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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Interview with K.J. Larsen

When I read Liar Liar, I wanted to know more about the wonderful author who brought me such fun characters and hysterical dialogue. Imagine my surprise when I discovered K.J. Larsen is three fabulous authors! The series is written by a trio of sisters, and I'm so pleased to be able to introduce you to them here.

Kari Larsen lives at the foothills of Mt. Rainier and loves hiking, stand-up comedy, and the Blues. She’s written a column for a local paper as well as numerous plays and children’s stories. She’s a mean baker and a bit like Cat’s crazy Mama. Her canolli will drop you to your knees.

Julianne is the youngest of the six Larsen girls and spoiled as God intended. She teaches classes in organic gardening and is a gifted artist and poet. She lives on a farm with her horses, her beagle, and more four legged children than any person with good sense. Like Cat, she prefers jeans and a sweater but she cleans up nice.

Kristen is a gifted writer, weaver and actress and has appeared in plays off off Broadway. Her eyes are green like Cat’s and she’s a shoe-in for the role in the blockbuster movie to come. She lives in the Chicago area and was recently spotted dancing in Bridgeport with Chance Savino. Kristen’s shitzu, Buster, and Cat DeLuca’s beagle, Inga, are rumored to be dating.

I’ve heard of couples working together on books, but this is the first time I’ve encountered three authors behind a single novel. That brings up a few questions:

What kind of home environment produces three authors?? (Or are there more writers, as you come from a family of six siblings?)

Kristen: We grew up in a family where there was a high premium on reading and story-telling. We always read a book together on family vacations. And our parents liked to illicit stories out of us by asking, "Tell me a story?" I think the love of story and story-telling has influenced all of the siblings. In our large family, it was an advantage being a good story teller because it was a sure way to get attention.

Kari: In our family, creative expression had the greatest value. We didn’t have much money but we made a lot of music and art together. We made our Christmas presents: we wrote songs and poems and painted pictures. Our sister Diane spent one Christmas Eve in the emergency room. She slashed a finger carving Rudolph.

How did Liar Liar come about? Was it one sister's idea or the result of brainstorming? 

Kari:  It was an accident. We were joking around one day, talking about our favorite books and characters. Somebody said something about catching cheaters and someone said "Liar Liar!" Then "Pants on Fire Detective Agency!". We thought it would be a funny book. No one else was around to write it so we decided to do it ourselves. It's just as well we didn't know how much work it would be.

Are your individual writing styles similar or did you each have to adjust to keep the voice the same throughout the book?

Kristen: We do have similar writing styles, but each of us brings our own particular strengths and weaknesses into the mix. We don't try to adjust our voices to each others'. We adjust our voice to Cat's voice. It was difficult at first, but once we knew her voice, things went more smoothly and cohesively.

Kari: The one voice thing wasn't entirely new to us. Our dad was a pastor and he had all six daughters pumping out plays for church and community events since grade school. He's retired now and he's writing his first mystery novel. We're his biggest fans.

How do the logistics work? Do you trade emails or get together in person?

Juli: The sisters email me each day's scenes. I put them together and make small changes to insure we have one voice.

Kristen:  I live in Illinois and Kari and Juli live in Washington State. We had to figure out how to really write together long distance. The best solution for us has been to Skype every morning, and some evenings as well. We need to see each other while we're working. It's more spontaneous, honest, creative, and quite honestly, fun, when we can see one another's face. And the fun part keeps us at it and enjoying the work.

Juli: We didn't have a plan when we wrote Liar Liar. We were pretty clueless. We'd wake up every morning and say, What happens to Cat today? When we got to the end of the story, each sister thought someone else committed the murder. We sort of solved the case as it evolved. The sister with the most compelling argument won. (Ta Da!)

Kari: There's no bloodshed between sisters. (But we do have bandaids!)

Does each of you bring something specific to the writing process?

Kristen:  We like to begin by brainstorming a scene together. There's a lot of silly laughing. Much of the sassy dialogue is created as a team here. The one who's writing the scene will take notes.

Juli: The person writing the scene may zoom off in an entirely different direction. you can't know where the story will take you until you're alone at your computer. You gotta listen to your muse. Sisters adjust.

Kari: Juli is the youngest sister and has the best instincts for this genre. She lightens up the language. She's sassier than I ever was and she has great instincts. She also dresses Cat. When I write a scene, I leave empty spaces and Juli fills in designer bags, shoes and whatever Cat's wearing. Kristen is an amazing writer and has great character development. She sees the big picture. I do mostly humor and dialogue. And I love a splashy finish.

I think of my own relationship with my sister and I wonder, did sibling rivalry ever rear its head while working on the book?

Kristen: People don't believe this when we tell them that No, it really didn't. When we were growing up, we were not allowed to fight. It was just forbidden. Now there are some consequences in growing up in that kind of household that are not positive. But the positive consequence for us was we had to learn to cooperate with each other. I mean, when you can't fight, you eventually learn to listen to each other and work things out. That's really served us well in writing a book together.

Kari: There are times when we have different visions for the story or a particular character. I wrote a scene for Liar Liar where I killed off a rookie cop named Tommy. Julianne wasn't having it. She raised Tommy from the dead and threw him in the hospital. I mostly hated giving up my funeral scene. I thought it was hilarious. Tommy's back again in "Sticks and Stones", and he's one of my favorite characters. Writing as a team is a game of give and take. We have to trust that what we create together is larger than what one can create alone. And we forget the nonsense of being right.

Just a note, I'm really glad you gals didn't kill off Tommy!

When I wrote Family Matters, my mother immediately recognized some of her character traits in Deanna Wilder. Did you pull your characters from people you know? (Please tell me that Mama really exists!)

Kari: I love this question. I hadn't considered similarities between our characters and people we know. Julianne and Kristen are strong women who might recognize some of   their character traits in Cat DeLuca. Our paternal grandmother, Inga, scared the crap out of young children. Very much like Cat's. Our Uncle Bart was larger than live (and a bit on the shady side) like Uncle Joey. As for Mama, I suppose she's rather like me.

I was raised in the Chicago suburbs in a Catholic family (but, alas, not Italian.) You've nailed the ethnic neighborhoods and priestly influence so well. Is the book a reflection of your childhoods?

Kristen:  We were not raised Catholic, but we have an Italian side of the family. We lived in Chicago for a period of time growing up and there we got to know the ethnic neighborhoods. Do to our father's work, we moved around a lot as children and that gave us a breadth of experience with different groups and how they live their lives.

Kari: The DeLucas reflect some of my own experience with family. The laughter, fierce loyalty, and staggering portions of pasta and guilt.

You left the implied sex to our imaginations, which is something I appreciate. Was there a specific reason behind this decision?

Kristen: Yes! Our father is still living!

Kari: People tell us Liar Liar made them laugh out loud. It's exactly what we wanted. A woman will read the book and pass it on to a grandmother or friend. I love that. I want to write something almost everyone can enjoy. A little romance can make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. A tickle for the imagination.

Juli: I think by leaving it to our imagination, it can be much better than anything put in print.

In Liar Lair, Catarina (Cat) DeLuca (Or DeLucky as one character calls her) runs the Pants on Fire Detective Agency, a private detective firm that exposes cheating spouses. After a subject she is tailing--Chance Savino--tells her he isn't married, he is allegedly killed in an explosion, and his wife, Cat's client, turns up dead.

Why set the book in Chicago?

Kristen: I live in Chicago and the family lived in Chicago for a period of time growing up. We love the energy of the City, the distinctive neighborhoods, and the rich ethnic diversity.

Juli: You gotta love the Windy City. It draws you in. Chicago has a tradition of great literary detectives who hand their shingles there. There's an easy charm you can't quite pull off in Cleveland.

One of the things I loved about the novel is that this heroine is surrounded by strong male characters, including several brothers. Then I discovered that all of your siblings are girls! Was this wishful thinking, or did you have strong male influences growing up?

Kristen: I think all of us sought out male friendships and mentors growing up to try to create more balance. And thankfully, we found them.

Kari: Speak for yourself, Sissy. I'm giving myself brothers and less competition in the bathroom!

The book leaves off on a potential romance. Will these two characters partner up in future books?

Juli: Let me just say this guy is eye candy and Cat is no fool. 

Could you tell us something about the second book in the series, Sticks and Stones, which is due for release in August, 2011?

Juli : Sticks And Stones is a kick. Liar Liar readers will remember a client named Cleo. Cleo’s cheating husband was sleeping with her sister. Cleo shot Walter’s bum full of buckshot. He slunk under the radar taking her money, dog and sister with him. At the end of the first book, Cat vows to find her client’s money and dog. In Sticks And Stones, she and Cleo break into Walter’s house. They find Cleo’s dog and a mysterious big ol’ bag of money. And they find Walter’s very dead body. Cleo is charged with murder and the cops suspect Cat is involved. Now it’s up to Cat DeLuca, catcher of cheaters, to bring Walter’s murderer to justice. But with so many enemies dancing on his grave, it’s not going to be easy.

Thank you so much for blogging with me!  For those who want to experience the full flavor of the books, K.J. Larsen's website includes recipes from Mama's Kitchen! You can FB KJ Larsen as well!

You can order the book from the usual sources (the website includes some independent bookstores!) and it's available in several formats, including Kindle, and you can order directly from the website. Sticks and Stones is due out August, 2011.

Review of "Liar Liar"

Cat DeLuca’s cheating ex-husband did give her one thing--the experience necessary to run the Pants on Fire Detective Agency. Using the skills she honed tracking her wandering ex, Cat makes a living exposing philandering spouses.

Her latest client is Mrs. Chance Savino. Odd that when the husband manages to corner Cat he claims that he’s not married. Odder still when a building explodes just as he walks inside. Cat is caught in the blast and winds up in the hospital with minor injuries, though everyone assumes she has a major concussion when she claims to have seen the dead man walking around.

Then Mrs. Savino turns up dead. Only she’s not really Mrs. Savino. She’s a reporter who was working a story that got too hot. Did the story involve Chance Savino? If only Cat can catch up with the allegedly dead man, she might get some answers. But first she has to avoid a family intervention, the protective arm of the Chicago police department--populated by many of her male relatives--and a few attempts on her own life.

Liar Liar will have you laughing from beginning to end. Cat DeLuca is an engaging character who is refreshingly free of bitter cynicism. It's hard not to fall in love with her family. The second book in the series is Sticks and Stones and will be released in August, 2011. I’ll be the first in line.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Interview with Author Mark Schweizer

I am so excited to have author Mark Schweizer on my blog. His award-winning liturgical detective mysteries have taken me to that place where I can't breath, my words make no sense, and tears roll down my cheeks because I'm laughing so hard.
Mr. Schweizer has waited tables, written articles for Collgehumor.com, won opera competitions, sung oratorios, taught in college music departments, raised pot-bellied pigs and hedgehogs, directed church choirs, sung the bass solo to Beethoven’s 9th with the Atlanta Symphony, hosted a classical music radio show, taught in a seminary, sung recitals, started a regional opera company, published choral music, built a log cabin, written opera librettos, directed stage productions, helped his wife to raise their two children and managed to remain married for thirty-two years. He also owns several chainsaws.
Welcome, Mark!
Your sleuth, Hayden Konig, is both the Chief of Police in St. Germaine, NC, and the organist and choirmaster for St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. He likes fine wine, fine cigars, and knows both music and liturgy inside and out.

When I read your biography, it was easy to see how you came by your musical expertise. One job caught my attention--you taught in a seminary! How did that happen, and is that where you honed your liturgical knowledge?

I actually taught as a replacement for a music professor at the seminary who was on sabbatical. I directed the seminary choir, taught voice lessons, helped with planning the weekly services, introduced new music, and did my best to teach the seminarians (priests-in-training) how to chant. My experience with the musical end of the liturgy in the Episcopal (and other Protestant denominations) comes from a long career as a church musician. I've been working in churches, part and full-time, for 35 years.

How did a nice musician wind up writing mysteries?

The first one (The Alto Wore Tweed) came out of a choir newsletter that I started and that ran for several years. I wrote the "bad" story as filler when I ran out of material. And, of course, along with the bad detective story that found its way into the first book, I found myself ten years worth of "articles," most of which have been included in the books in some form or other. I wrote the first book thinking that church musicians — directors and choir singers — a demographic I was already involved with as a composer, would enjoy it. Then, when the first book did well, I kept at it.

Your books include a mystery within the mystery--the story that Hayden is working on at the time. Which mystery comes first when you’re writing the book?

I do the mystery within the mystery first if I can. Frequently it changes along the way, but it gives me a good, fun place to start from. And really, its the most fun to write. As my character says, "To write badly is something I can well do." For example:

"It was a dark and stormy night, although Tessie, the one o'clock weather-girl on Channel Two, had nasally predicted a clear and starry night, but was once again dead wrong, chiefly due to her education (Meteorology for Blondes), her inability to read a tele-prompter, and her current preoccupation with the ever-burgeoning hope that this fellow she'd be hearing about, Doppler Radar, would ask her out on a date."

Your series has done very well, and your books have gone into multiple printings. I heard about you by word of mouth--my mother, the Voracious Mystery Reader. How else do you promote your books?

There is an email list we send to when another book is in the offing. There's a website, of course, and Mystery Bookstores do a tremendous job in "hand-selling" the series. Basically though, it's been word-of-mouth from mystery readers.

Your publisher, St. James Music Press, is also the publisher of fine church anthems. (Music Directors and Choirmasters: Note that you pay a onetime fee for the music and receive the right to copy your heart out--for your use.) This definitely “brands” your books. Do you have any interest in creating a separate series?

I just finished with the first book in a different series. That is, I think it will be a series. It depends, of course, on if anyone likes it! It's titled "Dear Priscilla," and follows a couple of 1940's Chicago detectives. It's a harder-edged book — a 1940's comic noir thriller. (How's that for a description?)

As a Catholic, I’m well aware of that fragile and fallible human element that exists in organized religion. I find your humor hysterical, even when it targets our traditions and the many blessed items in the Vatican. (I should mention that you NEVER make fun of the subject of worship, unless, of course, it’s a confection.) Do you get mail from offended parties? And was this something you worried about when you began the series?

I never worried about it, because I'm VERY careful, and when I poke fun at the foibles that occur when we try to make the liturgy (literally: work of the people) into what we think will be more relevant to today's worshipper, I do so with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. Also, there is line that I do not cross and I know where it is. The practices of worship are fair game. Faith and beliefs are not. I will add that ALMOST everything that happens in the church is taken from actual experience. Well, not the murders....

Humor aside, your characters are unapologetically Christian. Did you worry that this might limit your audience, and did this affect your marketing strategy?

It might well limit the audience. I didn't do any actual marketing strategy on this, but if every Christian in America bought just one book, I'd be VEEERRRRYYYYY happy!

How did you hook up with Jim Hunt, the fabulous illustrator who brings us the covers of your books as well as drawings for your blog and web site?

I saw Jim's political cartoons in the Charlotte Observer years ago. He has a very identifiable style and he captured the whimsy and humor of the books in his preliminary sketches immediately. I looked up "Jim Hunt Cartoonist" on the internet, sent him an email and we were off and running. Interestingly enough, as soon as I have the "bad story" finished (3000-4000 words), I call Jim and get some sketches for the book. His illustrations really help to push the writing ahead.

The blurbs offered on the first pages--from unpaid interns, students, and M.D.’s-- are just as much fun to read as the book! Are some of these actual people?

Almost all of them are actual people (although some of the quotes are invented!) We couldn't sit around waiting for reviews to come pouring— or rather dribbling—in. We call them Advance Reviews, because none of these folks have actually read the book.

Hayden Konig is influenced by Raymond Chandler. Who influenced your writing?

Well Raymond Chandler, of course. But more than that, the good comic writers —Dave Barry, Garrison Keeler, Bill Bryson—and early Robert Parker (for dialogue.)

Could you tell us what’s up next for you?

Number nine in the St. Germaine series. I have the "bad story" finished, and now I have to get cracking on the rest of the mystery. I have a couple of choir commissions to compose, editing, and an opera to sing in the spring. I'll stay busy.

Thank you so much for appearing on my blog.

Visit Mark's website, and you can sign up for his email list. Don't forget to read the blog and watch the video of Noylene's Beautifery and Dip-n-Tan. The Litergical Series in on sale right now from SJMP for only $10 per book. (I completed my set!) You can also get them from independent booksellers and Amazon, and they are available on Kindle.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Getting Author Interviews for Your Blog

Author interviews are a nice way to spice up your blog. Readers love them. They help promote authors. It's a win-win situation.

So how do you get authors? Ask.

It's intimidating to contact a stranger, but I've found most authors willing to answer questions and happy to appear on your blog. If he's too busy, most of the time he will let you know when he's available.

I enjoy the Joanna Fluke books, so I contacted her when I was on Writers in Residence. She supplied us with a guest blog. I've just contacted the authors of "Liar, Liar" and they have agreed to an interview. I'm thrilled because I loved their book.

Where do you find authors? Well, what are you reading right now? It makes sense to talk to authors whose books you love because your enthusiasm will reflect in your questions. But you shouldn't limit yourself to household names.

Introducing new authors to readers isn't only fun, it gives your blog an edge. Voracious readers are always looking for a new series to devour. I speak from experience. Check out the author list on sites such as Sisters in Crime and Romance Writers of America, or any other writing site populated by authors.

Should you interview authors you disagree with? That's a tricky question. On one hand, do you want to promote something you don't believe in? On the other hand, you have the opportunity to ask where that person is coming from. You can always stay away from the topics you disagree with and focus on what the author has to offer.

Is this blatant promotion for other writers? It sure is, but doing something nice for another writer is good karma, and we writers can use all the promotional help we can get now that publisher budgets are slim.

There are three ways to showcase an author on your blog.

  1. Ask for a guest blog. You may want to supply a topic to help the author out.  
  2. Send interview questions and ask them to return them by email. Make sure to personalize the questions. It takes more effort, but the authors appreciate it and you'll have something new to offer readers.
  3. Ask the author to send you around 1,000 to 1,500 words telling the audience anything she wants them to know about herself or her books. Then work the information into an interview. This idea came from Morgan St. James, and it works well. You wind up with tidbits of information you wouldn't have thought to ask about.
What kind of questions do you ask? I prefer not to put authors on the spot with political or religious questions or anything that might be interpreted poorly. I try to be specific to the books and the author. At the same time, I don't go too crazy, because the authors usually have a full plate and I don't want them to have to apply the same effort to the questions that they'd give to a college essay.

Some extras:

Make sure you get a photo of both the author and the book cover. You can get the cover from Amazon or the writer's website, but I ask for a current photo in case she has something more current they prefer. Make sure you specify what format you need it in. Jpeg works for blogspot.

Include a book review. Just make sure you post it first so that it appears under the author interview.

Links to buy the books are appreciated. I know when I'm eager to try out an author, I like being able to click through right from the blog. Be sure to include a link to Independent Bookstores such as http://www.indebound.org/ . We want to keep those people in business.

Author Interviews are a great way to get readers, and the authors just might reciprocate when you're promoting your own novel.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lucky in My Choice of Parents

Don't you hate it when a blog title leads you on? Right now, you're probably thinking I adopted some passing couple and followed them home. The choice was God's, and I am lucky.

They drove in from Arizona last week, which is really nice of them. No airport pickup to deal with. They drive everywhere, including to Illinois, because they love our country and like to discover little out of the way places and people. They also stay at a hotel when they are in town because our condo's not that large. Actually, I think they need their space. Not that they don't like me, but isn't it nice to take your time getting ready for bed and not worry that someone else needs to brush her teeth? Spouses don't count. Spouses have routines.

Every time they visit, I'm reminded what incredible people raised me. There's no such thing as a disposable society to them, only people who waste things. My parents waste nothing, and that includes time and talent.

Dad always insists on fixing something, no matter how small. This time, he replaced a toilet. Last time, a toilet and bathroom counter. He comes from a generation of people who know how to use their hands, and it's a shame that more young people aren't shown how. My hubby has the same mentality, but after working 12-14 hour days, it's nice to have a father-in-law who can help out. I've got some knowledge, but the female lack of upper body strength is something scientists have not overcome. I know how to change a tire, but I'll be darned if I can turn the screws, especially after a machine has had a shot at them.

Mom brings her abundant talent for creating things. She can take a simple ball of yarn and weave it, bead it, sew it, knit it, or crochet it into something beautiful. Creating is a gift, especially when that something is serviceable and lovely to look at. She also loves books, especially mysteries, and we browse the book stores and exchange authors and revel in the genius of those who can give us a good yarn and make us laugh as a bonus.

Mostly, it's their attitude that both overwhelms me and inspires me. Problems are not something to complain about, they are challenges. Action is appropriate. Whining is useless. This positive attitude is what led them to success, and it's what allows them to enjoy what they have. It allows them to be generous, whether they are writing a check to St. Jude's or collecting donations for a poor school in New Mexico--and driving the donations there personally. They are positive people by choice, and that's a rare thing today.

When they leave, there' a gap. It's not only that I miss having family around, though I do. It's this incredible energy that they carry with them, the attitude that nothing is the end of the world. "Why don't you just do X?" is a common refrain, and when they say it, I give myself a mental forehead slap and wonder why I wasted so much time being fearful or distressed, when all I had to do was X.

I try to keep the inspiration going, try to remember the security they bring. It's difficult without their example, but it's why I have such a great long distance calling plan. I'm grateful for everything I have, and I'm especially grateful for the couple who brought me into this world and gave me so much love. I'm lucky.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Chat with Author Alice Zogg

I have a warm spot for mystery author Alice Zogg, not only because her books are thoroughly enjoyable, but because Alice is the first person I met at Sisters in Crime. A nervous novice, I went to a monthly meeting to check them out. As I tentatively looked for somewhere to sit, Alice invited me to take the chair next to her. I've been a fan ever since.

Alice writes the R.A. Huber mysteries, and between the varied, interesting settings and the vivid personalities--including Huber's assistant Andi-- these books are must reads for anyone who likes traditional mysteries.

Welcome, Alice!

What led you from mystery fan to mystery author?

Eight years ago I went to the bookstore in search of new reading material. Having read all the mystery novels ever written by my favorite authors, I was planning to purchase works of more contemporary writers, but found nothing that appealed to me. I must have browsed the wrong shelves that day because I certainly have discovered many great books written by present day authors since then. When I returned from the store empty-handed hours later, my husband asked, “Where are the books you bought?” After I explained my dilemma, he teased, “Why don’t you write your own stories since you’re so picky?” I paid no attention to his remark at the time, but about a month later thought, well, why not? So I gave it a try and have not stopped writing since.

R.A. Huber is unusual in that she is an older lady with experience as opposed to a young ingenue fumbling around. Did you have this type of heroine in mind when you started the series?

When I created my protagonist, R. A. Huber, in the first book, I had no idea that she would become the heroine of a series. I became comfortable with her, so I kept her. Like me, R. A. Huber was born in Switzerland and came to the United States as a young woman, and then made her home here. Longing for excitement after she retires, Huber decides to start a second career and opens her own business as a private investigator. Soon the gutsy private eye’s cases take her on journeys from Pasadena to the Catalina Island, up to Lake Tahoe, the Central Mexico region, all the way to Davos, Switzerland, then back to the Big Bear Lake area, and to the balloon festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The lady certainly cannot complain of boredom any longer -- the thrill of the job, particularly when her own life is at risk, can be almost too much at times.

Some readers might be intimidated by a series with eight books, fearing they will have too much catching up to do. Will a reader have to begin at the start of your series to understand what is going on with the characters?
Although the R. A. Huber mysteries are considered a series with the same protagonist, each book can easily be read on its own. Setting my stories in different locations gives me a reason to travel to each spot for research purposes while at the same time enjoying a bit of vacationing there. Huber is also athletic, which gives me the opportunity to describe some of my favorite sports activities. In my last three mystery novels, I gave Huber a dynamic young assistant named Andi. I am having a lot of fun with this character. Andi is a redhead originally from New Orleans and rides a Harley-Davidson.

Tell us about your latest novel. (By the way, I love the cover!)

My latest yarn, Revamp Camp, featuring R. A. Huber and Andi, is set near the idyllic town of Solvang in Central California. After Mr. Hawk enrolls his daughter Emily at a rehab facility for juvenile delinquents, he is unable to get in touch with her, and his concern prompts him to hire R. A. Huber to investigate. Huber sends Andi to pose as a troubled youth in need of treatment. Before long, the young woman is thrown into an atmosphere of mayhem, eventually resulting in murder. When Huber fails to get news from Andi, she becomes alarmed and figures out a way to access the camp for herself. Together, the two uncover the deep-rooted secrets that lurk beneath the surface of Revamp Camp and entrap the killer, placing Andi’s life in danger.

You went the self publishing route, something more and more authors are doing now. Why?

While I was plotting my first book, I bought several how-to manuals on publishing the traditional way. The more I learned about what was involved, the more I felt that it was not worth the headache, and I decided to self-publish. At one point -- I believe it was when writing my third mystery -- an author I know got me all fired up about trying to get published in the traditional manner. Then I did some soul-searching and came to the conclusion that there was no reason why I should put myself under the stress this would involve. I found this creative outlet called writing late in life and it gives me joy and fulfillment, but I am a retired grandma and want to avoid that kind of pressure.

Thank you, Alice, and good luck with your new release!
You can visit Alice at her website, and don't forget to check out her books:
Reaching Checkmate 2003
Turn the Joker Around 2004
Tracking Backward 2005
The Lonesome Autocrat 2006
The Fall of Optimum House 2007
Final Stop Albuquerque 2009

And the latest,

Revamp Camp 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Marilyn Meredith

I'm so pleased to present guest-blogger Marilyn Meredith today. I've long admired Marilyn, both for her great writing and for her ability to accomplish so much and lead a balanced life--something I believe many of us are striving for today.

Marilyn Meredith is the author of nearly thirty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest Invisible Path from Mundania Press. Under the name of F. M. Meredith she writes the Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series, An Axe to Grind is the latest from Oak Tree Press.

She is a member of EPIC, Four chapters of Sisters in Crime, including the Internet chapter, Mystery Writers of America, and she's on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Visit her at her website  or her blog .

And now, heeeeere's Marilyn!

When I asked Jackie if she had anything in particular she wanted me to write about for her blog she gave me a couple of suggestions. I’m going to respond to two of them.

She asked, “I'm always fascinated by how you manage to fit so many obligations into your life. How do you keep the balance? Do you think that after a certain age a person just stops fretting about everything? Or priorities change?”

I’ve always been one who liked to accomplish things and earlier in my life I was far busier than I am now. I raised five kids and didn’t have a dryer until my last child was born and my grandfather felt sorry for me and gave me the money to buy one. Before that time I washed every day and hung clothes out on the line. Back then, hubby was in the Navy and money was scarce. Despite that, I had a Camp Fire Girl group, edited the PTA newsletter for years, and served as PTA President for four years in a row. When my youngest started kindergarten, I went to work part time as a pre-school teacher and started college. Believe it or not, I also wrote during this time period.

Life changed. Most of my kids grew up and married and we moved to the foothill town where we live now. We bought and took over a residential facility for developmentally disabled women. That meant more washing and cooking, plus a lot of paper work, but I wrote every weekday morning the ladies were off at their day programs. As time went on, I organized and taught mandated continuing education classes for other administrators of licensed facilities. After twenty-three years, hubby and I assisted the women in finding new homes (I wanted them to be in good places) and we retired.

Right now, I have the most time for writing and promoting I’ve ever had in my life. I try to write in the mornings, my brain works best then, though I must admit I’m compelled to read my e-mail first. Because I blog every day (love the fact that I can post ahead of time) I try to post on Facebook first thing and I often use Ping.fm to get the word out to Twitter and other places. My son and his wife (who live next door) help with housework and sometimes one or the other will take a turn at cooking.

Jackie also asked, “Your Facebook posts often include what you're having for dinner. To show us another side to Marilyn, do you have a favorite recipe you'd like to share after teasing us with so many delicious sounding meals? I'll admit that I'm a recipe junkie, and I always go to the mystery sites that have recipes!”

I really like to cook. I’ve always cooked for so many people that I have no idea how to cook for only two—so I don’t. My son and his wife almost always eat over here as does the grown grandson who is living with us now.

One of my favorite recipes is Beef Stroganoff which I learned how to do from a Russian who was serving in the U.S. Air Force. His daughter was in my Camp Fire Group and he had our whole family over for dinner one evening and I watched him cook. I have to warn you, I don’t use amounts.

When we were really poor, I used the cheapest cut of round steak I could afford and sliced it thin and cooked it slowly for a long while. Now I can buy a better cut of beef, but again, I slice it in thin strips and brown it along with chopped onions. I add a dollop of Worcestershire sauce and a can of tomato soup and ½ can of water. (When I’m cooking for a large group, I add a second can of tomato soup and a whole can of water.) Cook long enough for the meat to be tender. This is when I add sliced fresh mushrooms. I love mushrooms so I put in a lot. This is when I add the sour cream, a pint if you’ve used only one can of tomato soup, more if two. Stir it all together and serve over cooked noodles. You can serve over rice too, but I prefer the noodles.

I have gotten a bit tired of being the one to cook Thanksgiving dinner though, and this year we’re going to my youngest daughter’s for the holiday. She’s a great cook.

Thank you, Marilyn. Beef Stroganoff is one of my favorites, so I'm really pleased with your sample recipe!

While Tempe’s son, Blair is home from Christmas break, he and his roommate from college do a bit of snooping to find out about the para-military group who’ve been seen driving through town. When a young popular Indian is found dead near the recovery center on the reservation, Tempe is called in to help with the investigation. Another Native American but a newcomer to the rez, Jesus Running Bear, is the only suspect. A hidden pregnancy, a quest to find the Hairy Man, and a visit to the pseudo soldiers’ compound put Jesus and Tempe in jeopardy.

Invisible Path can be purchased as a trade paperback or e-book from http://www.mundania.com or any of the usual online bookstores. And here is a synopsis just to wet your apetite!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Invisible Path by Marilyn Meredith

Marilyn Meredith brings readers another Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery with “Invisible Path”. Set in the approaching Christmas season, Crabtree is ready to enjoy a visit from her son, Blair, and his friend, Chad, who are both studying Fire Science. But when the body of Danny Tofoya is discovered, her efforts must go into solving the murder.

Everyone is ready to blame recovering alcoholic Jesus Running Bear, though they are surprised that Danny is the one found murdered and not Jesus. Danny--a known bully--had an inappropriate crush on his cousin, Jolie, who is expecting Jesus’ baby. It doesn’t take long to discover other victims of Danny’s temper.

Besides keeping vigilantes away from Jesus, Crabtree has another pressing worry. A citizen militia is meeting on private property in the woods near Bear Creek, and though they say they are preparing to protect people in the instance of a terrorist-driven Armageddon, Crabtree wonders if they don’t have more nefarious purposes in mind.

Meredith blends police procedural with a traditional mystery that includes subtle examples of prejudice--both against Native Americans and within their own community. Her characters are likeable, and her incorporation of Indian beliefs and superstitions help to immerse the reader in the world of Bear Creek. “Invisible Path” will make a nice holiday gift for any mystery reader.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Real Scoop Behind Dirty Rotten Tendrils

Dirty Rotten Tendrils”, the 10th Flower Shop Mystery, hit the bookstores on October 5th. Quite frankly, there are several unanswered questions in this reader’s mind, including Why does florist Abby Knight keep finding corpses? It’s like Grandma always said. “Nice girls don’t associate with dead bodies.”

I couldn’t come straight out and interrogate author Kate Collins; Grandma also claims that direct questions are rude. It did occur to me that Kate’s fellow authors on the Cozy Chicks blog might be forthcoming with details about Abby Knight and Kate Collins if only I asked nicely, so I approached Deb Baker, Maggie Sefton, JB Stanley, Heather Webber, Lorna Barrett, and Leann Sweeney. I began with the most pressing query and phrased it as delicately as possible.

Ten-plus murders! Ten! That’s an awful lot of bodies surrounding florist Abby Knight. And in “Shoots to Kill”, she’s even arrested for murder on page one! She admits to having a short fuse. Is Abby really so unlucky, or is author Kate Collins trying to cover up her protagonist’s nefarious past?

From Leann Sweeney: Unlucky? No. Who wouldn't want a smart, curious, intuitive woman ready to step in and solve a murder? We all have things we like to do besides work at the day job. Like quilting or painting or gardening or catching murderers.

Abby Knight is both a florist and a crusader. Her mother teaches kindergarten and engages in a long list of creative endeavors, such as making designer candy. Are energetic, multi-tasking women like these purely fiction? And what exactly is a Dancing Naked Monkey table, one of Maureen Knight’s many creations?

From Maggie Sefton: Abby Knight delights readers with her creativity, her crusading spirit, and her tenacity in finding clues and figuring out murders. She may even take after her energetic, multi-tasking, and creative mother, Maureen. As for the Dancing Naked Monkey table? Only Maureen really knows.

Abby’s fiancé, ex-Army Ranger Marco is described as tough and sensitive--a man who could cook up an omelet and take down a killer in the same day. The couple has already called it quits once. Any guesses on whether we’ll hear wedding bells in the future?

From Lorna Barrett/Lorraine Bartlett: Does this give you a clue: Dum dum de dum. Dum dum de dum. Dum dum de dum dum de dum dum de dum. (And Abby's had the wedding flowers designed for ages.)

This is just between friends, and I’m not asking because I’m jealous (my thumb is a distinct shade of brown), but is author Kate Collins actually good with plants?

Deb Baker/Hannah Reed: Kate is the queen of green thumbs and can dish dirt better than anyone else! Uh, I mean, mix dirt.

Abby seems a little self-conscious that she flunked out of law school. I’m all too familiar with that feeling of failure. What advice would you give me--I mean Abby--to help her get over her perceived failure?

From JB Stanley/Ellery Adams: I’d tell Abby that when one door closes, another opens. After all, if she hadn’t flunked out of law school, how could she have become the engaging sleuth and skilled florist that we all know and love? Her “failure” has become a source of delight and enjoyment for readers across the globe!

For readers who haven’t enjoyed the Florist Shop Mysteries, can they jump right in with book #10? And what kind of read can they expect?

From Heather Webber: As with all Kate’s books, Dirty Rotten Tendrils is filled with humor, fantastic characters, twisty-turny plots, a bit of romance, and a warmth that’s just Kate’s natural voice. You absolutely don’t have to start at the beginning of the series to enjoy Kate’s books. Jump right in with Dirty Rotten Tendrils, and then once Kate has you hooked (and she will), go back and fall in love with the rest of the Flower Shop Mysteries.

You can find "Dirty Rotten Tendrils at your usual booksellers.


Barnes and Noble

IndieBound Independent Booksellers

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Character Collections

I admit it. The only thing I collect is paper. Masses and masses of paper that cover my desk, which unfortunately is also my dining room table. That may be why I'm always up for eating in front of the television.

I admire people who have the foresight to hang on to trinkets. I had some pretty cool stuff when I was younger, stuff that would be worth money now. Star Wars collectibles and Barbies. And I tried collecting Christmas ornaments the first few years of my marriage. Each holiday season I'd find something with the year on it. 1990 - 1994 was the limit of my attention span. I've occasionally purchase a dated ornament since, but it's too depressing to note all the gaps in the timeline.

Giving your character a collection can reveal oodles of information about their likes and dislike, their personal habits, and that spark that drives them. In my case, my Christmas ornaments say I'm scattered. Or maybe I'm not attached to material things. Yeah. That sounds better.

What if your character collected tea pots? She could crave refinement, be a huge Anglophile, or simply love tea. She could also hate tea and feel that each pot they collect is one less servicing the hypocrisy of a delicate ritual.

A history buff could collect stamps. So could a greedy kid who heard there was money in postage. An invalid could live vicariously through a postcard collection and arrange them on a map of the world, but an insatiably nosy person might file them by message type: lovers, parents, and friends.

Collections can also tell the reader something about a third party. When your sleuth interviews a witness who is surrounded by stuffed cats, does he absently stroke the black one and reminisce about his favorite childhood kitty? Or does he immediately dismiss the hobby as an obsession or a waste of money.

The next time you describe a character's home, throw in some unique passion - coffee can lids or porcelain ostriches, and then let the reader paint the character sketch from his own imagination.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Interview with Author Cheryl Malandrinos

Cheryl Malandrinos is a freelance writer and editor. A regular contributor for Writer2Writer, her articles focus on increasing productivity through time management and organization. A founding member of Musing Our Children, Ms. Malandrinos is also Editor in Chief of the group’s quarterly newsletter, Pages & Pens.

Cheryl is also a Tour Coordinator for Pump Up Your Book, a book reviewer, and blogger. Little Shepherd is her first children’s book. Ms. Malandrinos lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband and two young daughters. She also has a son who is married.

You can visit Cheryl online at her website or at the Little Shepherd blog. And don't forget to read the contest information at the bottom of this post!

Cheryl, on Writers in Residence, we introduced you as Cheryl the Pump Up Your Book lady. Could you re-introduce yourself as Cheryl the Writer?

Let’s see what I can tell you about little old me. I’ve lived in Western Massachusetts my entire life. I grew up in a six-family apartment with my paternal grandparents living downstairs from us and a maternal uncle living on the other side of the building. My maiden name of Gevry, comes from the commune of Gevry in eastern France, though all the relatives I knew as a child came from Canada or had originally settled in the United States.

I am currently married and have three children, ages 23, 9, and 6. Our son is married and our girls seem to have inherited my creative side. Both of them enjoy arts and crafts of all kinds.

Did you always know that you wanted to write?

I began writing as a teenager. My stories and poems, though dark in nature, helped me to cope with the grief of losing my mother to cancer. I stopped writing for a while, but picked it up again as an adult. It was more of a hobby in those early days, but when I became a stay-at-home mother in 2004, I began to pursue my career in earnest.

Investing in the Breaking into Print program at Long Ridge Writers Group, I graduated in 2005 and set my heart on getting published. I began writing time management articles for a now defunct online magazine, most of which were picked up by Writer2Writer when I became a regular contributor in 2006.

I also began blogging around that time. I currently run three blogs:

The Book Connection

The Children’s and Teens’ Book Connection

Book Tours and More

I review books, host fellow authors during their virtual book tours, and discuss other literary items of interest. It was through my blogging that I first became aware of Pump Up Your Book (formerly Pump Up Your Book Promotion).

Did Pump Up Your Books help you or provide a distraction? 

Pump Up opened its doors in April 2007. A couple of months later I began hosting their clients. By September of 2007 I became a virtual book tour coordinator. For a while it was just our founder, Dorothy Thompson, and me. Pump Up Your Book has grown so much over the past few years that there are currently five people on staff. Becky, Jaime, Tracee, Dorothy, and I are spread out across the country, and Jaime is in Australia. The Internet allows us to stay in constant touch with each other, and is the backbone of our business.

During the time I was reviewing books and promoting others, I never gave up on my dream of becoming a published author. I attended writers conferences, participated in critique groups, and read books in the markets I was interested in breaking into.

How did you wind up publishing a children's book?

Our oldest daughter is a reluctant reader, so I understand parents who struggle with getting their kids to read, especially when so many school districts expect their students to read daily. So, when my good friend and mentor, Lea Schizas, proposed the idea of creating a group dedicated to encouraging a love of reading and writing in young people, I was right there with her. Musing Our Children is made up of authors, storytellers, illustrators, and editors dedicated to sharing their love of the written word with children. We hold workshops in our local schools. We also have a quarterly newsletter titled, Pages & Pens. The newsletter is available as a free download on our website or your can subscribe to receive it by email.

While reviewing books, I became aware of Guardian Angel Publishing. After reading several of their titles, I knew I wanted to submit my first children’s picture book idea to them. Little Shepherd is the story of Obed, a young shepherd in the hills outside Bethlehem on the night of Christ’s birth. He wishes to join the others to see the newborn King, but is afraid to leave his sheep unattended. While his father finally convinces him to go, Obed spends his time away anxious about his flock. Once he returns to the fields, he realizes what a night of miracles it is.

The funny thing is that Little Shepherd was not a children’s story when God first planted the idea in my heart. I thought I was supposed to be writing a story of an adult Obed, who leaves home in search of the apostles after the Resurrection. He wants to know if Jesus was the Savior he met as a boy. As I was talking to my pastor about the book, he asked if it was a children’s story and I began wondering if telling the beginning of Obed’s story is what I was supposed to concentrate on. Since I don’t believe in coincidences, I decided to begin writing this story. It flowed very quickly. After a few revisions and some feedback from author friends, I submitted it to Lynda Burch at Guardian Angel Publishing. After a few additional edits, Lynda accepted the book for publication.

Getting that acceptance was thrilling. Then when I learned Eugene Ruble accepted the contract to illustrate Little Shepherd, I knew I was almost in heaven.

What do you think most helped you become a published writer?

Though no one would ever accuse me of being a patient person, my perseverance toward becoming a published author has paid off. I often tell others that they have the power to make their dreams come true. I believe that in the bottom of my heart. If we set goals to achieve our dreams and work steadily through them, it will happen.

Thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to talk to us.

Thanks for allowing me to share a little bit of myself and my work with your readers. Everyone can find me online at http://ccmalandrinos.com. For anyone interested in following my virtual book tour, they can visit www.pumpupyourbook.com or check out my new blog at http://littleshepherdchildrensbook.blogspot.com/. You can also find me on Twitter and Facebook.

Little Shepherd can be purchased at:

Guardian Angel Publishing



Giveaway #1 is for those readers who comment on Cheryl’s blog stops during the tour. One comment per person, per blog, through the length of the tour. Giveaway #2 is for those who purchase a copy of Little Shepherd between its release date of August 21, 2010 and the end of the virtual book tour on December 17, 2010. Proof of purchase must be submitted to Cheryl via email at cg20pm00(at)gmail(dot)com. Please substitute the appropriate symbols for the (at) and (dot). Those are zeroes in the address, not Os. If you prefer to mail or fax a copy of your proof of purchase, please contact Cheryl via email for that information.

Additional rules and guidelines can be found at the end of this post.

GIVEAWAY #1 (for people who comment during the VBT)

An autographed copy of Little Shepherd

Angel figurine printed with the Serenity Prayer

A Little Shepherd sticky note pad

Little Drummer Boy 2010 Hallmark Keepsake Ornament

Gift of Peace 2003 Hallmark Keepsake Ornament

Retail value of Giveaway #1 is $65 (rounded to nearest dollar)


GIVEAWAY #2 (for those who purchase a copy of Little Shepherd between August 21, 2010 and December 17, 2010)

A ”Sparkling Angel” scented jar candle from Yankee Candle

An angel gold and silver lid topper for the candle

An angel tea light holder from Yankee Candle

A Little Shepherd sticky note pad

A Jim Shore Nativity Star hanging ornament

A Jim Shore Holy Family hanging ornament

A $25 Amazon.com gift card

Retail Value of Giveaway #2 is $97 (rounded to the nearest dollar)

Here are the rules and guidelines for these giveaways:

1) For Giveaway #1 you must leave a comment on the hosting blog with a working email address for the author to contact you if you win.

2) For Giveaway #1 only the first comment with your working email address is used to determine eligibility (one comment, per blog).

3) You are eligible to win Giveaway #2 if you purchase a copy of Little Shepherd between August 21, 2010 and December 17, 2010 and provide the author with proof of purchase via email, mail, or fax prior to December 19, 2010. Little Shepherd is available at the Guardian Angel Publishing website, Amazon, Barnesandnoble.com, and at indiebound.org.

4) All giveaway winners will be selected using Random.org.

5) Prizes will be shipped via USPS with appropriate insurance. The author cannot guarantee receipt before December 25, 2010.

6) Author, blog hosts, and Pump Up Your Book are not responsible for lost or damaged goods.

7) The same person cannot win both giveaways.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Diana James and P.R. Me!

DIANA JAMES is a publicist based in Los Angeles who also manages a select list of authors. Through her firm, P.R. Me!, she provides promotional expertise to authors, artists and event coordinators. Diana has worked in publishing for more than 15 years for such firms as United Advertising Publications and the LA Times. At the latter she worked as General Manager and oversaw all functions of the Real Estate Magazine division. She is the past President of Sisters In Crime/LA.

Thank you for being here with us today!

Diana, authors can get an exact list of services by going to P.R. Me!, but could you explain, generally, what your firm, P.R. Me!, does for an author?

Since I work with both new authors as well as those who are established, I help each person with their specific needs. I find that many newer authors are learning their way in the publishing field and are in need of information and guidance. So I find that quite often I am consulting with authors to provide information about the market and the ways in which they can best reach their target readership.

Established authors are dealing with the constraints of time and seek out my services to reach a broader reader base and to tackle the marketing chores for which they don’t have the time or desire to do.

Much of our world now resides on the net, so e-newsletters and viral marketing are a must. I offer e-newsletter design, and distribute them to readers, librarians, and bookstores across the country. As for Facebook and Twitter, I work with those who need training or assistance in learning about, setting up, and/or managing their Facebook page and Twitter accounts.

What do you look for in a client? And what commitments do you, as the publicist, expect from your author clients?

First and foremost, I look for fiction writers in the mystery and thriller genres (I steer away from other genres and non-fiction). Second, I must be able to read and appreciate their work. This limits who I take on, but we are going to be working closely together, so it helps greatly if I love what I sell.

Third, the book must be a traditionally published novel. I’m not a book snob, I read self-published works. But when it comes to business, I must be matter of fact. When arranging signings and events for a self-pub’d work, it takes 4 times the amount of time and effort to get the results of a traditionally pub’d work.

Most importantly, the author must be motivated to work hard right along with me, it’s a partnership, we’re a team. The author has to have a desire to be seen and heard. It’s a much larger challenge to promote someone who does not wish to be out in public or who feels a bit too shy to be interviewed or sit on a panel with fellow authors.

In my fantasy, a publicist would handle every scrap of action related to publicity--from inception to execution to follow up. In reality, the author does bear some responsibility. What is the “division of labor”?

That’s a great question. A publicist is NOT a personal assistant. Anyone who thinks they will never have to respond to emails again because they hired a publicist will be in for a rude awakening.

For me, it is rather straight forward. I talk with a client first to find out their needs. After we’ve had time to chat about what the client's true needs are and what they are willing to pay for, I prepare a quote and general timeline. This way it is clear up front what duties I will perform, and also shows the timeframe of the campaign so that the author has realistic expectations

As for “division of labor”, I look for each author to put their own skills to work for them, as well as their own personal contacts. For instance, an author’s “warm circle” is extremely valuable; a publicist can’t pack your launch party as well as you can.

At what point in her career would an author benefit from a publicist?

From the first-time novelist to the established author, all can benefit. The new author benefits from the experience of a publicist who has contacts and can take initiative immediately so as not to waste a minute of that precious few months that a novel is a new release.

The established author is more concerned about time, the time to write while now dividing his/her time between the demands of marketing, travel, appearances, etc. Its very difficult for an author to do it all, one or more of these endeavors can suffer without adequate support.

If an author has a publicist, do they also need a manager? And what is the difference between a publicist and a manager for those who might not know?

If an author uses a publicist, they do not necessarily need a manager. The author must weigh what is needed for their career, and that need may change over time. A publicist is generally sought out to help an author for a limited period of time, that being for the launch of their book or a specific campaign.

A manager is generally involved with an established author and works closely with them on a year round basis. A manager’s duties are consultative as well as marketing and promotions related. They may also handle their client’s mail, email, website, travel schedule, bill payments, or other such personal tasks. Managers are compensated based on a percentage of the author’s earnings, whereas publicists are paid based upon quoted services and when those services are completed, they move on to the next client.

You also offer collateral materials, such as bookmarks, postcards and promo sheets. What’s the advantage of having a publicist handle this over ordering from, say, Vista Print?

There’s nothing wrong with an author creating his/her own materials and going thru Vista Prints. We are all quite cost-conscious these days. Many writers are quite talented graphically and do a great job. Not all are, however. Then there’s the established author who wants a more refined look or something more tailored to the look and feel of their work. That’s where I come in, when the look and feel of your materials takes on added importance. Does the look of your materials convey who you are now and where you are in your career?

Your publicist will also consult with you about the purpose of your materials. For instance, are you planning a mailing campaign? If so, do you know what the post office’s current size and weight restrictions are for postcards, what about the amount of area that should be kept as white space for postage metering and barcoding? Do you want a message imprinted on the back describing your book? What if you want the message on only half the run so that you can use the other half to imprint as you need …such as to promote an upcoming signing or share the latest review? How would you find the best rate on this split run? What weight of stock do you need? 10 pt, 12 pt, 16pt? What if your layout requires a bleed? Will Vistaprints accept this type of layout? If so, is there an added charge? Would it be of help to you to work with someone who has worked in the printing/publishing field and who also works to regularly find the best rates in marketplace?

Good gad! I had no idea there was so much to consider.

If an author wanted to consider using P.R. Me!, does your firm charge an hourly rate? A flat, annual rate? And are the collateral materials charged for separately?

I offer a set rate for most services and collateral pieces. Authors can contact me for a rate sheet, which lists a la carte pricing. Hourly rates for training, consultation, and graphic design can vary. Feel free to ask questions, contact me at diana@prmeinc.com

“Thank you for allowing me this opportunity. I’ve enjoyed my visit!”

Don't forget to visit Diana at P.R. Me!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"The Winter Queen" Book Review

I once asked a Russian woman sitting next to me at the manicurist, "Do Russians ever do comedy?"

It was a serious question. I love foreign films, and I've seen several Russian films. The subject matter always seemed so dire. Her response was that what a Russian might find funny, an American might not. Her example was an old lady on a park bench, drunk out of her mind. Point taken.

I think I have a better understanding of Russian humor after reading "The Winter Queen" by Boris Akunin (pen name for author Grigory Chkhartishvili).

The humor that's woven into the story is subtle, wry, and provides more of gentle smile than a tee-hee. The kind of thing that makes you grin and nod and feel that you and the author are sharing a joke between friends.

Erast Petrovich Fanodrin is a young member of the Moscow Police force--clerk and civil servant  fourteenth class to be exact. When an odd suicide comes to his attention, he gets permission from his superior to look into the matter. It's a journey he might wish he had never begun, because it leads to committed idealists and the secret society of Azazel. It leads to heartache, betrayal and, ultimately, death.

Akunin weaves his story in a fluid language that envelopes the reader in 1800's Russia. We are compelled to root for Erast because of his innocence. His youth makes him prone to daydreams that both embarrass and please us as we recognize our younger, dramatic selves. For instance, faced with a plunge into the cold Thames at night, his arms and legs bound, he imagines what his friends and enemies might say after he meets his demise. He's incensed to find that his captors, unaware that he's freed himself and is hiding nearby, don't wax poetic about his valor in the face of death but rather discuss the cold weather and rheumatism!

The conclusion is shocking, though inevitable, and this reader can't wait to delve into the next in the series,  "The Turkish Gamit", to find out how Erast has grown from his experiences. There are currently five Erast Fandorin novels available. Akunin also writes the Sister Pelagia series.

Visit the author on his web site, or better still, read Erast's adventures and discover a character you'll want to spend time with.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Birthday Surprises!

For my birthday this year, I decided to do something for those I love. After you hit a certain age, it stops being about receiving goodies and more about being grateful.

Since the hubby was at work and the parents are in another state, I started with the dog. The hubby will tell you I would have started with the dog anyway, but that's not true. I swear.

Anyone who tells you dogs can't understand people doesn't have a dog. I planned an extra long walk for Buster and me. First I started with his usual route and then, as it started getting warm, I stopped home to change into a tee. I said, "Give me a minute and we'll go back out." Instead of heading to the refrigerator for his post walk apple, he followed me around "talking" to me. (A low, throaty howl.) As soon as the tee was on, he did a happy dance to the door and waited for me to put his leash back on. He was more excited about the second walk than he was about the first.

It's like reading an exceptionally good novel. The normal walk is pleasant and enjoyable, but the surprise twist of a second walk is fabulous and reason for celebration.

I've been reading quite a few great mysteries lately, books that deliver that something special that makes them rise above the usual who-done-it. I've noticed a trend toward "the book within the book", and I find that I like it!

L.C. Tyler's character Ethelred Tressider (yes, I said Ethelred) is a a second rate mystery writer (or, as his agent Elsie concedes, might be third-rate aspiring to second rate), and the author treats us to samples of Ethelred's hysterical prose. Mark Schweizer's protagonist Hayden Konig wants to write like Raymond Chandler, and the included sample chapters take metaphors to a new level--a good thing if you want to laugh out loud.

I haven't yet discovered any more "books within books", so if anybody out there knows of any they can recommend, I'd love to hear from you.

Now I'm off to buy my birthday cake. Some childhood traditions should remain. Oh. And here's what the hubby got me for my birthday. Did I mention he's a swell guy?

The gift
The real thing

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

To Self Publish or Not to Self Publish, That is the Question

As I promised in my newsletter, here is the answer...sort of.

This is an interesting subject because there are so many blogs and articles out there that say The heck with traditional publishers. You can get rich quick by self-publishing your own material! Add the easy availability of Kindle and Nook, eReaders and Ipads, and it seems as if the road to publishing is simple, right? Maybe not.

This weekend, Sisters in Crime hosted a panel of fabulous, talented authors to discuss this dilemma, and boy were there some great opinions. The authors were Sue Ann Jaffarian, Pamela Samuels-Young, and Gay Degani. (See more at the end of the blog.) I moderated, and all four of us had varied experiences with self-publishing to bring to the table.

I took the issue of quality off the table right from the beginning. All three of the panelists are top caliber writers worthy of any traditional publisher. Before you even consider the question of whether you should self-publish or not, your writing has to be that good. Fortunately, you can use writing groups, objective readers, and hire editors to help you reach this level of writing.

Sue Ann self-published her first novel after seeking a traditional publisher. At that time, iUniverse was a good choice for her. She worked her hind end off in marketing, and the buzz created over her books (and the sales) generated enough interest that she was able to place her Odelia Grey series with traditional publisher Midnight Ink.

She warned of the dangers of self-publishing your novel should you intend to seek a traditional career. Many publishers wouldn't look at her series because she had self-published. I mentioned that at a writing conference, Poisoned Pen Press said they wouldn't look at an author who had self-published because they didn't want to be stuck with a potentially unprofessional book on their back list.

Pamela went the traditional route first, but she wasn't happy with her publisher as they focused on romances and she wrote legal thrillers. She left that publisher and had difficulties getting picked up again. A writer friend had advised that authors should have a book per year out in front of their readers, so with her husband's encouragement, Pamela self-published her next novel.

Pamela set up her own Publishing company. She researched her genre of books, noting everything from the color of the paper used, the number of chapters, the word count, etc. She highly recommends outlining novels that you like to see how the writer paces and structures their story.

Then she hired a cover designer, an inside page designer, and all of the people she would need to make her product as professional-looking as any other book on the shelf. She uses a distributor to place her books rather than sell them out of the back of her trunk like some other self-published authors.

Sue Ann pointed out that authors who have had success with self-publishing--Pamela, J.A. Konrath--are authors who already had a reader base when they tried that rout. If you're starting without a fan base, getting recognized will be difficult. Also, without the creds of being traditionally published, many avenues are closed to you--offers to speak at conferences, professional writing groups, etc.

Pamela mentioned that a traditional publisher would have to make her a great offer before she would go back. She is an established author with a growing fan base and her royalties are higher as a self-published author. She also wants a book out approximately every year, something that can be difficult through traditional publishers.

When Gay Degani self-published Pomegranate Stories, she wrote the book and designed the cover herself. She produced the book through Lulu.com, intending it only as a gift for friends. The book, which she had with her and which I have read, is professional-looking and a quality product. She agreed that marketing it to readers is a difficult process, one that she hasn't really tackled.

Gay also made a great point. She noted that everything you do to get your name out there is a step forward. She has a multitude of short stories published in anthologies, magazines, and ezines, and every publication is another step forward, as is blogging, appearing on panels etc. Writers should recognize and be happy that they are moving in the right direction.

The bottom line? Decide if you want a professional career in writing. If you do, you may want to try the traditional route first. Either route you choose is going to require a lot of work. Resist the urge to get the book published and make sure it's the best it can be. Both traditionally published authors and self-published authors are going to have to market hard, and self-published authors will have to work even harder to get recognized and get their product out to the readers. 

Sue Ann Jaffarian is the best-selling author of the award-winning Odelia Grey mystery series, as well as the popular Ghost of Granny Apples mystery series.  Out in bookstores now is Murder In Vein, the first book in Sue Ann’s new vampire mystery series.  In addition to writing, Sue Ann is a full-time paralegal for a Los Angeles law firm, and is sought after as a motivational speaker. Here is her website.

Pamela Samuels Young is a practicing attorney and Essence bestselling author of four legal thrillers.  Her newest release, Buying Time, won the 2010 Fiction Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, which called the book “a captivating, suspenseful thriller.” In addition to working as Managing Counsel for Labor and Employment Law at Toyota, the Compton native is the Fiction Writing Expert for BizyMoms.com and is on the Board of Directors of the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.  A desire to see women and people of color depicted as attorneys in today's legal fiction prompted Pamela to start writing despite a busy career as an attorney.  Pamela is a graduate of USC, Northwestern University and UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law. Here is her website.

Gay Degani has published in journals and anthologies including two The Best of Every Day Fiction editions and her own collection, Pomegranate Stories.  Her stories online can be read at Smokelong Quarterly, The Battered Suitcase, Night Train, 10 Flash, Short Story America, Emprise Review, as well as other publications. Nominated for a Pushcart, she has been a finalist or short listed at Glimmer Train and The Fish Anthology and won a first place at Women on Writing’s Quarterly Flash Fiction contest.  She edits EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles and blogs at Words in Place.  Here is her website.