Friday, December 7, 2012

GUEST POST! The Next Big Thing: Dennis Havens

Today's guest post will be a "Next Big Thing" meme post from fellow author Dennis Havens. A long-time critique partner/beta reader of mine, Dennis has moderated the Fido WRITING echo (which is much missed, re-created on a mailing list we now have, but not the same), played brass instruments in Vic Damone's Vegas band, and written a screenplay about Bobby Sherwood's big band and its unfortunate adventure touring the country as lounge lizards. He also writes marches (like John Philip Sousa, one of his heroes) and suspense novels. The first thing he does when he gets up in the morning is the Hanon exercises on the tuba. Then it's out to run and play in the park with his faithful hound, Nita! You can find his work on the XLibris publishing websire and on Amazon. Okay, enough about him. Let's let him answer The Ten Questions for himself!

What's the working title of your newest book?

The new work in progress is called GINGERS.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

I wanted to show that prejudice is by nature a universal human condition that has always been with us and probably always will be.

What genre(s) does your book fall under?

Traditional murder mystery.

Cast your book! Which living actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie renditiorn? (I wish we could cast with dead actors. The technology must be almost there for us to cut Bogie out of Casablanca and use computer animation/CGI to make him do our roles!)

We've had the technology for quite a few years now. Remember that TV commercial, at least ten years old now, in which Paula Abdul danced with the late Groucho Marx? What stops the process is a combination of intellectual property laws and the daily erosion of the general public's memory. No point paying some greedy descendant of John Wayne or Bogart for the right to reproduce and repurpose his image, when fewer and fewer people know who the person was.

As for casting GINGERS with living actors, the only one I've used for inspiration is Jane Levy, who has influenced romantic lead "Janisse Clement" in my story.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Everyone needs to feel superior to someone, no matter how enlightened--or unenlightened--they believe they are.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Who knows?

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

It's under construction right now. My daily word count is never very high, but I do about 70 percent of the revision at the start of the next day's writing session.

(I always hassle you about your method of work because I never do it this way, but obviously, after many books, it works for you! "There are nine-and-sixty ways to construct tribal lays--and every single one of them is right!"--Kipling. You know how to Kipple, don't'cha? Just put your feet together and JUMP!)

Which other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

THE ABC MURDERS by Agatha Christie.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The desire to write about prejudice without automatically being accused of racism.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

I've worked very hard to misdirect the reader by having two points of commonality for the many murders. Only one of them is logical from start to finish, though.

How would we purchase your original band march music?

MP3 recordings can be had for free for anyone who buys a Shalanna Collins/Denise Weeks book. (Buy one and e-mail for details.) And, sometime soon, my latest opus, GINGERS.


What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Compose and arrange music -- and not just band music.

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

My late first wife made bathtub gin when she went to college. Oh, wait! That's not about me. Okay, I am attracted to women who made bathtub gin when they were in college.

(I forgot to say that HE'S SINGLE, GIRLS! Pursue him at your own risk!)

Thank you, Dennis. Now we know a lot more than we really needed to about both of us. *LOL*

If you have questions or comments for Dennis, or for me, please brave the "confirmation field" and leave a comment here. We know the verification word is crazy, but it's the only way to keep bots and spambots from leaving you lovely comments about how to get "gender enhancement products" or help that Nigerian prince.

Tune in again tomorrow for the further adventures of Rocky Raccoon, Magic Squirrel!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

THE NEXT BIG THING--blog chain!

The Next Big Thing is a blog chain in which participating authors answer ten questions about their current work in progress and their upcoming publications.

One of my new authorial "finds" and friends is author Susan Furlong Bolliger, who tagged me for this ongoing blog chain. You can read her cozy mystery, MURDER FOR BID, soon on the Kindle!

Susan writes from the Midwest where she lives with her husband and four children. Her articles and stories have appeared in national magazines such as Country magazine and Woman's World. Be sure to visit her website, where you'll find out much more about her work, at or read her occasional blogs at

Thank you, Susan, for including me in your lineup of tagged authors. I’m always quite loquacious anytime I can get someone buttonholed and make them listen to me blather about my writing methods and projects. Bwaa-ha-ha!

Because it's too creepy for me to interview MYSELF yet again, let's pretend that Grover (yes, from the Muppets--what, ya got something against Muppets?) is asking the questions.

What is the title of your work?

NICE WORK (A Jacquidon Carroll Mystery)

Where did the idea for the book come from?

Over the past couple of years, just about EVERYONE has been laid off or RIFfed (Reduction in Force) out of a job at least once. The experience is depressing and humiliating even if you didn't particularly like the job, and even if you weren't at fault and you were not let go for cause. Anger at those who so callously replaced or deleted you is inevitable. After my worst boss got rid of me, I thought, "Why not give my mystery heroine this experience?" So many readers have written to me crying after reading the opening scene of NICE WORK by Denise Weeks, telling me that I got it spot-on. They often miss all the clues I'm planting and all the groundwork that's being laid in that scene because of the emotional impact. I think that's good, though, because it makes it tougher for them to solve the mystery (GRIN), but also because one of the first jobs of a novelist is to arouse passions and evoke emotional responses in their readers.

My heroine, Jacquidon Carroll, and her intrepid sister Chantal must then clear Jacquidon of a possible accusation of murder . . . because the day after she exited the company "throwing a hissy fit" and making a scene, her ex-boss dies under suspicious circumstances. They uncover an elaborate web of deception involving a BDSM club and community that's not quite fair with all of its members. It's all played for laughs, not for lust, when the innocent (somewhat, anyway) sisters blunder into a couple of real live private sex clubs in order to track down some suspects. The book is a traditional/cozy with an edge--and with lots of Sister Sleuths banter. Remember the old "Snoop Sisters" television series starring Mildred Natwick and Ruth Gordon? (No, you're not old enough--but it was part of the same NBC Mystery Movies series as "Columbo," "McMillan and Wife," and "Banacek." Great classic stuff.) It was a real hoot. Well, this is the same sort of deal, only with twentyish sisters in the modern (and even more confusing) world. It's a romp and a trip!

What genre does your book fall under?

NICE WORK is a traditional (cozy) mystery with an edge.

I couldn't call it a straight "cozy" because of the BDSM substory and the sex club visits, and there's a somewhat larger cast of strangers involved than with the Agatha Christie-type "village" mysteries. We're in big D and its suburbs, not a refined English cottage. But the book has no gore or blood or icky stuff and is safe for those who will not read horrific things or books that snuff out innocent animals or children. No nightmares here!

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Jacquidon and Chantal have to be played by actresses with sisterly chemistry. I guess you don't want me to reach into the past and cast geniuses like Claudette Colbert and Audrey Hepburn, so let's see. Jennifer Aniston for Jacquidon. Reese Witherspoon for Chantal! Aniston was wonderful in the little-known THE GOOD GIRL (a drama) and of course in OFFICE SPACE. Witherspoon has done so many comedies, including the LEGALLY BLONDE stuff. They would really make the film. But of course these are headliner stars, and it could be that I'll have to settle for others.

For Jacquidon, our beloved heroine . . . how about Kaley Cuoco from the Big Bang Theory? Or even the actress who plays Amy Farrah Fowler as Jacquidon and Kaley Cuoco as Chantal. I know they could do drama as well as comedy.

The romantic interest, Fred Gordon, would have to be someone I have a crush on. David Spade could be great in the role, but maybe moviegoers look for a tall hottie when it comes to the romantic lead, so perhaps if Jim Parsons from the Big Bang Theory can play it straight, that's the guy to cast. We could go with Ray Romano, in a pinch--or maybe even Johnny Galecki. Am I glomming too hard on the BIG BANG THEORY? (Bazinga!)

I've always had a special place in my heart for Nick Bakay, the actor who had a bit part in Craig T. Nelson's series "Coach" and who voiced Salem the cat/witch in "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch." I think it would be a real hoot to put him in as Detective Mueller, my heroine's nemesis.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

After being accused of the murder of her ex-boss, Jacquidon Carroll must navigate a maze of BDSM clubs and online sites frequented (and abused) by the late supervisor as she searches for the real killer.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

My agent and I parted company amicably earlier this year, when I decided to go with small/indie presses instead of beating my head against the wall of traditional New York publishing. However, small presses are far from self-publishing. Self-publishing has exploded recently, which has good points and bad points, but has certainly glutted the market with new books to choose from.

I am now under contract with three small presses. Oak Tree Press has more than 200 stellar novelists, many of them writing mystery and romance and producing more than one book a year. Muse Harbor Press is starting up with some of the most edgy young adult fiction around. Pandora Press has branched out from its origins as an occult/New Age house and is now carrying chick lit and romantic suspense as well as traditional mystery and suspense titles. Publishing has completely changed over the past year or two, and nothing's guaranteed today, what with everything in such turmoil. Readers now must be their own gatekeepers, as all those "free" e-books may not be of the highest quality, and it's inevitable that readers will get burned while picking out titles by authors new to them--as well as running across wonderful books that wouldn't have been found by the traditional presses, books readers adore. This is a very exciting time for authors and readers, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it all shakes out.

How long did it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?

NICE WORK took over a year to finish in draft form. That was almost ten years ago. I began by running it through a workshop and having critique partners give me feedback. It then underwent a serious revision and was vetted by my best beta readers. I entered it in the St. Martin's/Malice Domestic contest, where it finaled among the top five entries, but was not chosen as a winner. I let it percolate for a year while I worked actively on the Ariadne French mysteries (beginning with a book that will now be the second in that series, not yet out). Then I went through again to fix details that were outdated (computer-related stuff that had changed, cell phone technology that had improved) and submitted it again to the St. Martin's contest. I got a very nice letter from my judge in the initial round, and the book went to the final round again, but still didn't light their fires. I put the book aside for a while again. Last year I heard about the Oak Tree Press Dark Oak Mystery Contest and entered. The book won! Now the series is in print, and a sequel is in progress. So don't give up.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

It's a longer book like those by Diane Mott Davidson, and is a little like her books in that the characters' lives play an important role. It has a spirit of whimsy like the Joan Hess "Claire Malloy" series. It's like the old Anne George "Southern Sisters" mysteries, and I hope it fills the void left by the ending of her series.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The idea that in fiction, I could make justice triumph and love conquer all. I like the way that a traditional mystery is actually a morality play, one in which evil deeds and intent get exposed and restitution is made. I also thought that the world needed the banter of the sister sleuths again, and a series that didn't rely on gross yucky scenes to titillate the groundlings, but on an intellectual puzzle and funny romp.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Many people know nothing about the BDSM lifestyle. I teetered on a tightrope as far as balancing the "funny" stuff that I needed to come out of this one and the task of NOT mocking or jeering at the alternative lifestyle, which is all that BDSM is. One of my sleuths keeps reminding people that it's not evil, not a perversion, and so forth--it's just a preference or choice. At the same time, someone inside the lifestyle DOES betray the trust of others in this story, and that can happen in ANY situation where relationships are built on trust. So it's also a cautionary tale about looking before you leap and about protecting yourself without hurting others.

I hope that my portrayal of Jacquidon as a newly diagnosed diabetic will resonate with the many readers who have diabetes. She goes through a period of adjustment (that's a great movie, BTW--"Period of Adjustment") and even experiences some lapses due to her "cheating on eating," both purposely and inadvertently. One plot point teeters around the fulcrum of her having really poor judgment one evening and making a few phone calls that the police later claim point towards her guilt. It makes just one more hassle in her already complicated life, and it's something that many diabetics will relate to.

OH, and she's unemployed . . . and goes to employment counseling, where the additional stress of budding romance threatens her serenity. Everyone likes a nice romantic subplot, and many people will recognize the stages of looking for another job (and accepting that the old one is gone.)


I’ve invited several talented writers to participate in The Next Big Thing blog chain. Watch for their posts next week!

James R. Callan is the author of several non-fiction books and four mysteries, including two released in 2012: Cleansed by Fire and Murder a Cappella. Long the leader of the Northeast Texas Writers Group (and their neat-o conference in the Piney Woods of Texas), Jim writes the Sweet Adelines mystery series as well as the Father Frank mysteries. Visit his blog at, where he posts every Friday (usually with an interview of another published author.) He is a fellow Oak Tree Press mystery authog. Check out as well as and (the latter two being sites devoted to each of his mystery series.)

Lesley Diehl is another Oak Tree Press author who also writes for MainlyMurder press and Lesley retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate New York. In the winter she migrates to old Florida—cowboys, scrub palmettoo, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office, and gators make golf a contact sport. Back north, the shy ghost inhabiting the cottage serves as her literary muse. When not writing, she gardens, cooks and renovates the 1874 cottage with the help of her husband, two cats, and, of course, Fred the ghost, who gives artistic direction to their work. She is author of several short stories and several mystery series: the microbrewing mystery series set in the Butternut Valley (A Deadly Draught and Poisoned Pairings) and a rural Florida series, Dumpster Dying and Grilled, Killed and Chilled (to be released late in 2012). She recently signed a three-book deal with Camel Press for The Consignment Shop Murders including A Secondhand Murder. For something more heavenly, try her mystery Angel Sleuth. Several of her short stories have been published by Untreedreads including one (Murder with All the Trimmings) in the original Thanksgiving anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry and another (Mashed in the Potatoes) in the second anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Second Helping. She invites readers to visit her on her website at and her blog at

Dennis Havens is not only a gifted writer, but one of my oldest (that means "longest-kept," not "older than dirt," even though he's also that!) and dearest friends. His many mystery/thriller novels include COLOR RADIO, FLASH FLOOD WARNING, and REGARDS, B. T.. Most of his books are currently available from XLibris Press. His current project is GINGERS, an exploration of what would happen if someone started stalking and killing all the redheads and strawberry blondes. He guest-blogs here next week!

Lisa Peppan is another of my long-time writing buddies who posts from the great wilderness of Canada. Her novel SOME WHEN OVER THE RAIN CLOUDS is now out from Amazon, and is well worth your attention if you have any affinity for taxi drivers (and their daily woes), time travel, or fantasy/science fiction. You'll encounter new ideas in her work, I guarantee. She will also be guest-blogging here as her entry in the NEXT BIG THING blog circle!

NICE WORK for the Kindle

Live long and prosper!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Plot Your Mystery--Part II

Before we begin, I need to announce that my contest-winning traditional mystery NICE WORK is now out for the Kindle, at last!

NICE WORK by Denise Weeks--Oak Tree Press Kindle edition, $3.99

Do you have a Kindle or Kindle reader? Isn't it HUNGRY?

Frankly, I NEED people to download this Kindle version, or at least try the sample (WHICH IS FREE) to show that this series has an audience (and I believe it does). At only $3, the book costs less than many fast-food burgers.

Now everyone who said they were waiting for the Kindle edition can get it for post-Turkey Feast reading!! While the others are watching the football festival, you can be glancing down at a FUN humorous mystery with touches of BDSM (but played for fun, not for lust).

ANYWAY! Let's chat a bit more about plotting a mystery versus plotting a romance or other non-mystery.

The mystery must play a game with the reader. The game's afoot!

Okay, all fiction plays a game, especially fantasy. Fantasy invites the reader in to play a game of willing, suspended disbelief and have a sense of wonder invoked. In fantasy, the reader has to go along, or she can't enjoy reading the work.

But in a mystery, there's a crime to be solved, and it has to be solved by your amateur sleuth by circumventing the usual ways and outwitting the baddies and probably the police . . . *and* the whole time you need to let the reader have a fair chance of guessing, while making it fun to guess. And you have to play the game such that at the end, the reader says, "Oh! I would've never guessed. But now that you've told me, I see it. How could I have missed that?" You have to deliberately put in clues and red herrings that lead to plausible alternative theories.

This means that, whereas the scenes for Dulcinea and my other books just came to me "because that's what happened next" or "that's what was needed and what had to happen because of the characters," I had to actually think of places my sleuth could go and reasons she could give for being there, places she could get information about this crime. And since she didn't do the deed, she had to guess who to go to and what questions to ask.

It was very much a case of having the book planned out, and then saying, "Well, I have to have a scene of finding out this clue without making that the obvious purpose of the scene . . . we must distract them by dangling this false bait in front of them, with just enough finesse that they *think* they're being clever because they believe THAT is what I'm hiding, when it really isn't!"

I was also constrained by being in the real world rather than in my alternate-universe fantasy, and thus I had to let the police react the way they really plausibly would (meaning research--I talked to two Richardson detectives and one lady who investigates for the DA's office in Collin County and one social worker who knew about what happens to children who go into protective custody.) I had to figure out how much of this to put into the book without making the reader bored (but some had to go in to explain why she had to do things a certain way.)

In fact, in the final revision for MARFA LIGHTS I realized I had never had Ariadne (my sleuth) meet the victim's husband's parents, although they could be a great vehicle for giving some information that I hadn't figured out how to work in yet. I knew this revelation had to come before a certain event and after she'd been to the police to turn in what she'd found (and gotten into trouble, because they thought it incriminated her). Whew!

I also had to be careful how much detail I gave about locations. When Ari arrives at various places, there are clues to be seen in the environment, and I had to give those clues a place in the text . . . without making them the ONLY detail given. And without overdescribing. Whew, twice!

It was so much easier just to know what was happening to Dulcie, or to my other heroine Starla the waitress/singer, or to my other-other heroine Paige the jingle writer. Because what happened to them was organic, coming out of their actions in the face of circumstances, and because of what others did (according to their natures) and what they prompted as dilemmas or responses for Starla or Dulcie.

For example, when Dulcinea's father throws the jealous hissyfit over Raz stealing his customers (in his own shop--this is a quirk of Da, because he oughtn't to have been jealous of the younger man he had hired, but oh well, that's Da for you), she has to mediate without alienating Raz and while still making Da happy (she has to live with the man, after all, and obey, as long as she's under his roof, in that culture) and not hurting his ego too much. And she has to smooth it over with the customer, who gets upset over their scenemaking. This led to the scene of Dulcie alone with Raz in which he confides in her his doubts about their safety and why he is doing what he does . . . and this leads to her getting caught talking to Raz about "secrets," which makes her father feel they're plotting against him and trying to run the shop THEIR way . . . anyhow, then he accuses Raz of stealing something from him and Raz finds it by magic, and then he says, "But you were the one who took it, so of course you found it, that proves nothing," and then Raz quits his job and leaves, and Dulcie is heartbroken (being in love with Raz), and then the next morning when Da misses his mage's sack, they assume Raz took it, and that leads to Dulcinea sneaking away to try to catch Raz on the road before he gets far away so she can quietly give it back . . . and then she gets into trouble by meeting that false monk on the road, and she's too young/immature to curb her mouth and then he casts that spell to make her tell her intended mission, and. . . .

Um, ahem. *At any rate*, that story was organic and grew out of its seeds and its characters and their secrets and aims. My protagonist was MAKING it all happen, in a way, so it revolved around her naturally. With the mystery, this stuff happened to someone my protagonist sort of knew, and she got herself involved as a suspect, so she had to investigate in a systematic way as self-defense, but she wasn't really INTEGRAL to it, other than being the one who comes up with the solution and has to (on her own) confront the criminal and rescue herself. (Whew, yet again.) That seemed far tougher to me, because she had to insert herself into other's lives and ask questions, and I had to make up three ways this could have happened and "believe" them myself in order to make that mystery reader see them, and then I had to let my heroine rule out the other two and get in trouble proving the third. It was way, way tougher, and I always felt that most scenes could be replaced with similar ones --- as if there were many ways through that puzzle maze. Whereas with Dulcinea, what happened had to happen that way. It couldn't have happened otherwise to tell that story. I mean . . . what do I mean?

Does this make any sense?

My stories are typically organic and come out of the character. The character has a situation, and one day something changes that really zaps her, and events start rolling out of control, and she has to answer the call to adventure by coping with it and doing what she can. The mystery was a puzzle. Things did start happening when my sleuth poked and probed, but she was never the integral center of events. The victim and criminal were, and had been in a pre-story drama of their own leading up to the crime. So the story of solving the murder was much more a story *about* a story that happened in the past, one she had to uncover bit by bit. While Dulcie and Star and Paige were telling their OWN stories about and by themselves, pretty much as they were happening.

This doesn't negate what I said about readers needing to like and be invested in the success of your sleuth/detective. It's just that in most mysteries, the sleuth is not the center of the puzzle, but the catalyst that finally blows the ruse apart and lets us click the last puzzle piece into place instead of forcing it in where it doesn't belong (the way SOME PEOPLE used to do with all my jigsaw puzzles as a kid, *grrr*.)

My perception of the process may have to do with my method of "beginning at the beginning, or very close to it" (thank goodness for that), but then getting the ending, and then having to get there from here. With me, and thank goodness I have *this * much structure to my chaos, when a novel comes to me, I usually "get" the first scene, the opening scene, and the premise right away, and as I scribble or type this out, the ultimate ending scene comes to me and the "theme" of the novel with it. Weird, but I kid you not. (It sure beats writing five chapters and then realizing the story starts *there*.)

Then I get about ten pages or so into that opening and I say, "What the heck? How do we get there from here?" (I may find that the only part I keep of this original opening is that first sentence which sparked it all, or I may delete that and begin with the third paragraph, or I may just rearrange it all in the proper order--but I always do use this opening in some way, even if I delete the next ten pages and connect it with chapter three.)

And then I start to freewrite some ideas I have about the middle of the book. I may get an inkling about a scene here or there that will be a major turning point (usually plot point 1, plot point 2, a vague idea about the crisis and black moment and resolution, some of the other scenes that are more colorful.) Then I have to go back and fill it all in. Usually, there's a character driving all this. Either my main character is having an adventurous conflict with some colorful type, or she's about to get head-to-head in anger with another one . . . you know. And that colorful character begins to act or talk, and we suddenly get the next event that's tied into the story or subplot. Then we have to make this all a novel that flows. Work, work, work, that's all we ever do around this slave camp!

But you can't really do that as much with a mystery. Well, you CAN, but you also have to stop and PLAN the CRIME and how it happened, and then you need to justify why and how your sleuth stumbles across it, and you have to make her have a stake in solving it (why would she, unless she's the accused, or the victim was her best friend, or her friend is accused and she's convinced he's innocent, or whatever?). You have to think up a few clues and a few false clues. And you have to insert her somehow into the world of the crime so that she can get info. It's so different from having events that just grow out of previous events and mushroom into a huge worldchange and character change for your hero or heroine.

OR you could just start typing something that interests you and keep going until you hit THE END. It works for some people.

Or so I am told.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Plot Your Mystery In A Day--Part I

You've written books. That's not the problem. The difficulty you're having is that a MYSTERY has to be done partly with the left brain, the logical/spreadsheet side, while a regular book can come mostly from the right side, with prodding from the Girls in the Basement and the Muses you are channeling.

So now you're going to try a mystery. And this means you'll have to sit down early and do a little outlining. Ouch! Let's just call it "plotting." That's what our perp has been doing, after all. We'll assume you have been living with your sleuth and his/her milieu for some time now, and you've got a reason for him/her to be involved in solving this crime.

You've decided on your crime/victim (and method: hitting, strangling, etc.) and perp and at least two other people who will be suspects. But your READER can't figure this out until your sleuth does!

I always sit down and figure out three ways that the crime COULD have plausibly been committed, or hidden, or whatever. Then my sleuth has three theories she can hit upon, and the third of them can be "pretty close." I never ever give her the EXACT crime, because then what would Our Villain have to spill at the end where she confronts her/him and gets the full story? (grin)

The intrepid mystery writer now needs to make up real and false clues that will point to the villain AND ALSO point to the other suspects to keep the reader guessing. Don't be afraid to make these off-the-wall; when you're actually writing the scenes, you can always change them or tone them down.

Once you have a list of clues and red herrings (or fake clues), you will need a timeline for the book, showing the order in which the clues will appear. ALL the major clues pointing to the real perp (motive, means, opportunity) MUST be planted in the first third of the book. (I am NOT making this up.) This is part of the "fair play" sort of mystery so that your reader has a chance to figure out whodunit. Clues must be planted in such a way that they're hidden or their meaning isn't known till the end of the book.

So how in the world will you keep readers from seeing those clues and flinging the book against the wall? You'll need to use subterfuge and sneakiness. Fortunately, these are major traits of most writers.

Our first trick is to HIDE THEM IN PLAIN SIGHT. Remember Poe's purloined letter. They have to be sitting there on the mantel, but seem part of the collection of Star Trek toys that is arrayed around them. If you're going to skewer the victim by having shishkabob speared through with (deadly) oleander branches, have him wander through someone's water-feature-filled back yard or go to a picnic--and notice the flowering oleander all around. It's right there in plain sight.

Another trick is to hide the clue in an inventory, litany, or other pile of ordinary items. Let's say that a scratched Swiss army knife is a major clue. Then when the sleuth goes through someone's pockets--all right, you don't want people to hate the sleuth for snooping, so make it that she is leaving an office party and goes into the bedroom where everyone's coats are piled on a bed and grabs up her purse and her windbreaker/raincoat, only it ISN'T hers, and she does notice that it's getting a little tight and thinks that's because she gorged on those little dates filled with cream cheese and crackers with Brie and jam . . . but when she gets home and shoves her hand into that pocket to get her keys, or whatever, she finds that they are not there BECAUSE it's actually someone else's coat. Nothing's in the pocket but a pocket knife and some stale sticks of gum. She has to get into her house, so she digs out the hidden key in the garden or calls someone--the plot drives us forward. And the coat and knife are forgotten until you want her to remember them.

I've been dinged in the past for having a character take inventory of a purse, knapsack, or other container, but it is a great boon to a writer. You can show character by what is being carried. You can show what is important in the story by what's found. And you can hide something the character will need later, such as a flashlight or bus token or diary! But I digress.

When you can't hide a clue, just show it with flair RIGHT BEFORE some BIG THING happens. IMMEDIATELY grab the reader's attention and focus it on something big that seems really important at the time. For example, your hero overhears the perp's phone conversation and hears a big clue. He is shocked, but before he has time to think overmuch about it and fit it into the puzzle, a siren goes off outside or a deafening crash is heard upstairs. The old masters loved to use a SCREEEEEAM or the dousing of the house lights. Our Intrepid Sleuth dashes upstairs or outside to take care of the crisis--neighborhood fire, broken mirror upstairs, second dead body discovered by young screamer--and by the time this is dealt with, both your hero and your reader have forgotten the overheard conversation UNTIL near the end, when he is putting two and two together. Maybe even four and four. Aha! He (and your reader) remember now.

As far as putting some numbers to it: a cozy series mystery is expected to be 85K words, or at least between 80K and 90K. This is 360 pages. As I mentioned before, ALL the clues have been put in by the 30,000th word--the end of the first one-third of the text--which should fall on or about the 120th manuscript page. The last two-thirds of the text is spent tracking down clues, following rabbit trails, suspecting the wrong people, etc. The last five chapters MUST ramp up the tension. Either your sleuth has guessed the perp (and is wrong, and is about to be confronted with the truth), or is very close. If your chapters are about 15 pages, then you have 10-11 chapters full of clues and red herrings, and chapter 25 is your final wrap-up.

I am a pantser and not a plotter. This means I don't rely overmuch on an outline per se (that's PER SE, Latin, not "per say," BTW, if you're following along in the home game), but I do keep a list of scenes sometimes or even just a list of details. I need to know the general shape of the story in brief. Sometimes I will even have a file or synopsis that is expanded, including what I think each chapter will probably hold. ("We need to have her learn to sight-read before she discovers the Mystical Sheet Music and plays it to open the hidden bookcase in chapter 4!")

This can all change during the writing, of course, but I always know the ending of my books before I start writing. Otherwise, to me, it's like starting off on a trip without a map and wandering around hoping you finally get to somewhere interesting that will make it all worthwhile. You might get there, but it can sure take a lot longer. You might instead run out of gas before you get anywhere. Or end up on the South Side of town without a paddle . . . or even a baseball bat for self-defense.

Even though the plot is the main thing to many mystery readers (or at least to the reviewers, especially the ones on Amazon), remember that a mystery is not "what happened" ("the jewelry store was smash-robbed"), but WHAT HAPPENED TO A PERSON OR PEOPLE ("Joe lost his shirt when those thugs smash-robbed his store and the insurance dragged its feet about paying up fair and square").

Readers MUST care about your detective and somewhat about your victim or his/her mourners or what he/she leaves unfinished. Sometimes readers should even care about the suspects and perps. WHY does she want or need to solve the mystery? (Usually, she or her sister is a suspect. Or something like that.) What is the connection she has to the victim or to his/her relatives or organization? She has to care about what happened if you want your reader to care. Will it matter that much if she comes up with the REAL PERP? It'd better.

You may think that a bad guy is a bad guy, but don't forget that most people think they are doing the reasonable thing, that they are in the right or are at least justified in their actions and beliefs. Most "baddies" do not see themselves as baddies. They are just on the other side of what YOU think of as the right and proper action. They see themselves as doing God's work, getting revenge, putting things right, or whatever--not just "getting away with something," usually, although that can play in as a factor. So when you make up the motivations and reasoning for your perp, be sure it is reasonable from HIS or HER point of view, however stinky that POV may be for you and your sleuth. People have reasons for what they do. People ALWAYS have a reason for their actions, even if you think it is a bad or false reason.

Most villians (unfortunately) look like the guy next door, or are handsome/beautiful, or whatever. They aren't a Snidely Whiplash in black leather and a twirling waxed mustache. They look like normal people: a relative, your neighbor, someone who works at the same job or goes to the same school as your heroine, is on the hero's sports team (maybe even as the coach or sponsor), etc. She is on the PTA committee with your victim. He used to date your victim or her sister. What I'm getting it is that the real perp should be connected to your victim in one of these "normal" people-trees. Don't just make him an anonymous stranger who blows into town and commits a random crime. PLEASE don't do another serial killer sociopath with multiple personalities!

Don't forget the victim(s), even though they may die in the opening. A victim can be sympathetic or detestable. If everyone hated him, it is easier to create a big list of suspects. On the other hand, if nobody seemed to hate him, you have a tougher mystery for the reader to solve.

If the victim is your old boss . . . that can work. It worked in that crazy movie I caught on cable the other night, HORRIBLE BOSSES. Even though that was a pretty screwed-up black comedy. It also worked in my novel NICE WORK, available now on Amazon and in all bus station restrooms.

This should give you some idea how different it is to write a traditional mystery. Maybe you ought to stick to romance . . . or maybe you'll try your hand at this. After all, if *I* do it, how hard could it be? LOL!

(I know this was "TL;DR," but the right type of person read through to the end. I commend you. Now go write a mystery. Send me the link when you're in print!)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

No such thing as bad publicity

At least that's what my dad always said. I think he had it right! People remember your name, and then say, "Why do I know this person?" They might just pick up your book or album because the title rings a bell.

This week I'm featured on the Romancing the Heart interview site. Be sure to visit and LEAVE A COMMENT!

My other mystery, MARFA LIGHTS, is included in the All Mystery E-Newsletter. I'm on the bottom of the list with "W" there, but it's still good.

I grow weary of having to promote all the time. I have other books to write. I need to work on the books I already have under contract. I am not an extrovert. Why, O Why? But we have to toot our own horns. No one else will blow them for us. So to speak.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Stories as VR headsets

"Story" was and is the world’s first and best virtual reality machine.

When you're reading a good story and you're absorbed (assuming you have good reading comprehension and you're paying fair attention), it's like the old TV program: YOU ARE THERE.

Even if you're not identifying with the hero and you're only watching out of the fascination you have with a train wreck, you should still be seeing the sights, hearing the sounds, smelling the coffee, and feeling the angst of the characters in the story world.

But first, let us back up a step. What IS a story? Is it that rambling anecdote your co-worker has been droning on about for three minutes without actually saying anything other than "like, man," "she was all like 'He's a fool' and stuff," and "I know, right?" Sort of. But not really.

A story is not just a plot that orders characters around. A story has to have a character arc, IMHO.

A story is how what happens (the plot) affects someone (the protagonist) in pursuit of a difficult goal (the story question) and how he or she changes as a result (which is what the story is actually about).

Despite appearances (and disregarding all the beautifully cinematic stuff you sometimes see on the big screen that has no meaning and leaves you asking, "What was that about?" as you leave the theater), *story* is internal, not external.

A story is not about the plot, even though so many readers, reviewers, and even writers believe it is. (Why would there be two words for it if they didn't have different meanings, connotation as well as denotation?) A *story* is about how the plot affects the protagonist. The *story* is what helps us as readers take the "vivid, continuous dream" that we have co-created with the author, extract the helpful bits that feed our need for story (including the take the author has on the eternal human condition), and make sense of the world using the information.

In part, the way a story gives us the sense that we’re in the protagonist’s world is through identification with the character(s). Writers convey the protagonist’s internal reaction to what happens via internal monologue, thoughts that are slipped in between the action or dialogue, or even subtext in the dialogue itself (the toughest way to do it, as different readers will get different things out of it depending on their cultural immersion). This is what gives readers the vicarious experience. We want to evoke emotion in readers AND allow them to identify with the hero.

That’s why it’s maddening that writers are constantly warned not to include internal thought. For most readers, the introspection just slides on in with the rest of the story. But editors and agents weary of seeing the endless "thinking" in some literary tomes went too far in banning it entirely. You don't want to have three pages of introspection about what happened in the past stuck into the midst of action. You don't want to have someone ask Tad a question and then have him muse for three pages about various things it reminds him of before you have him answer, partly because the reader will have forgotten the question and the setting in story-present by the end of the musings, and partly because it makes story-time seem in slow motion. This does not, however, mean that a few thoughts slipped in will not make it clearer for our readers. And clarity is our goal, above all, as I mentioned in a previous post.

Chip and Dan Heath have identified a phenomenon they term the "Curse of Knowledge." They remind us that "when you know something, it’s very difficult to imagine what it’s like not to know it." This is why some math professors find it impossible to teach middle school math or explain a simple fast Fourier transform to a classroom full of drooling undergraduates: they can't IMAGINE what it would be like not to just SEE the derivative when you look at something. To apply this to writing your novel, think about how many things you already know about the character and the plot. Not all of this is known by the reader. Unless you put it on the page, either express or implied, the reader can't just KNOW this stuff.

Writers are often taught that it’s talking down to the reader to actually let them know how the protagonist is reacting to what’s happening. This is wrongheaded. As Aunt Fannie Belle would've said, "It ain't, sugar. If you don't tell me what you mean, I'll never know."

Writers are often told that if you simply show something happening, the reader will always accurately intuit what the protagonist’s inner response is. In almost every case, this is patently untrue, and instead of inviting the reader in, it locks the reader out. Readers get frustrated. Readeres misunderstand what you are saying. Readers bring their own issues and ideas to the fire and throw them onto the blaze, making a maelstrom, when all you meant was that the guy blinked. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But when will readers know this? Is there some kind of Big Symbolism that we're missing here?

The deeper problem is the universal notion that it’s the reader’s job to “get it” rather than the writer’s job to communicate it. Thus the writer tells us, in passing, that Ashley is obsessed with mayonnaise. (In point of actual fact, she is terrified of mayonnaise and faints when she thinks it might touch her body, as it would burn off her skin.) He doesn't spell this out, however. No one has come right out and SAID what the problem is. The writer has implied it in the way she glares at people who order no mustard at Whataburger and with similar subtle clues. Now the writer assumes that when Joe orders a pastrami on rye with mayo (how dare he!) right in FRONT of her, we’ll know exactly why she breaks up with him on the spot and runs away screaming. I mean, how could we not know?

Writing like this is really very passive/aggressive. "What's wrong, Fred? You seem troubled and distant." "Yeah, well." "What's wrong?" *sniffle* "Well, if you don’t know, I’m certainly not going to tell you.” *wail* *sob*

Certainly there are times you'll have to trust your readers to “get it,” but you can only do this once you’ve given them enough specific information so that they actually can.

When it comes to story, telling is not always bad. In fact, ALL stories are told. "Tell me a story!" is the child's original demand of the parents at bedtime. Well, go ahead . . . TELL it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"D'oh!" Character stupidity as a plot device

I wanted to explore further some of the musings I wrote about yesterday.

I see so many books and films or television shows in which the stupidity or carelessness of a main character (usually one who has been sensible up until this point) serves as a major plot device. Sometimes this is forgivable, but most of the time it's not. What are authors thinking?

Or are they not thinking?

Do readers/viewers even care?

I think they do.

I'm not talking (mostly) about a momentary lapse. The smartest, most on-the-ball character (or human being) can accidentally shred the wrong document or mention something that is supposed to be kept under wraps a while longer. I'm talking about the big-time mistake made by a character who hasn't been set up to be the "cute ditz" or "clueless moron" of the piece, a mistake that leads directly to the next plot development or (worse) to the happenstance solution of the crime.

I hope that readers can see when an author is setting up a plausible lapse. For example, in my Jacquidon series, Our Heroine has just developed diabetes. She inadvertently drinks a little alcohol and eats the wrong snack foods, causing her blood sugar to swing. This in turn leads to poor judgment (just as it does in real life). This explains why she leaves a couple of phone messages one evening for someone she should probably be steering clear of. I need her to make this mistake in order to have something the cops can seize upon as "evidence" pointing to a thread of actions they claim she took (which she didn't take). I am hoping that readers pick up on WHY I had her get into the reduced-mental-processing condition so she could make this minor mistake. It's not a MAJOR plot point, but it is yet another brick on the yellow brick road the police are trying to build to railroad her.

One of the actions questioned in a recent review was that Jacquidon backed down rather than prolonging a bad scene in which she was being challenged/attacked. I had her get out of the situation (which had been engineered by another suspect in order to throw suspicion away from herself and onto Jacquidon, by the way) instead of fighting back and making a bigger scene because she ISN'T TSTL. In my experience, any time you "fight back," onlookers will jump to the conclusion that YOU are the irrational and crazy one because they only got their attention attracted when YOU started yelling back. It's never a good thing to be identified as someone who goes crazy in public (no one ever remembers the provocation, trust me!), especially when you're already under investigation as a murder suspect. Keep your cool and analyze WHY things happen and WHO it could benefit to start such a scene, and you will be ahead of the game. (In real life as well as in fiction.)

You never want your characters to be Too Stupid to Live. Now, I realize that some of the characters whom I see as TSTL seem perfectly normal and reasonable to their authors and fans. Still, we can all agree that a character should not, upon hearing a noise outside at 3 AM, fling open the front door wearing only a filmy nightgown to shout, "Who is it?"

TSTL actions are usually big boo-boos, linchpin decisions on which the rest of the plot turns. It comes down to authors giving the plot precedence over characterization. "Why did you do that?" "Because the script said so." The writer forces what was a perfectly intelligent character into an act of utter stupidity so the preordained plot point can happen (usually with extra added shock value), instead of having the character drive the plot.

Here are some rules of thumb:

* PICK UP that gun that the bad guy dropped before he gets it back

* YELL when someone approaches you and seems threatening; run in a broken-field pattern and be noisy so as to attract the most attention possible. It's better to be embarrassed than to be overcome and hurt by a perp.

* DO NOT get into the car of a person who is holding a gun on you. You're better off if you stay in that WalMart parking lot and he shoots you, because you could get help and the shooting will attract attention. If you go with him, you are dead--and will probably suffer greatly on the way out.

* If you are going somewhere to meet a stranger in a dark alley, SET UP A RESCUE; at least call one of those police friends you have and ask them to be waiting in the background should the meeting go south. Better yet, don't meet the person. Make them come to YOU in a diner that is full of people and in public.

What are the things like this that would make you throw a book against the wall and stop reading it?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

New Review of NICE WORK!

A review of NICE WORK is up at Reviewing the Evidence! Yay!

(You know, I don't know why Blogger sometimes makes the links live and sometimes doesn't. It is a puzzlement.)

I really appreciate the review! It helps to get the word out there. I'd love to see the Kindle version become available soon; I know the price is somewhat high on the trade paperback. Still, a paper book might be a cool Christmas gift (hint, hint).

I've noticed a couple of similarities in the reviews done by people who say "this wasn't my favorite book" or "I had problems with the characters." One thing I do note is that they don't have any problems following the plot twists and/or accepting them as logical. That was, frankly, my biggest concern. I figured that people might not believe some of the things that happened. I'm happy that it seems the suspenders of disbelief are stretching appropriately.

(This is a musing on the usefulness of reviews for authors, not an "attack" on reviewers. I'm musing about why parts of the book might not come across as intended.)

*contains spoilers or semi-spoilers for those who are bothered by such things, although so does this particular review*

Generally, I use the advice given or implied in reviews to improve the next book. It's always good to get feedback that isn't restrained or edited. However, sometimes I simply can't agree with ALL the advice being given, although I appreciate the effort that any reviewer goes to in order to put their concerns into words. I know how tough it is to read something and review it!

I'm surprised that a couple of people have objected to Jacquidon's attending the funeral of her former boss. For one thing, I point out in the book that she has worked for the man for several years, and she believed during that time that they'd had a fairly good relationship. She saw his recent behavior as an aberration. So I can't see her *not* going to pay her respects. Also, Tracy (her co-worker and best friend) practically strong-arms her into going, remember? That conversation takes up a couple of pages in the book, featuring Tracy's crystal blue persuasion. Many times, at least in mystery fiction, the perp will attend the funeral, so sleuths get information from it. I think there might be a couple of clues planted in that scene, for those who are analytical and paying proper attention. But oh well.

The bigger surprise, though, is that this reviewer doesn't like it when Jacquidon gets (basically) verbally attacked at the end of the service when she goes to tell the family and close friends how sorry she is (because of course she IS--I couldn't hear of the passing of one of my former co-workers or bosses without feeling for the family, because I'm not a sociopath.) The reviewer complained that when Jacquidon is basically shouted at ("You killed him!"), she doesn't shout back. Well . . . I think that it's never a good idea to make a scene, especially if you ever want to get another job. (These people might be contacted by the new potential employers; it happens, especially if the new job requires an extended background investigation or the HR department likes to call around. Sometimes that saves a company from hiring someone who really IS a problem child but looks good on paper.) I think that the better part of valor is to quietly say a few words in your own defense, apologize (because obviously they feel intruded upon), and exit. That's basically what she did. It is part of her characterization that she wouldn't shout back or shove back. That would be (in her view, as well as in mine) a childish and immature response to their actions. Their actions might have been taken out of pain and confusion, or it might have been someone trying to pin the blame on Jacquidon even MORE firmly . . . perhaps that could be seen as a clue or red herring.

I know that readers today expect a completely Alpha hero or heroine who fights back and throws vases and stomps feet, if not swinging swords and firing Colt .45s into the air like Yosemite Sam, but that's not the only kind of hero there is. Mine are generally more thoughtful and think before they act. If cornered, they'll come up with some way out other than violence, if possible. Sometimes it's not possible.

But isn't shouting back what you should do in real life? No, I'd say not. My advice would be that if you ever ARE confronted verbally with accusations about something you didn't do, and/or you get into a dangerously brewing situation, that you take the sensible route and speak softly while exiting. You might have to brandish a big stick, but if you start bashing people over the head with it, YOU will be in trouble for assault. It's better to fade out of the scene and deal with rumors by doing something other than screaming and shouting that they're false, as this often leads to comments like, "Thou dost protest too much."

Trust someone who has been in that particular situation. (NOT accused of murder, but confronted by someone who felt wronged and who wanted to make a scene with me as the star victim.) It is better to respond quietly and take the first opportunity to exit, even if you think that is "chicken," because if you allow the situation to escalate (or, worse, if YOU escalate it), I guarantee that most onlookers (and oh, yes, this sort of confrontation will gather a crowd) will go away thinking that YOU STARTED IT and YOU MUST BE GUILTY OF SOMETHING AWFUL and YOU ARE A TROUBLEMAKER. It's not fair, but that's how it works out. (Note that newspaper retractions never have much effect, as the readers of the original story still believe what they've read.)

I know this kind of scene shows up in movies all the time because they're doing the bread and circuses thing, but that's the movies. You don't want a reputation as someone who heedlessly shouts at a funeral or in an office or in the parking lot, trust me. Try to avoid escalating things into an ugly scene if possible, in real life (and in fiction, if your character is smart enough to avoid it). A word to the wise is sufficient.

This particular reviewer questions why Jacquidon and her sister are reluctant to tell their mother that Jacquidon is under investigation for this murder. Well, that just means I must not have portrayed the mother properly. (I'll do better next time.) Most moms are somewhat older and fragile, and why worry them when there's nothing really to tell? The truth comes out when the sisters go to their mom to help them read something that's written in a language that their mom understands, and they are forced to confess. So it's only at first that they keep this to themselves. I think that's wise, and so did they, but you'll have to make your own decision. If your mother can't do anything more than worry and fret and possibly have palpitations over the idea that you're unjustly accused . . . I'd advise that you wait to tell her. I mean in real life. But we'll all hope that none of us ever get into this situation!

I was dismayed that a couple of reviewers (this one included, but there was another one as well) didn't see any clues in the short interlude during which Jacquidon judges a corporate spelling bee. Not only is she attending the event with a suspect (Tracy should be a suspect in most readers' minds by this point in the story) who might reveal more helpful information, but also Jacquidon catches sight of a second suspect there and chases her down for questioning.

I thought it would be more fun to have a suspect appear in a new and interesting setting rather than always having the scenes in restaurants, offices, classrooms, private homes, and so forth, the way so many stories do. It's always neat when I read a mystery and the scenes aren't just all courtroom, police station, office, telephone conversations in cars, and that mundane stuff we've all seen over and over again. If a scene is set at a carnival (okay, THAT one was done in so many films that it's almost a cliche), in a house of ill repute, or in a hot-air balloon (which is a scene from one of my forthcoming works), and readers have the opportunity to learn something or experience vicariously something they've never experienced, so much the better, as far as I'm concerned. I don't see anything wrong with hanging a colorful background so that readers get more fun out of a scene (and possibly the action develops character as well). But some readers want nothing but nonstop focus on the main plot action, and that's fine. That's the way they roll.

I like a secondary plot or "B story" to relieve some of the seriousness. (Even Shakespeare was allowed some comic relief.) I don't know if there's something about a romance inside a mystery . . . I see it almost every time in a cozy these days. I didn't want Our Romance to be with a cop in this one, though. I get really tired of female amateur sleuths hooking up with the detective on the case. It never bothered me in the Claire mysteries by Joan Hess, or in the Goldy mysteries by Diane Mott Davidson, but it bugs me in other books now. It's more fun if you don't have a Close Personal Friend on the police force, I think. Of course you'll get up close with a few cops if you're being investigated, though.

I like to learn something when I read, even if it's fiction. That, again, is a personal preference.

The point here, I suppose, is that different readers read for different experiences. If you like an experience that doesn't have an obvious B story, then you won't like books with subplots that take away time from the main action (even if they're tied in--for example, the employment counselor who becomes a romantic interest in NICE WORK turns out to be a computer whiz who helps decode some clues later in the book). Reviews are good for initially determining whether a book will be to your liking (I often use them to check whether children and pets are victimized, because I simply do not read those books), but often you'll find something different from what any one particular reviewer found. You'll find your own story, because you help the author to show you the "vivid, continuous dream" (as John Walker phrases it).

However, if something shows up in more than one review, it's time to consider why the scene didn't come across the way it was intended. It takes time for this information to percolate through the gray matter and reach the Girls in the Basement all deciphered, so maybe by the time I'm polishing the sequel, I'll figure out a way to make this stuff come across more clearly. Clarity above all is the goal! And entertainment . . . yeah, entertainment. That's the business I'm in, after all.

Go ahead, read 'em . . . we'll write more.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

GUEST POST: Janis Patterson and BEADED TO DEATH Release Day!

Today I bring you a special guest blog from Janis Patterson, multiply published (traditionally published several times over the years) mystery author! She was one of the 100 writers who founded Romance Writers of America (you can get her re-issued romances soon on Amazon, published as Janis Susan May.)

Her new book BEADED TO DEATH, a funny cozy mystery, was just released this past Monday, October first. Yay! But if we consider what she says below, we'd probably better HURRY to get it before someone goes out and censors it, bans it, or does whatever other nefarious thing the government would like to do to books and our electronic texts. I believe she makes some valid discussion points.

In fact, October is Banned Books Month. Let's go out and read a banned book that could destroy our minds and take control of our senses. One like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD . . . CATCHER IN THE RYE . . . or (the clear winner) THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, that Great American Novel with the dreaded "N" word in it (because that was the vernacular of the day, AND because Twain wants us to see it for what it is--NOT because Twain/Clemens was a racist, sheesh. Those dangerous books that ask us to think and move us to feel! Oh, the horror!

I wish they'd ban NICE WORK and MURDER BY THE MARFA LIGHTS. And certainly CAMILLE'S TRAVELS. Or even APRIL, MAYBE JUNE. That one will definitely inspire people to think for themselves. And we cannot have that, can we?

So let's listen to what our honored guest has to say and then go check out her book on Amazon. (Be sure to click on the LIKE button next to the title before you buy it and check out!)

Attack of the Bureaucrats
by Janis Patterson

I wonder what ever happened to freedom? I’ve been battling the Animal License Registration people for months now. Both my vet and I have told them that my dog received a three year rabies vaccination. We’ve told them that for two years. They received the documentation when it was first done. They also accepted that I was old enough to qualify for a senior exemption.

But not any more. They’re threatening me with a criminal citation. And they’re saying that all of a sudden I have to mail them a copy of my driver’s license. Really! After accepting my exemption before, now they have to have a copy? And in these days of identity theft I am to send a copy through the mail?

Really, what business is it of theirs how many animals I want to have? Government intrusion at its worst.

So what does this admittedly bad-tempered (but very truthful) rant have to do with writing?

The thin edge of the wedge.

If a petty bureaucratic agency can dictate how many animals I have, can ignore facts and demand that I put myself and my credit at risk, and can threaten me with criminal citations unless I dance through their ridiculous hoops, what else can the government do? If the time-servers at the animal services department can do all that and intrude so far into our private lives with impunity, how long will it be before there is a department of literary control?

The idea is worse than any horror story.

Just imagine. Every book will have to go through an evaluation process to see if it fits whatever standard is in play at the moment. It will have to be registered – not like with an ISBN, for ease of location and purchase, but to show that it has been approved for distribution to the populace. Then, if the political/social winds change, it can be de-certified and eradicated in a moment. The book that never was.

I don’t care for erotica. There are, however, many who do. There’s a lot of it out there, and that’s as it should be. I believe that people should be allowed to read what they like, be it erotica or sweet romance or mysteries or history or technological books or whatever. But… what if some bureaucratic automaton suddenly decided that a certain kind of book wasn’t acceptable and shouldn’t be allowed. With the pressure of the government and threats of punishment those unacceptable books would vanish. Nowadays we would of course cry ‘Censorship!’ and fight it.

We might even win -– this time. In the future… who knows?

Perhaps you think my premise preposterous or even paranoid. Perhaps it is – but just remember, they really can be out to get you even if you are paranoid.

Freedom to read what we want, to write what we want, is not something to be taken lightly, and should be guarded at all costs. I don’t have a magic pill or incantation to keep away a dire book-controlled future that may not ever happen. I don’t know a solution, save to keep writing and keep alert. The internet and the ease of self-publishing have done a great deal to destroy the old gatekeepers – for good or for bad – but there is no guarantee that such freedom will last.

It is our job as writers, as readers, to see that the freedom to read and write what we want to is kept alive.

So –- as a first step, I would remind you that my lighthearted cozy mystery BEADED TO DEATH was released 1 October. It’s a fun romp with a middle-aged bead artist who finds an unknown dead body in her living room and is suddenly plunged into a new world containing drug smugglers, an FBI agent who may or may not be rogue and a 7’3” nephew on the run from an unwanted basketball scholarship.

If I were cynical, I’d say get it while you can. Do I really think an apocalypse of book-control is coming? I most devoutly hope not.

But it is a possibility.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Well, as it turned out, we only had four unique commenters on the previous blog post, the one with the giveaway. So I decided to let Teddy have ALL the treats and send ALL FOUR of you a free book!

I'm currently contacting people with the contact email given. If you don't hear from me today or tomorrow (so I can get your snailmail address for mailing the book), remind me in comments--I should be back here after lunch and errands.

Congratulations! You have a cool new read ahead of you! (And a couple of free MP3 gift cards, to boot--I only have two of those, so will distribute those randomly.)

Monday, September 10, 2012


I have finally received all the author copies of my books that I ordered (and paid for), and I also have a stack of other people's books that I've managed to score here and there. It's time for a--


This time around it's my new mystery, NICE WORK. I'm giving away three free copies! (Assuming I get three or more comments, that is. *tap tap* Is this thing on?) I'll be doing this once a week for a while, for different novels.

If you'd like to win a free copy of NICE WORK, leave a comment with your contact information (this can be your e-mail in a cryptic format, such as ladiva AT gmail). Comment by next Tuesday, September 18th. You can say anything you like in the comment, as long as it's nice. Let's play nice (unlike the rest of the net, politics-infested as it is. My own MOTHER, aged 83, is in there screaming at the television and insists on staying on the news channels. I keep telling her she's only upsetting herself, but some people enjoy that.)

The winners will be chosen randomly from the commenters by my Pomeranian, Teddy. I'll label his dog treats "1," "2," "3," and so forth, and throw them on the floor. He always gets them and drags them over to his hiding place. Which order will he get them? That will determine the winners! If I only get three comments, then you'll all WIN! You're already winners, you know--in all sorts of other ways. Thanks for reading.

I'm really interested in hearing from readers. Let me know your thoughts on the new Bounty o' Books that is out there, much of it for free on e-readers. Are we better off than we were a couple of years ago, or not? LOL

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bit rot, file corruption, and obsolete file formats--reality!

All RIIIIIght! You are a Modern Thinker! You are not an old fuddy-duddy Luddite! You are wired up to the minute with all the latest devices!

You've just burned your library and will from now on ONLY get books on your Kindle, Nook, pad, or whatever. All-digital all the way!

Oh, yeah! You just saved some space! Like the turtle who carries her home on her back, you have just made it possible to have many volumes on a wafer-thin, um, wafer. Just as you dumped your vinyl for CDs for the iPod or MP3 player, you've lightened your load.

As long as you don't see that as a "forever" deal, of course.

What do I mean? What kind of nutcase AM I? (That actually remains to be seen. As Sheldon Cooper says, "I'm not insane. My mother had me tested.")

Indulge me for a moment. Let me muse a bit here about the various file formats I have seen sprout, blossom, propagate to be ubiquitous (there are some SAT words for ya!), and then wilt and be swept into the dirt forever. Anyone remember those wonderful 8-1/2 inch floppy disks that we used when I worked at Rockwell Collins (in 1981) to back up all the stuff in the world? No? How about the ubiquitous 5-1/4 floppy that was in EVERY Apple ][ and PC clone . . . for years . . . and the likes of which kept our files and docs safely backed up . . . forever? Then came the shirt-pocket-sized hard-sided Sony 3" diskettes that lasted somewhat longer--the Zip drive--DAT tapes--all formats of tapes, cassette and otherwise . . . vanity, all is vanity.

My husband finally (last month) unearthed my last cache of diskettes with backups from my old BBS and old writing workshops and so forth and dumped them, with me crawling behind and clawing at them the entire time.

"But we don't have any way to READ them any more," he said reasonably as he reached over my head to dump them into the dumpster. "You don't have an extra slot on your PC to hold a floppy controller. No one uses them. Besides, they surely have bit rot, as you last wrote to them in the late 1980s. Have you tried to read one lately? Not that we have a drive anywhere."

I still hated to see them go. FidoNET Echoes 1986! Writers' Workshop 1988 Lectures and Conferences! But . . . any data that I did not get transferred to the latest disk is gone, and possibly was anyhow, because some of the files that I *did* rescue and have not re-read recently are kind of corrupted. I don't even know where you could get a tape drive to read those old Mac backup tapes I had.

Not to worry, as my own output for the most part has followed me from disk to disk to crashed/recovered disk. But what of the many people who have burned their bras, I mean libraries, and gone all-Kindle?

Yes, friends, the Kindle format may be de rigueur today. But how long will that format last?

"Amazon has a backup of all my files in the Cloud and on my Kindle Page," you affirm testily. "Even if I lost this Kindle or it quit working, I would only have to get a new device to recopy all that stuff."

Yes, yes. Simple!

I seem to recall at least one instance in which Amazon pulled books (files) from everyone's Kindles because it suddenly realized it didn't have the rights to sell those books. Amazon's cloud is in constant contact with your Kindle and its library, and could make changes in it without even telling you. If they wanted to change ALL digital copies of the Constitution to read that smoking is prohibited and punishable by a day in the stocks, they could. Right now, there are still copies of the Constitution on paper and parchment, and there are living people who still live and die by its words (such as the Supreme Court, which is supposed to take Constitutional scholarship seriously). But someday there may not be anything but electronic copies, meaning that whoever owns those copies can modify them and then say that's the way it always was. History is changed. Welcome, Big Brother and doublethink.

Okay, you think that's going way wackjob.

Let's return to my scenario of bitrot and magnetic boo-boos. You can have a file backed up in several formats. That doesn't mean that one of the disks won't fail, or that the file on the memory stick won't get corrupted, or that (most likely) there will no longer be any software that supports that format. I find that I have to upgrade my operating system and apps whether I like it or not, regularly, whenever the industry decrees that Windows Whatever and WordStar 3.3 will no longer be supported. That's the way of the world. Eventually, no one will support reading Kindle files or Nook files or whatever. They'll look at you as if you were yelling for VisiCalc or the original Zork trilogy in text. (You might still find those now, but in a few years, perhaps not. The kids growing up today are not fascinated by text adventures.)

Even if you still have a floppy drive and your diskettes work, it won't last forever. We have "rotting formats" as well as physical bit "rot" going on all the time, and even though some of us are now "all-Kindle" and feel confident, the files on the Kindle are ephemeral. ("All is vanity, saith the Preacher.")

Yes, I always believed that I'd drag ALL my files along as soon as a converter was available and yadda, yadda, zamma, zamma. However, I didn't. I was too busy doing other things, producing new text, going different directions. Now it's too late. The time will come when it's too late to convert those old Kindle files--will you care? Or will you just say, "I'll re-buy the ones I want?" You will be helping the economy, so congratulations on that, Mr. VCR-bumper DVD-dumper Blu-Ray buyer.

So someday all of these books that you have paid $12 and up for will be unreadable. That may be fine with you. Perhaps you don't like to ever re-read books, and you don't care if those texts are lost to posterity. There are books now that have not made it onto a Kindle or Nook (the rights belong to someone who hasn't wanted to put the backlist up yet, maybe), and when the physical copies of those books are gone, they'll be gone. So it goes. So be it. Perhaps that doesn't matter.

But you ought to know what you're getting into. Someday all those .mobi files will be as unreadable as old Atari PC files. If you had the physical books, you could use them to prop up the table leg, have your kid sit on them to boost him up to the table, burn them for heat in the winter, and so forth. I feel there is tangible worth in a physical object, even today. Just something to think about.

My books are mostly available on the Kindle now, as well as in trade paperback. DULCINEA and NICE WORK are not. DULCINEA is not because I don't want it to be right now--I would have to go through XLibris, and I don't like their royalty structure for e-books. NICE WORK is at the end of a LONG line of books that OTP's converter person is working on. But, more to the point, the publisher doesn't make much money on anything other than the paper copy, and I had really hoped that people would want paper copies of the book. It's been very disappointing to find that most people have so many rationalizations as to why they don't want a dead-tree edition. *sigh* But this is life. It's the one you get. So go out and have a ball!

In other news, I want to play Water Polo now. On the men's Olympic team. The USA team is pretty easy on the eyes! And the Croatian team as well! The team captain is nearly 7 feet tall. And I have to jump to reach the middle shelf of my upper kitchen cabinets. *Life is unfair*

Thursday, August 2, 2012

FREE BOOK offer!

OH GOD YOU ARE SO SICK OF SEEING BLATANT SELF-PROMO HERE AND ON ALL OF THE 'NET, but bear with me a moment. One more time, with feeling. A BET, like Lucy and Ricky Ricardo made all the time!

Last night, my elderly mother asked me if I thought I could sell 10 books before the end of the week. (She meant NICE WORK, but I got her to count ANY book of mine, including the Shalanna Collins books such as APRIL, MAYBE JUNE.)

Well, I wasn't sure she was serious, but she TRIPLE-dog-dared me. Skipping entirely over the DOUBLE-dog-dare. Completely out of protocol. She mentioned something she'd make me do for her if I *didn't* sell. And, yes, I'd like to be able to say I met the challenge.

I know people are being conservative with their money, so here's my promo idea. In this promotion, to last from yesterday until Sunday at midnight, I will not mention going to the Oak Tree Press direct site to buy the book because I want to see how long it takes for people to receive the books they've ordered from that site, and the experiment is ongoing. Unfortunately, this means we have to deal directly with Amazon--which makes people more comfy, because they know they can trust Amazon, even if it costs a widge more.

If you go to Amazon and buy NICE WORK by Denise Weeks before Sunday at midnight, and you snail-mail me the paper invoice that comes in the box when you get the book, I will personally send you a check reimbursing you for what NICE WORK cost you AND a signed bookplate. If you then write a review on Amazon for NICE WORK--pro or con, whatever you really feel--I will send you a code that will let you get a FREE Oak Tree Press book by mail. Any book they sell. Honest!

Interested? Email my assistant (Mama!) at jodie.gerneth AT gmail DOT com to get the mailing address for the invoice. This offer is good for the first 25 people who take me up on it. (I can't extend it indefinitely, because my royalty for the book is around a dollar, and we're talking about my sending out ~$20 in return, so I could go broke doing this.)

Yes, I'm trying to get the book kicked off. It is my hope that once some of you either read the book or pass it along to your husbands/wives/mothers/kids to read it, you will like it and change your low opinions of my writing in general. This would be a good thing. I would like to see this. I would LOVE to see more Amazon reviews. Then I might become a Real Girl. As dangerous as that might be.

We may not make 10 and I might have to make Mama a sweet potato pie, so HURRY! (You know she has diabetes! This isn't good for her health, although occasionally one does have to say fikkit and just splurge.)

You all know how to search Amazon. But if you like clicking through, you'll see NICE WORK listed on my Amazon page below.

Denise Weeks' Amazon author page

Oh, all right, here's the direct link to NICE WORK. Remember, it is a BIG book in trade paper.

NICE WORK at Amazon

And the link to my Shalanna Collins author page, in case you don't care for mysteries but you do like fantasy/YA or you have a student/kiddo/acquaintance who does.

Shalanna Collins' Amazon author page

I don't know what else I can do (short of hanging out at the corner of Cedar Springs and Oak Lawn, and I simply don't have the wardrobe or the bod for that) in order to get this book rolling and kicked off. The publisher had expected to see my family and friends buying the book as soon as it went live. A few loyal and decent and wonderful people DID (and I will not forget you, EVER), but not as many as she had expected. She expressed her disappointment to me in e-mail on Wednesday, because she usually sees contest winners take off (probably because they have lots of acquaintances who have money and/or jobs, and I happen to run in circles of artists and am related to many elderly folk who can't afford anything, and I understand that). This is one of the remedies I thought I'd try. It isn't that I'm not confident of the book's quality when compared to traditional mysteries by my favorites like Diane Mott Davidson and Anne George. In fact, I don't think I've posted snippets of this one on this journal, or at least not in ages. So no one can come out and say, "If it's that one you posted on here, I don't like it." At least not YET, not until you actually see a copy.

NOTE: I know that Amazon has not yet activated the "Look Inside!" feature that we asked for on the NICE WORK page. I don't know how much longer they'll take to do it, although I really want them to hurry. However, if you'd like a sample in PDF form, e-mail Mama (I'm trying to get her to learn how to use gmail, and that's why I'm having you do her) at jodie.gerneth at gmail, and she'll send one along. Mr. J. Michael Orenduff has advised me that Amazon customers won't buy a book that they can't LOOK INSIDE of, and I trust his judgment. Let's use the power of our minds to make them add the feature soon. And make the book sell by magic. You are getting sleeeepy--


*Pop* Um, right. What was I typing again?

OH, yeah. So the rabbi says to the priest, "Throw the money in the air, and what God wants, he keeps."

(Hey, don't blame me. That joke was the one that proved Number Five was alive in "Short Circuit." It's a really cute flick. If you haven't seen it, do.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Summer Reading Recommendations!

I'm a bit tardy with this, but what do you expect from me? I'm already overclocked.

(ahem) Here are my recommendations for your summer reading. I've already read them and approved them for you. They carry the Good Shalanna Seal of Approval. *honk*

Most of these books are available in Kindle format as well, but I have linked you to the dead-tree editions. I think it would be nice to get some of the last remaining debut paper novels. Also, it's easier to haul a paper book to the beach, read it, not worry about getting it wet, and leave it behind in the hotel room drawer to be discovered by the next intrepid reader. Be sure to put a sticky note on the front cover explaining that you've given the book to the Free Library and that the new person should keep or pass the book along, as (s)he prefers. If both of you would review it on Amazon--that would be gravy! And you know you love gravy! WOOF!

First up--MY books. Because this is MY blog, and I CAN. I promise you I will get to several books by other people. In just a minute. Scroll down to see. If you simply cannot BEAR another WORD about my stooopid BOOOKS, hit PageDown a couple of times to see the other writers' mystery novels that I commend. Page down to see the Beatlemaniac caper and the ghost, if you must. *sobbing* It's OK, really. Really.

Do you like LONG books? One that won't be finished in a day, that you can drag to the beach and back for a couple of days or that will sit on the nightstand for three?

How about the winner of the 2011 Oak Tree Press First Mystery Novel contest? Yeah, yeah, you've heard already. But why not read it for yourself?

NICE WORK by Denise Weeks is a longer, more absorbing mystery than the typical contemporary genre read. (Try it on stubborn spills--you'll see it's more absorbing.) It's big like Grisham's current 400-pager, but not QUITE as long at 366 pages. Thanks to my wonderful publisher, I finally found a home for the book that both St. Martin's Press and Bantam said was lovely but too long for mystery readers to stick with. Let's prove them WRONG! Make the world safe for long books again!

Elevator pitch: Jacquidon Carroll could've killed her boss when he downsized her--or so the police think. Can she and her sister find the real killer in the maze of BDSM clubs and secret societies that her (ex-)boss turns out to have been involved in--before it's too late?

(No explicit stuff--everything's played for laughs. It's a "Snoop Sisters" sort of romp like Anne George's Southern Sisters series, but with sisters in their mid-twenties rather than elderly like Jessica Tandy/Ruth Gordon.) Jacquidon and Chantal do some things you wouldn't do (and that I wouldn't do), but they retain their innocence. Except for that break-in . . . and stealing that journal, not to mention the wad of cash found next to it . . . but they were just BORROWING it, see, and they didn't actually break-and-enter, but had a friend of theirs let them in, and anyway Jacks used to work at the place. ANYHOW, they HAD to. It was all to clear Jacquidon of the murder she'd been accused of. Oh, it's impossible to explain in a paragraph. Just read it. We'll write more. (In fact, we already have.)

First in a series. That is, if you lot buy the book! Then I can get the next book published, and the next, and the next. You know the drill.

At Amazon: Nice Work--AMAZON

STILL on SPECIAL for $12 plus FREE SHIPPING at Oak Tree Press Direct! Such a DEAL!

Nice Work CHEAP

Interested in fiction that takes an unusual look at the world and examines fantastical/paranormal experiences? Murder by the Marfa Lights by Denise Weeks, a cozy/traditional mystery, is another of my books that was selected by the judges to compete in the final round of last year's St. Martin's/Malice Domestic contest, although it did not win that contest. It SHOULD have. Am I biased here?? Although I haven't seen the book that won. Why not read them BOTH and report back to me, STAT!

Ariadne French has waited almost a year to hear from her boyfriend. A call from practically anywhere, though Aaron left her to find his fortune in Montana with promises to send for her as soon as he was settled, would suit her just fine. But to hear that he's dead of a heart attack in Marfa, Texas--and that he has left her all his worldly goods, including a cabin he built with his own hands--shakes her to the core. Aaron dead? And only a year after her sister Zöe lost her young son and became a virtual hermit. Against her sister's advice, Ari leaves Dallas for Marfa to help settle the estate--but also to investigate Aaron's death.

Aaron had apparently been trying to sell his revolutionary encryption software routine--which was claimed in the e-mails Ariadne finds on his computer to be as secure as but twice as fast as the standard RSA public-key algorithm--to several interested corporate and government buyers. But there's no trace of the software on his computer, and Ari suspects it has something to do with Aaron's death. Where is the money that he was paid in advance by several buyers? As she searches for the source code (she's certain he backed it up and had several copies) and tries to build a case to show he was murdered, more and more suspects show up on the doorstep of his cabin. She finds herself in an exotic world of religious cults, a smarmily charming minister, a mystic-minded Cherokee lawyer, a secretive musician, and Aaron's eccentric family, which has somehow picked up a sister whom Aaron never mentioned in all their time together. After enduring everything from a chase through the desert by the Marfa Mystery Lights to some very real death threats from Aaron's erstwhile heirs, Ari finds herself recruiting Zöe to help her put together the pieces and solve the ultimate mystery: why Aaron was killed, and who killed him.

Murder by the Marfa Lights by Denise Weeks is a soft-boiled cozy/traditional mystery that has a dark side, but is leavened with eccentric character-based humor in the vein of Joan Hess, Donna Andrews, and the late Anne George (whose Southern Sisters mysteries featured a pair of sleuthing sisters who were much older than my young pair.) It holds appeal for those who are fascinated by the great and diverse state of Texas, especially the "old west" area in which Marfa is located, and Texas flavors the work so much that it serves almost as a character itself. Because of the multiple UFO sightings recently in small-town Texas and the video of the Marfa Mystery Lights that was all over CNN this spring, I believe that my book will please readers who are fascinated by the supernatural or the suggestion of paranormal elements.

Murder by the Marfa Lights at Amazon

But other people write mysteries, too. Imagine!

The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper by Sally Carpenter is the first in a series starring Sandy Fairfax, a has-been teen idol from the seventies (think Bobby Sherman and Andy Gibb) who attends a Beatles fandom convention to re-start his career.

Remember how if you played the Beatles album track backwards, you'd hear "Paul is dead" . . . um, no, it's not Paul after all! Get set for a wacky ride to a retro Beatles fan convention in this cozy/traditional mystery. Author Sally Carpenter gets the details of fandom right, down to the starry-eyed fangirl Bunny, escort for Our Hero Sandy Fairfax, a former teen idol/singer/TV star who at age 38 has returned as a special guest at this convention. Sandy, now almost forty, was the Shaun Cassidy of his day when he starred in the TV series "Buddy Brave, Boy Sleuth," analogous to the Hardy Boys Mysteries. Unfortunately, Sandy has had a tough time over the years restarting his career and is fighting alcoholism to boot. But after he ends up solving a murder, he finds himself a changed man and pulls him out of his bad attitude to focus him on a new beginning. This book reminded me of Bimbos of death sun but without the sneering attitude of the main female character towards everyone in the con, especially the fat woman whom she completely treats as scum. I gave this one a glowing review on Amazon. I wasn't kissing up, either--I always say what I mean in reviews. You can order this one on Amazon or direct from Oak Tree Press.

The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper at Amazon

You know what a ghostwriter is, don't you? Well, sometimes someone crosses the Veil without finishing his greatest work. That's what happened to famous romance writer Max Murdoch (who produced the lovely tomes as Maxine DuBois). So when the young and unemployed (we prefer to call it "between gigs") computer programmer Nan Burton inherits her great-aunt's California beach cottage, she discovers she has also signed on to be the one to complete Max's final and greatest novel.

Lorna Collins (NO RELATION) has written a beach/ghost story for people who can't get enough of ghosts. Until I actually finish and sell my own ghost story, LOVE IS THE BRIDGE, you'll have to make do with other people's stuff, and this is the one to pick. It sort of reminded me of _The Ghost and Mrs. Muir_. I haven't finished the book yet, so don't spoil it for me. Go out and get your own copy.

Ghost Writer at Amazon

The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras by J. Michael Orenduff

I can't be too effusive in my praise of Mike Orenduff's POT THIEF series. I am not at all biased by his having recommended my MARFA LIGHTS novel to his editors at Oak Tree Press and to other influential types. No, REALLY. His books stand on their own. They are a mix of lore with intellectual analysis. The plots make sense and are not derivative of anything else.

His is not the usual flat, plain, no-style writing that you get in so many best-sellers. You'll think you're reading dialogue from Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Rock Hudson and Doris Day, Cary Grant and anyone else--it's that funny.

He wins a lot of awards, and this is the ziilionth book in the series, so you're in for a treat! His new publisher, Aakenbaaken (and I'll have eggs sunny side up with that bacon) and Kent, needs your money (LOL), so buy this book now.

The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras

Absinthe of Malice by Pat Browning

Don't let the pun in the title put you off. (I had a boss who ADORED puns. So did my most beloved and sorely missed AP English teacher. But they are still the lowest form of humor. Except for frat-boy idiocy. And anything Adam Sandler. Still, I kind of like puns. Shhh.)

It's an urban cozy set in California that explores how the past and its secrets mold and affect those living in the present. The female protagonist is clever--which counts for SO MUCH in these days of "too stupid to live" female P. I. characters and the airheaded types who never learn not to go down into the dark basement without a flashlight to find out what that terrible howling noise is. I can't say too much about the plot without risking spoilers (although several studies say spoilers don't spoil fiction--but let's not go there right now). Just pick this one up if you love small-town intrigue and amateur sleuthing.

Absinthe of Malice

My two mysteries at ~300 pages not long enough for ya? Love Jane Austen and "Five Little Peppers" and Proust? Adore historicals? Know what Prussia was (or want to learn)?

Try this 600-page historical set in 19th-century Prussia! One reviewer said Prussian Yarns by Laurie Campbell is like "Upstairs, Downstairs," where you get to see the landowners' problems as well as the servants' tribulations. Lots and lots of voice and charming characters. She's been working on this one as long as I've known her (and that is a LONG time!) I think you'll like it.

Prussian Yarns

Are you ready for a short, faster-paced fantasy/adventure? A great summer read, a beach read--good for young adults as well as grown-ups who have never lost that sense of wonder. A contemporary urban fantasy with magic! If you liked "How to buy a love of reading" or the Millicent Min books with a first-person genius girl narrator, this is your cuppa. April, Maybe June by Shalanna Collins, for middle grade readers and UP. Mostly UP.

April Bliss (yes, she gets teased for her name) is a precocious teen girl genius with a sister who is a year and a half older and even smarter. Of course April knows she's smart and funny--but not necessarily in the ways that she believes she is. Her life has been on an even keel until the day the police show up at their mansion and their family is thrown into chaos. Never mind that June slips on a magic ring and goes wild, or that April finds a magic book that shows her alarming pictures. They've got to rescue their cousin Arlene from a renegade coven of evil witches--or is that a double-cross?

Train scenes! Magic! Kidnapping! Crazy family! And lots more.

April, Maybe June

If your preferences in contemporary urban fantasy run a little grittier--here's something aimed at slightly older audiences (because of some sexual situations and language, though nothing explicit).

Camille MacTavish runs away from her new stepfather who has been attempting to abuse her and runs smack into a magical netsuke. If you don't know what that is--read this and learn something cool. Renfaire fu, tramp convention fu, shoplifting oops. Remember: Magic is dangerous--it's not Santa Claus or the Good Fairy--and never tempt a demon.

Camillle's Travels by Shalanna Collins, available on Amazon in print or Kindle editions.

Camille's Travels (or Travels Without Charley)

At last, something by someone other than MOI, but still fantasy/science fiction.

Lately I've been turning to small presses for the stuff I like to read, the sorts of books I am not getting from the New York houses. Yard Dog Press is very active at conventions and in fandom. You may already be familiar with the various books and lines they put out.

New this summer is The Anthology from Hell: Humorous Stories from WAY Down Under, edited by Julia S. Mandala. This one is a goodie. It's a collection of short stories about you-know-where and what happens there. Several of the authors are Grandmasters: Lawrence Watt-Evans, Spider Robinson, Robert Sheckley, Esther Friesner, and Mike Resnick, to name a few. BUT!! The IMPORTANT part is that my best friend from my college days has a story in it, and so does one of my other long-term friends who has gone to many events with us, and the first person in our old writers' critique group to be published does, too. In fact, the last of these is the editor of this collection! I think that says it all--of course you will go pick up this anthology. Be sure to check out the stories by Linda Donahue (my college friend), her hubby Christopher Donahue, and our friend Katherine Turski. Order direct for the best price!

The Anthology From Hell by my oldest and dearest friends!!

How about a splash of nonfiction? If you want to learn something, learn from the master. A professor who knows how to talk to the regular people!

The Lexicographer's Dilemma

Of "Grammar, And Nonsense, And Learning" speaks the learned professor Jack Lynch. You can't go wrong with one of Jack's books, from his tome on Shakespeare to his stuff on Dr. Johnson and the first dictionary. This one is a good place to start. Why not learn something about the way the English language has grown and adapted over the years, instead of just working on your tan (you shouldn't be out in the sun without SPF lotion, anyway)?

Here's the more literary, Serious Stuff.

One Bead of Gold by Lorraine Stanton This is another book by a long-time writing comrade and good friend of mine. Unfortunately, it deals with child abuse and her experiences of growing up under a cloud of it. If this stuff triggers you, you might want to consider carefully how you will react and prepare accordingly. This is an unvarnished look into the foster care system through the eyes of abused children. Worth your consideration.

One Bead of Gold

Of course if you like literary chick lit with a paranormal twist--there's always my masterpiece/book of my heart, LITTLE RITUALS by Denise Weeks. About which you have already heard so much here. I can't let this opportunity to pmp the book pass by.

LITTLE RITUALS, Daphne under a curse and learning to sail

Okay, now get ready to dig through the used book store. If you find any of these, snatch them up. You won't be disappointed.

TRUST ME ON THIS by Donald E. Westlake
BELLWETHER by Connie Willis
THE EGYPT GAME by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
THE FORTUNATE FALL by Raphael Carter
SCIENCE FAIR by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Happy reading!