7 posts categorized "margaret maron"

August 24, 2011


Margaret Maron

Images-2 Although my mother always swore that I was completely potty-trained well before my second birthday, some people declare that I’m an anal-retentive when it comes to my file cabinets.

Before I became a fulltime writer, my favorite jobs were secretarial. I didn’t know shorthand, but I was a fast and accurate typist; and my bosses soon learned that instead of dictating very...verrrrry.... slowwwwwly....., it was more efficient to tell me what they wanted to say, let me compose the letter, then make their minor corrections and have me retype it.  I loved opening and sorting mail (authorized snooping!) and I adored filing. Bringing order to chaos.   
No wonder the mystery form so appealed to me when I did begin writing. In fact, my first novel, One Coffee With (now an eBook!), was loosely based on my experience as the secretary to the chair of the art department at a NYC college.

COVER01Coffee_FinalI ordered my very first file cabinet from a Sears, Roebuck catalog soon after we moved back to the States.  Four drawers, steel construction, $39 plus tax.  I emptied out all the cardboard boxes 320988-M labeled “Bank Records,” “Taxes,” and “Guarantees and Instructions” and spent a happy week sorting them into manila folders.  One drawer was devoted to letters from friends.  And because I had friends and relatives strewn up and down the East Coast, I began saving carbons of my letters to them so I could keep it straight as to whom I’d written about what and not repeat myself.  As long as I was typing anyhow, a carbon copy was no extra trouble.  (Some of you may never have seen carbon paper nor used a manual typewriter.  Get your grandmother to describe them to you.)  My letters became my journals. Images-3

Three years later, I had begun to write and sell short stories.  Because I kept all my submissions and rejections, I had to buy a second file cabinet.

A few years after that, I needed a third. I had become vice-president and then president Sin of Sisters in Crime during its formative, contentious period. I believed in openness and paper trails and I kept copies of everything.  Same when I joined the MWA national board in another contentious period.  My personal detailed records helped clean up a rather messy situation that would have dragged out longer without them. 

After 28 novels and 5 or 6 dozen short stories, my current office has 31 file drawers.  I’m hoping they will see me out.  All the SinC files have gone to the SinC archives at Douglass College in New Jersey and several feet of files—rough drafts, speeches, and business correspondence—have gone to UNC-Greensboro.  Lots of empty drawer space, right?

VdOtiZ Not really.  Our son is a father himself now, yet I still have the instructions for putting the training wheels on his first bike. I keep telling myself I need to start culling, but he was so cute on that little bike and my mechanically-challenged husband was pretty cute, too, when he turned the air blue trying to fix a broken chain. When our first video camera malfunctioned two weeks before the warranty expired,  I produced the warranty and saved us the cost of a new one.

I now have nine drawers of letters: four for mystery writers, two for NC writers, three for friends and family who don’t fall into the first two categories.  I have witty, funny friends and some of the friendships go back to childhood. It’s impossible to keep all their eMails but if an interesting or amusing thread pops up, I admit that I’ll print it out and pop it into the appropriate folder.

 When friends were celebrating their 25th anniversary several years ago, I dug out the letter the wife had sent me around the time of their fifth anniversary.  She was so much in love and so sure that the marriage was going to last forever.  I sent the original to their children who were putting together an album for them. Another twenty-five years later, she still gets tears in her eyes when she tells people about seeing that letter again for the first time.

Next to a good mystery novel, my favorite books are letters, but I have to wonder if we’re nearing the end of that literary form.  Back in the age of pen and ink, so many wonderful letters were tossed into the nearest wastebasket or used to Images-5
start a fire or thrown out in ignorance by the heirs.  In our electronic age, what will survive to take their place?  Will a biographer offer a telephone bill with a date circled to indicate that this was a conversation between two important world leaders?  Will 140-letter tweets replace the long letters Flannery O’Connor or Edna Millay or Raymond Chandler wrote?

Will we care?

If you could retrieve one single letter from the past, yours or some historical figure’s, which would it be?

August 10, 2011

Taste Buds in Your Eyes?

Margaret Maron

Many years ago, I blacked out for no apparent reason and fell flat on my face.  I broke a tooth and needed 13 stitches in my lower lip, which left me with a couple of tiny numb spots.  Most times it’s not a problem, but every once in a while, when I drink from a straight-lipped mug, I might dribble a few drops—usually when I’m wearing a light-colored top, of course. As a result, I always go for a flared-rim mug if one’s available.

101_0210 I have written elsewhere about the ceramic Scottish mug I’ve used for the last 30 years, but it’s not just the flared rim that makes me reach for this particular mug every morning because I have other backups in the cupboard.  I don’t know if it's a combination of memories, the comfortable handle or what, but coffee just tastes better in this mug than in the others. 

On the other hand, if I’m having hot tea, I want it in our thinnest porcelain tea cup, not a ceramic mug. 

Stainless steel spoons are just fine for morning cereal or noonday soup, but for stirring sugar into my tea cup, it must be the hundred-year-old sterling silver spoon that I keep for this purpose alone.  That spoon occasionally goes walkabout and if I can’t find it, then I’d just as soon forget about the tea altogether, thank you very much.

We own two sets of cereal bowls.  One is part of our everyday china, the other is Corelle. Both are plain unadorned white, yet if all the Corelle bowls are dirty when I’m ready for cereal, I will dig one out of the dishwasher and wash it by hand rather than use one of the other bowls.  For tomato soup though, I always prefer one of the others.

Ice cream tastes better to me when served in a martini glass and eaten with a long-handled gold colored teaspoon.  You can pour my bourbon and most wines into whatever's handy—anything from Baccarat crystal to a foam cup, but my favorite Riesling needs to go into an etched crystal wineglass that cost $2 at a flea market.

100_1843 I have bought my husband many different egg cups over the years.  He keeps going back to the same old blue-and-white pottery one that’s badly chipped.

When I was researching Uncommon Clay, I bought several sandwich plates from different potteries.  He will always reach for the sandwich plate with a crow on it. I want the one with the abstract design.  100_1839

I guess this just goes to prove that gustatory enjoyment depends on more than the taste buds alone. I’m sure I couldn’t tell one bowl from another in a blind taste test, but with my eyes open?  Oh, yes.

What about you? Are certain spoons or dishes  "must haves" for certain foods? 

July 27, 2011

Kitchen Gadgets

Margaret Maron

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about world-changing gadgets and how I disagreed with the list that the History Channel thought were most important. (Lots of you did, too.)  That set me thinking about how we might rank the gadgets in our own kitchens, excluding the refrigerator, the range, and the dishwasher.

100_1829I have two drawers devoted to the usual assortment of gizmos: potato peeler, lemon zester, butter curler, garlic press, can opener, tongs, scissors, baster, etc. and I use them all fairly frequently . . . well, no, maybe not the butter curler.

I give cupboard space to a waffle iron, toaster, espresso machine, and deep fryer, but these seldom come out of the cupboard more than once or twice a year and that’s usually when we have houseguests (with butter curls for their waffles!) Images-3


A blender and a crock pot live in that same cupboard, but the blender’s a summer gadget—frozen margaritas and canning tomatoes—and the crock pot makes hearty stews in the winter so both get a lot of use in their seasons.

The toaster oven and microwave sit side-by-side on their own open shelf above a counter and each gets used two or three times a day.  As does the coffee maker that is important enough to merit space on the countertop itself.

All these gadgets are useful and make my life easier, but if I were told I could only have three gadgets and the rest would have to go, which three would I save, which would I sacrifice?

This is not Sophie’s choice.  We’re not talking children, one’s own flesh and blood, nor even an unblemished lamb, but it did make me think a bit.

Okay, I could give up the crockpot, toaster oven and microwave.  They are efficient, work well and quickly, but my gas range could handle their functions and surely I’d eventually start remembering to take things out of the freezer two hours earlier?

The coffeemaker?  Again, I know how to make stovetop coffee in a saucepan.

Spoons and knives could do the work of most of the gadget drawer's contents.

So which three would I most hate to do without?


#3 – our electric coffee grinder. (Are you listening, Twist?) Beans freshly ground to the desired fineness is a true luxury that has become a necessity in this house ever since a friend sent us this Cadillac of grinders.

#2 – a hand mixer.  As someone who grew up without an electric mixer, I can’t tell you how weary you can get trying to whip egg whites into stiff peaks or make smooth mashed potatoes or even mix up pancake batter with only a wire whisk.

#1 – our 13-year-old food processor.  It can, if absolutely necessary, do most of what a blender can (very, very small margaritas though) and I bless it every time I need to slice carrots, dice onions, chop nuts, or make cole slaw, an integral part of Southern cuisine.

If you had to strip down your kitchen, which gadgets would they have to pry out of your protesting hands?


July 13, 2011

World-changing Gadgets

Margaret Maron

History-channel-logoFlipping channels the other night, I landed on the History Channel when they were airing “101 Gadgets That Changed the World.”  I came in on #12 (the typewriter) and #11 (transistor radio), so I have no idea what the first 90 were, but I was muttering, “No, no, no!” to most of the last 10.  Here they are:

#10 – the light bulb Images

 #9 – alarm clock

 #8 – phonograph

 #7 – rotary telephones

 #6 – unit air conditioners

 #5 – personal computers & the Internet

 #4 – hypodermic syringe

 #3 - television

 #2 – radio   

#1 – Smart phone

Are they serious?

The light bulb definitely deserves a place in the top ten, but the others?

Okay, air conditioning units may have made the South more livable, but “changed the whole world”?  Get real.  And yes, rotary telephones put a lot of operators out of business, and the alarm clock helped get people out of bed in the morning, but world-changing?  I don’t think so.  Surely the telegraph changed more than the telephone ever did.

The Gutenberg press still deserves a place in the top ten.  It really did change the whole world, not just our little part of it.  Ditto the personal automobile, which killed the trains, allowed people to live miles from their work, and is responsible for so much of the earth’s surface being paved over. It also changed the balance of power for the Middle East by its dependence on oil.


Why isn’t the airplane in the top ten? Didn’t it shrink the world and make it possible to bomb your enemies back to the stone age without ever seeing their faces?  And what about the microchip?  If you listed it in the top ten, you could mark off computers and the Smart phone.

Images_2  Yes, the latter  affects the way we communicate, but it wasn't that huge a change from regular phones. Merely faster. And without the microchip it would be the size of a refrigerator. (And where is the refrigerator, by the way?)

The hypodermic could actually change the world by eradicating so many DownloadedFile diseases that stem from poverty and ignorance, but only if rich nations help bring the needles and the chemistry to the poorer ones.  So far, it doesn’t seem that much of a world-changer to me.

Where’s the photovoltaic cell?  Doesn’t it have potential to change the world by lessening the importance of fossil fuels?  You can bet that a bunch of high-living, dictatorial emirs would consider it world-changing if we ever get serious about developing it on a large scale.


What else should go in the top ten?  Handguns? Tractors? Squirrel-proof bird feeders?

Images_6            Images_5

Or hasn’t your world-changing gadget been invented yet?


July 02, 2011

Goofin' Off

 Margaret Maron



Images Summertime and so hard to answer that alarm clock and do the mature responsible thing.  

Do you ever just roll over in bed and say "To heck with it!  Today is a  ME day!"

Of course, if there are kids to be fed, dogs to be walked, tomatoes to DownloadedFile be canned, or unexpected house guests, then of course we'll sigh and get on with it.

But imagine you had twenty-four hours at your disposal. I'm not talking getting on a plane and flying somewhere, but the simple pleasures to be found within your own home or within a 15-minute drive.

Would you jump out of bed and head for the lake?

Would you take your coffee out to your patio or garden and just enjoy the beauty of what you've created?

Would you find a cool quiet spot with the most appealing book in your TBR stack?

Would you finally make one of those yummy-sounding recipes you've clipped out of the magazine?

Pedicure?  Sort pictures?  Long soak in the tub?  What's your vision of goofing off?

From Nancy Martin:

So.........it's the long holiday weekend!  And most of us will attend picnics, right? Watch some fireworks, too? Catch a few sets of Wimbledon, maybe?

No, we're willing to bet that most of us are going to spend at least one hour of the long, relaxing weekend reading a book!

What are you reading? Anything good? 

  I am reading CLEOPATRA for my book club.  We're planning a toga party (!!) for our meeting, so it should be a hoot. Depending on what I eat at our various picnics, I may have to break out the queen-sized sheets.)  For my plane trip this week, I read the new Evanovich--SMOKIN SEVENTEEN, which is just as fast, but a lot steamier than usual.  Big fun.

And if you haven't found a book to read this weekend?  Check out Sarah's new release, KINDRED SPIRITS!  Here's a video Sarah made with her best friend Lisa.  Aren't they cute??


From Nancy Pickard: I just started reading Sarah's new book, KINDRED SPIRITS, and I'm in awe of how she started it. (Don't worry, there are no spoilers ahead.) For a variety of reasons, the way it starts takes writer-guts, in my opinion, and she has done it so well.  I want time today to keep reading!

I recently read two Harlan Cobens in a row, and enjoyed both of them a lot, but man, they brought home to me that cozy mysteries and romances get such an unfair rap for being "unrealistic"!  I have to laugh. As if the tough guy novels aren't "unrealistic"! 

My friend Randy Russell has his first YA book out, and I think it's fabulous.  It's called DEAD RULES, and it's kind of shocking and "out there"--about a girl who dies and misses her boyfriend so much in the afterlife that she's determined to kill him so he will join her.  It's funny, sensitive, very bold-- just like a lot of wonderful teenagers are.

I've also started a handful of books that I haven't finished yet--probably not a good sign.


From Joshilyn:  Joshilyn is heading for the Beach! On the long drive, she’ll be listening to the second half the AWESOME audio of THE SCENT OF RAIN AND LIGHTENING, and once there, she plans to flop in the sun and drink frosty concoctions full of nutritious fruit (and possibly some liquor...) while reading a ton of ARCS for blurbs and, of course, KINDRED SPIRITS.


From Holly: I happen to be reading BOTH Kindred Spirits and Sticky Fingers this weekend AND I get to meet our own Kerry in the flesh as she is visiting from all the way across the country. I'm so excited. I might get to see some of her ink.


From Sarah: Nothing like post-deadline reading. Finished THE PARIS WIFE, which I thoroughly enjoyed especially now that I know Midnight in Paris is a great movie about the same time period. Even though you knew where Hemingway's first marriage was headed (to the rocks and ON the rocks), it was fascinating to witness all these Midwesterners (so MANY Midwesterners) flock to Paris and try to recreate themselves as sophisticates. And, of course, there's Scott + Zelda. Your liver will hurt by the end, tho.

Also, STATE OF WONDER by Ann Patchett. You know, I never did care for HEART OF DARKNESS. Too male. Too boring. But STATE OF WONDER has taken this theme and infused it with women, a questionable drug manufacturer, greed, insanity, snakes, rare tropical diseases and quite possibly murder. Or not. And the writing could not be better.

In addition, I've been socking away a bunch of YA literature. BUMPED by Megan McCafferty takes the HANDMAID'S TALE (a favorite!) and sets it in NJ in the not-too-distant future when fertility becomes so rare that the rich are willing to pay teenagers to "bump." A really worthwhile read.

There's so much more I want to read.....cannot wait!


From Harley: I'm reading Ken Wilber's A BRIEF HISTORY OF EVERYTHING, which I love so much, starting with the cover, which is just a photo of Ken Wilber, bald-headed, with big glasses. Okay, I have not actually begun the book, but I've read all the flap copy, the Foreword, the Preface to the Second Edition, A Note to the Reader, Introduction, and a couple of scary-looking charts. When I actually get to the book itself, I'm hoping to understand . . . well, everything. I'll report back.


From Diane: I'm reading THE PEACH KEEPER by Sarah Addison Allen. It reminds me of the sort of story I would write, so of course I'm loving it! But what really gets me is the cover and the title. This cover mesmerized me the first time I laid eyes on it. Great covers sell books!




April 10, 2011

Where in the World are the Tarts?

Brunonia Barry Barry_mapoftrueplaces
I've been on the paperback book tour for The Map of True Places. Or rather, I should call it the culinary tour of Connecticut and Vermont. Great stores, great people, and great food and wine at about nine PM every night. I tried, Weight Watchers, I really tried! But it's just not hospitable to refuse these local favorites. Local Vermont Cheeses and maple cured sausages? Okay, so maybe that was breakfast, but you get the idea. I'm back home for a few days, hitting the treadmill and the bike and eating my five point Think Thin bars. More tour to come, but I'm determined. Thank God I'm not going south this time. On my last tour, I went to Charleston and New Orleans. Weight Watchers didn't stand a chance.


Viets_Uplift Elaine Viets    
I'm spending this weekend in my hometown, St. Louis, at the Missouri Writers' Guild Conference, where I'll get to see Nancy Pickard, another featured speaker. I hope I didn't disgrace myself giving the keynote speech at the banquet last night. I promised the conference organizers my talk would be mercifully short. Sunday morning, I teach a three-hour master's class on creating characters. Then I fly home to Fort Lauderdale on Southwest Airlines. That's the airline that had a plane with a huge hole in the fuselage. Don assures me the flight will be perfectly safe. I told him if I die in a plane crash, I will haunt him for the rest of his days. At night, he will hear me whispering "I told you so."


Barbara O’Neal HowToBake
I am cooking for zillions, cleaning my house because it hasn't really been cleaned since I went underground to finish the current book two months ago.  (It is not finished, BTW.) There is a wedding this week.  My son and his smart, tough, beautiful fiance, whose mother referred to her as "ours."  Doesn't get any better than this, I promise you.   Next week, I'll get back to finishing the book.  Now, if you will excuse me, I have some bacon jam that needs to go in the crockpot.....


Kindred Spirits_lowres Sarah Strohmeyer
I am on deadline for my YA book Smart Girls Get Everything!

[Yet she had time to look up the recipe for Barbara’s Bacon Jam to post on Facebook.][Sarah's link broke, but this is another recipe.]


I'm hunkered down with the windows closed, praying for rain, waiting out pine pollen season. Another week should do it. These pine trees are way oversexed. No wonder they're the first trees to grow in a barren field.
Tomorrow, I'm off to a week-long retreat with some of my writer friends, so I'm packing the car with computer, notebooks, bedlinens, a 12-pack of Pepsis,a bottle of bourbon and a frozen casserole for the night when it's my turn to cook supper. (No Cheetos though. Gave them up for Lent.) I hope to come home with 5000 more words on my 2012 book and a good sense of where the book's going.


[When I asked the Tarts to write these, I sent a reply to Margaret that I had problems with alder tree pollen and had in Washington State, Vermont and California. To which Diane chimed in…]


Chamberlain_midwife Diane Chamberlain
No no, Holly, you don't understand what Margaret is talking about. The pine pollen isn't the make-you-sneeze type. it's the takes-over-the-entire-world type. I made the mistake of opening my office window yesterday and by evening a layer of yellow dust was on every sheet of paper and piece of equipment and ME in my office. I’d covered all the porch furniture with green sheets that are now completely yellow. I've lived lots of places but never experienced anything like this till moving to NC. So this time of year, when you long to open the windows, you must fight the urge and keep them closed.

So that's what I'm up to, along with being chained to my desk, 2 weeks from deadline with the book from hell (oh wait...they all are) that still has no title. It's this deadline that's preventing me from going away with Margaret and the gang for a week of writing and balderdash. :(


Harley Jane Kozak Kozak_DateRefuse
I'm rehearsing this week for the Romantic Times Convention -- I'm the M.C./Joan Rivers-type person for the Mr. Romance Contest (male cover models), as well as singing, dancing and performing Shakespeare at the Vampire Ball, in a show entitled "Zombie Dancers from Planet 9."


Kathy Reschini Sweeney
Today, I am in shock.  My baby boy is 16.  He was a bit of a surprise - one that has turned out to be the greatest delight of my life.  But don't tell him I said that.  He already gets away with too much. How did all these years go by?  I need cake.  Stat.


Joshilyn Jackson Jackson_BackseatSaints
Today my husband and I are engaged in an EPIC SCRABBLE BATTLE. The loser must give Mentally Ill Grudge-Holding Cat his Kitty-Prozac all month. Mentally-Ill Grudge-Holding Cat needs his meds, but he hates to be touched only slightly less than he hates to be pilled. The person who loses this battle gains Mentally Ill Grudge-Holding Cat’s considerable, baleful, and long-memoried  ire. OH, this cat. You shouldn’t make him angry. You wouldn’t LIKE him when he is angry. And since I work from home, I am available to be ired at all hours of the day. So.  I am not going to lose. I have a pocket full of blank tiles and a fistful of illegal tranqs. I LOVE my husband, but if first skill and then luck and finally cheating all fail me, I will have no choice but to roofie my beloved and swear up and down I was victorious.
PS Margaret! I read this and immediately thought
Margaret are you grieving over all your pines unleaving?
 But pines don’t have leaves. And un-needling does not rhyme.
Margaret are you feeding, needing, bleeding, pleading, BAH!
 I actually get a grant from the state of Georgia to NOT write poetry.

Yes yes it is a SPECIAL pollen bowl kind. We have it. For a month the purple car is yellow and the orange car is yellow and my cream trimmed rosey-bricked house is yellow and the green grass is yellow and THE VERY FREAKING AIR IS GOT’DAMNABLY YELLOW.


Sticky fingers_1_very_sm Nancy Martin
I'm hitting the campaign trail to sell Sticky Fingers.  (In the Philadelphia area?  Come to the Borders store in Springfield on Friday, April 15th at 6pm or at the Philadelphia Book Fest on Saturday from 11am to 1pm.)  I'm also finishing up the 8th Blackbird book--which should be published early in 2012.  And . . . my iPad arrived!  Now I have to learn how to use it.  Any suggestions for good apps?


Nancy Pickard Pickard_scentofrain
I’m busy distracting myself from my book that keeps saying it doesn’t care if I need to make a living, it still has percolating to do.  Have I ever mentioned that I think commerce and art are TERRIBLE bedfellows?  Of course, that’s not what my favorite Kansas playwright thought about it.  William Inge, who wrote Picnic, Splendor in the Grass, Bus Stop, Come Back Little Sheba, and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs,  (wow, right?) said that forcing art through the commerce sieve and vice versa was hunky-dory.  His actual quote is:  “Literature flourishes best when it is half trade and half an art.” I agree, but only when my book actually gets finished and then published and I get paid.  Until those moments, the bedfellows continue to kick each other and bellow and be total nightmares. And let’s not overlook the fact that Bill Inge killed himself.  Damn, I just made myself feel like sitting in this coffee shop and crying. He was so brilliant, and he suffered so from depression and from hiding his sexuality from the pigs and bigots of his day.  Well, you’d never know it from what I just wrote here, but I’m actually feeling happy and springy, in spite of sieves and stubborn books and tragic playwrights.  Here, everybody, have a double latte and a chocolate truffle.

Hank_drivetime Hank Phillippi Ryan

The ducks are back! But you know that..Flo and Eddy have been baffled by the ice on their backyard pond, but other than that, it's a sure sign it's spring. My tulips and crocuses are pushing their way out of the still-frozen earth, and I saw a whole flock of robins in our neighbor's yard. (It was almost scary, you know? Cue Tippi Hendren.)  Right now I am somewhere in the air between Boston and Indianapolis,  gave a speech in Indy to a wonderful group who wanted to know all about e-publishing.  (Gee, I wish I knew. Don't we all?)  Yes, there's a new book (cross fingers please, everyone) which I am editing now. (It's easier to cut than add, right?)  Looking forward to the MWA symposium in two weeks, then the gala Malice Domestic convention where DRIVE TIME is up for an Agatha for Best Mystery of 2010. (Yes, our NancyP is up for one, too, sigh, but she's sold more books than I have, I bet, so don't I need the teapot?)  Is it time to send my winter clothes to the dry cleaners? Ah, I'll think about that later. 

June 02, 2010



Margaret Maron

As everyone who reads this blog probably knows, a “blurb” is not a rude noise, but an enthusiastic quote that appears on the cover of a writer’s new book.

Most of us look upon blurbing as a way of “paying it forward” for the helpful quotes that were given our own books back when we were trying to make a name for ourselves.  Although I myself never asked anyone for a cover quote (I didn’t know any other writers back then and was too shy to ask a favor of someone I didn’t know), they were solicited by my editors, so I do feel an obligation for the kindness shown to me.

I’m not totally convinced that blurbs help sell a book, but they certainly can’t (or shouldn’t) hurt.  Some well-established authors have become jaded and cynical about the practice.  I’m told that one man responds by saying, “I’ll read your book or I’ll blurb it, but I won’t do both.”   

Most of us though will read the book from cover to cover and will write truthful words that reflect our enjoyment and that will encourage a casual browser to pick up the book and give it a try.  Blurbing does require a serious commitment of time.  I’m a fairly fast reader, but even so, it usually takes me two evenings to read, then at least an hour next morning to come up with a set of complimentary phrases.  This is why I will not read even the first page of a manuscript or bound galley or ARC (advance reading copy) that arrives unsolicited and without my permission.  There are—or should be—certain conventions.  The new writer (NW) or editor or agent usually sends a personal note to ask if the established writer (EW) would be willing to look at the book.  That message should contain enough information that the EW can tell whether or not this is a book that s/he would be interested in.  A cosy writer should not be asked to blurb a blood-splashed tale of Columbian drug lords; nor should a balls-to-the-wall writer be asked to blurb a book with cats and recipes.  Even if both enjoy a foray into unfamiliar territory, their own readers probably won’t and the whole point of the exercise is to tempt EW’s readers into buying NW’s book as well.

I’m told that I’m a cosy writer. . . “cosy with an edge” wrote one reviewer.    Although I’ve been known to scatter body parts around the countryside and occasionally kill a cat, I don’t usually dwell on how the body becomes a corpse, and my readers trust me not to rub their noses in the explicitly violent, cruel, or erotic.

Last year, I gave a quote to a friend whose books are maybe two shades darker than mine.  Her humor is darker, too, but because I heard her voice in my head while I was reading and because she totally cracks me up, I wrote an enthusiastic blurb.  Shortly after the book was published, I got an indignant letter from one of my readers, scolding me because he didn’t find any humor in it at all and thought I was wrong to recommend such a noir-ish book.  These days I try to slide a little warning into my blurbs: 

            "Although more graphically explicit than I normally enjoy, I could not put this book down.”

    “Witty, gritty, and wry.”

    “Despite the malodorous chamberpots . . .”

This lets my readers know what to expect.  Or at least keeps them from blaming me if it falls outside their comfort zone.

But what if you’ve agreed to read a book and you wind up hating it?   Like many of my colleagues, I will not give a positive quote to a book I don’t like, yet no one wants to hurt a fellow writer’s feelings.  For me, it’s the old “If you can’t say something nice . . .”  Still, it does happen to all of us sooner or later and there are different strategems for dealing with it.   Sometimes I just say I’m too busy to get to it within the time frame.  Sometimes this is actually true.  I take on too much work, I underestimate my free time, a deadline gets pushed up, life itself intervenes.  

The mystery world is so small that there are never more than two degrees of separation, therefore you are relieved when you meet someone new and discover that you enjoy their writing.  What’s wretched is when you really like the writer but can’t read their books.  That’s happened to some of my colleagues.  “I try to avoid being asked,” says one. 

“I can always find something positive to praise,” says another.  “Plot, characters, setting or voice.  One of them is bound to be decent or it wouldn’t have been published.” 

“If I get cornered and it’s a choice between honesty and friendship,  I’ll keep the friendship,” says yet another.  “I just grit my teeth and lie through them.”

All agree that this is when they wish they could write the equivalent of “This is a perfectly adequate book by one of my friends.”

What about you?   Have you ever been misled by a cover quote or do you take them all with a grain of salt?  And you writers:  how do you handle the requests when they turn awkward?