybe King of The Good Guys, he's agreed that this is something we should do.  (We won't even talk about how many years its taken me to convince him).

To say I'm over the moon is about right.

And it all sounded so . . .      simple.

Take down the bed and move it to the storage building out back.  Paint the walls.  Move in some bookcases.  Voilà!  Library!



Then would come the hard part - unshelving all the books that are haphazardly arranged on bookcases and hanging shelves in every room in the house, putting them in alphabetical order by author's name and reshelving them (AFTER giving them a really really good dusting).


The bed's been taken down and the first hitch in the plan comes when faced with all this "stuff" stored under the bed.  A bed which Donald put up on risers to make it high enough to use for really good storage.


A lot of shoes on a wonderful little thing he designed and built.  Clear shoe boxes fit on a shelf that I can roll out from under the bed.  Perfect!  But now - where will the shoes go?  hmmmmm . . . .

Christmas wrappings.

Other various and sundry things that don't bear talking about.

Do they go out to the storage building?  Well - not my shoes.  I mean, I may be retired and not wear nice shoes every day, but still . . . .

Temporary measures needed.  Shoes thrown into bags and carried upstairs and dumped in the floor in the sunroom.  Other "stuff" - same thing.  More other "stuff" - to the storage building.  All things to be reconsidered once the bookcases are all in place.  Perhaps one bookcase will be replaced by a storage cabinet . . . .

So now I need to go scrub down the walls. Then Donald is going to patch the holes left from things that were hanging on the walls.

Next step - I get to paint the room.  It's a small room . . . . .  no problem!  Right?!  Right!!

In the meantime, I'm going to be repeating my new mantra to myself every morning for awhile - - -

And, of course, keeping my eye on the prize at the end of all this.

The library I've wanted my entire life.

Y'all - life is good.

And worth a little hard work to finally get one of your dreams.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Harley Doodle Barley - - - -

is the inaugural guest pet of the month at the always cool and clever Cozy Chicks Blog. 

I hope you'll drop by!

Just to give you a clue as to just how cool they are, they've made a donation to the SPCA in Harley's name.  How sweet is that?!

Thank you, Cozy Chicks!!!!

Many hugs,

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The 2012 Edgar Nominees

Mystery Writers of America is proud to announce on the 203rd anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, its Nominees for the 2012 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, nonfiction and television published or produced in 2011. The Edgar® Awards will be presented to the winners at our 66th Gala Banquet, April 26, 2012 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City.


The Ranger
by Ace Atkins (Penguin Group USA – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
by Mo Hayder (Grove/Atlantic – Atlantic Monthly Press)
The Devotion of Suspect X
by Keigo Higashino (Minotaur Books)
by Anne Holt (Simon & Schuster - Scribner)
Field Gray
by Philip Kerr (Penguin Group USA - G.P. Putnam’s Sons – Marion Wood Books)


Red on Red
by Edward Conlon (Random House Publishing Group – Spiegel & Grau)
Last to Fold
by David Duffy (Thomas Dunne Books)
All Cry Chaos
by Leonard Rosen (The Permanent Press)
Bent Road
by Lori Roy (Penguin Group USA - Dutton)
Purgatory Chasm
by Steve Ulfelder (Minotaur Books – Thomas Dunne Books)


The Company Man
by Robert Jackson Bennett (Hachette Book Group – Orbit Books)
The Faces of Angels
by Lucretia Grindle (Felony & Mayhem Press)
The Dog Sox
by Russell Hill (Pleasure Boat Studio – Caravel Mystery Books)
Death of the Mantis
by Michael Stanley (HarperCollins Publishers – Harper Paperbacks)
Vienna Twilight
by Frank Tallis (Random House Trade Paperbacks)


The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars
by Paul Collins (Crown Publishing)
The Savage City: Race, Murder, and a Generation on the Edge
by T.J. English (HarperCollins – William Morrow)
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President
by Candice Millard (Random House - Doubleday)
Girl, Wanted: The Chase for Sarah Pender
by Steve Miller (Penguin Group USA - Berkley)
The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial
by Mark Seal (Penguin Group USA - Viking)


The Tattooed Girl: The Enigma of Stieg Larsson and the Secrets
Behind the Most Compelling Thrillers of our Time
by Dan Burstein, Arne de Keijzer & John-Henri Holmberg (St. Martin’s Griffin)
Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making
by John Curran (HarperCollins)
On Conan Doyle: Or, the Whole Art of Storytelling
by Michael Dirda (Princeton University Press)
Detecting Women: Gender and the Hollywood Detective Film
by Philippa Gates (SUNY Press)
Scripting Hitchcock: Psycho, The Birds and Marnie
by Walter Raubicheck and Walter Srebnick (University of Illinois Press)


"Marley’s Revolution" – Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine
by John C. Boland (Dell Magazines)
"Tomorrow’s Dead" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
by David Dean (Dell Magazines)
"The Adakian Eagle” – Down These Strange Streets
by Bradley Denton (Penguin Group USA – Ace Books)
"Lord John and the Plague of Zombies" – Down These Strange Streets
by Diana Gabaldon (Penguin Group USA – Ace Books)
"The Case of Death and Honey" – A Study in Sherlock
by Neil Gaiman
(Random House Publishing Group – Bantam Books)
“The Man Who Took His Hat Off to the Driver of the Train” – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
Peter Turnbull (Dell Magazines)


Horton Halfpott
by Tom Angleberger (Abrams – Amulet Books)
It Happened on a Train
by Mac Barnett (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
by Sheela Chari (Disney Book Group – Disney Hyperion)
by Matthew J. Kirby (Scholastic Press)
The Wizard of Dark Street
by Shawn Thomas Odyssey (Egmont USA)


by Harlan Coben (Penguin Young Readers Group – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Name of the Star
by Maureen Johnson (Penguin Young Readers Group – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Silence of Murder
by Dandi Daley Mackall (Random House Children’s Books – Knopf BFYR)
The Girl is Murder
by Kathryn Miller Haines
(Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group – Roaring Creek Press)
Kill You Last
by Todd Strasser (Egmont USA)

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club
by Jeffrey Hatcher
(Arizona Theatre Company, Phoenix, AZ)
The Game’s Afoot
by Ken Ludwig (Cleveland Playhouse, Cleveland, OH)


“Innocence” – Blue Bloods,
Teleplay by Siobhan Byrne O’Connor (CBS Productions)
“The Life Inside” – Justified,
Teleplay by Benjamin Cavell
(FX Productions and Sony Pictures Television)
“Part 1” – Whitechapel,
Teleplay by Ben Court & Caroline Ip (BBC America)
“Pilot” – Homeland,
Teleplay by Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon & Gideon Raff (Showtime)
“Mask” – Law & Order: SVU,
Teleplay by Speed Weed (Wolf Films/Universal Media Studios)


"A Good Man of Business" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
by David Ingram (Dell Magazines)

Martha Grimes

M is for Mystery Bookstore, San Mateo, CA
Molly Weston, Meritorious Mysteries

Joe Meyers of the Connecticut Post/Hearst Media News Group

(Presented at MWA’s Agents & Editors Party on Wednesday, April 25, 2012)
Now You See Me
by S.J. Bolton (Minotaur Books)
Come and Find Me
by Hallie Ephron (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Death on Tour
by Janice Hamrick (Minotaur Books)
Learning to Swim
by Sara J. Henry (Crown Publishing Group)
Murder Most Persuasive
by Tracy Kiely (Minotaur Books – Thomas Dunne Books)

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Two Women Chat - - - Carolyn J. Rose and Nancy Peterson Farina

Friends since second grade, Carolyn J. Rose and Nancy Peterson Farina chat about the impact one negative person had on them when they were very young, why they’ll never forget those experiences, and how that has shaped their lives.

Carolyn J. Rose, the author of 11 novels including A Place of Forgetting, a story of love, war, betrayal, and Thoreau, set in 1966, and a cozy mystery, No Substitute for Murder, released last month. She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She lives in Vancouver, Washington, and founded the Vancouver Writers’ Mixers. Her hobbies are reading, gardening, and not cooking.

Nancy Peterson Farina was born in the Bronx, grew up in the Catskill Mountains, and attended the State University of New York at Albany. She taught junior high English for 33 years in New Hartford, New York. She and her husband Sal have two grown daughters and two grandchildren. They split their time between Central New York and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, reveling in blissful no-accountability.

Carolyn: Remember when we met in second grade? When they merged many tiny schools into one consolidated district? For me, that meant leaving behind the one-room schoolhouse a mile from home, boarding a huge yellow bus, and jolting along 12 miles of winding road to an enormous brick building. I’d been one of only two students in first grade at that tiny white schoolhouse at the intersection of two rural roads in the Catskill Mountains. Now I was one of many. At that one-room school, I’d been the pet of older students, coddled and encouraged. Now, everything changed.

Nancy:  My experience started differently from yours, because we are from different little towns. When I started kindergarten, I was in the first class to attend the big centralized school, so I never attended a little school as you did. In kindergarten, my teacher was a darling grandmotherly-type. I loved her. Imagine my delight to be assigned to Mrs. Goodrich’s first grade class. I’m not sure about the “rich” part, but our teacher was of the fairy-tale good variety. I was also coddled and encouraged, expecting the loving environment to continue in second grade. Oh, what a naïve child!

Carolyn: And we didn’t realize that we were so naïve, or so powerless. Because of that, we lacked the awareness necessary to develop coping mechanisms. I remember our teacher as wearing black every day, even though I’m sure she didn’t. Let’s call her Mrs. X.

My father, who had returned with malaria from the China-Burma-India theater of World War II, had little sympathy with my tears and pleas to be allowed to stay home. In his universe, you weren’t supposed to like school or a whole lot of other things. You just sucked it up and did them. But my mother was a nurse, so often I was able to use a strategy of feigning sickness. Actually, there was little feigning. Dreading the misery ahead, I threw up most mornings. About half the time (I remember seeing a report card showing 80+ absences for that year), I persuaded my parents I was sick enough to spend the day with my grandparents, former teachers who had coached me along to a reading level well beyond second grade. Every day with them was a day spent reading books borrowed from the library instead of sitting in a stuffy corner of the classroom listening to others labor through endless repetitions of the adventures (and I use that word loosely) of Dick and Jane.

Nancy: I remember one time when my stomach was growling as Mrs. X droned on and on. Dick and Jane and Baby Sally . . . My eyes followed the minute hand. Noon! Why didn't anyone notice it was time to line up for lunch?  I knew how to tell time, so it was up to me to alert Mrs. X that we were two minutes late.

Was I really trying to help Mrs. X or was I just showing off my new-found skill? In any event, I shouted out, "It's after noon! Time for lunch!" Grabbing my attention with her flashing eyes and face suffused with rage, Mrs. S. slapped down her book and ordered, "Everyone line up. Nancy, stand by me."

I thought I was being rewarded, until Mrs. X pinched my arm tight and stalked out the door. Down the hall we marched, her sharp fingernails digging into my chubby arm. Mrs. X let all her students file into the lunchroom and then swung me up to the glass wall looking into the cafeteria. "Wait here until everyone else has entered!  And that's everyone—all the grades."

Mortified, I stood small and alone outside the glass wall, looking in at the kids eating. Students from third, fourth, fifth, and then sixth grade filed in, giggling and shoving, pointing fingers at me. After the last sixth grader had gone into the cafeteria, Mrs. X shouted for me. I felt a thousand eyes on my blood-red face. I put one foot in front of the other, felt my stomach churn, and threw up in front of the whole school.

What happened next is long forgotten, but the lesson I learned that day has never left me. Humiliation of another human being is wrong. Mrs. X certainly taught me well. I would never hold up a person to ridicule.

Carolyn: Whenever I hear that story I want to turn back time and stand with you outside of the cafeteria as the person I am now. But in second grade, I would have been too petrified to draw attention to myself and draw her wrath. To this day I carry the lingering feeling that I’m about to get into big trouble for something I didn’t even know was wrong.

I also learned a lesson about humiliation—but trust me to get it backwards at first. I came to the conclusion that humiliating others must be what grown-ups did because they could and because it was their right. So, in the process of growing up, and maybe in an attempt to armor myself, I was sometimes petty enough to use the weapon I saw wielded back in second grade. I’m “cured” of that now, although I have to admit that I still find a certain enjoyment in glimpsing the public humiliation of those in power who break faith and victimize others by lying, cheating on their spouses, etc.

But my mother also learned a lesson from my second grade experiences—you don’t have to simply accept the situations life hands you. You can speak up, speak out, and act. Years later, when she was marching against the Vietnam War, she apologized to me for not going to school administrators and lodging a complaint. Looking back, I wonder if that complaint would have only made things worse for me and for you.

Nancy: Back in the late 1950's, I doubt many parents complained about a teacher. It simply was not done. Today, your mother would be all over the principal, demanding that you be removed from Mrs. X's terror-zone. Back in the "old days," kids were at the mercy of bad adults. (Hmmmm... perhaps that is still true in too many situations.)

When I think about your 80+ absences, I vaguely remember you not being in the classroom often. When you were there, we were unconscious allies. Most everyone else was 100% compliant with Mrs. X. Our friend Sandy had her gorgeous dimples to protect her. We had no such weapons. I wonder what lasting effects there still are on our meeker classmates.

Carolyn: I wished I had dimples. And a decent haircut and style. Looking at this picture makes me howl with laughter. (If you’re reading this blog, feel free to chime in and comment on those bangs.)

But back to the topic at hand. I wonder what made her the way she was. It seems to me she was new at teaching and I wonder if she was overwhelmed by the reality of a room filled with little people with agendas of their own. I wonder if she was resentful because teaching wasn’t what she’d imagined it would be. And I wonder if she was frustrated because she had to make a living and this was one of the few options open to women at that time.

Having survived Mrs. X, you went on to teach in junior high for 33 years. Did your experiences in second grade enable you to make a stronger connection to your students? And in all those years of teaching did you ever look back and think that you understood a little of Mrs. X’s emotional state?

Nancy: Perhaps Mrs. X had much to do with the kind of teacher I became. Instead of ruling by embarrassment and intimidation, I welcomed my 8th graders with open arms. I always tried to make my classroom a safe haven, where my students knew they could expect a warm hello at the door, fairness, and respect for everyone—oh, and work! Lots of work!  I expected the most out of every single one.

To improve reading, writing, speaking, and listening in 39 minutes a day plus homework is no lame feat! We squeezed as much out of every class period as possible—leaving a little time for a few belly laughs. For kids who struggled, I made myself available for extra help during my planning periods and after school. Hard work and encouragement by teachers is what helped me through a very difficult childhood. I could do little to change the bad home environments of some students, but I could be an adult who my students could depend on to teach with enthusiasm and to help them learn. Just one caring adult can work wonders for many children.

Carolyn: Fortunately, you and I found other caring adults to balance out our early experience with Mrs. X. And we found and developed strength within ourselves.

It could easily have gone the other way and I shudder to think where we might be now if we’d given up on ourselves and our dreams at that early age. But, like you said, we savored the encouragement we got and we worked hard and kept our eyes on the futures we imagined. I remember walking the quarter mile to the school bus stop, wind whipping my legs because girls weren’t allowed to wear slacks to school in those days, and counting up the days until I would graduate from high school and start to have a life that was all my own. (I was soooo dramatic back then; let’s hope I chew less scenery now.)

Robert Frost in “The Road Not Taken” talks of how “way leads on to way” and how the choice of the road less traveled defined his life. I chose to leave graduate school and join VISTA, then to work in adrenaline-fueled TV newsrooms for almost three decades. The pay wasn’t great and pensions were unheard of, so retirement is still out there for me and I’m working as a high school substitute teacher and—on most days—loving it. Being around teens puts me back in touch with the kid I was way back then and the powerful emotions I felt. I expect this is where A Place of Forgetting came from and I’m grateful for that.

Almost every day I’m at school I remind at least one teen that there are always choices, that those choices lead to others, and that we seldom find ourselves again at the same fork in the road and rarely get a “do-over.” I’ve made some not-so-smart choices in my life, but there were lessons in all of them so I would never wish myself back into the past to change things.

Except for second grade. If I could, I’d go back and hug those little girls and whisper in their ears, “Believe it or not, this will all work out for the best.”

Nancy: Troubled little girls are still out there—and still need reassurance that with hard work and spirit, life can improve. Sometimes that reassurance comes from a teacher, sometimes a family member or friend. Carolyn, you know that another major source of reassurance comes from books. If I had read A Place of Forgetting when I was a troubled teen, it would have sparked my spirit. All those life lessons you have learned become part of your novels, inspiring women. Keep writing, dear friend.

Carolyn: And you keep reading. And keep telling me about what you’ve read and what speaks to you in those books. Your comments and encouragement have been priceless.

I wish there had been more of a selection for us to pick from back then. And I wish there had been more books that were relevant to our time and situations. Now there are shelves loaded with wonderful books dealing with the traumas—in all shapes, forms, and degrees—of childhood and the teen years. And there are thousands of teachers and librarians helping to get those books into the hands of kids who might find refuge and strength and direction within the covers, kids who might grow up whole and happy because someone helped them see another road to take and they found a way to take it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Three Authors Chat - - - Dana King, Timothy Hallinan and Pat Browning


About Dana King:
His blog is One Bite At A Time

He's a regular contributor to
New Mystery Reader magazine

Dana King has worked as a musician, public school teacher, adult trainer, and information systems analyst. His short story, "Green Gables," was published in the anthology Blood, Guts, and Whiskey, edited by Todd Robinson. Other short fiction has appeared in New Mystery Reader, A Twist of Noir, Mysterical-E, and Powder Burn Flash. He lives in Maryland with his Beloved Spouse, where he pays the bills by working as a consultant at an undisclosed location. It's not one of those, "he'd tell you, but then he'd have to kill you" deals. He's just not going to tell you. 

WILD BILL, a story of Chicago’s crime underworld, is his first novel.


Tim’s links:

Timothy Hallinan is the Edgar- and Macavity-nominated author of the Poke Rafferty Bangkok thrillers, published traditionally, and the Junior Bender mysteries, which are ebook originals. Also on Kindle are his Simeon Grist private eye novels. Earlier this year, he conceived and edited a volume of original short stories by twenty first-rate mystery writers, SHAKEN: STORIES FOR JAPAN, which is available for the Kindle at $3.99, with every penny of the price going to the 2011 Japan Relief Fund. (Please buy it.) And he also contributed to BANGKOK NOIR, a collection of stories with all royalties going to children's charities in Bangkok. He lives in Santa Monica and Southeast Asia, and he is lucky enough to be married to Munyin Choy.


An award-winning newspaper reporter, Pat Browning set her first mystery, ABSINTHE OF MALICE (original title: FULL CIRCLE) in California's Central San Joaquin Valley, where she lived for many years before returning to her native Oklahoma. An extensive excerpt can be read at Google Books -- Pat's articles on the writing life have appeared in The SouthWest Sage, the monthly journal of SouthWest Writers, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

After her e-mail was hacked and she was locked out of her original blog (Morning’s At Noon), she started all over with a blog at Word Press:


by Dana King, Tim Hallinan and Pat Browning

Kicking the old year out the door, looking forward to a new year – 2012 already? It’s a good time for taking stock.

PAT:  Tim Hallinan is still winding down from an intensive promotional gig in Northern California. So, Tim, was it worth the time and expense? In terms of sales? In terms of personal satisfaction” In terms of reader feedback?

TIM:  Viewed as a commercial enterprise, I probably spent 106 dollars for every dollar I made. In terms of personal satisfaction, it was a home run. I spoke to a standing-room only bookstore and then to about 14 people in a Thai restaurant, every one of whom had read QUEEN. These were mostly women in their sixties and seventies, and it's hard to imagine a world more removed from theirs than the one in that book, but they were right there with it, and felt the story quite deeply. And the next day I did a presentation about Bangkok to the Rotary, which is scheduled to meet there next year, and they said very nice things about it on their website.  Just great.

You know, you can only sit alone and put sentences together for so long. Sometimes it's essential to get out and actually meet readers, if only to make sure they're not part of some shared writers' mythology.

PAT:  Let's inject a little levity in here. On Tim's blog he says, "I would appear in bunny costume at Walmart if asked." Now there's an image for the ages! So, Tim, aside from the bunny costume -- what would you consider the ideal promo setup?

TIM:  I had it in Fort Bragg/Mendocino. Ruth Sparks, who is a member of a reading group that was reading QUEEN, set me up the entire schedule I just listed, plus a library event for aspiring writers, and a short television interview. 

I worked my ass off, and had an enormous amount of fun. The difference is having someone (preferably not me) pre-plan, so all the writer's time is used productively, rather than the usual, which is 60 minutes in a bookstore folowed by a 300-mile drive, then 60 minutes in a different bookstore. A LOT of effort for the results delivered.

I'll be doing something like Fort Bragg in May, when the people in Ashland, Oregon, are inviting me up for a whole calendar-full of things, including several book clubs who will have read something by me, stores, library appearances, etc. It's a great model.

PAT:  How about you, Dana? You write other things but WILD BILL is your first novel. Do you anticipate going "on the road" to promote it, or do you plan to do your promoting on the Internet? Are you guest speaker for any gatherings so far? Or have you given any thought at all to promotion?

DANA : Unless something unexpected comes up, the Internet will be the sole means of WILD BILL’S promotion. It seems appropriate, since there is no physical book. I also have a regular job that keeps me plenty busy. Events like this work best for me because I can make time for them in small increments.

The last, but possibly most important reason, is because I don’t expect writing to become my primary source of income. Ever. I had that hope once, and made a conscious decision to abandon it. True, this decision was made substantially easier by the fact that no one has wanted to publish anything I’d written, so I can’t say there are no sour grapes involved. Still, I’ve been around the community of writers long enough now to see what is asked of them, and I don’t think I’d want to do it unless I did nothing else, and we all know there is no shortcut between where I am and there. So that’s not a realistic ambition.

That makes me less than a role model for people who hope to self-publish their way to fame and fortune. I’ve received some highly flattering praise from people I consider to be my betters as writers, and that alone has made it worth it for me to continue on in this manner, though I’m ready to adjust at any time.

Everyone has his price.

PAT:  I haven’t had much luck with book signings. The best promotion for my book has been the Internet, and Krill’s genius in throwing it onto Kindle for $2.99 in the beginning and as a 99-cent special during the holidays. Sales were over the moon for the first six months, and less spectacular for the next six, but they seem to be holding steady. I will be doing a book review for the local Ladies Library Club in February, but I suspect all the “ladies” have already checked the book out of the library. No problem. I’m happy to know somebody is reading it.

Let’s talk about writing.
How do you rank plot, characters and setting? For me characters come first but setting is a close second, and plot drags in third.

One of my favorite comments on my book is from Beth Anderson’s: “I have rarely read a mystery with such a profound sense of place.”

Sense of place. I like that. When I wrote ABSINTHE OF MALICE I didn’t give the setting a second thought. I simply set my characters down into a place I knew. The town of “Pearl” is a fictional version of Hanford, in California’s Central Valley, where I lived for years, but with bits and pieces of other small towns in the Fresno area added where needed.

Hanford is just a typical small town in the Central Valley but its China Alley is a distinctive part of town. It has stood through time and weather, and the old Taoist Temple is now a museum with a gift shop downstairs. I launched my book (then titled FULL CIRCLE) there. I called China Alley “Shanghai Street” in my book. In the work in progress, part of the action takes place in the old tunnels that run under the street. They’ve been an open secret for years, and apparently really did exist.

So that’s my place.

Tim, I was interested in your interview comment about walking the streets of Bangkok until you felt you could write about it.

TIM:  First of all, I agree with Beth's review.  That town absolutely permeates ABSINTHE OF MALICE, and also the new one, part of which I've been lucky enough to have read.

What I said in that interview was, “And then I spent New Year’s Eve 1998 walking the city, from about 10 PM to 9 AM. I walked everywhere, but mostly off the main drags. And Poke came into my mind: a travel writer who writes about the places that are beyond the margins of the well-worn tourist paths. … “

So walking the streets of Bangkok gave me a series and a character, but learning to understand a little of the language convinced me I could write about it.  The thing about Bangkok is that it's especially rich in gray areas, and for thriller and mystery purposes, gray areas are sort of like home plate.

One of the central questions in a thriller, for me, is which way will he/she jump?  Will he or she be willing or able to do what's required?  I think the black-and-white view of morality, as I've said several times, is a luxury of the well-fed or the secure, and one of the interesting things to me about this genre is watching people who once saw things in black and white realize that the world is a lot grayer than they realized.

PAT:  Tim, you also know Southern California in and out. I’m thinking of SKIN DEEP, which knocked my socks off, and your depiction of the entertainment industry. You said a couple of characters were based on real people. How do you get away with that?

TIM:  You (or I, anyway) do one of two things: You cross your fingers and hope they'll never read it, and that if they do they'll be too smart to call attention to the resemblance – that's what I did with Toby Vane in SKIN DEEP.  Or two, you wait until the real-life model is dead, which is what I did with the 82-year-old mobster Irwin Dressler in LITTLE ELVISES and, now, in the third Junior book, THE FAME THIEF.

PAT: Tim, I can see where the character of Junior Bender comes from. He’s a high-wire dancer and so are you!

Dana, here’s a quote from your interview with Charlie Stella on his blog, Temporary Knucksline:  “I traveled to Chicago several times when I was a musician and loved the town. When my mid-life crisis came early, I tried what The Beloved Spouse calls “a geographic cure.” The good news was that Chicago was perfect for me. Lots of ethnic neighborhoods made me feel at home, and genuinely nice people. Greatest city in the world, outside of Pittsburgh.”

 Dana, is the Chicago setting a one-time deal for you? You say later in the interview that you are resurrecting an older PI novel. What is the setting for that one, and why different from Chicago, if it is?

DANA:  Before we get into my attitudes toward Chicago, I want to glom onto the comment Beth Anderson made about your book, Pat. I was going to ask If Pearl was based on a real place, because it read more like a place described than invented. To me, this is critical in a book. We ask the reader to suspend disbelief, and sometimes we ask them to suspend a lot of it. We all do it. It’s called fiction.

Readers need something that grounds the story. Character helps, but we write crime stories, so at least one of our characters is not reliable, and they’re not supposed to know too soon who that is. Your descriptions of Pearl kept me in the moment. I could see the newspaper office, and even imagined how it would look if the wall was taken down as was discussed. It helped the story a great deal.

PAT: Thanks for your comments, Dana. As to Pearl and my newspaper office -- the newsroom in the book is darn near a word picture of the small newspaper I worked for in Selma, California, just south of Fresno. Working there in the 1990s was a ton of fun!

The small newspapers where I worked have changed and not for the better. Taken over by small newspaper chain, reporters ensconced in their own little cubicles, too far removed from the general public and from each other. Just try to get someone's attention! I'm glad I was there before everything changed.

Back to WILD BILL and Chicago.

DANA:  WILD BILL was not my first Chicago book, and it’s not the last. I have a series of four PI stories set there; the fifth is my work-in-progress. It’s a perfect city for the kind of books I like to write. It reminds me a lot of Pittsburgh, which is where I say I’m from, though I grew up twenty miles northeast. Many neighborhoods—often ethnically oriented—and an intermingling of blue- and white-collar ethos (Pittsburgh is now more of a financial/medical city than a mill town). Sports are important to the people, and bodies of water are critical in each city’s evolution and economy.

And, of course, crime. Chicago in the middle part of the 20th Century may have been the most corrupt city since Deadwood. Pittsburgh, too had its “Golden Age” of organized crime, extending as far as Youngstown, Ohio and into West Virginia. Both cities are also full of the nicest, most welcoming people you’ll find in a major city. All of those characteristics lend themselves to making the cities characters in any story, and I work to include as much of that as I can without turning the book into a travelogue.

PAT:  How about openings? "Rule" makers say never open a novel with the weather.
I say: Weather affects our moods, our health, our actions, our history. If George Washington had tried to cross the Delaware on a warm spring afternoon we might still be part of the British Empire.

I like it when writers set a scene by telling me if the characters are caught in the rain, the snow, a Santa Ana or a sirocco. What about openers? A favorite opening from your own or someone else's novel? 

TIM:  Speaking of not opening with weather, it's funny that the most famous opening line in history, possibly other than "Call me Ishmael," is "It was a dark and stormy night."  That opening violates one of my own preferences, which is not to open a book in the passive case.

Weather, to me, is a variation on setting. Setting, to me, is the interaction between character and place. Without interaction, place is just scenery, and I'd say avoid scenery (weather or otherwise) at the very beginning of a book. However the book opens, it should reflect and/or communicate the characters' internal processes. Anything that doesn't do that, it seems to me, just slows your reader's entry into the story.

The novelist Elizabeth Bowen famously said, "Bring all your intelligence to bear on your beginning." I'll go with that. The beginning of a novel is the door through which the reader enters the world of the book, and we really don't want him or her to look at it and decide not, in effect, to open the door.

But about weather -- I've just written a whole book of weather. The new Poke Rafferty, THE FEAR ARTIST, is about what can happen when someone is innocently caught up on the margins of the War on Terror, and the story is set against this year's unending rainfall that perilously raised the level in the Chao Phraya river and threatened moment by moment to flood Bangkok. The flooding seemed to me to be as blunt-force, destructive, and undiscerning as some aspects of the War on Terror are -- the dreadful reality that's so often dismissed as "collateral damage" as though the torn bodies and broken families were somehow abstractions of some sort.

Anyway, there's weather and rising water all over the place. My editor has it now, and we'll see how much weather is left when she's done with it.

DANA: Elmore Leonard is usually credited with saying never begin a story with weather. I’m just guessing, but I suspect his warning has something in common with Tim’s “dark and stormy night” comment. Describing the weather is one thing if it’s the literary equivalent of small talk. It’s not the same thing if the weather being described matters to the story. Tim’s new book sounds like it has the weather as a character, so it’s not just small talk; it’s important.

PAT:  Do you have a favorite opening, Dana?

DANA:  It's from Declan Hughes’s THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD:

“The night of my mother's funeral, Linda Dawson cried on my shoulder, put her tongue in my mouth and asked me to find her husband.”

How could I not read that book? Those were the first of Hughes’s word I ever read, and I’ve read everything he’s written since.

Circling back to our weather comments, my favorite beginning to any story is Raymond Chandler’s “Red Wind.” Even Leonard allowed that a good enough writer could break the “opening with weather” rule. Chandler certainly qualifies there:

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”

More than that, the wind runs all through the story. It’s practically a character. “Red Wind” isn’t Chandler’s greatest story, but it’s my favorite. It’s the best description of how Marlowe views his place in the world.

I used to have definite ideas about beginnings, but those have weakened as I read and write more. Different stories need different kinds of openings. My agent at the time WILD BILL was written told me it started too slow. She may be right, though a couple of reviews liked how the story built momentum.

Leonard also says to avoid prologues. I had one in WILD BILL, took it out, put it back in. Again, several people have spoken favorably about how it sets up the story. So, about beginnings, the answer is: it depends.

Damn it. Nothing is easy.

PAT: Elmore Leonard writes what he writes. Not one of my favorites but more power to him. I love your prologue, and much as it pains me, I have a prologue in my WIP. There was just no way around it. You’re right: it depends.

About those Santa Ana winds: I love ‘em. They set a scene like nothing else for me. Well, except maybe a storm at sea. But Chandler’s RED WIND is classic.

Another author who uses weather to good effect is Robert Crais. He starts CHASING DARKNESS with one of Southern California’s infamous wind-whipped fires:
“Beakman and Trenchard could smell the fire--it was still a mile away, but a sick desert wind carried the promise of Hell. Fire crews from around the city were converging on Laurel Canyon like red angels, as were black and white Adam cars, Emergency Services vehicles, and water-dropping helicopters out of Van Nuys and Burbank. The helicopters pounded by so low overhead that Beakman and Trenchard could not hear their supervisor.”
(End Quote)

DANA: Great point, Pat. I’m terrible with titles, especially when they’re part of a series. That one paragraph from CHASING DARKNESS is enough for me to remember the whole story. It’s one of Crais’s best.

PAT: More about writing: During the recent Mystery We Write group blog tour, Tim posted his 10 Commandments For Writing on Madeline Gornell’s blog. They are recommended for writers at any stage of the game – beginner or veteran.

TIM: I get a lot of mail from aspiring writers.  Most of them have specific questions, although some are asking for more general guidance.  A lot of the problems I hear about are based in the perception that there’s “no time to write.”  This is an argument for which I have no sympathy at all, as this piece will prove.

Anyway, if an aspiring writer were to ask me for ten commandments, these are the ones I would carve into the page on my computer.

1.  Write Wanting to write is not writing.  Talking about writing is not writing.  Talking about a piece of “writing” that you’re not actually doing is creatively damaging and is guaranteed to screw up your idea.
2.  Read There’s no challenge that can be faced on a page that someone hasn’t already solved.  Expose yourself to good writing; see how the people who did it solved their own problems.
3.  Read some more.  Read until you’ve found the kind of book you like best.  That’s the kind of book you should write.
4.  Write every day, or at minimum, six days a week.  Only frequent immersion in the world you’re creating will keep it vital, in motion, and open to you.  Quit for too long, and it becomes a dusty little diorama where you have to open the lid and reach in and move your characters around by hand.
5.  Continue to write on the bad days There are two reasons for this.  First, if you write only on good days—when the material comes easily—you’ll never finish your book.  Second (and you’ll find this out if you don’t know it already) you have no idea at the time whether you’re writing well or badly.  Sometimes the best work is the work you enjoyed least.
6.  Put your writing at the top of your “To Do” list.  You have to build a little temple to your writing in the structure of your day and honor it.  It is not acceptable to skip writing because you need to go to Trader Joe’s.  If you had a new girl- or boyfriend, you’d find time for her or him.  I hate to tell you this, but your writing may be with you longer than your new squeeze.
7.  Keep your mind open when you’re not writing.  The universe throws us material all the time: a face, a snatch of conversation, the name of a store, the way someone walks, a news story, a stupid joke.  You want a sort of mental spider’s web to snare these things.  Twice I had a book saved by something I heard someone say.
 8.  Finish your first story or novel or whatever it is.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s perfect—in fact, it won’t be.  No one has written a perfect book yet.  But here’s the bottom line: Until you finish your first, you can’t start your second.  The world swarms with aspiring writers with a dozen unfinished works.  Finishing a work requires taking the idea through to the end, which is completely different from the beginning or the middle.  A writer is someone who finishes.
9. Work on tiptoe.  Don’t get comfortable.  As you get better, write things you don’t know how to write, even if it’s just how to describe the weather interestingly, or manage a scene with four people in it in a way that the reader can keep it straight, or write a scene in which two people talk around their issue while the reader understands what they’re not saying.  We don’t grow if we don’t stretch, so once you’ve hit your stride, lengthen it.
10. Be patient.  You are going to get better.  You get better every time you finish a paragraph.  Writing is a lifetime activity, not a flavor of the day.  It’s worth working for years to produce a good book.  If that sentence doesn’t make sense to you, maybe you shouldn’t be a writer.

If any of these thoughts ring true to you, you might want to go to the FINISH YOUR NOVEL area of my website, where I’ve put up thousands and thousands of more-or-less organized words to help people get through that first book. If you like it, drop me a line. My website is

PAT: The one I like best is No. 10:  “… Writing is a lifetime activity, not a flavor of the day. …”

DANA:  I love Tim’s list. Leonard’s Top Ten list gets more ink—and it’s good—but this is more practical. What runs through every one of these is the key to writing well: it’s work. It’s not something you do when you have a few minutes lying around and there’s nothing on television. You make time for it. Too many potential writers are far more enamored of the idea of being a writer than they are in actually writing.

Which brings us to Number 8. Writing is finishing. Period. Ask yourself, what do Shakespeare, Faulkner, Sartre, Dostoevsky, and John Grisham all have in common as writers? They finish. You can put all the words you want on a screen and it’s just farting around. Writers finish.

My second favorite thought from this list focuses on Numbers 2 and 3, but also runs all through it. Writing is a commitment. When I was in graduate school for music, one of our professors told us we had made a commitment, and we could now never listen to music purely for entertainment again. Not that we shouldn’t enjoy it, but part of our mind always had to listen to how it had been interpreted, and to seek out the craft amid the artistry. Same thing with reading and writing. If you want to write, you must read, and you must read as a writer. Every book you read should teach you something, even if it’s what not to do.

TIM:  I suppose I like them all, because I've endangered books by breaking every single one of them.  But the one I live by is, write every day, and what gives me the most comfort is the realization that I really don't know whether I'm writing well or badly.  I just have to keep writing.

And so, with Disney’s Seven Dwarfs shaking their heads in the background … Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to work we go … with a shovel and a pick and a dynamite stick … heigh-ho, heigh-ho! And a Happy New Year to one and all!

Pat Browning, Timothy Hallinan and Dana King