Monday, May 31, 2010

Poolside writing

There's something soothing about writing poolside. The scent of sunscreen and chlorine hangs in the air, kids are laughing, everyone's having fun. This is the pool where I write during the summer:

It's the Ridge Top Swim and Tennis Club. Sounds a little more chi chi than it really is. I wrote more than 15 pages there since Sunday.

I'm usually not the kind of writer who needs a particular place or atmosphere to write in. Most days I grab my laptop and sit on my couch in my living room and knock out my five pages in between taking my daughter to her various activities. Or I sit in my office on my desktop (now that we've bought a new keyboard it's so much nicer because the keys aren't sticking) with the cat in my lap. Eloise isn't normally a lap cat, but anyone who works on the desktop usually doesn't have to wait too long until she's sitting right there with you, purring away.

I don't listen to music while I write, because I don't hear it. And it doesn't matter if my immediate area is clean or messy. I zone everything out and just write.

But that pool club has a certain magic for me. I wrote SHOT GIRL, THE MISSING INK, and about half of DRIVEN TO INK at the pool, sitting under the gazebo or lounging on one of the deck chairs. Since I'm almost done with INK FLAMINGOS, I won't be writing too much of it there, but it's nice to be able to wrap it up in my favorite place.

If you're a writer, do you have or need a special place where the words just flow better? And if you're not a writer, is there a special summer place that inspires you?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Kick off your summer reading

Since it's the holiday weekend, I've been thinking about books that would be great on a summer reading list and I've read two books recently that would be good to read by the pool or at the beach.

I finally picked up Robert Goolrick's A RELIABLE WIFE after seeing it everywhere. I kept picking it up and putting it down, not sure about the historical thing but the description was incredibly intriguing: A man puts an ad in the paper for a "reliable wife" and a woman responds, but neither of them realize the other has an agenda.

Even though Ralph Truitt realizes that the woman who steps off the train in the cold Wisconsin winter in the early 1900s is not the woman in the picture he received with her letters, he takes her home anyway. He knows this is starting out as a lie, but he shrugs it off. Catherine has secrets that are revealed slowly throughout the book, and Ralph's son Tony plays a role in their fates.

I really can't say much more because there are twists and turns I didn't expect and don't want to ruin it for anyone. But I can say this: while none of the characters are sympathetic, they are incredibly well drawn, the book is written beautifully, and the story is so compelling I read it in two days. The online reviews of this book have been mixed, but I couldn't put it down. It's also great for the summer, because if you're having a heat wave, reading about that frozen, white Wisconsin weather might cool you off a little.

I ordered THE PERFECT WOMAN by James Andrus because it sounded intriguing, even though I'm not into serial killer books. I usually find them cliched, and I don't much want to be inside the head of a serial killer. But I took a chance on this one and am glad I did.

William Dremmel fancies himself a scientist and he likes to conduct pharmaceutical "experiments" on young girls who are usually runaways. Sadly, though, they may die, and he puts their bodies in suitcases and abandons them. John Stallings, a detective with the Jacksonville (FL) Sheriff's Office, looks for runaways, because his own daughter has been missing for three years. This book really isn't about the serial killer. It's about Stallings, his partner Patty, the homicide detective Mazzetti, and the way police work. I found it more a police procedural, and all the details about police work are fascinating. Andrus is identified in the back as a pen name for an active duty police officer in the Southeast, and I found the sharing of insider knowledge is one of the reasons why I loved the book. Not to mention that all the characters are extremely well drawn, even the victims. I loved the setting of Jacksonville, since my brother lives there and I could smell the coffee from the Maxwell House factory when Stallings did.

Do you have any summer reading recommendations?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


As I've said before, there are many steps in the making of a book. First is the actual writing, then I send it to my editor, who sends me notes, and I make changes. Then it gets sent to a copy editor, who makes changes and suggestions and points out inconsistencies and the like. I then make changes based on that. And then I get the page proofs, the pages that have been typeset and this is the stage where it actually looks as it will in the book. I wrote about this previously.

The problem with the page proofs are that they are merely proofs, and there are still mistakes and typos to be found, but at this point it's considered minor.

Now it's those page proofs that will make up what's called the Advanced Reading Copy, or ARC. It's a bound copy that looks like a book, but it doesn't have the nice cover, just a brown cover, sort of like you'd covered it with a supermarket bag like we used to cover textbooks in high school. On this cover is the title, the author's name and the warning that these are UNCORRECTED PROOFS and it's against the law to sell this copy. Of course people don't listen and they invariably show up on eBay.

That said, I got my ARCs for DRIVEN TO INK today. I was surprised, since my editor had told me that they no longer would do ARCs for any books except the first in a series. Which is why they didn't do any for PRETTY IN INK. But I was pleased to see they decided to do ARCs for DRIVEN. Until I remembered.

I'd sent my editor 24 pages back with corrections noted on them. The majority of those were minor errors and typos. But there were three things that really stuck out.

First was that they spelled my last name wrong on every even page. If you open a book, you'll see the author's name on the top of those pages, the title of the book on the opposite page. Well, my name was spelled wrong.

But that was nothing compared to the fact that the last line of the book wasn't there. I mean, not there at all. Missing. Gone. And without that last line, everything on the last two pages of the book does not make any sense.

I found the last line, though. It was two pages later, as the title of the next Tattoo Shop Mystery. Now I could perhaps see how that could happen, but as long as there were no review copies going out, I wasn't bothered by it so much. Because it was going to be fixed for the final book.

But now, now that there are ARCs and they are going to be send to reviewers, I'm a bit concerned. What will the reviewers think when they reach the end? They will be wondering what that tattoo says, a tattoo that isn't "just a tattoo." And they clearly will not be saying that they're looking forward to the next in the series, INK FLAMINGOS. Because INK FLAMINGOS is nowhere to be found.

Have you ever reached the end of a book and wondered if there's a last line missing? If you've missed something along the way?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pretty is as pretty does

As a society, we are obsessed with good looking people, and it translates into gorgeous, sexy, well-dressed characters on TV, in movies, and in books. Women want to look like Julia Roberts, they want their men to look like George Clooney (or, if you're a younger person, maybe you're thinking Miley Cyrus is the epitome of what a teenage girl should look like. Just take a poll and see how many teenage boys now have Justin Bieber hair).

Physical descriptions in books are important, because the reader wants to be able to picture the characters in their heads. I made a point never to describe Annie Seymour too carefully because I wanted the reader to imagine her, not just see her clearly. But with Brett Kavanaugh, I have described her short red hair, the fact that she's almost six feet tall and skinny, and all of her tattoos in detail. She's an attractive woman.

Other writers follow suit: Alafair Burke's Ellie Hatcher is petite, blond and extremely attractive. Lee Child's Jack Reacher is a man's man and a woman's man, even though I've always wondered just how "clean" he is, since he doesn't carry a suitcase and seems to wear the same clothes all the time. Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache is a nattily dressed middle aged man. In Harlan Coben's THE WOODS, all the women are gorgeous and have long legs. Jim Born's Duarte is surrounded by amazingly attractive women, as is his Bill Tasker. Wallace Stroby's Harry Rane always manages to bed beautiful, sexy women.

Speaking of sex, Lori Armstrong's Martinez is the epitome of hot (and if you read SHALLOW GRAVE you may find yourself blushing). Alison Gaylin's Krull may be strong and silent, but not when it counts. Michele Martinez’s Dan causes Melanie to throw caution to the wind, lock her office door and offer herself to him on the desk. In my books, Vinny DeLucia used to be a geek but now he makes Annie weak in the knees. In THE MISSING INK, Brett meets a suave, gorgeous, British casino manager who sweeps her off her feet.

In reality, though, as an example, those CSI shows can't be farther from the truth when you see an actual CSI. Cops aren't always that good looking. Neither are lawyers or tattoo artists or journalists. Can we justify feeding into society's idea of what people should look like by writing these characters who take our books just a stone’s throw from the old-fashioned bodice rippers? Can we justify this by saying that’s what readers want? Can we justify it by saying that’s what we want?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion

There's a discussion going on on the Dorothy L listserv about puns in titles. It was started by someone who said she hated puns in titles and would never read a book with a pun in the title. This sentiment has been shared by others.

I have puns in my titles, as you can see from the book covers over to your right. They are tattoo shop mysteries, so they play off the word INK.

I did not want puns in my titles, I'll be totally honest here. Puns in titles worried me, because I associated title puns with books about knitting needle toting amateur sleuths who knocked the bad guys over the head with an old copy of Jane Eyre. Having a pun in my book title would mean I was not a serious writer, that the words underneath the cover would be fluffy and light.

I write tattoo shop mysteries. They are not fluffy and light. They have an edge to them, and I felt the titles should reflect that.

I sent 50 title suggestions to my editor when I wrote the first one. I even had First Offenders readers make suggestions. I got some good ones, too, and none of them were puns. My editor hated them all. Every. Last. One. I was almost done with the book and it had no title. My husband then made a suggestion: THE MISSING INK. It was so stupid I knew my publisher would love it. They did. And there I was, writing a book with a pun in the title.

But you know, that book isn't any different than the one with the title WHAT DIES IN VEGAS. It's the exact same book, but with a different title. It's still a little edgy, and it still has murder.

There are other mysteries out there with puns that are remarkably good. For example, Julie Hyzy writes fabulous books about a White House chef who solves crimes, with titles like EGGSECUTIVE ORDERS and HAIL TO THE CHEF. Roberta Isleib's golf mystery series have titles like FINAL FORE and SIX STROKES UNDER. And Kate Carlisle's bibliophile mysteries are titles HOMICIDE IN HARDCOVER and IF BOOKS COULD KILL.

So I ask you to keep an open mind. The publisher wants the puns because they think they can sell more books. It doesn't have to be a reflection on what's between the pages.

Are you an anti-pun snob? And if you aren't, what's the best book title pun you've seen?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Where's Bert Parks when you need him?

I'm afraid if I start talking about how well INK FLAMINGOS is going, it'll jinx me.

So I'm not going to. Instead, I need to address the whole Miss USA thing.

It started for me when I saw the story about the Miss USA contestants and their "glam" shots. These weren't nice, hometown girl shots. Miss Kansas, for example, was wearing a man's shirt and not much else. Donald Trump, who owns the competition, thought they were very tasteful.

So then we move on to the pageant itself. Yes, it's quite nice that Miss Michigan, an immigrant from Lebanon won, but Lebanon is not one of those countries that makes its women wear burquas, despite what the stories are saying. They're actually a bit more modern than that. So all the talk about how this is revolutionary is a bit of bunk.

What is revolutionary is that Miss Michigan, Rima Fakih, won a pole dancing contest in 2007.

Is this what young women are supposed to emulate? I have a daughter who is 13. I've tried to raise her well, to be respectful of other people and of herself. But it's hard sometimes. We used to think that Girls Gone Wild was as bad as it could get. Seems that's just the tip of the iceberg. Girls are posting inappropriate pictures of themselves online, sending "sexting" picture messages that are more than suggestive. And they think it's okay. Why? Because just take a look at Miss Kansas.

Despite the fact that Miss Fakih does not undress during her pole dancing (you can see the video here), it's still the wrong message for young girls.

What do you think?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Don't get boxed in

I'm fascinated by the different types of mysteries, or crime novels, that are out on the bookshelves today: hard-boiled, cozy, traditional, police procedural, paranormal, you get the idea. Some people say they read only cozies, or amateur sleuth mysteries. Some only read hard-boiled noir novels. Some like something in between. Is that what's called "traditional?"

I'm hesitant to put books into little boxes that supposedly identify them. You could say Louise Penny writes cozies because her books are set in a small Quebec village, but she does have a police detective, so then she veers more into, perhaps, traditional. Julia Spencer Fleming's books are along the same lines. Neither fall into any particular category, they're just good books and hugely popular.

I think we all know what constitutes a cozy. Those hobby themed mysteries, like the cupcake or doughnut or cheese or flower shop mysteries. Sewing, knitting, crocheting, glassblowing, orchard owning or gardening amateur sleuth protagonists. They more than likely have puns in the titles and most times than not the plucky young protagonists fall for the hunky detectives.

When I was contracted to write the tattoo shop mysteries, I wanted to veer away from the norm and give a little edge to the cozy. Granted, they are about tattoos and they're set in Vegas, which means they have to have an edge, regardless. But I also decided against the hunky detective boyfriend and made the detective Brett's brother instead. Of course now I have to find a little romance elsewhere, so it probably would've been easier to have the detective boyfriend. Oh, I didn't mention the romance, did I? Yes, they also must have romance.

Because my books have more of an edge, they would fall into the more "traditional" mystery category. Although so would my Annie Seymour books, despite the addition of a tougher character with salty language. Both do have some humor. Elaine Viets and Nancy Martin might be in this category, too.

What's frustrating is that once you're boxed in to one category, it might be hard for readers to see you writing something different. Nancy Martin is an example. She wrote the delightful Blackbird Sisters mysteries, which was much lighter than her current Roxy Abruzzo book. Roxy is a tough, independent protagonist, hard-edged with a sharp sense of humor. That's not to say that Roxy is better or worse than the Blackbird Sisters, just different in a good way. I'm glad Nancy stepped out of her box and took on the challenge of Roxy, and I'm glad she found a publisher who was willing to go along on her journey.

I heard about a panel at Bouchercon a couple of years ago where cozy writers had to improvise a hard boiled novel and noir writers had to improvise a cozy. I'd like to see that in reality, because I think a good writer can cross lines and make the boxes disappear.

I would personally love to see Reed Farrel Coleman or Lee Child write a cozy. And going the other way, I'd love to see a dark noir novel by Hank Phillippi Ryan or Julie Hyzy. Who would you pick?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Delving into the YA book world

I've been reading a lot of YA lately, mainly because I'm attempting to write one of my own so I need to see what's out there. It seems there are two main themes of YA these days: vampires and dystopian novels. But that's not to say they're bad.

Because I'm not into vampires (no, I did not like TWILIGHT, and if you want to get into why, I'll tell you but only if asked directly), I usually steer away from those. Although you really can't throw a cat without hitting a vampire book in a YA section, either at the library or at a bookstore.

I didn't think I liked dystopian novels, either. I've got issues with all those kids reading about the end of the world and depressing future worlds. But I found a series I find surprisingly good, with really great characters. It's Michael Grant's GONE series. I've read GONE and am halfway through HUNGER and have LIES on order. In this series, everyone over the age of 14 just poofs out. Is gone. No longer exists. And there's a strange barrier surrounding the town and animals begin to mutate and talk. It's a bit LORD OF THE FLIES, but the characters are well drawn and the story told well.

I've also started reading James Patterson's MAXIMUM RIDE series, because my daughter is doing a yearlong project in which she's reading the first four books and then will write a paper in June. This is another series I wasn't sure about. I mean, it's about kids with wings. Kids who were genetically engineered by mixing human and avian DNA. Sure, it's out there, but this is another compelling read. I love everyone in "the flock" and the story moves really fast, which is why my daughter likes it.

I know many people credit Harry Potter with getting kids to read again, but between that and Rick Riordan's great Percy Jackson series, and these other books, I'm surprised any kid would have a hard time finding a book to fit his or her taste.

Do you read any YA?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Putting on my copy editor hat

I got home from work today and there it sat. The white envelope from the Fed Ex guy. Inside: the page proofs for DRIVEN TO INK.

These pages are typeset and look the way they'll look when they're actually in the book. It includes all the reviews for my other books, my dedication and acknowledgments, and even the teaser for the next book.

This is the last chance I get to look at the pages before I see the real book. It's my last chance to make any changes necessary, find the typos and any other errors. The letter that accompanies these pages, however, scares the daylights out of me. "This is not the time to make major changes," I paraphrase. And then it tells me how much money it would cost to make said major changes.

The major changes are usually made during the copy editing phase of the book. I get the manuscript emailed to me with the markup from the copy editor. I can change anything at that point, my own changes and even deciding whether I want to keep the copy editor's changes. Most of the time the copy editor is on target, but sometimes he or she makes a change that goes opposite the character's voice, so I type in STET, which means, keep it the way I had it.

I did have a problem with page proofs for PRETTY IN INK. While proofing them, I realized that I have a love affair with the word "just." I have no idea why, but it was peppered everywhere throughout the book, so much so that it was clearly noticeable. So I took most of them out. Because of that, I was more than aware of my overuse of the word "just" in DRIVEN TO INK and managed to take them out during the copy editing phase.

I've been through four chapters so far and have yet to find a typo or an extra space or line or even an overused word. It worries me a little. It makes me realize that I will be going through this at least twice before I have to get it back to my editor in two weeks because it can't be that clean. It just can't be. (See, there's that word again.) I spent almost 20 years as a copy editor and I know I can find something wrong. Copy editors are by nature anal. Writers are not. At this stage, I put on my copy editor hat and I cease to be a writer.

When you read something, do you immediately zone in on that typo or an overused word? Are you a secret copy editor?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mysteries and ghosts

I am just back from Pittsburgh after a rather turbulent flight. For those of you who know me, I don't much care for flying but always have my trusty Xanax on hand. This was also one of those little planes, the ones that have one seat on one side, two on the other and even the bigger carry on bag has to be whisked away and stored in the bowels of the plane.

The main reason I went to Pittsburgh was to attend this year's 15th annual Festival of Mystery run by the Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, which is a very cute place with lots of little shops and restaurants and the fabulous bookstore and a great library, where all the authors attending were invited to a tea before the festival. I went to the festival in 2006 and 2007, but hadn't been back since. It was as wonderful as I remembered.

Mary Alice and Richard, the esteemed bookstore owners, were just back from New York themselves, where they received this year's Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America. The little raven statue held court on the front counter during the pizza party after the festival. Mary Alice and Richard are amazing people as well as booksellers and any mystery writer who hasn't enjoyed their annual festival should definitely put it on their calendar in the future.

There are usually about 50 authors, and we are seated alphabetically with all our books lined up in front of us. This year I was seated between two writers I'd never met before: Kevin "Vicious" O'Brien and Diana Orgain. Kevin writes serial killer thrillers (someone once wrote him to ask "What's with all the killing?") and Diana writes the Maternal Instincts Mysteries featuring a new mom turned private eye. I haven't read their books yet, but I bought them so I'll let you know what I think. If they're half as good as their creators' senses of humor, then they'll be real winners. We had a ball.

I also met up with friends Hank Phillippi Ryan, Nancy Martin, Kathy Sweeney, Kate Carlisle, Sheila Connolly, and many more.

One of the things I also love about going to Pittsburgh is that I can stay with my friend Sam Bennett, who is also a former newspaper journalist. We worked together at the New Haven Register many moons ago, and she left for Pittsburgh and the Post-Gazette about a year or so after we met. But we've stayed in touch and are great friends. She now edits an economist journal with a really cool gig on the side: Sam is the narrator for the Haunted Pittsburgh dinner theater shows at the Grand Concourse. I was thrilled to be scared by the stories she told Sunday night and equally thrilled with the amazing meal served: top sirloin with gorganzola cheese, fabulous potatoes, and a salad with a dressing that was outstanding but I still can't figure out what was in it.

And Sam is not the only friend I can see when I'm in Pittsburgh. My best friend from college drove up from Frostburg, Maryland, with her husband to spend the day with me on Monday at the festival. It was all the more sweeter because I could see Liz and hang out with her, too.

A potpourri of questions today: Have you ever been to Pittsburgh? A dinner theater? A book festival? Do you like ghost stories?