Thursday, February 28, 2008


"Let me just ask you one more thing...."
Lt. Columbo
Lee Lofland--he makes you laugh and he knows two hundred ways to kill you. And he's much smarter than Columbo. Don't even think about trying to fool him. Of course you know Lee is the author of Police Procedure and Investigation, A Guide For Writers (Writers Digest Books). And yes, he's a nationally acclaimed expert on police procedure and crime-scene investigation. He is also a consultant for many bestselling authors and television and film writers. His current works-in-progress are a mystery novel and a children’s book about police and CSI that’s scheduled for release in 2008. And his wife (who could be another blog interview!) is lovely. And very patient. But Lee put down his doughnut and coffee...really, it was a raspberry croissant and skim chat with me about himself. (Okay, joke. It was coffee.)
And don't miss the trick question at the end!
Hank: Did you always want to be in law enforcement?

Lee: I was an avid reader from the moment I could put two words together to form a sentence. I discovered the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine at an early age and those wonderful stories sparked my interest in solving crime. So, yes, even as a child my goal was to be a police detective.

The desire to work in law enforcement was paired with the longing to be a writer. I was also a huge fan of Poe, Dickens, and my relative, Dr. John Lofland, the first Poet Laureate of Delaware, who was a great friend of Edgar Allan Poe.

Hank: When did you make that decision? And why?
Lee: I made the decision to become a police officer when I was in junior high school, The turning point was when my best friend's brother was hired by our local police department. He came home on weekends and shared such exciting stories about his academy training. Oh, the way he talked about chasing bad guys and working crime scenes. It was fascinating. I was hooked from that moment forward.

It took me such a long time to get into police work because I wanted to work for one particular department, for a specific sheriff, and that office had almost no turnover. I actually begin the journey by going to work in the state prison system as a corrections officer. I'd hoped that experience and training would help get my foot in the door of the sheriff's office. It worked.

Hank: Wait--your relative was a pal of Poe's? Do you have any inside scoop?

Lee: Dr. John Lofland was the first official poet for the State of Delaware and authored the poems in the book The Poetical and Prose Writings of Dr. John Lofland, the Milford Bard. Of course, he wrote other poems and books, and, yes, he and Poe were great friends. Buddies.

In fact, in 1830 Dr. John Lofland accepted a challenge from Edgar Allan Poe at the Stars and Stripes Tavern on Water St. in Baltimore Md. The challenge was to see which of the two could write the greater number of verses. Poe lost to Lofland in the marathon contest and was obligated to pay for dinner and drinks for his good friend. I like to think this as proof a Lofland received the first ever Edgar Award, dinner and drinks from Poe himself!

Hank: Very cool. (And maybe you’ll get the next one?) But back to your own history. What surprised you as a corrections officer?
Lee: I suppose the thing that surprised me the most was that a prison is a separate world from the one beyond the walls and razor wire. It's a culture all its own, complete with an inmate legal system that's policed by the prisoners themselves. The incarcerated residents have even devised and maintain their own currency.

Of course, there were many other surprises, such as the working conditions. No, not because of the inmate activity; because of the stress and pressures applied by the prison administration and the grueling work schedule that imposed on the security staff.

Another surprise was to learn about the extreme waste of time and space. There's no wonder the recidivism rate is so high. Warehousing men and women doesn't seem to work. Sure, it's fine for career criminals - put them away and lose the key - , but not for those who truly need to, and want to, make a go of it after they've paid their debt to society. They don't stand a chance of becoming productive citizens after they're released from the moment they first step into their cells. Prison-life can actually train people to become better criminals and that's not the way it's supposed to work.

Hank: Did you meet people who will inhabit your books?
Lee: There's a never-ending supply of characters living in the far corners of my mind. I've seen the worst-of-the-worst, and I seen those who simply caught an unlucky break. I remember one inmate in particular who, while on the outside, lived across the street from his daughter and son-in-law. One night he heard his daughter screaming for help and ran to help her. When he opened the front door to his daughter's house, he was horrified to see her husband viciously beating and raping the man's only child. When he couldn't pull his son-in-law away from the girl, he went back across the street and retrieved his shotgun. Then he returned and killed his son-in-law, an act that may have saved the young woman's life. The father received a life sentence for pre-meditated murder.

My daughter went to work for the prison system many, many years after I'd left (I tried to discourage it, but she did it anyway. Thankfully, she saw the light and is no longer there). Last year, during Christmas, she began to tell me a sad story of meeting an old man, an inmate, who'd killed his son-in-law because he was raping the man's daughter. Yep, it was the same man, same sad story. Sometimes, I wonder how many people have shared that man's nightmare over the years.

On the other hand, there are those inmates who killed for sport. I have no sympathy for those monsters.

Hank: Did you keep a diary or journal?
Lee: I don't have a day-to-day journal of my entire life, but I do have notes and memos detailing important events. I also have my notes from my years as a patrol officer and detective. I even have a few old copies of case file. I recently discovered an old log book from my days as a sheriff's deputy. If anyone's curious, I can tell you how many gallons of gas it took to fill the tank on my patrol car in the early 80s. I also have tons of photos for inspiration. My memories of this time of my life replay themselves over and over again in my mind. There's definitely never going to be a shortage of book fodder. And this was just the beginning of my career.

Hank: Your Police Procedure book is amazing--a wealth of information, as useful as an encyclopedia, and as readable as a novel. Forgive the predictable question--but was it a tough book to write and put together?

Lee: My first effort at a police procedure guide was intended to be a manual to compliment the workshops I conduct for writer's conferences. I put it all together and then someone said, "Gee, you should make this into a book." So I did. My agent called me one afternoon and said, "They love your book. Absolutely love it, but there's one section they'd like you to change in order for them to publish it." I thought, well how fantastic is that, and asked what they'd like changed. In a soft, sweet voice she replied, "Pretty much everything between the first and last page." So I started over. I guess that was better than a rejection.

When I first had the idea to write the book you see now, I thought it would be a piece of cake. After all, I'd lived the life and thought I knew it all. I quickly found out how wrong I was. The result came from two-and-a-half years of intense research. I also had to dig up plenty of old memories and not all of those recollections were pleasant. I did, however, make a lot of new friends. I’m glad to have finally moved on to fiction. The funny thing is that I find myself referring to my own book as a source of research for the novel I'm writing. Go figure.

Hank: Yeah, your novel! Tell all
Lee: For now, I'm calling it The March of the Spiders. It's a convoluted story of a detective who's struggling to function in a normal world. His turmoil began when he shot and killed a young man during a gun battle. He hasn't been able to cope with ending the robber's life, and he's been in therapy since the event occurred. In fact, he hasn't been able to carry a loaded gun since that day, fearing he'd be placed in the position of hurting someone else.

The detective lost his beloved wife to cancer and, since her death, he's been raising their teenage daughter. He still loves his wife dearly and misses her greatly. He's lonely, and his grief is apparent during the conversations he has with the photograph of his smiling wife that's taped to the dashboard of his police car.

The return of a murderer, a killer with an agenda that includes the protagonist, has further complicated the detective's problems. Murder, abduction, addiction, and nail-biting nightmares are all obstacles in the hero's path. Through twisted thoughts, nightmares, self-pity, and the voices of the dead echoing inside his head, the detective is determined to succeed in his quest to become the father his daughter so desperately needs.

The book ends with an unexpected twist.

Thanks Lee! Now, before everyone heads over to The Graveyard Shift, a guide to all things cops and robbers to get all their own questions answered--

Time for the Jungle Red Quiz! (Our own unexpected twist.) Tell us four things about you. But make only three of them true. See if we can guess which one is a trick!
1) I play several musical instruments
2) I have a collection of mug shots of every person I arrested who was convicted.
3) I once appeared in the audience on The Jerry Springer Show
4) I have a tattoo of Mickey Mouse

So--what do you all think? I think if 1 is true, we have our next Sisters In Crime Meeting agenda all set.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Congratulations Hank!

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to announce...

Hank Phillippi Ryan's Prime Time has been nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

All of us at Jungle Red are thrilled to have royalty in our midst. Huzzzah Huzzah, and Very Big Whoop! Raise a glass of bubbly with us to toast this well deserved honor.
Love ya, Hank!

Hip, hip, hooray!

Three cheers for our Jungle Red colleague Hank whose first novel, PRIME TIME, has been nominated for an Agatha award for best first mystery. Congratulations from all of us! Roberta

Hip, hip, hooray!

Three cheers for our Jungle Red colleague Hank whose first novel, PRIME TIME, has been nominated for an Agatha award for best first mystery. Congratulations from all of us! Roberta

Sunday, February 24, 2008


On May 9, 2007 Tupperware announced Brooke Shields as the celebrity spokesperson for Tupperware’s "Chain of Confidence" campaign in the USA. The campaign invites women to celebrate the strong bonds of female friendships and the self-confidence derived from those relationships.

I‘m generally not a yeller. In the face of adversity, I’m usually more in the problem-solving mode than the victim mode.

So why, the other day, was I in my kitchen howling? Because a whole raft of plastic containers and lids—-separate and I’m sure none matching any other-—came tumbling clattering sliding down onto my head from the highest shelf in the cabinet. Apparently they were finally executing their long-plotted plan to escape.

It was hilarious, I’m sure, if you aren’t the one being buried in a plastic avalanche. I tried to bat them away, unsuccessfully, as they attacked me. I wound up surrounded by plastic stuff, the cabinet empty, the floor covered. Me enraged.

To make it worse, my darling husband started laughing, always a mistake in situations like this, and he later told me I was yelling “Why? Why?” (Kind of like Nancy Kerrigan without the little skirt.)

Why? Why? As if the world doesn’t allow things to happen without a reason. (And it doesn’t count that the reason is that I had Fibber McGee’d them into the cabinet and of course they were gonna fall.)

But it got me thinking. In books, nothing should happen without a reason. And if Charlie McNally had Tupperware fall on her head, there would have to be a bigger picture reason why. To prove she's disorganized. Or a pack rat. Or to remind her of gravity, which then reminds her of a clue.

When I was editing PT from 743 pages down to 323, I did it by asking why, why, why. Why is this scene here? Why does this character say that? Why does she drive to the police station? And if it didn’t mean something, out it went.

So—shall we talk about motivation? Or-- whether anyone has conquered the Tupperware problem? (Hallie, I think I still have one container of yours…)

JAN: I feel the exact same way when I inadvertently create a mini earth quake or catastrophe -- which is not an infrequent occurrence. Why me?? Why have the Kitchen Gods done this to me now? Right now when I was (probably) rushing to get something done in the too-little time I always leave for it. And now have five minutes to get somewhere twenty minutes away.

But that's me. I have a feeling you are better with time management. And your tupperware catastrophe was probably a good omen. In fact I'm sure someone must have done a Feng Shui book about how Tupperware earthquakes in your "wealth corner" or "creativity corner" are predictive of good fortune!!! The tumbling out of fortuituous ideas..... See if you are a novelist Hank, you can make up a new meaning for every life event!

As to writing a scene -- I think every little bit of dialogue, action and characterization has to be there for a reason, or else we don't have storytelling -- we have life as it is -- with all its randomness and tedium. NO one wants to read about actual life. We want to read the meaningful, moving, suspenseful and condensed version.

RO: I tend to write lean so when I ask why, I generally have to add stuff as opposed to taking stuff out. More often I find myself asking "why wouldn't she..." If I can convince myself that it isn't too far-fetched for a character to do something, then I let her do it. But when you write an amateur sleuth, she will invariably do things that most real people wouldn't stick her nose in where it doesn't belong.

Re: rubber containers...that's why I store them in a bottom drawer.

ROBERTA: Me too, Ro: I'm in the spare camp. I would never, ever, ever be in the position of having to edit from 743 pages to 300-something. I don't think I've hit the 300 page mark yet for a book! I think I must make assumptions about what's in my head and how well it's translated to the page.

And some day we should talk more about sticking noses where they don't belong. Every once in while it's enough to make me want to write a police procedural. Except (sigh), it sounds like so much work...

HALLIE: You know, what we're talking about is the intersection of plot and character. Your plot requires your Fiona to do X, but it only works if you've established a personality and history for Fiona that makes her doing X inevitable. And in a first draft, sometimes you write 443 pages of backstory that later needs to be cut. Not me...I'm like Roberta and I have to layer that stuff in later in order to make actions ring true.

If I store my plastic containers on the bottom of that closet, then I'll have to store the vacuum cleaner on the top shelf and then... it's too ugly to even contemplate.

HANK: Intersection of plot and character. I love that, Hallie. Because it also creates a moment of action. At an intersection, you have to make a decision. Turn? Go straight? I was reading a pal's manuscript, and at one point I asked : "Why does she do that?" And the answer came back: "She just does." That's a dead end.

But really, I do want to know what you do with your Tupperware-ish stuff. I found one of those plastic-containers-stacked-on-a-lazy-susan things. At the drug store? And it's terrific. (Next blog, pan lids.)

And PS--did you all see the cover of the new New Yorker? (My husband was laughing when he saw it (see above.) I said, all in denial, "It's a thesis she's writing, I think." He kept laughing)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Survivor's Lament: On the Thorns in Flora's Garden

HALLIE: Well, our little corner of the blogsphere is abuzz this week over Kate Flora's "Here's the Truth: Staying Published is like Spending Twenty Years on Survivor" on

Kate reveals how tired and angry many published authors get at their truly shabby treatment at the hands of publishers. Yes, it's a rant--a very honest, very angry rant.

The sad truth is that it's a whole lot harder to get well published once you've BEEN published and, despite hiring your own publicist, taking book tours on your own dime, mailing postcards to the world, and and and..., your wonderful books made a less than a humongous sales splash. I speak from firsthand experience.

Yes, that sucks. By midlist book 3 or 5 you've really got to knock their socks off with something new, different, phenonenal...because why should they put their money on publishing another novel? Even if it's really really good (and it is!) they've got eight gazillion unpublished writers jostling for a chance to strut their stuff and who knows, might have written the next breakthrough book.

The notice about Kate's essay, posted in the Sisters in Crime group, seems to have inspired a rash of interest in joining Guppies (a mutual support group for the Great Unpublished). Which seems an entirely appropriate response.

Because there really is wide open opportunity out there for first-timers. But be forewarned: the higher you get, the thinner the air.

ROBERTA: I think part of the problem is there are so many writers who want to get published, that we are a dispensable commodity. I was idly wondering last week after the writers strike was settled whether mystery writers could do the same. I concluded probably not.

The publishing industry has problems right now--not enough people buying books and reading them, maybe even too many published. I don't know the answers, but I agree with Hallie: get as much support as you can (Sisters in Crime is a great way to start) and learn as much about the business as possible.

Like Kate, I get frustrated about how hard I work and how difficult it is to make a living in this business and have your work appreciated. On the other hand, I'm not ready to quit! But have I learned anything over the course of 8 published novels? As Kate says, the writing has to take top priority. And then we all have to figure out when to move on from a cherished project.

Publishers today have short attention spans and are looking at the bottom line. Even if I thought my golf mysteries were delightful and the character arc was incomplete, they weren't selling in a big enough way to compel Berkley to continue.

Thanks to Kate for opening this dialogue!

JAN: There's a great chapter in the book Freakonomics on this whole situation. It's the oversupply of people who dream about second-tier "glamour jobs," like writing books. (First tier are movie acting, professional sports, Broadway...)The truth is there is very, very, little room at the top to really make a living out of these kind of professions and no shortage of people who want to try. On the flip side, the jobs no one dreams about jobs like accounting, prostitution etc. These professionals really pay!! (career change anyone?)

I liken publishing to playing the lottery. Actually getting published isn't winning. It's being able to purchase the lottery ticket. Then you start playing the long odds.

My solution?? Sadly, I've stopped dreaming. I haven't stoppped writing, but I've stopped thinking about it as a career.

HANK: I remmber when I met some of you for the first time: Hallie, Roberta, and I think, Lynne Heitman, and Kate Flora. At Kate's Mystery Books in Cambridge, MA. It was a few years ago, when my first book was written, but before it sold. My only real connection with mystery books was reading them and loving them. And, as I've said, meeting that group was like meeting the Beatles. I couldn't believe I was actually talking to you all.

So it's good to remember that your fans have no idea of how tough it is, and just admire you for your wonderful books.

Also then, "fan" me had no idea about the rigors of publishing, or what any of you had been through or what you worried about. And I was all smiley about my prospects and Kate said something to me like, "Oh, yes, it's all fun now, but just wait."

And I remember thinking--wait for what? What could be so horrible?

Now, it's fascinating to make the change from dream to reality. And then see what that reality is. But it's kind of the same in my TV world...where every day there's someone newer or more interesting or with better hair or a different schtick. And you just have to put your head down, and keep working, and do your very best.

RO: It's difficult for me to respond to this for a few reasons. My first book just came out 2 weeks ago, so I'm still in the honeymoon period. And I know a lot of people in the book publishing world, in fact I worked for a publisher for a few years, as did my husband (more than a few years.)

I'm thrilled that a publisher said yes to me, and I feel that part of my job as I switch gears from writer to author is to help him sell the book. I don't resent the activities I engage in to make that happen. Do I wish I had more time to write? Of course. But the publisher didn't adopt me. He gave me a chance. That's why - after writing the best book I could - I dropped in on 12 bookstores in the Chicago area yesterday, had a signing in Winnetka when it was 0 degrees outside, drove 5 hours to Dayton Ohio today and I'm now sitting in a Holiday Inn after speaking to three (count 'em) people who came out in a snowstorm to hear me at the local Books & Co. The booksellers made a wonderful display and poster, and somehow found daisies in the dead of the winter. The writer wrote the book, but the author (who looks like me, and sounds like me, but dresses better and smiles a lot more) has to, in this day and age, play a more active role in its success. I'm betting on myself the same way that the publisher is.

I can imagine the eye-rolling and almost hear people saying "sure, you say that now, talk to me after 10 years." I can tell you now, if it's still fun, I'll be doing it, if it's not, I won't.

As Hank says, you put your head down, keep working and do your very best. (Although I don't for a minute believe there is anyone with better hair than Hank's.)

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Inspirational Surround

HALLIE: For Christmas, one of my daughters gave me fingerless gloves. My other daughter gave me flannel slippers with buckwheat/beanbag soles that can be heated in the microwave. My husband gave me a lovely soft, pale gray wool shawl. As I type this, I'm wearing all of them (the things, not the family) and sipping a cup of hot tea in my office, a little room that hangs off the side of our house. In realtor speak: a solarium. Actually it's a winterized sun porch, barely eight by fourteen, with 7 windows all around. I love this light-filled space, and it has the great virtue of smallness,\ so I can't indulge my inner packrat. But when the temperature outside is seven degrees, which it was the other morning, it's COLD in here, and it feels even colder because I like my computer right up agains the window so I can watch the sparrows shivering the bushes as they peer longingly at the frozen birdbath.

Very glamorous, my writing life. So, how glamorous is yours--because it's one of the truths of life that misery loves company.

JAN: How glamorous is my office? Think painted paneling and bulletin boards. Not one bulletin board, mind you, but two because I'm the kind of person who needs visual stimuli pinned up in front of her so not to lose or forget anything. There's also an enormous office-sized printer with mental issues (its paranoid that its paper drawer is open -- sort of like that bad dream that you've gone to work without your shirt on). Lots of wires and storage drives I don't quite understand (my husband comes home with computer periferal extras) a guitar stand with the guitar missing, and a dog bed with my dog, Amber, currently snoring -- or maybe its more like doggie groaning.

The color scheme is beige and brown. Need I say more?

RO: It's a room we added on top of the house so there's a rather skinny set of steps to get up there. High ceilings, skylights, floor to ceiling windows and a slider to a small deck with a platform and pergola. Right now I'm watching a woodpecker nibble on a branch outside my window and I have to stop whatever I'm doing if I hear one of the owls.

My desk is a long slab of wood on top of two iron sewing machine bases. I have a bunch of mix-matched vintage furniture including a china cabinet filled with shells, a rattan sofa covered in barkcloth and a birds eye maple chest. There are books everywhere, a tree in the corner with a pink wrought iron flamingo stuck in the pot, and a telescope for when I need to check out the nighttime sky. One wall is floor to ceiling bookcases - just mysteries and gardening books. Like Jan I have two bulletin boards, filled with everything from my agent's first wonderful email to me (I Love It!) to pix of Bettie Page, Edith Wharton, the Virgin of Guadalupe..the list goes on.

It's a wonder I ever get any work done.

ROBERTA: I have a small nook off the bedroom with an astonishing view. But the part I like best is the slanted wall over my computer and printer--slathered with photos, poems, cartoons, an NYT bestseller list to give me inspiration. Here are a few samples:

1. a cartoon from Byline, one guy is handing another guy a book
and saying "We've started with a small print run. Here's your copy
and I'll keep the other one."
2. a photo of my stepson Andrew with our old dog Poco. The dog
has a sign around his neck saying "Andy is my valentine."
My son has a sign around his neck saying "Poco is my valentine."
I think he was a freshman in high school and we'd gone out to
dinner leaving him home without a date!
3. a list my husband passed on:
free your heart from hatred, free your mind from worries, live
simply, give more, expect less...
HANK: Sometimes my study is so sunny I have to wear my Evita baseball cap (Where the heck did I get that? Don't remember) to be able to see the computer screen. I'm sure I'm quite a sight: ponytail sticking out of the cap, no makeup, a big sweatshirt from the Gap that says Ti(RED) on the back. Sweatpants and those cozy clogs that I can't remember the name of that have tyrolean braid around the edges. Very very glam. Very.

I can see trees and sky out the bay window in front of me, squirrels fighting with the blue jays. A whole wall of books. A wonderful photo on an easel beside--but I can't see the photo anymore because I've covered it with so many signing posters and memorabilia(me at B and N, Borders, other bookstores. The best seller list with my books on it. My special fave is a cash register receipt from the Borders cafe that has "come meet Hank Phillippi Ryan" printed on the bottom).

I'm surrounded by books I might need. Hallie's in case I get stumped. Stephen King On Writing. Strunk and White. Baskets of file folders with notes in them. Again, via Hallie, my "compost" file of newspaper stories. I dig into them when my brian needs fuel, maybe for just a word. My word count chart. My scene and character and timing notebook. A sign that says: Hook. Stakes. Beautiful Writing.

On my desk, behind the monitor,the glittering beribboned bags that people used when they gave me book-deal champagne. In front of the monitor, two engraved little rocks. One says: Patience. The other says: Imagine.

HALLIE: I wonder if that's a universal among writers--that we surround ourselves with words. Our talismans. One of mine is a quote from an all-time favorite children's story from Carl Sandburg's Rootabaga Stories:
And a secret ambition is a little creeper that creeps and creeps
in your heart
night and day, singing a little song, "Come and find me, come and
find me."
Read the story of "Three Boys With Jugs of Molasses and Secret Ambitions" and have a lovely, inspired day with your very own freckles and secret ambitions.

So, with what talismans do you surround yourself?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine’s Day Fun

ROBERTA: I’m calling this post the Jungle Red Writers version of a Valentine’s Day card to readers and friends.

Part one is a website by a Connecticut woman who crams more into her life than you can imagine, including book reviews and the baking of amazing treats. Even if you don’t have the time or inclination to bake, just reading her recipes and looking at the pictures will make you drool:

Part 2: I’ve just spent the week with my sister (a nature writer) and brother-in-law (a geochemist) in Tallahassee. They are huge advocates of caring for our planet. My sister passes along Valentine’s Day advice:

Part 3: In the mood for a romantic movie? Try one of these:

Part 4: Just for fun, Valentine’s Day lyrics by Abc:

Part 5: And here’s a list of the UK Romantic Novelists' Association most romantic books ever written:

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
3. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
4. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
5. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
6. Katherine by Anya Seton
7. Persuasion by Jane Austen
8. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
9. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
10. Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier

Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us at Jungle Red Writers!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

On the Road Again

Sunday, February 10, 2008

"On the road again, I can't wait to get on the road again..." Willie Nelson

ROBERTA: This seems to be the only blog topic I can come up with because I've been away from home since December 27! I had a million good intentions of developing the idea for my next book, and a million reasons why that didn't happen. The computer crash--anyone would be set back by that one, right? And the time spent visiting relatives on the way south and then on the way back, no reasonable human being can work under those conditions. But what about all the time in between? And come to think of it, the times I've been on other trips, I'm uniformly unproductive. I'm wondering then if it's reasonable to expect to be able to write outside my office. Maybe traveling is disruptive enough that I should simply mark those days off on my calendar. NWT: no words today. Or maybe my brain is saying "I'm tired" after eight books in seven years. I'm secretly hoping it's been working away behind the scenes so when I do finally get home, a story will start to pour out!

JAN: I'm all for giving yourself a break! I think the brain needs rest times, and I also think that travel is disruptive -- pleasantly so. In fact, that probably accounts for its popularity!

I am taking two weeks off before starting my next project, and I'm not going anywhere-- physically at least. I'm just mentally "on the road," and so far, it's a very nice trip.

HALLIE: EIGHT BOOKS! That's impressive, Roberta. Maybe you just needed a break. And besides, what did you expect, vacationing in Florida? Not exactly conducive to sweat and toil. I was there for three mojito-soaked days at conference last week and I came away with nothing to show for all that heavy lifting but a pink plastic flamingo.

Seriously, I can NOT write away from home. And I've become paranoid about my computer--last time I took it on a plane, the hard drive crashed a day later. (Same thing happened to my husband's laptop when he took a trip.) Even though I had everything backed up, it was weeks before I was out of Dell Hell and back in business. And without my computer, working isn't unlikely, it's iimpossibe.

What we all need for traveling/writing is a small, super rugged, laptop that does nothing but word process and email.

RO: I'm in awe of the eight books..
I can rewrite on the road..I quite enjoy that, but can't seem to generate new pages. But that doesn't stop me from schlepping all of my notes and folders with me, as if this time will be different..

HANK: One of the moments when I actually felt like a writer was two summers ago, in a B and B called The Rookwood Inn in Lenox, Massachusetts. My husband and I, along with another couple, were spending a few days there, going to Tanglewood and plays and museums and all the wonderful things around there. But my first book was due in two weeks. And I had to work.

So every morning, I took my laptop into the living room of the Inn, sat on a velvet couch, and laptop on lap, a put my feet (yes) on the coffee table . I had to finish the first big redraft of Prime Time. I missed out on a museum and a lunch at a great place. The next day, everyone but me went somewhere else fun. I kept working.

Secretly? I was thrilled. I felt tough and powerful and devoted. And I did finish. Away from my own dear desk. I had to. But wow, I'd certainly rather be right here, surrounded by my stuff.

And Roberta, I think though, there is something to be said for resting your tired brain. When your story's percolated inside your brain and ready, I bet you won't be able to keep away from a computer or pad of paper, no matter where you are. I have notes on symphony programs, napkins, my little red notebook, backs of envelopes, and yes, my reporter's notepad. When it's time, your story won't let you stand in the way.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

"I didn't know what day it was...."

Alright, it's not Friday, it's Saturday. And Saturday night to boot, but I'm begging my blog sisters indulgence. (I feel a little like Bob Cratchit explaining to Ebenzer Scrooge
why he was late to work the day after Christmas. "I was making rather merry...")

This week has flown...six cities since Sunday..including layovers. My Friday/Saturday surprise is an entry from Joanna Slan who writes a scrapbooking series and blogs regularly on Killer Hobbies.

My Magnificent Obsession

Lately, I’ve been dreaming about marketing my book. Yesterday, I woke up and realized I was in my bed, not folding colorful brochures. I could have sworn I was putting creases in those tri-folds! After I rubbed my eyes I noticed the sheets were bunched in an odd fashion, the edges perfectly lined up in three sections.

When my non-author friends ask, “How’s the book coming?” I tell them Paper, Scissors, Death is in the hands of editors, and my “baby” will be born on September 13, 2008. They smile. “Aren’t you excited?”


I’m terrified.

Here’s what it’s like: I’m a horse, and all my fellow authors are horses, too. We’re lined up at the track. The gun will go off. Only a few of us will make it to the finish line. A couple might stumble, break a leg and have to be shot. Those of us who finish “in the money” will win the opportunity to race again another day.

But we live to run. We live for this. Well, I do at least.

I’ve been writing my whole life. I grew up in an itsy-bitsy town in Indiana, a place that looks its best in your rearview mirror. We only got three channels on TV, and that was if I could talk my sister Jane into holding onto the rabbit ears and wearing tin foil. (Sorry, Janie. I know I shouldn’t have asked it of you. But you were the younger one, and that’s the breaks, kiddo.)

Without much to do, I read a lot. The public library was my favorite place. I would stand in front of the stacks and crane my head back. The books went on and on to the ceiling. Had anyone read all these books? Probably not. Did the librarian even know what was in all of them? Doubtful.

When I ran out of stuff to read, I told myself a lot of stories. That’s the beauty of life in the middle of a cornfield where the only constant is the pump, pump, pump of the oil rigs. You gotta lotta nuttin’ to do. Which translates into “thinking time.” Daydreaming. Imagining. Fertile soil for dreaming up characters for a story or a book.

I won my first writing award in high school. Majored in journalism and wrote a column for the Muncie Star while at Ball State University. Worked for newspapers, radio stations, and had a talk show on TV. Did public relations. Wrote speeches. Gave speeches. Freelanced for magazines and newspapers. Taught writing in college, and now online. So I've been working at this career most of my life. You'd think I'd have some grasp of the process and the business.

Here’s the weirdest part: This isn’t my first book. It’s not like I haven’t been through this before. I’m the author of ten books of non-fiction. All of them sold well. A few sold REALLY well.

So why am I worried?

Because this is fiction. This is me. My imagination. My heart, my soul, my special talent, my little stories, my creations come to life on paper pages. And golly, I want other people to like what I’ve done as much as I do.

It’s pathetic.
It’s true.
I guess I’ll just have to wait until September and see.

About Joanna Campbell Slan...

Yeah, she really did grow up in the middle of a cornfield. Today she lives in a suburb of St. Louis, near a soybean field. Catch her blog with other mystery writers at or her ideas on promotion (other than folding sheets) at her blog in her website Paper, Scissors, Death: A Scrapbooking Mystery will debut September 13, 2008 from Midnight Ink.

Fall 2008, Midnight

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Wasn't that a party!

..still reeling from the wonderful evening. About 100 friends packed Partners & Crime and gave me a great sendoff. Yes, the lovely Clare did make it, as did Jane Cleland, Chris Grabenstein, Liz Zelvin, Meredith Cole, Ken Isaacson and a number of other MWANY pals. And P&C sold out of the book...close to 100 copies(yeah!) I'm going to head to the airport in a few hours with a lot of confidence and a happy idiot grin on my face.

The evening went so fast I forgot to ask someoen to take pictures so if anyone out there has pix, please let me know. Snapped this one at the end of the night as I was leaving for a late dinner. It's Liz, Clare, Meredith, the back of Ken's head, and Greg from the New York Times.

Thanks to everyone for sending the good vibes and to my blog sisters for the lovely flowers!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Super Tuesday.

RO: For a lot of people those two words are incredibly exciting. After all of this time the party will be focused on one person. No more waiting. That's right, February 5 will mark a whole new era in history.

I wonder what I should wear?

You knew I meant MY party didn't you? Not those other two. I've tried to stay calm about this. I mean, I've known it was coming for 22 months - elephants have given birth in less time. The launch party for Pushing Up Daisies is in a very cool Greenwich Village mystery bookstore (Partners & Crime, 44 Greenwich Avenue, in case anyone is inspired to join me in celebration.)
Think Audrey Hepburn's bookstore in Funny Face. I'm thrilled that they said yes, and that friends have promised to fill the place so I don't feel like a flop. It's just what I'd hoped for, and it'll be great, but also the start of a whole new career as a Shameless Self-Promotional Hussy.

Later this week I'll be blogging from Glendale Arizona - no, not the Super Bowl recap The other big attraction there this week, my signing at Poisoned Pen Bookstore. Barbara Peters, the owner of the legendary store has chosen Daisies as a First Mystery Pick so I'm thrilled to be meeting her for the first time. Then, on to Birmingham Alabama, where I'll be participating at Murder in the Magic City and Murder on the Menu. Let the games begin,as they say.
In the meantime, what were your first book parties like? And if they haven't happened yet, what would you like?

HALLIE: My first launch party was at the wonderful Kate's Mystery Books. The novel was AMNESIA (the first in the Dr. Peter Zak series), the year 2000, and I was celebrating it with my co-author Don Davidoff. Friends and family and fans were snaked out onto Mass Ave in the rain. It was at that moment that I understood that when a friend has a book launch, the biggest gift you can give that person is to BUY THE BOOK! It was quite the high. Rosemary: ENJOY!

ROBERTA: Rosemary, this is so very exciting, even from the sidelines! I had my party at my hometown bookstore, RJ Julia's in Madison, CT. They had to move it to the library across the street because the turnout was so big. That's what I'm grateful for--that all those friends and family members made an effort to celebrate my launch. I will always remember that night and I hope you have a similar lovely experience! I echo Hallie's advice: enjoy every moment!!

RO: You guys are so sweet.

HANK: How many times had you thought about it? Before Pushing Up Daisies was even named, let alone written? There you are, in a wonderful place, with a huge stack of your first book and a long line of people who are eager to read it. Can anything be more perfectly once-in-a-lifetime? Now it's real. You did it. You did it. My first book party was at Ralph Lauren on Newbury Street in Boston. It was June, and it was about a million degrees outside. It was so hot the AC tanked, and we had to open all the windows. People were drinking champagne and chatting and buzzing and buying books and books and books. All my friends and pals were there, even competitors from other TV stations, my Mom from Indianapolis, my Dad from Washington DC. The smile quotient was very high. A smile still comes to my face when I remember it. People said--"oh, your hand must get so tired from signing books." Are you kidding me? I could do it forever. I wish you long lines, much joy and many sales. Two pieces of advice: Don't worry. And take some time to relish the occasion. You did it, sistah.
JAN: Too devastated by Superbowl loss to reminisce on my own book parties gone by at the moment, but want to offer congratulations on your two big successes this week: Giants victory and book launch party! Sorry I can't be there to celebrate with you, Ro, but I know you will have a fabulous time. Savor it!

RO: It's going to be hard to top the last thirty-six hours....Lee Child asked me to sign a copy of my book for him at Love is Murder and THE GIANTS WON THE SUPER BOWL!!!!!!!!!!!!

...but I shall try.