Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Q & A on Son of Spade

Today I'm the guest on Son of Spade, a great site dedicated to spotlighting the fictional Private Investigator.

They ask me questions about writing, about the inspiration for my Zack Taylor mystery series with the first two, "A Memory of Grief" and "A Fall From Grace."

They're interested in the whole PI concept in books, so we get into what's important about that in good mystery series. Take a look at who they like, and you'll see I'm in good company.

While Zack Taylor isn't a professional invesitgator, he's an amateur sleuth whose peculiarities allow him to help people out.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Review of New Mystery- Tempest in the Tea Leaves

In this fun and frolicsome mystery by Kari Lee Townsend, we meet psychic Sylvia "Sunny" Meadows. She can see the future for others by reading tea leaves, but her own life is a mess.

Sunny leaves the big city to build a life and a new business in small-town Divinity, but things get off to a rocky start. She moves into a haunted house, complete with a scary, and possibly magical cat, whom she christens Morty.

During a tea-leaf psychic reading, Sunny sees tragedy, which comes true as the woman is murdered shortly after. Sunny becomes a suspect, and must contend with a grumpy but attractive detective that she won't admit she likes. They argue constantly, neither giving the other an inch.

To add to her troubles, her annoying, arrogant parents show up, constantly putting her down and getting in the way. Poor Sunny can't even get a proper haircut, as the salon completely messes up, and now Sunny has just too much to handle.

Circumstance keeps throwing her with the detective, and she tries to solve the case, hoping she'll get off the hook soon, as being a murder suspect isn't good for building a new business.

She's an outsider in this little hamlet, and suspects abound, mostly over a fight to save the town library. Sunny does what she can, but there's just so many things going on, it's like trying to stand still in a hurricane.

The pace reminds you of those fun screwball Hollywood movie comedies of the 30's and 40's, with rapid-fire dialog, and verbal sparring matches between couples who are right for each other, even if neither will admit it. The story hurtles at breakneck speed toward a resolution of the mystery and Sunny's personal crises.

So if you like your amatuer sleuths sassy and fun, you'll enjoy this read. It's the start of a series, so get in on the ground floor! Grab a copy of Tempest in the Tea Leaves.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Author Night

Had a great time at the Author Night at the Nashua Library recently. Got to have a signing table along with 20 other writers in the room, and we had a big crowd. Here's a few pics.

Had my friend John next to me-- he's co-written a huge technical book on Cisco routers, and was pushing it as a bulletproof vest...

Kudos to all supporters who came, including Jason from Briona Glen, the publishing company for my mystery novels.

And to the hecklers from the Nashua Mystery Group, who showed up in force. Though we missed you, Marcia...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How Publishers Treat Authors

I was recently posting in an AbsoluteWrite forum about my decision to go with a small publisher for my first novel, thinking I'd help other writers by giving information and data points they could use, explaining my reasons, and giving actual examples.

All kinds of wingnuts came out of the woodwork to tell me how wonderful it was to have a big publisher with a lot of money to throw at you-- and the public, for publicity for your book.

Sure, I said, but I haven't found a fairy godmother to grant my wishes like that, so for those of us in the real world, it's better to get your book published and work hard to promote it yourself.

Well that got their undies in a twist, and they responded by saying I didn't know diddly about the publishing world.

After I got done laughing, I detailed my years of experience and voluminous research, citing examples of those who had come to the same conclusions about Big Trad Pub, including numerous traditionally-published authors. The wingnuts sputtererd in outrage, saying how wonderful Big Trad Pub was, and what a mistake it was to think otherwise.

So I offer as one piece of evidence, this post from Joe Konrath, who's been very successful outside the Big Trad Pub world-- which causes them fits-- because they have to then downplay everything he does-- because it shows they're full of pony poop.

The post tells how the Big Trad Pub world has been treating authors--hint-- not well.

So you be the judge-- try and win the lottery and maybe get a book out and maybe win again and have it do well, and maybe win again and get treated well... etc, etc.

OR-- take charge of your career, do it yourself, and have no cause to whine or complain.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Review of New Mystery- Liver Let Die

If you like your mysteries fun, fast, and fresh, try this sassy debut novel from Liz Lipperman.

Liver Let Die details the tribulations of a young lady, wannabe sports reporter Jordan McAllister, as she takes on a new job that's murder. As a hapless and hopeless anti-foodie who has a hard time even boiling water, she's tapped to become an overnight food critic, and must journey to an exclusive new restaurant and report on the cuisine.

Of course the assignment turns out to be a lot more than she bargained for, and a mystery ensues, with Jordan as a suspect. Things get heated up even more when Jordan stumbles on a recipe for success-- not bad for a gal who can't cook, and whose idea of haute cuisine is a Sizzler.

Along the way, she must deal with a host of men who complicate things. Are these guys here to help her or hinder her? Are they romantic possibilities, or killers in disguise? The author keeps you guessing with a variety of role changes in the shifting cast.

Jordan is aided by a colorful cast of characters, who give her everything from moral and immoral support, to recipes for her new column. It's a lively group who pull together to make sure things don't get too far out of hand. They don't always succeed in this, but they try real hard.

This is one of those mysteries that's a great fast read, where you just keep breezing along. And it's got some interesting, down-home, real-life recipes to try, as an added bonus. So pick up a copy and settle back for a fun ride. And then try the chicken... but just don't order the duck...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Interview With Author Jennifer Pelland

If you like any sort of Science Fiction/Speculative Fiction or whatever you want to call it, check out the work of Jennifer Pelland, whose book of short stories, Unwelcome Bodies is amazing, and who has now released a novel, Machine (review here). Her work has earned two Nebula nominations.

We asked Jen a few questions about writing and her work.

First of all, you've done so well with your short stories, being twice nominated for the prestigious Nebula Award of Science Fiction. So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin of Machine.
This started like most of my stories do -- with me getting a random idea that I wanted to explore. But the more I explored this one, the more I realized that it wouldn't fit in a short story. I figured novelette at first, or novella, but then I realized that it was too big for that and that it had to be a novel instead.

Novels take an entirely different mindset than short stories. Was it difficult to make the switch?
Machine is actually the second novel I've written, so I went into this knowing that I'd done it before and could do it again (that first novel was never published). But even with that, I did occasionally find it difficult sustaining my enthusiasm for the project for as long as I had to to finish it. It helped that I was really invested in my protagonist and wanted to see her story through. I think that's been what's doomed subsequent novel attempts on my part. I need to find another protagonist that I care this much about.

Along those lines, what were you able to do here that you maybe couldn't do with a shorter work? Did the result change how you look at future projects?
I think the main thing I could do here was have my character go through a much more complete arc than any of my short story protagonists. Plus, I got to take more time with it. It's downright luxurious compared to how quickly I need to move things along in a short piece. I wish it had changed how I look at future projects, but since I haven't finished another novel since then, it apparently hasn't.

Do you normally start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it leads, or map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?
My writing style has changed over time. I used to be a germ writer, then moved to being a plotter, then got to a point where plotting ruined the fun of writing for me, then moved to a place where if I didn't plot in advance, I didn't know what to do next. So I've been all over the map. Right now, I'm still in the "plot in advance so you know that the story has somewhere to go" mode, but as history shows, that could easily change.

While some authors suffer from a dearth of ideas, you have so much going on in the book-- explorations of identity, humanity, gender, sexuality, prejudice, society, etc., so what do you feel is the main theme(s)?
The theme of loss is what drove me as I was writing it -- losing your love, your anchor, your humanity, your connection to the world. All those other things are definitely in there, but to me, they're secondary to the whole notion of overwhelming loss. To me, this is the story of a woman who thinks she has lost everything, but keeps finding that she has more to lose.

Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?
Hmm, that's an interesting one. I suppose that I hope that people come away realizing that I didn't invent the expressions of sexuality and gender in the book, but was just looking at real people in the world around me and making sure they were represented in my fictional world. So many of us don't realize that there have always been people living beyond the so-called binaries in our world (female/male, gay/straight, etc). I've been privileged to know many brave people who don't hide who they are, despite enormous societal pressure to do so, and I wanted them to be in my book.

And how does that tie in with the rest of your work? Artists sometimes do studies for larger works. Did you have shorter works that were studies for this broader canvas?
Not specifically. But it's definitely part of a pattern. When setting up protagonists for a piece, I spend a fair amount of time trying to determine what kind of person a story calls for, and if that means going outside of society's comfort zones, then that's what I have to do. For instance, in "Captive Girl," the first thing I knew was that the main character had to be female. Then I realized her caretaker had to be her lover. Then I realized the story only worked if she'd had this caretaker since she was a young girl. Then I realized her lover had to be female as well. The story wouldn't work any other way. That's so far outside of most people's comfort zones, but it's what the story demanded. And it's one of my most commercially successful pieces, so there's a lesson there.

Do you want to share your personal views on what makes identity? If a person's consciousness were put into a completely artificial support system, would they still be human, or something else? Are we entering a time when most of what we think we are is a matter of choice?
I've never really tried to define identity. Whatever you think makes you who you are, that's cool with me. I'll leave that definition for the academics. As for consciousness transfers, friends of mine who understand neurobiology look at stories like mine and dub them fantasy. As cool as I think the idea is, I know it's likely an impossible dream. So when I write about it, I do it as a "what if?" experiment. What I actually think is more likely is that we're going to enter an age of elaborate body-hacking. People are already making themselves look mildly inhuman with tongue-forking, horn implants, and other non-surgical body mods. I have a feeling that as medical technology progresses, we'll be hacking our meat rather than hacking our brains. And it'll be fascinating to see how our brains handle that.

Are there writers with similar themes? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?
The writers who leap to mind are Octavia Butler and James Patrick Kelly. Butler wrote from an unabashedly female perspective, and there was nothing girly about it. In fact, when I started reading her, I don't think I'd seen anything darker. I'm fascinated by the way she played with identity and with the lengths that a human being will go to to survive in a nightmare scenario. Jim Kelly, on the other hand, showed me how a writer could be gritty and cool while writing about the worst of humanity. When I was a student at Viable Paradise, he critiqued my story "Dazz," which is about a junkie who's sold her legs to pay for drugs and totters around on cheap mechanical replacements. He gave me a great piece of advice on it that I've taken to heart for all my stories: leave the vomit in. He was concerned that other critiquers would be too grossed out by the piece and ask me to tone it down, and he wanted me to know up front to ignore that. So you can blame the nastier bits of my writing career on him.

Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?
My main goal is entertainment, but if I can toss in characters that reflect a reality that most people don't see (or don't want to see), then that's a bonus. The world is far more interesting than people realize.

Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?
I haven't been writing a lot lately, and I'm trying to get back on the wagon. I started working on a novel, but it stalled out, so I'm walking away for a bit and trying to get out a short story or two before turning back to it. I need to fall in love with my protagonists, and I need to get them into more trouble. Hopefully, beating up on a couple of short story protags will help.

Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?
This novel was started in 2004, so I am damned well sick of it. It's been revised extensively for several years, first to try to attract an agent, then again at the agent's suggestion, then again for the publisher. Yeah, I'm about at the point of reading other people's stories at my convention readings. I don't usually go over my shorts that much, although I am very much a reviser. My rough drafts come out very lean, and need to be bulked in revisions. I used to be a fast writer. I miss those days. Then again, I didn't sell much those days, so there's a lesson there.

Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?
I just have whatever editors buy my work. I've dealt with some who've just wanted minor tweaks, and some who've asked for major revisions. So far, I haven't had an editor ask for more than I was willing to give, so that's nice.

If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?
I suppose it depends on what they asked for. I don't have a ton of spare time, so I try to be helpful in controlled environments, like in panels at conventions, or as a writing workshop leader (which I do every year at WisCon). I'm very happy to point people to resources that have been put together by people far more knowledgeable and successful than me. But I'm not in a place where I can mentor someone or where I can offer critiques to strangers, alas. Between the day job, writing, belly dance, and trying to have some semblance of a social life, there's not a lot of time left over.

Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see Machine as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?
Well, there is an audio book in the works, so that should be interesting. As for a film, I don't know how that would work unless it was NC-17. The sex feels like an integral part of Celia's journey. But if someone offers me a nice fat check, I'll be happy to let them have at it. The adaptation of Jumper, as awful as it was, still resulted in a lovely payday and a lovely sales spike of the novel for Stephen Gould.

What's the next step in your writing world?
Getting back on that damned horse. Stupid horse. Why must you be so difficult?

Any other information you'd like to impart?
Just that I've got a fun event coming up that'll make my two creative worlds collide. On St. Patrick's Day, I'll be belly dancing to Irish music at Annie's Book Stop in Worcester, Massachusetts from 3:00 to 5:00 while selling my book. Well, I'll alternate dancing and signing, because my writing is illegible enough when I'm standing still. But when else will you get a chance to have a book signed buy a sweaty belly dancer who's likely to shed glitter on the pages in the process?

Web page: (also has the info on Annie's Book Swap)
Where to buy:, or link right to Apex:

Featured in the Spotlight

Writer Ken Hoss, author of Storm Rising, has a Spotlight feature on his blog, where he showcases other writers--
and I'm the Indie Author in the Spotlight!

Ken's been helping other writers for some time. And he's got a corker of a police procedural with plenty of action and adventure-- Storm Rising revolves around Kelli Storm, the strong female protagonist, as she tries to balance her complicated personal life with a life and death crisis in her career. Check it out.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Multi-Author Signing Thurs. 2/23

Finally got word from the Nashua Library-- I'll be part of the Author night, this coming Thursday, Feb. 23, at 7:00 pm in the Image Gallery of the library.

It's a multi-author signing and a chance to see a different group of writers-- over 20!-- check out their books, and get your questions answered.

We even got a writeup in the Nashua paper.

Hope the weather is better for this signing. Last one was snowed out.

So come on (up or down) to Nashua on Thursday night and take part in a big literary event. Buy some books, support local artists.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Chuck Wendig Today- Happy Valentine

I'm putting together the print version of my latest book Jumble Sale-- and it's a ton of work.

So I'm going to let Chuck Wendig entertain and instruct you today, as my little valentine. He's going to tell you 25 Things You Should Know About Protagonists.

Read it and laugh and learn. The guy can put together a great lesson.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Another Book Published!

Worked hard today to publish my latest book, Jumble Sale-- a collection of my first 20 previously-published short stories. Each of these was published in magazines or online, and are now gathered together for the first time.

It's up tonight as an ebook on Smashwords, and is about 150 pages, 53,000 words, for a mere $4.99. Quite a steal, as editors who originally published the stories paid a lot more.

We'll have a print version as soon as I can get a full wrapped cover and proof it.

Woo-hoo! Further progress on my insane writing challenge for 2012.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

This Ain't Sparta!

According to the tracking, this is my 300th blog post. Now THAT'S Long-winded. Most other folks don't get that far, they lose interest, or get busy with other stuff.

Although this is #300, there is no Sparta going on here. In that movie, the Spartans proudly talked about being "free Greeks."

Um, somebody missing a concept there... They were about as unfree as you can get. They served a King, high ministers, the state, and a horribly rigid social code which prescribed killing for anyone straying from it even the slightest. Not really free there, fellas.

But I have something free for you today, a review of a terrific new book by Jennifer Pelland, twice a nominee for the prestigious Nebula Award in Science Fiction. The book is Machine, her new novel, and it's definitely worth a read. She'll be interviewed here soon, so send any questions you might have for her.


Whether you call it science fiction, or speculative fiction, or sociological fiction, or any other term, the genre field is about technological advances, but more importantly, what those changes in technology mean to us as humans. The best examples show us how people's lives are altered with this new leap in the sciences-- what about us changes, and what remains essentially the same. The humanity of the story is what truly matters.

In Machine, the humanity of the story is all, as it should be. Jennifer Pelland gives us a heart-rending tale of a life altered by a technological advance. When science can put our consciousness into a mechanical body, who would want to go back to their fleshly frame? When there are, in effect, two of you, which is the "real" one? Does that term have significance anymore? How would your loved ones react to your mind in a different shell?

These questions and more pop up in this masterful book. So many different viewpoints are shown as to what people would think about the technique, and what happens to those who undergo it. There are religious and ethical protesters, opportunists, fetishists, and others who are portrayed against the personal struggle of one woman to keep her identity and life together.

When, for medical reasons, the protagonist Celia Isoke Krajewski undergoes the procedure to put her fleshly body in stasis while she "lives" in a mechanical copy, she awakens to find that in the eyes of some, she is now a monster. Those now opposed to her include her nearest and dearest loved ones. She soon becomes an outcast, separated from all she has known. She finds unlikely allies in her struggle to understand who she now is and what that means.

The book realistically shows that although society changes in regard to some personal choices, people in the book continue to hold bigoted opinions about what others are doing with their bodies and selves. The characters are tolerant about their own choices, but demand that others submit to a different standard.

So we have a grand example of a book that examines what it is to be human when the boundaries of humanity are stretched and morphed into alternatives. Is it an evolution or an abomination? Machine will make you think and give you a new understanding about identity, gender, and beliefs.

When you have finished with Machine and want to read more by this talented author, get her book of stories, Unwelcome Bodies, with further explorations of identity and change.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Video Is Up

At last, we have the video of my appearance on Jane Bouvier's show "Around Town" on Groton TV. We did the interview last month, and it's just now available.

Just remember, the camera adds 100 pounds-- I look like a moose. But at least I speak decently enough.

Good stuff here- Jane is a great interviewer, and has a way of putting guests at ease. We have a lovely chat.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Another Signing

Had another fun signing last weekend, seeing a lot of old friends.

But why the odd costumes, you ask? This was part of an event run by a group of folks who do medieval re-creation of all sorts, as part of an educational, non-profit group of re-enactors. It's called the Society for Creative Anachronism, and it's been going on for over 40 years.

Since I know a lot of the folks taking part in this event, I put up my first table as part of the "merchants," those with something for sale. Sure, the mysteries aren't especially targeted toward these folks, but I also had copies of my first 5-story collection, Fables and Fantasies. And readers are readers, and the people of this group tend to read more and own more books than the average person. So I sold some books and now have more readers of the Zack Taylor series.

There are those writers who advise that I shouldn't do signings and would do better to stay in my room writing. But I like the contact with readers, seeing the work of many years come to fruition. I may get tired of it, as Joe Konrath has, but for now I'll do them every so often.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Book Blogs Rule

In the past, people might find out about good books from reading reviews in newspapers and magazines. Almost all of these were books from the big, traditional publishing houses.

Today, there's still some of that going on, but with the revolution in alternative publishing methods, people need reviews of books outside that system. How do you find the excellent books from independent and small-press writers?

That is being covered in large part by numerous book blogs, as evidenced in this article.

For example, my work was recently featured in three terrific blogs:

Morgen Bailey's Writing Blog

Mysteries and Margaritas

Do Some Damage

Writers find other writers and help get the word out to readers. What are your favorite blogs?