Monday, May 24, 2010

Saying Goodbye to a Dear Friend

After many weeks of putting off the inevitable, my husband took our beloved dog, Blackie, to the Humane Society today to be put to sleep. She was fourteen and a half years old, mostly deaf and arthritic, had failing kidneys and liver, and was on painkillers, but what finalized the decision was her loss of bowel and bladder control. And it was at the worst possible time, when our house was on the market and had to be clean and "show-ready" at all times.

We adopted Blackie from the Humane Society shelter when she was 11 months old. They knew her mother was a black Labrador, but the father's breed was unknown. Whatever breed he was, he was responsible for Blackie's smaller size than a typical lab (55 pounds) and the kink in her tail that made it curl like a pig's tail. Our kids were 5 and 8 when we brought Blackie home to live with us. They named her and went through the obedience training classes with us. Blackie was an intelligent Alpha (except with us) dog who asserted herself over most other dogs and had an extensive vocabulary before she went mostly deaf. In the last few months, we've relied on loud claps and hand signals.

Blackie seemed to have a good last day, munching on her last dental chew and dog biscuits and taking her last car ride. At the shelter, my husband encountered another family whose dog was obviously in pain and experiencing seizures, so we were glad we didn't wait that long. Blackie was still a mostly happy dog, though it took her a long time to lay down and get up, and her "accidents" embarrassed her. She had a good life, but she was a very special and loving companion and we'll miss her a lot. Below is a photo of her taken yesterday. The white on her face and paws is from age.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Second Author Blurb for Deadly Currents

My Midnight Ink editor and I are in the process of asking authors we admire and who write similar books to my new Rocky Mountain Adventure mystery series to read the manuscript for the first book in the series, Deadly Currents, to be released March 2011, to consider giving it a blurb. On April 9th at the Inkspot blog for Midnight Ink authors, I posted an article about how difficult it is to ask for blurbs and celebrated obtaining my first one from Margaret Coel, a friend and fellow Colorado mystery author.

Recently we received a second blurb from William Kent Krueger, whose Cork O'Connor series I really love. I'm absolutely floored by Kent's praise, given that I consider his writing to be some of the most beautiful I've read outside of the literary genre. For those who haven't yet become hooked on his series like I have, I hope you'll read one of his books and give it a try. Many thanks to Kent! Here's what he said, followed by Margaret's blurb. I hope their words spark an interest in Deadly Currents in your mind.

"Beauty abounds in Beth Groundwater's new novel. Beauty in the marvelous Colorado landscape, beauty in the symmetry of the story, and beauty in the language itself. Deadly Currents is a remarkable book by an author who clearly knows and loves her territory. Don't miss it!"
-- William Kent Krueger, author of the Cork O'Connor series

"If you’ve wondered what white water river rafting is all about, get ready for a wild plunge into Colorado’s Arkansas River with Mandy Tanner, river ranger extraordinaire and dauntless sleuth. Beth Groundwater gets the mountain town of Salida and its cast of river denizens just right. Hurray for Deadly Currents, a heart-racing debut to a new series with as many twists and turns and unexpected upsets as a ride through the rapids itself."
---Margaret Coel, author of The Silent Spirit

Two other authors whose writing I admire have agreed to read the manuscript, so please cross your fingers for me. I'd love to add their blurbs to these two.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Wildlife Sightings in Breckenridge, CO

My husband and I are spending a few days at our Breckenridge home, where I'm trying to focus solely on writing in the mornings in an effort to finish the rough draft of the second book in my upcoming Rocky Mountain Adventures mystery series (the first book, Deadly Currents, debuts in March, 2011). I've got a chapter and a half to go!

In the afternoons, we hike, soak in the hot tub and enjoy the other pleasures that mountain living offers, including wildlife viewing. That has included many fox sightings and a visit by a nosy raccoon night before last, who looked in the patio door at us while we were watching TV. A couple of moose roamed the neighborhood this morning, and one spent a long time just on the other side of a small creek in our back yard. My husband, an avid amateur photographer, took some excellent photos, and I'm sharing three here, one of a friendly fox who came right up on our patio (we suspect someone has been feeding it, which is a bad idea) and one each of the two moose.

I can't wait to make this our full-time home!

Giving away Sisters in Crime money

On Wednesday, May 12th, I had the HUGE pleasure of handing over a $1,000 check from Sisters in Crime to the Kraemer Family Library of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Why and how did this come about? The Kraemer Family Library was the February winner in the Sisters in Crime “We Love Libraries” program. Under this program, monthly grants of $1,000 will be awarded to libraries from January through December 2010. Grants must be used to purchase books. The book purchases are not restricted to the mystery genre, but the hope is that winning libraries will use some of the funds to purchase books written by Sisters in Crime members (like me! ;) ). Libraries enter by sending in a photo of staff holding books written by Sisters in Crime authors. The library staff told me they had a fun time gathering and posing for the photo.

I was very excited when the national office contacted me and asked me to organize an event to present the grant. I invited local Sisters in Crime members, and mystery author Laura DiSilverio (aka Lila Dare) was able to join me in the ceremony followed by lunch with the staff. We talked about our own work and the writing of Sisters in Crime’s many other talented authors, and I gave them a list of Colorado Sisters in Crime authors. Teri Switzer, the Professor and Dean of the Library, said the group had so much fun with us that they asked if they could institute a monthly author lunch presentation. I told her that if they do start such a program, I'd be glad to suggest some local authors to invite. The photos below are from the event. Don't we look like we're having fun?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My mystery author guest: Lila Dare

As promised yesterday, mystery author Lila Dare is visiting my blog today to answer interview questions. Above is a cover photo of Tressed to Kill, the first book in her Southern Beauty Shop Mystery series. St. Elizabeth, Georgia, offers charm, Southern hospitality, and, most recently, murder. Now, hairdresser Grace Terhune is ready to crack this case before things get snarled beyond repair . . .

Everyone at Violetta’s Salon has their scissors at the ready for the influx of St. Elizabeth’s high society ladies. Of all the snobs getting their hair done for the town meeting, the worst is Constance DuBois, a woman heartless enough to ruin people’s livelihoods on a whim. After a tinting accident leaves her hair orange-striped, Constance vows she’ll close down Violetta’s. Hours after the threat, Grace and her mom Violetta find Constance dead and some—including the police—believe the mother-daughter duo did her in. With the help of the women who work at Violetta’s, Grace sets out to clear their name and lands in trouble clear up to her perfectly shaped eyebrows.

See what Lila has to say in response to my questions below, and feel free to ask her additional questions in the comments.

Interview with Lila Dare:

1. What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?

I switch it up with different books and different characters. I start with an idea of the character and nail down the physical description quickly. Then, I use some of the lists/exercises in Nancy Kress’s book, Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint, to flesh out my main characters. This time, I’m also using an article from a recent Writer’s Digest about how characters perceive things. Interesting stuff. I keep an on-line file about the recurring characters in my books because I find that I forget basics like eye color and height from book to book.

2. How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?

I used to outline, but now I’m a seat-of-your-pantser. I find making it up as I go along allows me to be more creative, frees ideas that would get stifled if I was just writing to get from outline Point A to Point B. That said, I do go back during the revision process and plant clues and red herrings where appropriate. The down side to writing spontaneously is that sometimes you end up with chapters of material that don’t really fit by the end, so you have to be willing to axe them (always painful).

3. In the age-old question of character versus plot, which one do you think is most important in a murder mystery and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?

Okay, I’m going to wuss out and say “both.” Really, in a mystery especially, both plot and characterization must be strong. If the plot is weak, or obvious, or relies on coincidence or a deus ex machina for a solution, mystery readers will toss the book at the wall and curse your name. (Unless it’s a library book, in which case they’ll skip the tossing and go straight to the cursing.) Mystery readers are sophisticated; they want the plot to challenge them.

On the other hand, unless the characters are fully realized and interesting, no one cares about the outcome (true for almost any genre). This is especially true for series mysteries where readers will hang with a character for years over the course of many books. Think of how Elizabeth George’s Detective Linley and his friends and co-workers have changed over the years. Or Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch and company. V.I. Warshawski. Dave Robicheaux. I could go on. It’s because these characters are real people to us, and the cases they solve complex and interesting, that we tune back in time and time again.

4. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?

Different sorts of challenges pop up at different stages of a writing career. Before I had a contract, rejections were the biggest challenge. I have 80+ rejections (mostly from agents) in a file drawer and in my email. I used to skip down to the mailbox every day, hoping for a letter from an agent in response to my query. Too often, as we all know, they were rejections. Rejections of the whole manuscript brought tears and the desire to bury myself in a pint of Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream. Somehow, email rejections are easier. Maybe it’s because you don’t build up that anticipation walking down to the mailbox . . .

Now that I have contracts for several books, the challenge is balancing writing and promotion. (I wish I had something unusual and interesting to say here, like “My biggest challenge is choosing which movie rights offer to accept,” but I’m sticking with the truth.) I have two books coming out this year--Tressed to Kill from Berkley in May (writing as Lila Dare) and Swift Justice from St. Martin’s Minotaur in October (as Laura DiSilverio)--and promoting them at the same time I’m writing the next installments is cutting into my gym time . . . and my Dancing with the Stars time . . . and my lunching with friends and shopping with my mom time. I make sure the writing comes first.

I coped with the rejections by always striving to get better, by taking classes, reading craft books, and revising, revising, revising. I also took joy in the small successes—a rejection addressed with my name instead of “Worthless Author We Wouldn’t Represent If Hell Froze Over,” a line or two of praise or criticism. I cope with the current challenges by setting priorities and trying to let go of it all when I’m relaxing with my family. What inspires me is the writing itself and the gratitude I feel at being able to write for a living. (Okay, it would be a pretty meager living if I didn’t have my military retirement to fall back on.) Deadlines are pretty inspirational, too!

5. What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?

For some reason, it’s fascinating to read about other writers’ processes, isn’t it? I love to read about people who write from midnight to four, or who draft a book in three weeks by writing non-stop in a mountain cabin. My process is a bit more prosaic. A typical workday for me starts when I wake my daughters for school at 6:30. I check my emails and try to get business stuff out of the way while they dress and eat. Then I walk them to school, make a cup of tea when I get back, and sit my fanny down in front of the computer. I write 2,000 words a day when I’m drafting a book, which usually takes until about noon or one. Then I work out (okay, I lunch with friends occasionally) and come home to take care of promotional stuff like booking signings, writing blog posts, ordering bookmarks, and the like. I quit for the day when the girls get home from school.

6. What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?

Write what you love, what you’re passionate about, and worry about categorizing it later. Don’t try to write for the latest trend (be it zombies or bio warfare) because the trend will undoubtedly be over by the time you can get a book written and published. Treat your writing like a job: Set goals (number of words per day, pages per week, whatever works for you and your schedule), take classes and/or submit your work to a critique group, read widely, and reward yourself for the small successes along the way.

7. Now here’s a zinger. Tell us something about yourself that you have not revealed in another interview yet. Something as simple as your favorite TV show or food will do.

I appeared on Jeopardy! last year. I racked up $8,000, but that was only good enough for third place. (Only the champ gets to keep the money s/he makes.) You’ve got to be really fast on the buzzer!

8. What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?

Right now I’m drafting Die Buying, the first in my Mall Cop series due from Berkley in 2011 (summer). It’s a lot of fun—loads of humor—and features a woman protagonist, EJ Ferris, who used to be an Air Force cop but who took a sniper bullet through the knee in Afghanistan and was medically retired. When the series starts, she wants to be a “real” cop, but can’t pass the physicals because of her knee. So she thinks of the mall security work as a temporary thing. But then animal activists “liberate” all the reptiles at the Herpetology Hut and a body turns up in a display window . . .

9. Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?

Find me on the web at Laura DiSilverio or Lila Dare. You can find me on Facebook under both those names, too. I’m happy to talk to book clubs, library groups, or pretty much anyone else interested in writing (and my books in particular)!

Okay, readers, fire away! And if someone doesn't ask Lila/Laura about her Jeopardy! appearance, how she got on the show, what kinds of questions she had, etc., then I will.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tomorrow's Guest Blogger: Lila Dare!

Tomorrow, mystery author Lila Dare (aka Laura DiSilverio) will be a guest on my blog. Author of the Southern Beauty Shop mysteries, Lila Dare was born in Georgia and has lived in Alabama, Mississippi, and Virginia. Although she has never worked in a beauty shop, she frequents salons and likes to tell her stylist: “Surprise me.” Maybe that’s why she looks nervous in her photo. She currently lives west of the Mississippi with her husband, two daughters and dog, and misses Southern cooking and friendliness, but not the humidity.

Lila has agreed to answer some interview questions, and I'm sure you'll be intrigued by what she has to say. Then, feel free to ask her some questions of your own!

Monday, May 10, 2010

I've Been Tagged!

Friend and fellow Colorado author Patricia Stoltey tagged me on her blog to answer the following five questions about myself.

For a "Tag" you answer 5 questions 5 times to share a bit about yourself. I hope my answers are as entertaining and enlightening as Pat's were!

Question 1 - Where were you five years ago?

1. Living with my husband and children in our home in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which is currently up for sale.
2. Shopping my first mystery manuscript (A Real Basket Case) to literary agents.
3. Revising the second manuscript for the series (To Hell in a Handbasket) while desperately hoping the first one sells.
4. Making plans to vacation in Cozumel, Mexico, over Thanksgiving week, which were changed to Mazatlan after hurricane Emily wiped out Cozumel.
5. Celebrating the publication of my second short story, "Global Domination," in the Kansas Writers Association anthology, Words Out of the Flatlands.

Question 2 - Where would you like to be in five years?

1. Living in Breckenridge, Colorado.
2. Thinner and fitter as a result.
3. Celebrating the appearance of my ninth novel on the New York Times bestseller list. (It's good to dream big.)
4. Packing for an extended trip to the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu.
5. Enjoying my first grandchild. (Not to pressure my children or anything!)

Question 3 - What is on your to-do list today?

1. Write two blog posts.
2. Give a set of website updates to my husband, who is my techie guru.
3. Enter a bunch of new names from Malice Domestic and the Festival of Mystery into my newsletter subscriber list.
4. Make plans for a trip to the Texas hill country in June.
5. Get some exercise!

Question 4 - What snacks do you enjoy?

1. Chocolate, the darker the better.
2. Berries of all kinds.
3. Air-popped popcorn.
4. Walnuts dipped in Nutella (my guilty pleasure).
5. Frozen chocolate pops (notice a theme here?).

Question 5 - What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?

1. Become what I've always wanted to be, a philanthropist, and donate money wisely to my favorite causes where it would do the most good.
2. Travel to all the places on my long "bucket list."
3. Help our grown kids and other relatives and friends fulfill their special dreams.
4. Build or buy a dream house in Breckenridge and fill it with entertaining games and sports toys so the family will always want to visit.
5. Employ a full-time housekeeper, gardener, and cook.

Now I get to tag five other bloggers I admire. I choose:

1. Bill Crider at Bill Crider's Pop Culture Magazine
2. Jen Forbus at Jen's Book Thoughts
3. Lesa Holstine at Lesa's Book Critiques
4. Janet Rudolph at Mystery Fanfare
5. D. P. Lyle at The Writer's Forensic Blog

Friday, May 07, 2010

My Week Back East - Part Two

And now on to the second half of my very busy week. After the Guppies luncheon at the Malice Domestic conference on Saturday, I sat in on the Tales with Tails: Roles Animals Play in Mysteries panel, did some chatting (networking) in the Hospitality Lounge and Booksellers Room, then changed into a dress for the evening. I met up with some Mystery Babes in the Marriott bar and indulged in a chocolate martini. Yum! The next two photos show the group at the bar (note the empty Margarita glasses and the satisfied grins).

Next we tried to corral all of the 13 Midnight Ink authors at the conference for a group photo at the reception before the Agatha Awards Banquet. Our editor had asked for one. You can see 10 in the photo below (Alan Orloff and G. M. Malliet are hidden and Jennifer Stanley is missing). The authors shown include (left to right): Vicki Doudera, C.S. Challinor, Lisa Bork, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Joanna Campbell Slan, Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli, Deborah Sharp, me, Sue Ann Jaffarian, and Kathleen Ernst.

On Sunday I went to The Art of Distraction: Using Red Herrings panel, where Joannna Campbell Slan passed out a useful handout on Twenty Types of Misdirection. Next came the Bosom Buddies: Friendships in Mysteries panel, which included Margaret Maron and Nancy Pickard. When I heard Nancy's The Scent of Rain and Lightning was on sale pre-release in the book room, I rushed to buy a copy and have her sign it. The photo below shows Margaret and Nancy at work at their signing following the panel. The last panel I sat in on, Characters We Know and Love:Authors Appear in Character, was a really fun one, especially watching Mary Jane Maffini try to portray multiple characters.

Hank Phillippi Ryan did an excellent job interviewing Rhys Bowen, then came my favorite dining event of the conference, the Agatha Tea. The next photo shows some of the folks at my table, including Luci Zahray, the Poison Lady, and authors Barbara Graham and Peg Herring.

Then L.C. Hayden and I climbed into my rental car and tried to keep each other awake on the drive up to Oakmont, PA. We were both thoroughly exhausted from conferencing, so this was really tough and required a pit stop for more sugar and caffeine. We fell into beds in our hotel and slept like the dead until mid-morning. Just before noon, Linda Randig, who appears as a character in L.C.'s latest book, When Death Intervenes, came by with her husband for a visit. After giving us homemade gifts, she took us to the scrumptious Oakland Bakery for a snack (I took photos and brochures for my pastry-chef-in-training son), then to the Mystery Lovers Bookshop, which puts on the Festival of Mystery. While there, we chatted briefly with co-owner Richard Goldman before heading over to the Author-Librarian Tea at the Oakmont Carnegie Library. The crowded room soon heated up as authors pitched their books to the attending librarians and the book club leaders and members they brought along. The next photo shows a librarian sandwiched between me and thriller author Kevin O'Brien.

When we arrived at the Greek Orthodox Church for the festival itself, readers were lined up under sun umbrellas outside the door, a sight that warms any author's heart! Mayhem ensued when the doors opened and the crowd descended on the authors. Just like my first visit in 2007, I sold more books at this event than at the Malice Domestic conference. The first photo below shows me with Kathy Sweeney, who liked my first book A Real Basket Case so much that she bought two copies of the second one, To Hell in a Handbasket. Thanks, Kathy!

The next four photos show authors at the festival. In the first one are L.C. Hayden and Sue Ann Jaffarian. The second one shows Leann Sweeney, Marcia Talley, and Elaine Viets. The third one shows me with Casey Daniels and fellow Colorado Springs mystery author Laura DiSilverio/Lila Dare. The fourth one show Hank Phillippi Ryan, Deborah Sharp, and Joanna Campbell Slan. After the festival finished, the authors and bookstore staff trooped over to the store for a pizza party. I chatted with Nancy Martin about cruising, Donna Andrews about bird and animal invasions, and more. What fun! All in all it was a great trip, but I was glad to finally be home again by Tuesday evening.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

My Week Back East - Part One

My trip back east was a whirlwind tour with four major stops. I flew into the Newport News airport on Tuesday to spend two lovely days with my parents in Hampton, VA (Mom cooked my favorite dinner of hers--crab cakes. Yum!). On Thursday, I drove my rental car up to Arlington, VA, to dump my luggage at the home of friends. Then I picked up L.C. Hayden at the Crystal City Marriott to drive to the Columbia, MD, Library for a Women of Mystery panel. After that came the Malice Domestic conference Friday - Sunday and the Festival of Mystery on Monday. Tuesday I flew home and put my camera in my husband's hands to process my photos. We were booted out of the house twice yesterday for real estate agent showings, so it wasn't until today that he could finish the photos and I could write up my thoughts about the trip. I'll blog about the second half of the trip tomorrow.

After a two hour drive on Thursday afternoon through rush hour, and including a couple of wrong turns, L.C. Hayden and I arrived at the Columbia, MD library to meet up with the rest of our panel (Meredith Cole, Debbi Mack, Kris Neri, Joanna Campbell Slan, and Elaine Viets) and our lovely moderator, librarian and Mystery Babe, Jacquelynn Morris. We had an early dinner of sandwiches, took a short tour of the library, then settled in for our panel. The first two photos show the panel in action and the third photo shows the appreciative audience. We talked from 7 - 8:30 pm, then signed books for a half hour, then hit the road for the return trip at 9 pm. After dropping off L.C., I stumbled in to my friends' house around 10:30 pm. In hindsight, starting off the Malice Domestic weekend already tired was probably not a good idea!

Friday morning at the Malice Domestic Conference, I checked in and said hello to the booksellers, Tom & Enid Schantz at Rue Morgue Press, Kathy Harig at Mystery Loves Company, and Don & Jenn Longmuir at Scene of the Crime Books. Then I ran the gauntlet of Malice-go-Round, pitching my books with partner Barbara Graham to 21 tables of attendees. It took awhile to recover from that experience, but I really enjoyed the You've Got Fan Mail panel in the afternoon, the Opening Ceremonies Reception, the panel of Agatha Best Novel Nominees and Parnell Hall's interview of Mary Higgins Clark before heading to my friends' house for the evening.

After sitting at Lisa Bork's table for the New Author's Breakfast Saturday morning, I served on my panel, Into the Wild: Mysteries Set in the Great Outdoors, with Suzanne Arruda, Rachel Brady, and Deborah Sharp, moderated by the delightful Caroline Craig. Barb Goffman, the Malice Domestic Program Chair, told me later that she could hear our audience laughing through the walls as we regaled them with tales of things-gone-wrong during research expeditions into the great outdoors. After that came my signing period, and I took some photos of fellow signers, shown below, after the photo of the panel. The second photo shows Rachel Brady, Dana Cameron, and Joanna Carl. The third photo shows me with my table mate, Barb Goffman. The fourth shows me with Hank Phillippi Ryan, Maggie Sefton, and Deborah Sharp. The last photo shows Alan Orloff and Stephanie Pintoff.

Next came the much-awaited Sisters in Crime Guppies lunch, with 33 of us crammed into tables at Sbarro in the Underground. This is such a fun group, and I love getting together with fellow Guppies at Malice every year. Quite a few photos of the lunch follow this paragraph. I'll blog about the rest of the conference and the Festival of Mystery tomorrow.

Brainstorming over at Inkspot

It's my turn to post an article over at Inkspot today, the group blog for Midnight Ink authors, and I'm talking about brainstorming techniques and exercises. What do you do to get those creative juices flowing again when you get stuck or your writing seems stale? Please contribute to the discussion!