Saturday, July 31, 2010

Favorites of 2010

One of my readers asked me if I was going to list my top five or ten books of the year, as other bloggers have, halfway through 2010.  And, in looking at Jen Forbus's list, I can tell it's a list of her "current" favorite books, not necessarily read this year.  Those are ones Jen loves enough to pass on.  So, I think everyone has a different slant on this topic.

I went back and selected the books I marked as A+ this year, books I loved when I read them, and, most of all, when I reread my short summary, I still remember the book.  There are only six so far this year, and only one is a mystery, and a crime caper at that, not a traditional mystery..  So, these are my favorite books of the year, with links to my reviews.

Fat Cat by Robin Brande.  A YA novel.  A high school science whiz changes her lifestyle for a project, and to show up the boy who was once her best friend, until he called her fat.

The Secret of Everything by Barbara O'Neal After a traffic accident, a tour guide ends up in a New Mexico town where she finds the secrets of her childhood.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen - After her mother's death, Emily Benedict discovered a grandfather she never knew in the town of Mullaby, North Carolina, a town with secrets, including some about Emily's mother.

God Never Blinks by Regina Brett - The newspaper columnist for The Cleveland Plain Dealer offers her 50 lessons for life's little detours.

Wanna Get Lucky? by Deborah Coonts - Lucky O'Toole, troubleshooter at a Las Vegas casino, has her hands full with a murder, a boss who is acting strange, her unusual mother, and a show business boyfriend.

Discord's Apple by Carrie Vaughn - Evie Walker's return home when her father is dying isn't what she expects in a novel that combines mythology, family history, and the end of the world as we know it.

So, are these titles what you expected from me for the best of 2010?  Probably not.  Remember, though, my husband died in  February.  God Never Blinks comes from the time soon after his death, and I bought that book, and recommended it to so many people.  I'm still reading mysteries and thrillers, as you can tell from my daily posts.  But, these six books are the ones I remember, ones that moved me, in the first half of the year.

What are the books that stand out for you from the first half of 2010?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Penguin Press' August Releases

I'm sorry.  No cats showed up for the production of the video showing Penguin Press' forthcoming books for August.  You'll have to settle for a cat in one of the mysteries.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Winner and a Thriller Giveaway

Congratulations to the winner of the Catch Fire with Cleo Coyle contest.  Holly G. from Pine Hill, NJ will receive a signed galley of Cleo Coyle's Roast Mortem, and a copy of The California Firehouse Cookbook. Cleo will be sending your books.

This week, I'm honoring two of the women who won awards at the recent ThrillerFest. Lisa Gardner won Thriller of the Year for The Neighbor. The third D.D. Warren book took her into the investigation of the disappearance of a young wife and mother from her South Boston home. The only witness was her four-year-old daughter, and the only suspect was her secretive husband. I have an autographed paperback copy of The Neighbor to give away.

Last weekend, I had the chance to meet Jamie Freveletti, who won the Debut Thriller Award for her book, Running from the Devil.  That book was set in Colombia.  Now, Freveletti takes Emma Caldridge to South Africa in Running Dark.  I have an autographed copy of Jamie's new book, a thriller with everything from Somali pirates to a mysterious drug and an unknown weapon.

Do you want to win The Neighbor or Running Dark?  You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries.  Email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: Your subject line should read either  "Win The Neighbor" or "Win Running Dark."  Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, Aug. 5  at 6 p.m. PT. The winners will be selected by random number generator. I'll notify the winners and mail the books the next day. Good luck!

A Brush with Death by Elizabeth J. Duncan

Traditional mystery fans will be happy to return to Wales in Elizabeth J. Duncan's second mystery, A Brush with Death.  She won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition with her debut, The Cold Light of Mourning.  Once more, Duncan proves there may be deep secrets behind austere lives.

When Penny Brannigan first moved to Llanelen from Canada decades earlier, the manicurist found a friend in a local schoolteacher, Emma Teasdale.  When Emma died, she left her small house to Penny, along with a sizable inheritance.  Penny could have immediately renovated the house, but she needed to slowly remove outdated objects, while keeping traces of her beloved friend.  It didn't take long to uncover a secret that Emma never revealed. 

Over thirty years earlier, at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in Wales, Emma had loved an artist, Alys Jones.  And, that love ended in tragedy when Alys was killed by a hit-and-run driver.  But, Penny, with her nose for trouble, wants to investigate the cold case, wondering if the death was actually an accident.  While some friends are willing to help, the brunt of the case falls on Penny because she's the one determined to discover the truth.

Penny's business partner, though, finds her determination getting in the way of their budding business, a salon, with plans for a new building, and a spa.  As work on their newly purchased property proceeds, there is even an unexpected discovery there.  Could it somehow link with the cold case of Alys Jones' death?

Life in Elizabeth Duncan's small Welsh town is reminiscent of Miss Read's English villages, with the addition of a murder.  Even then, it's a thirty-year-old case.  But, Miss Read's fans will appreciate the kind townspeople, the ones with their idiosyncrasies, the misunderstanding between Penny and Detective Inspector Gareth Davies.  Duncan's mystery is still a gentle story, although the difference in acceptance in lifestyle, and how society changes in thirty years, is an underlying theme. 

Penny Brannigan is a kind woman, an amateur sleuth, an artist.  As a friend, she cares about what happened to her friend, when she lost her lover.  And, Elizabeth J. Duncan beautifully paints a picture of a tragic loss of life and its impact over the years on the family and friends of the victim, who are victims themselves.  She illustrates for all of us the impact of A Brush with Death.

Elizabeth J. Duncan's website is

A Brush with Death by Elizabeth J. Duncan.  Minotaur Books, ©2010. ISBN 9780312622824 (hardcover), 288p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a review copy, in hopes I would review the book.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jamie Freveletti and Avery Aames at The Poisoned Pen

It may sound like an odd combination, but thriller writer Jamie Freveletti, and mystery author Avery Aames made a terrific combination at the Poisoned Pen recently.  Jamie just won the International Thriller Award for Best First Novel  for her book, Running with the Devil.  Now, she's on tour with the sequel, Running Dark.  And, Avery Aames' debut mystery is The Long Quiche Goodbye.  Freveletti writes fast-paced intense thrillers, while Avery's book is a traditional mystery about the lighter, nicer side of society.

Avery started the program out with laughter.  When the microphones weren't working properly, she said, "I was a cheerleader.  I can do this without a mike."  The authors were asked to talk about the difference between a thriller and a mystery.  Avery said she is a thriller writer, who hasn't published a thriller yet.  But, the pacing is different.  The choice of verbs is different.  Thrillers have shorter sentences, and they're abrupt because they want people to move forward quickly in the book.  However, a mystery goes into detail.  It's more nuanced.  In her book, The Long Quiche Goodbye, she wants people to taste the cheese and wine.  The book is set in a small town in Ohio, with an easier lifestyle, and slower pace.  In a thriller, the killer may be after the main character.  In Aames' book, the main character is after a killer.  The pace is slower, and the author may give clues, woven into the story of cheese.  The pace only picks up toward the end of the book.

Jamie said she doesn't write from an outline.  She just goes.  If she's having fun, then she thinks the reader will have fun.  She's trying to give the feeling of a woman on the run.  There's no time to develop the character or plot in depth, as there is with a slower paced book.  Freveletti's character is a long distance marathon runner, and the plot and pace just keep going.  Avery said she tries to make readers turn the page at the end of a chapter.  There's an uptake at the end of chapters because she's essentially a thriller writer.

Freveletti's latest thriller, Running Dark, features Emma Caldridge again, an ultramarathon runner.  Asked if she intended to write a series, Jamie said the publisher decided it would be a series, and told her to keep going with the same character.  In this one, Emma is running a race that actually exists, the Comrades ultramarathon in South Africa.  It's fifty-five miles.  Freveletti's husband runs ultramarathons.  While Emma's running, a roadside bomb explodes.  There are lots of explosions and guns in the book.  She comes to, to find a man injecting her with something.  It's dopamine, mixed with another drug, so she can continue running.  

Freveletti said she knows something about drugs because she was a trial lawyer who specialized in food and drug law.  She did the oatmeal case.  When oatmeal packages said they could lower cholesterol, they can't make that claim.  That's a drug claim.  She did that petition.

There's all kinds of things happening in Running Dark, from the explosion, and drugs, to Somali pirates with rocket propelled grenades, and a Senate investigation.   Jamie said she reads the news all the time for ideas and research.  In 2005, Somali pirates shot at a cruise ship with a rocket propelled grenade.  That was a Carnival Cruise ship, but they wouldn't answer any questions.  And, HarperCollins wasn't excited about the idea of pirates.  They could just think of Jack Sparrow.  Then, the Somali pirates took that tanker, and Freveletti's publishers called, and said, can you write that book any faster. 

Avery said she has seven manuscripts in a drawer.  She had been an actress before she started writing, and she had decided to go back to acting if this book wasn't accepted.  We laughed when she said she didn't get some acting jobs because she reminded people of their wives.  But, she had been about to quit writing when The Long Quiche Goodbye was accepted.  Agents and publishers liked her writing, but she just couldn't sell anything. 

Jamie took a year to write her first book, Running from the Devil, and eight months to rewrite it.  When she submitted the first thirty pages, her agent told her she needed to join a writing group.  So, she went to her public library, and found a group.  With the second book, she had eleven months to get it to the editor, and her third book is due to them on Aug. 1. 

According to Aames, Berkley, her publisher, wants a book every nine or ten months.  The first book took eighteen months from contract to publication.  They wanted an outline.  She had three months to write the next book, Lost and Fondue, with one month to rewrite it. 

Freveletti's editor gave her eighteen days to rewrite.  She said, "Come on, I have children."  They're teenagers, but it's like having babies all over again.  You have to watch them.

They quoted Lee Child as defining the difference between a mystery and a thriller with a Humpty Dumpty analogy.  In a mystery, Humpty's already down, and you have to figure out who did it.  With a thriller, he's teetering, and you have to stop it.

Avery said she has to know how her character, Charlotte Bessette, figures out who did it.  She plots in the clues, the red herrings.  The entire book is plotted out, although she may change it.  But, Aames knows who did it and why, and adds the roller coaster ride.  She'll re-outline if things change, but even if she changes something, the same person always did it.  She does know who did it when she writes the book.

Jamie's third book is due to the editor on Aug. 1, but she's been on book tour, doing two signings a day, and she didn't know the ending of the book until she was in Vero Beach, and she still had 15,000 words to write.  So, when she was driving, if the TomTom GPS was quiet, she was plotting.  She knows the ending now, but she was putting it down on paper on the planet to Phoenix. 

Asked if she still participates in the writing group, Jamie said she's concerned about working with an open group, and the accusation of plagiarism.  She doesn't worry about the core group, but the library group is open to the public, so she no longer shares there.  She meets with a couple other writers, though.  Freveletti has a twenty-two page contract with HarperCollins, and they won't indemnify her for legal fees, so she also won't take unsolicited manuscripts to read, since she's afraid something would happen.  So, she goes to her private group.  She still loves the library group, but she doesn't take her manuscript there, or accept anyone's. 

Freveletti was so excited when Running from the Devil was nominated by the International Thriller Writers as Best First Novel.  It's hard for a woman to get nominated.  The book was one of five nominated for the award.  And, then her husband, a numbers guy, said that's great.  You have a 20% chance of winning.  But, Jamie's publicist knew, and was told to get her to New York.  She just wishes her publicist had told her to wear waterproof mascara.  And, she had no speech prepared, but she wanted to thank Lee Child and Tess Gerritsen, who had blurbed the book.

Aames said she had a call from her publicist after the cheese shop was out for one week, saying, congratulations, you're #7.  And, she said, number seven on what?  She was number seven on Barnes & Noble's mass market list.  That means Charlaine Harris has six paperbacks ahead of you on the list.  The publishers are pleased it hit the list because now they can put "National Bestseller" on the future books.

Freveletti said Running from the Devil was huge in Europe, even though it's set in South America.  Her husband is German, but he said his five relatives aren't the ones who made it a bestseller.  But, now HarperCollins can say it was an international bestseller. 

Someone in the audience mentioned that when Alex Kava was at the bookstore earlier in the week, she said it was hard for women to break into the thriller field.  The women said there is some sexism out there, but a lot of it is from women readers.   Many of Freveletti's readers write and say,  I won't read thrillers written by women, but....

Asked how they research, Avery Aames answered, "I eat."  She said she didn't eat a lot of cheese before
working on The Long Quiche Goodbye.  But, Berkley wanted a cheese shop mystery.  They wanted that niche.  And, Avery had been a caterer, a waitress, and had sold wine.  She had also been a actress, as Charlotte's grandmother is in the book.  She said the cheese tasting is fun, and her husband likes it.  So, she writes about it, and includes recipes using cheese on her website and blog.  Aames blogs at  She went to Ohio, to Amish country, the setting of the book, to do research.  Aames is from California, so she also based the setting a little on Menlo Park, where she grew up.  Everybody knew everyone there.  But, her primary research has been cheese tasting. 

When asked about her favorite cheeses, Avery said a sheep's cheese, Manchego, has a nutty taste.  Then, Taleggio melts wonderfully over vegetables.  She also loves cheddar.  She admitted she wouldn't eat Limburger cheese.  She also found a bleu cheese too strong; it was rancid smelling.  Aames reminded everyone that cheese is alive, and you shouldn't wrap it up, but keep it so air can get to it, and it won't turn.  She told us if a Brie is too young, it will be too hard, and if it's too old, it will be runny.

Jamie Freveletti did the research for her first book by flying to Colombia.  When she first told her husband she was going to do that, he said no she wasn't.  They solved that.  He went, too, and they stayed in Cartegena, in a beautiful hotel with guards with dogs.  She couldn't go to Somalia to research Running Dark, so she consulted a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

And, remember that Carnival Cruise lines refused to help?  She contacted Commodore Warwick, who had been captain of the Queen Mary II for twenty years before retiring, and he helped her.  The drugs she used actually cause an addiction.  She wanted one that would cause people to turn to gambling, or another addiction, and this one actually exists.  And, she consulted a scientist about the jellyfish in the book.  Box jellyfish are one of the most venomous species.

Jamie went on to discuss winning one of the Thriller awards, as a woman.  She said it was the night of the woman that evening.  Lisa Gardner had warned her they weren't going to win, because women didn't win thriller awards.  But, that night, Gardner, Freveletti, and Twist Phelan all won.  Tom Piccirilli was the only man to win.

Freveletti said she's hoping Angelini Jolie's movie, Salt, does well.  If Salt does well, Jamie's books might be optioned for film.  The theory has been that thrillers featuring women don't do well in movies.  This isn't a pairing with a man, and it doesn't involve a superhero.  So, if the movie is a hit, it may indicate a trend, that a thriller can be a hit with a female lead.  It might start a trend if Angelina can carry it off in Salt.

Freveletti's Running with the Devil is up for two more awards, a Barry and a Macavity.  She was on Cloud 9.  It was like a Cinderella story.  And, when she got back to Chicago, she was told her book was  #5 on Chicagoland's Indie booksellers bestseller list

Avery Aames reported that she does have a thriller on an editor's desk.  The story has a male protagonist.  It was inspired by her nephew, who was her sister's son.  Aames' sister was a drug addict.  Aames recommends that thriller writers go to New York to Thrillerfest because a thriller might be picked up there.  She said her real name, Darryl, might be helpful in the thriller market, since it can also be a man's name.

In the meantime, Aames considers herself as a writer for hire, working for Berkley, since they asked her to write a cheese shop mystery.  Berkley looks for a hook for a traditional mystery.  They want a series that will run for three to twelve books.  With the right hook, readers will read everything in the series.  They've covered subjects such as scrapbooking, knitting, catering.  They wanted to cover the cheese shop niche. 

Aames took the job.  She had written a thriller about a woman in Lake Tahoe who was an ex-soap actress, and it didn't sell.  Then, she wrote another one, a Lake Tahoe thriller about a costume designer.  She thought she had a hook for a series set in - Lake Tahoe!  It was to be a gem series, featuring pottery and jewelry made with glass.  A hook can be a city or town, but in Berkley mysteries, it's usually a profession.

Freveletti said a thriller has to be high concept.  Her first book went to a bidding war before being bought in a pre-empt by HarperCollins.  Some of the suggestions, though, from other publishers helped her define her character.  She knew she didn't want to write about a damaged heroine, as someone suggested.  The high concept for book #2 was the Somali pirates.  Book number one was down in the Colombian jungle. 

Since there were a number of writers there from Sisters in Crime, one question was whether you should compare your book to others while pitching it.  Jamie answered that it doesn't hurt to define your book in the genre.  Tell publishers what it's like.  Her books are like The Bourne Identity, early Ludlum, or Lee Child.  Avery said she compares hers to Lisa Gardner's. 

According to Freveletti, the next big hurdle, after acceptance of the first book, is to get a second contract.  The first contract was for books one and two.  Then, you hope books three and four will be picked up.  For her, it didn't hurt that Running with the Devil was a bestseller in Germany.  Aames said her Berkley contract was for three books.  Hopefully, they'll pick up books four through six.  Jamie's HarperCollins contract was for books three and four in the Emma Caldridge series.   There is a kicker clause in the contract.  They have right of first look at the book, but she can send it to another house if she chooses. 

Asked about getting a lawyer for the contract, Freveletti said you don't need one if your agent has a good template for contracts.  She said the publishers are business people, and hers has been wonderful to deal with. 

Both authors stressed that writers need to be persistent.  Don't give up.  And, they need to belong to a group such as Sisters in Crime.  The Guppies are unpublished writers who are members of Sisters in Crime.  Jamie joined Sisters in Crime.

Asked how her kids saw her career, Jamie said her youngest asked if she could get a pony.  But, now that she's older, thirteen, she said she doesn't have time for a horse.

Avery warned that everyone doesn't get Jamie's contract.  Freveletti agreed.  She said her book went to a bidding war, and she received a six figure advance for a two book deal.  Her second contract was close to six figures, but she gets higher royalties, and the publisher pays for her tour.  She has a fantastic agent.  Aames said she doesn't have that kind of contract. 

Freveletti's book sold in forty-five days.  She said the houses have email messages to agents, and their emails said they needed a woman who could write a thriller, and they couldn't find her.  They'd been looking for three years.  Jamie's agent said she was submitting her.  Running from the Devil went to a bidding war.  She said it was interesting.  She had a list of ten editors, and she wanted one of them.    Her agent had a different goal.  She wanted a six figure advance because she wanted to break that six figure ceiling, a rare occurrence. 

Following the program and book signing, the Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime had invited the authors to dinner next door at Grazie Pizzeria and Wine Bar.  I felt lucky that they included me.  Great looking group of women, isn't it?  We had a wonderful time as the authors continued to tell us stories of writing, conferences, and publishing.

Avery Aames' website is and she is one of the bloggers at Mystery Lovers Kitchen.

The Long Quiche Goodbye by Avery Aames. Berkley Prime Crime, ©2010. ISBN 9780425235522 (paperback), 304p.

Jamie Freveletti's website is

Running Dark by Jamie Freveletti.  HarperCollins, ©2010. ISBN 9780061684241 (hardcover), 322p.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Interview with Brenda Novak

I really appreciate Brenda Novak's patience with me while I did this interview. I hope you enjoy the interview with this New York Times bestselling author as much as I did. Remember when Lisa Gardner said she kicked off her career at seventeen? Wait until you read Brenda Novak's account, telling why she started writing. Parents will find it frightening. Thank you, Brenda!

Lesa - Brenda, for those of my readers who aren't familiar with you, would you tell us about yourself?

Brenda - I'm a New York Times Bestselling Author of romantic suspense. I've written nearly 40 novels since I was first published in 1999. (Could it really be that long--already? Wow!--LOL) When I started, I thought I had ONE idea, and here I am. Fortunately, I was wrong about that. My first book was a historical romance titled OF NOBLE BIRTH. Everything I've written since has been contemporary. For a number of years I wrote for Harlequin Superromance line, the longest of Harlequin's series lines. Then I veered into suspense and started writing connected books that were bigger and quite a bit scarier.

Lesa - I understand it was a terrible experience that brought you to writing. Can you tell us how you became a writer?

Brenda - I never dreamed I'd write one book, let alone forty! I thought I was left-brained, better in business than any of the creative arts. Then I caught my daycare provider drugging my children with cough syrup to get them to sleep all day while she watched soaps and I worked as a loan officer. When I found the medicine in my baby's bottle and realized what had been going on, I was angry and hurt (since the daycare provider had been quite close to our family), and I could no longer trust others with the care of my children. I quit my job to stay home with them, but we were in the middle of a very difficult time financially. My husband's business was failing and we were losing everything. I had to do something to help, but I wasn't sure what (I had three kids at this time--I now have five). Fortunately, I was reading a great book, one that gave me a wonderful escape when I needed it most, and that's when the idea first occurred to me that maybe I could become a writer.

Lesa- Tell us about your new Heat series.

Brenda - Each book stands alone but they all revolve around a private security company called Department 6 and the retired special forces, private investigators and police officers who make their living working as “hired guns.” These men and women face some diverse and unusual circumstances—and some very frightening challenges.

In WHITE HEAT, Nate Ferrentino and Rachel Jessop, two members of Department 6, are hired to infiltrate a dangerous cult that has recently settled in the former ghost town of Paradise, Arizona. Members of this cult worship at the feet—and in the bed--of its charismatic leader, Ethan Wycliff. But with one woman claiming to have been stoned, and another missing, Wycliff might be more of a devil than the prophet he claims to be….

In BODY HEAT, Police Chief Sophia St. Claire finds herself out of her investigative league when someone starts shooting people at pointblank range and leaving them to rot in the desert sun just outside her small town. Help arrives in the form of California’s Department 6 Roderick Guerrero. But as the half-breed bastard of a wealthy local rancher, he has a history he can’t get past--a history that includes Sophia St. Claire.

In KILLER HEAT, the remains of seven women have been discovered in Skull Valley, Arizona. It’s up to Jonah Young, from Department 6, to assist the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Department in solving these murders. But he doesn’t anticipate the complications that arise when he’s forced to work with an old flame. Then everything grows more complicated—and far too personal. They quickly zero in on the most likely suspect, but betting on the wrong man might be the last thing they ever do….

Lesa - Why set the books in Arizona? Isn't there something about you growing up in Chandler?

Brenda - As you've mentioned, I lived in Chandler for eight years while I was growing up--back when it was still a farming community and not the sprawling metropolis it has since become. I miss those days, especially the long days of summer. Arizona is so atmospheric--with the history attached to so many of its small towns and the monsoons and the heat….

Also, Arizona has more than its share of ghost towns. Paradise, the setting of the first book, is one of them. I took a little (or a lot) of artistic liberty when I settled my fictional cult in Paradise, but it’s a unique place that really exists. With such a perfect name, I couldn’t resist.

Lesa - White Heat deals with a cult in Arizona. Can you tell us about the first book in the series, and how you came to write about a cult?

Brenda - In White Heat, Dept. 6 operatives Rachel Jessop and Nate Ferrentino must go undercover to stop a dangerous cult. As private security contractors, they’re used to danger, but this is a bit different than anything they’ve done before. The Church of the Covenant has taken up residence in what was once an old ghost town (Paradise) in the middle of the Arizona desert, which means they will be completely cut off from any support. The history they share adds to the difficulty of their mission, especially because they have to be able to depend entirely on each other. Ethan Wycliff, the charismatic leader of the cult is getting more dangerous by the day. One disenchanted member claims he and the others tried to stone her. Not only that, but a teenage girl has recently gone missing. The reports are alarming. They suspect Ethan is getting out of control, soon learn he must be stopped. But Rachel and Nate have to risk their lives in order to stop him.

I’ve always found fanaticism in any form to be fascinating, especially when linked with religious fervor because it gives those who believe an excuse to do just about anything they want “in the name of the Lord.” That they can do terrible things and feel JUSTIFIED is something that makes me shake my head. This book definitely doesn’t diss religion, but it does look at the various types of individuals who go to extremes and feel perfectly justified–even called on–to do so, as if they have some special permission from a higher power. White Heat also looks at real faith and those who are pure in heart in their search for spirituality. I found the heroine’s journey, the way she comes full circle (although her destination is a much healthier version of what she’d been forced into growing up), uplifting because it’s a journey that so many of us take. (Finding out who we are and what we believe about God regardless of what our parents have taught us.)

Lesa - What has surprised you about the writing field, writing, publishing, or touring?

Brenda - I think what I found most surprising is that being a writer means running a business. I pictured myself writing books and sending them off and didn't realize all that went on besides that. I spend at least half of each day handling the business aspects of my vocation--writing content for my newsletter or web site, planning promotion for new books coming out, writing speeches, etc.

Lesa - Who do you read and recommend to others?

Brenda - I love Debbie Macomber, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Janet Evanovich, Nora Roberts, Karen Rose, Elizabeth Gilbert, Linda Howard, Malcolm Gladwell, Ann Rule, Christine Feehan, Jayne Ann Krentz, Susan Mallery--too many to list!

Lesa - Is there something I've neglected to ask that you'd like to talk about?

Brenda - I'd like to mention my annual online auction for diabetes research. My son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was five years old. When I learned exactly what he would face in his life, I was distraught and felt I had to do something to fight back. It took me a couple of years to decide what I was going to do--but then I hit on the idea to have an annual online auction at my web site every May in honor of Mother's Day. I started six years ago. This past May we passed $1 million as a cumulative total and are now shooting for $2 million. Visit to learn more about the auction and how you and your readers can get involved. It's a lot of fun and you can register all year.

Lesa - Brenda, thank you for taking time for this interview. Now, I always end interviews with the same question. Since I'm a public librarian, I'd like you to tell me a story about libraries or librarians in your life.

Brenda - It was the school library that made books available to me as a child so I credit libraries with my love of reading. I remember when I was in fourth grade, I found a shelf of classics. Until that point, I thought I didn't like reading. But then....I fell into those books and went through all of them. I used to hide under the dining room table so my mother wouldn't see me and ask me to do something that would take me away from whatever story I was reading. JANE EYRE was my favorite, then GONE WITH THE WIND.

Thank you, so much, Brenda, for offering readers a glimpse into your books and your writing life.

Brenda Novak's website is

White Heat by Brenda Novak. Mira, ©2010. ISBN 9780778327950 (paperback), 400p.

Monday, July 26, 2010

White Heat by Brenda Novak

It's fascinating to read all of the novels that view Arizona as a hotbed of cults.  Brenda Novak isn't the first one to set a novel in Arizona, but her romantic suspense novel, White Heat, beautifully captures the climate and environment, the heat of the Arizona desert.  And, it should, since Novak lived here in Arizona at one time.  Once you've read her latest book, you'll know the parched conditions here.  And, you'll understand why cults can thrive in that environment, fueled by desperate people.

Nate Ferrentino and Rachel Jessop are employees of a private security company called Department 6, hired to infiltrate a religious cult in Paradise, Arizona.  Ethan Wycliff, a charismatic Cornell graduate is the leader of the Church of the Covenant.  He founded a religious group, baptizes and brands his followers.  But, his father is worried about the group because as a precocious teen, Wycliff corresponded with Charles Manson.  And, by the time Department 6 took the case, one woman had fled the group, after having been stoned, and a teenage girl had disappeared.

Nate and Rachel are to infiltrate the group, posing as a young married couple.  But, they're bringing baggage with them that may interfere with their work.  Rachel grew up in a religious cult, with a father who had complete control over her until she was expelled from the group at seventeen.  She's a little naive, but, at one time, thinking Nate was interested in her, showed up at his home and seduced him.  Neither of them were ready for that, and their testy relationship could prove to be a problem.  But, they have a job to do, even if it means pretending to be husband and wife.  There job is to find the truth, and prevent people from dying in Paradise.

Novak examines the attraction of a cult, and a charismatic leader, and shows the needy people who succumb to a cult's appeal.  And, for those of us familiar with Arizona groups, it's interesting that Rachel's last name is Jessop, a common name in Warren Jeffs' FLDS.  But, White Heat is still a romantic suspense novel, not a study of cults.  And, Novak's readers will find the heat between the two main characters almost as hot as that in the Arizona desert.

Check back tomorrow, when Brenda Novak answers interview questions.

Brenda Novak's website is

White Heat by Brenda Novak.  Mira, ©2010. ISBN 9780778327950 (paperback), 442p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Torn Apart by Shane Gericke

Tess Gerritsen recently said that women like books about serial killers with women as victims.  So, why aren't Shane Gericke's books more popular than they are?  Women should be buying tons of his books, and Torn Apart should be at the top of the list.

The third book about Naperville Illinois detective Emily Thompson is nerve-wracking.  If you can turn the pages fast enough, you can try to keep up with a plot that involves narcotics drivers, kidnapped children, sexual slavery, a Mexican drug cartel, a missing police officer all converging on two points, the Wisconsin woods during deer hunting season, and Naperville.  And, I didn't mention that Emily, who has been the target of two serial killers, is receiving "gifts" and notes from a third.

I can't even say this book started slowly.  It's a violent book from page one.  If you don't want to read books that tell part of the story from the villains point of view, you'll stop immediately when you find a teenager screaming in the back of a van with four brutal men.  Gericke hits the reader with scene after scene of violence before giving the police a little down town, allowing Emily time with her best friend, Annie Bates, SWAT team captain, and her lover, Marty, before he leaves for a hunting trip.  But, even as Marty leaves, the reader knows those hunters will somehow run into the men in the van.  Drug money is leaving its trail up and down the interstate, tearing apart families, communities, and the police force.

Torn Apart will leave you gasping for breath.  It's action-packed and suspenseful, and doesn't give the reader or Emily Thompson a break until the very end.  And, if you can guess the serial killer's identity, you're quicker than I am.  Once again, Shane Gericke has written a stunning thriller, with enough action for any reader.

Shane Gericke's website is

Torn Apart by Shane Gericke.  Kensington, ©2010.  ISBN 9780786020393 (paperback), 320p.

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

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tess Gerritsen at The Poisoned Pen

Unfortunately, my picture of Tess Gerritsen at the Poisoned Pen didn't turn out, so the picture is an internet image. There was a full house for Tess' appearance, so the only introduction needed was that she was the author of the new novel, Ice Cold, the latest Rizzoli and Isles book, and the books are now the basis for a TNT series.

Gerritsen reminded us that Ice Cold is the eighth book in the Jane and Maura series. As usual for Gerritsen's books, there is a true story behind it. She gets most of her ideas from stories in newspapers or the news. So, one of the major incidents in the book is based on an actual event.

In March 1968, a man working in his yard had an earache, and went into the house to lie down. When he got up, he went back outside, and there were dead birds all over his yard, and a dying rabbit. Then, farmers started reporting dead sheep, and by the time it was over, 6,000 sheep had died. No one claimed responsibility for the incident that became known as the Dugway (Utah) Incident. After thirty years, material was declassified by the federal government. And, that's all Tess would
say about the incident connected to Ice Cold.

Gerritsen has a medical background, so she was asked how she went from medicine to a career as a bestselling author. She said she actually started as a writer at the age of seven. That seems to be the universal age for writers to identify themselves as storytellers. But, she came from a Chinese-American family. Those families tend to be conservative and risk adverse. Her father said she'd never make a living as an author, and he wanted her to go into another field. So, she went into medicine, but stopped practicing when her kids were born. She started writing then, and never went back to medicine. She gets ideas by paying attention to shocking news that creeps her out. She's always curious about the world.

Tess Gerritsen had a great story as to how she started writing her series with Rizzoli & Isles. She had been writing standalones. But, she was on tour for the book, Gravity, a book about the space program. It's a book men like, but women aren't fond of. At one book signing, a woman stood up, and said, "I'm not interested in space. I want you to write about something I'm interested in." So, Tess asked the woman what she'd like to read about, and the woman answered, "Serial killers and twisted sex." Then, Tess asked this normal looking woman what she did, and the woman said she taught third grade. Tess was surprised to find that women want to read serial killer books, and they want women as victims. It reminds her of children who like scary books. Both women and children are in groups that are potentially vulnerable, and they like to read books that scare them.

So Gerritsen's novel, The Surgeon, had a serial killer in it. It featured a woman named Dr. Catherine Cordell. And, this character, Jane Rizzoli, had a small part in it. She was supposed to be an unlikable character, who didn't like her brothers, and had a chip on her shoulder. And, Tess planned to kill her by the end of the story. But, she learned to like her, and identify with her. Jane was an outsider, and, as the only Chinese girl in her elementary school, Tess knew what it was like to be an outsider. So, she let her live.

Maura Isles came about from a character auction. There is a real Dr. Maura Isles somewhere in the country. A man won the auction, and wanted the character named after his friend, Dr. Maura Isles. Tess identified with her. She is a character whose science gets in the way of her friendships.

How did the TV show come about? Three years ago, Gerritsen received a cold call from a producer who had optioned the rights for a series based on the characters. He said he just loved Tess' girls, and he wanted them to be on TV. But, that happens all the time, and the options run out without a show being made. His option ran out, but he renewed it. Then, he hired Janet Tamaro as the writer. Tamaro had been a crime reporter for the Washington Post, and she wrote the pilot. Then, it was cast contingent meaning it would be make into a film if they could get a big enough star to say yes. Once Angie Harmon said yes, it was a go. Then Sasha Alexander signed on for Isles. When Gerritsen watched the filming, she finally believed it would happen. They filmed the pilot in suburban LA, a stand-in for suburban Boston. But, it was supposed to be fall in Boston, and it was summer. So, they had to film around the palm trees in LA. Tess said she's a gardener, and there were beautiful roses in bloom in front of the house, that were cut down. Then, when the episode came out, it was a night shot so you never saw where the roses had been. She felt really bad, until she learned the man who rented his house received $35,000 a day for renting it, and, in California, if you rent your house to the film industry, it's tax free.

Gerritsen said she saw the opening scene with a man in his underwear, taped to a chair, who was killed, and later she saw him walking around. It was strange to see "dead people" walking around the set. There were 75 people working the episode she saw filmed, and it went so smoothly, in and out, that she commented on it. The response was, yes, the next time the U.S. decides to invade a foreign country, they should use Hollywood because they know how to get in and out efficiently.

Gerritsen is working on the ninth Rizzoli and Isles novel, set in Boston's Chinatown. It involves the legends her mother used to tell her about the Monkey King, who is supposed to have supernatural powers. Someone seems to have been killed by a monkey.

But, the writing is going slowly because she's been involved in publicity tours, first for the TV show, and then for the book. She's been on the road, because the stars were filming the show, so she was the designated celebrity for TNT. Then, she did her book tour for Ice Cold, and then she does her English book tour.

The first question Tess took from the audience involved the start of her career, writing as a romance writer. Why did she switch? She said she wrote nine romantic suspense books, eight for Harlequin Intrigue. A number of female authors got their start writing for Harlequin. And, she wrote romances because that's what she liked to read as a medical resident. She didn't want to read anything upsetting after a long day. Romances were what she enjoyed.

But, when she wrote her first romantic suspense novel, Call After Midnight, her editor told her she had thirteen dead bodies in the book, a record for them. With Harvest, she switched to medical thrillers. Gerritsen admitted she has an unplanned career. She writes the book she wants to write.

Asked if she had any control over the casting of the TV show, she said she had no control over the casting, or the show itself. She said the writer, Janet Tamaro, did call with a question about the third episode. She couldn't figure out a cause of death that would be so mysterious that Maura couldn't figure it out until Jane sees something in the suspect's house that gives her a clue. Gerritsen said she likes the show because it's female driven. She's the original author; the writer is a female, and it has two female leads.

Tess Gerritsen's goal is to get four pages a day written, if she can. She writes fairly complicated plots, sometimes three books in one. So, she'll often write one of those plots all the way through, and go back to the next one. For instance, the current book has a subplot about a polygamist cult. She writes the prologue at the end when she knows how the story worked out, and knows where to start it.

Asked about the television show, Gerritsen said they're writing their own episodes in their own universe. Jane won't get married on TV, so men can move in out and out her life. In the books, Jane marries in book three.

One man mentioned that Kathy Reichs had said once the TV show, Bones, came out, her publisher wanted her to put "Bones" in all of the titles. Was Tess feeling that kind of pressure. She said, no, but that earlier books in the series had been repackaged to mention the Rizzoli & Isles TV series.

Gerritsen said almost eight million people watched the show the first night, the most ever for a cable TV show's debut. Even so, lots of people are not connecting the books and TV, even at bookstores, so they have a lot of work to do to make the connection.

When asked why Boston as a setting, Gerritsen said she lives in Maine, and the state doesn't have a large enough crime rate. So, she picked the nearest city with a large police department that might deal with serial killers. Plus, she lives close enough to drive there and do research.

Was it strange to have someone else writing about her characters. Tess said no, because she knows the writer, and Janet Tamaro is just like Jane Rizzoli. She Italian, has had to fight to be where she is, and has a chip on her shoulder. Janet said she's a successful TV writer, but she still gets questions from the guard at Paramount as to whether she should be allowed to park in there.

Gerritsen laughed when Hollywood access was mentioned. She said she flew out to LA on a junket. TNT flew Gerritsen, along with 21 radio hosts, and their wives, put everyone up at the Four Seasons, and wined and dined them. There's quite a contrast between TV and traveling on the publisher's tour. The entire time she toured for the TV show, she flew first class, and, if there was a Four Seasons in town, they put her up there. Now that she's touring for the publisher, she's traveling in the back of the plane again.

I told her a friend in Texas wanted to know if the scene in Ice Cold in which a special school is discussed was intended to indicate a spin-off, or a potential YA series. She smiled as she answered, and said she would like to write a YA series, but her publisher has been discouraging her. She'd like to do a YA series involving Evensong School. She loves the idea of that story. In The Mephisto Club, there is a conspiracy theory involving Nephilim, and some people believe in fallen angels. The Head of the Mephisto Club opposes them. Evensong School was created for the children of Mephisto Society members who have been killed.

Asked again about the women who play Rizzoli and Isles, Tess said Jane Rizzoli is supposed to be homely, but no matter what they do, they'll never make Angie Harmon look homely. It's an ever bigger leap to see Sasha Alexander as Maura Isles, though. But, there had to be an increased contrast between the two women for TV. Angie Harmon has the perfect personality for the show, but it's early in the series, so the women are still feeling their way through the roles.

Rizzoli & Isles had the highest ratings on cable TV in the cable history for a debut show. It only dropped 4% in the second week, and it outperformed The Closer, which is unheard of. There are only ten episodes for the season, and then it will be rerun. Both stars are mothers, and that was the lure of a cable show, the shorter season.

What was Gerritsen's medical speciality? She was in internal medicine. Gerritsen said she left because she couldn't find child care. Her husband is also a doctor, and they'd get called to the hospital in the middle of the night, and they'd have to take a baby with them, and turn him over to a nurse, and ask her to take care of him. Gerritsen's husband just retired.

One of the last questions was about Gerritsen's father, and if he was proud of her as an author, since he wanted her to be a doctor. She said he was proud of her as a doctor, but he developed Alzheimer's, and never knew her as a an author. She said it's not uncommon in Asian American families for children to go into careers based on their parents' wishes. She gets so much email from other Asian Americans saying they're miserable every day for not following their own decisions, and they're glad she bucked the trend. One of the saddest was from an engineer who said he became an engineer because his father wanted him to be one, and he'd never get the chance to follow his own dream. He always wanted to be a fashion designer. There are lots of unhappy engineers out there.

Why Maine? They had lived in Honolulu for a number of years, but as a California girl, Tess was never happy on an island. So, they ended up in Camden, Maine after a vacation there. It's a tourist town on the water, and it's paradise in the summer. There are only 5,000 people, but three bookstores.

After the fascinating program, Tess Gerritsen signed books, and I had the chance to thank her for her guest blog about public libraries, saying I'd heard from a number of librarians who were so appreciative of her sentiments.

Tess Gerritsen's website is

Ice Cold by Tess Gerritsen. Ballantine Books, ©2010. ISBN 9780345515483 (hardcover), 314p.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Think of a Number by John Verdon

I started John Verdon's debut thriller, Think of a Number, and, by page 35, I was thinking, this writing is a little dense for me. And, even after finishing it, I still think it could have been tightened. But, the complicated thought processes are part of the main character, Dave Gurney, and before long, Dave had captured my attention. This may be thriller, and a complicated puzzle, but Dave Gurney is the heart of Think of a Number. If you like Gurney, you'll find this novel irresistible.

Gurney has recently retired from the NYPD at the age of 47. But, his whole life was wrapped up in his career as a successful homicide detective, and he can't put that behind him. Even his new hobby involves killers. Gurney paints portraits of murderers. His intense focus on murder is just one of the causes of tension between Gurney and his wife, Madeleine. The two have drifted apart, but Madeleine is very astute at gauging Dave's reaction to everything from her comments to phone calls.

But, no one could have guessed the result of a phone call from an old college acquaintance. Mark Mellery irritated Gurney by claiming a friendship they hadn't really had when he shows up asking for help. He's received odd letters, and they seem threatening, but Mellery doesn't want to call the police and jeopardize his position as director of an institute. Instead he brings the letters to Gurney, letters that started by saying, "Think of a number." And, then, when the writer correctly guessed Mellery's number, the writer said, see how well I know you. Now, send me money. While Gurney treated it as an intriguing puzzle, he knew the letters that continued to come were threatening, but he couldn't convince Mellery to go to the police. And, then it was too late.

The call saying Mellery had been killed brought the retired homicide detective into a complicated puzzle that continued to grow worse. Gurney agreed to work for the local D.A. as a special consultant, but he didn't know how many more murders there would be; murders that seemed impossible. And, each time, taunting letters preceded the death.

Think of a Number is a complicated, enjoyable puzzle for any reader who enjoys following the clues. First, get past the writing, which seems complicated, but the book deals with a complicated man, not so much the killer but the investigator. Here's just one passage that illustrates what I mean by dense writing. "It wasn't that he disagreed with her, at least not aesthetically, maybe not at all, but the difficult personal fact for him was that his natural inclinations tilted him inward in a variety of ways, with the result that, left to his own devices, he spent more time in the consideration of action than in action, more time in his head than in the world. That had never been a problem in his profession; in truth, it was the very thing that seemed to make him so good at it." At the same time, that passage shows the kind of character we're observing. Gurney is a complicated man who fears failure, and knows his wife understands him better than anyone. At the same time, he fears they've grown apart. But, he can't help himself when he grows fascinated by the lure of an intriguing murder case.

I did have one other issue with this book, and perhaps it's a problem for a first-time author. The police never investigated the person who seemed to be an obvious suspect. Perhaps, as a first-time author, Verdon didn't want to point at the villain. As a long-time reader of crime fiction, I looked at the person precisely because the police didn't.

Enjoy Think of a Number as a thriller about a serial killer. But, it's also a story about a complicated man. And, it's a story of a marriage. John Verdon's debut novel is a successful thriller. But, for me, the complexity of relationships gives the book its depth, and the complicated man at the heart of the mystery is its greatest puzzle.

Think of a Number by John Verdon. Crown Publishing Group, ©2010. ISBN 9780307588920 (hardcover), 432p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Verdon's publicist sent me the book as part of a blog tour.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Giveaway - Catching Fire with Cleo Coyle

Cleo Coyle, author of the Coffeehouse mysteries is offering one lucky winner a pair of books this week. Her new book Roast Mortem is due out in August. So, one lucky winner will receive a signed galley of Roast Mortem, and a copy of The California Firehouse Cookbook. It might seem like an odd pairing, but I'm going to let Cleo explain in her own words.

"Why am I giving away a firehouse cookbook? Well...

In Roast Mortem, coffeehouse manager and amateur sleuth Clare Cosi ends up smack in the middle of an arson investigation after an elderly friend's cafe is intentionally torched. Clare quickly goes head-to-head with a blustery FDNY fire captain who insists that none of his men aided an arsonist in his or her crime. Clare isn't so sure and when firefighters begin to die in suspicious ways, she suspects she's got a hot case of murder on her hands.

Like all of my Coffeehouse Mysteries, Roast Mortem is also a culinary mystery and it includes firehouse inspired recipes, which is why I'm happy to send the galley and the firehouse cookbook directly to your July winner. (The cookbook is part of a fundraising campaign for a worthy firefighter's charity, which is why I'm very happy to be giving these away via blogs like yours and my own web site.)"

I have copies of both books, and I think you're going to want them. We all know firemen are known for their good cooking. So, there are recipes for Spicy Firehouse Chili, West Coast Jambalaya, Jim Beam and Cola Barbecued Pork Ribs. And, of course, you'll want an autographed galley of Cleo's forthcoming book, Roast Mortem.

If you don't win this week, we'll be running a contest at the beginning of August for a signed hardover of Roast Mortem.

If you'd like to read a Special Prologue and First Chapter Excerpt of Cleo Coyle's Roast Mortem, you can find it here:

You can even get a sneak peak at some of the recipes in Roast Mortem's recipe section -

And, here's a link to Terry Farrell Firefighter's Fun charity for more information (in case any of you are interested in purchasing the California Firehouse Cookbook for yourself, which benefits the fund):

Here's what you need to do to enter the giveaway. Email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: Your subject line should read "Catch Fire with Cleo Coyle." Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, July 29 at 6 p.m. PT. The winner will be selected by random number generator. The winner will be notified, and Cleo will send your books. Good luck!

Lisa Gardner & Mike Lawson at the Poisoned Pen

Lisa Gardner, author of Live to Tell, and Mike Lawson, author of House Justice, appeared together at the Poisoned Pen. Gardner's series features Boston police detective D.D. Warren. Lawson writes the Joe DeMarco espionage series. The latest book received starred reviews in PW and Booklist.

The authors were asked to introduce their books. Gardner began by saying this was her first visit to Phoenix, so it was her first visit to the Poisoned Pen. She said, sadly, she's unusual for a suspense author in that writing is all she's ever done. She wrote her first book at seventeen, sold it at twenty. She's written nearly thirty suspense novels.

Live to Tell starts with D.D. Warren going a date. D.D. should never go on dates because the crime rate in Boston goes up. Gardner says her stories start with a puzzle and a crime. This one begins with what appears to be a straightforward crime. It was a family annihilation, and that usually just means a lot of paperwork for the police. However, a second family was killed the next day. So the connection was found at a locked down pediatric psych ward where a nurse, Danielle Burton, worked, whose family had been killed by her father exactly twenty-five years earlier, leaving her as the only survivor.

Lisa Gardner went on to tell us that the idea came from the true story of the son of a friend, a child who had a psychotic break at eight. He used a hammer to destroy the house, and the babysitter had to lock herself in a room, barricading it to protect herself and the boy's little sister, while she called the police. It takes very special people to work in those pediatric wards, but they say if they can save some kids at five, they may prevent a greater tragedy fifteen or twenty years later.

Gardner said she hopes her books leave readers with some feeling of resolution. She hopes they're intrigued, puzzled and terrified.

Mike Lawson said a review in the New York Times said one of the part things about his books is that "None of the characters are high-minded." Lawson worked for the Navy for thirty years, working in reactor plants on the West Coast. He said he started writing when he took the ferry from Seattle to the shipyard daily. He had a one hour trip, and could type during that time. But, it took him ten years to get an agent. His favorite story is about a woman who said she'd never sold a book, but agreed to represent him. She sent a very amateurish letter to the publisher, and then one day she called, and said she'd have to drop him. Her house had flooded, she had all these troubles, and she just couldn't handle the two clients she had.

After ten years of trying, an agent called, and said he liked the sample Would he send the book? By this time, Lawson had sent the book to so many agents, he didn't even know who he was talking to. But, he sent the book, and two days later, he had a call saying he liked the book, but would he change a few things. It turned out the man was John Grisham's agent.

Lawson sets his books in Washington, D.C. because it's a target rich environment, with horrendous and frightening stories, that are all true. His latest, and fifth book, House Justice, deals with a story similar to Valerie Plame's, the CIA agent who was outed. In Lawson's book, a reporter reveals a CIA agent's name, and the agent is killed. It looks like the leak might have come from Congress.

Lawson's books have three main recurring characters. Joe DeMarco is the political troubleshooter for the Speaker of the House. The Speaker, John Fitzpatrick Mahoney, resembles Tip O'Neill physically, but he's more corrupt. Then there's a CIA agent.

Mike said his second book is set in the shipyard where he worked. That story resembles one that happened in Los Alamos, when some CDs disappeared, and some employees were said to be spies for the Chinese. When Lawson was working at the shipyard, some CDs disappeared that had secret information about submarines on them. They weren't stolen, but had just been misfiled.

The authors were asked what they read, and Lisa said she had been touring with Tess Gerritsen, and she read her books, and everyone needed to be home to watch Rizzoli & Isles on TV that night. She said the book she's been raving about, though, is Chevy Stevens' Still Missing.

Lawson began his answer by telling everyone that Lisa Gardner had just won Thriller of the Year from International Thriller Writers for her book, The Neighbor, and he was hoping to get that for his wife because she likes to go to open houses. Then he said he reads Don Winslow, Thomas Perry, John Sandford, and Richard Price. He also likes nonfiction, particularly a series about the NSA. Gardner said, as to nonfiction, she likes true crime. Her mother recently sent her a book on blood spatter that she's excited to read.

Asked about research, Lisa Gardner said started writing romantic suspense, under the name Alicia Scott. She came from a family of accountants, so that wasn't helpful when she wanted to write suspense. But, she discovered that she could successfully cold call agencies to get help.

Lawson said before 9/11, it was particularly easy to call Congress or the State Department and ask questions. DeMarco's office is in the subbasement of the Capitol. Mike found it pre-9/11, when you could wander anywhere in the Capitol. He found this room in the subbasement, and thought it would be perfect for DeMarco's office. You can't do that today. In fact, he called Homeland Security, and asked for their address, and they wanted to know why he wanted it. He eventually go the address, from another agency.

Asked what they liked about writing, Lisa said she loves the research. She just spent two days at the Body Farm at the University of Tennessee, and she loved it. She usually does three months of research before writing her books. But, asked if she knows who did it, she said the characters are ambiguous to her to start. She had a preconceived idea with The Neighbor, and she changed it for a better idea.

Mike loves to write. (At which point, Lisa told him she hated him.) He starts with an idea, and just starts writing. But, he does a lot of rewriting. The characters tell you where you're going. He said he writes the first draft fast, and then plays with it. He said he doesn't know where he's going for the first 100 pages. He's always liked John Grisham's comment. When told readers could see what was coming, Grisham said how do they know where it's going, when he didn't.

Both authors said they do a lot of rewriting. Lawson commented that he has gotten better at writing, but it's not an easy. (At which point, Lisa told him she liked him now.) He said he's a smarter writer, but not as polished as he'd like.

Gardner said she's been writing for twenty years, and has thirty novels. She was already published when she married and started a family, and she wondered if parenthood would change her. Now, she writes domestic suspense rather than serial killers. Now, she has a seven-year-old, and lies away at night, thinking of what could happen. She told us, "If I'm afraid of something, twelve months later you'll have a novel."

Lisa said her darkest novel, Say Goodbye, when she and her daughter kept listening to the Care Bears. So, the secret to violence is listening to the Care Bears. To this day, she thinks she could sing the entire album. So, for those kids who think their parents scar them, when you're a parent, you're children fight back.

Asked if they always wanted to be writers, Lawson said he always wanted to write. He needed a laptop and that hour ferry ride. And, what got him started is when he read a book by an author he liked, and the book wasn't very good. He thought, I can write as bad as that.

At seventeen, when she started to write, Lisa saw it as a hobby. Her family was all into math. Her parents were accountants. She never thought she'd make a living as a writer. But, she can write in casual clothes at home. Even at three, when her daughter saw her putting on heels to go to a signing, she'd say, you'll be an "author" today.

The comment was made that 95% of American people think they have a book inside them. Mike said, they probably do, but it takes persistence and luck, because it's a tough industry. Lisa said prospective writers could go to her website, to find tools of the trade, under Toolbox, a fifty page lecture series on how to get published.

Asked about the original name she wrote under, Alicia Scott, Gardner said she used that name for category romances. But, the name was owned by the publishing company, so she didn't have permission to use it when she left. She's with Bantam for her suspense novels.

Someone asked Mike about a previous comment he had made in passing, that by the time he was published he had two more books written. He said, yes, he continued to write although he'd been rejected. And, some of his rejections contained very good advice. He appreciated one rejection. He loved his characters and his plot, but so much of the writing did nothing to advance the plot.

Lisa agreed. She said you need to keep writing. She discovered writers don't control publishing. But, the writing is about the writer. So, keep writing and working on the next project. She had two more books done while waiting for her first book to be published.

Lawson said he writes every day. He likes to write from about 5 to 11 a.m. Gardner compared writing to going to the gym. No one wants to do it, but they're happy with the results.

Asked about book tours, Mike said he finds book tours fun. Lisa likes to do tours and events with another author. Then she gets to talk with them. She's recently toured with Tess Gerritsen, and she's toured with Karin Slaughter.

They each do a book a year. Gardner does three months of research, three months for the first draft, three months of revision, and then her daughter's home for the summer, and she doesn't write. Later that night, when Lawson said it must be hard to write with a seven-year-old, Gardner said she has rented an office within walking distance, so she can get out of the house and write. That was her husband's idea.

Asked about her favorite book, Gardner said it's the one coming out in March 2011. It will be another D.D. Warren novel. She researched it by going to the Body Farm at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. They do cutting edge forensics there. Lisa said she was so pleased that she horrified a woman there; she shocked a true professional.

Someone asked her about her two series, and Gardner said she had done a series with an FBI profiler, and she does the D.D. Warren series. She had first done the FBI series, but she had an idea that she wanted to d a police sniper book. So, she had a SWAT team, the Massachusetts State Police, and a Boston detective with a walk-on part, D.D. Warren. She liked D.D., who became her own series. Lisa admitted her publisher would probably like her to be consistent and write one series.

Mike Lawson said he had written his NSA book as a standalone, but his editor told him it should be turned into a DeMarco book. Publishers like series. Sometimes, though, it's hard to tell the story from the perspective of the series character. But, the publisher wanted a series.

Lisa said, though, overall, it's a collaborative relationship with the editor and the author. The editor is trying to help you understand how different aspects of books affect sales. They'll say, it might be better if we go this way.

Mike said he likes his main character. Lisa agreed, saying she likes D.D. Warren, but she likes to introduce another main protagonist, adding other personalities to the mix. Live to Tell has three main protagonists, and she won't do that again.

In answer to a question, both authors said they have no input on the narrator for their audio books. Neither one had listened to their books. They said by the time it comes out, they've moved on, and they're sick of writing and rewriting that book, so they don't want to listen to it.

Lisa told the audience the number one question Tess Gerritsen receives on tour is why is Maura Isles a blonde in the new show, Rizzoli & Isles. It's for the visual contrast on TV. They need visual cues, and it's even more important for the overseas market to have visual cues.

Asked when they felt as if they made it, Gardner answered at Thrillerfest, when she found out she was the first female to win Thriller of the Year for The Neighbor. And she had the twenty-pound trophy she could use to kill someone. Of course, when she arrived home, her husband, who races, told her he won two trophies over the weekend.

Lawson said he felt lucky when his book sold, but they actually both agreed it's hard to feel as if you've actually made it. Writers are very insecure, knowing the publishing business is changing.

The authors ended by talking about naming of characters. Lisa Gardner runs a sweepstakes, Kill a Friend, Maim a Buddy, and the winners get to die in the next novel. Mike said he's only done charity events, when a role in a novel is auctioned off. It was then mentioned that Maura Isles was the winner of such a contest. The character was supposed to have a small role in a book, and the character grew to have a large role, and now a part in a TV series. So, somewhere out there is a real person named Maura Isles, and the character was named after her.

A book signing followed the program, and then, thanks to Barbara Peters from the Poisoned Pen, I was able to join Lisa Gardner, Mike Lawson, and some of the members of the Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime for a hour of conversation afterward at Trader Vic's.

Lisa Gardner's website is

Mike Lawson's website is