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28 posts from February 2010

February 28, 2010

The Dustbin of History

Yes, he’s back. Because the man’s a blog machine, because there are sentences here that will make Nancie-the-Gun-Tart shoot first and ask questions later, and because we can’t get enough of those Rod + Xena comments . . .  

 The Dustbin of History

By Rod "also answers to Rob" Pennington

 It can be tough when you find yourself on the short end of a massive cultural shift.  Back in the 1980’s I was making a nice living writing trashy mass market “men’s action” novels. I lovingly called them “Sex and violence and violent sex books.” They were basically romances novel for men. Trade the mysterious handsome stranger for an AK-47 and maybe a missile launcher or attack helicopter and you were all set.  In fact my last two books from that era were “work for hires” published by Harlequin with Dianne Moggy – now VP for Harlequin Europe -- as my editor.

They were easy to write, the money was okay and for some strange reason that totally defied logic, people bought them like crazy. Being a reformed hippie who had never fired a gun in his life, I made my share of stupid mistakes which caused the hard core, Soldier of Fortune types to lose their minds. WhoAble Team 50   knew you couldn’t put a silencer on a revolver? I also learned, when I finally broke down and went to the target range, be careful where you put your thumb. When you fire an “automatic” handgun, that little bar thingy you slide back to feed in the first round comes back really, really fast.

Still, things were running along fine until that stupid, stupid, stupid President Reagan won the Cold War. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the mood in the country changed.

In the White House we moved from guy who could stare down the “Evil Empire” without blinking to a metrosexual with tears in his eyes who could “feel your pain.” We went from the “Gipper” to the Devon's Way #2  “Zipper”. The strong silent type guarding the front gate was replaced by guys “more in touch with their feelings.” Michael J. Fox was hot and Sylvester Stallone was starting to show wear. Big tough guys like me were only good for two things; sex and helping you move.  Overnight, the entire men’s action genre collapsed.  In its place was a new emerging dominating force, female mystery writers.

Talented women such as Sue Grafton, Sara Paretski, Patricia Cornwell, Janet Evanovich and others were discovering they didn’t have to write a cozy or formula romance story to get their novel published. There was now a market for tough ladies with smart mouths doing interesting things. When it came to incapacitating a bad guy, a kick in the nuts from a hundred and ten pound woman was just as effective as a Phillip Marlow right cross to the jaw. Plus as 'Frankie Figs' put it in the movie The Whole Nine Yards, “I can't think of nothing finer than a fine naked woman holding a gun.” No argument here.

In the 1990s, anyone with external sex organs (men) who weren’t already established had a tough time cracking the mystery field. Meanwhile, every major publisher and their editors – also predominately female -- were looking for the next female superstar and who can blame them? My mentor Sue Grafton and I were at a weeklong seminar at Antioch College in 1991 when she came up to me smiling. She had just gotten a fax from her agent. “H is for Homicide”, #1 NYT Hardback. “G is for Gumshoe”, #1 NYT Paperback and her agent had just closed a seven figure deal for the reprint right to her first 5 Alphabet  books.

Without this seismic shift in the popular fiction landscape it is unlikely The Lipstick Chronicles would even be here today. What would the world be like if Kinsey Millhone, Stephanie Plum, Kay Scarpetta, V.I. Warshawski and others hadn’t broken through the glass ceiling and paved the way for the current crop of talented women fiction writers? Would they all be writing “bodice rippers” instead of the wonderful stories we all spend a half hour with each night before going off to sleep?

For me, it worked out great. It knocked me out of my comfort zone and sent me down a path I likely wouldn’t have taken. I made embarrassing gobs of money trawling in the murky waters of Hollywood for a few years before I got sick of not seeing anything produced and drifted off to honest work.Devon's Way #3  Still, after nearly two decades of being MIA from mystery/suspense fiction I’m showing I may not be smart but I’m trainable.  The protagonist of my latest series is fine Southern lady with a sharp tongue and a nose for trouble who….      

Happy Weekend . . .


And guess who's coming back this Tuesday to guest-blog? Hint: she looks not unlike the redhead to the right. (The one in the white trenchcoat, not Fidel Castro.)

February 27, 2010

Promoting Yourself

On the heels of yesterday’s remarkable How Do You Decide Which Books to Buy? comes another side of the equation, wherein our manly man Rod Pennington shares his secrets for Influencing Those Who Are Deciding Which Books to Buy . . . man, if I did all this stuff, I’d be cashing fatter royalty checks.

Promoting Yourself

by Rod Pennington

Give away at least 100 signed copies of your novel to complete strangers.  Make it a habit to hand a book to every woman you see reading a novel in public. It can be in the waiting room of the dentist’s office or the place where you’re getting the oil in your car changed. Have copies of your books with you at all times. Anyone with a dog-eared novel in her purse is your kind of gal.

Make friends with Independent Booksellers.  I would rather have 50 “Indies” who loved my book and talks it up to their customers than having it collecting dust at Barnes & Noble. I sent an email to every independent book store and offered them 3 free copies of my book. One signed for their personal library and two to put on their shelf. Dean Russ, RT Times Book Review ‘Bookseller of the Year” wrote a blurb we used on the rear cover.   

Cater to your market. Because of the subject material, “The Fourth Awakening” is doing huge numbers in the San Francisco to Vancouver corridor and Denver/Boulder market.  We have scheduled the release of the next book for October when I will be in San Francisco anyway for Bouchercon.  From there I will be doing a Pacific Northwest book tour, stopping for two days in Denver before returning to the Eastern Time zone.

Cater to your Demographic – Top Level. “The Fourth Awakening” has strong appeal to people on a personal spiritual quest, particularly women, and those with an interest in the science of the mind. We identified around 100 “Influential” people in this space – authors, scientists, theologians, etc – who have strong niche followings and sent them an ARC. Several provided blurbs and reviews for us (Allan Combs “Radiance of Being” and Mega Internet marketer Joshua Shafran for example). More importantly, they supplied “Buzz”. We printed 100 ARCs but sold over 3,000 pre-release copies of the title based on good word of mouth. One in the group, Dr. Noel McInnis of Portland, is actually teaching a class on the science and implications of the underlying story in the book. I sent him 3 free cases of books (84), one for each of his students. Another PhD is planning on starting a similar class in Boulder in April/May.     

Cater to your Demographic – Second Level.  We hired a college kid to compile a list of spiritual centers, New Age bookstores, yoga instructors, etc who also sell books. We made them the same offer of 3 free books we had made to Indie bookstores. Our spreadsheet has over 3,000 names on it.

Build a list.  The last page of “The Fourth Awakening” has a “tease” with a link to sign up to get updates for the next book. It is no accident that it is placed at the end and not in the copyright section. It is no accident that we do not have the actual first chapter of the next book in this space. We wanted to capture the moment when the person is sorry the book is over and give them the opportunity to continue reading. In exchange, we want their email address. We currently have over 2,000 people on our list.      

Be creative. Do something memorable which will set you apart. Here are two recent examples

I'll be 60 on March 22nd. The first 60 people to send me an email will get an autographed copy of “The Fourth Awakening” and a copy of the ARC for "The Gathering Darkness" when it comes out in June.

I'm thinking about doing a promotion where I will come to the home of one luck winner of a drawing, anywhere in the continental US with an airport, and do their book club. Wait, that didn't come out right. I will SPEAK to their book club. Cool off, Xena.

Don’t count on the marketing department of your publisher. While your book is your life, to them it is just one of this month’s titles.

Attend Book Conferences.  Getting out and meeting and greeting your readers is part of the package.  Be polite and be professional. Always try to get on a panel and do your homework. While these can be freeform, don’t go in and “wing” it.  Find out who is the “Bookseller” for the event and be sure they have your book available for sale in their booth. 

Work the room. Don’t spend all of your time hanging out with other published writers. Walk up to the people milling around and introduce myself, hand them a business card and ask them if they’re published. Have a simply two sentence bio ready that flows naturally for you: I have six published novels and I’ve sold two screenplays. My seventh novel will be out in October.  

Not only is it fun, you will make someone’s day while getting a fan for life. 

Blog.  I understand there are these newfangled things called a log or blog or something like that that some people find interesting. Go figure. Anything to raise your profile.

The Big Question.  What kinds of stuff are writers doing that annoy you and overjoy you?  What kind of a promotion would appeal to the Tarts and Tartelettes?

[Harley’s note: what is the masculine of Tart? Is it Tarto? Tartuffe? Tar?]

February 26, 2010

How Do You Decide Which Books to Buy?

How Do You Decide Which Books to Buy?

By Kathy Sweeney

Last Friday, we started a discussion about book reviews- apparently some professional types saw that blog, and it generated some interesting follow-up discussions.  

So today I'm asking the question.  It's a big one, so I want you to think about your answer, because it is the pot of gold at the end of every writer's rainbow.  And I mean that in every sense.

Think about how you decide - not just what to read - but what books to buy.  Be honest - you can put Anonymous in for the name under your comment if it helps.

Just to get you thinking, here are some variables that the brains in publishing wonder about. In fact, turns out they spend tons of time and money trying to figure them out.  Should they be more concerned about publishing quality work?  Just askin'.  The reality is that if a book doesn't sell, these days it may not matter. Ditto for a crap book that sells well.  Don't get me started.  But this is about what YOU think - so feel free to ignore these issues if you already know your answer.

Do you buy whatever book is "so HOT right now"?

Oprah's Book Club aside, how much impact does a TV interview, or a big publicity campaign have on your decision to actually buy a book?  Unless, you know, they snap a photo of Johnny Depp reading it - while in his Jack Sparrow pirate costume.  Then, of course, you buy it because it's got to be hard to retain that cat's attention.

WHERE you buy books - does it matter?

This one is tricky because - wait for it - the very, very disturbing news is that nearly HALF the books sold in this country aren't even sold at bookstores!  That's right - Sam's Club, Costco, Target, Wal-Mart - they buy so many books that they can cut deals with the publishers so they can sell them at big discounts.  Hey - I love Costco.  But I don't buy my books there.  Not worth it for me as a big reader.  I don't mind Costco's big bosses choosing the cereals (would it kill you to get Life every once in awhile?) but I don't want them - or God forbid, Sam Walton - deciding which books get published.  Oops.  I was pretending to be objective about this.

Same Author, Different Book

If you like an author, does it make a difference?  Are you more willing to try a new book or series if it's by an author you already know?  On the other hand, if an author keeps 'publishing' but the 'writing' is no longer high quality, do you stick or move on?

Location, location, location

Do you travel via your books?  Are you more likely to buy a book if it's set in Venice?  Your hometown? A Fictional place?

Can You Tell A Book By Its Cover?

Does it matter?  Big time meetings take place about these covers, you know.  How much of an impact does the cover have on your buying decision?


What About Meeting the Author?

I'm leaving this topic wide open - no editorials, because I really want to know.  It's expensive to tour or go to Cons, and some people don't seem to think it helps sales.  Does it make a difference if you meet an author/hear them speak?


I'm asking these questions here because I know TLC is made up of literate people.  People who read books. People who buy at least some of the books they read.  Please do share your thoughts - we want to know!

February 25, 2010

The Good News/Bad News Blog

The Good News/Bad News Blog


by Nancy (whose book comes out next week!)

Our lady of immaculate

The good news?  Today marks our 1700th blog here at TLC.  Amazing, right?


The bad news? My grandson is here, and therefore I have insufficient time to pay the proper respect to this momentous TLC anniversary. Bobby is 18 months old, learning to talk, endlessly cheerful, constantly charging around the house with armloads of books and dribbling milk on my floors.  It’s heaven, which is good news. Delightful news, in fact.

Can I share the really bad news that hit us this week? On Tuesday, a week and a half after the big snow storm here, my daughters and I heard thunder on our roof.  I'm telling you, it sounded like a train wreck. Or maybe a plane crashing into our chimney. We looked out the dining room window in time to see our copper gutters and downspouts—weighted down with half a ton of ice--come CRASHING across the tiles of the porch roof to land with a colossal SMASH on the porch. The concussion shook the whole house to the foundation. 


A day later, our contractor arrived. (Rick is a regular around here since he renovated our kitchen and numerous other projects that keep this 90-year-old manse semi-functioning.)  By the way, Rick's boss is Heidi, who's as close to a role model for Roxy Abruzzo as you can get. She's a tough-talking contractor who brings her kids in the 4x4 when she visits a site. Anyway, Rick climbed a series of ladders—it looked life-threatening to me when he perched a 6-footer on the peak of the porch—and from a precarious perch pronounced the verdict like a death knell:  We need a whole new roof.  Gutters and downspouts, too.

It’s actually possible to hear this kind of bad news with good cheer if you’re holding your grandson in your arms at the time. 


Another bad news headline recently announced that blogs are "over" (again!)  Except the headline was amended to say that most people who read blogs are "older."  Meaning, I guess, over the age of 13.  I'm actually thinking this is good news for us, since the whole raison d'etre for a blog like TLC is to reach out to people who read books.  Books, as you may have noticed, have word counts considerably longer than blogs do, but a blog reader is more likely to buy a book, right? Whereas advocates of Twitter may not have the attention span to read even a novella, let alone take the time to purchase a novel.  So we're thinking we're still doing the right thing by paying Her, Margie's paycheck and keeping the offices of The Lipstick Chronicles open. 


Thing is, we've established a pretty upbeat tone here at TLC from the beginning, which perhaps sets us apart from most blogs.  We don't do cynical very well.  Snarky?  Not our daily cuppa.  Upbeat is easy to do, of course, when we're annoucing book releases.  (Have I mentioned OUR LADY OF IMMACULATE DECEPTION will be in stores------well, what does the countdown say on the left side of your screen?)  It's not been so easy, say, when Elaine had her stroke.  (Which seems ages ago now that she's back firing on all cylinders, right?)  Divorce took Harley's pins out from under her for a while, but we remained up tempo. Sarah's dad had a heart attack earlier this week, and we've appreciated the many prayers.  And I've kept it quiet so far--per his wishes--but Jeff's under the weather at the moment. (Shh!  Don't tell him I told you!) So having the community of TLC behind us--you lovable lot, you adorable yous--has been a godsend to us. We hope we've done the same for you. We love that we can crack jokes and boost each other's spirits every day.  Each and every 1700 days!


So . . . thanks, readers.  We luv ya. 


Now: Please buy my book next week.  (It really, really matters that you buy the week it's released.)  I know it's expensive.  And I recognize that if you liked my previous books for the pretty clothes and the genteel people, you may not find OUR LADY OF IMMACULATE DECEPTION to be exactly your fave.  But give Roxy a chance. She's going to grow on you, I promise. In exchange, we'll keep TLC up and running. Check in with us every day for the latest hijinks. The good and the bad.  We'll make it entertaining.

February 24, 2010

Plenty of Nothing

By Elaine Viets  

Poor Alexandra Penney.

The Internet is oozing sympathy for the former magazine editor. Alexandra lost her life savings to con man Bernie Madoff.   Bookcover best

The blow was so awful that when Alexandra heard the news, she grabbed her Hermes bag and rushed to Madoff’s office that same morning, joining a crowd of face-lifted, fur-coated refugees. (Her description.)

Then Alexandra called her internist for tranquilizers to get through the day.

She also took two calls from "Mr. W at the United States Treasury." He was sorry he wasn’t "able to locate a website where you might find out who bought the bills from that offering." Alexandra was "astounded."

Me, too. High-level feds never called to comfort me when my Enron stock tanked.

Alexandra struggled gamely. She wrote "The Bag Lady Papers: The Priceless Experience of Losing It All."

There’s just one problem. Alexandra didn’t lose it all. After reading about her ordeal, you’ll wish you had her "nothing."

Plucky Alexandra still has "a house in Long Island," a one-bedroom home she calls a "shack." She also has a pricey apartment on the Upper East Side. And she rents a studio in Manhattan.

"My landlord lowered the rent on my studio by a third, which made it possible for me to keep my work space," she told reporter Bruce Watson in DailyFinance. "I’m trying to sell the house on Long Island. In the meantime, I’m renting it out."(For money, I assume.) "I sold the house in Florida and I still have my apartment."

I’d weep for her, except Alexandra is so much better at self-pity. "After Madoff, I felt like I had lost control over my savings, my life and my identity," she told a reporter. "I felt like I had lost my dignity, my ability to do work. For example, I need a large work area, because the photographs that I work with take up a great deal of space and it looked like I was going to lose my studio."

But she didn’t. Her landlord lowered her rent, remember?

Alexandra said she considered suicide during her ordeal. But she perseveres. Her maid, Carmina, "still comes in for three hours a week," she told DailyFinance. "I do most of my own housekeeping, but she needs the money and I need her. I couldn’t not let her have income."

Such nobility. Such unadulterated horse hockey.

My grandfather lost his job in 1959. Then he had to sell his five-room bungalow. My grandparents bought a convenience store. Pushing 60, they went to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, living in three cramped rooms behind the store. My grandmother mourned the loss of her home and her peony garden.

When my grandparents were too old and sick to run the store, Grandma scrubbed floors and babysat. Grandpa worked as a security guard outside in freezing winters and hellish summers. That’s when he cried – from the endless, incurable pain in his legs and feet. But only at night, when he thought my grandmother couldn’t hear.

A teacher told me about a student at her Florida school. In pre-earthquake Haiti, this young man didn’t have electricity in his home. He’d walk to town to study by streetlight. His family scraped together money to send him to America. No tears from him. He was grateful for their sacrifice.

Alexandra was able to sell one of her houses. More than a million American homes have been lost to foreclosure. A reader sent me this Christmas card, "The bank has taken the house. Had to find homes for 10 of my 12 cats and I miss them so much. Staying with a friend and his family. Reading and music keep me sane."

No book contract for this woman. No adoring interviews. 42350-clip-art-graphic-of-a-sad-dog-being-kicked-out-of-his-foreclosed-home-by-djart

You know why she wrote? To ask how I was feeling. She was worried about me. Her courage made me cry.

Some 15 million Americans are unemployed. They’ll wait maybe two years to get another job. If they’re lucky. How long did Alexandra wait?

"The next day," she told DailyFinance. Alexandra called a "very prominent literary agent." "Ten minutes later, he called me back and said that Tina Brown, an old colleague of mine from Conde Nast, wanted me to write a blog."   Roke-young-caucasian-woman-in-business-attire-holding-her-empty-pockets-that-are-turned-out-and-looking-at-the-viewer-with-a-shocked-expression-by-yuri-arcurs

"Traumatized" Alexandra endured those horrible minutes of uncertainty with admirable fortitude.

"But here’s what’s worst of all," she wrote. "People are going to feel sorry for me. I can feel that pity right here in my gut . . ."

Not me, Alexandra. I have a different gut feeling. I’m going to barf.

February 23, 2010

Little House on the Parkway

Little House on the Parkway

By Kathy Sweeney, modern day pioneer stock, filling in for Sarah this Tuesday

Blog snow light limb  It was February 5th. For days, the local weatherfreaks had been building up the panic.  By Friday morning, when there was not one flake of snow to be had, we started to bitch.  "Here we go again - grocery stores are mobbed for no good reason, and no one is going out shopping or to restaurants.  Hell, this is Pittsburgh - we've had snow since we were kids!"  By mid-afternoon on Friday, the snow was falling in big, fat flakes. Beautiful.  Kate was dismissed early from school.  Tom and Ty went to Best Buy for earphones. No big.

Friday evening, We got out our boots and headed to a favorite restaurant, where we had a rez with Mitchell and Susan.  By then, there was over an inch of snow, and it was coming down heavy and fast.  "It's WINTER" I said to everyone who was wringing their hands, "It snows.  Nut up already."

By the time we left Legume, (I highly recommend the raclette) warm and full of great food, great wine and great friendship, the streets were more than covered.  Cars were starting to slide.  "It's gorgeous!"  I exclaimed, spinning around and catching snow on my face.

We settled in - I was catching up on shows on the DVR, Kate and Tom were on their laptops, and Ty was playing X-Box live.  Your basic Friday night.  And the snow came down.  It was like a winter wonderland out there.  By 11 pm, we knew trouble was afoot.  Lights started to dim and blink.  Surge protectors started doing their job (thank heaven - a $40 surge protector saved a $3,000 phone system).  We looked out and saw all kinds of lines - power, cable, phone, bowing under the weight of the snow, some snapping under the weight of snow-laden tree branches.  Uh-oh.

Blog snow trees blue sky  My first reaction:  Fill the tubs and all available buckets with water.  To drink?  No.  Because if the water is shut off, you can still use a the toilets if you have water to fill up the tank.  Ty gathered candles.  Tom checked the fuse box and helped with the water.  Then there was Kate, our artiste in residence.  She was scurrying about.  Was she checking on the computers?  Was she looking for flashlights?  No. She was digging around for a bottle of ink to go with her quill pen, and collecting fancy hats.  Then she sat in the dining room, and began to write: "Dear Cousin Birdwhistle, I write to you by candlelight to tell you of our latest hardships." As we passed by, she gave each of us a olde fashioned hat to wear.  Giggles abounded.  

We decided that if it became necessary, we'd braid together Kate's T-shirts for fuel.  She has the most.  "Sorry Pa", Ty said, "I guess we won't be getting those oranges for Christmas after all."  Tra-la-la, such hi-jinks.

Blog Robin Kathy storm 2010  Saturday morning was gorgeous - blue skies, a break in the snow.  The entire neighborhood was out, digging, shoveling, and trying to move branches.  We also tried to get through to the power company, which had so many outage reports that their voicemail was full.  Ty and I actually used a hatchet to cut up a tree limb that was blocking the driveway.  (Hint: I recommend sharpening hatchets before you begin. Funny how there is a big difference in efficiency.) It was all very Laura Ingalls Wilder. Except for the safety glasses.  Those I borrowed from Ty's airsoft gear.

Blog snow W Hutch
 Saturday night, we walked back to Legume for dinner - our neighborhood's business district had power, but many places were closed because of all the snow.  While we were waiting for them to open, we went across the street for coffee and hot chocolate.  Next door, some guy came out of a bar and said: "Shit.  It snowed." Ty and I looked at each other.  "We love this town."  

By Tuesday, we were the only ones on the street without full power.  We had partial power, which thankfully kept the gas furnace running (it has an electric fan - don't ask).  No phones.  No Internet. No TV.  No video games.  We read books, used the gas stove top to cook, and napped.  I took up residence on the living room couch.  I had some kind of cave-woman thing going on about protecting the house.  I was up off and on all night, patrolling.  Felt like I was in The Unit or something.  There was so much white snow that the reflection from the street lights provided enough light through the windows to see inside at night. I spent a lot of time just watching the snow fall.  It was peaceful, but kind of isolating - we rely so much on electronics to stay connected with other people.  I was musing that perhaps this was the way a uni-bomber type got started - isolation.  (Not to worry, the guy was already busy filming a commercial for Nationwide to air incessantly during the Olympics.)

On Wednesday, the furnace stopped running.  I watched the thermostat go to 60.  Fine with me.  The kids were already in layers and boots.  Thursday, we sent them to a friends' house.  By Thursday night, the house was at 51 degrees, which doesn't seem that cold, but turns out, really is.  I was wearing polar fleece - inside. Hell, I don't normally wear that stuff outside.  

We were running our office via my iPhone. Don't let anyone ever tell you that Verizon is better than AT&T. We were many days without Verizon, but not one minute without AT&T Wireless.  I'd been talking to people at our power company every day, for updates.  I'll spare you the details, but I was polite.  Until Friday morning, when I opened the front door to check for mail and saw a door tag from the power company saying they had "Been here, no one home.  We will check back in two weeks."

Oh, No they didn't.  "No one home?!"  I'd barely left the couch waiting for these ratfinks, let alone the house. HEYELL NO! I snapped. The operator listened for about five seconds and said: "Let me get you a supervisor." Good call.  The supervisor got on the phone and asked me some details.  Then he asked if he could put me on hold.  "Sure," I said through gritted teeth, but if you cut me off here, or leave me on hold for more than two minutes, I am going to call my friends at the local TV stations and see who gets here first."  I may have used some colorful adjectives.

Blog power lines snow  About a minute and a half later, he came back and said: "Stay on the phone with me while we figure this out." "Good idea" I replied, "because someone is going to need CPR any way."  I went out to the front porch at his direction. Thirty seconds later, two trucks came down our street. "There they are," I advised the supervisor. I may have used other nouns.  "Stay on this phone until they come to your door" supervisor said. "They can see you and they can tell you're not happy."

"You don't really need to be a shrink - or even know sign language - to figure that one out." I answered. "Should I put down the gun now?"  Ha ha ha.  We all had a good laugh.  The gun was, in fact, inside the door and out of view.  

"Sorry for the confusion, ma'am. We're here and we're going to replace all your lines, just in case."  This from huge guy #1 from the power company truck. I smiled: "You do that, and I'll submit your name for canonization." Ha ha ha.  "Seriously", I said.  "I have beer."  The supervisor, still on the phone said "Uh, ma'am, we prefer they not have beer on the job."  "No shit, that's why I'm waiting until they are done."  Duh.

It took several more days for everything to return to normal.  Whatever that is.  So here are my tips for surviving a winter storm:

1.  Water is key.  Fill up everything that will hold it and put full buckets in the bathrooms, just in case.  I can deal without power.  Or heat.  Or hot food.  But if I have to go outside to go to the bathroom, put your affairs in order.  It's Armageddon.

2.  Buy candles when they go on sale.  Side note: everyone who was supposed to get a nice holiday candle next December - not so much.

3. Stock up on food you can eat without an oven or microwave.  Cheese.  Cereal.  Bread.  Cured meats. Chex mix.  Chocolate.  You know - the basic food groups.

4. If you have a waterbed, remember that it's heated via electricity.  Once the power goes out, you only have a couple of days before sleeping in it will lower your core body temperature.  Yeah, I left out that part of the story.  Took me three days to stop the shakes.

5. Wearing socks and hats - inside - really does help one stay warm.

6. Most important resource in any situation - a family with a quick wit.

Your turn - what tips do you have for riding out a storm?

Blog snow blue sky
P.S. Except for the ones with people, Kate took the photos. 

February 22, 2010

Swap Meet

Swap Meet

by Harley

Last fall, my three kids switched from private school to public school, and they’ve made the transition with flying colors.

I, however, have two problems.

The first is academic. My 4th grader takes tests constantly. Each week she brings home another dozen test scores and my reaction is, “wow, this does not look fun.”

Not only do I suspect mandatory testing sucks the joy out of learning, I’m having issues with the tests themselves. Never mind that I already need a science tutor (who here understands batteries, magnets and electrical currents?)-- I should at least be able to ace a 4th grade English test, right?

Wrong. Take a look at this question.

“Walk” and “Run” are:

A. homonyms



Obviously, walk and run aren’t homonyms, which are words sounding alike but spelled differently. Are they opposites? Not to someone in a wheelchair. That leaves synonyms. Granted, these aren’t great synonyms, but you could say, “Irving, I gotta run to the store – need beer?” or “Irving, I’m taking a walk to the store. Can I pick you up some chewing tobacco?” and be in the same ballpark.

BZZZT. Incorrect. In the state of California, “walk” and “run” are antonyms. Opposites.

With private school, you can call the headmaster and say, “The opposite of ‘walk’ is not ‘run,’ it’s ‘take the elevator,’ or maybe ‘sit down with a bowl of Haagen-Dasz to watch Law & Order reruns’” and he will listen courteously, even as he rolls his eyes and thinks “wacko mom.” But whom do I call to complain about sloppy state-issued synonyms? Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Okay, moving on. Problem #2 is culinary. There are no K-5 cafeterias, so hot lunch is cooked at an undisclosed location and sent by truck to district elementary schools, where it goes from edible to, in technical terms, “gross,” “yuck” or “if I eat that, Mommy, I will throw up.”

So I pack lunches. But I do not like packing lunches. Writing novels is easy. Lunch is hard.

Excellence in Packed Lunch requires 2-3 different breads, fresh cold cuts, snacks not made entirely of high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated whatevers, in colorful plastic reusable bags that must be cleaned daily. Evidence of failure to meet standards of excellence returns home each afternoon, in the form of half-eaten pears, sandwiches, and celery sticks, along with oral critiques (“it had a brown spot” or “the bread was squishy” or “You gave me that same stuff last week”).

So while my offspring would rather eat Elmer’s Glue than my lunches, I’m haunted by visions of starving children in China, and the ghosts of slaughtered cold-cuts. (Peanut butter & jelly are out, because school’s a nut-free zone, due to kids with seriously scary life-threatening allergies.)

So I propose a swap meet.

You deliver to my house at 7:15 each morning three vitamin-rich, appetizing lunches in environmentally sound containers that will fit into backpacks already overstuffed with books.

In return I will (choose one):

A. Clean your kitchen, bathroom, or car

B. Do your laundry

C. Make the beds

But why stop there? You do my grocery shopping, answer my e-mails, maintain Facebook, Twitter, etc., and I will go to the gym for you, walk your dog, get a root canal, and stand in line at the post office. DownloadedFile  You take my car in for service, I’ll get your bunny’s toenails clipped. You organize my tax stuff, I’ll paint your bedroom (includes faux finishes). You handle all future divorce proceedings, I’ll throw you some gorgeous weddings.

I’ll do your Pap smears and mammograms if you’ll have your teeth cleaned for me.

I’ll suffer through your winters if you’ll lose my ten pounds.

Who’s with me? What d’ya got?


February 21, 2010

In which Guest Bloggers, by Chance, Choose a Theme

HANK: Its just as much as surprise to me as it is coincidence to you. When I invited Kate Carlisle to come visit yesterday and Robin today, I was only wanting you to meet these two wonderful women. But somehow, they're thinking on a similar wavelength. Because Kate is Kate and Robin is Robin (part of their individual charm) the "theme" is portrayed in a different way.


Yesterday, if you remember, Kate's post was titled: It's all about the drinking. Today, Robin Burcell presents:


Robin Burcell .2008.small photo  THE CASE OF THE ALCOHOLIC LONER SLEUTH



Would somebody please tell me why an alcoholic and troubled loner sleuth is considered more interesting and relevant than an ordinary, likeable person trying to see that justice is done?”

Rhys Bowen asked this relevant question on her recent post at the Sisters in Crime blog.


At the time, I was going to post a pithy one-liner response, such as: because that loner has far more obstacles to overcome to even walk out his front door (like sobering up, so he doesn’t trip down the steps and break his friggin’ neck).  But besides the fact that my pithy one-liner fell a bit flat, I couldn’t shake this question.  Is the alcoholic loner sleuth more interesting and relevant?  Or are we reading too much into this mystery/thriller trope in hopes of explaining why thriller authors seem to be paid more, or why some of our favorite authors don’t make certain award shortlists?


My firm belief has always been that a good book is a good book is a good book, and that if an author pens a great novel, readers will find it, read it, and pass the word.


Books are subjective.  Reader’s tastes are subjective.  So what the hell is this about the alcoholic, troubled loner sleuth? 

Here’s my hypothesis. Say you have two characters.  On one side of the street, in a pert yellow house with Little yellow house a picket fence, you have Mrs. Applebaum, a sweet, white-haired woman who likes to garden, cook, and gossip about the rising crime rate, especially to her niece, who is engaged to the local beat cop.  On the other side of the street in a gray house with peeling paint, the dilapidation having set in ever since his wife left him ten years ago (just before she was murdered), you have Sam Devlin, cop-turned-PI, who hates life, loves alcohol, and blames himself for his ex-wife’s murder that he hasn’t yet solved.


We already like Mrs. Applebaum. Sam Devlin’s a different story altogether. It’s going to take a lot more for us to even want to get to know him, much less get close enough to smell the alcohol on his breath.  Sure, we know he has a haunted past, that he’d like nothing more than to solve his wife’s murder, and that more than likely, somewhere along the way, he is going to run into a case that links her murder to something he is working on.  But there is a certain amount of intrigue in this flawed character, perhaps because he guards his past, and now his present, so closely.  Our curiosity gets the better of us, and, like the temptation borne from thinking about what could possibly be contained in Pandora’s box, we want to take a peek, certain we can slam it closed in time.


Or is it more than simple curiosity? 


Perhaps it is a way to safely explore the dark underbelly of a world in which we live, coupled with the feeling of elation that we narrowly escaped death after taking that glimpse.  When Mrs. Applebaum digs up a dead body from her garden, it will have been neat and tidy and there will be no mention of the maggots partaking of fleshly parts, and she will solve the case with a nifty confession from the suspect moments before her niece’s fiancé arrives on scene to take the suspect into custody. 


 Sam Devlin, however, is bound to have a few car chases that lead to bullets flying and gory body parts being strewn about the story with abandon, all while he is beat to a pulp, barely escapes, only to be caught in the end, just before the bad guy tells Devlin how he tortured his wife when he killed her, and how he plans on torturing Devlin just before he kills him—only to have Devlin turn the tables at the last second, Burcell 2 killing the bad guy in a bloody battle and then walking off into the dark night, still a tortured soul.  Both novels talk of murder, but when we finish the latter story, we are very grateful that it is just that. A story.


It’s the difference between the PG Snow White ride and the PG 13 Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. We know and love both rides, but the lines are much longer at Indiana Jones.  The more tame ride, you can take young children to, because other than that brief glimpse when the wicked witch holds out the poisoned apple, the malevolent Burcell 3 nature is well hidden.  But with the other ride, the evil is there at every turn.  It is not hidden. It’s designed to scare you. On purpose.  It has bumps and wild turns, and snakes and the fear of possible death. And more importantly, the kids have to be so tall before they can even step onto that ride. 


There’s something to be said for putting an age (or height) limit on an attraction. All audiences can ride the former, not all can ride the latter. Both rides are fun, but it’s a perceived difference. It must be better, because you have to be more grown-up to ride it.


And maybe that’s what it is about those loner PIs and operatives in the bigger, darker books.  The perception is that you gotta be more grown up to read a thriller, but you can let your kids read a mystery.

Or not.  But that’s just my opinion.  What is yours?


Robin Burcell, an FBI-trained forensic artist, has worked as a police officer, detective and hostage negotiator. Burcell cover The Bone Chamber is her latest international thriller about an FBI forensic artist.  The book video trailer for The Bone Chamber can be seen here: www.robinburcell.com/


(Hi from Hank: Yes, I know this cover is big. I fought Mr. Typepad,  and Mr. Typepad won. I'm in New York today, and hope you're having a wonderful weekend!)

February 20, 2010

It's all about the..what?

Kate Carlisle-Jean Shirt (Opt 60, 72 dpi)

Happy Saturday! And to brighten up our weekend, we have a visitor. And like all good visitors, she just wants to have fun. Kate Carlisle, who hit the NYT charts with her first novel Homicide in Hardcover (hurray!) is now tearing up the place with her new book,  If Books Could Kill.  And because why not make a vacation out of it, much of IBCK takes place in Scotland. And it is about the history? The scenery? The accent? Nope. Kate says:


It’s All About the Drinking

If you’ve ever watched real estate shows on BBC, you know how important the pub is to people in the UK. Every homebuyer, it seems, wants a place that’s near the pub. It’s really not about the drinking. The pub is a gathering place, the center of the social life in every neighborhood, and pub games are a great source of entertainment.If-Books-Could-Kill-Blog[1]

  My latest book, If Books Could Kill, is set in Scotland, mainly because Edinburgh is my favorite city in the world. I have very fond, though somewhat vague memories of a hilarious pub crawl/scavenger hunt with about 20 Scots. I don’t remember what we were looking for. I just remember stopping in at a pub and ordering a drink. Repeat that about 10 or 15 times and you’ve got the game down. If you think the Scottish accent is hard to understand, just wait until it’s slurred. Och.

Okay, maybe it’s a little about the drinking.



In anticipation of the first time I went to Edinburgh with my husband, we found a website that rated all the Edinburgh pubs. The lads who wrote the website called themselves The Welcome Brothers. They were two rugby players who liked to drink at the Ensign Ewart, the pub I used in If Books Could Kill.Carlisle This pub is interesting. It’s very close to the Castle, but they frown on tourists. Really. Unless you’re serious about drinking and Scottish music. They’ll kick you out if you don’t pay proper respect to the musicians. And don’t even think about popping in to use the bathroom! 



We met The Welcome Brothers, offered to buy them a drink, and then spent the entire evening with them, drinking and telling horrible jokes. At the end of the evening, the owner pulled up a trap door in the floor and led us downstairs to the original bar from the 1600’s, part of the old city. Amazing. As we stood there, my imagination raced with all the images of drunken Scotsman sprawled across those ancient stone floors.

Because really, if we’re being honest, it’s always been about the drinking.


Carlisle 2Pub games primarily serve to get people drinking or, in a creative variation, to decide who’s going to buy the next round. Some games, such as trivia challenges, require a lot of planning and are taken quite seriously by the contestants. Others, you can just see how they came about. A weeknight crowd at the pub, nothing on the telly, looking for something to do. Some joker spots the toothpicks and says, “I have an idea!” (But he says it in Gaelic, of course.)

Carlisle 3



Here are a couple to get the party started:


Pick-Up Sticks

Fill a glass with toothpicks, press your hand down on it, and count the number of toothpicks that stick when you lift your hand. The person with the most toothpicks wins. Everyone drinks.


Pencil Soccer

Place a pencil on a table. Form two teams, one on either side of the pencil, and try to blow the pencil off the opposing team’s table edge. Everyone drinks. (The real losers in this game are the people facing the person who snacked on garlic-stuffed olives.)



The other great thing about pubs is the conversation. So what do you say? Have you ever had a great time at a pub or bar in a strange city? Tell me about it. What’s the strangest pub game you’ve ever played? What about toasts? Do you know a funny or clever toast – uh, one you can share with the group!

February 19, 2010

AZ to BS: How Publishers Can Screw Up a Great Book

AZ to BS: How Publishers Can Screw Up A Great Book

By Kathy Sweeney, who can blog about this because she doesn't have a publisher, thank God

Are you one of those people who hears: "You should write a book!"  Or are you an aspiring author? Published author?  Well, this one's for you.  As someone with the perspective of a reader, writer, bookseller and reviewer, I'm giving you some real inside scoop here, kids.

I accidentally got into a bit of a tussle this week on Amazon.  And before we go any further, let me remind all of you that there is no need to shop for books at Amazon when we have our own  Mystery Lovers Bookshop, which not only ships for free, but is run by real humans you can talk to.  Real humans who actually read and care about books - can you imagine?!

Left to my own devices, I'd just pretend Amazon does not exist.  However, as I recently learned, real authors do not have that luxury.  You must be asking yourself: "How Can this Be True?"  which is what I asked myself, except with lots more adjectives.  I am going to tell you how:  for reasons beyond my comprehension, Publishers believe that AZ pre-orders are the marketing equivalent of a true psychic.  In other words, if your book doesn't have big AZ pre-order numbers, your book doesn't get as big a print run - or initial order.  This is an important number because it signals to others which books the publisher is going to promote and market.

Oops - I may have missed a step.  Silly me, and maybe you, I thought the way one made the best-sellers list was to write a great book and have lots of people buy it.  How quaint.  In fact, it has more to do with which books the Publisher decides to promote by placing big print run orders, giving tons of books away, and selling a bunch more to Sam's Club/Walmart at a huge discount.  Oh - and while we're on the subject - you know how some books are 'featured selections' or 'top reads' at big box book stores?  Those decisions are not made based on the book, its cover, its content, or the size of its font.  It is based on the size of the check the publisher is willing to pay for product placement, including those nice stand-alone displays, which are called dumps.  No offense to people who work there - and we have several beloved members of our TLC Community in that category, but there is little any individual or store can do once the purchasing decision has been made by the big box corporation.  Then of course, we have the Palin effect, where you find out she spent over $60,000 to pre-order copies of her own book (at a discount, no doubt) thus jacking up both her pre-order and her sales numbers. Have I mentioned Mystery Lovers Bookshop?

All of this seemed pretty screwy to me - I mean, how can Amazon - which is an impersonal computerized system, be so influential?  Who made that call?  Oh, yeah - the same people who thought ignoring electronic publishing was going to make it go away.  

There's more - AZ now has something called The Vine Program.  The Vine Program provides free books to a select group of "reviewers" who are then the only ones permitted to review/rank/recommend a book in that oh-so-critical pre-publication period, thus making a huge difference in the number of pre-orders. Following me? So even people like me, who happen to get ARCs and actually READ them, can't post a review because we are not of the Vines.  

The concept alone made me crazy.  And then things got really interesting.  A friend pointed out that a book, soon to be published, was getting some hostile reviews from Vine Reviewers - in fact, despite the great reviews from PW and other places, the top reviews from Amazon Vine were pretty crappy.  I don't mean well-reasoned critiques; I mean elementary school name calling shit.  Naturally, I jumped right in.  I felt qualified to do so for several reasons: (a) I had actually READ the ARC; (b) I write book reviews - in fact, I write many words in what I believe to be plain English for a living, so I know what one should look like; and (c) there is nothing I hate more than a stupid person who bullies a friend.

I am not naming such friend or such book, but one does not need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure it out. Just saying.

I started reading these "reviews" and I was stunned - clearly at least several of them had not read the book. Here is one example of the comment exchange.  I responded to a Vine reviewer who trashed the book (in part because of the Evanovich factor, which is a whole 'nother blog) as follows:

I don't know what book you people read, but I'm from Pittsburgh and I love this book. I was lucky enough to get an ARC and NO it is NOT an Evanovich book - let's face it, even Evanovich's books aren't what they used to be. This is a unique character and I for one, am looking forward to the rest of the series!

Here is the special AZ Vine Reviewer's response to me:

I'm sorry...I didn't know that only Pittsburg readers were the only ones allowed to express their opinions. Do you speak for all of Pittsburg, or are they allowed to express their own opinion? I am from Kentucky but even us hillbillies can read. I'm not sure what location has to do with liking the book, but you brought that up like it meant something.

Was I going to ignore a such a plea for further colloquy?  Hell no.  So I commented back:

I have no doubt you can read, but I now have serious doubts as to whether you actually read this book. The setting, a material component of any story, is Pittsburgh.

Now, that's just one person, but clearly, not someone you'd want influencing the orders for your book, if for no other reason than said person did not read said book.  And it gets better. Where do the AZ Vines get their books?  From the publishers - for FREE.  WTF?  Am I the only one who feels like I am taking crazy pills? 

Then I discovered, just from poking around for about ten minutes, that you can manipulate the way the reviews are published by responding to the question: Was this review helpful?  If you hit YES, the review moves up in the queue.  The AZ Vines go in and hit YES for each other's reviews.  Nice.  What a fabulously objective system.  

All this would be amusing if not for the fact that people - including our friends here on the blog, make a living writing good books and then selling them.  This isn't a joke.  As I pointed out to another Vine reviewer, as part of select group with the ability to discuss this book on a website that sells books, she had an obligation (in my business we call it a fiduciary duty) to be objective.  It's not like she's posting on her myspace page or whatever.  The response was basically:  I don't get paid, I can do what I want. 

Great way to sell books, publishers.  Next time, just shoot yourself in the foot at the first marketing meeting and get it over with.  As my brother would say: "Who is running that show?"

Or is it just me?