Thursday, February 26, 2009

Carolyn Kaufman on Psychology in Fiction

Today JRW welcomes Dr. Carolyn Kaufman. Carolyn has a Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD) in clinical psychology, and teaches full time at the college level. She also works with journalists who are writing nonfiction articles and books, so gets quoted in magazines, newspapers, and books fairly often — that's fun! She's been writing since the age of 11. She's had some short fiction published in magazines, and is currently seeking representation for a contemporary fantasy novel, and working hard on a nonfiction project for Quill Driver Books. The working title is Nervous Breakdowns and Psychotic Killers: The Writer's Guide to Psychology.
ROBERTA: Welcome Carolyn! Love the title! That's quite a list of projects--where do we start?? You're a psychologist who writes and teaches about creating characters in fiction. We'd love to hear your tips about creating characters that come alive on the page.
CAROLYN: I think villains are too often neglected when we talk about characters, partly because some people find them uncomfortable to write. I believe the best villains are the ones we can relate to a little bit. So rather than describing your villain's actions with one of the old standbys — he was abused as a child, she was just born evil, he's a madman — try to figure out what it would take to drive someone to act the way your villain does. Your goal is not necessarily to make the character sympathetic; your goal is more to get the reader thinking "Would I really be any different in the same circumstances?"
ROBERTA: Tell us about the new book project from Quill Driver Books. In a nutshell, you'll be teaching fiction writers how to use psychology accurately in their books. Can you give us some tips in advance?
CAROLYN: One of the most important tips I can give is this — don't trust what you think you know about psychology. I've found that some of the most persistent myths are passed from storyteller to storyteller, because each new writer believes that the last one did her research!
Fortunately, some of the old misconceptions are starting to get cleared up; unfortunately, writers don't have easy access to information that will help them fill in the gaps. For example, more writers are realizing that schizophrenia is not the same thing as multiple personalities. The problem is, they still don't know exactly how they're different, and they let assumptions creep in to fill the gaps.
ROBERTA: And as if that wasn't enough, you blog regularly for Tell us how that came about and what it offers aspiring writers.
CAROLYN: is a website that a guy named Pat McDonald created a couple of years ago. Pat decided that writers needed a database where they could 1) keep track of information about agents they were interested in approaching and 2) keep track of their submissions to those agents. The site also gathers statistics so that users can see just how long, on average, it takes Agent X to respond. Or how often Agent Y requests partials and fulls.
I discovered the site about a year ago and was just head over heels with everything it could do. I became a regular contributor to the forum, and together with a small group of other contributors, decided to take over responsibility for the blog. The blog had languished while Pat was busy developing a new social networking site, RallyStorm. Our mission has been to help and educate serious writers who hope to find an agent and get published themselves; we also keep people abreast of what's going on in the publishing industry from week to week. We've had an incredible response from readers so far!
ROBERTA: And just for fun (because this is one of my pet peeves too), who is the worst fictional shrink you've come across so far?
CAROLYN: I've seen a lot of useless and elitist therapists in written fiction, but the ones who bother me the most are the ones who could care less about helping their clients — they're just there to get rich. (I have no idea which Alternate Universe these therapists live in, but it's sure not one I want to visit.)
If we expand into television and movie shrinks, there are some real doozies out there, but my current favorite is Dr. Vance from the horror/action movie Blade Trinity. Not only does he ooze self-importance and openly mock the main character (not very therapist-like behaviors), he makes a series of disjointed, completely useless interpretations. Then he asks about Blade's mother out of nowhere, to the point that the line is a non sequitur. He's an ugly hodgepodge of clich├ęs. I can never decide whether to laugh or cry about that character.
My fantasy is that writers — and that includes screenwriters! — will be able to use the information in my book to create therapists that look and act more like real therapists.
ROBERTA: Okay gang, pile on with questions and comments! And you can read more about Carolyn at And by the way, my nominee for dreadful fictional shrink is Dr. Molly Griswold in TIN CUP:
“Meet Dr. Griswold,” golfer Roy McAvoy says to his friends in the movie, Tin Cup. “This is Molly. She’s my shrink.”
“Ex-shrink,” Dr. Molly Griswold corrects him. “We’re sleeping together now so I can’t be his therapist.”
'Nuff said Carolyn??

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An Interview with Kate Collins

Today, JRW welcomes Kate Collins, the author of the popular Flower Shop Mysteries. Her books have made the Barnes & Noble mass market mystery bestsellers lists, the Independent Booksellers lists, and are available in large print editions in the U.S. and the UK. Kate’s eighth book in the series, EVIL IN CARNATIONS, is a February, 2009, release. Kate and her husband divide their time between their Indiana home, Key West, and Chicago.

JRW: Welcome Kate! Have you always wanted to write?

KATE: Seriously? I never even liked writing checks. In school, I especially hated essays. If someone had told me I would one day write entire novels, I would have punched that person out (especially while laboring over horrible eighth grade writing assignments like, “Describe your life as an inanimate object.”) I knew by second grade that I wanted to be a teacher, and nothing would deter me from that goal.

JRW: What changed your mind?

KATE: It wasn’t until after I’d earned a master’s degree in education, taught elementary school for six years, had two children, and took lessons in tole painting, cross stitch, needlework, crochet, embroidery, rug hooking, macrame, gardening, and sewing, before I discovered I had a flair for telling stories. (It wasn’t like I didn’t already know. My mother had stood me in the corner many times for “telling stories.”) I truly enjoyed my years of teaching all those little open minds, but I hated the politics. So many rules! So many forms! Such a stifling environment for someone with a muse clamoring for attention. I eventually took a correspondence course, started selling short stories to children’s magazines, worked my way into historical romance, and finally found my calling in mysteries.

JRW: How did you come up with the character of sleuth Abby Knight?

KATE: Writing a mystery with a humorous undertone and a dash of romance called for a spunky sleuth. So I created a short but feisty female knight-in-shining armor (hence the last name Knight) who gets booted out of law school and scrapes up enough money for the down payment on a little flower shop named Bloomers.

As popular as Abby is with fans of the series, I think her romance with the sexy owner of the Down the Hatch bar, Marco Salvare, keeps them hooked. Another popular character is Abby’s mother, a kindergarten teacher who believes she’s an artist and foists a different, hilarious creation on Abby to sell at her shop in each book. And I haven’t even mentioned Abby’s sidekicks, Lottie and Grace, or fashionista cousin Jillian, the woman readers love to hate. I guess you’ll have to read about them.

JRW: Are any of Abby’s family or friends based on people from your own life?

KATE: Abby’s father. My father was also a cop, a man who wouldn’t take bribes or play politics, and was punished for it by being passed over for promotions for many years. Unlike Abby’s father, who is paralyzed and wheelchair bound because of a stroke he suffered while chasing down a drug dealer, my father’s stroke happened just after he retired from the force at the age of 54, and he died three years later. He was honored several times for his bravery and always downplayed it. Being familiar with the ways of cops, good and bad, I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with them. I admire their courage, but hate when they use their authority for the wrong purposes.

JRW: Why did you switch from historical romance to mysteries?

KATE: It wasn’t much of a switch because my romances were actually mystery-suspense novels using romance as the springboard. When the American historical market started to dry up, (the call then was for more Regencies, which I didn’t enjoy) I decided to go with my true love, mysteries, then add a touch of romance to it. Plus, my muse, having been a longtime fan of Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, said I had to. When Muse talks, Kate listens.

So, who in their right mind would ever want to become a writer and have to put up with muses?

I’ll admit it’s a problem. Muses are often noisy around 4 a.m. I’ve had some seriously good sleep interrupted by mine. However, as a left-handed writer, I’ve been told I’m always in my right mind, (but not by my husband) so I really have no choice. I must write.

JRW: What is your writing schedule? Do you only write when the mood strikes?

KATE: If I had to wait for a mood to strike I’d never finish a book. What strikes most often is fear. Fear of missing a deadline, fear of having to work around the clock to make the deadline, fear of phone calls from people wanting to chat during my deadline rush, and fear of my bladder bursting from too many cups of green tea. I’m at the computer by nine in the morning, break for lunch at noon, back to work at one o’clock, and out the door for a walk by four in the afternoon. I treat it as a job, but I love it as a passion.

JRW: So what did you write about for that eighth grade “describe your life as an inanimate object” assignment?

KATE: A spoon. It was a stirring piece.

JRW: OUCH! For that you get to answer our Jungle red quiz.

Sex or Chocolate? I have a choice? I thought they came as a unit, you know, like eggs and bacon. . . well, never mind. I’ll go with chocolate. Let’s not say anything to my husband, okay?

Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan? Pierce, definitely. He’s a gentleman on the outside, but there’s a mischievous sparkle in his eyes that says there’s a bad boy beneath that tux just dying for a reason to come out.
Three true things about you and one lie; we'll guess which.
I speak and read passable French. I love to cook. I am hooked on the TV show LOST. I can’t stand any noise around me when I write. Have at it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Welcome Nancy Pickard!

ROBERTA: Jungle Red Writers is so very delighted to welcome mystery goddess Nancy Pickard! She is the author of sixteen novels plus short stories and Seven Steps on the Writers Path with Lynn Lott. The Virgin of Small Plains won the Agatha award for best novel, and was a finalist for the Edgar, the Dilys, and the Macavity awards.

Welcome Nancy! First of all, we are dying to know what's coming next and when will we see it?

NANCY: Thanks, Roberta. It will be THE SCENT OF RAIN AND LIGHTNING, another stand-alone set in a small town in Kansas, but it's not finished yet. It's the story of what happens when a small town sends the wrong young guy to prison for murdering one of their most beloved residents, and then what happens twenty-six years later when he is released. It's a family saga, small town politics, love story, and mystery, set against dramatic landscape.

ROBERTA: Can't wait for that--though I guess we'll have to. I remember hearing you interviewed at Malice Domestic several years ago, just after THE VIRGIN OF SMALL PLAINS had been published to much acclaim. You said that you'd pulled back from conferences and other activities over a period of time to concentrate on writing. Can you please talk about your writing process and how you keep your focus?

NANCY: There was another reason I pulled back, which was that I felt myself getting cynical about conferences, etc. I sternly told myself that if I couldn't enjoy them and be appreciative, I should stay home. It took me about 10 years to go back with any regularity, but when I did they were fun again.

As for my focus? I don't have much sometimes. I'm a binge writer--when it's flowing, I don't do anything but write. But when it's not, flowing, when the well goes dry after I've sucked so much out of it, then nothing happens at all for a while. When I started writing fiction, I brought my disciplined, journalism-trained self with me, but I lost her somewhere along the way. I began to go with the ebb and flow of my internal rhythm of creativity--as pompous as that sounds, alas--and it changed my process completely. I think I write better books as a result of that change, but I have a harder time meeting deadlines. And by "harder" I mean I don't meet deadlines, lol. Well, I guess I do still meet the ones for short stories, but novels? Hopeless. I do not recommend this course of non-action for new writers!

ROBERTA: You've had wonderful success with short stories along with your novels. Tell us about how writing shorts feels different. Can you work on two things at the same time?

NANCY: I can't work on two things at the same time, except in the sense that I can sometimes write a short story or plot a new book during those dry-well periods I described earlier.

Short stories feel different, because they feel. . .short, lol. It is such a joy to know I will be able to type THE END after only about three weeks. I don't mean that it takes me three weeks of doing nothing but working on a story, I just mean that's about the gestation, writing, and editing period of several days spread over several weeks.

ROBERTA: Of course, everyone is nervous in this publishing climate. Since you've been at this a while, any thoughts on where you think we're headed? Advice for the anxious writers?

NANCY: I've been in this fiction business almost 30 years, and I can tell you that I have never experienced a single year when publishing people sat around on Dec. 30 and said to one another, "Wow, what a great year in publishing!" It's always a bad year in publishing. That's one reason I stopped reading industry news a long time back. It's best, I think, to limit one's focus to the page in front of us, because our own writing is the only thing we can control, and I'm not even sure how much real control we have over that. My philosophy from the beginning was that somebody is going to be published, no matter how dire the times, and it may as well be me. I've heard other published authors express the same bedrock sentiment. I recommend it. As for where we're headed? Every year will seem like a bad year in publishing to a lot of people; for others, well, somebody has to get published.

ROBERTA: I love that mantra: "Someone is going to be published, it might as well be me...someone is going to be published, it might as well be me..."

Last question, we can't end an interview without mentioning your central role in founding Sisters in Crime. Have women writers made progress since the early days of the organization? What do you think we need to keep working on?

NANCY: Absolutely, we've made tremendous progress. If we could compare bookstore and library shelves today with those of, say, 1980, we'd see the astonishing difference in the authors and kinds of books. What do we need to do? We, individually, need to keep writing the best books we can. We have much, much more than a toehold on those shelves now; we have entire shelves to ourselves. To keep that place, we need be creative, adventurous in our writing, and confident in ourselves. As an organization, we need to continue to support our sisters (and fellows). Join Sisters, provide useful programs for writers, BUY BOOKS, create and maintain links to the industry, have fun.

ROBERTA: Thank you for visiting--now go back and finish that book so we can all buy it! And the floor is open....

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Compassion Fatigue

ROBERTA: I recently submitted a section of my current opus to a couple of my reading buddies and was struck when one said: “I can’t believe your character would do that.” (I think the character in question was leaving his wife abruptly rather than confess to financial misdeeds.)

Lately, the paper is full of that kind of stranger than fiction stuff. Doesn’t it seem like another public figure goes down in flames every week? I don’t have any trouble buying that people do stupid things. (Although Blagojevich has taken this to a new level.) I can believe that Alex Rodriguez was feeling a ton of pressure about the high-paying contract he signed, and that he was immature and maybe (maybe!) naive. I can believe that Bill Clinton was dizzy with power and tired of being watched at every moment.

People are steeped in denial about their own weaknesses and motivations. We writers know that from our own lives and we exploit it fully in our characters. Where I get lost is when public figures get caught and then deny wrong doing. I'm thinking maybe we should all make a pact on Jungle Red: If one of us does something dumb, let's all remind her or him to fess up? Any takers? Or takes on the subject?

HALLIE: Confession: if there WERE a performance-enhancing drug for writing, I'd have long ago taken it. And inhaled. Then, despite my dozens of NY Times best sellers, I'd fess up, here and now. If only.

RO: No fair....Hank is quite perfect and the rest of us would look like losers.

HANK: Oh, now who's on drugs?

ROBERTA: So we need a new pact, then? If one of you guys comes up with a performance-enhancing drug for writing, we're all in?

JAN: Definitely in. The coffee isn't working anymore. But I did have a sports/energy drink the other day for tennis that I was going to try to apply to writing. I'll let you know.....

HANK: There was an amazing article in the NY Times a few months ago, and it haunts me every day. The bottom line was that people who are less than intelligent have NO idea they're dolts.

Here's what the experiment did, if I have it right. They gave a group of people a test. Then, afterwards, they asked each person how they felt they did. By a huge and indisputable margin, the people who said things like "Oh, I aced it" or "I knocked it out of the ball park" did poorly on the test.

The people who said--"oh, I don't know, I could have done better" or "I wish I could go back and answer some of those questions again" were the ones who, absolutely, did well.

To me, that explains so much. I mean, it's brilliant. If people have NO IDEA that they have no idea, doesn't that explain so much?

SO. We have Elliot Spitzer, who, I guess, figured he could do anything he wanted. The guy in Boston who said his name was Clark Rockefeller but it was really Christian Gerhartsreiter. The guy who crashed his plane so he could pretend he was dead.

The WOMAN WITH THE CHIMP. I mean, let's just stop right there.

RHYS: Right now I'd wrestle Hank for the performance enhancing writing drug! Two books a year is getting to be overwhelming. Also thinking of doing a James Patterson and hiring a mini-me.
But the people who astound me are all those millionaires who coughed up serious money to Madoff without any guarantees. Surely if you have millions you have financial advisors and you run any transaction through them. I suppose the simple answer is greed. Also the simple answer to the housing crisis. Mortgage bankers were just too greedy and people took loans too good to be true.

We are all wise, sensible and all around fabulous people. The problem will be when they write our tell-all biographies, will they have anything juicy to tell.
Okay, so my misspent youth but....

RO: You know...I met that chimp. A few years back, one of the owner's dogs followed Bruce home when he was out for a run and the dog wouldn't leave. We had to call the owner and drive the dog home..which was uh, untraditional with, as I recall, a horse trailer, a maybe an was like a travellers know..the Irish travellers..weird...and then the chimp came out...

HANK: Rhys, I definitely want to hear about your misspent youth. But it's RO they're gonna want in People Magazine for her close encounter of the primate kind. Now--what were we talking about,again?

ROBERTA: Did I meet you during my misspent youth, Rhys? Okay, JR Readers, pick a thread and do the best you can! If you don't like any of these topics, come back Tuesday for the amazing Nancy Pickard or Wednesday for the fabulous Kate Collins or Friday to hear psychologist Carolyn Kaufman talk about writing great fictional characters.

Friday, February 20, 2009

And the Oscar goes to...

I've always loved the Oscar awards. I can remember hiding behind a big upholstered chair in my living room (I was supposed to be asleep) and watching them until the wee hours of the morning. Okay maybe it wasn't that late, but when you're seven or eight, 11pm qualifies as the wee hours.

Back then I suppose the attraction was seing movie stars in real life - out of the costumes and no longer portraying the characters in the films we loved. But now that we are barraged with photos every time some , even minor, celebrity comes out of the gym, or out of rehab, or has a baby, why should we still care what they look like outside of the medium of film? But we do. At least I do. No matter how boring the show is, and how cheesy the song and dance routines are, I watch 'til the bitter end. I even watched the notoriously bad Liza Minnelli routine from 20 years ago "How Lucky Can You Get!"

This year Slumdog Millionaire and The Wrestler are two of the underdog films that may take home lots of gold. They're the only two Best Film contenders that I've seen so far and I liked them both, even if I was conscious of when my buttons were being pushed. Strange but true, in a previous lifetime I met a number of professional wrestlers and they were all pretty nice (except for the women who were truly scary.) I even met Andre the Giant once. Sweet guy.

Anyway, I'm rooting for Mickey Rourke. If any of you don't remember how hot he used to be , rent Nine and a Half Weeks or Pope of Greenwich Village. And Kate Winslet because she's amazing.... and Penelope Cruz...because she should have won for Volver....even though I found the movie Vicky Christina Barcelona excruciating.

Who are you rooting for?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Yo Ro! You Go!

..a nifty puzzle that involves Native American casinos, mysterious Russians and a stinky, slow-blooming flower."
Publishers Weekly

Breaking news!

Breaking news? Well, we all knew about it, and probably most of you did, too. But we are all so proud of our dear Rosemary, whose new book THE BIG DIRT NAP is out this week.

We love the Lara-esque hat, so we couldn't resist.

Anyway, pub dates are always--fantastic. The nerves, the joy, the possibilities. And the--reality. That his book you loved and worked on and tweaked and basically, know by heart is about to be in the hands of the public.

So Ro and I had a little chat. Nostalgia. Hopes and fears. Past and future. And husbands, and being on the road.

HANK: Remember when we first met?

RO:I do indeed. It was at a Sisters in Crime meeting at Jan Brogan's house.

HANK: Yup! What, almost three years ago Can it be?

RO: Ah. Maybe. When the scheduled speaker failed to show up, the three of us were pressed into service on an impromptu panel. We were so good (she says modestly) and so in sync that it was as if we 'd been doing it for years.

HANK: Yes, it was quite a moment. Instant sisterhood. And such serendipity! Many thanks to the state cop who decided to stay home and watch football. Anyway--How did you come up with the name Paula Holliday? I know it isn't random...

RO: Paula is in honor of my sister who, unfortunately passed away before Pushing Up Daisies was released. I knew I wanted my character's initials to be PH - because the working title for Daisies was The PH Factor - and Harris was a no go. I think I stumbled upon an old Judy Holliday film one night when I was channel surfing and thought Holliday was a fun, memorable name. And Paula would have liked it.

HANK: What did you learn about yourself writing Pushing Up Daisies--and how did that change your writing of The Big Dirt Nap?

RO: I learned the writing doesn't have to be perfect the first or even the second time around. Just get the story down - you'll change it again later anyway.

HANK: Did BDN surprise you?

RO: It surprised me because I thought I had written The End at least twice before the story really ended. Unfortunately that meant I held on to the manuscript a little longer than my editor would have liked, but when she finally got it, she forgave me.

HANK: Ah, we can't resist. Tell us a little about it.

RO: In The Big Dirt Nap Paula's been invited to join her friend Lucy at a Connecticut hotel for some r&r and a bit of work - Lucy's researching a story and Paula has wangled a writing gig covering the imminent blooming of a rare corpse flower on display at the hotel. But when Lucy fails to show and a would-be suitor is found dead on the hotel's loading dock, the weekend junket turns into a wild and funny ride involving ersatz native Americans, Ukrainian mobsters, Harley Hogites and a group of college kids who know how to party. I had a lot of fun writing it.

HANK: Your promotion schedule is--beyond the scope of any mortal human. How do you do it? And--besides the Cheerios you keep with you at all times--what advice would you give us about touring?

RO: My husband says I have more energy than the average 12 yr old boy...and the diet red bull helps.

HANK: Yuck. Not a fan of Red Bull. But that's another story. But in every do a million things!

RO: I just hate to travel someplace and only do one thing! And whenever possible I like to balance the retail gigs with library events. Yes, it's ultimately about selling, but the library gigs are frequently filled with aspiring writers and it's great to have the writing conversation instead of just yammering on about me, me and the wonderfulness of me! Touring advice - take it seriously, but don't take it seriously.

HANK: So even when it's not SRO? (Though we know it usually is..)

RO: Even if just one person shows up, she took the time to come to see me. That's awesome, I LOVE her! And she deserves my best. But don't freak if you don't sell a lot of books.

HANK: Your wonderful husband has lots of publishing experience, to put it mildly. What advice did he give you--any that changed your life?

RO: He is wonderful, isn't he?

HANK: Yes, stellar. And really really smart. Does he travel with you?

RO: He just drove me through the pouring rain for an event at the New Haven Free Library. What a sweetie.

Okay...when I first got my book deal I was dismayed to learn that the book wouldn't be coming out for almost 2 years. Bruce helped me to be patient and to use that time well. He also told me that the business is all about relationships. He recently celebrated a big birthday and the room was filled with people he'd known for years and at least a dozen people he'd mentored early in their careers who still loved him.

HANK: The mystery community is such a wonderful place. Can you--believe all that's happened?

RO: I really can't. Sometimes I look at my own schedule and think "you're doing what?? where?? with whom??" If I had any sense I'd be nervous but I've met so many great people, it's really fun. The only downside is that it's cut into my reading time...I don't have the time to read everyone else's books. I leave soon for a 9 day west coast swing - Phoenix, LA, San Diego, San Francisco. In the past for a trip that long I'd have taken three books, but now it's just one. (I'm bringing Lethal Legacy by Linda Fairstein.) Wish me luck, and btw, please check my schedule at to see if I'm visiting a bookstore near you!)

Come say hi to Ro--and wish her well as her journey continues! She's president of New England Sisters in Crime; a Master Gardener (with special expertise in shade); a connoisseur of food, wine, movies and fashion; shockingly well-read and as hilarious as anyone has ever been. And finally, she's a loving and true friend. Yo, Ro. You GO!

On Being a Crafty Gal

RO: About a year and a half ago I met a cute, energetic woman at Malice Domestic, that's a mystery writer's conference for those of you who may not know it. Like me, she was a new writer. Unlike me, she revealed herself to be a very crafty gal. Not just smarts - although she could give workshops on marketing and book promotion and probably has - real crafts. Particularly scrapbooking. Now I confess I had never given scrapbooking much thought. It was the section in Michael's that I passed on my way to the baking stuff..or the floral arranging items. Then I had a chance to see one of Joanna's scrapbooks. It was a work of art! Seriously..who knew? The details, design and talent involved were mindboggling. (What did I know? I thought people stuck pictures in a book and maybe added a few ticket stubs.) Anyway, I'm proud to call this funny, crafty gal a new friend.

Meet Joanna Campbell Slan...and a couple of her four-legged friends.

It’s No Mystery—We Love Dogs!by Joanna Campbell Slan
Weekend before last, Rosemary and I attended Love Is Murder, a grand mystery lovers’ conference held in Chicago. I’d like to tell you that the fans were throwing themselves at Rosemary and me, but that’s not completely true. See, it’s more accurate to say they were throwing themselves in our general direction because--we were standing in front of Rosemary’s dog, Max.

Never fails. I shave my legs, put on panty hose and makeup, for what? To get upstaged by a dog. Sigh.
But hey, who could resist? Max sure is a cute dog. I was right there at the front of the crowd trying to give him some loving. (He’s a sweet pooch, and he accepted the attention and affection with admirable calm. Rosemary, is there a photo of him here on your blog somewhere? Could you point us to it? Hmm?)
I was at the head of the “I want to pat that dog” group because I was jonesing and missing my pets. I love dogs—and cats! If I could cope with the drama and the mess—and if my husband wouldn’t kill me--I’d have more than just the two pooches we own, Rafferty and Victoria. My hubby is a great guy, and a smart one, too, so he’s set a limit on our pet ownership. “Don’t even THINK about it,” he’ll say when he sees “pet lust” sparkle in my eyes. I can’t really blame him. He knows that I once owned thirteen Great Danes and that was just…NUTS. I had a revolving account at the vet’s office, I bought a twenty-pound bag of Purina almost daily, and I spent most of my waking hours cleaning up messes. Back then, the bulk of fiber in my diet was dog hair, and all my sweaters looked like they were mohair. Which they were. Mo’ hair than yarn.

I was also single. (Guess why? Hmmm? Could it have been the roaming pack of big dogs that surrounded little old me? Uh, maybe!)

Since I can’t have more dogs in real life, since I’m incredibly allergic to cats (I wondered why my nose ran for years!), I have resorted to virtual pet ownership. While writing Paper, Scissors, Death, I decided my protagonist Kiki Lowenstein would adopt Gracie, a rescued harlequin Great Dane with uncropped ears. You can imagine how shocked I was to discover that one of the women who works in my vet’s office owns “Orion,” a rescued female Great Dane who looks exactly like Kiki’s imaginary pet!
I used to tell school kids that the best part of being an author was the dress code. You can roll out of bed and head to work wearing your pajamas, and you have to admit, that’s pretty neat. But lately I’ve been re-thinking the benefits of this job. Maybe the BEST part of being an author is that you can have all the pets you want. And never have to clean up any messes. How cool is that?

Cut, Crop & Die, the second book by Joanna Campbell Slan in the Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-N-Craft series will be out this June.

The first book—Paper, Scissors, Death—is available through all major booksellers. ***********

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sophomore Slump?..never heard of it.

Ro: There are certain things I don't even like to say, for fear that saying them will make them happen. Like...well...use your imagination..certain diseases, for example, unhappy altercations between cars and men walking dogs late at night. You get the picture.
On a far less tragic, but still unhappy, note is one expression a new writer can't seem to get away from - Sophomore Slump. I'd heard of it for years, even before I started writing. One publisher I know went so far as to say that publishers should bind a blank book (for number two) and then just leapfrog ahead to number three. I can tell you that wasn't a very encouraging conversation since I'd just spent the best part of a year banging out book two in my Dirty Business mystery series.
I guess there's some truth to the myth of the Sophomore Slump...many writers spend ten years or more polishing their first books and are then expected to push out number two in record time - generally one year if they're mystery writers.
Needless to say, I was determined not to fall victim to the dreaded SS. It goes without saying that I tried to write the best book I could. I held on to that manuscript until the bitter end, rewriting and revising until my normally calm and gentle editor pried it from my bony fingers with a look that told me it was now or never. We agonized over the title, the cover, the different PMS colors for the cover, the ARCs. Everything that went smoothly for book one was more of an issue for book two.
Was Sophomore Slump a self-fulfilling prophecy? Did things screw up because people expected them to screw up?

Time will tell for The Big Dirt Nap. My pub. date is next week, and I've already had a pre-launch party to benefit the Chalula Community library, which my husband and I helped to found. (At the legendary Friar's Club in New York...went well, thank you.) Kirkus, PW and (yippee!) Crimespree have all given me good reviews. So, so far, so good...
Any words of wisdom or war stories from the rest of you seasoned travellers?
ROBERTA: Ro, you've done everything you can. Now let it go and move on. And enjoy the launch! I did have a sophomore slump and lived to survive it:). Although I loved a lot of things about my second book, A BURIED LIE, I lost patience with working on it at the end. The research was impeccable (I paid to play in an LPGA pro-am tournament), the characters developed nicely, but the plot had holes. Big ones. I think I learned a lesson on that one--at any rate, my sweet husband reminds me of it when I'm tempted to rush another ending.
And yes, many writers find writing the second book to be very different from the first. With that first one, there was no deadline, no editor, no real audience in mind. But for the Big Dirt Nap, let's all enjoy the party!

RHYS: I don't think it has much to do with the quality of the book, Rosemary. Collectors buy first in series, especially signed. People try a new series and some decide it's not right for them. The second is often not accompanied by the buzz of the first book. Having said that, the numbers went up on the second book in all my series. So think positively.

JAN: My second book, A Confidential Source, was the most successful, but then again, it was launched as first in a series, (a few name changes but initially written as a sequeal to Final Copy). So I think Rhys is right. It's not in the writing so much as the buzz. You're awesome at generating buzz, Ro, seemingly tireless in promotion. If anyone shouldn't second guess herself, it's you!! Congratulations. I predict another success!

HANK: In college, I gained five pounds my sophomore year. That was also the year I decided going to class wasn't that important. Now that's slump. That's--falling off the chair.
I loved writing my book 2, Face Time. You know why? I had learned so much in the writing and revisions of Prime Time that I wanted to see if I could put it to use. For instance, PT was 723 pages when the first draft was finished! And I had to edit it to 325. That was one of the most educational experiences I've ever had. I learned my crutch words, my weaknesses, my digressions. That sometimes I wasn't that funny. I learned it was all about advancing the plot. Face Time, when I typed The End of the first draft? Bingo. 325 pages.

RO: I have a great group of blog sisters to learn from! Anybody remember that song from Damn Yankees...A Little Brains, A Little Talent? I shall try to employ both - and not gain five pounds!
Come back on Wednesday to meet this week's guest blogger, Joanna Campbell Slan who writes the Kiki Lowenstein Scrapbooking mysteries

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day!

From Jungle Red Writers to YOU! (photo by ButterflySha)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

RHYS: As I said the other day, I've been having trouble sleeping, therefore I've been browsing through TV channels a lot more than I usually do. Am I wrong or is every second program a crime story? And not just a pleasant, uncomplicated whodunit with a Miss Marple or Inspector Alleyn at the helm, but the sort of dark, horrible CSI type of crime that one does not want to watch when falling asleep.

So I'm wondering why the world has suddenly become fascinated with darkness. God knows we are living in a dark enough time. The last depression in the thirties produced the big, glamorous Hollywood musicals--Esther Williams diving into a sparkling pool followed by a bevy of bathing beauties. Most of the stories were of the poor chorus girl who was plucked from the line and made anovernight star. It can happen to you, the messge was loud and clear. Yes, life is pretty grim at the moment but great and wonderful things can happen, and we can all be happy again soon. The sun will come out tomorrow.

Well, the situation isn't so different now. Plants closing, laid off workers not shopping,losing their homes, losing hope. And yet the fare on the screen is child abductions, warped serial killers, chainsaw masacres--both true crime and fictional. What is wrong with us? Can somebody tell me why darkness is appealing? Does it remind us that at least one person in the universe is worse off than we are?Does feeling scared remind us that we are still alive?
Interestingly enough the British crime scene has been all about darkness for some time now. Try and get a cozy mystery published in UK--it's not going to happen. And yet I read last week that the biggest grossing West End musical ever in London is Mama Mia--still playing to packed houses. It's as close to those old Hollywood movies as you can get--silly, light plot, everything is turned into a dance routine (and the movie has the added bonus of things that are easy on the eye--Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Greece)

Can we hope that this will be starting a trend and we'll see the public clamoring for more feel-good movies, plays and books? More silly tales about members of the royal family struggling to surive in the Great Depression, for example? One can hope.

JAN: Most likely, television content is a lagging indicator. All the dark, gritty crime stories are in still in response from the economic-boom now bust.I agree, although I write a fairly dark mystery and enjoy an occasioally dark, gritty thriller/movie, I can't imagine watching all those television mysteries. Both my kids used to watch CSA and Law and Order SVU so constantly that now when I inadvertently flip to one of those stations, I immediately switch. I know people who adore Dexter, which I'm sure is terrific given the cast, but its just a story I don't particularly want in my head. My agent yesterday told me serial-killer thrillers were hot. I told him I'd rather write real estate listings than write about serial killers.

RO: I was never an ABBA fan, but I went to see Mamma Mia with two high school friends and it was impossible to sit still. We were jumping around in our seats. I had no idea I knew all the words to those songs.Anyway...there's enough darkness around...I don't need to add to it.

HANK: Mamma Mia the movie? SO terrible, embarrassing, and I loved every second. (Jonathan during MM: Are you crying? Hank: (sobbing) Jonathan: (baffled)
We're addicted to The Wire on Netflix right now. And I think that really balances the ugly with the sweet.
But when it comes to scary dark stories--there's a TV news notion that people watch say, car accidents, because it reminds them that *they're* safe. Sort of-"my life is sometimes sad, but it's not as bad as *that* person's."

ROBERTA: That's the point I was going to make Hank. In these horrible dark books, the bad people run loose for a while, but then they're caught and justice prevails. When the world seems so out of control, maybe that's a comfort. My favorite books are very real--no serial killing but plenty of suspense, derived from real people with real problems. Jan, love your answer to your agent's suggestion!

HALLIE: Yes, I agree--those crime shows are so appealing today because (usually) everything is resolved at the end. We all crave the kind of “closure” that the real world rarely offers. I think the economic downturn is just beginning, and what we’ll see in the pipeline is exactly what Rhys is talking about, music and laughs, stories to escape into. Though I can’t see cinematic opulence making a comeback. I wonder how the studios could afford to make those extravaganzas in the Depression?

RHYS: Maybe we'll have to leave that kind of movie to Bollywood. Didn't you think that Mama Mia had a Bollywood feel. You're right, Hallie, it really was bad. Pierce Brosnan trying to sing,Colin Firth trying to dance and those middle aged sex kittens seducing young boys--and yet it was fun and I loved it enough to go out and buy it!So I'm hoping we are right and that trends will swing away from darkness to fun and hope (this is especially true for those of us who write on the cozy side)And maybe the public will finally tire of reality shows and we can go back to a good drama or two!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Dana Stabenow Makes Us Need a Nap

In 1991 my editor sniffed out the existence of the first Kate Shugak mystery and offered me a three-book contract. “What makes you think I can write any more of these?” I said. “Shut up and sign,” said she.
***from Dana Stabenow's bio

HANK: Can you imagine?
Anyway, Dana Stabenow--after a rocky and raucous college career and then a stint working on the Alaska Pipeline (this was a while ago, of course) writes a mystery and wins an Edgar. And ever since, many many books later, she continues to win all of our hearts. She's one of the most hilarious witty tough and intelligent--and fun!--sisters of the mystery world. She lives in Alaska, but is here at Jungle Red to chat about the widening gaps between the real world and the cyber world. (But we think its a pretty amazing primer on promotion. Take notes, gang. We are.)

Promotion? Now you can do it in your jammies.

DANA: I’ve got a book coming out next month, Whisper to the Blood. It’s the 16th Kate Shugak novel, and for it I have orchestrated an entire promotional campaign on the Internet. There will be a few personal appearances, but most of it is happening -- or has already -- on line, as follows:

  • October 17th
  • *"the Kate Shugak series (abridged)" posted to YouTube
    *a newsletter sent out to 5,000
    *Chapter 1 of Whisper to the Blood posted on
    *a free copy of the book’s ARC given to one of the newsletter subscribers

  • November 17th
  • *a newsletter sent out from
    *a second free ARC to a subscriber
    *Chapter 2 of Whisper to the Blood posted on my website
    December 17th
    *a newsletter sent out my website
    *a third free ARC to a subscriber
    *Chapter 3 of Whisper to the Blood posted on my website.
    *A Reader’s Guide to Whisper to the Blood sent to the Minotaur library liaison, who then sent it out to her librarians’ email list
    *A Teacher’s Guide to Whisper to the Blood sent to the Minotaur education liaison.

  • January 17th
  • *a newsletter sent from my website, including a list of author events
    *a fourth free ARC to a subscriber
    *Chapter 4 of Whisper to the Blood posted on my website

  • February 2nd
  • *a newsletter notifying subscribers of author events and the imminent posting of the guides on my website
    *a mini short story posted to set in the Kate Shugak universe between A Deeper Sleep (Kate15) and Whisper to the Blood (Kate16).
    *A week of blogging on Moments in Crime, the St. Martin's Minotaur authors blog.

  • February 17th, publication day of Whisper to the Blood
  • *The Reader’s Guide and the Teacher’s Guide posted to
    March 3rd
    *Online chat with the Danamaniacs.

    In contrast, here is the sum total of my actual, in-the-flesh appearances for Whisper to the Blood:

    *February 17th, pub day party at the Poisoned Pen (alliteration is my life) in Scottsdale, Arizona. *February 21st, signing at Title Wave Books in Anchorage, Alaska.
    And that’s it. Only two live and in person events, but I’m all over the Net.

    I’m all over the Net even when I don’t have a book coming out. I review books on Amazon, with a link to them from my website. I’m an Amazon Connect Author, with my website blog RSS’d to my Amazon blog, so that everytime I post to my website, it also appears on every one of my book pages on Amazon. Here, click on the Amazon Whisper to the Blood page and scroll down. See?

    I’ve RSS’d the website feed to my Facebook page as well, and my Facebook page is connected to my Goodreads Author page, which I have also linked to from my website. All of these sites have event calendars, to which I have posted my events.

    You can upload videos to Facebook and Goodreads, too, so I dutifully uploaded "the Kate Shugak series (abridged)" to them as well. From my website there are links to my entry on Wikipedia, my podcasts on Odeo (which reminds me, have to record one for Whisper to the Blood), to my photo album on Flickr, and to my Zazzle store. I try to put a lot of links in the posts, too, because they break up the text, because multiple links outside your own website moves your profile up on Google, and because nothing annoys me more than to read the New York Times and not to have links from the text to what they're talking about.

    You're noticing a lot of links in this blog, too. I also guest blog when invited. Hello!

    I like this. I like it a lot. I would much rather be blogging from home in my pyjamas than getting on yet another fricken’ airplane going Outside.
    I like it, yes, but the real question is, How effective is an internet promotional campaign? I have spent a great deal of time and a lot of money creating and maintaining my presence on the Internet. Will all this effort and expense help sell books?

    I don’t know yet. Nobody does. My biggest fear is that we're only talking to each other.

    All we really know is that the old methods of promoting books -- book reviews, newspaper ads, author tours, indie bookstores hand-selling copies -- have changed so radically in the last decade as to be unrecognizable, or have simply disappeared. The bricks and mortar bookstores are moving online and selling through

    Newspapers are failing because everyone is getting their news online. Hell, anyone with a cell phone is making the news nowadays. How long do you think it’ll take a photo or a video of me at one of my two events to be posted to the web? My guess is just long enough for the person who took it to get home to their computer. If they don’t send it to someone else in front of their computer over their phone while they’re still in the room first.

    The good news is we don’t have to invent a whole new method of reaching out to readers, all we have to do is take advantage of what’s already there. Blogs like Jungle Red (love the name, BTW), websites, Amazon, Facebook, You Tube -- thanks to the World Wide Web, everyone online has a surfbyte from which to hang ten over the cyberwaves. All I'm trying to do with my little online promotional campaign is to direct a few of those surfers to the shores of my own little cyberspace island, and I’m just hoping everybody doesn’t wipe out once they get there.

    Although I just googled surf slang, and they don’t say "wipe out" anymore...

    HANK: Thanks Dana. Now I'm singing that 60's song.
    So! Questions for Dana? She's here hanging with Jungle Red...and because we're so happy about that, we're drawing three names to win copies of her books!
    You see why we need a nap. Whew!

    But Dana--may I ask About Kate? Sixteen stories! Does it get incredibly difficult?

    Sunday, February 8, 2009

    Perchance to Dream

    "We are such stuff as dreams are made on..."

    RHYS: Sorry to be waxing so Shakespearean today. At least it proves that I did occasionally pay attention in English class!But my blog today is on dreams.

    Recently I haven't been feeling too well, battling a stomach complaint, and one of the things that has happened is that I have difficulty sleeping. I fall asleep just fine, then wake at midnight or one o'clock wide awake and not able to sleep again. So my sleep pattern has become horribly disturbed.

    This is hard to accept for me, who has always been the sort of person who zonks out the moment my head touches the pillow and wakes again when it's light. And because my sleep has been disturbed, I've been doing less dreaming. I'm currently writing a new Molly book and I've been finding it hard going. I wondered why, as I have such a great story in my head, until it occurred to me that maybe the lack of dreaming may have something to do with it.
    So I'm wondering--does a writer or other creative person need to dream to create? Do all creative people dream all the time and vividly? My theory is now that we need that brain rewiring, cleaning and debugging before we can create. We may also need those dreams to pre-plan where we are going with the story,

    I have always had incredibly vivid dreams--always in color and with the five senses often involved. I taste food, enjoy scents, hear music , even better than a great movie, or even more terrifying if it's a nightmare. One of the best courses I took at college was one on dream pschology. It was in Germany and taught by an eminent German dream psychologist. So ever since then I can interpret my own (and my friends') dreams. Of course most dreams are only the brain reexamining and processing events of the day, or descrambling crossed wires, but certain symbols are pertinent and recurring dreams always mean something.
    I often dream the stress dreams--rushing to catch the train, trying to pack my clothes before I miss the flight or finding myself in school with an exam I can't finish. It's funny that the stress dreams are always school and not college. I geuss college was an all around good experience for me. But if I'm dreaming something odd and different, I talk it through and often find that I use the words to tell me what's wrong. An example: a friend said she kept on dreaming she ran into Marks and Spencer(the big department store in England) and she wanted to buy something but they were closing and the shelves were amost empty. She asked what it meant. I told her that she'd given the clue by choosing Marks and Spenser as her store. She'd always wanted to go go art school. Her parents had sent her out to get a job instead and she'd always regretted it. Hence she dreamed of going to a place where there were "marks" which we say instead of grades in UK. But she's worried she's left it too late.

    So if you have a dream you want interpreted, ask me.And fellow Jungle Reds--do you dream a lot and vividly? Do you think that is something common to all creative people,ANDhave you ever dreamed a good plot that you've later used?

    JAN: I dream A LOT and vividly. Sometimes I dream really loud sounds that wake me up. My brain switches right into wild dreams even as I doze off. I have to meditate with my eyes open so it doesn't happen.
    Last night I dreamt I was making YOUTUBE videos for a living. It was a lot of fun, but I have yet to incorporate a dream into life or even a plot.

    When I was a health reporter, I interviewed a Harvard brain researcher who was convinced that we used our dream cycles to process the trauma and emotion in our life. And that was one of the reasons people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) couldn't process their trauma -- because the trauma itself interrupted the dream cycle. So that could also support your theory on creativity, Rhys. The brain needs to rest and mend to process life and create.

    ROBERTA: First of all Rhys, I'm very sympathetic to the sleep problems. I've had them for a

    while, and lately of just the variety you describe: wake up at 2-3 pm and lie there for hours. I've had several people recommend melatonin and I'm going to try it.
    On to dreams: As a psychologist I was always listening for them. I was not taught to interpret certain dream figments as having meaning in themselves, but to explore the patient's thoughts and associations around the dream. In other words, the dream might reveal thoughts/problems/feelings that the person was not aware of in conscious life. And as Rebecca Butterman would say, the more we know about ourselves, the less we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.
    I have two unpleasant recurring dreams. One involves driving a car backwards downhill out of control. Haven't had that for a while and hope not to!! The second (I had a variation of this last night) is a golf dream. I'm trying to hit the ball off the tee, but I can't get my tee into the ground, or the fairway is extremely narrow or even a tunnel. I think it's very much like those school anxiety dreams but a different setting. I only wish I would dream a good plot--I could use one about now!

    HANK: Oh, Roberta, I've never ever had a golf dream. (And I must say those have a bit of Freudian overtones...but I'll leave that to the experts.)
    Yes, the school dreams: classes that disappear, tests I should have known about, rooms that I can't find. Also about TV, with the time ticking by and I had no implement to write my story for the news with. Once I woke up in the middle of the night, stressed and terrified, having been dreaming that I was writing on my notepad with a fingernail since there were no pencils. For years I was plagued with those.
    Then one night I had a dream that I was in a play. Curtain up--and I had no idea what I was supposed to do onstage. I didn't know the words or the steps. And then, in the dream, I said to myself: This is a dream. So no probelm. And besides, I know the words and the steps. I never had the dream again.
    Now, I dream in beautiful color about a house I didn't know I had. It's the same house every time, with secret gorgeous rooms full of wonderful things. And I could describe it to you perfectly.

    HALLIE: It's so nice to know everyone else has those anxiety dreams. The play. The exams. The class I'm taking but I don't know when it meets or where. Last night I dreamed that, in addition to having two magazine articles and a novel to complete, four weeks of travel to take, and my daughter’s August wedding to plan, my husband and I had sold our house and needed to move. I had no trouble interpreting that. It’s the too-much-to-do-so-you-might-as-well-give-up dream.
    Once I had a great dream (I can’t remember what it was about) and woke thinking: I can use that in a book. I wrote it down and in the morning there was a piece of paper on my bedside on which I’d scrawled “pink gravy.” Or at least I think that’s what it said

    RHYS: It's interesting that I've also had the car running backward dream and Hank's dream of standing in the wings waiting to go onstage and suddenly realizing that I have no idea what my lines are. Sometimes this works out well and I step onstage and just seem to know what to say, other times I'm rushing around looking for the script. What a bunch of neurotics we are!

    So has anyone out there ever dreamed a whole plot?

    Friday, February 6, 2009

    On Social Networking

    JAN: When I was writing Teaser, I decided that to research social networking, I had to start using it, so I opened accounts at MySpace and Facebook. I bribed my two kids into friending me on Facebook and for a while they were my only friends.

    Don't feel sorry for me. Eventually, all the other writers in the world joined Facebook and I started to worry it was taking too much time. So what did I do? I joined Twitter. And this is where my story starts.

    The website asked me to invite my friends on to Twitter, but I couldn't figure out how to search my contacts on Outlook so I typed in one of the only people whose email address I knew by heart. My brother.

    His reply. You think I have time for this?
    Me: Just hit the button and follow me.
    His reply: Why?
    Me: I have no idea.

    My Twitter account remained inactive for about a month. Then I got an email via Twitter that an old college room-mate, a woman I haven't seen in thirty-five years was following me. In Twitter speak, following is like friending except it connotes that you actually read the other person's daily and/or moment-to-moment updates on a semi-religious basis. I decided to give Twitter another try. I updated myself. I reread the messages in Dani's Blogbook tour Newsgroup, to get a few pointers.

    What was I doing?? Twitter asked.
    Trying to figure out Twitter etiquette, I replied.

    All of a sudden, five people I didn't know were following me. And I have to tell you, it was a thrill. I knew enough to know they were only following me, so I'd follow them. But I didn't care. I posted again. Under 140 words Or is it characters? I always have to edit down. Be briefer. But I'm a writer, right? It feels like I'm working when I'm twittering. I post again.

    I check my numbers. Forty-two followers! Every few hours, I get more. I follow them, too, because it's only polite. I even go to a few people's websites. I join some new social network group on social networking. I'm not sure why. I'm tweeting away. Is it the brevity that's so addictive? Or the following?

    I disable my cable connection, so I can't access the Internet during the afternoon. But at night, I go to YouTUBE to check out the videos. There's one on Twitter In Plain English, Twitter Tease, and Twitter Snobbery. This last was from one of my new followers. I figure he knows the score.

    I watched three different videos on Twitter dos and don'ts. Who knew there was this much education? I come across this video. It's called Tweeter whore. I thought it was hysterical, but I sent it to my 22-year old daughter, who spends a good deal of time online.

    She wrote back. "I don't get it it."
    And then: "What's going on with you, anyway?"

    Apparently, I'm so immersed in Twitterland, that I've lost perspective. So if you know nothing about Twitter, don't bother with this. But if you've ever tweeted, or thought about it, take a look. I think its laugh-out-loud funny, but scary, too. It could happen to anyone.

    Oh by the way, if you want to follow me: My user name is JanBrogan (no space). I'll follow you back. Tweet, tweet.

    Wednesday, February 4, 2009

    On Cybercrime

    Felicia Donovan (left) is a law enforcement technology and cyber crime expert with over ten years of law enforcement experience. She’s assisted in Computer Forensics cases and has been recognized by the FBI for her work. She’s also the author of The Black Widow Agency series of mysteries.

    Kristyn Bernier (incognito) is a detective with fifteen years experience who specializes in Internet crimes and undercover work. She is an investigator with the Northern New England Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and has received recognition for that work from the US Dept. of Justice.

    I met them when I was researching Teaser, which is about teenage girls getting into trouble on a social networking site, and they provided me an incredible education into the dark side of Cyberspace. Now they have co-authored a new book, a tremendous resource for everyone from parents to mystery authors: CYBER CRIME FIGHTERS: TALES FROM THE TRENCHES, published by Que Pearson Publishing.

    JAN: You two have worked with cyber crimes a long time; tell me when and howyou decided to write a book together.

    FELICIA:: I couldn't get her out of my office. :) Seriously, it was Kristyn who gave me the idea for The Black Widow Agency series so I knew she was creative. Kristyn says she thought I was on drugs when I pitched the idea to her. I recall drinking, but that was the extent of it.
    I just thought with our combined talents, experience and vision, it would be a perfect writing team. And so it was...

    KRISTYN: Specifically, I asked her if she was on crack when she asked me to do this book - I investigate computer crimes, but my specialty is the behavior of the bad guys and digging for info, certainly not techy computery things - Felicia tears her hair out when I just reboot for the helluvit or get angry because my computer is too slow so I just repeatedly hit "control-alt-delete" until the thing shuts off...I am still trying to figure out how to use my digital voice recorder at work, and I am forbidden from using the fax machine and copier because I beat on them when they don't work quickly enough.

    JAN: What are the cyber crimes covered in your book?

    FELICIA: We cover it all - Cyberstalking, Sex Crimes, Drugs, Child Predators and Sexual Exploitation, Fraud, Identity Theft, Upskirting/Downblousing (Digital Voyeurism) and a bunch of really WILD stories like Diaper Boy, Pumpkin Man, and the Nurse who brought new meaning to the term "committed relationship." You really have to read it to believe it. As we always say, you can't make this sh...stuff up. And we didn't.

    JAN: Which is the most common of these crimes?

    FELICIA: As for the most common - Identity Theft and Credit Card Fraud.

    JAN: Which are the ones that are most useful in a murder mystery plot?

    KRISTYN: Because I am the sick/edgy one, I don't find fraud and id theft exciting - I think that social networking sites, dating sites and chatrooms are the fun things to throw into a murder plot. Anything deviant means good times in a story!Actually, an important piece of the puzzle in the murder of two Dartmouth professors was that an investigator used the Internet to track down who had purchased the sheathed knife used in the slayings. The knife led to the suspects that were ultimately convicted of the murders.

    JAN: What are cell phone crimes?

    FELICIA: These days, the biggest crime is kids sending nude pictures of themselves or their friends to each other. Oops! That would be "Distributing Child Pornography" if the kid is underage and is a very serious offense, but I'll let Kristyn elaborate on that one.Cell phones have taken over as the new cyber crime portal because they are mini-computers. Child porn is being traded big time as are fraudulent transactions. Another new cyber crime is "Vishing" or "Voice over Phishing." Victims receive a text message to their cell phone saying their bank account has been comprimised and that they need to call an 800 number (which is a fake) to unlock their accounts so they won't be charged for the fraudulent transactions. They call, give all their info and their accounts are then emptied out.

    KRISTYN: Kids just don't think when they are taking pics of themselves or their friends with cell phone cameras and then shipping them off into cyber land. Adults don't think either...there are documented cases of teenage couples who have taken videos of themselves engaged in sexually explicit behavior, and then they break up, and as revenge the videos wind up on a website somewhere. Making, possessing or distributing sexually explicit images of a child under the age of 18 is a federal crime. Don't forget that cell phones are also used in stalking and cyberbullying.

    JAN: What crimes are going on in social networks like MySpace and Facebook? And is Facebook safer than MySpace?

    FELICIA:- K's baby but I'll say that no site is safer than another. What makes a site safe, especially social networking sites, is parents being aware of what the kids are doing on it. Understand that Kristyn maintains (and I maintain) bogus accounts on every social networking site. If we can have fake accounts, so can the bad guys - and they do. Although I do look stunning in the photo...

    KRISTYN: Facebook has better safeguards, however if a child allows everyone who contacts them to have access to their page, then it doesn't matter. Parents should regularly be checking their child's site - ask for your child's password. Quite frankly, I find it disturbing that people, children and adults, spend so much time on these sites. The more info people put online, the more at risk they place themselves.

    JAN:Which are the toughest cyber crimes to investigate or prosecute?

    KRISTYN:- In my opinion, child exploitation. They are emotionally draining to investigate, the bad guys are constantly coming up with new ways to get away with the crimes, and there are so many victims out there that have not been identified. Once the image is sent out into cyberspace, it can never be pulled off, and these kids are re-victimized forever. It is difficult to put a child victim through a trial, and in my opinion, the punishment is never severe enough for these predators. I have many inventive punishment ideas, however they would all violate the Constitution.

    JAN: Kristyn, tell us the patience and creativity required to ferret out pedophiles on the web.

    KRISTYN: I prefer to call my creativity "random neural misfiring", which never stops!!!! Undercover computer cases are similar to undercover drug deals - I am lucky enough to be whacky and have the ability to think on my feet - when I am undercover, I am essentially a professional liar who is able to keep track of the stories I come up with as I am talking or chatting. I did a prostitution sting last year, and while I even surprised myself with some of the nonsense I was able to quickly rattle off on the phone with the "johns", I had the guys I work with on the floor laughing at the lines I came up with!

    JAN: Kristyn, tell us the difference between To Catch a Predator and the real life police work that goes into building a prosecutable case against a pedophile.

    KRISTYN: Don't get me going! In my opinion, the show has made it more difficult for us to do our jobs. The show was intended to sensationalize the crime of child exploitation for television ratings, and the perps have used what they learned on the show to become better at not getting caught by law enforcement. We now have more hoops to jump through because of this show, and the harder it is for us to catch the bad guys, the more time they are running free on the internet victimizing children. Personally, I think the show was irresponsible. You can make parents aware of the issue without making a circus out of it.

    JAN: Do you have any advice for parents on cyber bullying?

    KRISTYN: Awareness, supervise, monitor, open communication with your children, check in regularly and make certain your kids know they can come to you if something is bothering them. If your kid is being bullied, deal with it immediately through school, the offender's parent and your local police department. If your kid is bullying others, show no tolerance.

    JAN: How to protect kids from predators?

    FELICIA: Awareness is key! Parents can never lapse into thinking their kids are safe just because they're home upstairs rather than roaming the local mall. Keep the computer in a central area so it can be viewed by all. And do NOT let your child have a webcam. They provide a window into your child's private room.

    JAN: Felicia: Give us some tips on how to protect ourselves and our identities on the web.

    FELICIA: Limit what you put out there in the first place. For a cyber stalker, information equals power and dominance. Be aware of your "Digital Footprint" - the amount of information already available about you on the web.Kristyn and I will sometimes challenge each other to build the most complete dossier of a near total stranger to keep our skills sharpened. We can usually tell you the color and type of house they have, what car they drive, the dog's name, etc. It just never ceases to amaze me what people will put out on the Internet in chat rooms, postings, obituaries, hobby sites, etc. What you put out on the Internet, stays on the Internet.Never visit a weblink to complete a financial transaction if the link comes from an e-mail. If you need to go to ABC Bank, startup a new Internet session and type in
    The Internet, though largely anonymous, is not innocuous.

    Monday, February 2, 2009

    On Resisting Temptation

    As if men did not already have enough advantages in the world, here’s the latest.

    Researchers at the Brookhaven National Laboratory were trying to figure out why some people overeat and gain weight and others don’t. So they made a bunch of study participants fast overnight, exposed them to their favorite foods and did brain scans.

    Women’s brains went wild. All sorts of brainwaves dancing like it was a disco. Men's brains? Not so much.

    The conclusion: Faced with their favorite foods, women are less likely to resist temptation than men. Researchers think this may expain the higher obesity rate among women.

    The researchers speculated that the reason women’s brains are hardwired to overeat is linked to the traditional role of supplying nutrition to the young. Translation: Hormones. Big surprise.

    I read this on the Internet with a stack of Stella D'oro cookies next to me. The small, butter cookies with the chocolate top. I devoured them in support of the study, because both the utter unfairness and the reality of it rang true.

    There are certain foods that I know I can’t defeat. When willpower just doesn’t stand a chance. Pizza, for instance. I must eat four slices. Every time. No matter what size the pie. Lasagna: I won’t stop eating until it’s gone. Any form of potato – which is why I often serve rice. And any dessert with a crumbly cinnamon top.

    So what do you think? Is this study just more anti-female propaganda or does it ring true? And what’s your own unconquerable temptation?


    HALLIE: Patooey. To use the technical term. Although I can see why it makes Darwinian sense for females to pack on the calories and fat in anticipation of famine... but we don't get famine any longer, we just get poverty with endless nights of beans and spaghetti for dinner.

    Personally, I am so not hardwired to overeat. I'm full, I stop. And most foods are relatively easy for me to pass up. Exceptions? Any kind of shellfish. Sweet potato fries. Almonds. Aren't those the three main food groups?

    HANK: I think the three main food groups are coffee, cheese, and hmmm. I agree, Hallie. Almonds.

    And I think, actually, that women have MORE willpower. Couldn't those statistics just as easily be explained as women "seeing a problem and solving it?" Preventing it from happening again? Seizing the moment? Planning for the next time some weird researcher decides to starve them?

    My temptations? The fragrance of those Cinnabons--about a million calories each. And yet, I've never tasted one. Take that, researchers. (Although when we were kids our favorite thing was white breed toast with butter and cinnamon sugar.) Now, I'm more tempted by crispy potato pancakes with sour cream and caviar. Street pizza, with crispy crust goooey gooey gooey stretchy cheese. French bread with sweet butter.

    RO: I agree with my esteemed colleague, Dr. Ephron - Patooey. Men's bodies generally have more muscle mass and muscle burns fat. Fat doesn't burn fat. Men are just as tempted by food as women there's simply less evidence of it, which can be interpreted any number of ways.
    And I've watched my husband plow through a sandbag sized bag of (can't be very tasty, Wal-Mart) peanuts while watching a football game, so I believe they too have the "eat it 'til it's gone" chip.

    If anything's unfair it's that my husband will always have a lower percentage of bodyfat than I do even though he has a three course dessert every night, usually after three full meals and his customary 6:00pm glass of single malt scotch while I'm trying to pretend that water is interesting.Bitter? I'm not bitter.

    Unconquerable temptation? Champagne. Unopened bottles are safe. If it's opened, it's gone. And peanut butter. PB can sit in my pantry, untouched, for years, but once that foil is pulled back, spoonful by spoonful, it will find its way to my hips. No bread or jelly needed.

    RHYS: I have never been a big eater and there are only a couple of foods that I can't resist and can't stop eating once I've started: salt and vinegar potato chips qualify, as do After 8 mints, cookies called Jaffa Cakes, oh and See's Candies but all in all I'm disciplined about food. As a child

    I used to make my Easter eggs last until my birthday in September, biting off just a tiny piece each day. Okay, so I'm strange. My brother would devour all ten huge eggs the first day and then want some of mine. Interestingly enough he has battled weight problems all his life, and I have remained skinny.

    HALLIE: Oh, Rhys, I'm a sucker for After 8's, too, and I can make a pint of Haagen-Daaz rum raisin ice cream last weeks...just nibble or two after dinner. I buy it because it's the only flavor my husband can't abide.

    JAN: Hallie, I think the reason the rum raison ice cream lasts for weeks is the same reason your husband can't abide it. The raisins -- they don't belong in ice-cream!!! But that's a whole other controversy. Let's stick to this study, and whether it's got any merit: Do you think women have more trouble resisting their favorite foods?? And what are your own demons?

    Don't forget to check out Jungle Red on Wednesday when I'll be interviewing cybercrime experts Felicia Donovan and Kristyn Bernier about the dark side of the Internet.