Sunday, May 31, 2009

Think you might want to take a writing course?

I'm teaching "Essential Beginnings," a course designed to get you started (or re-started, or jump-started) writing for the UCLA Extension School's online writing program. This week, the program is hosting a free online cyber open house. Instructors teaching everything from memoir to screenplay writing, nonfiction to fantasy are all chiming in. We're here to answer your questions - but there's one catch. You have to register to join in. It's all free and you are under no obligation, but you do have to log in.

Come on, dive right in!

Update: Tonight (Wednesday) I'm doing a chat at 6 p.m. PST. It's specifically for beginning writers who may have questions about writing classes, but everyone is invited to join in.


Well, I'm just back from a weekend at the Backspace Writers Conference and I wanted to post something before inertia - and the new week - takes over. First of all, kudos to Karen Dionne and crew for putting together an excellent, small, and focused conference. I arrived midafternoon on Friday, just in time to hear Joseph Finder talk about what he's learned while writing his successful and quite wonderfully written thrillers. Lovely speaker, and a smart man - and when some overly worried newbies were stressing about whether ebooks and Kindle would change the face of publishing, he cut right to the point: Don't worry about the means of distribution at this point, he told them. Just work on your book. (My husband and I broke into wild applause at this point.) He also ended up repeating, several times, the hard truth that many writers need to hear: You need to listen to criticism. If everyone is rejecting your book, maybe you need to keep working on it. His own story of rewriting his first book multiple times was a vivid example of the labor needed to become a success.

That seemed to be the theme of the conference, certainly during my own panel on "keeping the series fresh." Jason Pinter, another thriller master, moderated and while fantasy writer Naomi Novik couldn't make it (food poisoning!), her husband, Hard Case Crime honcho and author Charles Ardai stepped in. I felt like the softie on the block -- being the only writer for whom blood and gore isn't a priority -- but I like to think I held my own in a lively (but really quite fun) discussion of everything from how do you know when a series is done (either when you or your publisher gets bored) to whether or not series characters should grow (I say yes, but Charles pointed out that in some cases, you go to series for their consistency. Hmmm... well, yes, but...) We also touched on how we choose a protagonist who can go for several books (what makes a character interesting? Sympathetic? Well, what makes a person interesting or sympathetic?) Good audience questions, too!

Sat., I had the honor of being on a panel with blogger Sarah Weinman moderated by dear friend and fantastic novelist Caroline Leavitt. The topic this time was book reviewing - and we had quite a few authors and would-be authors asking us all sorts of questions about how to get their books mentioned in print. Caroline gave out great, sound advice about pitching - and about the reality of how many books don't get reviewed. (Caroline told us the distressing reality of reviewing for People magazine: Hundreds of books are reviewed and the reviews don't run because they don't fit in the mix - she has even reviewed a John Updike novel and the review has not run! Maybe they had too many four-star reviews that week - or no-star reviews - or books by men, or .. whatever.) And Sarah taught me a few things about social networking and creating a buzz even without reviews. Basically, she said if you're going to do it, do it right - and told us about sites like and Dear Reader. I added a note of simple web etiquette - make sure you know the rules (in most cases, don't just sign on and flag your book. Make sure you participate in the conversations, etc.). Much, much more... but that's the gist. Nice people, nice crowd, lots of time for mingling... and if Jon and I ran off to have a glass of prosecco on the rooftop garden of the Met, I hope everyone will forgive us: it was our anniversary!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Win a free large-print PROBABLE CLAWS

Hi folks,
I have a few more large-print Probable Clawses than I need, so I'd love to give one to a deserving reader! It's the same, full text as the regular hardcover – only in very large type and bound in paperback.

I'd love to give this to someone who really needs to read large-print books - or to someone who will pass it along to someone with vision problems. My publisher, Poisoned Pen, does these regularly, and I know some readers really appreciate it!

So... here's the contest question: What is the name of the cat in my next (September) book? You can find out by poking about my website. Hint: it's not Musetta! Email me your answer. If I get more than one correct answer, I'll choose a winner by June 10!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Upcoming writers' conference

OK, folks, I dropped the ball on blogging about the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (zydeco/brass band/soul/blues fun in the sun), the Ponderosa Stomp (roots rockers refound), and Malice Domestic (readers/writers 24/7). But I am really going to try to blog about the upcoming Backspace Writers Conference next weekend. I'm on panels Friday afternoon (writing series) and Sat. a.m. (reviewing books), and I bet there will be a lot to discuss. (I've already picked up one of Naomi Novik's Temeraire novels - dragons in the Napoleonic wars? - in preparation for Friday's panel.) Yes, this is the same weekend as BEA and I'm trying to coordinate with one of my Poisoned Pen Press colleagues, who will be in NYC, too. But basically, it's going to be Backspace and time with the lovely friends who are hosting me and Jon.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What do you think of blog tours?

Hi folks!
The new Independent Mystery Booksellers website now has a blog for authors, readers, publishers, and bookstores to share thoughts and opinions – and today I have guest blogged about guest blogging! What do you think? Please drop by and let us know. (That's the group's logo up top. It isn't live, but if you click on the logo over on the right of this page, it'll take you there.)

Monday, May 18, 2009

She likes it!!

My agent likes it! "Grey Matters," that is, the second Dulcie Schwartz mystery! Of course, she has a bunch of changes she wants me to make – catches I'm grateful for (did I always describe this one character as "wan"? Yup, I guess I did. And does my heroine always sound a bit too needy on the phone with her boyfriend? Maybe so.) But these are fixable flaws, the kind of thing I'm just glad someone pointed out to me before it's too late. But the overall book? Well, granted, she's my agent. She must like my writing anyway, but she thought that my plotting in this book was better and "more sophisticated" (her phrase) than in the first book! And she's not even a blood relative!

I've got work to do. But right now, I'm celebrating. Of course, the editor still has to like it. But this is a good start!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Rolling on the river

Got to review Tim Gautreaux's The Missing for the Phoenix. Really enjoyed it. Can verify that it is dead-on about life on riverboats, too, in a way. While we were in New Orleans, we took a ride down the Mississippi on the Steamboat Natchez (last of the paddlewheels) and got to chatting with a lovely gentleman of about, oh, 80 or so. Tall, craggy looking, handsome belt buckle depicting a horse, and a Cajun accent you could slice with a knife, you. He started telling me how when he was younger, he and his buddies used to go out on the riverboats to hear the music, dance, and drink. We had some good times, he told me, although he did stop drinking once he "got the DUI." (He only had to pick up trash for four days, though.) Kept pointing out sites on the riverbank where one or another relative lived, or had lived, so I finally asked if he was from around New Orleans (his accent placed him squarely in the state). "Oh no," he said. "I'm from Thibodeaux!" Another world

Thursday, May 14, 2009

"Baited" breath, changeable carpets, and more

Do you feel betrayed when your favorite author screws up? When a rug suddenly changes color in the middle of a book, or a grammatical error creeps in even as the characters discuss grammar and writing? Me, too! But it happens – and I own up to it today on Lorna Barrett's blog, "Pet Peeve Thursday."

I was also live on KKOX in Keokuk, Iowa, this morning! Did anyone hear me on Jean Meyer's "Pet Talk" program? If so, let me know. I wish this show streamed, but alas it is still terrestrial radio.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What I write about when...

I'm not writing books (or writing about books):

everything from bicycles to online learning. Ah, the varied life of a freelancer!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Creep yourself out!!

Like scary stories? Sarah Waters' "The Little Stranger" is wonderfully creepy and really gets under your skin. Check out my Boston Globe review if you want more detail.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"Whatever happened to Ahmed?"

I'm plowing through Grey Matters (the second Dulcie Schwartz mystery, sequel to Shades of Grey, at least, if my editor accepts it!) and feeling a bit pressured. Yes, Shades of Grey doesn't come out in this country till September, but still ... according to my contract, this second book is due end of May, which really means May 20, because my agent wants to read it first and I want to have time to respond to her comments before we send it in. And I'm reminded of something the wonderful funny and prolific Donald Bain said during a panel at Malice. The panel wasn't about deadlines or writing series, but as is often the case, the talk moved off topic and Bain ended up talking about writing a mystery before the age of computers. Basically, he was nearly ready to turn in his manuscript when he realized he'd goofed – a character's husband had gone off to Egypt early in the book and never been mentioned again! Well, as Bain said, if this had happened post-word processor, it would've been easy to go back and re-work the missing husband back into the text. But Bain really didn't want to have to retype the entire three-hundred-odd pages. So instead, on the last page, he has one character say to another, "I wonder what happened to Ahmed?"

Needless to say, the editor loved it – and assumed Bain had done it intentionally to set up a sequel.

I haven't found anything like that in Grey Matters, but if you get to the end and someone asks, "I wonder what happened to Ahmed?" you'll know why.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Yes, I loved "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"

Really. I thought it was a great spoof of Austen's style and content and I'm not afraid to say so in public (or, really, in The Boston Phoenix.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Back from Malice

Wow, what a weekend!
just back from the Malice Domestic traditional mystery conference in Arlington, VA. During this fun-packed three-day festival of the traditional mystery, I learned about writing humor, voted during a "Sleuth Off" (Sherlock Holmes won, though I confess I was rooting for Miss Marple), kept running into the marvelous Elaine Viets and, on fewer occasions, Anne Perry, in the elevator, and got to hear about some great new books. Spoke on a very interesting and involving panel on "Social Issues in Mysteries," on Saturday morning, with Pari Noskin Taichert, Marion Moore Hill, and Elizabeth Zelvin, nicely moderated by Harriette Sackler. But as usual, it was the casual interactions – meeting fans like Robert from Georgia and sister authors like Pari that really made the weekend. And, of course, traveling a few hundred miles it the best way to meet with neighbors like Hank Phillippi Ryan and Rosemary Harris. But hey... it was all fun! I confess I skipped out before the big banquet, but congratulations to all the Agatha winners!

And while this is a different sort of Agatha, I'm thrilled to announce that these two new Christie editions – with my introductions! – are now available: The Secret Adversary and The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

(Oh, I may be wrong, but I think you can read at least one of my new introductions here!