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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Review: Dying to be Thin by Kathryn Lilley

It is New Years Eve and many people set resolutions for the new year ahead of them.  In that vein I wanted to read a book whose theme is a resolution a vast majority of us have at one time or another made (I know I have) - loosing weight.  The diet industry is worth billions of dollars in the US, so weight issues are a theme that speak to many of us.  According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), obesity in adults has increased by 60% within the past twenty years and obesity in children has tripled in the past thirty years. A staggering 33% of American adults are obese.  Yes, weight issues are a topic most of us can relate with.  Enjoy this review of a relatively new mystery series that weaves the battle of the bulge in with murder and sleuthing in a humorus way.

Author: Kathryn Lilley

Copyright: 2007 (Obsidian); 283 pgs.

Series: #1 in Fat City mysteries

Sensuality: Adult themes and references

Mystery sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth

Main Character: Award Winning, Plus-sized TV News Producer Kate Gallagher

Setting: Weight-loss Clinic in Durham North Carolina

Part of a Challenge: Fall/Winter Mystery Reading Challenge

Obtained book through: Library Find

Move over “The Biggest Loser”, the Fat City Mysteries are here!

In Boston Massachusetts Kate Gallagher is laid off from work and dumped by her boyfriend (for a size 2 girl) all in a week’s span. She decides to turn this negative into a positive by setting her sights on being in front of the camera from now on. Kate has been told she has the “face” to do it with her high cheekbones, blue eyes and auburn hair but not the body, so she has to drop some weight – but she needs help doing it. So Kate arranges to stay at the Hoffman Weight Loss Clinic in Durham NC (aka the Diet Capital of the World – for real – since the Rice Diet in the 1930s started there.) Kate manages a deal with a local TV news station to produce and star in a feature about her own weight loss story to supplement her income since the clinic costs a good bit.

The founder and director of the weight loss clinic, Dr. Hoffman, seems particularly caustic to his clients and Kate finds his body her first morning. He is on the front porch with skewers in his eyes. Kate finds herself on the inside investigating the murder and producing two simultaneous stories for the local news. Things start getting complicated when Kate finds her pulse accelerated by both the attractive British accented Police Detective and a wealthy Lawyer representing the clinic’s new director. Kate quickly finds out she is in a vulnerable position, as the murderer doesn’t like her investigative reporting, especially when she uncovers the Director had a S&M private life including clients and employees. That makes the dieters at the clinic and the employees all suspects.
But first I had to make it out of the newsroom. It would be a tricky maneuver. The exit path would take me past the snack machines again, where danger lurked.

To get prepared, I took a deep breath and lashed myself mentally to the mast, like Odysseus. Then I set sail around Vending Machine Island. And once again, I managed to survive the siren call of the Ho Hos.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Reed fastened his eyes on me. “A sane person would find someplace else to sleep tonight.”

“True, but we broadcast types aren’t all that sane; didn’t you get the memo?” I joked, trying not to sound the way I was feeling, which was scared stiff. “Remember we’re the ones who stand outside during hurricanes, shouting into a microphone.” I mimed a reporter battling a headwind. “Well Anderson, the wind is really starting to blow now!”

A grin cracked through Reed’s on-the-job face. “You’re right, you people are insane,” he said.
Kate is a great heroine, down to earth and gutsy with a sense of humor. The beginning of each chapter has short diet insights, supposedly pinned by a friend of Kate’s who used to be big and passed along her tips. The plot isn’t overly complicated but meaty enough to sink your teeth into (I couldn’t resist!) The writing is equally on par for an amateur sleuth with just enough humor paired with investigative zeal and a pinch of gritty crime. Subplots are woven in such as Kate’s interfering and overprotective father, her best friend who is a cop back in Boston, and Kate’s personal struggle with dieting. The ending was satisfying and wrapped up nicely (while no big twist ending) while leaving Kate the dilemma of two guys interested in her.

The author’s strong point is how she brings Kate to life. Kate is a gal who could be every woman and yet she seems a distinct individual in the novel. A solid story with a refreshing and realistic heroine meshed with a good story line told in an entertaining first person narrative and you have a new series to watch. This series has the potential to heat up and become a sensation. I am looking forward to reading all of the series (thus far only three but promising more.)

For your convenience, you may purchase a copy here.

I wish you health and happiness in the new year - and many mysterious moments.
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Monday, December 28, 2009

Author Interview: Mary Stanton

I am very pleased to welcome Mary Stanton to our little piece of the blogosphere.  Mary graciously agreed to this interview and I am so thankful.  I think you will find her answers conversational and very interesting.  Mary started her writing career in 1984 and sold her first mystery in 1994.  She publishes the Hemlock Falls mysteries under the name Claudia Bishop.  Mary is well known for her middle-grade books as well.  You may read my review of her book Angel's Advocate here.  Welcome Mary Stanton (cue loud aplause and cheering.)

I love Brianna Winston-Beaufort in the Beaufort & Company, what is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character tell you about him/herself as you write?

I'm so glad you like Bree! I'm not sure I can tell you how she came about, because it's a very fuzzy process for me. I do know this, though. All my characters begin with a name and a single quality of character. Bree emerged as Brianna Winston-Beaufort 20 years ago. I wrote a short scene; she was arriving in Savannah to take her first job as a newly licensed attorney. Then I stuck the scene in my 'Think about it' file. Eighteen years later, I pulled the scene out and decided that her defining characteristic was as an avenging advocate. And I thought that a woman like that would look like a rapier; slim, silvery-haired, and very fit. So she had a job, a physical presence, and a mission.

The second step in my process for character development is deciding on speech patterns. This includes locutions (what words does she use?), rhythm (short or long sentences?) and vocabulary (including cuss words).

Then I add family, friends, and all the other parts of a character's life.

It's an evolving process, that's for sure, and that can be a problem for a series character. There's only so much you can decide on up front, and then the character takes over.

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (use a strict 3 act structure or not and little/a lot of detail) before sitting down and writing?

When I start a new series, I have to outline like crazy for the first two books at least, and then sometimes beyond that. I usually write down a list of the new characters, beginning with their names. Then I write a paragraph describing the crime. Then I list all the clues to solving the case. After that, I list fifteen chapters, with a sentence describing what action will occur in each. Once in a while, I'll do a timeline, but that's not my favorite job.

After the series settles into my head, I don't have to do that. I'm on my 19th Hemlock Falls novel (which I write as Claudia Bishop) and I don't have to outline at all. I just have to write down the answer to three questions: Who's dead? Who did it? and What kind of group is going to be a guest at the Inn?

How do you find time for writing - what works for you?

Argh. I am not a disciplined person. Well, I am actually, once I get started, but I hate getting started. So I'll do ANYTHING rather than write that first chapter. Play with my pet goats, if I'm at the farm. Go to the beach if I'm in Florida for the winter. Clean the basement, alphabetize my spices....whatever.

When I do start, I work all day. I'm up early, before five, and I work until I've hit at least three thousand words.

For your mystery series there is some detailed information - how much research goes into your work and do you complete that up front or "just enough" as you go?

My alter ego (Claudia Bishop) doesn't have to research anything except recipes, so that's a breeze. Mary Stanton, on the other hand, has to work like a dog. I have a pretty good library at home, and, of course, there's the Internet, god bless it! My biggest problem is getting sidetracked. The history of angels is really interesting. The world's great religions are fascinating. I can spend hours reading up on things which turn out to be non-essential to the book at hand. And since I don't stop work until I've hit three thousand words, it can make for very long days.

Setting seems as important as the characters in your mysteries, any tips on conveying a sense of place well?

Mary Stanton frets herself to death over setting. (Claudia Bishop doesn't; she lives in the middle of Hemlock Falls, so all she has to do is go for a walk). I've been to Savannah four time in the past three years. I have maps, guide books, photos, botanical books, and I still feel as if I'm missing the essence of that lovely city.

I read once that a romance writer would put on sexy lingerie to prepare for writing - do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?

I get dressed in very nice casual clothes, put on makeup, a little perfume, and make sure my hair looks nice, and sit on the couch with my laptop. I need to feel as if I'm 'going to work.'

Do you have any secrets to success for editing?

Get somebody else to do it. Seriously. I depend on my little sister. I am a very very poor editor of my own work. I hate to delete, and I hate to redo. Now, if I let my work sit for long enough--say six months--I can go back and fix stuff on my own. But I write from two to three books a year, and I've never given myself that luxury. So my little sister gets my first drafts, and then I nag her endlessly to read it right now!!!! And she's tough!

Can you recommend a fiction book that provides a great example of the writing craft to dissect and learn from?

Hmmm. In mysteries, I guess, for pacing, I'd recommend Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels. For scholarship, tone, and character development, Reginald Hill. For setting, P.D. James. For structure, any of the good, classic Golden Age mysteries; Cyril Hare is just brilliant.

How did you get your first break towards getting published? Was it sending in a query or meeting an agent at a writing conference etc?

I went to a science fiction convention with a friend of mine and met an editor with a small press who liked what I told him about my first novel. (It was titled THE HEAVNLY HORSE FROM THE OUTERMOST WEST, and featured horses as the main characters.) He bought it. I got an agent (much easier to do after you made the sale). Then the press went bankrupt and my agent placed the book with another publisher.

You have a new book due out Feb 2010 - tell us about your upcoming book! What aspect of the new book did you particularly enjoy?

The new novel is called AVENGING ANGELS and I loved loved LOVED writing toward the penultimate scene. I wanted the reader to shriek with surprise. let me know if you do!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Mary, thank you for such a great interview!  I found it facinating that your main character started eighteen years prior with an idea you jotted down and stuck away.  Your character development process is interesting to me with your detail to speech patterns.
I will be reviewing Avenging Angels here shortly dear readers, so hang in there.  Mary and I are discussing this blog as part of a book blog tour for her February release also.  I hope you have enjoyed this interview.
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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Review: The Oxygen Murder by Camille Minichino

Well it is December 24th and I am posting a review of a mystery book that occurs during the New York City.  Think of the city decked out from skyscraper to brown stone with lights and bows.  Ice skating at Rockefellar Center, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), horse drawn carriage rides around Central Park and all the bustle, sights and smells of New York.  This book brought all these sights, sounds, smells and visions vividly to life and I share them here with you.  Happy Holidays my friends! 

Author: Camille Minichino

Copyright: 2006 (Minotaur Books); 256 pgs.

Series: #8 in Periodic Tables mysteries

Sensuality: N/A

Mystery sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth

Main Character: Gloria Lamerino, retired physicist: a middle-aged plus size Italian brainiac scientist

Setting: Christmas vacation in New York City

Part of a Challenge: Fall/Winter Mystery Reading Challenge

Obtained book through: Library

Gloria is newly married to equally Italian Matt Gennaro, Revere Massachusetts’ homicide detective. Matt has a law enforcement conference in the Big Apple so Gloria and best friends Rose and Frank make a holiday vacation out of it. While in town they have dinner with Matt’s niece, Lori, a documentary filmmaker. The next morning Gloria is tasked with returning Lori’s prescription sunglasses and finds a dead body in Lori’s apartment. The dead girl was Amber, Lori’s camerawoman on the current Corporate Environmental violators’ documentary who also worked for a Private Investigator photographing naughty deeds. It doesn’t take long before Amber’s penchant for blackmailing people reveals multitudes of suspects.

Back home in Revere, Gloria is often a “consultant” with the local police but the NYPD probably won’t be so hospitable to her sleuthing. So Gloria has to get her information via Matt using buddies in the NYPD and filtering her findings back through Matt. Lori is most likely in danger and the tension is maintained believably.  The viewpoint is mainly through Gloria's eyes but we get several sections told through Lori's eyes with her fears and guilt bubbling over.

I absolutely loved Gloria, a middle aged intelligent independent woman who is more comfortable with science magazines than fashion rags and wears a bit larger than size 6 with all the incredible Italian food she eats. The plot is nicely developed and played out, New York during the holidays is wonderfully brought to life (I must do NY at the holidays sooner than later!!! Next Year?) The characters are painstakingly and lovingly breathed to life.

I longed for a sign of life, some sound other than the creaking machinery of the old cage. Where were the alleged eight million citizens of the nation’s largest city? Not to mention the hundred thousand or so tourists supposedly passing through JFK every day….The old elevator took forever, fitting and starting its way up, past two other red metal doors, each with its own blend of scuff marks. I saw graffiti-lettered FAGETTABOUDIT twice and wondered what daredevil wrote it, swinging around, hovering over an open shaft. Here and there bleached-out streaks hinted at unmentionable stains. At the fourth floor, the cage jerked to a stop landing me across a narrow hallway from the threshold to Lori’s apartment, the large metal door of which stood open.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Matt and I walked arm in arm up Sixth Avenue toward Fiftieth, where we were to meet Rose for ice-skating (her) and spectating (us). We’d already seen the Rockefeller Center tree, illumined by Rose’s detailed knowledge of it. She knew exactly how many lights (thirty thousand) adorned the spruce, and how big the tree was (seventy-one feet tall, weighing nine tons.) And just as she was the historian of Revere, she’d recounted for us the tree’s lineage, grown this year by a family in Suffern, New York. How she did all this research without the Internet, I couldn’t fathom.
The clues are there and though I suspected who was the murderer I had missed the clue. Well done! The ending was well thought out and satisfying. In short, I have to collect all of the books in the Periodic Mystery series. Sadly there were only eight in the series and Ms. Minichino is now busy writing the miniature mysteries.  Don't you hate finding something you just love to find out it is no longer being made?

For your convenience, you may purchase a copy here.

Until next Monday (and another author interview), I wish you many mysterious moments!  Stay warm, safe and healthy out there my friends - and please don't drink and drive during this holiday season.
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Monday, December 21, 2009

Author Interview: Margaret Maron

I am overjoyed and deeply honored to have this interview with Margaet Maron.  Ms. Maron is a bestselling author and winner of the Edgar, Anthony, Agatha and Macavity awards.  She is a founding member and past president of Sisters in Crime and of the American Crime Writers' League, and a director on the national board for Mystery Writers of America.  Her works have been translated into a dozen languages and are on the reading lists of many college course in contemporary Southern literature.  You can read my review of her book, Sand Sharks here. Please give a warm welcome to Margaret Maron.

Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?

I usually start by choosing the North Carolina setting where Judge Deborah Knott will be holding court, i.e., the landscape around her, whether she's in her home county, at the coast, or out in the mountains. I look at issues pertinent to her surroundings and then let the plot grow organically out of that setting and those issues..

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail - use a strict 3 act structure or not) before sitting down and writing?
I have never been able to outline. I wish I could, but the few times I've tried it, I overthink and wind up getting so bored that the story dies. I compare my style of writing to someone who lets loose a boxful of rabbits. Every rabbit is a character or plot point. I set them free and watch them scamper around for about 55,000 words, then I spend another 15,000 words getting them back into the box. I usually have no idea where they're going and am often delighted to see what briar patches they've wandered into, from which I must extricate them.

I love Judge Deborah Knott, what is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character tell you about him/herself as you write?
My characters seem to stroll into a scene or onto a page as they are needed. They are created out of necessity and whimsey. While they often arrive merely to further the plot, I usually get so interested in them or their backstories that I probably flesh them out more than is strictly necessary. After 16 books, I now have several hundred that I can tap to play a role and all of them are quite vivid in my mind. Deborah herself was created to be the direct antithesis of Lt. Sigrid Harald, NYPD, the protagonist of 8 earlier novels set against the New York art scene. I wanted to differentiate the two completely. Because Sigrid was a loner, I made Deborah gregarious. Because Sigrid was awkward in relationships, I made Deborah comfortable in her skin. Sigrid is an only child and has very few relatives, so Deborah has 11 older brothers and many nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Because Sigrid was this, Deborah was that, etc. Readers often tell me that the two voices are so different they would never have guessed that both series were written by the same person.

How do you find time for writing - what works for you?
I discovered long ago that one makes time for what one wants to do and for what is important to that person. When it's time to write, I quit doing all the other stuff and just write. Because I'm not a morning person, I find that I accomplish my best writing between five p.m. and 1 a.m.

I read once that a romance writer would put on sexy lingerie to prepare for writing -
do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?
I'm not going to accuse that romance writer of saying something provocative just to interest her interviewer, but most of the writers I know go to their keyboards in pajamas, sweat pants, or a comfortable pair of jeans. Sexy lingerie? Oh, please! The writing doesn't happen for me until I'm sitting at a keyboard facing an empty screen that demands that I fill it with words. I don't have to work in a cork-lined room with absolute quiet, but I do concentrate better if I'm alone in a room with the door closed between me and whatever interesting that's happening beyond that door. I cannot write and listen to music though. The music gets between me and the screen.

I particularly enjoy how you create a sense of place. Setting seems as important as the characters in your mysteries, any tips on conveying a sense of place well?
Be specific. Don't say there are trees. "Trees" is generic. Are they pines? Palms? Mighty oaks or graceful dogwoods? Are the "roadside flowers" red poppies, blue asters, or goldenrod? Get away from the sense of sight and let your characters smell, taste, touch, and hear their surroundings.

What is on your bedside table to read?
Nothing. I fall asleep too quickly to read in bed. But on my breakfast table might be a history of everyday life in Rome, a classic mystery, a manuscript an editor has asked me to give a cover quote to, and of course a newspaper and some periodicals: The New Yorker, The Saturday Review of Literature, Newsweek, etc.

Can you recommend a fiction book that provides a great example of the writing craft to dissect and learn from?
Either The Franchise Affair or Brat Farrar, both by Josephine Tey. She puts you immediately into the scene and even her animals have personalities.

How did you get your first break towards getting published? Was it sending in a query or meeting an agent at a writing conference etc?
Dogged persistence. I began with short stories sent in "over the transom" and put up with a year of rejection until the then-editor of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine bought one. Then two, and I was off to the races. After several years of short stories, I tried my hand at a novel and sent it to an agent that one of the magazine editors had recommended. He wasn't able to do much for me, but that book led to a second agent and finally, by a very circuitous path, to the agent I have now

Do you participate in a critique group (or have you in the past?) What are the pros and cons of critique groups?
No, I never have. When I began writing, I knew of no other writers, so I learned my craft on my own and never saw the point of them, therefore I can't give advice on their usefulness. I know that many writers swear by them, but I've heard that some groups are downright toxic. I've also heard that it's too easy to try to write to the group rather than to one's own sense of rightness, but I know none of this from personal experience.

THANK YOU Ms. Maron for this wonderful interview.  It has been a delight interviewing you and I look forward to your next books.
Until Thursday's next book review, I  wish you many mysterious moments and happy holidays.
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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Review: Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn

Author: Carola Dunn

Copyright: 1994 (Kensington); 256 pgs.

Series: #1 in Daisy Dalrymple mysteries

Sensuality: N/A

Mystery sub-genre: historical / cozy

Main Character: Honorable Daisy Dalrymple, daughter of a Viscount

Setting: Winter – 1922, English country estate, country recovering from WWI

Part of a Challenge: Fall Winter Mystery Reading Challenge

Obtained book through: Library Find

Daisy is a new breed of royal, blazing her own trails as she takes a job writing feature articles for Town and County. Her lineage gains her entry to places other writers couldn’t even dream of. Case in point, Earl Wentwater opens his estate for Daisy to do an article on the estate and a few juicy stories – by their standards. Daisy is sharp and observant and she realizes there are many emotional undercurrents working at the estate. When an unwelcome guest, Lord Astwick – the brother of a Marquis, is found dead bobbing in a hole in the frozen lake on the estate property Daisy photographs the removal of the body. After Daisy develops the photos and shows them to the handsome Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Fletcher it is clear there are axe marks that created the hole and the notion of an ice skating accident are ruled out.

Daisy gets involved in the investigation when she acts as scribe for Inspector Fletcher while he questions the house full of family and a few guests, effectively making her a liaison between the working class Inspector and the privileged class. She starts to notice how her heart quickens when the inspector enters the room. Who killed the reprehensible Lord Astwich is important but inspector Fletcher also finds himself wondering whether the Honorable Miss Dalrymple could ever see him as an equal and thus perhaps go on a date.
Alex came to a decision. “I’m going to ask a further favor of you. Do you by any chance take shorthand?”

“Yes, sort of. That is, I learned it and I worked for a while as a stenographer, but being in an office all day was simply frightful.”

“You’ve forgotten it?” He asked, disappointed.

“Not exactly. I use it when I’m making notes for my writing, but it’s not quite Pitman’s any longer. I don’t think anyone else could read it. I can, as long as I transcribed it before I forget what it says.”

He laughed. “I’ll risk it. It’ll be better than nothing. I want to interview people while they think I believe the drowning was accidental, but my officers won’t be here to take notes for some time.”

“You want me to do it?” She sounded astonished and not a little excited, her eyes sparkling.
A charming mystery novel. Daisy Dalrymple is a great heroine, level headed, observant and a good judge of character. She wants to help the family out because she has grown fond of the Earl and his new wife in a short time. The murder is not chilling but the killer must be ferreted out even if it is a member of the Earl’s family or the Earl himself, which provides some political land mines for Inspector Fletcher. The plot is not particularly elaborate but the story is nicely told. A light read debuting a series that brings the 1920s culture and uniqueness vibrantly to life. The murder solution is believable and the resolution is different.

For your convenience, you may purchase your copy here.

Until Monday I wish you many mysterious moments.
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Monday, December 14, 2009

Author Interview: Gayle Trent

Gayle Trent graciously has agreed to let me interview her. She is the author of the delightful Cake Decorator series.  Please enjoy reading about her writing process and the classes she offers as well.

Tell us about your upcoming book! What aspect of the new book did you particularly enjoy in the writing process?
I'd enjoy playing Guitar Hero with my children, and I incorporated that into the new book. Daphne is asked to review a guitar video game for her nephew to make sure it's age appropriate. Daphne's neighbor, a sixty-something widow, comes over and joins in the fun. I had a great time writing those scenes.

What was your inspiration for the story line of this book and the inspiration for your main character?
One of the things that inspired me to write this book was an article I read in Wired magazine. The article focused on people who allow themselves to be professional guinea pigs for clinical drug tests...some going from research clinic to research clinic without the knowledge of the other doctors in order to earn money from more than one clinic. That concept really intrigued me, and I wanted to explore it a little further in the story.

As for the main character, Daphne began to take shape in book one, Murder Takes the Cake; but she is really a woman who turned 40 and basically wanted a do-over. She reevaluates her life and feels that she has nothing to show for it. So she quits her job and moves back to her hometown to follow her dream of owning her own cake decorating business. I can identify with Daphne because my epiphany came when I was working full-time at a location which had me commuting an hour and a half every day. I started thinking about how much time I was missing with my children and feeling there had to be a better way. I discussed it with my husband, and that's when I left my job to begin writing full time. It was tough--I went from getting a regular paycheck to getting paid sporadically for freelance articles--but it was worth it.

I saw on your website you are starting a new series called Seven-Year Stitch mystery series. What can you tell us about that series, its main character and when can we see the first book?
The Seven-Year Stitch mystery series focuses on the adventures (or misadventures!) of Marcy Singer. Marcy left an accounting job in San Francisco to open an embroidery shop on the Oregon Coast at the urging of her best friend and former college roommate Sadie MacKenzie. Sadie and her husband Blake own the coffee shop next door to Marcy's shop, The Seven-Year Stitch. This, too, is a cozy series with a lot of fun, quirky characters. The first book is scheduled for release in August of 2010.

What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet, real life inspiration or just let the character tell you about him/herself as you write?
I pretty much let the character tell me about him/herself as I write. I start out with a concept of the type of person I'm looking at, and then the character grows as the story develops.

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (use a strict 3 act structure or not and little/alot of detail) before sitting down and writing?
With the Seven-Year Stitch mystery series, the publisher (NAL) has me submit synopses prior to writing the actual book. For me, that is hard. Fortunately, the synopses have a basic A then B then C then D structure so I have plenty of leeway to add subplots and other details as the book progresses. Otherwise, I do a rough outline and allow the book to grow out of the situations as they present themselves in the book. Does that make sense?

I see you are married and have two children. I am sure many aspiring authors can relate to your juggling of priorities. How do you find time for writing - what works for you?
I write while they are at school, I write in the car-rider line in the afternoons, and if I'm on a tight deadline I write after they go to bed.

How much research goes into your work and do you complete that up front or "just enough" as you go?
As with Dead Pan, sometimes the research leads to the book, so that's always good. With the Seven-Year Stitch series, I had to do a lot of research up front because the book is set on the Oregon Coast and I live in Virginia. For that one, I even subscribed to an online newspaper for six months. I also have to call local police stations every once in a while to make sure I get the procedure down right. I seldom think of that until I have my characters in the middle of a situation.

I read once that a romance writer would put on sexy lingerie to prepare for writing -do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?
Not really, except perhaps to "get into character." You know how actors get into character for a particular role? Both my series are written in first-person, so I have to make sure I'm writing as the proper character. It can get confusing when you're doing two series at once.

Can you recommend a fiction book that provides a great example of the writing craft for aspiring authors to dissect and learn from?
The Coffin Dancer by Jeffrey Deaver. If you want to write a mystery that will make your readers gasp, that is the book to study.

How did you get your first break towards getting published? Was it sending in a query or meeting an agent at a writing conference etc?
I met my first publisher at a writing conference in Knoxville, Tennessee. I took part in a group pitch session, and she requested my full manuscript.

Are you a part of a writer's critique group, either face-to-face or online and has that been beneficial for you or not your cup-of-tea?
I'm not part of a critique group. I live in a rural area, so that added to my non-writing priorities makes it difficult to get together with other writers on a regular basis.

I also saw on your website that you conduct writing workshops, please tell us more about those and if you are offering any currently.
I conduct both novel writing and freelance writing e-courses which can be started at any time. The courses allow the student to get one-on-one instruction through a step-by-step process. For example, the novel writing student will complete a short story in the six-week course and have some ideas about where and how to submit it for publication. This is a smaller model, of course, for writing and publishing a novel.

Thank you Gayle Trent for the interview.
Join us here Thursday for another book review and next Monday is a very special author interview.
Until then I wish you many mysterious moments.
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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Review: Dead Pan by Gayle Trent

Author: Gayle Trent

Copyright: 2009 (Bell Bridge Books); 235 pgs.

Series: #2 in Daphne Martin Cake Decorating mysteries

Sensuality: N/A

Mystery sub-genre: Cozy

Main Character: Daphne Martin – Pastry and Dessert Entrepreneur

Setting: Brea Ridge, Virginia – Holiday season

Obtained book through: ARC

Local Brea Ridge Pharmaceuticals Christmas party ended in the majority of its party attendees in the hospital with feared food poisoning, later indentified as the flu bacteria campylobacter. Daphne provided a cake for the event and wants to know what really happened even after her cake is cleared. Most of the partygoers recover after Brea Ridge Pharmaceuticals provides medication that counters the outbreak – all but one person, Fred Duncan. He alone never responds to the medication, slips into a coma and then dies. Fred had been the victim of a terrible car accident a year prior and Fred’s mother specifically begs Daphne to figure out who killed her boy.

Fred's tragic year-old car accident is one issue since the culprit who ran him off the road causing brain damage has never been found. Fred’s death from the suspicious outbreak is the other issue that has Daphne’s curiosity in full bloom. Are the two incidents connected and how in a small town did the hit and run car go undetected?

This is a light cozy mystery with a slathering of pop culture (guitar hero and texting lingo) mixed with a generous dollop of desert making with a coating of varied characters in a small town dish. If you like the Flower Shop mysteries by Kate Collins or the Pet-Sitter mysteries by Linda Johnston you might like this series.
Sparrow, it seems, came with the house. Not long after I moved here I caught a fleeting glimpse of the skinny little one-eyed Persian and began to feed her. She isn’t skinny anymore, but she still is a bit skittish. Lucas and Leslie named her Sparrow in honor of Johnny Depp’s character, Captain Jack Sparrow. They said the one eye made her look like a pirate cat.

I saw the cat emerge slowly from beneath a bush at the upper end of my backyard.

“Come on, Sparrow.” I tore off a piece of ham and tossed it just beyond the porch.
She hurried to get it, watching to be sure I didn’t make any sudden movements. As she ate, I tossed another piece of ham – this one, a little closer to where I sat. She came and ate that one too.

We’ve been practicing this exercise for a few weeks now, and it’s beginning to pay off. I can’t actually pet Sparrow yet, but she will brush up against me occasionally now.
The main character is Daphne Martin who is building her desert making business, working out of her home. She is coaxing a stray cat to join her home permanently, getting addicted to playing Guitar Hero with her elderly neighbor and baking all while satisfying her curiosity (not being nosy or investigating) about Fred’s death.

The ending wraps up satisfactorily enough and the villain is anticipated without knowing fully how the dirty deeds were accomplished until the big reveal.

For your convenience, you may purchase your copy here.

Until next Monday's interview with Gayle Trent, I wish you many mysterious moments.
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Monday, December 7, 2009

Dec Mystery/Crime Fiction Blog Carnival

WELCOME to the debut issue of the Mystery and Crime Fiction Blog Carnival. We have a good issue to kick off the carnival and I am already looking forward to growing this carnival next month.

I am hoping to provide a service to the mystery loving community with this blog carnival - so please pass the word to those who could contribute and also those who would enjoy reading.

Police Procedural Book Review

Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea reviewed Still Life

Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise reviewed Cross Bones

Mike Draper reviews 206 Bones at his blog.

Check out my review of Murder Inside the Beltway

Private Investigator Book Review

Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea reviews The Broken Window

Check out my review of Snake Dreams

Amateur Sleuth Book Review

Jean Henry Mead reviews the book Merry, Merry Ghost at Writing Advice and Good Books

Nicole at Linus’s Blanket presents The House on Tradd Street

Stacy at Stacy’s Books reviews Murder on Nob Hill

Check out my review of Sand Sharks and also Hail to the Chef

Cozy Mystery Book Review

Megan at Write Meg! Reviews Size 12 is Not Fat

The Cozy Mystery List Blog reviewed the book An English Murder

Suspense Fiction Book Review

Devourer of Books reviews The Lost Symbol

Megan at Write Meg! Review Best Intentions

Author Interview

Madeleine Begun Kane presents John Mortimer Interview posted at Mad Kane's Humor Blog.

Jean Henry Mead presents Interview with Loise Penny at Mysterious People Blog

The five authors co-blogging at Five Scribes present Interview with P.J. Alderman, author of the book Haunting Jordan.

Check out my author interview of Juliet Blackwell and also Dolores Steward Riccio

Writing Tips and Advice

Jean Henry Mead presents Bestselling author John Gilstrap discussing Bringing Characters to life at Writing Advice and Good Books Blog

Stephen Tremp presents The Seven Cs of Writing a Great Mystery at Breakthrough Blogs

Jurgen Wolff presents Going Back to the Basics to Solve Your Story at Time to Write

Helen Gringer presents us with Editing Tips at Karen…following the whispers

Livia Blackburne presents Blue: First Person Present Tense at Its Best posted at Livia Blackburne.

Jackie Houchin tackles Outlining: Necessary or Not? At Writers in Residence

  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ WOW - wasn't that a great carnival?! ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Let's make next month's even better.  For more information on the specifics of the Carnival and how to submit your posts go here.

Until Thursday's next book review I wish you many mysterious moments.
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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Review: Knockout by Catherine Coulter

Author: Catherine Coulter
Copyright: June 2009 (Putnam Adult); 432 pgs.
Series: #13 in FBI Thrillers
Sensuality: Adult references
Mystery sub-genre: Police Procedural
Main Character: FBI Agent Dillon Savich
Setting: Washington DC, Titusville Virginia, and Georgia
Obtained book through: Library Find

The book opens with FBI Agent Dillon Savich as a customer in a bank when it gets robbed. The robbery goes bad and Savich has a hand in killing the leader of the robbery gang. The leader of the “Gang of Four” was a cold-blooded woman whose daughter is injured in the robbery and vows revenge on Savich. The daughter, Lissy, breaks out of the hospital and goes on a killing spree on her way to avenging her mother’s death by taking out Savich.

While Dillion and his wife, Sherlock - also an FBI agent, are absorbed in finding Lissy a second plot line comes into play when Dillon is contacted by seven year-old Autumn. She saw the media coverage on Dillon as a hero. Autumn is in desperate need of a hero to save her mother and herself from a rabid cult that will stop at nothing to take Autumn. The cult wants her because she has the ability for mental telepathy and Dillon knows it first hand, since that is exactly how she was able to contact him.
The first time she spoke to him was midnight.

"It’s you, it’s really you. I can see you, Can you see me?"

It was a child’s voice, high, excited, with light bursts of breathing.

He heard her voice at the edge of sleep. At first he didn’t understand, thought maybe it was Sean, but then he saw her – the shape of her small head, then a tangle of long dark brown hair, and he thought, Yes, it’s me. Who are you?
I felt this was a gripping read from the first sentence. Dillon is the main character while a sheriff in Virginia, Ethan, gets sucked into the drama as he attempts to protect Autumn and her mother. The two story plots are juggled well and keep the tension cranked up. Lissy proves to be a psycho-path and clearly she and Dillon are headed for a showdown at some point. The cult members after Autumn seem unstoppable and I could not have guessed where that ride would end.

Dillon is a grand hero type while Ethan demonstrates he is pretty heroic too. Dillon’s parental side shows a good bit in this installment as he often thinks of his son Sean. The paranormal obsessed cult is done convincingly I felt, but I can understand if you are looking for strictly a police story that this aspect may not be your cup-of-tea.

Ethan is well developed and you often commiserate with him as he comes to deal with Autumn’s situation and her talents. Autumn’s character is wonderfully portrayed and I became quite fond of her character.

There are good twists and turns in the story and you will find yourself rooting for Dillon and Ethan as they jointly and separately move through the events. There are some good twists and tension is maintained believably. The ending was satisfying and wrapped up nicely.

Knockout is a suspenseful ride and I recommend it.

For your convenience, you may purchase your copy here.

Until next Monday, I wish you many mysterious moments.
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Monday, November 30, 2009

You Tell Me!

It is the last day of the month - where has the year gone?  This month just seemed to fly by.  I wanted to give you, the mystery readers, a chance to share the books you have read over the last 30 days and give a thumbs up if you recommend them or a thumbs down if you don't recommend it.   All of the mystery realm, crime fiction and suspense we want to here about.

So leave a comment - share with us the title, author and your thumbs up or down.  So you guys have the helm...
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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Review: Sand Sharks by Margaret Maron

Copyright: Aug 2009 (Grand Central Publishing); 304 pgs.
Series: #15 in Deborah Knott Mysteries
Sensuality: N/A
Mystery sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth
Main Character: North Caroline District Judge Deborah Knott
Setting: conference at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Winner of any awards: Series has won Edgar and Anthony awards
Obtained book through: Library

Judge Deborah Knot has only been married seven months and finds herself adjusting not only to married relationship dynamics but also to a stepson come to live with the newlyweds. Deborah looks forward to a little time away while at a judge’s conference at idyllic Wrightsville Beach. The first night before the conference most of the judges have arrived and have dinner together. The first inkling that Judge Jeffreys is not liked comes during the dinner when Deborah’s cousin Reid won’t even join her at her table because of Judge Jeffreys’ presence. After dinner Deborah finds the body of Judge Jeffreys.

“I turned to Reid and said ‘So why didn’t you come over and speak to Fitz and Martha? He’s retiring this fall?’

Reid’s dad, Brix Junior, was a close friend of the Fitzhumes and they had known Reid since he was a little boy.

‘I’ll catch’em later. He downed the rest of his drink in one long swallow. ‘No way I’m going over while that asshole’s there.’

‘And which asshole would that be?’ I asked.

‘Jeffreys.’ He spat out the name like an expletive.

Once we were in the car, I could see Chelsea Ann’s face in the rearview mirror. ‘Did you just twinkle at that Edwards guy?’ I asked. “You did, You twinkled at him.’

As the uniformed officer lowered the tape at the exit of the parking lot and signaled for us to drive through, Chelsea Ann grinned and said, “So?’

Rosemary sighed and laid her head against the seat. ‘I thought you said that a chest for you new entry hall was the only thing you intended to bring back from the beach this year.’

Chelsea Ann gave her sister a reassuring pat on the arm. ‘I haven’t loaded him in my trunk,’ she said. ‘Yet.’”
As Deborah easily asks questions of her fellow judges and passes along relevant information to the local investigating detective, Gary Edwards, she finds that Judge Jeffreys was corrupt and a bad judge leaving a plethora of suspects. Was it another judge or somebody who suffered due to his bad judicial decisions? There are many characters involved in the story with the setting being a conference, so fair warning – read when you can give the novel attention with few interruptions.

Deborah is a reasonable and thoughtful main character who shows an internal strength I appreciated. The large cast of characters I felt was handled aptly and I was able to keep the relationships clear. This book’s strong point is the rich layering of setting and a sense of history. I had not read any prior Deborah Knott mysteries and I felt immediately a part of her world. The many personal histories are carefully doled out to enfold the reader.

The story is told primarily from Deborah’s viewpoint with the exception of a few chapters told from detective Edwards or Detective Wall’s viewpoint. Thus the reader is along for the ride figuring out what happened and the motive for the murder with a few miscalculations as everything is pieced together. Once the culprit is revealed it didn’t seem like there were enough clues to point the reader in that direction, so there was no satisfaction in having a fair chance to figure out whodunit. Overall a great story with a writing style I enjoyed. I am looking forward to reading more from this author for she is a good story weaver.
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Monday, November 23, 2009

Mystery Book Awards

It is amazing and a bit overwhelming how many awards there exist for mystery and crime fiction novels.  Below is a list of the awards I put together for your information.  I would love your input on any of the books listed.

Edgar Winners

◊ Best Novel Blue Heaven: Blue Heaven by C. J. Box
◊ Best First Novel by an American Author: The Foreigner by Francie Lin
◊ Best Paperback Original: China Lake by Meg Gardiner
◊ Best Motion Picture Screenplay: In Bruges by Martin McDonagh
◊ Grand Masters: James Lee Burke and Sue Grafton

CWA Dagger Awards
◊ Gold: A Whispered Name by William Broderick
◊ Steel: The Last Child by John Hart
◊ New Author: Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin

Nero Award (presented Dec of each year)
◊ Winner: Anatomy of Fear by Jonathan Santlofer

The Shamus Award
◊ Best PI Hardcover: Empty Ever After by Reed Farrel Coleman (Moe Prager)
◊ Best First PI Novel: In the Heat by Ian Vasquez (Miles Young)
◊ Best PI Paperback Original: Snow Blind by Lori Armstrong (Julie Collins)

The Arthur Ellis Award (Canadian Award)
◊ Best Novel: Too Close to Home by Linwood Barclay
◊ Best First Novel: Buffalo Jump by Howard Shrier
◊ Best Juvenile: War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay

The Anthony Awards
◊ Best Novel: The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown and Company)
◊ Best First Novel: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Knopf)
◊ Best Paperback Original: State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy (Berkley)

Private Eye Novel Contest
◊ Winner: Shots on Goal by Michael Ayoob

The Macavity Award
◊ Best Mystery Novel: Where Memories Lie by Deborah Crombie (William Morrow)
◊ Best First Mystery Novel: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Knopf)

The Agatha Award (2009 not awarded yet)
◊ Best Novel: The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny (St. Martin's Minotaur)
◊ Best First Novel: Death of a Cozy Writer by G. M. Malliet (Midnight Ink)
◊ Best Children's/Young Adult: The Crossroads by Chris Grabenstein (Random House Children's Books)

The Best Traditional Mystery Novel Contest
◊ Winner: The End Game by Gerri Ferris Finger

The Benjamin Franklin Mystery Award
◊ Winner: Head Wounds by Chris Knopf (Permanent Press)

The Dashiell Hammett Award
2008 (awarded 2009)
◊ Winner: The Turnaround by George Pelecanos (Little, Brown)

The Dillys Award (Independent Mystery Booksellers Association)
◊ Winner: Trigger City by Sean Chercover

The Spotted Owl Award
◊ Best Novel: Executive Privilege by Phillip Margolin (HarperCollins)

The Barry Award
◊ Best Novel: Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason (St. Martin's Minotaur)
◊ Best First Novel: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (Grand Central)
◊ Best Thriller: The Deceived by Brett Battles (Delacorte)
◊ Best British Crime Novel: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Knopf)
◊ Best Paperback Original: State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy (Berkley Prime Crime)

The Los Angeles Times Book Awards
◊ Winner: Envy the Night by Michael Koryta (St. Martin's Minotaur)

The Gumshoe Awards
◊ Best Mystery: The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke
◊ Best Thriller: The Watchman by Robert Crais
◊ Best First Novel: Big City, Bad Blood by Sean Chercover

Best Books Award
◊ Mystery / Suspense: Wyatt's Revenge by H. Terrell Griffin (Oceanview Publishing)
◊ Thriller / Adventure: Dead Air by Deborah Shlian and Linda Reid (Oceanview Publishing)

So dear readers, have you read any of these books?  Please leave a comment on how you liked it, what was the strong point of the book and did you agree with the quality being of such a caliber to win the award.  I look forward to reading your comments.
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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Review: Hail to the Chef by Julie Hyzy

Time to get into the upcoming holiday - Thanksgiving. 
What better way than to read a mystery set during Thanksgiving at the White House!

Copyright: Dec 2008 (Berkely);336 pgs.
Series: #2 in White House Chef Mysteries
Sensuality: N/A
Mystery sub-genre: Cozy
Main Character: Olivia Paras, White House Executive Chef
Setting: Thanksgiving at the White House in Washington D.C.
Part of a Challenge: Fall/Winter Mystery Reading Challenge
Winner of any awards: 1st book in series won several awards
Obtained book through: Library

Amidst the flurry of activity that is the holidays at the White House, there is murder ruining the festivities. Join the new Executive Chef Olivia (Ollie) as she juggles the harried preparations for Thanksgiving and the following holiday season in the White House kitchen peppered with bomb scares and a splash of murder. Mix in some personality conflicts among the staff and you have the recipe for this original second entry in the series.

The book starts out with a bomb scare and Ollie being hustled along with the first lady into a bomb shelter. The story continues from there with the first lady under pressure to sell her share of a company by the other three owners, Ollie discovering an actual bomb, the Chief Electrician getting electrocuted and the president's nephew committing suicide. Ollie feels both the deaths are not what they seem.

The main character, Ollie, is spunky and caring. The first lady is portrayed sympathetically. Ollie’s kitchen staff comes to life including the cranky and negative Bucky, the supportive Cyan and newcomer Agda who speaks limited English but sure can cook. Other White House staffers populate the story including snarling electrician Curly, and the chief of security pit-bullish Gavin, even the temperamental pastry chef Marcel creating its own tight community with the White House.

Here we join Chief of Security with Ollie:
"There are people who things happen to. And whether you consider it a blessing or a curse, you appear to be one of them." He turned to face me. "I read your dossier."

I winced

"Don’t be embarrassed," he said. "It's not that you have a black cloud over your head – it’s that you have the ability to see and to sense things better than most.” He wagged his head from side to side. “I’m not talking about ESP or clairvoyance, although maybe describing it as a sixth sense is apt. You have a great deal of intelligence and an acute awareness – more than most people – which allows you to notice things out of place. And you have the curiosity to find out why."

"It's a curse, all right."

"I disagree. We hire people with your talents every day."
All the plot lines and subplots nicely wrap up and the sleuthing is done believably through Ollie’s natural observation skills for the most part. While the "bad guy" may not come as a surprise in the end it is nicely handled and working out the details has a few surprises. Descriptions are good without running on which I imagine is a challenge when the setting is the White House – kudos there. Pacing kept me reading. Granted, some people may not care for the kitchen operations included in the story –those people might feel the story isn’t as fast-paced as they might like. But for a cozy mystery I thought it was on par. Oh and there are recipes at the end which many cozy readers love.

For your convenience, you may purchase a copy here.

Until Monday's Musings I wish you many mysterious moments.
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Monday, November 16, 2009

Author Interview: Juliet Blackwell

Today we have the accomplished author Juliet Blackwell's interview that she graciously agreed to do.  You can read the review I did of her last book "Secondhand Spirit" here.  Enjoy finding our more about this wonderful author.  Ms Blackwell also writes the Art Lovers Mystery series with her sister under the pseudonym of Hailey Lind.

You had written several books in a collaborative fashion with your sister, what are the good and bad sides to joint writing efforts?

The good part is always having someone to bounce ideas off of, and to tell you when you’re off track. My sister and I are good friends with a similar sense of humor, so sometimes when the mood’s right we really get each other laughing and coming up with ideas. The bad part is the constant need to re-write, and re-write again, since it’s so important to keep a single, unified “voice” in the narration. Plus, writing on my own means I get to go off on whatever tangent I like, or have the romance go the direction I want, without having to argue with my sister. Unlike me, of course, she can be so unreasonable…;-)

I loved Lily Ivory in Secondhand Spirits as well as Annie Kincaid in the Art Lover's series, what is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character tell you about him/herself as you write?

For me, developing character is the easiest—and most exciting-- part of writing. I love imagining the characters in different scenarios, how they would react, that sort of thing. I usually list their favorite food and drink, funny quirks, a few things like that on a piece of paper I keep for each one, but beyond that I just let them develop organically. I’m always shocked at how characters seem to fix themselves, and then tell me exactly what they would or wouldn’t do in a situation. Many’s the time I’ve had to change a storyline because my character simply wouldn’t do what I had planned for them to do. Sounds a little crazy, but it’s true.

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (use a strict 3 act structure or not and little/alot of detail) before sitting down and writing?

I have to turn in an outline to my editor before writing, which forces me to think through certain plot points and storylines. But other than that, I’m more of an organic writer – I like to be taken by surprise by my own writing. If I try to stick too closely to an outline or formula, I find I get bored. And if I’m bored, I’m willing to bet my readers will be bored.

How do you find time for writing - what works for you?

This is a tough one. The simple answer is that there’s never enough time for writing. Just as there’s never enough time for so many things in our modern lives. But since writing is a priority for me, I make time. Most days I get up at four in the morning, believe it or not. I hate it (I am so NOT a morning person!) but it’s the only way I can find a couple of completely quiet hours to work without interruption. I also don’t watch television, which gives me extra time in the evenings. I never do more housework than absolutely necessary, and the garden has to get by with a minimum of intervention. I have a teenage son, so he takes priority over my writing, but otherwise the writing has to come before fun time with friends and that sort of thing. I try to keep some balance in my life, and do cherish my good friends, but by and large I guard my writing time jealously.

For your mystery series' there is a lot of detailed information - how much research goes into your work and do you complete that up front or "just enough" as you go?

I love research. I was trained as an anthropologist, and one of the reasons I love being a writer is that it gives me an excuse to read about interesting things every day! I just finished the fourth Art Lover’s book, Arsenic and Old Paint, and I learned all sorts of gruesome things about poisons, and also lots of details about bats.

I read constantly, and obviously use the internet for research. But I also do a lot of walking around neighborhoods where I set my stories, and I’ve interviewed FBI agents and bounty hunters and parole agents and medical examiners. With the Witchcraft series, I studied the history of the famous witch hunts in Europe and Salem, and about the persistence of witchcraft in parts of the modern world, especially in rural areas of Africa and Latin America. I also interviewed witches one-on-one, and attended coven meetings. And I get to do it all in the name of work!

As to how much…obviously, a writer can only include a small fraction of her or his research in the actual books – otherwise you run the risk of boring your reader. I usually do some research prior to writing, which gives me a lot of ideas. Then I research as I go along –sometimes it’s as simple as looking something up on Google, or sometimes it’s something I have to make time for (such as interviewing or walking the streets).

I read once that a romance writer would put on sexy lingere to prepare for writing - do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?

I really love writing in my office – boring, right? But I live in a beautiful old house full of ghosts, beautiful light, and wavy-glass windows, so it puts me in the mood for magic and art. I look out onto the hills of Oakland – which are truly beautiful, by the way. Very European looking. And my neighbor’s black cat, who just happens to be named Oscar (and I didn’t even know him when I named Lily’s familiar Oscar!) won’t leave me alone. He’s convinced I’ll fall for his feline ways…and he’s right. Having a black cat around makes writing about witches seem just right.

I also have a rather fierce –but cute—looking gargoyle who overhangs my computer monitor – he always makes me think I’m in the company of Oscar from the book.

Do you have any secrets to success for editing?

Hmm, that’s a tough one. I write my first draft with great verve and make myself turn off my internal editor – I want the story to flow without restraint—but that means that I have to do some serious re-writes and thorough editing once that first draft is done. For that, I think Stephen King said it best: you have to be willing to kill your darlings. Be tough on yourself – no matter how much you love a scene or iteration, if it doesn’t work for the story, cut it. Don’t give too much backstory, let the story unwind bit by bit to keep the reader intrigued. Use lots of dialogue to move the story along, and make sure you have a good mix of action, dialogue, and description throughout.

In this technology driven world there is more and more pressure on authors to use social media (blog book tours, twitter, facebook etc.) but what do you feel is the payoff for the amount of time invested as opposed to traditional methods such as brick and mortar book tours?

Wow, you really do ask the tough questions! I don’t know what the payoff is, and I wish I did. It’s so frustrating to spend so much time and energy in an arena that is so far removed from the ultimate goal –to sell books and introduce new readers to one’s work. So far no one has been able to show what the connection is, though as you say writers are expected to maintain a presence on the web. The only direct benefit I can see is that I get a lot of email from readers, and I imagine few of them would have taken the time and energy to write the old fashioned way.

I enjoy visiting bookstores, but obviously it’s expensive. My publisher doesn’t have the money to pay for my tour, so I do it on my own dime – however, I know so many great authors now that we often tour together, sharing expenses and making everything much more fun. It’s always a pleasure to meet booksellers and librarians face-to-face, and to interact with readers and fans. The only downside is that it’s truly exhausting, and does take away from writing – I always say “I’ll write in the evenings in the hotel”, but I usually wind up going out to dinner and drinks instead!

What is the "tipping point" where an author can support themselves from their writing? Is there a recognizable point at which you can dedicate yourself full time to writing books and not worry about a day job again?

I don’t know that there’s any one “tipping point” – the downside about being a published author is that unless you’re a HUGE name, you’re always having to look down the road to what’s next. Will I have a contract next year? Will it be enough to live on? Should I be changing genres? Supplementing my income? Maybe I should get a job at Peet’s Coffee….

Much of it, obviously, depends on your personal situation and expectations. I’ve been a professional artist for years, and before that I was a social worker, and before that an anthropologist. So frankly, I’ve never made much money! My demands are low, I live with housemates to share expenses, so I don’t need as much as other people might. I’d much rather have an interesting, rewarding career than a new car or fancy vacations…and I’m lucky, because my ex-husband is able to pay for our son’s school and important, mundane, things like his health insurance and new shoes.

A lot of authors supplement their writing wages through freelancing non-fiction, teaching classes, or sympathetic spouses. But I’m not sure that many of us are able to “not worry about a day job again” ever!

Can you recommend a fiction book that provides a great example of the writing craft to dissect and learn from?

Wow – in this case there are far too many answers to your question. I adore Richard Russo – his Empire Falls is a masterpiece in interweaving the story of individuals, families, and a whole town, as well as handling flashbacks and historical information. Nick Hornby is a master of using “voice” to establish character, almost without using description at all – try About a Boy or A Long Way Down. My friend Sophie Littefield’s debut novel, A Bad Day for Sorry, is another example of a strong, clear voice of character. Elizabeth Peter’s novels are wonderful examples of storytelling beyond a lot of modern conventions – she can write an entire mystery novel without actually killing anyone. Amazing.

How did you get your first break towards getting published? Was it sending in a query or meeting an agent at a writing conference etc?

I did go to a conference – the Willamette Valley Writers’ Conference in Portland, Oregon—and credit that wonderful event with meeting agents and editors for the very first time. I didn’t get an actual agent from that event, but I did learn what it was they were looking for, as well as important things like how to write a decent query letter. After that, I did a lot of research on the web for lists of agents, as well as looking through Jeff Herman’s guide to publishers. I had a goal of sending out 100 letters, hoping for a ten percent return. I only got up to 38, but out of that we received three offers for Feint of Art, which was later nominated for an Agatha.

Now I am President of our Northern California chapter of Sisters in Crime, and a member of Mystery Writers of America, so I realize there was a whole lot of support out there that I was unaware of – our Sisters in Crime chapter has ushered many aspiring authors through the process, recommending them to our agents and helping with the query letter process. Several are now published authors! Look around you for writers’ groups – they’re wonderful and willing to help!

Tell us about your upcoming book! What aspect of the new book did you particularly enjoy?

My next book will be A Cast-off Coven, the second in the Witchcraft Mystery Series (June 2010). I really enjoyed writing about the characters I established in the first book, plus adding in a few more. I researched a lot about ghosts for this book, and found some fascinating tidbits about the different way people view spectral beings. I also researched demons – a scary lot.

Arsenic and Old Paint will also be out next summer, either August or September. This will be the fourth in the Annie Kincaid Art Lover’s Mystery series, and it was so much fun to research – I spent a lot of time in Chinatown looking into rumors of underground chambers and tunnels. I also particularly enjoyed writing this one, because I got to come back to characters that I love, and which I haven’t been able to write about lately.

THANK YOU so much Juliet for this interview.  I am certainly looking forward to your next books with much anticipation!
Until Thursday and our next book review, I wish you dear readers many mysterious moments.
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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Special Announcement: Carnival Coming!

Introducting the Mystery and Crime Fiction Blog Carnival

I have taken a huge plunge here by deciding to run a Blog Carnival dedicated
to Mystery/Crime Fiction/Suspense books and the craft of writing them. 

 Do you review mystery, crime fiction, or suspense books?

Do you have author interviews that discuss writing mystery or crime fiction?

Do you blog on fiction writing advice?

Join us for this Carnival.

What is a blog carnival?  blog carnivals are where someone takes the time to find really good blog posts on a given topic, and then puts all those posts together in a blog post called a "carnival". 

This carnival takes your submissions and presents them in a monthly carnival.  Imagine one place to go each month for book reviews on Mystery, Crime Fiction and Suspense books as well as author interviews and writing tips and advice.

Blog carnivals are a great way for bloggers to recognize each other's efforts, organize blog posts around important topics - like the Mystery Genre, and improve the overall level of conversation in the blogosphere. The fact that carnivals are edited (and usually annotated) collections of links lets them serve as "magazines" within the blogosphere.

Categories under this blog carnival include:

Police Procedural Book Review

Private Investigator Book Review

Amateur Sleuth Book Review

Cozy Mystery Book Review

Suspense Fiction Book Review

Author Interview

Writing tips and advice

This Carnival will take place the first Monday of each month. 

Submission deadline is the last Friday of each month.

Please submit links to recent articles (within the last 3 months) to keep the information fresh.
Also, your links should point to actual articles not archive lists, indexes or about pages.
Submit your blog entry here now

Spread the word far and wide!!!
Mystery lovers celebrate.

Post a widget on your blog for this carnival here

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