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29 posts from February 2006

February 28, 2006


BREAKING NEWS------Our own Nancy Martin declares that as of today she is no longer a VIRGIN. A STAR virgin, that is, since the highly regarded, never-wrong Library Journal gave her latest phenomenal Blackbird Sisters book - HAVE YOUR CAKE AND KILL HIM TOO - Have_cake_and_kill a STAR!!That's, right, one of these *. Congratulations, Nancy, and as someone who was lucky enough to get an early copy, let me just say that Library Journal got it right. This is the best Blackbirds ever, with lots of sex, humor, sex and mystery. Plus rich folks misbehaving, shooting arrows all over the place and generally behaving badly. Its formal release date is March 7, but it's already on Barnes and Noble's mystery bestseller list. That's how good it is....

Okay, back to mud wrestling.

Fantasies of Mud Wrestling Evanovich at RT

By Sarah

Mud wrestling naked or nearly naked has always held an appeal for me. For one thing, I think it would feel terrific. For another, I'm pretty sure mud covers cellulite and may be excellent for my pores. So, when Charlaine Harris teasingly suggested that she, Harley and I get down and dirty in the mud for the Romantic Times Best Amateur Sleuth Award (for which we've been nominated), I heartily agreed. As I recall, Harley did too.Mudwrestling

Just one problem: Evanovich. She's nominated for the same award as well. I didn't know that when I agreed to the mud wrestling. I didn't know that when I booked my reservations for RT. I'm not sure I would have bought the tickets if I'd known.

Maybe some of you are familiar with my history with Janet Evanovich. Evanovich supporters might call it a "lack of history." Either way, just the mention of Evanovich and my heart freezes the same way it did when I was in second grade and my jump rope accidentally tripped Michael Smith, who promptly threatened to beat me up at recess. For one whole year, I spent every recess quaking, going out of my way to avoid him, hiding in the bathroom, making up excuses to cool my heels in the nurse's office between 12:30 and 1 p.m. That's how I feel more than thirty years later about HER.

Plus, she has a house in Florida precariously close to Daytona Beach where Romantic Times is holding its convention this year in May. Yikes! What if she shows? I mean, she really might.

Well, there's only one answer, of course. (Swallowing hard, here.) Bring on the mud.

Therefore, let this be an open invitation to Janet Evanovich. If she comes to Romantic Times and agrees to a mud match, I will personally make the arrangements. I will buy the bar of soap to clean up with. I will get the towels. Harley, Charlaine, Janet and I in our bikinis, the waxed and oiled cover models looking on. Knowing RT, they'll turn it into a party. They'll sell tickets. It'll become an annual event, though we might have to wear boas and bustiers with the winner getting five minutes in the mud with Mr. Cover Model. Doesn't sound too bad. Have you ever met those cover models?

And when it's over, I envision all of us becoming great friends. Evanovich will absolve me of whatever sin I committed that landed me on her shit list. I will do the same. Everyone already loves Charlaine and Harley so for them it will be business as usual. We'll end up hugging one another, the best of girlfriends, mud sliding over our hips and breasts. But that could get us linked to some rather illegal sites, so I better stop before I get in more trouble. Again.Betrothed300dpi1_1

Back to writing....


PS BUBBLES BETROTHED - which is up for the Romantic Times Award - comes out in paper March 7. The isbns on all the online sites are screwed up, so please support your local, independent bookstores. Thank you!

February 27, 2006

Cross-dressing and the Trojan War

Cross-dressing and the Trojan War
By Harley

One of the big fringe benefits of being a writer is research, and the enlightenment it brings.

For instance:

My son cross-dresses. He comes home from school and gets into dresses—velvets are his favorites, with beading or flowers—then loads up on hair ornaments, nail polish, high heels, evening bags, makeup and jewelry. He also likes to advise me on my wardrobe. It’s like living with Isaak Mizrahi. Lately he’s been pushing on me a certain slinky black silk number with attached feather boa that he considers suitable for carpool, jogging, and shopping at Costco.

I don’t have statistics—or J. Edgar Hoover—on hand, but my understanding is that cross-dressing is independent of sexual preference—i.e., there are lots of heterosexual guys out there wearing lingerie. I can’t speak to this as far as my son is concerned, because he’s not quite four years old.

And none of it troubled me till this week, when my son announced his plans to wear ruby slippers and turn into a girl when he grows up. His sister informed him that he would NEVER become a girl, because he’s a BOY and would always be a boy, because THAT’S HOW LIFE IS.

“Actually,” I started to say, “he can become a girl someday, if he wants to, and he can certainly wear ruby slippers, assuming he can find them in his size” but was this the time for the transgender/transvestite/gay/straight discussion?

They’ll figure it out eventually. If they pay attention at the next family reunion they’ll notice there’s quite a bit of diversity under that tent. Which leaves me with my own mixed feelings on the subject.

I love gay people. I grew up in theatre. I did musicals. Half my professional influences were gay, and most of my closest friends. The problem is, the majority of them are now dead. I came of age in New York and L.A. when the Sexual Revolution ran smack into AIDS, so I can’t even listen to show tunes now without weeping into my espresso.

For most of my friends, it wasn’t all LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, or even BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. I come from Nebraska, BOYS DON’T CRY country. Every person I know with any kind of alternative gender or sexual preference issue lived through hell while coming to terms with it.

So when I think about my son and anyone taking issue with his evening gown and chiffon scarf, I get all worked up. Violent images run through my mind, the kind that end in lawsuits. Good mothers do not commit assault, do they? But what do they do? Warn their children about the dangers of complete self-expression in social situations?

I found the answer in Homer.

Yes, Homer. THE ILIAD. Which I’m slogging through as research for my novel-in-progress. Guess what I found out yesterday? Achilles’s mother, Thetis, knowing her son wouldn’t survive the Trojan War, tried to keep him from being recruited into the Greek Army by dressing him in women’s clothing. Now this isn’t a scene you’ll find in the Brad Pitt film, TROY (why not?) and also, it didn’t work. But it reminded me that there are worse things in life for a child than falling outside the mainstream.

And you can bet that if they reinstate the draft, in about fourteen years I’m lending my son that slinky black number with attached feather boa to wear to his Army interview. Can’t hurt. Might help.

Happy Monday!

February 25, 2006

Plugging, Blurbing and other Bodily Noises

We don't plug other people's books. 

Okay, we do, but it's a totally haphazard thing, so don't beg your publicist to send us your book to review, because we don't want that responsibility.

We want free books, of course, but it seems rude to take them and not glowingly praise your work here on TLC.

That policy firmly stated, here are some of the more memorable books the Tarts have been snuggling with since Christmas:

From Sarah:

KRISTIN LAVRANSDATTER by Sigrid Undset.  Winner of the Nobel Prize and a good 1,000+ pages since it is actually three books in one. Chronicles the life, loves and disappointments of a beloved noble maiden (not for long!) in medieval Norway. Kind of the story of what happens when you fall in love with a knight who likes to rescue damsels but can't hold down a steady job. Got to page 600 and declared it quits.  I'd read enough!

SPEAK OF THE DEVIL by Tim Cockey, er Richard Hawke: Tim jettisoned his succesful Hitch-the-undertaker series to pen this incredibily perfect thriller.  Set in New York City, it is the story of an ordinary man thrown into extraordinary circumstances when he chases down a shooter in a Thanksgiving Parade.  It is fast. It is funny.  It is intelligent.  Seeming conspiracies galore.  I can't say enough about how great this book is. He'll reach Harlan Coben status in no time.

LOVE AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE PURSUITS by Ayelet Waldman. When I first started reading this, I thought, uh-oh.  Ayelet has gone over to the Dark Side, the forced, navel-gazing lookit-me school of writing. And then she calmed down after chapter one and the book flowed forward.  It is superb. She has undertaken the difficult task of writing the first person perspective from someone I think we can all agree is mildly disgusting. There weren't many characters I liked in the book, in fact, and I think that's to Ayelet's credit. I'll tell you one thing--no matter what her detractors say, she sure can write.

Finally---HAVE YOUR CAKE AND KILL HIM TOO by our own Nancy Martin. The Blackbird sisters are back.  I  just got the book yesterday.  IT'S JUST OUT!!! And I'll deliver a full report over the weekend. All I can say is Nancy's a terrific writer and this book provides the ultimate escape....  BUY IT!!!

From Harley:

THE CINDERELLA PACT by Sarah Strohmeyer.  (fabulous!)

A FIELD OF DARKNESS by Cornelia Reed. (fabulous!)

WARRIOR IN THE SHADOWS by Marcus Wynne. (creepy fabulous!)

by Susan (who was catching a plane and is actually Seeing Someone & therefore had no time to do anything but list her recent reads, so we'll excuse her as long as she brings back fun pix from her trip.  And we wouldn't mind seeing Someone's picture either.)

INTO THE WILD by Jon Kraukauer

THE ICE HARVEST by Scott Phillips

MERCY FALLS by Kent Krueger

SECRET DEAD MEN by Duane Swierczynski

by Nancy:

MURDER IN MONTMARTRE by Cara Black.  Excellent!  How does she do it?  There's something about Cara's dialogue that makes the characters sound like they're speaking French.  Even though it's written in English.  Great story with an emotionally wounded protagonist driven to solve a crime to help a friend and to bury her own pain for a while. And isn't the package GORgeous?  The book looks beautiful and feels so snug and welcoming in the hand.

MY HORIZONTAL LIFE by Chelsea Handler.  I'm not sure why I'm reading this.  (Who suggested it? Someone here?) I keep waiting for it to get smarter.  Or funnier. (At least as funny as the author photo, which was surely meant to be ironic, right?) Or sexier. Or something.  There's nothing new here.  Pttttthhh!  There. I said it.

COOKING WITH FERNET BRANCA by James-Hamilton Paterson. I love books where an American woman buys a house in Provence or Tuscancy and renovates it and learns to cook and has great sex plus a personal epiphany.  The next best thing is a British man who does same.  Dry, witty, laugh out loud, plus recipes like mussels with chocolate. 

What about you?  Tell us what you're reading.

February 24, 2006

Where's Margie?

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Anybody know the whereabouts of Margie?

7-Figure Contract Gone - Ouch!

(Sorry to break in, Donna, but we have breaking gossip, er, news about the latest (final?) chapter in the Jim Frey scandal. And as you know, when a girl's gotta dish, a girl's gotta dish.)


You may have heard, read, seen, perceived that Jim Frey, author of the mega-bestselling kinda memoir A MILLION LITTLE PIECES, has been dropped by Riverhead, a division of Penguin. Frey came to Riverhead following his editor, Sean McDonald, from Doubleday. (Poor Sean. Frey has managed to drag him into this scandal, too.) What you may not have heard was how much the two-book contract with Riverhead was worth - seven figures. I don't know if that's a low seven figures or a high seven figures, but in my book, it's hard to whine about seven figures, low or high.

In addition, Frey's agent Kassie Evashevski, from Brillstein-Grey, dropped him, saying he was untrustworthy. (No, really?) And according to the LA TImes, the film deal may be off too. Of course, that was prophetic. The rights had been bought by Brad Pitt and Jenifer Aniston.

So what's Frey going to do now? Not go to Disneyworld, I wouldn't think. Is his career dead? Or can he make it as a fiction writer? What would YOU do, if you were Jim Fey?

Okay, Donna, back to you.....

Dialogue by Donna Andrews

Dialogue by Donna Andrews, Guest Blogger, Award-winning Author, and Friend o' the Tarts

(No, not on writing good dialogue; just on punctuating it properly.  Punctuation matters.  It's another way to keep editors, agents, and other people who read your manuscripts happy and receptive, instead of annoying them into a cranky, rejection-happy mood.)

Ordinary punctuation of dialogue

"Yes," he said.  "I did it."

Punctuation inside the quotes.  Punctuation after the tag (the "he said").

When it gets more complicated...see below.


Said is not a word--it's a form of punctuation.  Use said as often as necessary to ensure that the reader knows who is talking with every line of dialogue.  And only as often.

Bad style:
"Yes.  I did it," John said. 
"You couldn't have," Mary said.
"Yes, I did," he said.
"I can't believe it," she said.
"Believe it," he said.
"Really?" she asked.
"Yes," he said.

Bad, in another way
"Yes.  I did it."
"You couldn't have."
"Yes, I did."      
"I can't believe it."
"Believe it."

"Yes," John said.  "I did it."
"You couldn't have."
"Yes, I did."      
"I can't believe it." Mary said, with a shudder.
"Believe it."
"Yes."  He nodded.

Another acceptable option:
"Yes-- I did it."
"John!  You couldn't have."
"Yes, I did."
"I can’t believe it," she said, with a shudder.
"Believe it, Mary."

Note that it's still not great dialogue, in either case. . . but infinitely better punctuated!  Just remember, don't tag each sentence.  But don't ever make the reader wonder who's speaking. 

When someone starts speaking, don't make the reader wait too long to find out who he or she is. 

"I have a confession to make.  I'm the murderer!  I know that you'll probably find that hard to believe, and I hope one day you'll find it in your heart to forgive me.  But I couldn't keep you in the dark any longer," Jack said.

The reader will probably go to sleep before the killer outs himself.  Look for the first natural break in the dialogue and insert the tag there.

"I have a confession to make," Jack said.  "I'm the murderer! . . ."

Not better at all:
"I have," Jack said, "a confession to make."

This is not a natural break point; instead of clarifying, the dialogue tag interrupts the flow and force of Jack's words.  If you're not sure where to break dialogue, read it aloud.  Watch for the places where you naturally stop to take a breath.  The first such pause is usually the optimal place to put the tag.

Don't use action verbs as dialogue tags.  People don't shudder or nod words.  They don't laugh or gag them, either.  About the only thing you can laugh is "hahaha," and a gag invariably like "ggggggggg."  So unless that's what's inside the quotation marks--and most of us already know what laughing or gagging sounds like--use said.  Or nothing.

Don't use too many synonyms for said.  The fancier the synonym, the more likely it is you should use it sparingly or not at all.

"Why did you do that?" he interrogated.

Yuck....just say he asked.  Or demanded, if that applies.

Verbs that describe HOW someone says something--whispered, shouted, murmured, hissed--are okay.  Just make sure your characters don't whisper, shout, murmur, or hiss every single thing they say. 

And if you're ever tempted to have your characters aver or expostulate, burn your thesaurus.  (In fact, thesauruses do most writers more harm than good.  They tend to cause what one writer friend calls "writerly" prose, and he doesn't mean that in a kind way.  He means stilted.)

Learn your favorite synonyms for said--the ones you consistently overuse.  Maybe your characters growl a lot.  Or bark every other sentence.  Once you've figured out which tags you use too often, you can go back and prune them.

Said (or any other dialogue tag) should normally appear after the noun or pronoun doing the saying.  Putting said in front is now considered archaic and somewhat awkward.

"Hi," said Frank.

"Hi," Frank said.

The exception is if you need to modify Frank.  (And you should make sure Frank really wants to be modified.  He might not even want to trim his nose hair.)

"Hi," said Frank, the eighth and always forgotten dwarf.

"Hi," said Frank, who was holding the bloodstained dagger. 
though the following might work even better:
"Hi," Frank said.  He was holding the bloodstained dagger.


Avoid using an adverb ending with ly to modify said or other dialogue tags.  It's not that you should never do this, but it's one of the most common forms of overwriting, and many readers (including editors) have become allergic even to the occasional appropriate use of adverbs.  So save adverbs for when they absolutely positively have to be there, and be prepared to get dinged for them anyway.

(And it's very easy to commit accidental Tom Swifties with an adverb.

"This pencil needs sharpening," Tom said bluntly.
"Give me a haircut," Tom said barbarously.
"It rained all summer," Tom said intensely.)

Exclamation points

You shouldn't overuse exclamation points in dialogue!  Save them for the most dramatic moments of your dialogue!  Because if you put an exclamation point after everything, what will you do when something's really exciting?    And no, the answer isn't to use multiple exclamation points.  You might get away with that once every other book or so.  (The King James Bible uses precisely one exclamation point in telling the entire story of Lazarus.)

Outside dialogue, you should almost never use exclamation points.

Mixing action and dialogue                                                                         

Passages that are all action without dialogue or all dialogue without action are both less interesting than an intermingling of the two.  But you have to mix them carefully.

For example: Don't start a paragraph with exposition and then switch to dialogue.  Start a new paragraph whenever someone begins speaking.

Not optimal:
Peter Rabbit nibbled another carrot.  He said "I hope Farmer McGregor doesn't catch me.  I wonder if his lettuce tastes this good."

More correct:
Peter Rabbit nibbled another carrot.  "I hope Farmer McGregor doesn't catch me," he said.  "I wonder if his lettuce tastes this good."

Also correct, and perhaps even better style:
"I hope Farmer McGregor doesn't catch me," Peter Rabbit said, as he nibbled another carrot.  "I wonder if his lettuce tastes this good."

Related rule:
Don't start a new paragraph if the same person is speaking--unless he or she has been going on for such a long time that you think the reader needs a break.  Or unless the speaker is changing topics. 

"I hope Farmer McGregor doesn't catch me," Peter Rabbit said, as he nibbled another carrot. 
"I wonder if his lettuce tastes this good."

(The reader is left to wonder whether it's Peter Rabbit saying this or whether Flopsy and Mopsy have snuck onto the scene and joined the conversation.)

If one character is speaking for a long time, you can break his or her speech into paragraphs.  By not putting a quotation mark at the end of the paragraph, you signal to the reader that the same speaker continues in the next paragraph.

However, if your characters are going on that long, maybe you should consider whether you should let them.  Outside of lecture halls, people rarely get away with monologues in real life.  If it feels like a good time to start a new paragraph, might it not also be a good time to let one of the other characters take a turn?  Have someone interrupt--agree--ask a question.  Show the speaker's supporters nodding and his enemies frowning and shifting in their seats.  Or have a delicate snore rise from the back of the room. 

Bad style:
"I'm going to set up a firewall on your computer," the guru said.  "You need something to protect you from malware--programs that could harm your computer, including Trojans, worms, spyware, and viruses, like the Sobig virus that infected your computer last month and caused you to lose three days of work.  So we should also upgrade your virus protection software while we're at it. "

(And the guru continues for three pages of dense techno-talk, straight from the manual.  The computer user doesn't even get to nod admiringly.  Odds are he nodded off about the time the reader did.)

"I'm going to set up a firewall on your computer," the guru said.  "You need something to protect you from malware."
"Malwhat?" the computer user asked.
"Malware--programs that could harm your computer."
"Oh, you mean viruses."
"Not just viruses--Trojans, worms, spyware.  But don't worry about that," he added, noticing that the user's eyes were glazing over.  "Just take it from me--you need a firewall."

(And so on.  Notice that in structuring the same information as back and forth dialogue, it almost automatically becomes less formal and more like real dialogue.

A small note on contractions:
Star Trek fans will remember how the character of Data (from Star Trek: The Next Generation) talked--absolutely no use of contractions. I was never sure this made sense.  Did his programmer accidentally leave out that part of the grammar book?  And couldn't Data have figured out how to reprogram that part of his language data banks?  Whether or not it makes sense, there's a reason they did it: it reminds the viewer that Data is a machine.  So unless your characters are androids, or very pedantic, go back over your dialogue and make sure they're not saying "do not" when real people would say "don't" and "I will" when most of us say "I'll."  If you're contraction-shy on paper, you'll be surprised how much life this can breathe into your dialogue.

Quotes within quotes:
American usage calls for using double quotation marks around dialogue.  If you're using a quote within a quote, set off the second level of quotes with single quotation marks.  The same goes for anything, like a short story or song title, that would normally be inside double quotes.

She asked Elvis if he could play a Beatles song, so he played "A Hard Day's Night."
"She asked me if I could play a Beatles song, so I did," Elvis said.
"She asked 'Can you play a Beatles song,' so I played 'A Hard Day's Night,'" Elvis said.

If you need show a quote within a quote within a quote, the most commonly used method is to show the third level of quotes in italics.  But don't go there--your readers will have a hard time following you.  And more important, the very fact that you're having to worry about quotes within quotes within quotes just might signal that the format of whatever you're writing is getting too convoluted to keep the reader's interest.  If you are telling a story in the first person, and in the middle of your story, you let the old prospector tell the story of his life, and in the middle of his story he tells an anecdote that his mother told him when he was a boy....don't go there. 

In fact, that's generally a good rule to follow whenever you have a punctuation question.  If what you're doing is so complicated that you can't figure out how the heck to punctuate it, maybe the problem's not a punctuation one.  Try finding a simpler way of doing it.  Your writing will almost always benefit.

I could go on--in fact, such excellent references as The Chicago Manual of Style do, for pages and pages--but if aspiring writers would master this much, they'd eliminate ninety percent of the mistakes that annoy editors, agents, and other people who might be reading their manuscripts.

Confession time: I'd like to claim that I absorbed all of the above instinctively, just by reading attentively.  But a long time ago in another galaxy, I took a course that included editing and copyediting, and I used to do a fair amount of it in my day job. And even so, I'm still working on a couple of these points.  My last copyeditor still thought I used "said" too much.  None of us will ever be perfect at any of this grammar, punctuation, and formatting stuff.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep trying.

Donna Andrews is the author of OWLS WELL THAT ENDS WELL (Meg Langslow series) and ACCESS DENIED (Turing Hopper series).  Visit her web site and blog for more scoop!

February 23, 2006

A Face For Radio

by Nancy

This week the radio interviews started for my mystery that comes out March 7th--HAVE YOUR CAKE AND KILL HIM TOO.Book Cover On my very own telephone and in the comfort of my own home, I've been taping radio shows that will run the second week of March when sales are crucial.

The best thing about radio is that I can wear my yoga pants, my woolly socks and my favorite shirt from Target as I lounge around my bedroom trading quips on the phone with Bubba The Morning Guy in Kansas City.  He think's I'm 25 years old and hot.  Doesn't have a clue I'm 50-ish, need to have my roots done and have been lugging around a few extra pounds since the birth of my last child--uh, 24 years ago. He thinks I'm a stitch. I tease him about his girlfriend, Stacy.  When's he going to marry that girl?

The worst thing about radio is there are no visual cues. You can't tell by the look in the interviewer's eye that you're babbling.  Or that you passed the commercial break thirty seconds ago. Or that you've pronounced the interviewer's name wrong three times already.

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The next worst thing is that sometimes the sound guy asks if you'd do the interview with a towel over your head so it doesn't sound as if you're broadcasting from a public restroom on the interstate. (Now that I've had a chance to think about this, I'm wondering if "the sound guy" is a myth and the interviewer just wanted to picture me looking idiotic while we talk.)

I receive my radio assignments via email from the publicist who's been booking all these opportunities for me.  The publicist is wonderful, by the way. Since I'm frantically pounding out the last pages of next year's book, I have no time to pitch  myself to a gazillion radio statoins--including assorted Bubba shows, a Pod-cast group in Idaho and various female radio personalities whose mission in life is to spread the good word about other women, thank the Goddess. But the publicist is relentless.  She is driven.  She is an angel.  She is saving my career.

I print out my radio assignments and keep them on my desk where they quickly get covered in Deadline Cookie crumbs.  (Authors, you know exactly what I mean.  If anyone cares to share your particular recipe, do so in the comments section.  My favorite DC are those big sourdough hard pretzels, which I dip in small--okay, large amounts of melted milk chocolate chips.  Fast, easy, salty, plenty of carbs and crunch. Plus chocolate. Who has time to actually cook anything when you're trying to finish a book?)

All the radio assignments conclude with a cheery note from the publicist:  "This interviewer is really looking forward to talking to you about your book!"

Uhuh. Rest assured, she won't be selling me any bridges any time soon.

I am amused by some of the directions on the assignment sheets.  Some radio stations are anal about how I should answer the phone when they call or how they will answer the phone if I'm instructed to call them.  THEIR EXPLICIT DIRECTIONS APPEAR IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS THAT DEFY DISOBEDIENCE. One station provided an 800 number for my friends and family to call in with questions during the show.  Which broadcasts from Fresno. Mind you, I have only one relative who lives west of the Mississippi, and he spends a lot of time camping alone on the Baja pennisula conducting some wildlife research project, so I'm not counting on him listening to much talk radio for women.  On the other hand . . .  maybe I'd better give the poor guy a buzz, huh?

Then there's one assignment where the interviewer says he won't read the book and doesn't want to prepare any questions, so I should just plan on talking non-stop for 30 minutes. If I give him dead air, he'll never use me again.

Uh, okay.

Still, radio is infinitely better than television as far as I'm concerned. The publicist booked me two TV shows before I--er--pulled the plug.  I get too upset about TV gigs. What to wear? How to tame my hair into something that looks like I haven't spent the last 6 months in a cave talking to a computer screen? What if I have a hot flash on camera?  I'm just not confident about the whole TV thing.  So I asked the publicist to forget about TV and focus on radio and print media.  She emailed back, "We're so disappointed!  We feel certain we could get you scads of TV shows!

I feel certain if I expire of a heart attack, it will be on television because I'm desperately trying not to break a sweat that will ruin my makeup.  Gives new meaning to the "dead air" phrase, doesn't it?

I have a dear friend who is the VP of PR for a Fortune 500 company, and she keeps offering to do some media training for me.  She's smart, gorgeous, clever with words, always composed, and impeccably dressed. I should accept her offer, but I can't. I'm intimidated, aren't I?"

She says I need to sum up my whole book--and my whole life, for that matter--into 3 simple talking points that I should use in any interview, no matter what questions are thrown at me. Other professionals tell me that my simple talking points should include my book's title, my website address, a clever plug for the series, something witty and--well, I forget what else.  But it was way more than 3 simple things.  Gives me a pinch--just a pinch--of sympathy for GW when he sounds like such a moron condensing American foreign policy into 3 talking points that can be understood by a person with a junior high education. I feel his pain, if he has any. I'm a novelist!  It takes me nearly a year to communicate a story!  Jamming all that information into 3 measly talking points while fighting down hot flashes is a challenge.

It's much easier to write a book.

For the most part, though, the radio interviews are all good. Primarily because I'm still at home.  In ten days, I pack my suitcase and set off in the Silver Bullet  on a driving tour that won't be nearly as easy on my nerves.  My daughter Sarah is going to drive for the first week.  Isn't that kind of her? She would like me to refer to her as my "media escort."  My other daughter, more of a smart ass, says,  "No, Mom, she's your wrangler." I'll blog from the road if I'm allowed.

Meanwhile, if you live in Fresno and hear me babbling on the radio, would you please call and toss me a softball question that could take up 30 minutes of air time?

Packing cupcakes,


ps.  We'd like to welcome some new authors to the world of blogging.  Check out The Little Blog of Murder.  I'll be visiting their neck of the woods soon.

February 22, 2006

Making Mysteries Memorable


(Yeah, yeah, yeah, this is something I wrote awhile back for a newsletter and am resurrecting; as I'm still working on finishing up NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB and head to South Carolina tomorrow morning for a library gig and the book festival. I wanted to come up with something new, only my brain is melting out my ears so this will have to do.  Sigh.)

I’m sure I’m not the only mystery fan who grew up on Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew, who adored those “Five Minute Mysteries” and couldn’t get enough of Ellery Queen reruns on television.  But as I got a little older, maturing enough to take the Rick Springfield posters off my walls and replace them with rainbows, I discovered a book that haunts me to this day:  REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier.  “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again,” it begins, words I won’t likely ever forget.

I’ve read it several times since my first encounter with the book as a teenager, and I still marvel at the way du Maurier grabs the reader instantly and never lets go.  Who is this woman telling us her story?  We never even know her name.  We only know about Rebecca, Maxim de Winter’s first wife who mysteriously drowned and who retains an eerie hold on those living inside the walls of Manderlay, even from the grave.

What makes REBECCA such a memorable novel?  Why can’t I shake the characters, plot and setting from my mind when I’ve read scores of mysteries through the years that left no imprint on my brain whatsoever?

First, du Maurier does a magnificent job of putting us in the shoes of her narrator, the nameless bride of Maxim de Winter.  We see the mystery through her eyes, stumble upon clues about Rebecca’s death as she does.  There’s simply the intimacy of first person, no switching to multiple viewpoints which can sometimes keep the characters at a distance and disrupt the flow.  Just as the second Mrs. de Winter wants to find out the truth about Rebecca, so do we.

Another strength in du Maurier’s storytelling in REBECCA is the potent atmosphere of good versus evil.  The sweet bride of Maxim pitted against the creepy Mrs. Danvers who, at one point, tries to tempt the girl to suicide:

“Don’t be afraid,” said Mrs. Danvers.  “I won’t push you. I won’t stand by you.  You can jump of your own accord.  What’s the use of your staying here at Manderlay?  You’re not happy.  Mr. de Winter doesn’t love you.  There’s not much for you to live for, is there?  Why don’t you jump now and have done with it?  Then you won’t be unhappy anymore.”

There’s also the foil of the “ghost” of Rebecca.  The reader wonders if the narrator will be strong enough to stand up to the memories of her predecessor as well as to Mrs. Danvers.  It’s worth turning the pages again and again to see.

Finally, there’s the puzzle itself.  Was Rebecca alone in the boat?  What happened between her and Maxim?  Did he have a hand in her death?  What was she hiding? 

The ingredients that make REBECCA such a memorable novel, even six decades after its initial publication, still work in mystery and suspense fiction today.  Vivid characterizations and settings, a point of view that grabs us and puts us in the skin of the people in the story, and a strong puzzle that twists as often as it turns.

Mix those in with solid writing, and you’ve got yourself an unforgettable book.

February 21, 2006

Bla, bla, bla

By Sarah

Publishing is a roller-coaster business. (Hey, there's a cliche!) Last week, por ejemplo, I was in the dumps. I mean, I was wallowing in the orange peels, coffee grounds and egg shells. I had no talent. My new book was going to bomb. I didn't have enough time to write my next one. The isbns on the paperback of BUBBLES BETROTHED coming out in two weeks had been all screwed up on line. I was miserable. So miserable, that I overheard my husband and children weighing the pros and cons of shipping me off to a writer's colony. Or a leper's colony. Anything to get me out of the house.

But the Goddess of Miserable Writers is a merciful one and soon, after my due diligence lying on the living room floor, drops of goodness began to rain from the sky. My agent returned from maternity leave with glowing reports, Harley wrote to tell me she loved my first chapter (I don't care if she was being polite, I'll take it) and Meg Cabot gave me a killer blurb for THE CINDERELLA PACT.

And then there was "bla, bla, bla."

I don't know why this story cheered me so. Perhaps it is my genetic predisposition to schadenfreude, that delightful German term for taking pleasure in another's misery. But the tale of spoiled, rich, bratty lawyer Dianna Abdala put a smile on my face. Like I said, the Goddess of Miserable Writers is benevolent and catty. And Dianna is one miserable writer.

In case you missed her faux pas extraordinaire, Dianna is a 24-year-old, 2004 graduate of Suffolk Law School outside Boston, who was offered a job by a local criminal defense firm. Lucky she, no? She accepted and then William Korman, the attorney who offered her the job, called back to say they would be hiring two attorneys instead of one and, therefore, her initial salary offer would be decreased. (This key element goes missing in many news stories.)

Abdala, cocky little thing, shot an email back declining the offer and saying, "I have decided instead to work for myself, and reap 100% of the benefits that I sew.” (Note to Massachusetts Bar: homonym refresher courses?)

Also, Dianna noted, "After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that the pay you are offering would neither fulfill me nor support the lifestyle I am living." Dianna is apparently a self-proclaimed trust-fund baby. And a lawyer. Oh, dear, sweet schadenfreude!

Korman wrote back that her email rejection and subsequent voice mail, "smacks of immaturity and is quite unprofessional." Plus he had just ordered new "stationary." (Massachusetts Bar - I'm telling you - homonyms.) The nerve!

Abdala responded with the following email: "Bla, bla, bla."

I LOVE that. I don't love her or Korman, though I do relish the beauty of sharks fighting sharks. But I do love her response. It is the ultimate answer in this age of information bombardment and bad news, directives on how we should express our patriotism (or not) or conduct our personal lives.

Bla, bla, bla.

Characters in my books say it all the time. When Bubbles tunes out, that's what goes through her head. When Nola Devlin, my protagonist in THE CINDERELLA PACT, is being lectured to, "bla, bla, bla" is what she's thinking. And now a real woman in the vicious world of legal hiring writes it for the world to see. (Korman forwarded her emails to the Boston Globe and then the International Herald Tribune....Nasteee!)

News reports have centered on Dianna Abdala as a cautionary tale, about the danger of sending unguarded emails, but they're totally missing the point. Even if Dianna is spoiled and bratty and careless and a poor speller, this one 24-year-old chick so ticked off a big criminal defense lawyer that he had to tattle on her. Bla, bla, bla is that powerful. And I ask you....

Is there not a "chicklit" book in this?

I LOVE writing!