Thursday, June 19, 2008


"Patricia Smiley is a wonderful, charming and funny lady and it comes through on every page of COOL CACHE...Smiley's style is easygoing and draws the reader in effortlessly and then proceeds to entertain and engage for a totally satisfying read."
Crimespree Magazine

We have to put this in--when there's a guest blogger, showing their formal bio is de rigueur.

So, fine, here's what Patty Smiley's bio says:

Patricia Smiley earned a BA in Sociology from the University of Washington in Seattle. She also holds an MBA with honors from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. Her debut novel FALSE PROFITS about Los Angeles management consultant Tucker Sinclair received a starred review from Booklist and was a Book Sense recommendation. Her follow-up novel COVER YOUR ASSETS was a RomanticTimes Top Pick. Both novels were Los Angeles Times Bestsellers. SHORT CHANGE is the third in the series. Patty is Vice President of the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and a member of Sisters in Crime. She is also a Specialist Reserve Officer for the Los Angeles Police Department. She lives in Los Angeles. The fourth next book in the Tucker Sinclair series, COOL CACHE is now on the shelves.

And that's very lovely, and she's quite successful and even studied with Elizabeth George, which is off the charts cool.

But Hank says: I met Patty at the Romantic Times convention is Pittsburgh. We were on-line pals first, because we're both in the Mystery Chix and Private Dix (don't ask) a coalition of mystery authors who banded together at RT and a great time was had by all. Here are some of us:

Lori Andrews, PATTY SMILEY, Lori Avocato, Hank, Shane Gericke, Lois Greiman, CJ Lyons

Anyway, Patty and Hank sat together on the bus to Mystery Lovers Bookstore Festival of Mystery and Romance in Oakmont, a real treat and a true adventure, and Hank can tell you--she's amazing. They went out for wine, had dinner, shared panels. Patty's funny, wise, thoughtful and authentic. (Hank's note: I'm trying not to gush here, but I'm failing.) Patty also revealed that sometimes people congratulate her on her wonderful novel, A Thousand Acres. Which, of course, is by JANE Smiley. No relation. Hank told her they probably congratulate Jane on the Tucker mysteries. Anyway, we're very proud that she agreed to hang out at Jungle Red today. And even answer our questions.

JRW: Tucker Sinclair, your main character, is a management consultant. You have an MBA. With honors. Can you do math? How does the arithmetic part of your brain—where there’s only one way for everything to work perfectly—balance with the mystery writing part, where there are endless answers?

PATTY: I have a Masters degree in Business, so I can do math. In fact, I find great many similarities between math and mystery. In both cases, there is only one solution. In math, it’s a number. In mystery, it’s the identity of the killer. In both cases, you look at all the possibilities, organize and analyze the data, and, hopefully, come up with the correct solution.

JRW: You’re funny. And Tucker is funny, wry and charming. Oh yeah, and tough. But do you think about “making it funny”? Or does funny-ness just emerge?

PATTY: My mother got to you. Right? Trying to be funny doesn’t work. Humor is subjective. It has to be organic and it has to come from the characters or the situation. I don’t worry about humor, especially in my first draft. If it happens, it happens. In the first draft, I work out the plot. Later, I sharpen the dialogue and Tucker’s attitude. If I can make myself smile, I know I’m on the right track.

JRW: What’s your outlook now on your “writing life” compared to what it was say, when you started?

PATTY: When I first started writing, I was a member of a 10-member critique group. I met with them once a week for nine years, and over time, we became close friends. Back then, the writing life was full of wonder and expectation. I had no agent, no editor, no book contract, and no deadline. Everything seemed possible. Once I sold my first novel, life changed. There was still wonder and expectation, but I also understood I had a new career that needed tending and that responsibility was mine.

JRW: Anything you wish you had known, or wish someone had told you, or wish you had believed when they did?

PATTY: A very successful author once told me this about writing books, “It’s your job; stop waiting for it to be fun.” I hate to admit it, but I think that’s good advice.
JRW: When people ask what you do for a living, do you say “author” “mystery author” “writer”—or what? Do you remember the first time you said “writer”?
PATTY: We’re supposed to be making a living at this? Jeez! The pressure. I never tell people what I do unless they ask. If they ask, I usually say, “I write mystery novels.” I use writer and author sparingly because, I’m not sure a mere four books qualifies me as a real writer. Short fiction seems much more difficult. When I had my first short story published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, I began to understand what it felt like to be a real writer.

JRW: Can you image not writing the Tucker books? Or let’s put it this way—is there anything else you’d like to try?
PATTY: When you write a series, you become invested in the lives of your characters and you want to see what will happen to them. In fact, I think it would be impossible to write a series if you didn’t love your characters. On the other hand, my short stories don’t feature Tucker, and I’ve enjoyed writing those. I’ve also explored the possibility of writing a true crime book. Luckily, one asset of fiction writers is a vivid imagination. Everything seems possible.

Here's a picture of Patty's Westie, PJ. Because we can't resist a cute dog. If you've read the Tucker books, you'll know her dog Muldoon bears a certain resemblance:

And, of course, now Patty will make the Jungle Red choices:

Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?
Hercule, because I love eccentric people and he’s the prototype.

Sex or violence?
Pizza or chocolate?
I’ve never been addicted to chocolate, but my fourth book is set in a high-end chocolate shop in Beverly Hills so, of course, I had to do a little research…okay, so I had to do a lot of research. (Tough job, this writing game.) I’ve gained a greater appreciation for chocolate, but still, I’d choose pizza (bell pepper and black olive—yum).

Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan? (We won’t even include Sean Connery because we know the answer, don’t we?)
I haven’t seen Daniel Craig as the new 007, but he’s a good actor and a tougher version Bond, which I find appealing.

Katherine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn?
Kate. She reminds me of Tucker: smart, funny, and a bit of a challenge.

First person or Third Person?
Either or. I enjoy reading and writing both. My novels are in first person, which seems like an intimate way of telling a story. However, my short stories have all been in third person.

Prologue or no prologue?
I am not a fan of prologues but they seem to be a common convention in many thrillers. Most seem unnecessary.
Making dinner or making reservations?
I used to enjoy cooking before I started writing. Now I just “forage for food.” What do I call a can of peaches with an expiration date within the last decade? Dinner.

And finally: STUMP THE READERS in The Jungle Red Quiz:Tell us four things about you that no one knows. Only three can be true. We’ll guess.

Patty says she:
1. Worked as an Easter bunny at a children’s party
2. Was a group supervisor in juvenile detention
3. Went with a date to the city dump to shoot rats
4. Responsible for sending several people to state prison
JRW: From yesterday, we're still waiting to see Neil Plakcy as Mr. Flag. Now, we have another must-see: Patty as the Easter Bunny. We hope that's one of the true ones. What do you all think? (And hey--have you ever dressed up as a character?)


  1. Hey Patty!! (BTW, I met Patty at the same convention that Hank did, and she's just as lovely as Hank says!) We're so glad you're here.

    My question is about the amazing weekly writers group you described. I've belonged to a group for almost ten years--couldn't do without them. Are you still attending and how are the other guys doing?

    And what are you working on now?

  2. Sheesh! You two are waaaay to kind. It was just the best experience to hang out with you at RT and Malice. I've met a lot of wonderful people in this biz. You're at the top of the list.

    Being in a writing group is glorious and painful. Our group ended when our fearless leader (and several other members) moved out of the area. Several of us still get together for lunch once a month and read pages and catch up. We call ourselves The Gang of Five.

    What am I working on right now? At the moment, I'm in Minnesota visiting bookstores. Having fun!

  3. And Hank, how did you know about PJ/Muldoon? It's almost as if you were...oh, I don't investigative journalist or something :o)

  4. haf our vays...

    This writing group discussion is fascinating to me--I'm the biggest loner there is when it comes to my stuff. Going to a writers group would drive me crazy, may I admit that? I would begin to write for the group. Trying to make them happy. I'm certain I would.

    I adore to read other people's work, though! But I'm the world's toughest editor. (Be very afraid if you ask me to read your ms!)

  5. Critique groups are not for everybody. The one important thing I learned in the group was to accept criticism gracefully. Believe me, it was painful. Now I welcome criticism because if my early readers don't catch the errors, someone will. I love the editing process. It's creating that first draft that's difficult.

    P.S. sending my latest manuscript your way :o)

  6. Hi all, it's so good to talk to you. Have hardly had any time since RT and Malice. I'm missing you all.

    I agree with all said...Patty is terrific fun.

    And critigue groups?? I was a member of one for many years and it was very helpful, but you really have to get the right mix of people and I think that may fall in the luck category.

  7. Lois!!!! Thanks for stopping by. I agree about getting the right mix for the group. You can't have folks with hidden agendas.

    How's your horse?

  8. Another great post...Glad Neil told me about this blog yesterday. I'm going to lurk!!

  9. Lurking's good, Ryan!Terrific. ANd you can't have too many Ryans, I always say.

    And hey, Lois! We want to hear about the Witches of Mayfair series. (I just saw that Lifetime calls you a star, and uses the words exceptional and spell-binding.)

    And Patty, we're waaait-ing to hear about the bunny suit.

  10. Lurking is good. Joining the conversation is even better. Welcome, Ryan.

    Are you sure that bunny business is the truth? Hmmmm?

  11. Well, no, I just WANT it to be true...

  12. Don't start calling me Harvey just yet.

  13. Patty does that mean we can't call you Art Carney either:-)!???

    Mike cast his head down, a look of disappointment slowly spreading, as he absorbed Patty's answer.

    "So... no bunny this year, huh?" There was a tragic tightness to his voice.

    Hi Patty - loved the post! Of course one part was shocking:

    'A very successful author once told me this about writing books, “It’s your job; stop waiting for it to be fun.”'

    What happened to "Do what you love and the money will follow?" (Marsha Sinetar)

    Of course, Marsha didn't say it would be fun - just that you loved to do it!

    Hmm... What's a writer to do?

    I have to say, I don't enjoy writing for writing sake, but I do enjoy creating story structure that supports the message I want to convey.

    Chocolate: I was amazed about the ins and outs of Chocolate. I was once at a sweet shop in Avalon on Catalina Island and was talking to the owner about how I liked Godiva chocolate, when suddenly the conversation halted. He looked sternly at me... and said, "Well... that's a little too waxy for my taste. I usually keep my melt point below 84 degrees F."

    At that point I realized there was whole lot more to know about chocolate than just richness and taste. It's amazing how much information was conveyed in that one sentence. That taught me a lot about characterization. Ever since that time less is more for me in prose.

    And, by the way, no pun intended, but you do have a great smile and your authenticity is very obvious.

    Great post JRW and very insightful and helpful answers, Patty.


  14. Hey, Mike. Great meeting you. I think it was Hemingway who asked this question: "Do you enjoy writing or do you enjoy having written?"

    Think about it...

    Then give us your answer.

  15. Patty -

    You definitely strike me as someone who has the penetrating insight to ask that question!

    That truly is an amazing question that fleshes out being.

    It forced me to probe my motivations deeply.

    Best Answer: Neither

    I enjoy creating a context for people to see themselves in. Then make choices that move them in their journey in much the same way that your question forced me to come to terms with my journey. If writing is the medium, then that works for me. For me life is all about context. I like writing and story because I can create parables that address context for people and yet be entertaining. The question I "struggle with" is whether I have hit the heart of the situation - created the context that can forward a person in their life and whether that context is broad enough to be useful to the many.

    I see many successful people, like everyone on this blog for instance, and then ask - how do they see their life from the inside. Of course life itself is a tenuous medium and very personal, but it is useful to put yourself in another's shoes. What I have discovered so far - we're all very similar.

    Patty, what a great question. I will sit with it additionally, just in case I don't agree with myself in the morning :-)!!!


  16. Very astute and insightful response, Mike. My writing routine is always to sit on my writing overnight. It's amazing how much more I see in the work the following morning.

  17. Hank -

    For you, I can understand that totally! I have never met anyone who enjoys all that they do so thoroughly. And, I have learned much from the gratitude you show for everything. I know I've said that privately.. but given your response... I'm just as happy to say it here.

  18. Hank - thanks for admitting to also being a writing loner. I wasn't sure there were many more out there. I've always had the vague feeling that I'm lacking in this department somehow. I should WANT to join a critique group, right? But in fact I really don't want anyone to see my writing until I'm completely done with it.

    Maybe we should form a support group for people who shy away from support groups.

  19. Mike, I agree that Hank's joy is contagious. She's truly amazing. And I don't think there's a right answer for critique groups. I loved being in a community of writers. It was like channeling Dorothy Parker. I miss that.

  20. It's so great to see Patty over here! And while I've spent some good quality time with her, I'm not sure whether the bunny story is true or not.

    As for writers groups, I was in Roberta's group for years but it's really hard when your kid starts needing to get chauffeured all over creation for violin lessons, choir rehearsals and whatnot. I had to make a choice, and unfortunately the group had to take a backseat. I still miss it, the comraderie of it, but I still see my writer buddies occasionally and a couple still read my WIPs.

  21. Karen, I can't confirm the bunny thing, but if you ever need to borrow a pair of large ears...