Wednesday, June 30, 2010

P.F. Chisholm and Diana Gabaldon at the Poisoned Pen Conference

(Picture, left to right - Diana Gabaldon, P.F. Chisholm)

Although Dana Stabenow and Diana Gabaldon were to interview P.F. Chisholm at Saturday night's Poisoned Pen Conference, Chisholm needed nothing more than an introduction to be off and running on her favorite subject, Elizabethan England.

Under her real name, Patricia Finney, Chisholm wrote three books featuring Simon Ames and David Becket, secret agents for Queen Elizabeth, in 1580s England. Those books are Firedrake's Eye, Unicorn's Blood, and Gloriana's Torch.

As Grace Cavendish, she wrote some of the books in the Lady Grace Cavendish Mystery series, aimed at readers 8-12.
Finney said the concept of the Lady Grace books was brought to her, and she agreed to write them. They feature a young girl who is a maid of honor in Queen Elizabeth's court. Lady Grace is a sleuth, a Nancy Drew in the rough. Finney wrote the first three, Assassin, Betrayal, and Conspiracy, and "F", Feud. They're alphabetical because they're aimed at girls, and some girls are quite organized, unlike Finney herself.

She's also written two children's books about a dog named Jack.

But, she was actually there to talk about her latest book in the Sir Robert Carey series, A Murder of Crows. Chisholm said if Carey didn't exist, she would have had to invent him. He's just what people see when they think Elizabethan courtier. And, he was real. He was a close relative of Elizabeth I.

Chisholm mentioned Phillippa Gregory's book, made into a movie, The Other Boleyn Girl, about Mary. Henry VIII had an official mistress, Mary Boleyn. Since he was unable to produce a son, Mary did what the official mistress is supposed to do, and became pregnant. So, she was married off to Sir William Carey. Her son was named Henry. Then, Anne was invited to be the official mistress, and she said no. Since Henry wanted to marry her, that was the start of the Reformation in England. Spain finds it hilarious that the entire Church changed because the king wanted to marry his mistress.

In time, Elizabeth's half-brother, Henry Carey, was made Lord Chamberlain and did what he was supposed to do, dealt with the revolt of the northern earls. Henry Carey married Anne Morgan and had at least eight children. Robert Carey was the seventh son. That meant, by the right of primogeniture, the eldest gets the entire estate. But, Robert Carey was sent to France, where he learned French, and to "make good clothes." That didn't mean he sewed them; it meant he knew how to wear them. He became a fashion victim and went into debt. At one time, he was 3,000 pounds in debt after spending ten years at Court. Chisholm then led the audience through a hilarious computation, using the Elizabethan beer standard to come to the conclusion that Robert Carey was three million dollars in debt. To get out of debt, he bet his friends he could walk 90 miles in ten days. In 1590, he won his bet by walking ninety miles from London.

However, in 1592, Robert Carey felt a pressing need to leave London. He could have been arrested for being in debt, and spent the rest of his life in prison. So, he went to Carlisle to be Her Majesty's Marshall in the wild north. This is all true.

So, this fancy, well-dressed man turned up in Carlisle. He became friends with James VI of Scotland, and Deputy Warden. He was very successful in his job, chasing cattle rustlers, and hanging people.

In 1603, he went to London to see Queen Elizabeth in her last illness, and it's his account in his memoirs that anyone familiar with her death has read. Upon her death, he immediately rode to Edinburgh, taking two days, so he could be the first to tell the King of Scotland, now James I of England, that he was king since she'd died.

Diana Gabaldon managed to interject that she loved Chisholm's character, Sergeant Dodd, before Chisholm was off and running again.

Chisholm said she loves history in that people don't really change. Power doesn't change a lot. Gabaldon followed up with the comment that in historical fiction it's one of the good things that people don't change. When people go on holiday, they are still reduced to the same basic needs as their ancestors. Where are we staying? They need shelter. What are we eating? They need food, and way down on the chain is sex.

Barbara Peters commented that she liked the combination of words in Chisholm's titles. The books in the Sir Robert Carey series are A Famine of Horses, A Season of Knives, A Surfeit of Guns, A Plague of Angels, and, now, A Murder of Crows. Chisholm said the angel refers to a gold coin, and that book deals with forgery. Gabaldon's beloved Sgt. Dodd has the lead in A Murder of Crows. Chisholm tries to alternate between Carey and Dodd.

P.F. Chisholm said her next book will be set in Oxford, when the Queen's on progress. She didn't know that the Queen actually went to Oxford then, but she never lets history get in the way of a good tale. That book will be called A Riot of Scholars, and there's a fight between the scholars and the townies.

Diana Gabaldon asked her how she did research. She said, you said you're not organized, which I totally believe. Chisholm said she relies on the archaeological method of filing. It's a layer system. If she saw it recently, she knows it's near the top.

Diana Gabaldon recently had knee surgery, so she didn't take spend much time talking about her work. She said her therapist had to teach her to walk after the surgery, using the heaven method. It's up with the good leg, since it's going to heaven, and down with the bad.

The paperback edition of An Echo in the Bone is due out June 22. Some people might not like the color of the book, but Gabaldon was asked what color she wanted, and she picked green.

The book has an excerpt in it from Diana Gabaldon's graphic novel, The Exile. Diana once wrote comic books for Walt Disney. So, she wanted to partner with Ballantine for graphic novels. It's a new Jamie and Clare story, set within the parameters of Outlander, but it's not the same story. It's from the point of view of Jamie and his godfather, and starts before Outlander. The graphic novel is due out Sept. 21.

Although the Poisoned Pen Conference was set to go on into the late night, with a pajama party and author readings, I left, exhausted after a full week of conference and authors.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Beth Hoffman for Authors @ The Teague

Have you ever corresponded with someone, and just knew that you were meant to be friends? Beth Hoffman and I have that kind of friendship. We "met" when I reviewed her debut novel, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, for Library Journal. Beth tried to send me a thank you note, since she was so pleased to receive a starred review in Library Journal. That note went a little astray, to our Main Library first, but I emailed her when I received it. We've been writing to each other ever since, following each other on Twitter, and Beth vowed that even though her book tour didn't bring her to Arizona, we would meet sometime this year.

Beth and I finally met on Saturday. She had a horrid flight, delays in Kentucky, delays in Atlanta, but she arrived in Phoenix, and I picked her up at her hotel. We sat and talked, couldn't stop talking, for an hour before we went to the Velma Teague Library for her appearance at the library. When Beth told me she was coming in to see me, I asked if she'd speak at the library for Authors @ The Teague.

I can't say enough about Beth's generosity in giving up time to be at the library. And, she began her program by saying that she loves libraries. They matter to her, and they should matter to everyone even more now.

Beth told us nobody was more surprised to be standing in front of us than she was. Why was she shocked? She was born on a farm in rural Ohio. Her older brother didn't want to play with her. But, she had a chicken. There's even a picture of her on Beth's website. She called her "Chickie." And, there were garden toads that she hauled around.

Like other children, Beth had imaginary friends from an early age. She kept them in a shoebox under her bed. And, she glued rooms for them in those boxes, so she was destined for interior design at an early age. She had dreams of being a writer, but those weren't dreams to purse. The family didn't have much, and her mother told her to get a career so she could make a living. So, she studied art and design, and finally opened her own studies. She had employees! She talked a bank into giving her buckets of money! And, she realized she had to pay for it. So, Beth worked long hours, 60-70 hours a week, and then up to 75. Then, she knew she wasn't feeling right, and she didn't look right. And, one Friday night she went to bed, feeling like she had the flu. She got out of bed the next morning, and went down, and couldn't move. She felt as if she'd been poisoned. But, she lived in an historic house that had been made into apartments. She had the second and third floor, and two cats, Willie and Pringle. She knew she should be in the hospital, but she didn't want to call 911 because she could just see her cats getting out when the ambulance arrived, and the cats would get hit. And, she didn't want the EMTs to let the cats out.

Beth ended up calling her secretary, and all she could say was, "I need help." Her secretary lived forty minutes away, but could tell it was serious, and arrived in about half that time. But, she still refused to call the ambulance. She was nearly dead by the time she arrived at the hospital. Beth had the same disease Jim Henson died of, organ failure caused by Streptococcus pyogenes. She had kidney failure, and renal heart failure. The doctors knew on Saturday that Sunday should be her last day. But, she made it.

Beth went home, but she was quarantined in her apartment since her immune system was so bad. And, one day she noticed how the light came in the sheer curtains, and the way it hit her colored perfume bottles. And, she thought, I've been working and killing myself, and I've never seen this beauty.

So, she thought of five words that have become her mantra. These are Beth's five words, "Thank you for this day." I have this day, even though I almost didn't have yesterday.

And, while she was quarantined, she found a box with the stories she had written when she was little. Now, she loved interior design. In fact, she was blessed with it. But, it no longer had the same fascination to her. It was as if a part of her died when she almost died in the hospital.

Beth went back to work, but she knew she wanted to pursue her writing in some fashion. So, she began writing story ads for the furniture pieces she wanted to sell, and ran them in the newspaper. Those ads were a hit. The ads ran on Saturday, and she'd be flooded at the store because people loved the people Beth created and wrote about in the ads.

Then, a desk came in that she had ordered. She loved it. It was so elaborate and beautiful. Beth said it was mahogany, over-the-top, and priced to match. And, she knew she needed to write a very special ad, or she would end up owning that desk. And, she wrote that ad, which she saved to read to us later. A doctor bought it.

Now, people and other businesses had called saying they liked the ads, and wanted to know who Beth's advertising agency was. But, at times, she was a little depressed. She thought nothing's wrong. She had a successful business to run. Then, a man called. He said his wife was too shy to call and tell her they loved the ads. Their refrigerator was covered with the ads. They wanted to know those people. And, then he said, "If you can write stories that make us want to know these people, you should write." It's why Beth now says, "Be mindful of the words of strangers."

Beth said she was standing in her shop in January 2004, watching it snow. And, they were beautiful, big snowflakes. And, watching them, she just knew she was going to leave the business to write a book. She wanted out. She was never dreaming what if it doesn't sell. So, ninety days later, she had done all the paperwork, sold the business, and left.

And, Beth started to write. Her story came from one summer when she went to visit her Great-Aunt Mildred Caldwell. Then she had that writer's alchemy. She heard a young girl's voice, CeeCee Honeycutt. Hoffman stopped what she was writing; deleted it, and opened a new document. It took her three years and three months to write the book that became Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, and nine months to edit it.

Beth knew the chances of selling her book were slim. But, she sent query letters to agents, beginning with some of the top ones. She heard from one in Australia, who asked her to send the first three chapters. When she received a follow-up email, she was afraid to open it, but, when she did, it said, "I love it. Send me the whole book." That was on a Friday night. On Sunday, she realized, "I've Got Mail." Hoffman just knew she'd been rejected. But, the message said, "This book swept me away," and it was signed Catherine.

A few minutes later, the phone rang. (I wish you could have been here to hear Beth's imitation of her agent's accent.) She said, "Hello, this is Catherine." She was calling from Australia to say she'd like to take Beth on as a client. Beth said she has the right agent. Catherine told her everyone in publishing was in Frankfurt, so she would send it on Monday.

On Tuesday, at 1:00, the phone rang. "Hello, this is Catherine. Have you ever heard of Pamela Dorman?" (Pamela Dorman is a prominent editor at VikingPenguin.) "She wants it. She wants if off the table, but five others want it." Then, she called again, saying there were more offers for Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. Beth thought the amounts offered were amazing, her agent told her they weren't accepting them. She said, "This is when it gets exciting." Then, the phone rang, and she had the final offer. It was so shocking Beth couldn't believe it. But, she took a chance for her dream.

Beth's husband calls her Queenie, and her said, "Oh, Queenie. I knew it. The book's wonderful."

Twelve days after the book came out, she received the news that Saving CeeCee Honeycutt had just hit the New York Times Best Seller list. At that point, she pulled out a copy of that ad she had written four years earlier before she sold her business. That ad for the desk was written for the Cincinnati Enquirer. It told the story of a woman who quit her job and her marriage on the same day, by fax. Then, Bunny disappeared. And, two years later a redhead surfaced, who had changed her life and become a successful writer, and bought that beautiful desk.

Beth told us that ad was the story of a woman who changed her life. And, here she is. She went on to say, it's all about finding that fire. Beth's fire was to write. She went for it, and it's been a wonderful ride.

Before taking questions, Beth said she still can't believe she was up there talking to all of us. She has an artistic personality, and she's really an introvert. But, she loves her characters so much, CeeCee and Oletta, and she can share those wonderful characters. And, she looks out at the audience, and sees the faces that came to see her. And, people read the book. When she sees the faces, she wants to thank each one for the day.

The first question was about Oletta. Was she based on someone? Beth said she was crazy about Oletta. She's sort of based on someone. When she went to visit her aunt, her Aunt Mildred had a cook named Betty. The young Beth was enamoured of her. She was the first African-American she really knew. She loved Betty's dialect, and how straightforward she was. Betty had been downtown, and someone hurt her feelings. The gardener knew that, and asked her what she was going to do about it. Betty slammed a frying pan down, and said, "I could stay mad, but it'd take too much time out of my day." Beth was nine years old, but she remembered. Even so, she was often surprised by what Oletta would say as she was writing about her. Other characters came out of her imagination. They were her shoe box children.

Beth doesn't use an outline. She said her characters dictate where they're going. The writing then flows. She doesn't know where she's going with the story.

Beth was asked if she's writing another book, and answered that she's just started one. Since Saving CeeCee Honeycutt came out, she's received thousands and thousands of emails. Many of them want a sequel. Hoffman felt pressure to write a sequel until she realized that CeeCee is magic at twelve, like a butterfly. As a teenager, CeeCee's magic would be destroyed. So, CeeCee is going to stay twelve.

Making that decision freed Beth to write another book She's started a story of a girl who spent her formative years in Kentucky, where her home backed up to Red River Gorge. She finds a chair in a ditch, and fixes it up. As an adult, she makes her living doing faux finish work on antiques in Charleston. There's are a couple little mysteries in the book. Once again, it's a character-driven story, and the sense of place is powerful. Beth said she's mad for the story, loving it. It's coming hard and fast.

Pamela Dorman kept asking if she's writing. Beth said a book tour can be grueling. You're on the move every day, doing TV and radio, book store appearances, meeting your escort. It's absolutely exhausting. And, then, she received email from her publisher saying, while you're flying, it would be a good idea to think of your next novel. She said she didn't even know where she was some days, let alone trying to think of the next novel.

A woman from Ohio asked Beth where she grew up, and she answered on Route 6, Kirtland, Ohio, northeast of Cleveland. It's in Geauga County, near Amish country.

Beth was told her themes are so Southern, they could have sworn she was from the South. She captured it perfectly. Beth said when she was nine, and went to visit her Aunt Mildred, she had culture shock of the finest sort. She asked, "Can I be a Southerner? And, her aunt told her, "Honey, you can be anything you want to be." Beth loved Savannah and Charleston. As soon as she could, she moved to Kentucky, which was as close to the south as she could get at that time.

But, while working on CeeCee, Beth walked every street in Savannah. She talked to people. One woman told her, "Honey, you should move here." Beth said part of her soul belongs in the south.

A writing instructor at Arizona State said she directs her students to Beth's text to help them develop character. What could she tell her students? Hoffman answered that she found people fascinating to watch. She watches nuances. She watches for color. Why do people do things? What is their motivation. Nobody is all good or all bad. Our quirks make us who we are. Beth said she's an artist, and she studies body language. She looks for a sense of space and place. It's an important attribute to be awake and aware. Absorb what's around us, good and bad. When she started to write, it was like opening Pandora's box. She had to open up.

Beth Hoffman will be hitting the road again in November, when the paperback of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt comes out.

The next question asked how much of Beth is in CeeCee. Beth responded that the truth is CeeCee is her own girl, but there's a big part of her in her. Hoffman had difficult things in her life as a little girl. She focused on reading, and her imaginary friends in her shoe boxes. But, CeeCee is much wiser than Beth was at that age. For instance, Beth never would have done the brassiere incident in the book. It just happened. CeeCee is real to Beth. She'll always be twelve. She's so much wiser than Beth was, but some of the things she went through made her understand CeeCee's background.

Beth said she also has a great affinity for the elderly. She had a job working at a nursing home when she was seventeen.

Then she was asked if her friends were supportive when she made that big change in her life. She said that was truth on the rocks. She thought she had a number of friends, but when you make a big transition, you find out who your friends are. Some told her she was crazy or that she'd make a fool of herself. They were people she thought of as friends, but now that she wouldn't be decorating their houses, they only had criticism. Others said, I'm so proud of you. You went for it.

Now that she's been on the NYTimes Best Seller list, she gets notes from some of those people, wanting to go to lunch or dinner. But, they couldn't invite her to dinner while she was writing. Her good friends were there for her. In fact, her neighbor, Marlane, saw her through a complete meltdown after two years of writing. She's her best friend across the street. And, she called her up, and said, "I'll never make it." And, Marlane came straight from her garden, brought wine, and said, "You're my hero." After that, Beth never looked back. But, as to the people who now send her invitations? They get notes saying, we'll have dinner on the 12th... (of never).

One audience member commented that the women were so strong. Beth said there is such beauty in the strength of the women coming together and helping each other. Women are so complex. She said she loved her grandpa and dad. They were farmers, the salt of the earth. But, she always knew what they were going to say and do. Women are unique and complex. They have energy. The women in the story are so different, but they come together for the good of a little girl. She said the elderly have so much wisdom and knowledge. She tried to get that across in the book. Except for CeeCee's early years, the book only covers ninety days, and she had to make an impact. She wanted the book to be funny, and make you cry. It's a little girl's experiences.

In the book, Beth talks about CeeCee's Life Book. How did she come up with that? Beth answered that when she was young, someone died. It was her first concept of death as permanent. Afterward, her mother was hanging clothes, and she asked her aobut death. Her mother said, well, I think when you're born, your name is written in a book, and God writes the day we die, and the pages in between are empty. Beth hated that idea, that the pages were all blank. She likes to think there's something on the pages. So, Mrs. Odell tells CeeCee about her Life Book.

Beth said she herself is still a child. She was always tender toward animals. She gets a childlike kick out of things. She's in awe of things. She observes life with awe and wonder. She stayed childlike.

The protagonist in her new book is thirty-five, but her childhood is in the book as well.

Beth ended the program by saying she's been doing programs since January to audiences as small as six, and as large as 354, with everything in between. Each event is special. But, she received a wonderful energy from the audience at Velma Teague, and could see the spirit in their eyes.

And, she said she wanted to give me a gift. That starred review in Library Journal meant a great deal to her. I just got the book. Once we "met" online, she knew we were kindred spirits. I was written on a page in her Life Book. So, she had decided that she would present to each person who hosted her a Savannah Garden hat, and, what made it even more special is that Beth made that hat herself. So, I cried and laughed when she gave me the hat. And, she told the audience she might spend 49 years in the Atlanta airport that night, but she was glad she came.

We finished the day together as friends do. We went to my place. My friend who cares so much for animals was able to play with three of my cats before we went to dinner at the Roaring Fork in Scottsdale. We had a wonderful dinner with good food, good conversation, and good friendship before she left for the airport, and home.

Thank you, Beth, for a magical day.


Beth Hoffman's website is

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman. Viking, ©2010. ISBN 9780670021390 (hardcover), 320p.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Poisoned Pen Conference

The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale had a three day conference called, "I Came Late..." The event kicked off at the bookstore on Thursday night with a program, "Three Dames and a Guy." That title represented the characters, not the authors, since there were four authors, Stefanie Pintoff, Zoë Sharp, Jodi Compton, and Lisa Brackmann.

Before the program, I had the chance to meet Stefanie Pintoff, Edgar Award winner for Best First Novel for In the Shadow of Gotham. When I first read the ARC of that book, I had been impressed and asked her if she would answer questions for an interview. She recognized me from the picture on my blog.

Barbara Peters, owner of the bookstore, said this year's conference is an experiment. About six years ago, it was at the Poisoned Pen's annual conference that International Thriller Writers and Thrillerfest were born. The thriller writers were complaining they received no respect from Mystery Writers of America, and Peters told them to get over it. Start their own organization if they didn't like it. So, by the end of the weekend, they are formed ITW, and David Morrell and Gayle Lynds were the first officers.

This year, with the economy, they thought they'd offer a free conference, and people could come and go to whichever program they wanted. Some programs were held at the Poisoned Pen, and Saturday's would be at the Arizona Biltmore.

Then, she asked the authors if they would discuss origin stories, since they all had unusual roads to publication. She began with Lisa Brackmann, whose debut novel is Rock, Paper, Tiger. Her book, set in China, could be called, "Less foot binding, more rock." Brackmann said she blind queried an agent who liked her query. He then read her partial manuscript, and was able to sell it.

Blackmann first went to China when she was twenty, shortly after the Cultural Revolution. Then, she went back in 1993, and after 1999, went back once a year. China isn't used as a setting for contemporary fiction. But, it's a country of contrast. In Bejing, there are 5,000 year old temples right beside modern turbo-charged development. And, Blackmann said she wanted the book to sell, so she made it a thriller.

Stefanie Pintoff's second book is called A Curtain Falls. But, she came to publishing as a contest winner. She said she took the Cinderella route to publication. She entered a St. Martin's Press contest, and the prize was publication. The deadline pushed her to finish the book. Some of her favorite books had been winners of some St. Martin's contests. The Best First Crime Novel was a brand new contest. It wasn't for traditional mysteries, as one of their contests is. Pintoff used that deadline to motivate herself to finish the manuscript. Then, she received the call that said they picked her manuscript as the winner for publication.

Barbara mentioned that St. Martin's runs several contests. They team up with Private Eye Writers of America for the Best First Private Eye Novel. They have a Tony Hillerman Writing Prize, given to a novel set in the Southwest. It's not given every year, but Christine Barber and Roy Chaney have won. They also have a Best First Traditional Mystery winner.

Pintoff went on to win the Edgar from MWA. In the Shadow of Gotham was also nominated for the Anthony, Agatha, and Sue Feder Historical Mystery Awards. Her second book is out now, and she's working on the third.

Jodi Compton was the author of two Sarah Pribeck novels in 2003 and 2004. Now, with her latest book, Hailey's War, she's reinvented herself. When Peters asked her why the gap between books, Compton responded that she didn't handle success well.

When, Compton wrote her first book, she was working on a newspaper copy desk forty hours a week. However, those were four ten-hour days, so she could write for three days. You can read about that time in a Q & A called "The Road to War" on her website. At that point, had quit her job. She had money and no job. There was a three year gap in which she wrote nothing publishable. Then, in 2006-2007, she worked on Hailey's War. It took seven weeks to write it, but the book was a hard sell.

Zoë Sharp, author of the Charlie Fox thrillers, told us she wrote her first novel at the age of 15. It received rave rejections, which is disheartening, particularly to
a fifteen-year-old. But, she started writing by writing nonfiction for magazines. Eventually, she wrote for motoring magazines, about interesting cars. Then, she had a regular column, and every time her photo appeared, she received death threats. They were very artistically done, and could have been used as a model for death threat letters. They said they knew where she lived, and her days were numbered. That started her thinking, "What if..." How would I react if I had to handle a threatening situation? So, the first and eighth book in the Charlie Fox series are out right now. The fourth book was called First Drop because Sharp was thinking of the first drop of a roller coaster. You hit the first drop; there are no brakes, and you're stuck until the end. The U.S. publisher, St. Martin's, said they loved it. They wanted to publish it, and ignore the previous books not set in the U.S. Then they wanted her second book to have second in the title. The next book was going to be called Fall Line, the fastest way downhill when skiing, but St. Martin's wanted Second Shot. They said, it's our suggestion, but remember who suggested it. So, Sharp's eighth book is out in England, and a small Texas press, Busted Flush, just brought out the first one, Killer Instinct, in the U.S.

Peters asked the authors what skill or profession they gave their characters. Lisa Brackmann said she needed her book was set in contemporary China, and dealt with the Iraq War, and the war on terror. So, she made her character a young nineteen-year-old medic who had been there. The other legacy of the war was her PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. That provides for tension in the book.

Compton's Hailey is a West Pointer who didn't finish. She's working as a bike messenger in San Francisco. Hailey's first bike was actually Jodi's that she had when she was living in San Luis Obispo. When she moved up to the Bay Area, she rode bikes a lot on trails. Hailey is twenty-three when the book starts, and no one in the book is over twenty-four.

Jodi was thirty and thirty-one when she wrote about Sarah Pribec, a character who was twenty-eight and twenty-nine. She was thirty-six when she wrote about the younger Hailey. Compton was living downtown among young people. One night, she was at a party, sitting on the steps having a beer, when someone behind her starting urinating. She didn't turn around to look, but she thought at the time, young people aren't like you and me. It's a whole different tribe. So, she wrote about them and their world. She made Hailey a bike messenger because she needed to have her do something scary and risk-taking.

Charlie Fox, Zoë Sharp's character, is ex-military. But, she's not a veteran. Charlie's backstory is that she was selected for Special Forces, but never makes it through training. That's the career that would have suited her best, though. So, she's looking for something to do.

Sharp said she'd read about the hazing and bullying of trainees in England, so she made Charlie a victim of people she should ahve been able to trust. And, she gave her a motorcycle because that makes her very vulnerable. If you ride a motorcycle in England, you're viewed as an outsider. It's assumed if you ride a motorcycle you must also run a meth lab. You have to assume you're invisible if you're on a motorcycle.

Charlie was that outsider, and she'd lost direction. Many ex-military go into close protection. The ex-military are badly prepared to transition into regular life in Britain.

Compton mentioned the invisibility of bikers, called it SMIDSY - "Sorry, Mate. I didn't see you." She said she'd washed out of motorcycles when she tried to learn to ride them. And, Hailey washes out of West Point.

With Stefanie Pintoff's books, the reader is dropping back a century. They're historical mysteries, set in 1905-1906 in New York City. Her detective is a street-smart gudy. But, the General Slocum tragedy changed his life. He lost his fiancée, and every household in his neighborhood was affected. Over 1,000 people died. It was the worst tragedy in NYC before 9/11.

So, Pintoff's character's trait is his empathy to people who have lost more than they should. He's adaptable to new methods and technology, and he wants to learn more. He'll use photography at crime scenes. He'll use fingerprints as much as he can. At that time, the New York Prison Bureau fingerprinted everyone. Pintoff's Simon Ziele is interested in new techniques to help him solve crimes. He's interested in all things new and forensic. So, he partners with a criminologist in both books. He's a new breed of policeman who uses new techniques, and is flexible. Pintoff likes that, because at that period of time, science helps you along, but it's too early to completely solve crime, so he still had to think. When Stefanie was asked if her character explores phrenology, which was popular at the time, she answered that at the time, criminologists knew it was bunk to think that a person's character could be derived from the shape of the head. But, she does explore handwriting analysis. That's another double-edged field. It was kind of accepted, and kind of not. It was very useful for forgery, for instance. But, an off-shoot of that was using it for personality judgment. In Pintoff's second book, A Curtain Falls, the killer leaves notes by his victims. Would handwriting help solve it?

Setting was the next topic. Pintoff lives in New York, but the New York she writes about. How does she make it authentic? Pintoff said, for her, it's more important to be authentic. Even if it doesn't exist, it should feel as if it should. She researches in libraries for the history. She loves old menus and old subway maps. Her favorite book is the 1906 Pocket Guide to New York City. It has subway maps, and timeschedules. Hotels and restaurants ground the world. When asked if she's held back by history, does it limit her, she answered she uses it as a springboard.

Blackmann spent thirty years going to China. She work in film, so she needs to set scenes in cities she can visualize. She uses real places. That was a challenge for the Iraq scenes since she couldn't go there. She researched. She ran a film research department, so some of her story came out of her research. Knowing China, those sections were the biggest challenge because she couldn't set her book in 2006-2007. It couldn't be in the period just before or during the Olympics, because they transformed the city of Bejing. She had to write it after the Olympics. Lisa said setting is very important to give a taste of what the place is like.

In discussing research, the story of the Uyghurs came up. Blackmann said that real story deals with ethnic tension. In northwest China, the Uyghurs are a Turkish people. There has been ethnic tension between them and the Han Chinese forever. China is concerned with their frontiers and securing areas. That's why they're obsessed with Tibet. They deal with that concern by moving Chinese people into areas. Lisa's book was sold in May 2009. On July 5, 2009, horrible riots broke out there. The violence was Uyghurs on Han first. Then the Army came in. It was a horrible tragedy.

Jodi Compton said she went to a panel on research when she was at Bouchercon, and Julia Spencer-Fleming said, "My books are riddled with errors." Jodi said hers aren't quite that bad.

Hailey goes on a quest to Mexico in Hailey's War. Hailey's oldest friend is Serena, a Mexican-American gang-banger in East L.A. She runs her own gang of girls. She calls Hailey and asks her to take a teenage girl home to Mexico. The girl is too innocent, too naive, too beautiful to be in a gang. Hailey's job is to drive her back to rural Mexico. On the way, they are ambushed. Hailey's shot, and the girl disappears.

Peters went on to discuss gangs, saying of course she knows about gangs, and we have gangs in Phoenix, but she hadn't realized there were girl gangs, and how they got into them, being jumped in. Compton said guys usually take a beating to be initiated, jumped in to a gang, or sometimes they allow themselves to be shot. The jumping in for a girl usually has something to do with sex. For instance, they roll dice, and have to have sex with that many of the gang members. Serena doesn't do that. Girls in her gang take a beating from another girl. And, she won't take them younger than fifteen, their Quinceñera year when they become young ladies. She has morals. Barbara said she just hadn't thought of young women doing that.

Hailey's War is a clean, classic title. Compton had a long list of potential titles, and many of them were gang-type titles. She didn't want that because it isn't gang material first and foremost. It's a book about relationships.

Sharp stresses the importance of setting. Setting tells you about plot, and can be another character. The strongest books are ones with strong settings. And, she does do lots of research when she picks a theme. Fourth Day is set inside a cult in California. She did lots of research on cults and met someone who grew up in one. She looked at Waco. When the DEA went in, they knew they'd been compromised. They knew the Branch Davidians were expecting them. It wasn't troops they were sending in. They made the agents write their blood groups on their throats.

Sharp's Second Shot is set in Boston and other diverse small town settings. And, the Internet is great. For instance, Sharp could see a 360 degree view of the Boston Aquarium. But, you can't pick up the little pieces of information unless you actually go to the site. At the Aquarium, there is a cafe on the upper floor. And, the first thing that hits you when you enter is the smell of fried fish, which seems a little cruel for an aquarium.

Peters asked Lisa Blackmann about the importance of gaming to the young people of China. She said the Internet is censored, but at the same time, it allows them to be connected to the world. Games provide an outlet for young men who have the pressure of a highly competitive society. In a virtual world, they can act out, and express themselves. It's an outlet. World of Warcraft is hugely popular. There are even protests in the virtual world that reflect the ones in China. There are enormous demonstrations in contemporary China, and a great deal of unrest. There were 90,000 protests in one year. They even protested and threw someone over in World of Warcraft. So, Blackmann used gaming as part of the world in Rock-Paper-Tiger.

Jodi said it was a hard sell with Hailey's War for the publishing community. It's a crime novel, approaching a thriller. But, category is important to getting sold. Publishers have ideas that don't always reflect what readers want. Sometimes it does, though.

Peters said branding has a lot to do with it, and she blames James Patterson. Branding has been so destructive to publishing. It's why there's a successful small press movement right now.

Sharp said in the U.K., books aren't broken down into all of the subgenres. It's mystery and thriller, or true crime. She heard a new term called "cutting edge cozy," and could only think they were using titanium knitting needles. And, her books aren't easily classified.

She was asked about translations, and Sharp said Brits have absorbed a lot of American slang from movies. But, people do understand the language. Charlie is a Brit. Everything is seen from Charlie's viewpoint in the books, and everything is in her head, so it shouldn't be American English. Sharp's had a lot of errors from copywriters who tried to Americanize the language. They try to translate parts of a car for instance, and they get it wrong.

The final question addressed the next books.

Stefanie Pintoff was asked where her books are going after the third one. She answered that whatever she does will have an historical focus. She loves that periord. She hopes she'll be able to flip between series and standalones.

Zoë Sharp is on her eighth Charlie Fox book, and has just delivered her ninth to the publisher.

Jodi Compton said she likes standalones. She likes interesting characters, and interesting situations. She would like to continue to do standalones.

Lisa Blackmann is working on something completely different, set in Mexico. Her publisher didn't want a series. They wanted to see how the books go. So, she's doing standalones.

The Poisoned Pen Bookstore had a successful launch to this year's conference, giving everyone a chance to talk and mingle before and after the program.

The Poisoned Pen Bookstore's website is

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday Salon - Poisoned Pen Conference Photos

My wrap-up of the time I spent on Thursday at the Poisoned Pen Conference will have to come later. I haven't had time to write it. In the meantime, since a salon is a "gathering of people of social or intellectual distinction," there's no better time or place to show off a few pictures from the Poisoned Pen.

(Juliet Blackwell, Sophie Littlefield, and Stefanie Pintoff)

(Me and Stefanie Pintoff, Edgar Award winner for In the Shadow of Gotham.)

(Jeanne Matthews, author of Bones of Contention)

(Me and Zoë Sharp, Photo copyright, Andy Butler, ZACE Photographic, used with permission.)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Authors @ The Teague - Women Who Kill

(Left to right: Zoë Sharp, Juliet Blackwell, Sophie Littlefield, and Jeanne Matthews. Photo: copyright Ed Sharpe, CouryGraph Productions)

What a treat to host the program "Women Who Kill" for Authors @ The Teague. It was a celebration with friends. I welcomed back Zoë Sharp, who did the very first authors program at the Velma Teague Library three years ago. She kicked off the series that became Authors @ The Teague. Juliet Blackwell is the author of the recent book, A Cast-Off Coven. Under the name Hailey Lind, she writes the Art Lover's Mystery series with her sister. Sophie Littlefield's first book, A Bad Day for Sorry has been nominated for all kinds of awards, and it won the RTBookReviews Reviewers' Choice Award. Her latest book is A Bad Day for Pretty. Jeanne Matthews is the author of a debut traditional mystery, in the style of Agatha Christie. Bones of Contention, though, is set in the Top End of Australia. After that short introduction, I turned the program over to Juliet Blackwell.

It was flattering when Juliet told the audience I was a treasure in the world of mysteries. She said I'm a reviewer and reader, and it's wonderful to have librarians who love books, and spread that love of books.

She went on to say the authors were all in town for the Poisoned Pen Conference, and you could find the entire program on the bookstore's website,

Then, Juliet said, the program was called "Women Who Kill," so how many people have your protagonists killed? Or how many have you killed off? Is killing ever justified?

Jeanne Matthews' protagonist is southern, from Georgia, in her debut, Bones of Contention. She does know how to shoot. Dinah is a wannabe anthropologist. She's diverted by the planned euthanasia in Australia of a man she regarded as a father. Her life falls apart all at one time. She finds out her boyfriend is unfaithful; she loses her job, and her uncle is planning an assisted suicide.

Jeanne asked if we'd heard, "The past is a dance. It isn't ever past." That's the story of Dinah's life, childhood, and the myths of family. The book involves Dreamtime, the Aboriginal beliefs that they can communicate with their ancestors. Dinah as to deal with secrets of her family, and then she's confronted with murder. Family members are all suspects.

Bones of Contention is set in the Northern Territory. That area makes up 20% of Australia's land, but only has 1% of the population. There's colorful slang, with the language, Strine. The characters are colorful. And, of course there's the Aboriginal language. Matthews said she was only in Australia for six weeks, but she read a lot, and did a great deal of research. So, the final answer? Her heroine would kill if she had to, but she'd shoot to wound first.

Juliet mentioned that Sophie's protagonist has killed. Sophie Littlefield's character, Stella Hardesty, is a fifty-year-old rural housewife. She suffered from years of abuse from her husband. She finally killed with with a wrench, but it was an accident. After that, she thought she should offer to kill other abusive men. But, the publishing world wasn't really ready for a woman to kill, at least not a woman who isn't glamorous. She's a housewife. So, once the editors were done with her, she "retains, restrains, and retrains men." Sophie laughed and said she just thought of that phrase. Her books have been called bondage cozies. Stella is overweight, medium height, not beautiful. Sophie said she learned SO much about restraints online. A Bad Day for Sorry is her second book. Sophie is not an advocate for violence or vigilantism. Although she knew she was speaking in a state where residents can carry. Juliet mentioned that Sophie's latest book is written up in People this week.

Juliet didn't have to ask Zoë if her character kills. Sharp's Charlie Fox does kill, but not on a regular basis. But, it's her business, since she works as a bodyguard. She does use deadly force. And, Zoë corrected Jeanne, saying you don't shoot to wound. You aim for the central body mass, and fire until the person goes down.

She did say, however, that she may have to pretend that she is Australian. She was heading to New Orleans next, and she understands the British are not very popular there right now. So, she's changing her name to "Sheila," and going to talk about the barbie.

(Photo: copyright Ed Sharpe, CouryGraph Productions)

Charlie Fox discovers her ability to kill early on. The first book in the Charlie Fox series has finally been released in the U.S. Killer Instinct is published by a small press, Busted Flush. This is the start of Charlie's story, where she discovers her inner strength. Charlie's backstory is that she was a victim. This is the turning point, and she's no longer a victim. She's now a woman who kills.

Zoë said women who kill seem different than many of the male protagonists. Robert B. Parker's Spenser can shoot someone, and then go out and have a drink with Susan. But, it's not that easy for Charlie. She responds to threats, but she's not happy to live with herself afterward. Sharp's eighth book has just been released in the U.K., and she's delivered the next one to the publisher. She's put Charlie through the wringer.

Juliet asked if Zoë was tempted to rewrite the first book when it was released in the U.S. She answered that she's never quite finished with a book, so she was tempted to redo it. But, it's as if a snapshot was taken when the book was published. She could go back and photoshop it, but it was right for Charlie's life then. Sharp said she hopes she continues to progress with her craft. When asked which book is her favorite, it's always the next one.

As Juliet started to move on, Zoë reminded her that she was a participating author on the panel. She said as Juliet Blackwell she wrote Second Spirits. The second book in that series, A Cast-Off Coven, is just out. Juliet's character is a natural born witch. She has paranormal abilities, and was run out of her west Texas hometown at an early age. She lands in San Francisco in Haight-Ashbury, a good place to fit in as a witch.

Blackwell told us she takes witchcraft seriously. She does lots of research about it all over the world. Witchcraft and the healing arts often overlap. And, women are often the healers in a community, and tend to be the first accused of witchcraft.

Now, if you had powers, would you be tempted to use them? Blackwell's series character, Lily Ivory, doesn't hesitate to use hexes and charms. But, she's going to have Lily confront those issues. How far should she take her powers?

Now, in Sophie's book, Stella has no memory of killing her husband. Often, people don't, because they were too traumatized. Compare that to Charlie Fox, who was trained to kill in the military. Juliet said she learned to shoot when she was ten, and her father gave her a gun. He was a military man, and that's how she bonds with her father. Now, he likes to help her, and tell her what kind of gun her character would use. At the same time, her father taught her, if you use a gun in self-defense, you must be ready to kill. So, Juliet said she took killing seriously, even at ten.

Juliet wanted to discuss something a little different, so she asked everyone the same question. What's your character's drink of choice. Jeanne said Dinah drank dirty martinis. According to Sophie, everyone knows Stella drinks Johnny Walker Black. She buys it at Costco, and keeps her "soldiers" in a cabinet.

She said when she first went to a conference, everyone told her crime writers needed to drink scotch. So, she learned to drink scotch. And, fortunately, since she and Juliet ususually go to conferences together, she has a friend who drinks it, too.

Zoë said she's a teetotaler. But, she still stays in the bar with the other authors until 3 or 4 in the morning. Charlie does drink, whatever's at hand. But, she doesn't drink much, because of her job.

Sharp went on to say that guns are no longer allowed in Britain, in the U.K. You're no longer allowed to shoot. She herself was a competitive shooter. Even so, at the beginning of June, a man in Cumbria, where Zoë lives, took a shotgun, and killed twelve people. He was the thirteenth. He also injured another thirteen. The other tragic aspect was, in the U.K., the police are not routinely armed. So, they were following him, but they couldn't stop him.

Juliet couldn't think of a time when her witch drank. Sophie reminded her she must have had champagne because there were some champagne brunches. Juliet said Lily probably drank tequila. Now, there's a question. What affect does alcohol have on a witch? Juliet couldn't know because it hasn't happened yet. Sharp suggested slurred spells. Blackwell countered with, they're all helping her write her fourth book in the series.

Blackwell said on screen, tough women seem to be portrayed as men with breasts. So, how are they all exploring themes of murder, death, and self-defense, with women?

In Killer Instinct, the first Charlie Fox book, she's teaching self-defense to women. Sharp said, if you have to do it, you've failed. The trick is not to put yourself in that position. It's been shown that more people will respond if a woman shouts "Fire" than if she shouts "Rape."

Zoë went on to tell the story from Bouchercon, a mystery convention. Meg Chittenden is a very petite woman who looks like a wonderful granny. She and Meg were going to do a workshop on self-defense, "You Can't Run in High Heels." So, they practiced at the end of one room ahead of time. And, there Zoë was, with her hands around Meg's throat, and no one paid attention.

When questioned, Sharp said avoidance should be the first lesson to everyone, even men. Young men, 17-21, are more likely to die violently than any other group in the U.K. Zoë had an excellent instructor who taught karate, pressure points, and knife work. She said she'd get home at the end of a session, and have the bruises from pressure point practice. Self-defense is a last resort. You learn to use an opponent's size and weight against them. You use leverage. She practiced her her husband, Andy, who is 6'3". She knows how to dislocate a shoulder, but you don't want to do that.

With a laugh, Sophie said she certainly didn't try everything that Stella does. Stella actually doesn't have an attitude of violence. She's a community nurturer, a defender of the weak. She thinks that comes from her own role since she's been a mother for seventeen years. But, when her baby was born, she discovered she was a rage vehicle. She'd do anything to protect him. So, she sees Stella protecting people who can't protect themselves. The longer people are abused, the more opportunity they have to become a victim. It's a failure of the system. There are wonderful people, police and others, working to prevent violence, but the system is at fault. If someone threatened your sister, or mom, could you take someone out?

Jeanne admitted she committed a no-no and gave Dinah a relationship with a policeman. But, she ended it on page one. Dinah had heard of violence, and knows about it. But, she had few occasions when violence was appropriate until she went to Australia. She tries to sneak out of it. How can she avoid violence? She uses her brain. That doesn't always work, but she does survive.

Juliet mentioned cozy mysteries such as Agatha Christie wrote. If there are cats and knitting, chances are it's a cozy mystery. People who read cozies say they're not as violent as other mysteries. But, Juliet said she's always found them more twisted. There they sit with a cat and knitting, and deal with a dead body. It makes more sense for a bodyguard to deal with a dead body.

Matthews said she needed to give her protagonist enough gumption. Dinah isn't risk adverse. She just doesn't anticipate violence. She tries to solve the mystery, but tries to avoid violence. When asked, she said firearms are very restricted in Australia.

One of the audience members said Juliet mentioned acknowledgements at one time. What do you acknowledge people for? Blackwell answered that many people were very generous with their time. She met with a homicide detective for two hours over coffee, then she followed up with him. He did that because he wanted people to get it right. Sophie went on to say many people are acknowledged because of help in a field where they're specialists. People like to talk about their passions.

Juliet used the example of Cameron House in San Francisco. The next book in her Art Lover's series, Arsenic and Old Paint, comes out in September. It includes some of the history of Cameron House in Chinatown. It's a mission that is also a community center. Donaldina Cameron, who worked there, rescued Chinese girls who had been smuggled into the country, and sold as property in the "yellow slave trade." There were tunnels in the basement where she hid the girls. The staff at Cameron House gave Juliet a tour, showed her the tunnels. They were generous with their time. She acknowledges the staff at Cameron House because she wants people to know it's a real place, and an active community center.

Zoë Sharp mentioned Doug Lyle, who she acknowledged. He is a cardiologist and mystery writer. He answers all the strange questions and forensic questions that mystery writers ask. In one book, Charlie is shot. She's injured for 3/4 of the book, and that alters the way she deals with things. As part of her research, she talked to Doug as to how that injury would affect Charlie.

Zoë went on to say you do research, then throw away 90% of it, and use just snippets, nuggets. Readers are on a magic carpet ride, and anything that is wrong, anything that bumps them off is a wrong mistake. It spoils the book.

Juliet said in personal acknowledgements, you can thank all of your family. She once forgot her parents in a personal note.

Jeanne Matthews said, although Bones of Contention is published by Poisoned Pen Press, Carl Lennertz at HarperCollins spent several months editing her book. He was her lucky charm. She also acknowledged her writing group, since she's been it for years.

Sharp said she still goes to a local writing group. To her, it's important that you read your book out loud. The voice attracts you to a book. When a reader starts a book, you know almost immediately if you like the author's voice. Reading it out loud helps.

A writer's community, of some sort, is important. Juliet said she and Sophie go out for chicken and waffles with another friend. They can talk about what doesn't work. Sophie's brother is also a writer. She said she gives all the hard questions to her brother and her friends. Her deadlines are now more demanding. She values the input of her fellow writers. They know her weaknesses and strengths.

Juliet brought up titles, and wanted to know who picked them. Jeanne's title, Bones of Contention, comes from the Aboriginal myth of pointing bones, plus the contention between the family members. So, it was a double entendre. Sophie came up with Juliet's next title. Blackwell's publisher likes a combination of vintage clothing and witchcraft in the title. Sophie came up with the idea in a bar. Juliet said she couldn't come up with a title.

Sophie submitted about forty titles for her first book. She had a hard time. Author Craig McDonald told her to go with the Bible and country songs. But, it was a painful title process. She submitted about forty titles, and they finally went for A Bad Day for Sorry.

Zoë asked if they ever had a title they wanted to use, and no story to go with it. She's always wanted to use the old Shakespearean stage direction, "Exit. Pursued by a bear." They did mention that titles aren't copyrighted.

I asked the authors what they were working on, or what their next book would be. Sophie has a YA paranormal series coming out. The first book is Banished, followed by Unforsaken. It's for readers thirteen and up. Then, she has a new series, a Post-Apocalyptic one, coming out under another name.

Jeanne Matthews' next book is called Bet Your Bones. It's set in Hawaii, and deals with Hawaiian myths.

Sharp has already delivered her next Charlie Fox book. The titles have caused problems. Her fourth book was called First Drop. The book starts on a roller coaster, and when you hit the first drop, there are no brakes, and you're stuck until the end of the ride. That symbolized the book. But, that was the first book published by the American publisher. They wanted that to stand as the first book in the U.S., and the next one to be called second something. So, it became Second Shot. That book was supposed to be called Fall Line. It takes place in New England. And, the fastest way downhill when skiing is the fall line. Then, there was Third Strike. She changed publishers. Her current book out in the U.K. is Fourth Day, about a cult. She's working on the next book.

Juliet's next book is due out Sept. 9th. It's under the name Hailey Lind. Arsenic and Old Paint is a book in the Art Lover's series, written with Juliet's sister. It's a continuing story, and she joked that she wouldn't know if it was good until Lesa reviewed it.

Then, Blackwell has a new series starting, the Haunted Home
Renovation series. Her character is a failed anthropologist who took over her father's construction company. It's two years later, and there are paranormal elements in the book. Juliet also said her own father is the father in the book. That book, called If Walls Could Talk, is due out December 5th. The third book in the witchcraft series is due out in June or July next year. It's called Hexes and Hemlines.

One audience member asked why authors use different pen names. Julie answered that Hailey Lind is a family name that she uses when she writes with her sister. But, she might have changed it anyways when she wrote the paranormal series because readers expect authors to write a particular type of book. There's a contract between authors and readers. Sometimes, a new publisher wants another name. Tim Myers, a cozy writer, was mentioned. He writes under a number of names. The publisher wanted female names.

Sophie thought about using a male name for her Post-Apocalyptic book, because most of the authors are male. However, this publisher has a number of female readers, so she's using a different name, but it's female.

Zoë might have picked a male name if she was doing it over. Thriller writers tend to be male. She once had a review that said the book was, "The best thriller written by a woman." She might have changed to a male name because there is a prejudice against women in thrillers.

The final question of the afternoon involved setting. Is it easier to choose a place you know, or more fun to pick an exotic setting. What's easier to write? Jeanne Matthews enjoyed learning while she wrote about Australia. She learned a euthanasia law passed in the 1990's in the Northern Territory was very contreversial. The Aborigines feared it, because they thought they would go to the doctor, and be euthanized. They had been experimented on in the past. Matthews was able to put her own spin on the setting, using an outsider, Dinah.

Zoë's Charlie Fox is a Brit looking at the U.S. through a Brit's eyes. She's an outsider. So, she's looking at things slightly off from how Americans see it. It's been said we're two people divided by a common language. But, Sharp said the best books are ones in which the setting becomes a character, and the story can only be in that place.

In talking about language, Juliet said one phrase Americans never use, but a British friend used to say to her, was, "I'll knock you up." Sharp's answer was that came from mill towns in England. No one had clocks, and a man would bring a stick and wake people up with it. In north England, they would "knock you up."

Juliet said Sophie's books are set in rural Missouri. And, the people talk in a special way. Blackwell tried to move her book to Oakland, where she lives. She loves it. But, her publisher said let's keep it in San Francisco. Zoë ended the program by saying it's hard to think of books as being set in the "mean streets of England," as they are in American cities, such as LA or Detroit.

It was a wonderful afternoon! Maybe the last picture will show what a good time we all had with "Women Who Kill."

(Photo: Copyright Andy Butler, ZACE Photographic, used with permission)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Winners & a Women Who Kill Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Angela W. from Frederick, MD will receive Larry Karp's The Ragtime Fool, and Susan C. Shea's Murder in Abstract goes to Bruce H. from Montgomery, AL. The Father's Day books from Hatchette Book Group go to Denise R. from Clinton Twp. MI.

I have a special treat this week. Yesterday, I hosted a MysteryPalooza, Women Who Kill, for Authors @ The Teague. It was a special afternoon with authors Zoë Sharp, Juliet Blackwell, Sophie Littlefield, and Jeanne Matthews. I have autographed copies of their books to give away!

Killer Instinct is the very first book in Zoë Sharp's Charlie Fox mystery series. If you haven't read these thrillers yet, this is a great place to start. If you have read the rest of the series, now you can read the first book, available for the first time in U.S., as to how Charlie overcame her past experiences. She was kicked out of the British Army, but you can't keep Charlie down. When a killer starts taking an interest in Charlie, she's able to stand and fight.

Prefer your murder a little cozier? Check out Juliet Blackwell's A Cast-Off Coven. Lily Ivory's a witch who owns a vintage clothing store in San Francisco. She jumps at the chance to acquire a trunk full of Victorian-era clothing from the San Francisco School of Fine Arts. She isn't quite as eager to deal with the ghost or evil spirit that seems to be haunting the school. And, a murder doesn't make it any easier to cope with the disturbances acting on the emotions of the students.

A Bad Day for Pretty marks the return of Stella Hardesty, the character that took the mystery world by storm in Sophie Littlefield's A Bad Day for Sorry. How does Stella get into these messes just trying to help out a friend? When a storm knocks over a concession stand, uncovering a body, a friend's husband is the main suspect. Stella just knows the gentle man couldn't have done it. And, then there's Stella's feelings for Sheriff "Goat" Jones. She just might have to get over those feelings. It seems Goat's life is complicated.

Are you a fan of traditional mysteries in the Agatha Christie style? Debut author Jeanne Matthews takes us to the Top End of Australia in Bones of Contention. But, feuding families are quite similar when they gather together over the making of a will. Even in an isolated lodge, someone will end up dead. This book brings readers a traditional mystery with Australian lingo and Aboriginal myths.

There will be four winners this week! Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win all the books if you'd like, but I need separate entries for each. If you'd like to win one, email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: Your subject line should read either, "Win Sharp," "Win Blackwell," "Win Littlefield," or "Win Matthews." Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, July 1 at 6 p.m. PT. The winners will be selected by random number generator. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail on Friday. Good luck!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Contest Reminder

If you're here looking for the Thursday night contest, I'm not. I'm out with some mystery authors tonight, so the contest ends tomorrow morning, with a special Women Who Kill contest starting then. Please check back at 8 a.m. ET.

A MysteryPalooza - Women Who Kill

This is what I'm doing today. We're hosting Authors @ The Teague. Sophie Littlefield and Juliet Blackwell will co-facilitate the panel, and Zoë Sharp and Jeanne Matthews are the other panel members.

Thank you, Anna, for allowing me to use your flyer!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bones of Contention by Jeanne Matthews

Bring together an antagonistic family, a dying man, Aboriginal myths, and an isolated lodge, set them all down in the Top End of Australia, and you have Jeanne Matthews' debut, a traditional mystery called Bones of Contention.

Dinah Pelerin's wealthy American "Uncle" Cleon Dobbs is dying of cancer, so he called his large extended family together one last time, holding the threat of changing his will over their heads. With two ex-wives, and a current one, only Dinah's mother, out of the entire family, was smart enough to stay home. But, all of his children from three marriages showed up, along with Dinah, who loves Cleon, but wants to know the truth about her father's mysterious death. She arrives to find backstabbing relatives, trouble with everyone from the youngest children to Cleon, the oldest family member, and stories of a murder. It seems the poisonous snakes and trees aren't the only dangerous residents in the isolated community.

It shouldn't be surprising that another murder occurs, but that doesn't stop the family members from feuding. Cleon only adds to the fuel, fanning flames while he spreads suspicion, and introducing a new family heir to the mix. Dinah, the one family member with few expectations, is pressured by an unusual police inspector to keep him in the loop. It's too bad Dinah is so confused as to the realities of family dynamics.

Jeanne Matthews works with Aboriginal myths, ancestors and song-lines in her debut. She captures Australia's past and present, including current politics, but it's all background to the family mystery. Bones of Contention is a solid traditional mystery, complete with isolation, murder, and characters with all kinds of motives. Without giving his identity away, I'm hoping for a return of the surprising Inspector.

Note: Jeanne Matthews will be appearing at the Velma Teague Library for Authors @ The Teague on June 24 at 2 p.m. as part of the panel, Women Who Kill.

Jeanne Matthews' website is

Bones of Contention by Jeanne Matthews. Poisoned Pen Press, ©2010. ISBN 9781590587287 (hardcover), 316p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a review copy, in hopes I would review it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Karin Slaughter, Guest Blogger

Any librarian would be delighted to have Karin Slaughter as a guest blogger. Yes, I know she's a bestselling author. But, she's passionate about libraries, and she discusses that passion on her website. And, I have to thank her for sharing that passion here.

Whenever I sit down to write a book, I always think back to when I was a kid sitting in the back of the Jonesboro public library. This was when children had to be quiet on pain of death (not at the hand of the librarians, but our mothers) and books were more precious than bars of gold. I loved the calm, coolness of the space. I didn’t get my start reading mysteries, but somehow, one of the librarians spotted me like a lion spots a limping gazelle. She took me out of the hoity toity section—really, an eight year old had no business perusing Lady Chatterley’s Lover—and directed me to a long line of Nancy Drews. Then she pointed to the Hardy Boys. Then Encyclopedia Brown. I think I stopped asking her for new books after that, and I never looked back. I loved the twists and turns, the seedy characters and the worlds I had never glimpsed before. I loved the subtext best of all, because everyone knows that a good mystery, whether it’s the tense courtroom drama of To Kill a Mockingbird or the lone gunman of The Great Gatsby, serves to pull the scab off the human condition.

I was thinking about all the books I read in my small town library when I wrote Broken, my tenth novel. The story combines my two series, Grant County and Will Trent’s Atlanta. A lot has happened since Blindsighted was published all those years ago, and when I wrote the opening chapter of Broken, I felt a great responsibility not just to my readers but to the story. This has been a long journey, and I wanted to make sure I kept challenging myself to say something new and exciting about the characters. In many ways, Will Trent made the task easier. He has never been in my small town, and seeing the inhabitants through his eyes was fairly shocking for me. It was also exhilarating, because here was an opportunity to re-introduce the people readers think they know, but don’t really know anything about at all. Lena Adams has never been a reliable narrator, and watching her spar with Will was a pleasure that is hard to describe. Sara, back in town for the first time in four years, has changed in so many subtle ways that only came to light when she was back with her family. Working through their stories, exploring how they are all broken, figuring out how to fix them, or whether some of them can ever be fixed, reminded me so much of why I loved reading mysteries in the first place that by the time I reached the end of the book I felt that familiar breathlessness for more. It took me back to my library days, when the crime, while gripping, took a backseat to what the characters were doing. I wasn’t reading The Secret of the Old Clock or The Phantom Freighter for the mystery alone. I wanted to find out what Nancy and George and Frank and Joe were up to. I hope that my readers feel that same pleasure when they read Broken, and that they feel themselves thinking about them long after the last page is read. To me, that’s the best gift a mystery series can give you—that burning sense of wanting to know what happens next.

Thank you, Karin.

Karin Slaughter's website is

Broken by Karin Slaughter. Random House, ©2010. ISBN 9780385341974 (hardcover),416p.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Penguin Group (USA) & July Book Releases

I have a treat for some of the readers who appreciate the book chats featuring Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime and Obsidian. The chat with the forthcoming books for July features Jinx. I don't know how many people have told me they enjoy the book chats, but they really enjoy it when one of the cats has a featured role.

Today's chat stars Jinx, the youngest cat, and eleven new mysteries. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday Salon - Shit My Dad Says by Justin Halpern

Justin Halpern's anecdotal memoir, Shit My Dad Says, is number one on the New York Times Best Seller list today. Did everyone rush out and buy it for their father for Father's Day?

Before reviewing it, this is a warning. If you're offended by the title, you'll be offended by the book, so don't bother picking it up. The title is a perfect indication of Halpern's father's language. If you aren't offended, let me tell you, this is the funniest book I've read in a long time. This one is laugh out loud funny.

In May 2009, Justin Halpern accepted a job with, knowing he could live anywhere. He planned to move it with his girlfriend in San Diego, but she broke up with him. So, at twenty-nine he moved back in with his parents. His mother still worked as a lawyer, but his father had retired from his position in nuclear medicine. And, since Justin worked from home, his father felt free to interrupt him, and talk to him. Halpern found his seventy-three-year-old father's comments so funny that he started a Twitter account called "Shit My Dad Says." When it grew to a million followers, and publishers and TV producers were calling, Justin thought he should tell his dad what he'd been writing. Even his father's reaction to that is funny.

Justin Halpern's father is brutally honest, and Halpern intersperses his dad's one liners between chapters of the memoir as he tells the story of his life with his dad. I just found his father's philosophy quite honest, if a little raw. Here are a couple quick quotes.

"On My First Day of Kindergarten - "You thought it was hard? If kindergarten is busting your ass, I got some bad news for you about the rest of life."

"On Furnishing One's Home - Pick your furniture like you pick a wife; it should make you feel comfortable and look nice, but not so nice that if someone walks past it they want to steal it."

Halpern's book passed the ultimate test for me. My sister called while I was reading it, and I read her passages from it. We were both laughing hysterically, and her husband is getting the book for Father's Day. If I can sell it over the telephone, it works.

It's hard to imagine living with a father as brutally honest as Halpern's, but he survived to write about his dad. Justin Halpern wanted to be a screenwriter. Now, he's cowriting and coproducing a sitcom adaptation of Shit My Dad Says. It's hard to imagine it will be as funny as the book.

Justin Halpern's Twitter account is, and his website is

Shit My Dad Says by Justin Halpern. HarperCollins, ©2010. ISBN 9780061992704 (hardcover), 158p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Interview with Deborah Coonts

I just loved Deborah Coonts' debut Lucky O'Toole mystery, Wanna Get Lucky? I introduced myself at the Poisoned Pen when Deb was on tour, and asked if I could do an interview. "Lucky" for us, she was willing to answer some questions when she finished her book tour. Thank you, Deb!

Deb combined my first two questions with her answer. Notice she's a little mysterious about her own life? Hmmmm.

Lesa - Deb, Wanna Get Lucky? is your first published book, but I know it's taken you a while to get to this point. Would you tell us about yourself? I loved Lucky O'Toole and Wanna Get Lucky?, but neither would exist without Las Vegas. Vegas is an important "character" in your book? What drew you to Las Vegas as the setting?

Deb - When my son was fifteen, I did what any well-adjusted, self-respecting parent would do--I let him choose where we were going to live. Until that point, I had never been to Vegas and really knew very little about the city. When I arrived, I fell in love with the energy, the excitement...the emphasis on entertainment. As a writer, entertainment is what I aspire to do. In addition, the whole world comes through Vegas. The city is a veritable melting pot of cultures, values, fantasies--incredible fodder for a novelist.

Lesa - Where did Lucky O'Toole herself come from?

Deb - After my aunt (who is four years my senior and more of a sister than an aunt) read the manuscript for WANNA GET LUCKY? she announced that Lucky is the woman I always wanted to be. In retrospect, there's probably more truth to that than I would care to admit. Certainly she has my sense of humor. But, she also is the perfect foil through which I can introduce readers to the magic of Vegas. Lucky is young enough to know better, but not old so old that she doesn't occasionally throw caution to the wind. She has a job where she can interact with all aspects of Vegas from the tourists who come looking for a bit of magic or mayhem to the residents who provide it.

Lesa - I kept a great deal back when I reviewed Wanna Get Lucky? I wanted readers to enjoy the surprises as much as I did. Can you tell us about the book, without spoiling it?

Deb - Probably not. I think you did a wonderful job of setting the stage. It's Vegas. It's sexy and romantic. It's fun. With a little murder and mayhem thrown in. A wry heroine of questionable parentage who can kick ass in her professional life, but whose personal life is a mess. A hero who wears dresses for a living, but longs to be a serious musician. A mysterious new man in Security. An old boyfriend. A four hundred pound Reverend who likes the swinging lifestyle. A young woman tossed from a tour helicopter into the middle of the 8:30 Pirate show in front of the Treasure Island Hotel. As for the surprises, well, that's why one should read the book.

Lesa - I love that description, Deb, since the book is driven by the characters, including the character of Vegas. Now, you've just finished an extensive book tour. What were the highlights? What surprised you about the tour?

Deb - All of the tour was amazing. As one author before me has said, "One fears being asked to go out on book tour. And one fears not being asked." So, it's an honor to get to do such a thing, and it certainly shows the enthusiasm of my publisher, which is very gratifying indeed. On the other hand, it can be grueling. This tour though, was great fun. The bookstores were so enthusiastic and supportive as were the readers who showed up. The highlights would have to be getting to meet folks who have read my story and like it! I'm still humbled and amazed. The enthusiasm and the kindness of everyone I met on tour was a wonderful surprise.

Lesa - What authors inspired you, and who do you read?

Deb - Every person who deigns to sit at a computer and attempts to create inspires me. Writing is darn hard. The journey to acquire good craft, to hone your storytelling skills, is a long, arduous one where your only reward my be the delight of a well-written passage, or the turn of a good phrase. So, those who take up the sword are inspiration indeed. As for who I read, I read a little bit of everything. I read for style and craft, but I mainly read for knowledge. A writer has to know a ton of stuff.

Also, I will have to say that I know what kinds of stories I am able to write, so I enjoy reading stories that I know I would never have the imagination or skill to tackle. My favorite recently has been The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

Lesa - I know you've already completed the next books in the series. What can you tell us about them?

Deb - Book Two is entitled, LUCKY STIFF, and it is currently scheduled for a February release. The story takes place over a big fight weekend in Vegas. Numbers Neidermeyer, a rather unsavory female oddsmaker ends up in pieces in the shark tank at Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay Resort. The Beautiful Jeremy Whitlock, Las Vegas' best PI and the younger live-in lover of Lucky's assistant, Miss P, is framed for the murder. Teddie is pursuing his dream of being a songwriter--much to Lucky's consternation. A delicious French chef is hired by the Big Boss ostensibly to open a high-end restaurant, but Lucky is sure he was hired to cause her grief..and to keep her perpetually off kilter. The District Attorney is caught in a three-some on the twelfth floor. Lucky's mother, Mona, decides to auction off a young woman's virginity from her bordello in Pahrump. And Lucky has to pull everyone from the fire... So, in short, more of the same.

Book Three is titled, SO DAMN LUCKY. Although it is written, I'll leave a bit of mystery as to it's story. However, suffice it to say, that it is my favorite in terms of the relationships and how they evolve. All the cast of characters returns and the zaniness begins when a magician actually disappears...

Lesa - Well, Lucky Stiff sounds just as much fun as Wanna Get Lucky? And, nothing like keeping us in suspense! Now, I imagine you've heard all of these questions before. What would you like us to know about you or your books that hasn't been asked?

Deb - Good Heavens! Tell my secrets? I don't think so. But, in the interest of fun and fair-play, I love horses, I can ride motorcycles, I don't have a dog but am dying for a Jack Russel terrier, I read romance novels, I am enthralled with Garth Brooks' music right now (ten years late getting to that table--par for the course with me) and I am fairly clueless about this thing called LOVE.

Lesa - My final question is one I always ask, Deb. I'm a public librarian. Do you have a story about libraries?

Deb - As a voracious reader from an early age who had a very limited allowance, the North Dallas Public Library was my saving grace. I think I read every book in there at least once. I can remember many a summer afternoon spent curled up in a beanbag chair in the corner, surrounded by conditioned air (very important in the muggy Dallas summers) and stacks of books of all kinds, but mainly commercial fiction. I was absolutely horrified that I was limited to six books to take home. My mother would often almost die of apoplexy while I carefully chose my six treasures. This is where I became the commercial fiction junkie who stands before you today. Every writer begins as a reader. And libraries create and feed readers from an early age. This writer applauds and thanks you!

And, I applaud and than you, Deb. I really appreciate the time you're taking to answer the questions.

If you'd like to know a little more, I reviewed Wanna Get Lucky? on May 17, and the recap of Deborah's appearance at the Poisoned Pen appears on the May 21 blog, Macmillan Night at the Poisoned Pen.

Deborah Coonts' website is

Wanna Get Lucky? by Deborah Coonts. Tor/Forge. ©2010. ISBN 978-0765325433 (hardcover), 352p.