Wednesday, June 30, 2010

J.A Konrath, Mystery's Rebel

RHYS: When Joe Konrath burst onto the mystery scene a few years ago we got the feeling instantly that he was someone different. He drove around the country visiting every bookstore and library. He talked about money (which is something we avoid in mysterydom). He stated his intention of making money from his writing (horrors). So when I picked up his first Jack Daniels book, Whiskey Sour, I was surprised: the man can write. The book was witty, fast paced and good.

Now Joe has taken yet another route--shunning traditional publishing to make his own statement by way of e-books. Every author I know is curious about the role e-books will play in our futures, so I'm pleased to welcome J.A Konrath to Jungle Red today to hear all about his fascinating take on our business.

Rhys: Joe, you seem to have assumed the role of rebel writer, creating your own path and your own rules to success. Have you always been a rebel?

Joe: I'm just a guy trying to make a living. It took me 12 years and over 500 rejections before I was published, and once I landed my first print deal I was determined to learn all I could about the business in order to succeed.

I learned--as most authors have learned--that the publishing industry is fatally flawed. A small number of top-brand authors get the overwhelming majority of the marketing dollars, making it nearly impossible for a midlister to succeed. The practice of returns and remainders is archaic and ridiculous. Books are successful based on the amount of coop they get, and there is little a writer can do to improve their station.

So I did what I could. I mailed out letters to 7000 libraries. I visited over 1200 bookstores. I went to over a hundred conventions, conferences, and book fairs, and sent out over 100,000 newsletters.

As a result, my books are all still in print, and I've managed to eek out a career. But I'm one of the lucky ones. Many of my peers are struggling, unable to sell their latest novel, even though they're great writers with decent track records.

Rhys: You are earning a good living from putting unpublished or out of print books on Kindle. Can you talk about that a little?

Joe: I beleive my goal is one that many writers share: to earn money doing something we love. Prior to my first novel, WHISKEY SOUR, selling to Hyperion in 2002, I'd written nine other novels that failed to find a publisher. In 2009, some fans emailed me, asking if I could make my early, unpublisher work available on Kindle. I went to and uploaded my ebooks, which is free.

Now, 14 months later, I've sold 55,000 ebooks, and I'll make over $100,000 this year on books NY publishing rejected.

Rhys: There are millions and zillions of books on Kindle. How do you make yours get noticed?

Joe: Write a great book, have professional, eye-catching cover art, have a good book description, and keep the price under $2.99.

Rhys: Do you think you'll forget about traditional publishing in future and concentrate on the e-book markets?

Joe: I still have several print deals, including one with AmazonEncore, who will be releasing my seventh Jack Daniels thriller, SHAKEN, in October on Kindle, and in print in February 2011.

I'm happy to go where the money is. If a publisher wants to pay me enough, I'd love to work with them. I really like publishers, and they've done a lot for me. But I recently turned down two print offers, and self-pubbed on Kindle, because I felt I could make more money doing so.

I earn $2.06 on a $2.99 ebook. Compare that to $2.50 on a $25.00 hardcover.

Rhys: A question I know has come up in several e-book discussions. How do you handle covers for unpublished or out-of-print books?

Joe: My cover artist is Carl Graves. He charges around $300 per cover, less for multiple covers. You can contact him at Tell him I sent you.

Rhys: Your blog gets a mind-boggling number of visits each day. What do you think they come for? How hard do you work to generate that kind of buzz?

Joe: People on the internet are looking for one thing: content. I try to provide two forms of original content; information, and entertainment. I'm lucky that people seem to be interested in what I have to say, and I work hard to keep their interest by being provocative, controversial, and experimental. I share my numbers. I admit when I'm wrong. I try new things all the time.

It's funny, because I never expected to get all of this attention for my ebook endeavors. I simply want to write for a living. But lately, I've been called "hero", "guru", "an evolutionary figure", "a pioneer", and "the self-publishing messiah." Seriously? I'm just a guy trying to sell my books. I don't want to be the poster boy for self-publishers. I just want to make a few bucks doing what I love. It's flattering to have so many people tell me I'm inspiring them, but I'm much more flattered when someone tells me they really enjoyed my latest novel.

Rhys: What's in your future? Anything else you'd like us to know?

Joe: I'm working on a lot of different books right now. It's great to be busy, and have money coming it. I'm the luckiest guy on the planet. And ten years from now, when ebooks become the dominant form of reading, if history mentions in a footnote that I played a small part in the digital revolution, I'll be amused by that.

Rhys: Thank you for visiting, Joe. We'll be watching your career with interest and we wish you success.

Monday, June 28, 2010

And Now, My Pretty, I have you in my Power...

I've been re-reading a Mary Stewart book. I used to adore her when I was a teenager. Now I found her plot annoyingly improbable. Evil Nazi wants man dead so sends his mistress to marry him, make it look as if he killed his best friend and then to be hanged for it. Wouldn't it have been easier to hire a sharp shooter and finish him off through the window of his car?

I feel the same way when a brutal killer locks up the heroine, keeping her alive for no real reason other than that the book would finish earlier and less satisfactorily if he killed her. I think I have become less tolerant of illogical plots since I became a mystery writer. Ditto weak motives for murder. It would take something pretty terrible to make me kill--protecting my child, revenging my child maybe. I don't think I'd kill if a bad secret about me was about to be revealed--I suppose it depends how bad. I certainly wouldn't kill to get my hands on money, or someone else's husband. And certainly not to let my daughter make the cheerleading squad as some woman did in Texas.

I suppose we writers have to examine our plots in such meticulous detail that we're now aware of the flaws in others. For example although I adore Harry Potter I can see so many inconsistencies. For example characters can aspirate to move instantly from place to place, yet when the Order of the Phoenix members come to rescue Harry, they use broomsticks--surely a more dangerous way to escape. And why can't Harry point his wand at himself and improve his eyesight so that he doesn't have to wear glasses? Isn't there a "reparo" spell for shortsightedness? The point is that if it is a magic universe, then magic should be able to take care of everything, shouldn't it?

There are the obviously dumb plot twists, of course... the heroine going down to the basement, carrying a candle, in the middle of the night, when the phone lines are out in a storm... because she hears a noise... and there's a serial killer in the neighborhood. I hope I've never written anything like that. Please shoot me if I have.

Do other writers find that they get annoyed with illogical plots or plot inconsistencies, or can you overlook them if the story is good otherwise? And what about motives? I think the motive for murder is the first thing I come up with when I'm toying with a book idea--before deciding who my killer or victim might be.

HANK: I'll come back and write more when I stop laughing after thinking about why Harry can't fix his eyesight. OCULOSO!

HALLIE: Laughing too, about Harry Potter. Aspirate? What a lovely transposition of the term she uses, which I think is apparate (and its converse, disapparate). LOVE the Harry Potter vocabulary. Rowlings rivals the best of Roald Dahl (anyone remember 'frobscottle' in "The BFG? It's a fizzy drink with bubbles that float DOWN instead of up resulting in surfeit of 'whizzpopping.' Or disgusting snozzcumbers?)

Being a mystery writer sure takes the fun out of reading, with that little critic sniping away in my head. Illogical plot twists and dumb characters drive me nuts, not to mention stuff that only authors notice like sliding viewpoint. But oh, what pleasure when a book delivers!

RO: Can't weigh in on Harry Potter - haven't read and haven't seen.
Yes and no. A lot of us write amateur sleuths so our characters are by definition not going to do what a regular person would do. I hope I haven't ventured into TSTL territory (too stupid to live)but I'm not writing about myself so my character can and must be more adventurous. Simply calling the cops is not an option. I'm not going to have her take on a gang of bikers with only a weed whacker and a set of keys (oh, wait, she may have done that in book two...)but within reason she can get in and out of trouble.

It did bother me in one chapter of a recent read, but the rest of the book was so good I gave the author a bye. I'm still pretty new so perhaps I'm more forgiving. And I rarely finish mysteries I don't like, so perhaps it just doesn't come up that much for me.

Personally I'm relieved to learn it would take a lot to drive you to murder - some of my characters are not so well-adjusted.

JAN: So if we are being completely honest.....the answer is no. If the book is written in a realistic style, I can't forgive an illogical plot twist. I'm a total witch about it. (Comedic or stylistic books are a different story.)

This is one of the real reasons I don't read many thrillers, particularly male-written thrillers. They tend to start out brilliantly with a really interesting, fast action and logical plot. Then, at the end, as if there's some sort of ongoing contest these writers have to outdo each other, they go for ONE LAST PLOT TWIST. And frankly, I always find them preposterous.

Examples? I don't want to get too specific, or I'll ruin the books for anyone who hasn't read it. But since this one has already been made into the movie and widely seen... . I'll say that I absolutely loved Dennis Lehane's Gone Baby Gone, with its rich and brilliantly written characters until....The end. I found the final plot twist and motivation for the kidnapping, not just stupid, but preposterous. So illogical and unrealistic -- in a book written in a realistic style -- that It ruined the book for me. (My son saw the movie, and without us discussing the book first, came home with the exact same reaction.)

The worst part is that the final, irrational plot twist is usually completely unnecessary, just tagged on at the end. This has happened to me in at three other thrillers, each by a different best-selling male author.

HANK: Just chiming in--yes, the endings are so difficult! Because something BIG has to happen. And the proof of the difficulty is that so often the ending is outrageous. The worst ever: Angels and Demons. Sorry ,Dan. But you can't jump out of a...oh, I don't want to ruin it for anywone who hasn't read it. But trust me, it CANNOT happen.

ROBERTA: That "go down in the basement" thing is very hard to resist, though, especially with amateur sleuths as Ro points out. My agent is currently circulating a new book in which exactly that happens. But my character is a Realtor and someone left a light on in her client's basement. She HAS to go! the key may be building the character up clearly enough so that her motivation for doing something ridiculous hangs together and doesn't pull the reader out of the story.

I would say that I'm a pretty forgiving reader. I love Randy Wayne White's Doc Ford series but the plots have become more and more preposterous. But I read them anyway because I'm crazy about Doc.

RHYS: Sorry about the 'aspirate' versus apparate mix up. I have just blogged on my solo blog ( that my brain and hands don't always coordinate which results in horrible typing bloopers. Example in point "she shook her fish at him."
I think the problem wish so many thrillers is that the writer comes up with a brilliant concept--wouldn't it be great if... but it's not thought through to a logical ending. Maybe there isn't a satisfactory outcome for the particular concept so you wind up with unbelievable endings.

So friends--how tolerant are you of improbably plot twists?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Squirrel Days of Summer

JAN: I like to create characters who are sleuths, but I'm not much of sleuth in real life, at least not when it comes to any kind of mechanical mystery.

When we came home from a weekend of island breezes on Martha's Vineyard,to a airtight house and an air conditioning that wouldn't flip on, my solution was to wait until the morning when I could call "the air conditioning guy."

But while I went off to buy groceries, my sleuth husband lit his pipe and did his Sherlock Holmes thing. After determining that all the circuit breakers were okay, he wondered what else could cut the electricity that wasn't getting to the thermostat. Little tiny teeth that's what.

Anyway, when I came home, he was quite excited to drag me up the attic (you can't believe how hot it was in 80 degree weather) and show me how the squirrels had not only eaten through the wires, but also turned the air handler unit into a clever place to store acorns.

Sherlock fixed the problem -- luckily, in this heat.
Apparently, it was an excellentyear for acorns and a tough one on air conditioning units.

Friday, June 25, 2010

On Looking Writerly

JAN:What with Wimbledon on, I was reading about the latest fashions for tennis wear -- which I admit to spending way too much money on, because HEY, you have to look good on the courts. That means pleated skirt if pleats are in, no pleats when they go out, and now of course, a tennis dress instead of a tennis skirt.

But it got me to thinking. How about writing wear?? Yes, or course, most of us sit down in front of the computer in our comfortable grubbies, but we do think about what we're wearing when we speak at book stores, libraries and conferences. We
think about what looks "writerly."

For example, I'll admit that I own a sheared fur jacket. I WOULD NEVER wear it to a writing event. And not because I'm afraid by being attacked with blood by PETA, because the jacket actually looks like it could be fake. The reason I wouldn't wear it is because in my mind, even fake fur is too flashy to be "writerly."

I generally feel most comfortable looking like a reporter, in dress pants and fitted, button down shirt. But I feel compelled to wear long earrings and jewelry. Not expensive jewelry, funky, arty jewelry.

So my question is this: What do you wear for writer appearances, and what exactly makes it writerly?

HALLIE: I want whoever walks into the book event to know which one of us is "the writer." So I do try to dress "up" - up from my usual jeans-and-T-shirt. Whenever I start promoting a new book, I treat myself to one special item (for Never Tell a Lie it was a long charcoal sweater from Eileen Fischer) that's gotta be washable and packable and no wrinkle, and then I wear it to death. Yay, funky jewelry! Hold the tiaras.

ROBERTA: Yes, what I wear at home should never be translated to the outside world! My hub works from home too now, and the two of us have to be the worst-dressed people in town. We have to remind ourselves to go up a notch when we visit the supermarket or the P.O.

But on the road, I'm with Hallie. I like to dress up a little--not like I was selling Mary Kay cosmetics, but a nice pantsuit or slacks and a sweater. And never, ever forget to wear the pin I had made with my cover on it and the cutest little's the best advertising I ever bought!

RHYS: I agree with Hallie. I want the person who comes into the store to know that I am "the writer" straight away. Also people who attend a speech or book signing have come with expectations. They want the writer to look good. How the writer looks good is up to her personality. Think of Barbara Cartland and her feather boas. I'm not the feather boa or the artsy-crafty type. In my case it's fairly tailored--either pant suit or interesting jacket and black pants, plus I often use scarves to liven things up (if only I could learn to drape them like the French do).

JAN: There's a book on scarf draping. I owned it once.

HANK: Oh, please. When I'm home writing? I have a t-shirt from the gap that says tiRED. And a baseball jersey someone gave me that says PRIME TIME. My lucky shirt.
At events I try to look like "the TV reporter." So suits, heels, pearls. And yes, scarves. (My theory is, they look best if you don't worry about them.) And I'll admit, I try to wear something that will photograph well.

I think it's also about respect--the wonderful people have come to see you! And if it's a signing where you're just introducing yourself as people come in--you've got to look like you're someone they want to meet.
And I've worn high heels every day all day for years--no problem. (Though I always have flats in my bag.)

JAN: I'm over six feet with heels, so I've avoided them most of my life. I WISH I could wear high heels. But if I could wear them, I'd probably reach right for the "floozy" models instead of the writerly ones. (that's what happens when you've been deprived.)

Anyone else out there have preconceived notions about what looks "writerly," and why?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On India

JAN: I met Susan Oleksiw when she was the co-founder and editor The Larcom Press, which published The Larcom Review and several mysteries - including my first novel, Final Copy. But before she was a (terrific) editor, she was a mystery author. The Mellingham Mystery series, featuring Chief of Police Joe Silva, which first appeared in 1993 and continued until 2006. And before that, she was the author of a A Reader’s Guide to the Classic British Mystery (1988), a reference guide so beloved that people still show up at conferences with copies of it for her to sign.

She is also the co-founder of Level Best Books, an annual anthology of crime fiction by New England writers.

But if all that doesn't impress you. How about this? She is a scholar of Sanskrit. And she uses her passion for India in a new series, featuring sleuth Anita Ray, who appeared in a few of her short stories published in Alfred Hitchcock and Level Best anthologies. The first novel in the series is Under the Eye of Kali.

I don't know too many scholars of Sanskrit? So my first question for Susan is: How did that happen?

SUSAN: India has been the great love of my life since I was a young girl and someone gave me a book of fairy tales from Asia. I wasn’t one for mythology or most children’s fiction, but I loved that book of Asian stories. As I went through school I was fortunate to have teachers who were knowledgeable about Asia and they nurtured my interest. And then I went off to graduate school and discovered an even bigger world. I fell in love with Sanskrit the first week.

JAN: How did that translate into the new series?

SUSAN: I knew I was not going to be able to spend as much time in India as I wanted, so I did the next best thing—I wrote about it. When I begin an Anita Ray story or novel, I tend to eat a lot of Indian food, read work by Indian writers, listen to Indian music. I pull out photographs from India—mine and others—and get back into the place I love.

JAN: Tell us a little more bit about Anita Ray. What is she like?

SUSAN: Anita Ray is the daughter of an Indian mother and an Irish American father. She has a dual perspective and comments on things that would be obvious to an India. She is very much of her Indian culture—she is a Nayar, and although she enjoys tweaking her relatives, she is careful to abide by most of the rules.

But she also has a lot of the independent attitudes of the typical American young woman, and these are actually becoming more and more common among some westernized groups in India.

JAN: How and why did you choose her to be the sleuth? Do the two of you share any traits or history?

SUSAN: Anita is the woman I wish I could have been—free as the breeze, seemingly untethered to anyone or anything, with all the world before her. She has no desire to be a responsible adult and does her best to avoid moving in that direction. This is what drives her relatives nuts. And wouldn’t we all, at some time, like to be free of the duties and obligations and responsibilities that fill our day?

JAN: I sure would!! Tell us little bit about Kovalam, the Indian tourist town you chose for the setting? What drew you here?

SUSAN: When I first lived in India, in 1976, there was one luxury hotel on the beach, recently opened, and never full. The foreigners found it eventually, and the developers followed. In the years since then, the beach has sprouted something of a small Indian town.

The area has enough variety in people, lodgings, lanes, to provide lots of challenges to Anita.

But I’ve also given her lots of relatives—a large family spread all over India and the rest of the world. She will have many opportunities to get into trouble and trip over murders.

JAN: I know you also work full time, how do you juggle writing and work?

SUSAN: When I begin a book I write every day. It doesn’t have to be much—part of a scene or an entire short scene—but I have to work every day. I am still employed as the executive director of a small social service agency in Gloucester, MA, so I write in the evening after I get home from work. An hour or two is usually enough, and at some point I’ll take a couple of days off to reread the entire mss and decide on the major areas of reworking.

I’ve recently adopted another technique to help me move along. At the end of each day I note the date, words written, and comments on the scene and ideas for future scenes (the murderer’s shoelace should show up in chapter 7, for example).

When I’m writing, my mind is just full of small details and on some evenings after work I empty my purse of half a dozen small slips of paper listing ideas I’ve had while sitting in a meeting or heading for the supermarket.

One of the things I try to tell people when they ask me about getting into writing is that writing is work. When I describe the process and everything I have to do, even after I’ve sold the mss to a publisher, I listen to myself and wonder why anyone would do this if they didn’t have to. But I always have ideas for the next book before I’ve finished the one I’m working on. I don’t think I’ll ever run out of ideas or the urge to turn them into stories and novels.

My final words on my deathbed will be, “Oh, just let me finish this scene.”

To learn more about Susan, India, or her books, check out her website at:

Monday, June 21, 2010

JAN: I went to see Menopause, the musical, Thursday night at the Trinity Repertory Theater in Providence, and it's a play that I've been wanting to see for a long time and never got around to it. Anyway, the production was terrific, well staged, great singing, great comedic acting, and fun songs. The three women I went with, along with the rest of the audience, couldn't possibly have had a better time.

But I was -- and I hate to admit this -- just the tiniest bit disappointed. And it had nothing to do with the actual performance. I kept thinking that I'd wished I'd seen the play when it first came out, when it was fresh and seemed more over-the-top. So I'm pretty sure my reaction really had to do with my expectations.

They'd been built up to a point where the real thing just couldn't satisfy them. I remember once when Bill and I went to see the movie Bonfire of the Vanities. It had gotten terrible reviews, and we had been planning to see another movie that was sold out, so we decided to just hold our nose and see it. Because our expectations were so low, we really liked the movie. So I'm wondering, do you think that your own expectations color your response to plays, movies, concerts, books -- maybe a bit unfairly?? Have any of you been burned or assisted by what you, yourself, bring to the show?

RHYS: I was recently taken by a group of friends to see Jersey Boys. That was another play I'd been dying to see. It was the Broadway touring cast and the singing was outstanding, but again I was reminded of the old Peggy Lee song, "Is that all there is?" It was too loud, for one thing and no great scenery, no special effects, no big production numbers which I love in a musical (I'm a sucker for 42nd Street and its big tap routines).

I don't know about you but I find that recent musicals are sadly lacking. Where are those songs that everyone keeps singing as they leave the theater? Where are the good stories? I just wish that Rogers and Hammerstein were still alive.

ROBERTA: Ruh-oh, I just convinced my sister to spend the big bucks to see Jersey Boys on Broadway. I'm going to try not to expect too much! I think this happened with my husband reading THE HELP. By the time he got around to it, I had raved about it so much that maybe it couldn't possibly live up to what he expected. For me, it was a surprise love affair, head over heels. On the other hand, look at the folks who salivate for the latest in a popular author's series, like the Harry Potters. Expectations certainly haven't seemed to hurt her sales!

HANK: Oh, did you see the broadway musical Titanic? It was supposed to be fabulous, but we saw the touring company version, and it was--so pitiful. The scenery looked as if it were drawn by first graders. (But not as cute.) On the other hand, everyone told me Wicked was fantastic fantastic--and I worried--could it be *that* good? And yes, it was.

But Jan, I heard Shutter Island, the movie, was terrible. So we netflixed it, just to see--and I thought it was terrific! SO maybe I was giving it the benefit of the doubt--because I expected it to be bad.

RO: I'm frequently disappointed by things that are overhyped. Some recent bestsellers - which shall remain nameless - have left me thinking "What's the big deal?

" Okay I'll mention one. Universally lauded, soon to be a major motion picture. A bunch of over-privileged, underachieving Upper West Side thirty-somethings who are genuinely surprised that they are not more successful than they are when they haven't done anything to merit the adulation they crave. I was so bored I started to count the number of times the heroine folded and unfolded her coltish legs. And every time the "he said, she said" story lagged, the author threw in a mention of Tolstoy - to remind us that this wasn't an episode of Sex and the City, but a work of serious fiction. Ack.

OTOH, I loved Jersey Boys! Who knew I was such a Four Seasons fan. The lyrics must have been laying (lying?) dormant in my brain for decades. You'll have fun. Then again...I had fun at Mamma Mia so there's no accounting for taste.

HALLIE: So interesting... yes expectations do affect how I react. Expect the worst and you can never be disappointed! Not a great philosophy of life, however. The same dynamic is at work when you 'discover' something that no one told you about - the pleasure of finding a great book/movie/restaurant/city/food, of discovering for yourself is lovely. Like eating capers on Crete. Who knew capers could taste that good? It's one of my pleasures as a book reviewer, reading books that I know absolutely nothing about and finding the one that knocks off my socks.

RO: I bet they're like the capers in Sicily. Yum. Welcome home!

JAN- Don't know if I could listen through an hour and a half of Abba music, but I loved Jersey Boys, too! Also capers. In any country.

Come tell us if and how your own expectations color your reviews.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

HANK: Happy Father's Day Jungle Reds! And we all salute ours today.

Here's my dad--I think this is in the 1950's or so, when he was the music critic for the old Chicago Daily News--so he taught me about music, and poetry, and writing and reporting, and I have exactly his sense of humor. He lives in DC now, retired from the foreign service.

Here's ROSEMARY's dad--and this is her sister Paula.. Looks like it's in the 50's too..
ROSEMARY: He was handsome, he could fix anything - and I used to sneak his unfiltered Camels when I was a kid.

And here, in the greenery:

ROBERTA: My papa really was a rolling stone. His idea of heaven was dragging an Airstream trailer around the country visiting Army buddies and other old friends. This picture was taken at Hidcote Gardens in England, the last big trip he got to take. I was so glad to share it with him! He's utterly devoted to his family--still talks to his brother every day by phone. Happy Father's Day Pops! You take the blue ribbon...

JAN says: My father (shown here in great early 60s) was the kindest man I've ever known. He used to tell me that when you age, you have to "think" about being a better person, because if you don't "think" about it, you slide backwards. He is my example of how to grow better with age.

HALLIE: The title of his memoir is my dad (he and my mom were screenwriters) in a nutshell - he did think he could do anything. The great gift he gave to us, his daughters, was the belief that we could, too.

And heres our guest dad--Avery Aames' father . (Aren't these photos wonderful?) And Avery has a special tribure to her father--and to all of ours.

By Avery Aames

My father is gone. Has been for years. So is my mother and I miss her dearly, but this blog is in honor of fathers, so I’m going to stay with that theme, if you’ll indulge me.

I still think of my father, my good friend, and know how proud he would be that I have followed my dream. Dreams. He died so young that he wasn’t able to follow all of his dreams. How many he must have had. Would have had. I knew some of them. I would have liked to know them all.

“Believe you can!” my father said to me. And yet he was also the person who said that achieving a dream takes hard work.

Over the course of my life, I have had plenty of dreams, plenty of goals. In my early twenties, right before my father died, I began my career as an actress. I was cast in a small play in Los Angeles, and he drove down to LA to see me act, dance, and sing. When I close my eyes, I can still see his smiling face, the twinkle in his teary eyes. He had encouraged me to follow my heart, and I had done exactly that. It didn’t hurt that he had given me an old car and had driven my luggage and me to Los Angeles to get started.

Over the course of my acting career, though my father had died, he cheered me on. Every time I performed, I could feel him saying, “Way to go!” When I wrote my first screenplay for myself to star in (every actress’s dream), I could feel my father giving me a thumbs up. [Side note: I never could figure out how to raise enough independent capital to get a screenplay on its feet.]

When it came time to move out of Los Angeles (don’t shoot me women’s libbers, but my husband’s career was on the rise), I gave up on my dream of starring in a TV series or a film. I’d had a good run. I’d made a living as an actress, but becoming a star was not meant to be. My father would have been the first to tell me that not every dream comes true, and it’s the journey that matters.

So I came up with a new dream of becoming a published author. When I was a young girl, I fell in love with Nancy Drew novels. At the age of ten, I thought I could write one—not an easy task, by the way. Kudos to all writers of YA novels! I think my mother stowed my manuscript in my Memory Book. I’ll have to dig it out. I’ll bet it’s not nearly as gripping as I thought it was at the time, but that’s another story. Because of my passion for mysteries and thrillers, I decided that was the kind of novel that I wanted to write.

At our first stop on the “See America Tour”—my husband, my son, and I moved to a number of cities. Orlando, FL was the first one—I crafted my first manuscript. It dealt with my father’s death, and it was not very good. I was too close to the material. As we moved to our second stop on the tour—Charlotte, NC--I wrote my second novel. Alas, that manuscript found it’s way into a drawer, as well. I wasn’t too close to the material; I just wasn’t a very good writer yet.

At that moment of realization, I could hear my father laughing. Know why? Because for years, Miss Perfectionist—his nickname for me—thought she could do anything the first time out. Oh, sure, he encouraged my dreams, but he also encouraged me to see myself clearly. I was too serious. I was too intense. I needed to laugh. I needed to lighten up. And I needed to realize that achieving any dream took work. Hard work. Ten years of semi-rejection as an actress had taught me part of that lesson. Ten-plus years of rejection as a writer was the Master Class. Meanwhile, I took writing classes. I joined critique groups. I got involved with Sisters in Crime and its online group, the Guppies. I wrote a lot of books—more than five, less than ten--before I was finally granted the contract to write A Cheese Shop Mystery series. With each book, I’d learned something new about writing, and more important, something new about myself. I had grit. Dreamers need grit.

I wish my father—and my mother—were here to celebrate my joy as this dream comes true. I’m thrilled to be the author of The Long Quiche Goodbye. I’m thrilled to be passionate about my work, about cheese, about writing. And I’m thrilled to be one of the lucky ones who had the tenacity to keep working to achieve my dream.

Don’t give up. As my father said, “Believe you can!”

Do you have someone—a parent, a friend, a spouse, a teacher—who inspires you to achieve your dream? Care to share who and why? Do you have a dream that you are trying to achieve now? Did you have one that you let go? Do you believe you can?

HANK: Happy Father's Day to all!


Avery can be found on her website at,/ on Facebook, Twitter, and on two blogs: and She also has a booksellers page where you can purchase her book from any of your favorite bookstores: Avery Aames is the pseudonym for suspense/thriller writer Daryl Wood Gerber. For more information about Daryl, you can go to her website at:

Friday, June 18, 2010

Saying The T-Word (Yes. Twitter.)

@Hank_Phillippi: Just seeing my name that way--you know what this is about! Are you a Twitter-pro? Or a Twitter-um, con? Beforey ou dismiss the whole thing as so much cyber noise, just listen to twittter-guru Krista Davis. Er--

@KristaDavis Before my first book came out, everyone said MySpace was the place to be. It was all the rage. I dutifully churned my way through the instructions and started my own MySpace page.

Less than a year later, before the release of my second book, the word on the cyber street was that all authors should join Facebook. I couldn’t be left out, so I learned the ropes at Facebook. I collected a few friends, but the majority were other writers whom I already knew. What was the point of that, I wondered?

So with two not very active social networks that I was supposed to be cultivating, I was as horrified as everyone else when news spread about Twitter. Not another one! Not another learning curve. Not another place where the same bunch of writers would waste time making contact.

Nevertheless, in a weak moment, probably when I should have been writing and didn’t feel like it, I joined Twitter. http:// After all, people were beginning to use those cute little
blue birds on their blogs and websites. Joining wasn’t hard.

Hurrah! To my complete surprise, people began to follow me.

Strangers! It wasn’t the same old group. But then tweets (messages) came to my Twitter page fast and thick.

“Standing in the line for the ladies’ room.”
(Way too much information, thank you.)

“At the airport, waiting for my flight.”
(Your mother might be interested, but you’re clearly just bored.)

“Wherever you are -- be there.”

Dozens of disjointed, uninteresting tweets flowed onto my Twitter page and they kept coming! Forget that! I didn’t have the time, and I was supposed to be working on a book. But people kept talking about Twitter, and eventually, when I should have been writing but was
looking for a reason not to, I went back. Two things intrigued me.

1) The tweets kept coming, yet I felt certain that no one could possibly be spending the day watching tweets roll by.

2) Some people were following 47,000 other people. There’s no way they could read that many tweets.

So if no one was reading the tweets, what was the point?

Then someone mentioned TweetDeck ( and the picture began to fall into place. I was right. No one was reading all the tweets. But then why did anyone bother? The clue was in those little # signs you see in some tweets. They’re called hashtags and they denote a subject. I finally realized that people only read the tweets of interest to them. When you have TweetDeck you can follow the tweets on the subjects you choose. Twitter calls popular topics “trending” and you can find them on the right side of your Twitter page. As I write this, #worldcup and #booksthatchangedmyworld (note there are no spaces) are hot subjects.

What that means for us is our tweets can be seen by people who don’t know us, a crucial element for expanding readership. We simply have to find the correct hashtags to use in our tweets. I write the domestic diva mysteries, so I often tweet about my blog, Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen. I include hashtags like #recipes, #vegetarians, #baking, and other domestic type words to expand the reach of my messages.

There are lots of hashtags that deal with books, such as #books, #writing, #amwriting, #writers, and #reading. Those are only the beginning. There are widely used hashtags for different genres, and writing conventions, and well, just about everything. You can try them out on TweetDeck to see which ones have impact and which ones are duds.

You can also include hashtags for particular cities. Enhance the power of a signing announcement through the use of hashtags.

#Author @HankPhillippi will be signing at Borders in #Boston on Sunday at three!

To explore hashtags and learn about more of them, visit What The Hashtag? or iHashtag

Want to know what a particular hashtag means? Try Tagdef.

You can also follow the tweets of certain people on TweetDeck. Agents have embraced Twitter in a big way. I follow my agent @BookendsJessica. I include her Twitter address in a tweet that I think might interest her. And because she’s a lovely agent, she usually re-tweets it, sending it to her followers. One of her followers might re-tweet it, too, sending it to a whole new group of people. This is where Twitter differs so much from Facebook. Because of the re-tweet feature, messages can spread exponentially through the world. Of course, that means sending tweets that are worth sharing, but that’s a whole other blog.

The irony in fear of Twitter (Twitterphobia?) is that it may be the very best vehicle for writers to spread news about their books.

Tweets are limited to 140 characters, so even if you fuss over your tweet, you really can’t waste too much time writing it. The same goes for reading tweets. It only takes a few minutes to read them and catch up. Of course, the most important feature is the retweet that has the potential to spread a message to hundreds, even thousands of potential readers.

I should warn you that I have a new book coming out in December. That can only mean there’s a new social network on the horizon. Beware!

@Hank_Phillippi: Thanks, Krista! I must say, Tweetdeck is a life-changing thing. Barbara Vey taught me--i mean, @Barbara Vey. There's Hootsuite, too. What's that?

Like--my name is too many characters. So I could either be HankPRyan, or Hank_Phillippi. I thought HankPRyan was the obvious choice, even though it's not intuitive and not necessarily good.

But someone told me as soon as someone typed H-A-N-K, my name would come up. Then, he said, in my tweets, just add Ryan after the @Hank_Phillippi So my tweets would say @Hank_Phillippi Ryan Huh. How about that?

Any other questions? Oh, Krista, would you say: never tweet without some kind of hashtag?

National bestselling author Krista Davis writes the Domestic Diva Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. Her first book, The Diva Runs Out of Thyme was nominated for an Agatha award. Her most recent release is The Diva Paints the Town.

The Diva Cooks A Goose will be in bookstores in December. Learn more about Krista's books at
and visit her at, where she blogs on Saturdays. Follow her on Twitter at @KristaDavis. She promises to follow you back!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

One Writer's Journey--Through Promotion!

HANK: It's the wail of the baffled author: What am I supposed to DO? Every author wonders--should I make bookmarks? Library visits? Blogs? Mailing lists?

The secret is--what works for one person, may not work for another. Or, it might. And today on Jungle Red---Jeri Westerson tells all. In fact--it's a blueprint for successful promotion. (She's here, isn't she?)

On Promotion

I should first say that I am in no way a shy person. I feel sorry for those writers out there starting out who just want to sit in their home offices and never talk to another living soul and at the same time get published. I suppose it can happen, but in today’s publishing world, that scenario has become harder and harder.

Promotion is a tricky business. But I know that it starts with making opportunities.

I had written historical novels for about ten years. I had two agents, but I couldn’t land a contract. And I was alone, writing in my own little bubble of home office and university library.

The online chapter of Sisters in Crime was my introduction to the wonderful world of networking. I wasn’t a big believer in it before, being one of those go-getter gals, the I-Can-Do-It-On-My-Own person. But after some years experience with this, I can honestly say, why? Why go it alone when there are so many helpful people, truly “sisters,” out there willing to lend a hand?

Joining the international organization Sisters in Crime was the single best move I ever made. I signed up for the online chapter the Guppies (which stands for the Great UnPublished). I commiserated, I asked questions of the more senior members, I learned some dos and don’ts about the publishing world. Then it was up to me to stop gathering this information and do something with it.

I was encouraged, nay, muscled into getting a blog by one of my critique partners who had chiseled her place on the blogosphere with a very successful true crime blog. I didn’t want to write another author blog, there were already enough out there. And besides, I had a readymade topic and theme: the Middle Ages.

I started out writing articles on medieval history and only a few articles on my struggle to get published, and viola! was born. I think of it as a magazine with lots of different things to read and lots of interesting images.

But to bring folks to my blog I decided to do some interviews: booksellers, authors, small publishers—the kind of thing other writers might be interested in. And then the hard part. How to advertise?

I went to blogs that had a big following and went to their blog rolls. Painstakingly, I went to each of those blogs and trolled for email addresses. It took a long time to collect all that, but I finally had an email list to advertise myself. This led to being offered the occasional guest correspondent spot on The Rap Sheet ( and name recognition when I went to my first Bouchercon ever before I had a contract. I was a believer in networking from that point on.

But I didn't stop with one blog. I felt my medieval detective, Crispin Guest, should also have a blog. I thought it was a good way for readers to have something to read about him between book releases ( He also has Facebook and Myspace pages (but I do the Twittering).

It was a slow snowball. Each contact builds on another. At Bouchercon I scored some blurbs for my pre-contract manuscript. It’s that party atmosphere. Take advantage of it! When I got home, I put together some author presentations I could take to libraries so that once I had that book in my hand I could hit the ground running.

You can’t wait. You can’t decide to begin all this once you have a contract. It’s almost too late by then. Prepare far ahead!

I joined MWA and my local chapter of Sisters in Crime and volunteered. I learned to say “yes” at every opportunity. Another author recommended me to her book events coordinator and I hired her to book me at literary luncheons (putting that medieval presentation to good use, along with my cache of real medieval weapons I take with me whenever I do a talk. Interesting visuals and demonstrations can really make buzz.) Consequently, whenever I did a talk at these country clubs and beachside venues, who do you suppose was the one speaker who ended up with her picture in the local papers?

After a royalty check arrived, I felt it was time for a book trailer, but I decided that if I was going to spend the money on a professional-looking one, one that looked as much like a movie trailer as possible, then I wanted to get my money's worth and promote the whole series not just one book. I contacted a production company and they also agreed, for a modest fee, to add each new book cover each year. (You can see the trailer on my website ).

In the Los Angeles SinC chapter we are lucky enough to have a speakers bureau and I signed up for that, getting on these sponsored panels. Which led to the serendipitous event of being on a panel at the right time and catching the eye of the host of a local public access TV program. Two other SinC LA members and I went on the air to talk about SinC and our own books. An hour of airtime was a pretty good opportunity. One never knows how this might translate to sales. But every bit counts.

Does this take a lot of time and money? Yes, it does. In order to be able to say “yes” to opportunity, you have to have a flexible day job or understanding employers. I was lucky in that, too.

Travel, availability, networking, being prepared. That’s the ticket.

HANK: Authors, what promotion has worked for you? And what hasn't? (Tomorrow--more of our promo primer--a big juicy lesson on the secrets of Twitter!)
Jeri Westerson does spend time writing her novels, and you can read an excerpt of her latest, SERPENT IN THE THORNS, on her website

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Writing the F Word

" ...fiction readers will love this riveting, action-packing journey into television news investigations."
--(starred review) Library Journal on Silencing Sam

Julie Kramer and I were separated at birth. No, that's wrong. Because we're not separate. We both inhabit the deadline-crazed, ratings-driven, high-stakes, high-stress world of journalism. And our books take place in a fictional-but-realistic world of TV news.

In a real newsroom? You'll hear words that would make your Gramma's head spin. If you have a certain kind of Gramma.

But you'll never hear my fictional Charlotte McNally utter a word she wouldn't say on the air. She says there are too many pitfalls on live TV. And if your brain is used to swearing, in an emergency, your mouth will say words that would make the FCC unhappy. So she just--doesn't say them.

But Julie has been thinking about language. And her third and newest book--which Booklist called "a worthy entry in a winning series," has something completely different.

The F-Word

My latest thriller, SILENCING SAM, contains something my previous books did not: the f-bomb.

I try not to use the word in everyday life, and had taken some pride not to have used it in my two previous books, STALKING SUSAN and MISSING MARK. Some authors routinely use it as a verb, noun or adjective. They've explained that it makes for more realistic dialogue, or serves as a means of creating credible characters - proof of how bad the bad guy is, or how far the hero has been pushed.

But in my latest novel, my excuse is that I used it for a specific reason. I'm a career television news producer and write a series set in the desperate world of TV news. Part of my trademark as an author is I write media thrillers that take readers inside how newsrooms make decisions and am candid about some of the flaws of the profession. Yes, much to my former colleagues dismay, I told readers If It Bleeds, It Leads.

My use of the f-word came about because I wanted to illustrate what happens in the news control booth if that word -or a similar cuss cousin - comes up during a live broadcast. And what some of the ramifications can be from the Federal Communications Commission. While most live radio programs have a seven second delay, local television news does not.

As I wrote the scene...I decided not using the real word would be a cop out, and cheat the moment of its drama. So I convinced myself that the word was just a word. And if it was good enough for vice presidents Joe Biden and Dick was good enough for me. Although I was careful not to let my protagonist be the one who uttered it. But who could blame her if she had? After all, she's been arrested for the murder of a gossip columnist.

But deep down in my journalism heart, I knew the word was more than just a word, or the FCC wouldn't get so excited. Or I wouldn't have the angst I did. Like what would my mom think? What would my kids think? And would I still be eligible for the Mary Higgins Clark Award?

Ultimately I decided a realistic look at the news was worth stepping over this line. Then I waited to see if my agent or editor questioned it. Neither did. I'd like to think they agreed with my bold editorial decision. But maybe they didn't even notice.

How about the rest of you authors - is it harder to actually type the f-word than letting it slip in general conversation? Plenty of bestsellers never use the word at all. Others use it liberally. As for you readers - what's your take? Do you cringe when you read swear words or do they just become invisible?


Julie Kramer is a freelance news producer for NBC's Today show, Nightly News, and Dateline. Prior to that she was a national award-winning investigative producer for WCCO-TV in Minneapolis.

Julie grew up along the Minnesota-Iowa state line, fourth generation of a family who raised cattle and farmed corn for 130 years. Her favorite childhood days were spent waiting for the bookmobile to bring her another Phyllis A. Whitney novel. An avid reader, she tired of fictional TV reporters always being portrayed as obnoxious secondary characters who could be killed off whenever the plot started dragging. So her debut thriller, STALKING SUSAN, features a TV reporter as the heroine and takes readers inside the world of television news. She lives with her husband and sons in White Bear Lake, MN.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Thrill of It All

HANK: DO you read thrillers? (There's a reason for the question that could win Jungle Red readers a free book! More about that in a moment.)

Yes, of course, I grew up on Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden and Vicki Barr, girl stewardess. And then Agatha and Dorothy and Marjorie.

But at some point, I do remember sneaking On the Beach from my parents' bookshelves (thinking it would be, what did we call it? "dirty"?) and being surprised, then enthralled, then terrified, then riveted.

Wow. It was different. And then I read Fail Safe. And Seven Days in May. And Alas, Babylon. Fantastic. I proceeded (at some point) to Eye of the Needle. Day of the Jackal. (How perfect is that book? I mean, you're rooting for the bad guy!)

And Nelson DeMille's The Charm School. An amazing reading experience--one of those books that makes you look at the whole world differently. I did, at least.

Do you read them? They're often very different from mysteries. And perfect summer vacation reading! What's your favorite?

RO: Wow. I'd totally forgotten how much I loved those books. I remember waiting anxiously for the next Ken Follett to come out. Are those thrillers? I don't even know what the definition of a thriller is anymore.

ROBERTA: Hank, I'm guessing this might have to do with the upcoming Thrillerfest?? Anyway, I haven't read any of the books you listed. Though I have enjoyed Harlan Coben, Linwood Barclay, and Lisa Gardner. Are those thrillers? I too find the definition very confusing. Maybe it will all become clear later in this post...

JAN: I never read thrillers as a kid. Or even much as an adult. I read one Harlan Coben novel, but didn't 'like the way it made my heart race when I'm was trying to get to sleep. (which means it was a successful thriller!) But I'm just not into the fear thing. The closest I come to a favorite thriller was Wicked Angel by Taylor Caldwell, which was more a psychological thriller or character study of a psychopath as she progresses from childhood onto ultimate evil.

RHYS: I used to devour The Ipcress File, The Spy who Came in From the Cold, just as I used to like movies like Three Days of the Condor. Now, as I get older, I find I can't tolerate that level of suspense as well. Put it down to an aging heart, I suppose. Also I can no longer watch or read things in which a child is in jeopardy. I personalize too much. I guess I'm a hopeless softie.

What I really love is the thriller with humor. Charade is my all time favorite. And Hitchcock is still the master. And I really like books like Katherine Neville's--sort of cross genre thriller/historical saga. I'm taking 'The Fire' with me on vacation. I figure it's long enough that it will last a couple of weeks.

RO: Love Harlan Coben's books. I wouldn't have called them thrillers, but what do I know - enlighten us!

HANK: Well, I'm so surprised at my JRW sisters! (Hallie's a bit out of touch this week, and I know she'll have somethig to say later--especially since her Never Tell A Lie is certainly part-thriller.) (And I love the fabulous Harlan Coben, too. And Lisa Gardner, who keeps turning out great book after great book. And Katherine Neville, whose "The Eight" kept me in suspense for sdays. And new Tess Gerritsen's Ice Cold--a page-turner of the first water.)

Yeah, who out there has the definition of a thriller? What makes one different from a mystery? I read somewhere that in a mystery, somene gets killed, and the sleuth is trying to find out whodunnit. In a thriller something bad is going to happen, and the main character is trying to stop it.

What do you all think?

SO! Another reason for all this? To give away books! Two lucky JR commenters will get a free copy of the brand new Thrillers: 100 Must Reads!

Edited by David Morrell and Hank Wagner, Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads examines 100 seminal works of suspense through essays contributed by such esteemed modern thriller writers as: David Baldacci, Steve Berry, Sandra Brown, Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver, Tess Gerritsen, Heather Graham, John Lescroart, Gayle Lynds, Katherine Neville, Michael Palmer, James Rollins, R. L. Stine, and many more. (Including Hank!)

Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads features 100 works - from Beowulf to The Bourne Identity, Dracula to Deliverance, Heart of Darkness to The Hunt for Red October - deemed must-reads by the International Thriller Writers organization.

*So says the promotional material: Much more than an anthology, Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads goes deep inside the most notable thrillers published over the centuries. Through lively, spirited, and thoughtful essays that examine each work's significance, impact, and influence, Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads provides both historical and personal perspective on those spellbinding works that have kept readers on the edge of their seats for centuries.

Just tell us your favorite thriller--and you'll be entered for the book! Thrilling, huh?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Boys and their Toys

Like many daughters and wives, I am at a loss what to get my husband for Father's Day. The trouble with shopping for men is that they never have a wish list. If they are like my husband,John, when they want someting, they do their research then go out and buy it. John is particularly annoying in this way--his camera breaks a week before his birthday. Aha, I think. New camera. Two days before his birthday he arrives home with new camera he has just bought!

Like many men John loves his gadgets. A real case of boys and their toys. Our house is full of interesting objects that John bought, telling me how useful they'd be: the machine to turn VHS tapes into digital, the machine to turn old vinyl records into mp3, and to turn cassette tapes into digital files. To scan slides onto a computer. All sitting there on the shelf, never used as yet.

In the kitchen there is the bread machine, the vegetable juicer, the sausage stuffer,the electric slicer, the hamburger maker... and most recently, the professional grade coffee roaster. Yes, he now roasts his own coffee. He hasn't got it right yet so we alternate between drinking bitter over-roasted beans and insipid not-roasted-enough beans. Wouldn't Starbucks be easier? I ask.

The trouble with all of these toys is that John is enthusiastic for about three months. We eat freshly baked breads daily. Healthy juices. Even homemade sausages. Then he loses interest and they go to the graveyard for dead appliances on the bottom shelf of a cabinet. So I suppose I should be glad that he hasn't a wish list for more appliances at the moment. We're running out of place.

Women are wonderful. It's so easy to find a gift that pleases them. Bath products, a cute piece of costume jewelry and we're happy. Give a man something that he doesn't specifically think that he needs at this moment and either it will go back to the store or will lie in a drawer untouched. I once found John's Christmas stocking in August--still full of the candy and little gifts I had so thoughtfully put in it.

Clothes are a complete taboo. He doesn't believe that anyone but he can know his taste in clothes (and given the strange garments he comes home with, that's probably quite true). So the kids have discovered that the only thing that works is a gift certificate to a restaurant, or a promisary note to weed-whack the hill, paint a room etc.

So I think it's going to be a card and a nice dinner this year. Oh, and if you hear about a new and fascinating gadget, please don't tell John about it!