Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Today's Mystery Author Guest: C. E. Lawrence

As promised yesterday, fellow mystery author C. E. Lawrence is visiting my blog today. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post.

Above is the cover photo for her recent release, Silent Kills, the third book in her Lee Campbell thriller series. In the book, a vampire is loose in New York City. Not the usual kind, with fangs and a long black cape. This vampire uses modern medical technology to drain the blood of his victims. When a young woman is found in Van Cortland Park, in the East Tremont section of the Bronx, Chuck Morton calls in his old friend Lee Campbell to help profile the unusual killer. It is obvious at once to everyone that this is the work of a serial offender in the making. The bizarre nature of the crime, coupled with its undeniably ritualistic elements, can mean only one thing: the Van Cortland Vampire will strike again. The only question is how soon?

Below are C. E.'s answers to my interview questions. Please leave a comment for her, and if you have a question of your own for her, ask it!

1. Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?

My parents were both great storytellers. My dad used to tell us “Ruthie and Paulie” stories at bedtime – adventures he had with his younger sister, our Aunt Erma Ruth. Sometimes they were true, but others were made up, and involved colorful characters like Uncle Evil Eye, a nefarious villain based on his Uncle Levi. (He was actually a very nice man, but there was something odd about one of his eyes, so my father spun that into the fictional Uncle Evil Eye.)

Uncle Evil Eye played mumbelty-peg with a jackknife he carried around. We didn’t know what that game was, but I Googled it recently and it involved tossing a knife into the ground. Kids used to play it in schoolyard when my dad was young, but can you imagine anyone allowing that these days?

I was making up stories by the time I was four or five – I illustrated them on long sheets of office paper my Aunt Clara brought me from her job. Later, when I was old enough to boss other people around, I wrote plays and corralled my siblings and cousins to be in them. Our curtain was a pink flannel blanket strung up on the clothes line, and we served those little multi-colored mints at intermission. All my productions involved mints.

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

I get to know my characters as I write them. It’s like being at a really long cocktail party, where everyone has enough to drink that they reveal the truth about themselves. I don’t make lists or anything like that – I tried that when I was an actor working on a character, and frankly I never found it very helpful. I just like to have a person enter a scene and watch what they do.

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

When I wrote my first five or six novels, I always outlined! Now I do a combination of outlining and “seat of the pants” – I know who my killer is, and what the climax will be, but nowadays I tend to let the middle take care of itself. I’m always thinking about the plot, but now I outline as I go along.

4. 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?

I think it’s kind of an artificial separation. Without character, there is no story. And without story, there is no character – to me, the best stories are crucibles that shape the characters in them. Take Rick in Casablanca, for example – look at where he is at the beginning of the story vs. where he is at the end. It’s the challenges and conflict he faces that define who he becomes. He starts as a bitter, cynical drunk and ends up a hero.

For me, the problem arises when the writer doesn’t work hard enough to create a strong or interesting enough conflict to challenge the characters. If you don’t throw a lot of curves and twists at your characters, they can’t rise to heights of greatness. They remain flaccid, undefined. You have to test them, and that’s difficult – coming up with plots twists is gritty, sweaty work. In the end, as I tell my students, story trumps everything. But I see story as a true partnership of character and plot, a beautiful dance in which they become inseparable.

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

When I set out to write a play about physics, that was probably the biggest challenge I had ever faced. I think I ordered every book on physics in the Mid Hudson Library system! The result was the play Strings, which I was lucky enough to have produced in New York. I was even luckier to have a brilliant cast, led by Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey) his lovely wife, Mia Dillon, and the supremely gifted Warren Kelley.

As for what keeps me motivated, it’s story, story, story. I just love stories, and I want to keep telling them as long as people want to hear them.

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

I feel sheepish telling the truth about this, because I know a lot of people say you have to write every day. For me there is no typical workday. If I’m on deadline or “on fire” with a project, I might write up to five hours or more a day. But it’s not unusual for me to not write anything for a week or two at a stretch. It just depends. In between projects I collect material and ideas but I may not write anything at all during that time. Sometime I just have to let the well replenish itself.

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

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t write. If you need to write, if it’s as natural as breathing to you, then go ahead and write. Be in it for the long haul, because it is a long haul.

8. 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 absolutely adore The Office (American version.) And I’m pretty sure I’m related to Dwight Shrute on my father’s side.

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

Right now I’m working on an ebook that will come after my 4th Lee Campbell thriller, Silent Slaughter. It’s a tough one to follow, though, because the serial killer in that book is a nasty piece of work. It will be hard to top him.

I’m also working on a musical about Rasputin, as well as one about a real life murder that took place on Bond Street in the 19th century. Jack Finney wrote about it in Forgotten News: The Crime of the Century and Other Lost Stories, and I’m aware of a play and a novel based on it, but so far no one has done a musical about it.

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

Yes, yes! Please visit my website. Also, I’m available to book clubs anywhere in the New York or Woodstock areas. I’m in New York City October-May and in Ulster County from May-September. I have a car. And I bake cookies.

Cookies! Yum. If I was in a book club in New York, I'd be contacting you. Thanks, C. E.! Now, who has a comment or question for her?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tomorrow's Guest: C. E. Lawrence

Tomorrow, fellow mystery author C. E. Lawrence will be a guest on my blog. Carole Bugge ( C.E. Lawrence) has eight published novels, six novellas and a dozen or so short stories and poems. Her work has received glowing reviews from such publications as Kirkus, The Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, The Boston Herald, Ellery Queen, and others. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines. Silent Screams, Silent Victim and Silent Kills are the first three books in her Lee Campbell thriller series. Titan Press recently reissued her first Sherlock Holmes novel, The Star of India, and she teaches creative writing at NYU and Gotham Writers Workshop.

In her guest post tomorrow, C. E. Lawrence answers my 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 in the comments.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Versatile Blogger Award

Last week, while I was busy with a guest author, I had the honor of being recognized with the Versatile Blogger Award by the Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers Blog. Thanks, Anastasia Pollack (actually, the protagonist of Lois Winston's crafting mystery series)! As a recipient of the award, I'm supposed to follow a few rules:

1. Thank the award-giver and link back to them in your post. (done)

2. Share 7 things about yourself.

3. Pass this award along to 15 others.

4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award.

Here goes…

Seven Things About Beth Groundwater

1. I love both cats and dogs. I used to have two cats named Merry and Pippin (after the Tolkien hobbit characters), then I had a black lab mix dog named Blackie. I'm now pet-less, but I stop to stroke other people's animals as often as I can.

2. My favorite colors are green and purple.

3. I'm a chocoholic, the darker the better, and after that, my favorite food is berries of all kinds.

4. Like my river ranger character Mandy Tanner in my Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series, I used to be a "river rat" in the 1980s, running whitewater rivers in the southeast in an open-boat canoe stuffed full of floatation bags. I was an active member of Canoe Cruisers in the Washington DC area and knew Roger Corbett, a river guidebook author, very well, often taking a turn as his bow paddler.

5. My favorite winter sport is alpine skiing, and I can ski any level of slope, from Blue Square (intermediate) to Double Black Diamond (expert), though I take those steep slopes very slowly. I actually prefer moguls on the steep slopes, because they help slow me down. I'm definitely NOT a speed demon!

6. I like to read widely both within and outside of my genre (mystery), and I usually read for awhile in bed before falling asleep.

7. I live in Breckenridge, Colorado, and love the beautiful mountains and rivers of my home state. That's why I enjoy setting my mystery novels in the state.

Fifteen Blogs I Recommend

Writing & reading related:

Mystery Scene Magazine's Blog

Buried Under Books

dru's book musings

The Blood-Red Pencil

Bill Crider's Pop Culture Magazine

Patricia Stoltey's Blog

Spiller Writes

Chiseled in Rock (Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' blog)

Writing From the Peak (Pikes Peak Writers' blog)

Inkspot (Midnight Ink's authors' blog)

Under Cover of Midnight
(Midnight Ink editor Terri Bischoff's blog)

Six Questions For... (interviews with editors and publishers)

Outdoor- adventure related:

River Ranger

ACA (American Canoe Association) Water Blog

And, just for fun:

Cake Wrecks

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cover Art! Cover Art! Woot! Woot! Woot!

It seems like I was just doing this, back in October, when I posted the cover art for Wicked Eddies, my May 8th release. But, here I am again, with the cover art for the trade paperback and ebook re-release on November 8th of To Hell in a Handbasket. I'm especially pleased with this one, because purple is my favorite color! (What else would you expect from a Leo?)

So, what do you think? Please let me know.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Telling Detail

It's my turn to blog at Inkspot today, the blog for Midnight Ink authors. I talk about the telling detail and how authors work to craft those tiny descriptions that distill the essense and emotion of the item being described into a thing of beauty. Please read the post, and if you have a favorite example of the use of "telling detail," would you share it with the rest of us in a comment? Thanks!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Today's Mystery Author Guest: Chrystle Fiedler

As promised yesterday, fellow mystery author Chrystle Fiedler is visiting my blog today. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post.

Above is the cover photo for her recent release (yesterday!), Death Drops, the first book in her new natural remedies mystery series. In the book, Dr. Willow McQuade, N.D., a twenty-eight-year-old naturopathic doctor specializing in natural remedies, has decided to take sabbatical and visit her Aunt Claire, the owner of Nature’s Way Market and Cafe in idyllic Greenport, Long Island. But the idea of rest and relaxation is quickly forgotten when Willow arrives from a morning meditative walk to discover her Aunt Claire dead in the store, a strange almond-like smell emanating from her mouth and a bottle of flower essences by her side.

Despite her Zen nature and penchant for yoga, Aunt Claire had a knack for getting into confrontations with folks. An activist, she held weekly meetings for different causes every week in the store. The police want to believe the death is accidental—but Willow thinks she may have been poisoned. Things get worse when Aunt Claire’s valuable recipe for a new natural age-defying formula, Fresh Face, is stolen during a store break-in, and an attempt is made on Willow’s life. Desperate for a way out of the mess, she turns to a handsome young cop Jackson Spade. Together the two set about solving the case the natural way—through a combination of hard work, common sense, and a dose of luck.

Below are Chrystle's answers to my interview questions. Please leave a comment for her, and if you have a question of your own for her, ask it!

1. Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?

I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil! When I was younger I wrote children’s books and plays, as I got older I became a copywriter, then a journalist, a non-fiction author and now, a cozy mystery author. Diane Mott Davidson, author of the catering mysteries inspired me to write my first mystery. I read Dying for Chocolate and I thought I can do that!

2. Tell us about your new cozy mystery novel.

My fiction debut is Death Drops: A Natural Remedies Mystery (Gallery/Simon and Schuster) which went on sale on February 21st. I’m very excited! The book is the first to feature a naturopathic doctor (Willow McQuade) and a wide variety of natural cures. Naturopathic doctors take a holistic view of patients, treating body, mind and spirit. It’s set in my hometown, Greenport, which is an idyllic village on Long Island’s East End. Dr. McQuade takes over her Aunt Claire’s health food store Nature’s Way Market and CafĂ© when she is murdered and sets out to find the killer with the help of a hunky cop on disability, Jackson Spade. Sparks fly!

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

I have never outlined before Scent to Kill, which is the sequel to Death Drops: A Natural Remedies Mystery. Before that, I just started writing and let it flow. The characters told me what they wanted to do and say. I didn’t want to know who “dun” it. But after Death Drops, my editor at Gallery Books wanted an outline for the second book so I had to do one. I found that it was so much easier to have that framework. It makes it easier to get started every day and to keep going if you feel like stopping.

4. 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?

When it comes to a cozy mystery, I think both matter, but I’ll go with characters. I think if readers like and identify with the characters you create they will want to read more. In the case of my books, I consider the setting to be important, too. Greenport is an idyllic town located on the East End of Long Island in New York. Forbes names it one of the prettiest villages in America. Plot is certainly important but I think it’s the little details that matter most. How can you make your reader feel like he or she is “there?” I want readers to be able to escape into my cozies.

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

Starting! What people who don’t write may not understand is that the action of starting to write is painful. At least it is for me. You have to pierce the barrier of inertia. Once I get started I’m fine. I lose myself in the process and time flies.

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

My best writing happens in the morning until I have lunch, usually around noon, and after 4. For some reason 12 to 4 aren’t as productive. Must be my circadian rhythms. I don’t set a number of pages; that’s too much like a real job! It’s usually difficult to get started, but once I do, I feel like I’m transcribing. The words just come. I write 5-7 days a week. If I feel inspired or I’m under a deadline, I write, write, write!

7. What do you do when you have writer's block?

I rarely get writer’s block, but I did when I started Scent to Kill, the sequel to Death Drops. My friend who is also an author for Gallery Books suggested I relax and let the words flow instead of “trying” to MAKE something happen. Writing comes from a different place than thinking, she said. I know now that it’s true!

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

Only write if you must. It is a difficult profession. You must have perseverance. You must handle rejection. That said, if you are a writer and have an idea you really believe in, NEVER give up. It took me over 10 years (off and on – I worked in Hollywood in the early years) to get my first mystery published. And you know what? It was worth it!

9. 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 love reality shows. I can’t wait for the new Survivor and Amazing Race to start. I even watch Big Brother in the summer. Yes, I admit it. I call it “mind candy.” It gives my mind a break. We all need that sometimes.

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

I’m about to start the rewrite of Scent to Kill, the sequel to Death Drops: A Natural Remedies Mystery. It will be hard work, but I know I’ll have a book for my editor that is ten times as good when I’m through. It’s all about making the book better for readers.

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

I really appreciate being your guest today, Beth. Thank you so much for having me! As for my writing, I hope that readers enjoy the mystery of Death Drops and learn about natural remedies they can try at home, too. They can visit my website for more info. I’m happy to speak to book clubs anytime. I’m also the Saturday blogger at Killer Hobbies. Please stop by and say hi!

Thanks, Chrystle! Now, who has a comment or question for her?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tomorrow's Guest: Chrystle Fiedler

Tomorrow, fellow mystery author Chrystle Fiedler will be a guest on my blog. Chrystle loves natural remedies and has been using them for as long as she can remember. As a freelance journalist, she wrote about natural cures for Natural Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Prevention, Vegetarian Times, The Health Monitor Network and was the Good Nature columnist for Remedy magazine. Also, she wrote non-fiction books with a focus on natural remedies. So it was only “natural” that when it came to fiction, she would focus on natural remedies, too. The first book in her natural remedies series, Death Drops, is being released today, February 21st, and the sequel, Scent to Kill, will be available in the fall.

When Chrystle isn't writing, she spends time with family and friends, playing with her two dachshunds, Holmes and Wallander, and her two cats, Tinker and Tuppence (all named after famous detectives!), taking a walk on the beach, gardening, enjoying Psych, Monk and The Mentalist on TV or reading a cozy mystery in her cozy cottage by the sea.

In her guest post tomorrow, Chrystle Fiedler answers my 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 in the comments.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Summit County Senior Winter Games

Earlier this week I participated in the Summit County Senior Winter Games, an annual affair that attracts seniors not only from the Colorado high country, but from all over the US. The friendly competition began with a spaghetti dinner at the Summit County Senior Center on Sunday evening, where we registered for events and picked up our racing bibs. We also bid on silent auction items, and the proceeds benefited needy seniors in the county.

Also, there were door prizes galore from generous sponsors. I won a performance tune from Keystone Sports on my skis, which was very timely, since I've been hitting rocks on the slopes all season so far, due to lower snowpack levels. After carbo- and wine-loading, we all went home to psych ourselves up for the ice-skating events at Keystone Lake (which I didn't participate in) and the alpine skiing events at Keystone Resort on Monday.

I competed in the Giant Slalom (that was also a Nastar event), the Rally Race (where we try to match a time set by a games official), and the goofy Obstacle Race. Below is a photo of me in my race bib, free-skiing between events.

Tuesday was a full morning and early afternoon of nordic events at the Frisco Nordic Center. I competed in the short, 1 kilometer snowshow race there. Then at 3:00 that afternoon, we reconvened for more food and wine and the long, long award ceremonies. Why so long? For every event, competitors were divided by sex and 5-year age groups (A=50-54, B=55-59, etc.), and gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded for each group.

I won a bronze medal in the alpine Obstacle Course Race and a silver medal in the Short Snowshoe Race and a silver Nastar medal in the Giant Slalom Race. Below is a photo of me with my "bling." The Senior Winter Games were a great way to get us "seniors" (50+) outside and moving and were a lot of fun to boot!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Today's Mystery Author Guest: James Conway

As promised yesterday, fellow mystery author James Conway is visiting my blog today. To read his bio and see his photo, please page down to yesterday's post.

Above is the cover photo for his first novel, Dead and Not So Buried, which was released yesterday. In the book, Hollywood is rocked after the remains of one of the most idolized movie stars of the 60’s are stolen. The thief chooses Gideon Kincaid to deliver the ransom, forcing the ex-cop to unravel a master plan that includes extortion, blackmail and murder. While trying to stay one step ahead of his nemesis, Gideon is led on a harrowing roller coaster ride through sun-and-sin drenched Hollywood.

But Gideon’s not alone. There’s the tough as nails cop assigned to the case. Unfortunately, she’s Gideon’s ex-wife and hates him. And there’s the beautiful starlet who Gideon has to protect. Any red-blooded detective would want to sleep with her; unfortunately for Gideon, he already has. And it didn’t go so well. In fact, she’s terrified of him. And there’s his assistant, the adorable Hillary. She wants to be a PI like her boss. She’s also got a huge crush on him. And that never works out. In fact, it could kill her.

This sure sounds like a fun read to me! Below are James's answers to my interview questions. Please leave a comment for James, and if you have a question of your own for him, ask it!

Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?

Reading inspired me to start writing. I never remember not reading. To be honest, I’m also including comic books in the reading category but from grammar school on I always had a book in my lap. I loved Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, Jack London, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. So one day in eighth grade I decided to try my hand at writing. I wrote a six-page short story about a kid who could fly. I’m sure it wasn’t very good, but God bless my mother. She told me it was great and encouraged me to continue writing.

And I did. Stubbornly. I didn’t sell my first short story until I was twenty-three.

I also loved watching TV as a kid. I guess that makes sense since I’ve spent so much of my life writing, producing and directing TV shows. There was this one show I watched as a kid in the early 60’s. Burke’s Law, starring Gene Barry. Gene played Amos Burke, a handsome, charismatic, filthy rich homicide detective. Each episode was filled with big name guest stars that were all suspects in the murder of the week. It was produced by Aaron Spelling.

Well, thirty years later, while I was working for Aaron Spelling, I developed a new Burke’s Law TV series, starring Gene Barry! He now had a son and they solved the crimes together. We ran for two seasons.

Talk about childhood fantasies coming to life.

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

I always start with the protagonist. What fascinates me about this person? Why do I care about this person? What is wrong that needs to be fixed?

Next I write the protagonist’s biography. I try to include relatable incidents growing up that we can hopefully connect with and as well as seminal incidents that made the protagonist what he/she is when we find them.

The biography is just for me. To see what surprises happen when I flesh out the character. Bits of it will end up in the book, of course. But that’s just a bonus. The biography is a great way for me to better understand the character.

Once I have a handle on my protagonist I rinse and repeat with the rest of the main characters.

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

I like outlines. I need to know where I’m going. So I start with a beat sheet. I just write down all the logical steps I want my story to take. I let that marinate for a bit, decide what works and doesn’t work, then start a more detailed outline.

I try not to put in every single detail, I want to be able to still discover as I write. But I need to know my character arcs, major plot twists and turns, and of course, the end.

And after all that, I’m often surprised what happens when I start actually writing and the characters start taking things in a completely different direction.

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?

For me, a great murder mystery is filled with fascinating characters and unpredictable twists and turns. So while I think both character and plot are important, I have to admit that once I know who my characters are I spend a lot of time on the plot.

I want to put a unique spin on the story. I want the reader to be surprised, baffled and ultimately satisfied with the puzzle. And that takes a lot of work.

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

My biggest challenge has been rejection. I’ve had a very successful career in Hollywood but my life long dream was to write novels. I wrote my first one ten years ago. There was a lot of interest, but ultimately, it didn’t sell.

That broke my heart.

I was very busy then writing and directing TV shows, so it took me a few years to sit down and write another book.

Again, close but no cigar.

That rejection didn’t hurt as much. In fact, it made me mad. And determined. Damn it, I will get published!

I started another book right away and that one, Dead and Not So Buried, was published February 15th.

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

I write every morning. Starting at about 8:30. I write for two or three hours, then work out, have lunch, run errands (maybe sneak out to hit a few golf balls). Then late afternoon I review what I’ve written and tinker for an hour or so. But my major creative writing is done in the morning.

I rarely write on the weekend, but I often reread and make notes for the coming week.

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

Study the genre you want to write. I mean, really study. Outline the books you love. Learn how the author structured the book. Pay attention to the character arcs. Ask yourself what it is you love about the book.

Then, clichĂ© warning… Write. Every day.

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.

Remember earlier I told you I watched a lot of TV as a kid? Well, I still do. My DVR is the hardest working appliance in the house. Favorite shows at the moment: Downton Abbey, The Good Wife, Fringe, Crown of Thrones and Shameless.

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

I’m writing a new book. They say to write what you know, and what I know best is Hollywood. So the new book is another Hollywood thriller.

This one is about a movie star, an action hero, who made the mistake of getting old. By old I mean fifty-two. Young in this day and age everywhere but Hollywood.

So he is willing to do anything to get his name back up in lights. And that’s when he makes the biggest mistake of his life.

The book is entitled Falling Star, and I hope to publish it early next year.

I’m also planning the second Gideon Kincaid novel. Breaking the Gravesnatcher case has made Gideon a Hollywood celebrity, and now the question becomes: Will Success Spoil Gideon Kincaid?

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

I’d love you all to check out my website. You’ll learn a lot about Dead and Not So Buried, and if you check the Hollywood page, you’ll be treated to bit of my Hollywood history.

I love to talk about books and Hollywood, so if there are any book clubs out there please get in touch with me (my email address is on the website).

Thanks, James! Now, who has a comment or question for him?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tomorrow's Guest: James L. Conway

Tomorrow, fellow mystery author James Conway will be a guest on my blog. James has worked extensively as a writer, producer and director. His credits include such TV favorites as MacGyver, Star Trek: Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager and Enterprise, Charmed, Supernatural and Smallville. James also served six years as Executive Vice President of Spelling Television where he worked on over twenty TV series including such hits as 90210, Melrose Place and 7th Heaven. Dead and Not So Buried, which is being released today, is Conway’s first novel. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two daughters.

In his guest post tomorrow, James answers my interview questions. I'm sure you'll be intrigued by his answers. Then, feel free to let James know what you think of the interview or his book or to ask him a questions in the comments.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Researching the Health of the Colorado River

For those who have been following my blog and/or my Facebook posts, you know that I am writing the third book in my RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series that will be titled Cataract Canyon. Unlike the first two books in the series, Deadly Currents and Wicked Eddies, that are set on the upper Arkansas River in Colorado, Cataract Canyon takes place on the Colorado River in Utah.

Environmentalists and entities that own water rights for Colorado River water have been concerned for many years about the health of the river and whether it can continue to sustain all those who divert water from its flow. In fact, American Rivers (a river conservation organization I support) named it one of America's Most Endangered Rivers in 2010.

Colorado College in Colorado Springs has sponsored a State of the Rockies Project for the last nine years that seeks to increase public understanding of vital issues affecting the Rocky Mountains. This year's focus is the Colorado River basin. One study supported by the project was a trip by two recent graduates, Will Stauffer-Norris and Zak Podmore, who paddled and hiked for 110 days from the "Source to the Sea" of river, making observations on the health of the river along the way. Their starting point was the origin of the Green River (one of the two main tributaries to the Colorado River that merge just above Cataract Canyon) in Wyoming's Wind River Range. Their ending point at the end of January was the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, where the completely drained and exhausted river trickles to the sea across a salty, mud-flat delta.

You can read more about Will Stauffer-Norris's and Zak Podmore's epic expedition at their Source to Sea blog and watch their YouTube videos there. They paddled their kayaks through the exciting whitewater of Cataract Canyon (which I rafted last fall) and the Grand Canyon, as well as through more placid canyons and dammed reservoirs. I hope their expedition, and the focus of the State of the Rockies Project on the Colorado River this academic year, will raise awareness of the enormous pressures that are being placed on this river. And hopefully, we can work together to ease the strain and keep it healthy!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Editing a Galley Proof

Last weekend I posted photos from my vacation in Mazatlan, Mexico, and I said that while I was there I also did some writing work: editing the galley proof for my upcoming May release, Wicked Eddies, which will be the second book in the RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner.

What is a galley proof? It is the final layout document of a book, with everything positioned exactly on each page, that will be sent to the printer. The proof is sent to the author before it goes to the printer, so the author has one last chance to scour the book for errors and eliminate them. So, I went to work pouring over every page and scrubbing them clean. By the time I finished, I had created a six-page file of about 140 change requests.

What kinds of change requests? Most were small one word or one punctuation mark changes. For instance, in dialogue, I leave contractions with "had" and "would" as contractions, but in narrative, I prefer to spell them out, especially when it's a little unclear whether "she'd" means "she had" or "she would." I found some of those contractions in narrative and changed them. Also, in dialogue, I allow characters to leave out the "of" in phrases such as "all the boats", because we all do that naturally. However, in narrative, I want the "of" to be there, so it would read "all of the boats."

There were such changes as a comma that should have been a period or vice versa, a word that should have been plural and was missing an "s", changing "extra" to "additional" because there were already two other "extra" words in the paragraph, and so on. And, on re-reading, I decided that some of my sentences were too long, and I split them up into two.

One of the larger changes included writing a Dedication, which had been left blank in the galley proof. Another was making sure that real-life organizations were listed by their correct name, such as "Pueblo County Coroner’s Office" versus "Pueblo coroner’s office." And I had mistakenly called the "Chaffee County Sheriff's Office" a department instead of an office a few times.

A couple of times, I rewrote sentences, mainly to put the phrases in cause-effect order or time-sequence order. However, I was very careful to make sure that any rewrites wouldn't change the pagination of the galley proof, that they were about the same length as the original text. Inserting or removing a paragraph is a big no-no at this stage, because that could have a trickle-down effect that would cause multiple pages to be completely re-done.

Lastly, during the same vacation, I was reviewing an ARC of Dr. D.P. Lyle's upcoming release, More Forensics and Fiction, Crime Writers' Morbidly Curious Questions Expertly Answered. In that book, he explains that water in the lungs is not definitive evidence of drowning in and of itself if a victim's body is left submerged more than twelve hours. This is because the lungs passively fill with water as the air seeps out. Instead, debris or organisms from the body of water in which the victim is found must also be found in the victim's lungs to say death was caused by drowning. So, I made a small change in dialogue about my drowning victim's autopsy to address this. Thank you, D.P. Lyle!

Even though my editor and I have both done a thorough review of the galley proof, I'm sure some small errors or typos will remain, much like the river debris in my victim's lungs, to show that yes, we are human and we make mistakes. I sure tried my best, though, to make Wicked Eddies as perfect as I possibly could. Now, the matter is out of my hands. It will be up to the readers to let me know how well I did!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Today's Author Guest: Cindy Keen Reynders

As promised yesterday, fellow mystery author Cindy Keen Reynders is visiting my blog today. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post.

Above is the cover photo for her most recent book, A Killer Slice, the third installment in the Saucy Lucy series. Below is Cindy's post about persevering in her publishing career. Please leave a comment for Cindy to let her know what you think, and feel free to ask her any questions you want about the post, her books, or her life as a writer.

Courage and Believing in Yourself

My first two books, The Saucy Lucy Murders, and Paws-itively Guilty, published by Medallion Press, gave me the courage to call myself a novelist. However, it felt like the forward momentum in my writing career came to a grinding halt when Medallion passed on the third installment. Such is the world of publishing. Still, this is a disappointment that is never for any writer easy to accept.

As time went on, many fans of the books contacted me, wondering if they would see more of the sleuthing sisters, Lexie and Lucy. Since I had already written the third book in the Saucy Lucy Mystery series, A Killer Slice, I decided, after much research, to contract with Amazon’s CreateSpace to publish the title on my own. This is a decision I have not regretted. To see the joy on people’s faces as they receive yet one more book of this fun series makes it all worthwhile. And my local independent book seller here in Cheyenne, Wyoming, City News Book Store, has been more than supportive in helping me keep all three of the books available for readers.

Back in August, after I had forged my way into the land of the Indie publishing world, Blaze McRob, co-owner of Angelic Knight Press, contacted me. He wondered if I had a publisher, and what manuscripts I might currently have available.

A few years previously, I had finished a novel titled, The Seven-Year Witch, and I sent it to Blaze’s staff to see if they would be interested. To my delight, they loved the book, and within days I signed with them to publish it. This was a lovely surprise that came on the heels of my decision to walk alone in the publishing world for a while. Angelic Knight Press is producing some pretty great books these days, and I’m honored to be a team member and to have them support my writing career.

The Seven-Year Witch will be out in the next month or so, and I’m getting pretty excited. My editor, Stacey Turner, sent a sneak peak of the cover art, created by artist Rebecca Treadway. It is oh so lovely, with a depiction of my witch in a sexy dress and high heels. I can hardly wait to see the finished artwork, and actually hold the book in my hands. Rebecca produced such tantalizing cover art that my husband, who is not into leisure reading because he reads so much at work, took one look at my saucy, golden-haired witch and announced, “I’m going to read this one, honey.” That’s quite a compliment from the man who hasn’t even cracked the cover of my other books!

A little background: I wrote The Seven-Year Witch during a frustrating point in my life, just as I did with my Saucy Lucy books. When I'm down about something, I want to laugh like the dickens. So I spent about eight months, butt planted in my office chair every morning from 4:00–7:00 a.m., snickering and giggling as Miranda Rose, novice witch of the Wysteria, Oregon, Hedge Haven clan came to life. I enjoyed the characters so much that I believe I channeled good vibes onto the written page.

While the Saucy Lucy series has amateur sleuths, sisters Lexie and Lucy, solving murders in the small, fictional Wyoming town of Moose Creek Junction, The Seven-Year Witch is completely different. This is a fun story about a young novice witch, Miranda Rose, who has been assigned by the Supreme Witch's Council to track down the wizard who is holding the legendary Philosopher's Stone. Once the task is completed, Miranda will be eligible to be promoted to high witch—a lifelong dream. Her parents and her six sisters are highly accomplished, and she desperately wishes to join their ranks.

With the deadline to find the stone fast approaching, Miranda travels back in time to the year 1877, and finds the tower where the wizard is holding the stone. He refuses to relinquish the gem and zaps her out the window. She lands in an abandoned field not too far from Merry Olde London, shaken to the bone and covered in soot.

On his way home from a tavern late that evening, Sir Maxwell Chadwick, the Duke of Pellamshire, sees a fiery ball of light streak across the midnight sky. Curious when it lands near the road, he pulls over his carriage and climbs out to investigate. He never expects to find a bedraggled woman in the field, much less a beautiful witch desperately in need of his seductive charms. Needless to say, sparks fly!

The interesting thing I’ve learned about all of this is that as authors, we must believe in ourselves and our work. I’ve also learned that books may not always sell at exactly the time we want them to sell. Meanwhile, we’ve got to be ready to pitch and promote them to publishers whenever the opportunity arises. Never believe a book is dead, even though publishers might not be biting when you’re marketing it. All it takes is the right one to see it at the right time, and it may finally get the opportunity to move off your jump drive and onto the page.

Always keep in mind the famous phrase, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.”
For more information about when The Seven-Year Witch will be available for purchase, you can go to Angelic Knight Press’s website.

Thanks, Cindy, for sharing your publishing journey! Does anyone have a story to share about your own travails and triumphs in publishing or do you have a question for Cindy? Fire away!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Tomorrow's Guest: Cindy Keen Reynders

Tomorrow, fellow mystery author Cindy Keen Reynders will be a guest on my blog. Cindy was born in Portland, Oregon and has lived all over the United States and also in Japan. She currently lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming with her husband Rich whose family has lived in the state for generations.

Over the years, Cindy has won or placed in various writing contests. She has also written for and edited numerous newsletters. Additionally, she sold several non-fiction magazine articles to True West and Wild West. She has published three mystery novels, The Saucy Lucy Murders in 2007, Paws-itively Guilty in 2008 and A Killer Slice in 2011. Her fourth novel, The Seven-Year Witch, is due out next month.

In her guest post tomorrow, Cindy talks about how she persevered through ups and downs in her publishing career and brings a message of hope to writers who may currently be in a down period. I'm sure you'll be intrigued by what she has to say. Then, feel free to let Cindy know what you think of her post or her books or to ask her a questions in the comments.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Mazatlan, Mexico Working Vacation - Part Two

This is the second half of my post about my two week vacation in Mazatlan, Mexico. For the second week, my husband and I moved to the El Cid El Moro Beach Tower, to a condo on the twenty-second floor overlooking the ocean and the Golden Zone north of Mazatlan. The first photo below is a view of the tower from the beach at low tide and the second fish-eye photo is the view of the beach and Deer and Bird islands from our condo.

The next two photos are of some of the sea life we found in the tide pools among the rocks north of the El Cid complex during low tide: sea urchins in the first photo and one of Mazatlan's famous shrimp species in the second.

A couple of days after we arrived at El Moro, we attended a party for El Cid timeshare owners, complete with drinks, snacks, a short performance by their evening show dancers, and a pinata with prize coupons inside. It was fun watching adults whack away on it!

One of the days we were at the El Moro, we took an excursion on the Kolonahe catamaran to Deer Island. The three photos below are from that trip. The first is on the boat and the second is of a guano-encrusted rock outcropping in the sea a short distance from Old Town where sea birds hung out. The third photo is of me sitting on a banana boat just before we left on a wild ride being pulled behind a power boat--complete with a flip and dunking. Other activities at Deer Island included sea kayaks, snorkeling, a Mexican lunch, and all the drinks you wanted. A fun day!

The photo below is from a dinner we had our last night in Mazatlan at Pedro & Lola's, one of the restaurants lining the lovely square in front of the opera house. The band that the restaurant hired for the evening was from the US, and the percussionist was from Colorado. Plus, the couple eating at the table next to us was from Colorado. Small world!

My husband took most of the photos I've shared here, and he spent a lot of time trying for that perfect sunset shot. I like this one because it includes some horses and walkers on the beach and some sunlit clouds. A fitting goodbye to Mazatlan--until our next visit.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Mazatlan, Mexico Working Vacation - Part One

In the second half of January, my husband and I spent two weeks in Mazatlan, Mexico to break up the long winter in Breckenridge with some sun and sand. Our kids stayed with us the first week, and the second week, we were on our own. I took along some writing work, the galley of Wicked Eddies to proof and two ARCs that I'd agreed to review, but most of the time I was able to relax.

The photo below shows the building in the condominium complex where we stayed the first week, the El Cid Marina Spa & Beach Resort. The photo is taken from beside the large hot tub and across the pool and snack bar, which was called the Iguana Snack Bar.

The reason it was called the Iguana Snack Bar is that large iguanas hung out in the lawn next to the pool (to the left in the photo above), and here's a beauty giving us the eye.

One of the days the first week, we took a city tour, because my daughter had never been to Mazatlan. We drove along the beachside malacon (boardwalk), one of the world's longest at 21 kilometers. Beautiful sculptures are dispersed along the length, such as this one of sea lions below.

We stopped at a fish vendor's stand along the malecon to feed scraps to the sea birds circling overhead. Below is a photo of a sea bird snatching a scrap of fish off the end of a stick that I'm holding aloft. Can anyone identify the species?

Next stop was the shrimp market in old town, where I bought 1.5 kilos of huge shrimp to cook for our dinner. It was enough for two dinners for four, and it tasted delicious, almost like lobster. Yum! Mazatlan is well-known for its huge, delicious shrimp.

Our next stop on the tour was the central square downtown, where we poked our head in the central cathedral, shopped for candy and pastries, and strolled around the square.

On another day, we headed off into the countryside for a tour. We stopped at a small village to observe a small cheese-making factory (see below), an even smaller caramel candy factory, a farm for raising fighting cocks, a horse farm where we received a demonstration of some fancy hoof-work (horse dancing), and a leather-working shop.

Then came the highlight of the tour, the Los Osuna tequila factory. Their reposado (rested) sipping tequila won a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirit Competition. After you paid for your first shot of the reposado at their tasting patio, all subsequent tastes were free, and my family of four managed to down away sixteen of them (before lunch!). We bought three bottles to take home with us. Then we ate lunch at a small cafe and snoozed on the van ride back to Mazatlan. A great tour!

The rest of the week was spent sunning by the pool or on the beach and eating out at various restaurants, including Senor Frog's, where yes, we donned balloon hats. Below is a fun photo of the four of us behind the tequila tasting bar of the La Cascada Mexican restaurant, which served excellent food.

Tomorrow, I'll post some photos from our second week, when we stayed at the El Cid El Moro Beach Hotel without the kids.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Importance of a Good Critique Group

Today I'm over at Inkspot, the blog for Midnight Ink authors, talking about the importance of a good critique group. Take a look at the post, and if you're a writer, please leave a comment letting me know what experiences have you had with critique groups, good or bad.