Saturday, December 17, 2011

Another one bites the dust

What the title is referring to is the fact that the Lipstick Chronicles blog is bidding adieu to the blogosphere.

Lipstick has been a great group blog written by some of the coolest women mystery writers today: Nancy Martin, Elaine Viets, Harley Jane Kozak, Sarah Strohmeyer, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Margaret Maron, and, well, you get the picture. It's been around since May 2005, when mystery writers were grouping up and forming all those cool blogs (I do have to add here that my former blog, First Offenders, was if not the first then one of the very first, starting in October 2005, but FO hung up its hat some time ago).

In the final blog post, the Tarts as they call themselves explain that Facebook and Twitter and, well, WRITING, actually is taking up a lot more time these days. And their hit numbers are going down.

That last reason is something I've been thinking about a long time. No one seems to be reading blogs anymore. And yes, I realize the irony of me writing that sentence in a blog post. But it's true.

I haven't posted much in the last few months, mainly because I've had a lot of other things going on my life and just not enough time. But another reason is that sometimes I forget I even have this blog because I'm not reading blogs like I used to and I wonder if anyone really cares what I have to say. Especially since I haven't had much to say at all lately. My writing is going in fits and starts and I can't really talk about what I've been reading for reasons that may become known later. I don't know that I want this blog to be about more than that, either. I could start blogging about my daughter's new sport: fencing. But I don't know much about fencing yet, and does anyone really want to know about that? I could post about my cats, which could be popular, but unless I figure out how to take video, it's really not all that interesting.

So I figure I'll post here when I think I have something to say, and any of you out there who want to read it, will read it.

But I'll leave you with a question: Have you been a big fan of blogs? Do you still read them like you used to? Or do you think that Facebook and Twitter and other social media have pushed blogs aside, making them a little irrelevant?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Please welcome guest blogger Reed Farrel Coleman

My good friend Reed Coleman has two new books coming out soon, so I invited him over here to tell you all about them and talk a little bit about how he ended up an award-winning writer.

How Did I Get Here?

Someone pointed out to me recently that my first novel Life Goes Sleeping (Permanent Press, 1991) was published twenty years ago. Amazing! Now, as my 13th and 14th novels (Hurt Machine (Tyrus Books) and Gun Church ( are about to be released, I’ve taken pause at recollecting just how I got from there to here and how I got involved in mystery fiction at all. First, a little something about the new books:

Hurt Machine is the 7th book in my Moe Prager Mystery series. Moe is in his mid-sixties and his daughter Sarah is two weeks away from her wedding. Within days of receiving grave news about his health, Moe’s ex-wife Carmella Melendez reappears after nine years. She needs Moe’s help to track down the killer of her estranged sister. Seems no one in NYC is very interested in finding the murderer. Why? That’s the question, isn’t it?

Gun Church is my second stand-alone novel and is an exclusive on Kip Weiler is a former literary wunderkind who’s fallen on hard times. He teaches creative writing at a rural community college and saves his class from a gun-toting student. He gets a second fifteen minutes of fame and something much more important: the urge to write again. Only things don’t go so well for Kip when he realizes he isn’t quite as in control of his life as he thinks he is.

Now that the promo stuff is done, let’s get back to the business at hand. The only formal writing classes I ever took were in poetry at Brooklyn College from David Lehman. I’d been writing poetry since I was thirteen and had hoped a college education would advance my poetry writing. Well, it did, but it also showed me I didn’t have the chops or the desire to be great at it. I figured I would find a job when I got out of school and I would continue to write poetry and publish occasionally. That’s pretty much what happened. I fell into the air freight business and wrote poetry on the side.

After about five or six years in air freight, I was getting pretty bored. Early on, I had taken a night poetry class at the New School—where I met my wife,by the way—but it seemed I would be shipping cargo for the rest of my adult life. A few years later, my work schedule called for me to go into Manhattan once a week from my office at JFK airport. There were a few hours of down time between leaving the airport and my weekly meeting, so I decided to take another evening class—this time at Brooklyn College—to fill up those unused hours. Only one class fit my schedule, a class on American detective fiction. I was never much of a crime fiction reader up to that point. My focus had been more literary, non-fiction, and sci fi. Talk about getting gobsmacked. The first two things we read in that class were Hammett’s The Continental Op and Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely.

By the time we were halfway through the term, I knew writing crime fiction was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. A few months later I went to my wife and asked her if she was willing to make the sacrifices she would have to make in order for me to follow my dream. And for the second time since we’d met, she said yes. Both of those yeses have had a profound impact on our lives. As I have often joked, it’s a good thing that class wasn’t on poetry of the French Renaissance.

Reed Farrel Coleman has been called a hard-boiled poet by NPR’s Maureen Corrigan. He has published fourteen novels. He is a three-time recipient of the Shamus Award for Best Detective Novel of the Year and has been twice nominated for the Edgar Award. Reed has also won the Macavity, Barry, and Anthony Awards. He is an adjunct professor of English at Hofstra University and he lives with his family on Long Island. Visit Reed at You can also find him on Facebook and he Twitters at Twitter@ReedFColeman.

Monday, October 24, 2011

How Much of Human Life is Lost in Waiting?

I hate waiting.

This is not a good trait for a writer. I can imagine my agent's eyes rolling when he sees my email asking if he's heard anything from anyone about my manuscript that's out and about. Doesn't that sound like my manuscript is sitting poolside drinking cocktails with little umbrellas in it? Sadly, it might as well be, because that's all the action it would be getting right about now.

As my agent says, publishing moves on a cosmic scale, not a human scale.

I liken the wait to hear from publishers to the wait when we were adopting our daughter. We adopted our daughter from China in 1998, but for a year and a half before we actually met her, we were waiting. The thing about adoption is that you hear NOTHING until you hear SOMETHING. There are no little notes or voice mails telling you that things are in the works. There is silence. Very very loud silence. And then all of a sudden, you get a Fed Ex delivery with a picture of the most beautiful baby you've ever seen and the wait is over.

Publishing is exactly like that. You hear nothing. Until suddenly, one day, your agent calls and says that he's heard something. And someone wants to buy your book (the agent only ever calls if it's good news...bad news is sent via cyberspace). I got that first phone call while I was editing car and truck stories for the weekly Car and Truck Section at the New Haven Register. I don't even really remember what my agent said, because my heart was pounding so loudly. I had been waiting two years for news on that book. I had written two whole other books in that time of waiting.

That's what they say to do: Write. Write another book. And it's good advice. I've started something new, actually, two something-news. But it doesn't mean I'm not tapping my toe on the inside, hoping that the cosmos would move just a tad more quickly on the one that's already done.

Are you a patient person? Or do you just want to hear something already, like me?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Creativity amid chaos

It's the end of the week. TGIF and all that. I wish it were TGI-six months from now. Because maybe all of the house-related problems we've been having lately will have been resolved by then. I certainly hope so.

In the midst of all this anguish, I was bouncing around through my flash drive and found the first 10 pages of something I wrote last year, maybe around this time, when I was floundering. I'd had an idea and it resonated just long enough for me to write those few pages and then I promptly abandoned it.

I have a lot of those files in my flash drive. The beginning of stories that never get told.

But in this case, the story might actually get a chance. I read those pages and said, "Hey, this isn't half bad." And I proceeded to write five more pages. And then five more. And now I've got 30 pages, which I showed to my agent to see if he thought it was worth moving forward. He did. He was incredibly encouraging.

Sometimes looking through the flash drive is a really good idea. I haven't written much since I turned my last manuscript in to my agent this past summer. I started another YA book, but haven't gotten too far with it. And then all those house things started to go wrong and distractions overruled creativity.

Maybe I should write about dishwashers breaking down, trees falling during hurricanes, showers that leak into basement ceilings, mice in the attic, and non-watertight porch windows.

Or maybe not.

Let's just say the book I'm working on now doesn't have any of those things.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

i Google

I don't check my website stats very often, but when I do, it's always sort of interesting. Take, for example, the number of hits I get. In June, I got almost 20,000 hits, which makes sense because INK FLAMINGOS came out that month and my website was tacked onto reviews and whatnot. But what's really surprising is that there were 16,000 hits in September. Really? When I have done next to nothing promotion-wise. I even forgot to post that I was in St. Louis at Bouchercon.

But what's really fun to look at in the website stats are the search strings, or words that people put into search engines and end up finding my website. These have been among the search strings listed on my site:

clumps lipstick

Really? It makes me want to go into Google and see what I come up with when I type this in.

german mystery writer olsen

Well, I'm Swedish and Norwegian, and those are Germanic languages so maybe this one makes slightly more sense. Although I hate it when people spell my name wrong.

guilford ct tennis karen

I grew up in Madison, Connecticut, which is the next town over to Guilford. I played tennis about five years ago but haven't played much since. Karen is my first name. So maybe, with all these things strung together, it sort of makes sense.

driven to ink by karen e olson can be found in library

Yes, absolutely, Driven to Ink can be found in libraries. But the person who searched with this clearly wasn't quite sure just which library, just wanted to know if the book was in the library.

I know I've typed odd things into Google, looking for things I'm not quite sure about. We had funny white/greenish scaly stuff on the pipe that came out of the wall for the shower head. I wanted to clean it, but didn't know what it was. So I put white/greenish scaly stuff on pipe into Google and ended up finding out that I could use white distilled vinegar for almost anything. A good scrub with a Dobie soaked in white vinegar did the trick. I also got a great recipe for making homemade Windex with vinegar, water, and a little dishwashing soap, which works great.

Considering that Google and the Internets is still so relatively new, I still can't imagine how I lived without it for most of my life.

What was the last thing you Googled successfully

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Same time, next year

I've been back from St. Louis for three days now, and I'm anxiously awaiting the weekend so I can get some real rest.

St. Louis, you ask? Why were you in St. Louis?

For Bouchercon, one of the largest mystery conventions in the country.

I started going to Bouchercon in 2005, when my first book SACRED COWS, was published. I met Alison Gaylin, Lori Armstrong, and Jeff Shelby there in Chicago, and we started the now infamous First Offenders blog. First Offenders is defunct now, but Alison, Lori and Jeff and I are still good friends. Jeff couldn't come to St. Louis, but Alison and Lori and I got part of the band back together and shared a room.

Bouchercon is a little like college in that there are a lot of late nights in the bar, thus, the reason I'm a bit wrecked. But it's an incredible amount of fun.

Some highlights of the weekend:

Lori winning the Shamus Award for her book NO MERCY. It was so great to be able to be there and share that with her.

Meeting Eoin Colfer of ARTEMIS FOWL fame and Daniel Woodrell, who wrote WINTER'S BONE, one of my favorite books.

Lunch with Reed Farrel Coleman and three lovely ladies who "bought" a meal with two mystery writers.

Meeting Mary Jane Haake, a tattooist from Portland, Oregon, who is featured in the book that convinced me to write the tattoo shop mystery series: BODIES OF SUBVERSION: A HISTORY OF WOMEN AND TATTOO by Margot Mifflin.

Sharing Linda Brown's (of the now defunct Mystery Bookstore in L.A.) excitement about traveling to China to meet her new daughter soon.

Explaining to a waitress that while Trey Barker really does have a gun, he wouldn't actually shoot her if she gave the check to me and not to him.

Having Harlan Coben give me a nickname (although I'm still not sure about it).

And seeing and chatting with: Sean Doolittle, Steve Hamilton, Wallace Stroby, Con Lehane, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Jim Benn, Lyssa Keusch, Peter Spiegelman, Jim Fusilli, John Connolly, Lauren Henderson, JT Ellison, and loads of others I just can't think of right at the moment. Like I said, I need a really good night's sleep.

Next year: Cleveland.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Summer break's over, time to get back to work

It's Labor Day. And I've just now realized I haven't posted in almost 2 months. Consider it my "summer off" blogging, even if it didn't start out that way.

So what have I been up to for the past two months, you ask. Best answer: Not much. I have been reading and hanging out at our pool club (it's not as chi-chi as it sounds) and I finally, in the past couple weeks, have started writing something new. So I guess you can say I took the summer off from writing as well as blogging.

The new book is another young adult novel. It's sort of a crime novel mixed up with a coming of age story. I haven't gotten very far yet, but I did have my 14 year old daughter and her friend read the first 10 pages a few days ago and they both liked it, in fact, they were a little annoyed that there wasn't more and that I'd ended in mid-sentence.

This is a good sign.

I hadn't been sure of the direction of this book, which is why it took so long to really get started. I knew the basic story, but I wasn't quite sure how to tell it. I ended up taking what I'd initially wrote and cutting it and moving things around and turning it into more of a prologue and then jumping into what happened "before" the prologue, to see where the characters had started and how they end up where they end up.

I still don't have all the details worked out, and I'm sure I'll have more fits and starts, but it's finally starting to gain momentum and I'm beginning to be at the point where I'm feeling that I need to write every day again.

It's been a while since I've felt that way. But after writing a dark crime novel for adults about teenagers doing dangerous things, I needed a little break from writing about teenagers. Fortunately I'm getting over that now.

So what have you all been doing while I've been absent? Did you have a nice summer? Any nice vacations? Anyone starting a new book, reading or writing one?

Friday, July 15, 2011

The wait begins

So I guess you think that just because I have a new book in the stores, I spent over a month celebrating and not bothering to do much else.

You'd guess wrong. Despite appearances.

So a quick update on what I've been doing since we were here last:

I finished a manuscript. Yes. Finished. And it is in the hands of my agent, who will now attempt to bribe some unsuspecting editor into publishing it. No, just kidding. Bribes and swag have nothing to do with this process. Although it's not a bad idea ...

Finishing this book took longer than expected, because my good friend Reed Coleman came up with the brilliant idea that I'd read it out loud over the phone to him. Now, this seemed like a really silly idea at first. I don't read from my books at my events, why would I read an unpublished manuscript out loud over the phone? But once I started, I realized that I'd been wrong. That it really was a brilliant idea after all. I found mistakes I hadn't seen and Reed offered up some great feedback. It's a really good thing my ego isn't all that big :) But when we finished it up and I made the revisions that were absolutely necessary to make, I felt that the book was finally ready to go out into the world and my agent agreed.

Now the waiting.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

INK FLAMINGOS launches today!

So today's the day. INK FLAMINGOS hits the shelves—and all those e-readers out there.

It's a little bittersweet. It's the fourth and last of my tattoo shop mystery series. I'm really happy with the book, in fact, I think it's my favorite in this series. I take Brett places she hasn't been before, I give her more challenges. I leave her in a place that, if she makes the right choices, could lead to a lot of happiness. It's a fitting end to the series.

I have a lot of people emailing me, telling me they love the series and would love to see it continue. There are two things going on here. First, the publisher has not extended my contract. Second, I'm done with the series. I think four books is perfectly fine for a cozy, amateur sleuth mystery series. Sometimes I have issues with those cozy series that go on and on and on, and I wonder why the amateur sleuth doesn't decide to move out of town, disappear for a while because once you've got dead bodies piling up in your life, I'd think you'd get a real complex about it. I know Brett does. That's why this has to be the last one. She's done. Done with solving crimes. She's onto bigger and better things in her life.

I hope you'll check out the book. It's a fun, fast read and Brett is dodging tattoo bloggers and stalkers. The plot is intensely personal for her.

Click here and you can order the book, either in print or download it into your e-device. I haven't made that e-move yet, but that's another blog post.

Enjoy the book!!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jeff Shelby is making a few waves

So it's come to my attention that my friend Jeff Shelby has started a new blog.

Of course he could've told me about this, but, well, he didn't. I had to find out about it on Facebook. But regardless of how I found out (and I don't carry grudges . . . for too long, anyway), I have added his blog to my blogroll over there down at the bottom on the right side of this blog. It's called Waves and Words, which might seem a little weird for a guy who's pretty landlocked in Texas. But he writes an amazing series about a surfer named Noah Braddock in San Diego, where Jeff is originally from.

I met Jeff in Chicago at Bouchercon in 2005. It was our first Bouchercon. My first book SACRED COWS wasn't even out yet, but his first book KILLER SWELL was already out. We were on our very first Bouchercon panel together, along with Lori Armstrong and Alison Gaylin and Vicki Lane. I was scared to death. I didn't know a soul, but instantly, Jeff, Alison, Lori and I bonded. Enough so by the end of the conference, about 2 a.m. Saturday, Jeff said, "Why don't we start a blog?"

And the First Offenders were born.

We blogged together religiously until last spring. Until we all agreed that the blog had run its course and we needed to move on. I started this blog not too long afterward. Lori blogs under her alter-ego's name, Lorelei James (she has a thing for sexy cowboys). But Jeff and Alison were blog-less.

Alison's got a new series in the works, and the first book, AND SHE WAS, will be out next March. Jeff, sadly, has been struggling a little in this crazy business we call publishing.

After his second Noah Braddock book, WICKED BREAK, Jeff found himself without a contract as so many of us do (I'm done after INK FLAMINGOS and am not just what my future holds in publishing). But he persevered, because he's a writer. He can't help himself. He wrote another Noah book, he wrote a thriller, and he also wrote one of the funniest cozy mysteries I've ever read.

It's been four years since WICKED BREAK. And I'm so thrilled to say that his third Noah Braddock book, LIQUID SMOKE, is coming out this summer from Tyrus Books! (there's a link on his blog). And that hilarious cozy? STAY AT HOME DEAD will be published by Kensington next winter (under the name Jeffrey Allen, but you can find all that out at his blog, too).

So go check out Waves and Words. In addition to being a great writer, Jeff is hilarious and he will definitely keep you entertained.

Some day we'll get the whole band back together. A reunion tour, perhaps.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Does the rusty scupper parking garage have cameras?

The title of this blog is actually something that someone typed into a search engine and then came up with my website as a result.

The Rusty Scupper used to be a restaurant in New Haven. It didn't have the best food, the service wasn't always that great, but it had a super location: Right on New Haven Harbor. You could sit outside and smell the salt water and fresh air. Seagulls would hang out, hoping you'd throw them a French fry. It was a good place to take people who didn't know New Haven and impress them.

I once took a LAW & ORDER director and producer to the Rusty Scupper for lunch. Out of the blue, I'd gotten a call from the director. He'd somehow gotten his hands on a copy of my first Annie Seymour book, SACRED COWS, and he wanted to talk to me about a possible TV show set in New Haven based on the series. You can't imagine my excitement. The second book wasn't even out yet and someone who was attached to a REAL TV show was interested in my characters. I started thinking that maybe I'd even make some money with this gig.So I took him and a producer to lunch at the Rusty Scupper to impress them.

We had a lovely time. They were really nice. But in the end, the director told me that "no one wants TV shows about a reporter." I'm still not sure why. It seems ripe for possibilities. But I couldn't argue with the powers that be. I'd had a nice lunch. I have a good story to tell.

The Rusty Scupper closed a few years back. Right before my third Annie Seymour book, DEAD OF THE DAY, came out. In that book, Annie goes to the Scupper and has lunch with Vinny. In SECONDHAND SMOKE, the second in the series, Annie gets a sub from Frank & Mary's Deli on Wooster Street. Frank & Mary's Deli closed before the book came out. I started to get a complex about writing about real restaurants in New Haven.

Another restaurant opened in the Rusty Scupper's spot: Leon's. It's an old New Haven restaurant, first located in the Hill section, then on Whitney Avenue in Hamden. I don't think it could help itself by opening in such a great spot. I'm not going to write about it.

Oh, and the question about the Rusty Scupper having cameras in its parking garage? There is no parking garage. It's just a parking lot.

Do you have a favorite restaurant spot?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Is the world of the Internets changing?

I know I've been scarce around these parts in the last couple months. It's not that my life has suddenly gotten all that interesting. Or even all that busy. But I'm in the process of trying to finish up a manuscript and I've got another commitment that does take up quite a bit of time, so blogging sadly has gone by the wayside.

I've also discovered that I'm not reading as many blogs as I used to. I try to check in with my friends' blogs and some of the great book blogs on a regular basis, but rather than checking once a day like in the past, now I'm checking once a week or maybe once every couple of weeks and catching up with all the posts.

I had a discussion about this with a friend, and she said she's doing the same thing these days. Have blogs run their course? Five and a half years ago, when Alison Gaylin, Lori Armstrong, and Jeff Shelby and I began the First Offenders blog, we were the first "group" author blog. Now they're a dime a dozen. There weren't very many book bloggers out there, either. I did read Dooce, and still do — she's made a career out of blogging. But if blogs were to sag in popularity, would that affect her, too?

I find that I get most of my "news" on Facebook these days. People post about themselves, books they're reading, links to news stories and book reviews, book events. Stuff that I might have found on blogs two years ago. But now it's all in one place.

I haven't even updated my website in a while. I've got a book event in June for INK FLAMINGOS at RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison, CT, but I have yet to post that on my website. But someone did post the RJ Julia announcement about it on Facebook.

Is the world of the Internets changing? Are we evolving from blogs to Facebook? I do admit, though that I do not understand Twitter. I have an account but rarely ever post anything. It just seems redundant and silly.

What do you think? Granted, there might not be anyone out there these days since I'm not even here all that much myself. So my question might be going out into the wind. But in the odd chance that someone out there is reading this, I'd like to hear your thoughts. Are you reading blogs as frequently or do you find it's lagging, too?

Monday, April 25, 2011

The ubiquitous Harriet Klausner reviews Ink Flamingos

I've been really scarce around these parts. Mainly because I've been busy working on a manuscript and I've tried not to be too distracted. But today I discovered that the ubiquitous Harriet Klausner has offered up the first reveiw of the upcoming INK FLAMINGOS (and no, Flamingos does not have an "e" in it, although Harriet thinks it does):

Ink Flamingoes

Karen E. Olson

Berkley, Jun 7 2011, $7.99

ISBN: 9780451233790

In Las Vegas, Brett Kavanaugh owns the upscale tattoo parlor The Painted Lady. After becoming embroiled in homicides (see Driven to Ink and Pretty in Ink), Brett promised her concerned friends and that she would never again investigate a murder. She is unable to keep her pledge when a steady customer Daisy Carmichael, lead singer of the pop group The Flamingoes, is found dead in her hotel room. On the blog Skin Deep, a picture of Daisy appears with a flamingo tattoo that is colored in; Brett knows her late client was allergic to ink colors so her tattoos were all black.

Brett’s brother Tim tells her that a witness saw a red haired woman carrying ink pots and needles leaving the room two hours before the body was found. Brett has an alibi and there are further entries on the blog written by Ainsley Wainwright that have altered pictures of Brett and events that imply the tattoo artist is a killer. Brett realizes she has a stalker following her. She is able to dispute all the evidence with help from her friends, but still needs to know who wants to make it look like she killed the singer; which means investigating.

Karen E. Olson writes an action-packed amateur sleuth who-done-it that stays constantly at the speed of light from start to finish even with a few nice hairpin spins. The audience will enjoy this complex whodunit enhanced by misdirection and a touch of romance with a peer Jeff Coleman who goes the entire Strip and more to help Brett. She realizes she is attracted to her caring competitor. Ink Flamingoes is a strong entry that has sub-genre fans wondering who and why.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Campaigning for more votes and explaining myself

So knock me over with a feather, but Brett Kavanaugh is holding her own in Jen's Book Thoughts' amateur sleuth survey. She's made it to round three. Please go vote for her and keep her in the running!

I have to say that I'm thrilled that she's made it this far. When you're a writer and you spend hours sitting in your little room, your fingers flying across the keyboard, trying to make a story come together, it's really validating to know that a character you've created resonates with people. Brett was not a character I ever thought I'd write, but through the course of four books, I have grown to love her and her world.

I know I've been scarce around these parts lately. I've been writing every day, trying to pull this manuscript into shape. I've discovered that reworking an old manuscript doesn't mean I can merely do a search and replace on names. The whole backstory has changed, the setting has changed (somewhat), the new characters insist on doing things that the old ones had no clue about. And the new ones seems to be a little smarter, too, about how to try to solve this crime.

I have been reading a lot, too. I've spent quite a bit of time reading about Lady Jane Grey, one of those elusive Tudor period people that I hadn't really researched too much before. She and her family were fascinating, and I've discovered that perhaps she wasn't as innocent as she's been portrayed through the years.

I also ordered something online that I've been eyeing for a long time: a slim volume of Henry VIII's love letters to Anne Boleyn. While there are a lot of mystery writers who won't read crime novels while they're writing, I'm not one of them, but I must admit that it's nice to immerse myself in Tudor England after a couple of hours of murder and mayhem.

It's nice to see that it's almost spring (and while technically it is spring, we're having some snow today) and the crocuses and daffodils and tulips are starting to poke their heads through the dirt in the garden. I know the snow won't last, and it will really be spring soon. My SAD days are almost over.

So what have you been up to lately?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Go vote for Brett at Jen's Book Thoughts!

Jen Forbus is one of my favorite crime fiction bloggers. She always has very interesting interviews with authors as well as insightful reviews (and I'm not just saying that because she likes my books!). She also has authors give her six word bios. Jen actually created scrapbooks with these bios and has gotten those of us who've penned them to sign them for her.

And now Jen's doing something that I think is incredibly cool: She's got a survey going on her blog to whittle down to the best amateur sleuth.

Brett Kavanaugh made the list! And Brett has actually gone onto the second round, which is up at Jen's blog this week:

Go check it out and vote. You'll see Brett and some of your other favorites, and I'm not quite sure who's going to win in the matchup between Jack Reacher and Nancy Drew. (I have to admit that I voted for Nancy, who is my childhood hero.)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

One more from the inbox

I wrote last month about getting emails from readers who don't care for the use of the F-word in my Annie Seymour series. While I don't want to keep dissing readers, I am very curious about something: Why, if you don't like a book, would you bother to write the author and tell her so? Why not just put the book down and forget about it? That's what I do. If I don't care for a book, why would I go through all the bother of actually finding the author online and then sending an email to say so?

Case in point: This morning I received the following from a reader:

I wanted to write and let you know that my husband and I were disappointed with the first two tattoo shop books we read. Well, I should say I read them, —— only read the first and part of the second. We both felt that the first time Brett goes to a strange place she's not supposed to be in to meet someone she's suspicious of is maybe okay, but the second time she does it she is Too Stupid to Live. —— threw the book across the room.

I'm hoping you have decided not to include this kind of stupid choice in the other books. I'll be looking for them at the library this time.

Now, this email is quite interesting in that the reader clearly did not like the book (her husband, identified here only as —— was a bit more adamant about his dislike), but the last sentence indicates she's still going to read the series. Could it be that she possibly thinks that writing me to tell me that I shouldn't make my character too stupid to live will affect the rest of the books? Does she think she's doing me a favor by advising me about this? Possibly, I suppose. But I hate to tell her that the other two books are already written, the third one is already published and the fourth is already typset and ready to go. So if Brett is too stupid to live in those, well, it's just a little too late for any advice.

I believe I can speak for all authors in that we do not write characters intending them to be too stupid to live. In fact, we try desperately to keep them from that. Problem is with amateur sleuth mysteries, the sleuth is not a professional, has no backup, usually no gun, and is expected by the reader to solve the mystery anyway. When you look at it that way, the whole concept of the amateur sleuth mystery is rather silly, because regular people really don't go out and solve crimes. Most of us don't even really know when a crime has been committed until it's been on the news and then the police are already out there trying to solve it. We do not see a news report and then decide, hey, I think I'm going to get involved in that and go out and see if I can beat the police at their own game. And despite what we read in mystery novels, most of us are not suspects in crimes. The police are not knocking at our door to try to discover our motives for killing anyone.

When I was a reporter, I covered only two murders in six years. The first was clear cut: a kid killed his father over a pack of cigarettes. There was no mystery. In the second, a love triangle ended up with a man shot dead in his car in the parking lot at a local watering hole. The guy who shot him waited for the police to show up to turn himself in. Again, clear cut. Although he did claim self defense (the other guy had a broken beer bottle), and it ended up in court. (As an aside, one of my best friends met his wife at the trial. They were both covering it for different newspapers.)

I think readers who pick up an amateur sleuth mystery and expect realism need to check their expectations at the door. I had one reviewer complain that Brett's brother who is a cop would never be assigned to a case in which his sister is involved. As if a tattoo artist would solve a crime. That's my point. Tattoo artists are not solving crimes. Neither are knitting store owners, apple orchard owners, home repair people, ghosts, psychics, book group participants, cats, dogs, and any of the other hobbyists or cupcake store owners you will see gracing the mystery section shelves at the bookstore. And if they did solve crimes, I'm afraid they will at some point be too stupid to live. Because they're not professionals and can't be expected to know what they're doing.

Do you read amateur sleuth mysteries? Do you suspend your disbelief or are you trying to live vicariously through these crime solvers and expect more from them?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

On being title-impaired

One of my jobs at the newspaper was to write headlines. This was not my favorite part of the job, since many of my colleagues were far more clever than I was and could turn out great headlines like there was no tomorrow, while I wrote things like "School board votes on budget." Yes, it got the point across, but exciting it isn't.

Coming up with a book title is just like writing a headline. It can't be boring and needs to get the tone of the book across to the reader in an intriguing way so the reader will pick the book up off the shelf and start reading. Some writers actually start writing a book based on a title, My friend Louise Ure does that. She comes up with a title and then says, "I wonder what that book's about" and proceeds to write something amazing. Unfortunately, because of my history with headlines, my record with book titles has been spotty at best, and the title is usually the last thing I come up with.

I was lucky with my first book, SACRED COWS. The title came to me in the middle of the night, which sounds like a lie, but it's really true. I needed a title that would convey what was going on in the story — a Yalie is killed, and it's bad for New Haven when something like that happens — and also, New Haven is getting one of those Cow Parades. At one of the papers I worked at, we had a sign on the wall eschewing sacred cows, and out of the blue I remembered it and decided that since Yale is a sacred cow to the newspaper and it also has the word "cow" in it, well, that should be the title. My publisher agreed.

The second book was going to be called BIRDS OF A FEATHER because there are chickens in it. But my editor didn't want me to become the farm animal author, so because of the fire in the book, we ended up with SECONDHAND SMOKE. The third book originally was called WATERLOGGED, but after a long discussion about how it wouldn't fit on the book cover and you don't want to see a book review talking about how a book is "waterlogged," we changed it to DEAD OF THE DAY, which is what we at the paper used to call the daily featured obituary. SHOT GIRL was the original title of the fourth and stayed that way, because, well, SHOT GIRL is a great title for a crime novel.

The tattoo shop series was easy once I figured out that my publisher had to have puns. I didn't want a pun title (I am convinced that any book with a pun in the title will never get an Edgar nomination) and came up with over 50 titles that my editor rejected. Once I came up with THE MISSING INK and realized that was the direction they wanted me to go in, I went online and found all words that rhymed with "ink" and then found phrases using those words and came up with the punny titles that grace the covers of my books. They may not exactly evoke a mystery novel, but they're fun.

When I wrote my YA book last summer, I struggled with a title. I came up with a few that my agent wasn't happy with, and we finally settled on THE LEGACY. As I've said before, it's a time travel novel with an unusual twist. I wrote it in the vein of Percy Jackson and Maximum Ride, but I've been afraid that the title is too staid for it. Rick Riordan and James Patterson's titles evoke a different feeling than THE LEGACY, or even books titled THE HUNGER GAMES, GONE, LIFE AS WE KNEW IT. All those books are more serious and darker. And while I've got some dark stuff going on in the book, the tone is different.

Since the manuscript has been out and about for a while, I wasn't sure if I could change the title at this point, but my agent was going to be sending it to more editors, so I made a suggestion, which he agreed sounded much better: PHINNEAS LOCKE AND THE TIME TRAVELERS: LEGACY OF THE KEYS.

So taking a survey this Sunday. If you saw a book with that title, would you be drawn to it and feel you just had to read it?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Don't hate me because I use the F word

It's been a while since a reader has emailed me to scold me about the language in my books. I think that's mainly because my tattoo shop series doesn't have any cussing in it, and the Annie Seymour series is out of print so it's harder for people to get their hands on it, meaning they aren't getting offended by the f words. But sometimes readers "discover" me and my first series, and that's when it gets interesting.

Case in point: I got an email this morning from someone who did not want to be included in my email list. He/she said, "REading you for 1st time. good writing but is it necessary to use the \"f\" word so much, does not add to the plot and makes the heroine sound like a filthy slut."

I naturally bristled at that, since when I created Annie, I didn't say to myself, hey, I think I'm going to make her a filthy slut. And to do that, I'll make her say the f word.

As I've told many readers who are offended by Annie's language: It is not gratuitous. Reporters talk like that, and anyone who says otherwise is lying. While I already knew those words, they really became a part of my own vocabulary in a newsroom. It's funny that now I don't work in a newsroom anymore, my use of those words has eased off quite a bit. Annie is also a police reporter, and cops are even worse than reporters, so it's natural she would use those words. Perhaps what makes it difficult for those people who are easily offended is that the book is written in first person, so Annie's language is front and center.

What's amusing to me, though, is how these readers who write me that they're offended by the language tell me that I'm a good writer and they enjoyed the book. It's a total oxymoron. I'm not sure whether to preen with the praise or bristle with the criticism.

People don't have to read books that they find offensive or don't care for. It's easy to put a book down and not finish it. I do that all the time. That's why these emails from people who clearly have read the entirety of my novel but scold me about my language are so perplexing. Don't they know they don't have to read it? And the bigger question: Why take the time to write the author and scold her?

I did make a conscious effort with my tattoo series to not have Brett cuss at all. There comes a time when a writer is tired of getting scolded (I actually had one reader say: "You look like such a nice person, how can you use such language?") and decides to come clean, in a manner of speaking. So Brett, a nice Catholic girl who just happens to be a tattooist, will never be mistaken for a "filthy slut" because of her language. But then again, she's fighting the stigma of being a woman who is tattooed. But at least there are no pictures.

What is your stance on cussing in a book?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

All this snow is making me SAD

This is what my front yard looks like. Well, maybe a little more plowed out now, but this was what it looked like last Wednesday, after our umpteenth snow storm. We'd gotten 30 inches two weeks before, and this past storm dropped 18 more inches on us. Another storm is supposedly bearing down on us, bent to arrive Tuesday or Wednesday this week. I'm not sure which because I'm afraid to watch the weather.

This is not normal for coastal Connecticut. Anyone who says climate change isn't happening clearly isn't living here or paying attention to the fact that the jet stream is shifting. And while we're getting snow dumped on us, somewhere the polar ice caps are melting. What's wrong with this picture?

Besides all the snow, this is never a great time of year for me. I get SAD (seasonal affective disorder), but usually not til February. I think it's all the snow that's causing it this year.

My husband says I'm an embarrassment to my people, who left Sweden to go to a place that's even snowier and colder: Minnesota.

I am not a pioneer.

Summer can't come fast enough.

Do you like winter?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Discovering Tana French

I tend to veer away from books or movies that have had too much hype. Usually I think this is a smart thing to do, but sometimes I discover that the hype is incredibly well deserved. This is what happened when a friend was telling me how good Tana French's books are, and I decided to try the first one.

I feel stupid for not reading IN THE WOODS earlier. It got the Edgar Award for best first novel, but that's pretty much all I knew except people were raving about it. It looked to me like a horror novel; I didn't know too much about it except the author lives in Ireland. When I finally decided to give it a go back in early December, I wasn't prepared for just how much I was going to like it.

Tana French's use of language and character development is amazing. I was immediately drawn into the story of Rob Ryan, a Murder detective who'd been a victim of a crime when he was a child but who could not remember what had happened to him. Throughout the book he struggles with his amnesia about that, while investigating the murder of a child in the same woods where he'd been a victim.

I couldn't put the book down, and when I finished, I told my husband I wanted the second book, THE LIKENESS, for Christmas. What I like about French is that while this is sort of series, the books are only connected by characters from the previous book. In the second, the main character is Cassie Maddox, who was Rob's partner in the first book. But this book takes place after the events in IN THE WOODS, and takes us to Cassie's next assignment undercover.

I admit that I had to suspend disbelief in THE LIKENESS. Cassie looks so much like a murder victim that she's talked into taking that girl's place in order to try to catch the killer. But despite the obvious flaw in that premise, the story sucked me in and I believed that Cassie was able to pull it off and infiltrate the girl's life.

In FAITHFUL PLACE, the most recent of French's books, the main character is Frank Mackey, the undercover cop who talks Cassie into taking on the assignment in the previous book. Mackey is drawn back to his old neighborhood and a reunion with his family when it's suspected that his first love, the girl he was supposed to run away with to England when he was 20 and who left him with no explanation, might actually have not gotten away after all. The best thing about this book is the depiction of Frank's family, which comes to life on the page. I can picture them clearly through French's brilliant storytelling.

Each book is told from the first person point of view of the main character. French gets into each character and creates a whole new world in each book. If forced to pick a favorite, I think I have to say the first, IN THE WOODS. While I liked the other two and they are very strong stories, I think Rob's voice spoke most to me, and that story resonated just a little longer.

Have you read of any of Tana French's books? Do you tend to shy away from a book that's had too much hype?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Want to read my backlist but they're out of print? Download them!

Lately I seem to have quite a few readers inquiring whether I'd ever write another Annie book or a fifth tattoo mystery and put them up on Kindle as e-books.

I admit that I find the phenomenon interesting. Many writers I know have been putting their unpublished manuscripts and/or backlist up on Kindle, and for a minimal cost, people can download them. Joe Konrath and Lee Goldberg claim they're making a mint on Kindle.

I'm not totally convinced this is the way to go. Honestly, it's really just self publishing. It would be taking a book I wrote, thinking that it's publishable even though maybe it was turned down by about a hundred agents—not even making it to an editor's desk—and deciding that people would want to pay money for it anyway. Granted, I wouldn't be out a lot of cash, like I would be if the book were to be printed, but still. It's the idea that whatever I write would be worthy of having people pay money for it without the validation of someone who's actually in the publishing business. Sure, I've wondered about some of those publishers' decisions on what to buy and what not to buy, but they are still the professionals here. I'm not confident enough to think that every word I write is gold and worth someone's hard-earned cash and time. (And this is not dissing those who do choose to publish on Kindle; it's a personal decision for personal reasons. These are merely my own thoughts on the matter and how I feel about it.)

That said, all of my books are available as e-books. Even all my out of print Annie books. You can get them on Kindle or the Nook or the iPad or whatever e-reader you might have.

This was a surprise to my friend Clair when I mentioned it to her. She had no idea. But the way publishing is working these days, when a book is published and printed, it's also put out there as an e-book. Why not?

Clair said I needed to let people know that my books are available as e-books, and when I thought about it, I realized she was right. I've had people email me and ask about the Annie books, where can they find a rare copy, and I do tell them that they can go on Amazon and eBay, but I never thought about saying that they're also available for download. Mostly everywhere.

So here it is. The announcement: All of my titles are available for download as e-books. So if you've got one of those Kindles or Nooks or iPads or another nifty gadget and you're dying to find out how Vinny and Annie meet up in SACRED COWS or you haven't been able to find a copy of SECONDHAND SMOKE anywhere, just download them. It's cheaper than a print book, too.

Are you an e-reader?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Finding a new voice in the new year

So it's a new year.

I'm not one to make resolutions. It's too easy to break them. But I've been floundering a little, and I finally made a decision. I suppose you could say it is sort of a resolution.

June will see the publication of the last of the tattoo shop mysteries, INK FLAMINGOS. I wrote the book as the last one, so it leaves Brett and company in a good place — after solving the crime, of course.

I'm still waiting to hear from editors about my YA novel, and since there are no guarantees in this business, I know I need to get started on something else. I've tossed around an idea for another YA, but just couldn't find the voice when I started writing. I had another idea for a thriller, but the same thing happened: the voice just wasn't there.

It became too easy not to write. Two months went by and I produced nothing. I wasn't feeling very creative, still not feeling it.

So I decided to pull out an old manuscript. Way back after I wrote SECONDHAND SMOKE, the second Annie Seymour book, I decided to switch gears and write a straight up PI novel from Vinny DeLucia's point of view. For those of you just joining us, Vinny is Annie's former high school classmate turned lover. But the book that features him took place before he and Annie hook up again, before SACRED COWS begins.

I really liked that book. My agent liked it. So I started looking over it again, wondering what I could do with it.

First off, though, Vinny had to become someone else. I don't want to start rehashing old characters. This needs to be its own book, in its own right, with its own characters. So Vinny has become Nick Maloney. When I started writing Nick, suddenly I knew everything about him. In six pages, this story was no longer Vinny's, but Nick's. And I realize now that the story could never have been anyone else's.

Granted, I have to update it. Funny how in five years technology has changed, teenagers no longer email but text, Facebook exists. The economy is floundering, and Nick is a victim of that new reality of housing busts and layoffs and media infatuation with celebrity.

I have no idea where this book will go or if it would ever get published. But my resolution is to write it, to tell Nick's story, to get back on that writing horse and see where it can go.

Do you make resolutions?