Thursday, June 30, 2011

Origins



Carla smiled. “Why’d they kick you off the force?”

“Got drunk one night and wiped out a newsstand with my cruiser.”

Her mouth formed an O. She had nice lips, nice teeth.

“It was three in the morning. No one got hurt,” I said. “I blew through a couple thousand dollars in magazines, though.”

That’s it. That’s how Joe Kozmarski, my fictional private investigator, entered his profession. By getting fired from his former job as a cop.

This week on Criminal Minds, we’re discussing how our fictional detectives got started. Joe is no accidental detective. His dad was a cop. Joe always wanted to be a cop too. But he had bad habits, bad enough – and in such large numbers – that other cops decided he wasn’t cop material. The drunken encounter with the newsstand was the last straw.

(A Bad Night’s Sleep, his most recent mystery, released last week from St. Martin’s Minotaur. Kirkus Reviews calls the book “fast, furious, and fun.” And it’s true.)

So, why, upon being fired, did Joe become a private investigator? In short, because he had unfinished business – not in the sense that he had cases that still needed solving (he was only a patrolman) but in the sense of personal business. Joe had issues. His good-cop father, now dead (and disappointed with Joe when he died), haunted him. His mother, very much alive (and unsure about Joe), reminded him what he owed to his father . . . and to her . . . and to himself. His ex-wife, who hated and loved him both, let him know that he could be a better man. So, Joe needed to do some good. Unfortunately, Joe was – and still is – pretty bad at doing good.

Now, in A Bad Night’s Sleep, Joe battles cops who are far badder than he ever was. Will he redeem himself? Not a chance. Will he dig far into the corruption and danger that permeate Chicago? It seems likely. At the end, will he emerge wiser, stronger, and more deeply scarred? Count on it.




Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Some people claim that there's a woman to blame...

Great topic as usual here at Criminal Minds - because the fact of the matter is this question goes to the heart of most every protagonist. But not always in ways they themselves know.

In the case of Hawker the protagonist from Black Rain, Black Sun and coming this December or January: The Eden Prophecy. He is the proverbial lost soul. Partly because at the time of my initial draft I felt like that, partly because I wanted a character who had done as much wrong in his past as he'd done right and was trying to work himself back to a place where he felt... well anything really.

Hawker once worked for the CIA - I agree nothing too original there (I swear my next hero is going to be a former airport shuttle bus driver who just happens to know about spy craft and firearms - hey, they have a lot of down time) (but I digress) -

Working in Africa over a decade ago, Hawker was part of a team fighting to stir up resistance against the leader of that country - a brutal, communist named Jonas Savimbi. After making fast friends with several smaller non-aligned tribesmen. Hawker got them to back the opposition as ordered, only to have a deal struck at a higher pay grade than his, end up cutting these tribes out.

Without the weapons promised by the CIA the tribes, whom the CIA had asked Hawker to stir up would now be sitting ducks and end up getting massacred. So Hawker violated the order and armed the tribes anyway - until the CIA cut him off and ordered him home. He refused and did what he could to beg, borrow or steal enough hardware to let the tribes defend themselves. He was caught, shot and left for dead, while the Angolan army slaughtered the tribes as a message to all others who might oppose them.

All sides assumed Hawker was dead, but he survived, and a year later began exacting revenge on those he felt had betrayed him. He then went on the run as a mercenary and a sort of lost soul.

Till this day he struggles with the decisions he made. He can't find one thing right about any of them. The tribesmen he considered friends were murdered along with their families. His career and life ruined. And for what, years after nothing had changed in Angola.

Hawker doubts himself, though his skills are considerable. He downplays his own value, even when he triumphs. He doesn't trust anyone, though in the books he is forced into trusting with mixed results. All of these things combine to give him a long way to go. I like that.

I like when he fails and makes mistakes and is forced out of his comfort zone. I think it makes him reachable even though he's this tough guy - pseudo, super hero. He has regrets. He has bad memories, he has fears that somehow he'll let his friends down or be unable to save them. And its those things that drive him on .

Hopefully the readers find that as interesting as I do.

As the song says: "It's his own damn fault.

Thanks for stopping by.

Graham

Why, Esme? Why?

by Josh

She held her palm to her forehead and sighed. “I’m sorry, Tom, it’s just…I read about what happened last night and…it’s been almost seven years since I left the Bureau. There have been other high-profile murders. But this one has just…crawled under my skin…and I don’t know why.”

“You don’t?” He sounded surprised. “How do you think I knew you’d call?”

“What do you mean?”

“The homeless man. As soon as I learned about him, how the killer used him as bait, I knew this case was going to stick to you like a bad dream. I almost called you.”

“The homeless man? Why would he…?”

“Because of your parents, Esme.”

Oh.

Esme shrank down in her seat to a little girl.

Her parents.

Who’d lived on and off welfare all their life. Who falsified addresses to get their daughter into the best public schools. Who pushed her every day to rise above their situation and, when she did, when she got that scholarship letter to George Washington University, when she said goodbye to them and went off to start her freshman year…

There was a shelter in the south side, Coleman House. Lead paint on the walls but walls were better than the open air in December in Boston. 18 year-old Esme came home from her first semester in D.C. full of stories but home was no longer there. Coleman House was there, yes, but her parents had gone. All they had left her was two blue ink words – her mother’s careful cursive – on a piece of yellow paper.

BE FREE, it said. BE FREE.

She spent the entire two weeks searching the city for her mom and dad but they didn’t want to be found, and when you didn’t want to be found in the cross-streets of Boston, you might as well have been vapor.

She almost didn’t go back to school, but her friends urged her. They insisted it’s what her parents would have wanted. Still, every break she returned to Coleman House, and the Congress Ave. YMCA, and searched every shelter and underpass in the whole city for her family. Until the day she got into Quantico, when she decided to never go back.

(Excerpted from While Galileo Preys, the first novel in the Esme Stuart series, reprinted here with the permission of the author, who was too lazy to type up something new for this week's assignment and decided instead to pull a copy/paste job)

Monday, June 27, 2011

It All Started When...

The Criminal Minds are discussing how our protagonists ended up in their various lines of work. For Alexandra Sabian, becoming an Enforcer with the Federal Bureau of Preternatural Investigation was a result of her father's murder.

It all started in 1968 when Alex, who was only five years old at the time, stumbled upon her father's staked and decapitated body in a cemetery near the Sabian family's Louisville, Kentucky home. Bernard Sabian was a popular history professor at the University of Louisville and meant the world to Alex. She every bit the "daddy's girl" and she, in turn, was his "princess." However, their bond stretched beyond that of father and daughter.

Alex and Bernard shared the unique ability to access the Shadowlands, a metaphysical "no man's land" between the physical and spiritual planes. At the time of Bernard's death, Alex's abilities were just beginning to truly manifest. It was because of her burgeoning psychic talents that she was able to sense and track his "presence" to the cemetery. The discovery of his body was understandably traumatic for her and a memory she's never been able to escape or erase from her mind.

Within days of Bernard's death, the vampire community had announced its existence to a stunned world and over the next seven years, they worked to gain both recognition and equal rights. The Sabians were used as the "poster children" of the vampire rights movement and touted the typical American family whose lives were shattered by violence because someone had uncovered Bernard's secret: he wasn't human.

Alex grew up in the wake of all this turmoil, but the memory of her beloved father's murder remained with her. She received a BA degree in history from University of Louisville in the spring of 1985, enrolled in the FBPI Academy that fall, and graduated the following summer. She was then assigned Varik Baudelaire as her mentor for the first few years of field work. They elected to remain partners when her mentorship was over in 1990, and eventually became lovers and engaged. Unfortunately, the relationship didn't last.

Since 2003, Alex has been the sole Enforcer assigned to police the vampire population of Jefferson, Mississippi.

And, that's how my protagonist ended up in her current line of work.

-Jeannie

Jeannie Holmes is the author of the Alexandra Sabian series and fears spiders, large bodies of water, and bad weather. She moved from the backwoods of southwestern Mississippi to the Alabama Gulf Coast where she now lives with her husband and four neurotic cats.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Bracelet and the Damage Done

By Hilary Davidson

When I started writing The Damage Done, I pictured my main character, Lily Moore, as a woman who never got too attached to things. She was, after all, someone who'd abandoned New York for Spain — breaking off her engagement in the process — without bothering to move any of her possessions with her (beyond whatever fit into her suitcase). I imagined that Lily's rootless upbringing, moving from town to town with an alcoholic mother and wayward sister, had made her immune to the siren call of acquisition. That wasn't to say Lily didn't have strong preferences. I knew that she loved old movies and wore vintage clothes and had a soft spot for objects past their best-before date, such as the black rotary-dial phone in her old apartment. (My grandmother, the woman responsible for my love of old movies, had a phone exactly like it in her apartment in Toronto; sometimes I wish I'd kept it, so I gave it to Lily.) But I expected Lily would have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward material goods.

By the end of Chapter 1, Lily set me straight.

I used to be puzzled when I heard authors talk about characters charting their own paths, making moves that surprised the people who created them. How was that possible? I still can't explain it, but I can tell you that Lily's obsession with a silver bracelet — a gift from her father — wasn't part of my original plan. It wasn't even in my first version of the chapter. That had Lily walking through her old apartment, believing her sister, Claudia, is dead, and noticing some odd, out-of-place things (which later become clues when Lily discovers a woman who'd stolen Claudia's identity was actually living in the apartment). Technically, the scene had what I wanted, but it lacked emotional depth. Lily was understandably sad about her sister, but her relationship with Claudia had so much frustration, tension, and even white-hot fury in it, and nothing in the scene brought that out... until Lily discovered the bracelet. I don't know where the idea came from; I only know that Lily felt as if she'd been punched when she found it:

As I sat on the edge of the bed, it felt as if the year since the apartment had been mine had multiplied into ten. I’d left it behind with almost everything I owned when I’d moved to Spain. Why had I been in such a rush? My own personal life was a shambles, but… My eyes fell on a silver bracelet and I made a strangled sound. It looked almost innocent, sitting atop the scarred wood of the old dresser. I stood and grabbed it, then rolled it around in my hands. It was an inch-wide bangle with an interlacing Irish scrollwork pattern on its surface. The inscription read For Lily, With Love Always, Dad.

For a moment I thought I’d burst into tears. It wasn’t awful enough that Claudia was dead; now I was reminded how much I hated her sometimes. The bracelet was the last Christmas present I ever had from my father. He’d even let me open it on Christmas Eve. We’ll have to wrap it up tight again, he’d said, imagine the hell your mother will give me otherwise. Then he’d died that night and I’d treasured and guarded his gift. I’d worn it to sleep as a teenager, afraid my mother would sell it for brandy or gin. Eighteen months ago, when I’d allowed a very sick Claudia to move in with me, it went missing. My sister had hepatitis then, and her normally pale skin was flushed yellow with jaundice. You don’t think I took it, do you? she’d said, the picture of frail innocence. Deep down, I’d always known she had. Even when she wasn’t shooting heroin she needed cash to buy her more-than-state-allotted doses of methadone, which provided its own high. But I’d never suspected she would steal it just to take it away from me. Dropping onto the bed, I took deep breaths and tried to pull myself together. I hadn’t thought I could be sadder or angrier or more miserable than I was when I found out my sister was dead, but I was wrong.

Contrary to what I'd pictured, Lily had a powerful attachment to objects... but only to a tiny number of objects. The fact that she's had to leave so much behind as she's moved around has only made her obsess about the things she's determined to keep. Understanding that side of her really brought her to life in my mind.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Are You What You Wear?

By Susan C. Shea

First, a big thanks to Reece Hirsch for inviting me to guest blog this week. Reece and I both went through debut book launches last year, although he handled his with more panache than I managed.

My protagonist, Danielle O’Rourke, is not a professional sleuth, except that her day job is sniffing out money and treasure from San Francisco’s social lions and persuading them to give it to the museum for which she works. She has a slight advantage over most fundraisers in that she used to be Married to Money in the form of Richard Argetter III. Alas, Dickie decamped with an artificially endowed underwear model and that led to some wardrobe changes for Dani, specifically the addition of a new wing in her closet for clothing that reflected her reaction to the divorce: M&Ms for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for three months. What she is wearing when she stumbles over bodies or is being grilled by S.F.P.D.’s homicide inspectors is more likely to be The Size That Will Not Be Named Above 12.

Dani was too proud to take Dickie for all he was worth ($450 million, to be precise), but she did keep the jewelry Dickie gave her. It’s stashed in a bank vault most of the time because who can wear a 12-carat diamond ring or an emerald bracelet to the office? Plus it seems to gall wealthy socialites to have someone with better jewelry than they are wearing ask them for money.

Dani’s social life is a little sketchy. She doesn’t feel comfortable hanging out with Dickie’s gossip-fueled crowd; the only guy who has stirred her interest since the divorce is a homicide cop with amazing green eyes and a 24/7 job; and her ex, long since parted from the celebrity model, is pestering her to give him another chance.

I’d say Dani looks a lot like the rest of us, but –like the rest of us – has some intriguing clues to her personality hidden in her closet.

Susan C. Shea’s first Dani O’Rourke Mystery, MURDER IN THE ABSTRACT, came out in 2010 and Booklist called it “…a series to watch.” She is a former fundraiser, on the board of the Norcal chapter of MWA, and a member of SinC.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The camera is mightier than the sword

by Meredith Cole

We're taught not to judge the people we meet by their appearances. That homeless looking guy could very well be a multi-millionaire. And that woman who is wearing a designer outfit and in the beautiful Audi could be about to declare bankruptcy. But when it comes to fiction, it can be helpful to make the outside reflect the inside -- if only to make it easier for your readers (and you) to figure out what makes your main character tick.

Lydia McKenzie, the heroine and amateur sleuth in my books, doesn't have a car, instead she rides a vintage Schwinn bike around Brooklyn. She avoids the subway as much as she can (she hates to be squished against strangers). She lives in a rent controlled apartment with furniture that's seen better days. A careful use of throw pillows and afghans hides most of their flaws.

It's really through her clothes that Lydia really expresses her unique personality. She loves to shop vintage stores, and dress to suit the occasion. She has all kinds of outfits she puts together when she needs a pick me up, to feel professional or sexy. I have a lot of fun writing about her clothes, and usually dress her up in outfits I would never wear in a million years...

When it comes to gadgets, her needs are simple. A good cell phone and an old laptop are quite sufficient for her. She doesn't really go in for gaming or gigantic TVs. She doesn't know how to use a gun or any kind of weapon really. Her primary crime fighting tool is her camera.  She spares no expense there. She has both a film camera and a digital SLR, both lovingly maintained. When she dreams of blowing her savings on something new, it's usually a new lens or some other photo related gadget. She spends a good sum every month for a space in a darkroom, and she keeps it well stocked with photo paper. Is it any wonder that she's stuck in a cheap apartment and can't afford many luxuries?

Lydia's photos are usually what get her into trouble. Her photo projects lead her again and again into danger with her murder recreation photographs, portraits of prostitutes, and job catching illegal tenants. But it's her camera that gets her out of trouble, too. She captures the clues on film, examining the crime scenes through the lens. After when she prints the photographs, she is slowly able to put the pieces together and figure out who committed the murders. With a gadget like that, who needs really needs a Porsche?


Thursday, June 23, 2011

One Woman's Assets

Miranda Corbie is not a very materialistic woman. That's fortunate for me, as I'm a bit overwhelmed with a family emergency this week ... so I'll have to let images tell the story.

For the record, she has no car, she just installed a phone after the events in CITY OF DRAGONS, most of her clothes come from stores like Magnin's and City of Paris in San Francisco, if not from a smaller dress shop. She uses a variety of skin care products that range from Max Factor to Lady Esther soap. One of her favorite shades of lipstick is "Red Dice." She also favors Four Roses bourbon, a gin cocktail called a Blue Fog, and the occasional Singapore Sling.

A few of her primary assets are below.


A Baby Browning ...



A pack of Chesterfields ...

A disreputable reputation ...



And Miranda herself.

Any questions?


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Gadget and Skill That Helps My Protagonist

By Tracy Kiely

When I read today’s blog topic, I thought halleluiah! Finally, a topic almost custom made for my protagonist, Elizabeth Parker. Elizabeth is an average young woman in her late twenties. She is stuck in a dull job overseen by an obnoxious boss. She has had a string of lousy boyfriends, but is finally dating an actual Nice Guy. The down side of this, however, is that she is forced to listen as her smug older sister constantly reminds her that her biological clock is about to stop ticking. Oh, and she’s been involved in a few murder investigations, and has actually been instrumental in discovering the killer.

So, as I said. Pretty average.

Now, of course, I can hear you screaming at your computer screen that the average woman could hardly unmask a killer without some specialized talent or gadget. Correct you are; which is why Elizabeth is lucky to own an invisibility cloak. Handed down to her from her father, this cloak enables the wearer to move about completely unnoticed by those around her. This is especially handy when she had to sneak by the Deatheaters, those devilish souls who want to restore power to He Who Shall Not Be Named.

Oh, no, wait. That’s Harry Potter.

No, Elizabeth is able to solve the crimes she stumbles upon due to her remarkable ability to read minds. Although this talent has landed her the label of “freak” among many in the small southern town where she lives, she has learned to embrace her talent. The only minds she can’t read are, of course, the vampires who also inhabit her town.

Crap. That’s Sookie Stackhouse.

Right. Elizabeth Parker is a ghost. Sent back from Heaven she can move about mortals, either taking human form or remaining invisible. This enables her to hear snippets of conversation that she would otherwise not be privy to.

Nope. That’s Carolyn Hart’s new series.

Yeah. So, here’s the truth.

She’s got nothing.

Nothing.

Unless a caustic wit, humidity-induced hair frizz, or a penchant for quoting Jane Austen counts, Elizabeth doesn’t have a special skill set or gadget that helps her solve the murders she happens upon. And, to be fair, that’s how I want her.

When I set out writing this series, I wanted Elizabeth to be like most of the protagonists in Hitchcock’s movies, i.e., “the average man caught in extraordinary circumstances.” I wanted to write about someone that I might know. Mysteries – especially cozies – are a means to escape the real world for a while. They take us to a place where we know, no matter how bad it might get, that justice will prevail. For all the violence, it’s a safe place to be; at times much safer than the real world.

For me, I prefer taking these mental journeys with a friend, and so I created Elizabeth to be someone who I might hang out with were she real. She does not have special skills or gadgets because most real people don’t. Through Elizabeth, the reader can pretend (for a while) that they too might be able to step in and cleverly solve the crime that has the police stumped.

And, besides, I wasn’t clever enough to come up with the idea of a cloak, telepathic mind, or a visiting specter.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Writer Uses Cute Dog In Cheap Ploy for Attention!


I am running this cute puppy photo as a cheap device to get you to read what I really DID write about today, which is how characters are defined by their "stuff." I hope it works ...

By Shane Gericke


Hi, ho! (Or is it, Heigh, ho!? I can never remember.) Rebecca is painting her nails today--er, nailing the final dramatic scene in her next book!--so you're stuck with me again.


Today, we are to discuss how clothes, cars, gadgets and other "stuff" help define our characters. But first, something fun, which is, believe it or not, related to the topic at hand:




It's a Colt revolver in .38 Special. It's covered in shiny silvery nickel, with handsome walnut grips. It belongs to Al Capone. The Al Capone of Chicago/gangsters/The Untouchables fame. 


It's for sale. 


Here's the link to the auction: http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?from=searchresults&intObjectID=5459315&sid=b819d24b-5bbe-4ac1-99aa-5d77b3056b90


Yep, you could be the proud owner of one of Bad Al's famed "heaters." Since Criminal Minds readers are wealthy beyond measure, I thought you'd want to pick up this little six-shooter for yourself. And, then, mail it to me. Because Criminal Minds authors are NOT wealthy, and I'd desperately like to have this little "equalizer" for my cell in the word factory. 


Which leads me to how this item is actually related to this week's topic . . . 


My protag, police detective Emily Marie Thompson, is a regular kinda gal. She wears jeans with casual tops and Nike sneakers. She keeps her long chestnut hair (with natural henna highlights) in a purple scrunchie. She drives a black Honda Accord sedan, or did until her boyfriend, Marty Benedetti, smashed it into flinders (isn't that a great old-timey word, flinders?) while trying to rescue her from the clutches of a serial killer. She replaced it with a new  Accord. In the first book, BLOWN AWAY, she carried a nondescript cellphone. In the third and current book, TORN APART, she's upgraded to an iPhone. 


All nice and regular-ish, but not particularly memorable. Fortunately, there are three things that really DO define our Em: 


1. She eats French vanilla ice cream every night (and the occasional morning). She uses a spoon from her childhood, because it's symbolic of her Dad. French vanilla was her father's favorite ice cream, because he was badly wounded in World War II, and French farmers saved his life by hiding him from the Nazis till he could walk again. Ever since he extolled all things French, from fries to films, and he gobbled down some French vanilla ice cream every night with his  beloved daughter, Emily. After he died, she  continued the tradition--and used his silver spoon.


2. When she's not driving her Accord, she's goosing a high-speed, low-drag Dodge Charger. It can do 160 mph on the straightaway, which generally is a rural stretch of interstate west of her home in the Chicago suburb of Naperville. She and the aforementioned Marty, a fellow police officer, are amateur racers, crazy about cars, and together with a friend who appears in TORN APART, turned her Charger into a street-racing muscle machine. She listens to head-banging metal music while she flies, windows down to feel the howl and rush in her ears. It makes her come alive.


3. But mostly, Emily Thompson is defined by her gun. She carries a one-of-a-kind Glock Model 17, a 9-mm. semiautomatic pistol that's one of the finest combat handguns ever made. She had it customized with night sights, hand-hugging grips, exquisitely sensitive trigger, polished mechanicals, the whole enchilada. As a cop battling ferocious serial killers, she's put it to very good use. Here's a photo, which I took after she sent it to me for safekeeping (just as you will that Capone pistol). Try not to drool: 




Because as my dear pal and uber-novelist Toni McGee Causey likes to say, Girls Just Gotta Have Guns. 


OW OW OW OW OW OW OWWWWWWWW!


Since we're talking guns, I thought I'd show this video, which features people to whom you should never, ever send a Capone pistol or anything else that goes "bang" or even "dribble."





Thanks for letting me play here today, and see you next time a CM needs the day off!



ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Shane Gericke finds out July 9 if his crime novel TORN APART wins the Thriller Award for Best Novel of 2010 (Paperback Original) by the International Thriller Writers, or if he remains the lonely, bitter loser that everyone assumes he is. Please pray for Mr. Gericke to win, as he requires the sales boost to keep his writing career going, which has to occur because he isn't remotely qualified to do anything else. Please visit him at his website, www.shanegericke.com.There are no cute puppy photos--a sad oversight--but there are the first chapters from all his books, a biography, purchasing links, foreign covers, and a bunch of other cool stuff. Again, it's www.shanegericke.com

Monday, June 20, 2011

YOU ARE WHAT YOU DRIVE?


This week we’re discussing what our protagonist’s clothes/car/gadgets reveal about him or her. Well, as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, Anastasia Pollack, the reluctant amateur sleuth of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, has run into a dire financial pickle, thanks to her Dead Louse of a Spouse. So although Anastasia used to live the American Dream, she’s now fighting off bill collectors.

Anastasia's car isn't quite as bad as this one, but it's on its way to looking like this
One of the first things Anastasia did to cut down on expenses was trade in her comfortable silver Camry with its multitude of amenities for a stripped-down eight year old mud brown Hyundai. ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN, the first book in the series, takes place in the winter. By the third book, which I’m currently writing, it’s July, and Anastasia discovers the rust bucket’s air-conditioning has three settings -- hot, hotter, and hottest. Did I mention the story takes place during the worst heat wave ever to hit New Jersey?

As far as a wardrobe, although Anastasia’s mother is constantly after her to go on mother/daughter shopping outings, Anastasia will be wearing whatever is in her closet for years to come. Given she’s never been much of a clothes horse, some of that wardrobe has been around since her college days. Did I mention she’s forty-two years old? Hey, she’s a working mom! She didn’t have much time to shop, even when she had money. Luckily, as a crafts editor, she isn’t expected to come to work wearing Donna Karan suits and Christian Louboutin stilettos.

Gadgets? Now that’s another story. Anastasia has lots of gadgets, just not the James Bond variety. She has to make due with the types of gadgets you find at Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, and A.C. Moore. But don’t be fooled. Anastasia wields a mean X-acto knife. And then there’s that deadly glue gun…

Lois Winston is hard at work, finishing up the third book in her Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. The first book, Assault With A Deadly Glue Gun, was a January 2011 release and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Death by Killer Mop Doll will be a January 2012 release. Visit Lois at
http://www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, http://anastasiapollack.blogspot.com.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

How Well Do You Know Odelia?

Since next Saturday is the official launch party of TWICE AS DEAD, my 6th Odelia Grey mystery, it seemed fitting that she be the subject of today’s 5 Truths/5 Lies blog.
So here they are: 5 true statements and 5 lies about Odelia Patience Grey, the 50-something, plus size paralegal known by her friends as “Corpse Magnet.”
1.       Odelia and her boss, Mike Steele, have kissed romantically.
2.       Odelia’s cat, Seamus, was once dyed green.
3.       Odelia has been shot twice.
4.       Odelia’s favorite lunchbox as a kid had Zorro on it.
5.       Odelia has been arrested.
6.       Odelia has a thing for actor Alan Rickman.
7.       Odelia’s favorite cookies are Samoas.
8.       Odelia’s real mother died when she was 5; Grace is her step-mother.
9.       Odelia got married with a broken leg.
10.   Odelia’s nose twitches when she’s annoyed.

Win a book!  The commenter on the Criminal Minds blog today that gets the most right will win a copy of TWICE AS DEAD. In case of a tie or ties, the winner will be picked at random from those with the most correct answers.  Comments must be placed no later than 9pm PT on Sunday, June 19th.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Deke and Viv Have a Drink

Deke Koto stood behind the built-in bar in the rec room of the two-story house he and his wife Vivian Vu owned in the Elk Valley subdivision of the city.

“You must be trippin,’ Deke.” She stood before him, a hand on a still shapely hip, the other around a wet tumbler of scotch and ice. She put the concoction to her lips, watching her undercover cop husband over the rim of her glass.

“Check with Captain Tsong,” he said evenly. “I was on stake out.” He’d gotten in around four that morning. He did not smell of booze or another woman, as he had in the past, and this made her suspicious. “A joint this Scarpagio is supposed to have a piece of downtown.”

“Staking out some nitwit honey you mean.”
“Viv, baby,” he began.
“I got your baby.”
He chuckled. She stopped a smile creeping onto her face. “How many times have you been shot?”
“You know how many times and why are you bringing that up?”
“Twice, right?”
A wary “Yeah,” escaped him.
“You hesitated.”
“What’s your point?” He tasted his scotch on ice. The mother of his only son sure made him nervous sometimes.

“That truth and lies are all jumbled in your head, Deke. You’re so used to being guarded, bullshitting me about your dalliances…so used to telling some numb nuts about the big score coming down or the high tech assault rifles ripe for the taking, you can’t tell one from the other. Up is down, white is black to you, Deke.”

“It’s not like that, Viv.”
Now it was her turn to chuckle. “This new case Tsong has his boxers in a bunch for. What’s he promised you?”
“Nothing, nothing much.”
She snapped her fingers. “Chief of friggin’ Detectives.”
Damn, she knew him too well. He sighed audibly. “I didn’t want you to know ‘casue I didn’t want you to worry.”
“Sheeet. What makes you think that? Our marriage is hanging on by a thread.”
He looked at her evenly. “But what about our feelings for each other?”
Vivian Vu finished her drink and stalked out of the room.

###

Find out the truth when Cowboys, my crime story graphic novel drops on July 13.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Liar Liar Pants on Fire





Gabriella Herkert


Catnapped and Doggone




I am loving this game. Not only was it fascinating to find out about the other authors, but now we get to know all the secrets of their alter egos. Of course, fiction has the added limitation that it must be believable while it turns out the true stories of our lives, well, not so much. (Shrapnel, illegal border crossings etc.)



So, here we go with Sara's truth or dare. To be fair, all the true ones can either be found directly in Catnapped, Doggone or the as-yet-unpublished Horsewhipped or inferred from things that have happened.


1. Sara saw Connor naked before she knew his last name.

2. Sara dated Russ before he came out.

3. Sara has bought numerous hair-straightening products through informercials without success.

4. Sara is keeping a file of blackmail material on her boss "just in case."

5. The most romantic gift Sara ever received was a personal tracking system.

6. Sara never had a pet as a kid.

7. Sara's personal motto is "Powerful women. No underwear."

8. Sara once confessed to being a pathological liar -- it was a lie.

9. Sara wore the same dress as her husband's ex-fiancee to a black tie dinner.

10. Sara's college degree was a B.S.



Oh, to live an interesting life. What isn't true for Sara now could become true for her or another character at any time. Some of these fibs have potential.



Thanks for playing Liar's Poker with me.


Gabi

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mea Culpa

I took my shirt off for a camera. If you were forty-six years old and had pecs like mine, you wouldn’t? The underwear picture? Mine, too, all mine. I admit it. I did it. And, excuse the language, I don’t see what the big fucking deal is.

Uh huh, I also had sex with her. The reports say it happened only once: the campaign had been intense, it was late at night, we were drunk, we regretted it afterward, blah, blah, blah. Well, I’m here to tell you, we did it dozens of times. Dozens of dozens. My aides are handing out a press release listing dates, times, and places – to the best of my recollection. I’m not being evasive; some of the sex was so mind-blowing, I don’t remember the details. We’re talking brain-cell-killing orgasms. Especially during that weekend at Hilton Head when we were hopped up on coke and ecstasy.

I’m interested in nothing if not full disclosure. So, if you’ll look at page two, you’ll see the names of the other girls and women I’ve had sex with, starting at age fifteen, before I got married, before the good people of this state elected me to office, and before I had pecs to die for. The names of the twins who appear in Item Eleven are in quotation marks because, frankly, they were transvestites. For Items Thirty-one to Thirty-four, please refer to the weekend in Hilton Head.

Have you done it in the back of a limo between campaign speeches? You should. Have you done it with a Hoboken hooker ten minutes before a National Conference of Mayors meeting? I mean, in a hotel room right upstairs from the conference room? I mean, as Rahm and Bloomberg and those guys are starting to assemble below you? I’m talking, just feet away. Inches. Well, the thought of it is putting a swell in my Jockeys right now. No pictures, please. Just kidding.

As for the rumors of underage sex, I declare unequivocally that I did nothing illegal. At least not in Italy. Where the age of consent is fourteen. And while it’s true that this incident occurred at a Sheraton Hotel in Pennsylvania, she said her name was Angelina, which I believe is an Italian name.

I stand today accused of abusing my power. I deny it. We were consenting adults. Except for Angelina. I stand accused of lewd and unseemly behavior. I deny it, too – with the exceptions of the twins and Hilton Head. I stand accused by my political enemies – men who are jealous of my rock-hard pecs and women who wish they could rub their fingers raw on my washboards – of lowering the dignity of my office. I say, Who are you kidding?

Thank you. I’ll be taking no questions. Except from you – in the back, with the librarian’s glasses and the little black skirt.

(By Michael Wiley)

<><><><><><><><>

A Bad Night's Sleep releases on June 21. I promise to keep my shirt on if you pick up a copy.






Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lies, lies, there all lies... except some of them

I liked Josh's take yesterday that because our characters are fictional there can be no truths about them... There's something cool in that - like the tree falling in the forest or something. On the other hand - I still have to write this blog, and there are truths about fiction, just as there are lies about facts.

For instance, fiction often shows us who we want to be and how we wish the best parts of us could shine forth despite our shortcomings - while real life is often a non-stop struggle to keep others from knowing who we actually are. In that sense, fiction is truth (a truer truth), and the real world is a lie (or at least mostly a facade). And I have got to stop drinking so much cough medicine.

In regards to the world of my characters, I will reference both Hawker and Danielle Laidlaw. Since no one can figure out who is actually the main character - note: there will be a CNN debate on this next week.

1 - Hawker's real name is Cosmo,
2 - Hawker was shot and pronounced dead once, only to appear three months later in Liberia,
3 - Hawker is a pilot, but that is just something he knows how to do, its not his main trade,
4 - While on the run from the CIA, Hawker once worked in the coffee fields,
5 - Hawker doesn't always drink beer, but when he does he prefers Dos XX's,
6 - Danielle is a tomboy who hates makeup, and dresses and sugar and spice, but looks good in all of those things,
7 - Danielle , an engenieer, was once engaged to a nuclear physicist, but they broke it off because there was no chemistry between them,
8 - Danielle lost her father at a young age, and somehow feels responsible,
9 - Danielle told a fellow operative to "Sit" and "Stay" when he became too rambunctious.
10 - Danielle once drove a Winnebago through a building to rescue a Chiwawa.

There you have them - 5 truths and 5 lies or maybe truths because I haven't closed out their back stories yet.

Graham

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Esme Stuart: Fact or Fiction

By Josh

I love the idea of this week's topic, if only because it is inherently screwball, and I am inherently screwball, so it fits me like....well, like a screw fits a ball. The thing of it is, of course, that any qualities we list in relation to our characters are untrue because our characters are untrue. Figments, by definition, cannot possess substantive factual attributes (much like politicians). But enough pontificating. Let the game begin!

1. Esme loves British rock music, especially from the 70s and 80s.
2. Esme grew up on the hardscrabble streets of Atlanta, GA.
3. Esme's husband is a sociology professor.
4. Esme has only one kidney.
5. Esme's maiden name is Zierler.
6. Esme took down Henry "Galileo" Booth with his own rifle.
7. Esme and her family live on the South Shore of Long Island.
8. To infiltrate Cain42's nefarious website, Esme pretends to be a crime blogger called Thrillette.
9. Esme is sensitive about her large ears.
10. Esme's parents disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

Good luck!

Monday, June 13, 2011

True or False: Alexandra Sabian is...

It’s “true or false” week (again) here at Criminal Minds! This time we aren’t sharing deep, dark secrets about ourselves. This week we’re focusing on our protagonists and listing five true and five false things about the stars of our books.

So without further ado, let the games begin!

Alexandra Sabian may or may not:

1. Be a vampire.
2. Have won multiple championships in tae kwon do as a teenager.
3. Be a recovering alcoholic.
4. Have bitten suspects in self-defense…or because she felt like it.
5. Be a closet Lady Gaga fan.
6. Have found the body of her father when she was a child.
7. Own a cat named Dweezil.
8. Sunbathe in the nude on her apartment balcony.
9. Have shot a superior officer for making an inappropriate pass at her.
10. Be a classically trained chef.

There you have it. Who wants to go first?

Jeannie Holmes is the author of the Alexandra Sabian series and fears spiders, large bodies of water, and bad weather. She moved from the backwoods of southwestern Mississippi to the Alabama Gulf Coast where she now lives with her husband and four neurotic cats.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Power of Three

Hilary here, with a special guest: Cathi Stoler, author of Telling Lies (Camel Press, 2011). I first met Cathi several years ago through the New York chapter of Sisters in Crime, and I'm excited about her novel, which is the first installment of a series. David Simon, the creator and executive producer of "Treme" and "The Wire" says: "With Telling Lies, Cathi Stoler uses the intricacies and passions of the art world to take readers on a suspenseful transatlantic journey of deceit, betrayal and heroism. There is a new crime writer on the block, with a fully realized cast of characters and all the mayhem they can bring." How's that for high praise?

Since Cathi and I met through an incredibly supportive writers' group — and she blogs with the amazing Women of Mystery — I thought she'd have an interesting take on this week's question: Are you part of a writers' workshop, or do you prefer to keep your book to yourself until you've typed 'The End'?" Here's what Cathi had to say:

I don’t think that I’d have a book in print, or been able to type “The End” if I weren’t part of a writers’ workshop.

I’d been an advertising copywriter for many years, but I’d never written fiction. When I decided to give it a try, I took a course at Marymount Manhattan College entitled “How to Overcome Your Fear of Writing Your Novel.” I thought about doing this for a while, but the actual sitting down and writing part seemed daunting. I told myself I didn’t have time. Worried about what I would do if I wrote something terrible and everyone hated it. Finally, I ran out of excuses. The title of the class was a challenge I couldn’t ignore. It was now or never time.

So, I signed up. Okay, I thought, I’ll give it a class or two and see how things go. During the first session, I met two terrific writers, Kathy Wilson and Terry Jennings. We hit it off right from the start and encouraged each other week after week. It also helped that we had a very talented novelist, Alyson Richman, as our instructor. As our classes progressed, I realized that I’d made the right decision—being part of a group who were working through the same challenges and concerns gave me the confidence to continue. And, when after two semesters, our course was cancelled, we cajoled Alyson into working with us privately. Eventually, we had to let go and the three of us began to work together on our own.

That was about five years and two books ago. Kathy, Terry and I still meet regularly and critique each other’s work. Each of them has written a fabulous story, one a memoir and one young adult fiction, and I’d like to think I’ve helped them as much as they helped me. They have read and reread every word of TELLING LIES and have offered great suggestions for keeping the story on track to make the novel as good as it could be. Ideas that as enmeshed as I was in the writing process, didn’t always occur to me. From helping make sure my protagonists, magazine editor, Laurel Imperiole, and P.I., Helen McCorkendale, stayed in character, to pointing out where dialogue sounded stilted, to notes for keeping the plot moving and the story line coherent, their insights were invaluable.

TELLING LIES is a complicated tale of murder and suspense told from multiple points of view. It begins in Florence, Italy and ends in New York. With stolen Nazi art, a 9/11 deception and a ruthless Mossad agent crossing their paths, Laurel and Helen are thrown into a maze of deceit and lies that could end in death.

Writing it was an amazing experience. One I know wouldn’t have been the same without my writing buddies, Kathy and Terry, by my side.

P.S. We’re meeting on Tuesday, if you’re in the neighborhood.

Thanks so much for visiting Criminal Minds today, Cathi! For readers who are intrigued by Telling Lies, here's a synopsis of the novel:

How many lies does it take to get away with murder? When a chance encounter in Florence’s Uffizi Museum plunges Women Now editor Laurel Imperiole and private investigator Helen McCorkendale into an investigation of missing persons and stolen Nazi art, the women find themselves ensnared in a deadly maze of greed and deceit.

Could the man Laurel bumped into have been Jeff Sargasso, an art dealer and friend who perished in the World Trade Center on 9/11? Was it possible he was still alive and had disappeared without a trace?

Laurel, who was vacationing in Italy with her boyfriend, Aaron Gerrad, a New York City detective, is thoroughly shaken by the experience of seemingly meeting a dead man. Sargasso was supposedly killed that day during a meeting regarding the sale of a 150 million dollar painting between a Japanese billionaire and a Wall Street tycoon. Determined to get to the bottom of things, she and Helen investigate in Italy and in New York.

As she delves deeper, Laurel leaves the truth behind, telling lies to Aaron about her actions and the liaison she’s formed with Lior Stern, an Israeli Mossad agent with an agenda of his own. One lie leads to another, entangling everyone and everything the women encounter, including murder and the painting at the heart of the affair.

Searching for answers, Laurel and Helen thread their way through a sinister skein of lies that take them on a whirlwind journey that could end in death.

And a little bit more about Cathi herself:

Cathi Stoler was an award-winning advertising copywriter. Telling Lies is her first mystery/suspense novel. Other novels in this series will include Keeping Secrets, which delves into the subject of hidden identity, and, The Hard Way, a story about the international diamond smuggling. She has also written several short stories including "Fatal Flaw," which was published online this April at Beat To A Pulp and "Out of Luck," which will be included in the upcoming New York Sisters in Crime anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices. In addition to Sisters in Crime, Cathi is also a member of Mystery Writers of America. You can contact Cathi at www.cathistoler.com. (You can also find Cathi on Twitter and Facebook.)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Darwin, Hobbes and Baby Turtles

Reece Hirsch

Writing a first novel and trying to get it published is a brutal and perilous journey. It reminds me of that Discovery Channel episode in which hundreds of cute baby turtles hatch from eggs, stretch their webbed flippers to the sky and make their way across the burning sands of the beach toward the life-giving ocean. Then the predators descend and the massacre starts. It’s Darwinian, it’s Hobbesian – it’s Thunderdome, baby.

But what, you might well ask, does this have to do with this week’s topic of writers’ groups? I’m getting there.

When I started the first draft of my book, I was like one those baby turtles, full of optimism and hope (I know I'm anthropomorphizing, but go with it). After receiving scores of rejection letters from agents, the self-doubt began to set in. During this period, I joined a long-standing East Bay writers' group. It was a collection of about 10 writers, one published, one to-be-published and the rest aspiring. During each session, two writers would present up to 20 pages for critique. Joining the group helped me maintain my writing momentum when it was faltering, when I thought I might end up as one of those casualties on the beach.

As with all writers’ groups, you have to decide whose opinion you trust. Particularly with a heavily plotted book like my legal thriller, there’s also a significant benefit to just getting a wide range of reader reactions. If everyone in your group can spot the murderer by Chapter 3, then you better start restructuring.

The second writers’ group that I participated in was the San Francisco Writers Workshop, another group with a long history but, unlike the first, open to all. Instead of submitting pages in advance, you could bring up to six pages and read them aloud to 15-20 writers arrayed in a circle of folding chairs in a gallery space. The advantage of this approach is that there’s no homework involved; you don’t have to read 40 or so pages in advance of the session. The disadvantage to the format is that the critiques are inevitably a bit more cursory.

I eventually dropped out of both of the writing groups due to lack of time, but the burst of energy and ideas that I got from the experience helped propel me into the next massive rewrite of my manuscript. In retrospect, the biggest benefit that I got from my writers’ group days was a little bit of affirmation that I was a writer at a time when I was fairly uncertain about that. After a while, I figured that if I was spending that much of my time drinking with writers (sometimes during the workshop, sometimes afterwards at Lefty O’Doul’s) and bitching about rejections with writers, then there was a decent chance that I was a writer.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Does it take a village to write a novel?

by Meredith Cole

When I started my first novel, I felt very alone and unsure. I'd written screenplays before, but I'd never plowed through an entire first draft of a mystery novel. I had a hard time figuring out what was working and what I was doing wrong. But I managed to get through the book, make revisions, even though it took me quite a long time, and end up with something that looked and smelled like a novel. I thought it was ready to go out to agents and editors, so I sent out some queries. When I was rejected everywhere, I knew it was time to go back and look at my first attempt. Luckily that's when I joined Sisters in Crime and met my critique group.

We were just four altogether, two published (Marilyn Wallace and Triss Stein) and two unpublished (Jane Olson and me -- and then later Mary Darby joined us). We all lived in Brooklyn and alternated going to each other's houses/apartments. We slowly got to know each other and trust each other. We enjoyed reading everyone's writing and that made it so much easier. And I began to learn how to critique my own work. They showed me where my story was too spare, where it was too much back story and I began to figure out how I could improve it. With them, I wrote a second book (much more quickly this time) and it became my first book POSED FOR MURDER. The book won the St. Martin's/Malice Domestic Best Traditional Mystery Competition, and was published by St. Martin's Minotaur.

When I left Brooklyn, I sadly left my critique group behind. They became my friends. When Marilyn died of breast cancer, we did the Race for the Cure in her honor. I miss them all. But they have kindly looked at final drafts and given me feedback on what they think isn't working since I moved away. It's tremendously helpful to me, and I like continuing the connection.

I teach writing now at the University of Virginia and a local writing center, and part of my class is spent teaching people how to give a good and helpful critique of other's work and most importantly their own. Reading work that isn't perfect and polished and trying to identify its problems helps you see those problems in your own work. And there are very few students in my classes who haven't benefited from the tough love and shown improvement.

Don't get me wrong: I've been in terrible critique groups before. I was once in a screenwriting group with a bitter guy whose criticism got so nasty it caused me to quit writing for 6 months. Not good at all. But the fact is, if you intend to publish a book, someone is going to be reading your work sometime. And I would prefer to have a friend or trusted reader let me know when I royally screw up than my editor. Or someone who picked up my book in a store. So I continue to depend on the kindness and generosity of other writers as I continue to work on my craft.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

In Which I Say "No Thanks" to the "Tortured Artiste Toiling Alone in a Garret" Trope



by Bill

First things first: I'm grateful to Kelli for allowing me to drop in and chat a bit in my old haunts. I may be saying, "No, thanks," to the Tortured Artiste trope, but I'm saying a big "Thank you!" to Kelli!

No on to the matter at hand…

I grew up thinking my life as a writer would be that of a solitary artiste toiling away in obscurity until suddenly the public recognized my brilliance. Then it would be all cocktail parties, television interviews, annual appearances on the New York Times bestseller list.

Right?

*crickets*

In recent years, my vision has shifted from the garret to a writing hut in the backyard (still un-built, but a boy can dream). Plus, I've developed a far more realistic view of the writing/publishing path. Brilliance -> cocktail parties -> television interviews are no longer part of my fantasy (I still hang on, wistfully, to the bestseller list dream). And that whole solitary thing?

To hell with that noise.

While it's true my day-to-day writing has a solitary component, the fact is going from manuscript to book has involved any number of people, all critical to the process. Those people have included my writing critique group, my agent and my editors. Toiling alone in a drafty garret isn't nearly as much fun as bouncing ideas off friends and publishing pros, sharing work-in-progress and then making it better based on feedback, or gabbing with other writers about our challenges and struggles. And drinking beer with friends. (No, thanks to snooty cocktail parties, but yes, please, to hanging in the pub or coffee shop with writers and readers alike.)

Just for fun, I worked out how many people were involved in each book along the way. Turns out: a lot.

Lost Dog was read in draft form by seven writing critique partners, four friends, three agents (include the wonderful Janet Reid), two editors, and, well, even me—many times. All these people made suggestions which improved the book, even the two agents who weren't interested in repping me. My experience with Chasing Smoke was much the same, though the only agent who read it was Janet, and my critique group had shrunk a bit. Starting with Chasing Smoke, I got to work with the amazing editor Alison Janssen too. As I went along, with each book, early readers contributed. With Day One and County Line, I wasn't able to show as much draft as I had with earlier books but the help I got was crucial nonetheless.

I can't say I always took everyone's advice. Sometimes I simply disagreed, for good or ill, with a suggestion. Sometimes the suggestion itself pointed to a problem I chose to solve in a way which differed from the reader's thoughts. But more often than not, early readers pointed out flaws, inconsistencies, or areas where the narrative lagged or veered off course. The books are all better because of the process, and I can't imagine ever working differently.

What I can imagine, however, is that writing hut...





Bill Cameron writes the gritty, Portland-based Skin Kadash series. County Line, the fourth novel feature Skin Kadash and Ruby Jane Whittaker, was released on June 1 to raves, including a Publishers Weekly star. In The Atlantic, D.B. Grady cites County Line as part of the long and storied crime fiction tradition. Bill's contribution to First Thrills, "The Princess of Felony Flats," was nominated for a 2011 CWA Short Story Dagger.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Required Reading

By Tracy Kiely

There are certain hard-wired rules by which we all live our lives. Of course, these rules vary from person to person, but I think that most people, if asked, will acknowledge that they do exist.

Where do these rules come from? Who knows? They could be handed down from your parents, or that weird teacher you had in second grade, or even the media. The point is, they are there, and they guide us in our day-to-day lives.

For instance, I believe that homemade meals are better than store bought. Not only because the ingredients tend to be better, but because of the cost. Feeding your family, especially little kids, processed food is not only costly, but it just isn’t healthy.

I also believe that children should be encouraged to use their imaginations rather than TV for entertainment. Studies have proven that there are harmful effects to plopping your kids in front of vapid and, at times, violent cartoons.

As Americans, I think that we need to break out of our comfort zone and learn a second language. Just because we speak the “language of Shakespeare” is no reason to remain in a linguistic bubble. The world is shrinking, but many of us refuse to accept this.

And finally, if you are a writer, then critique groups are an invaluable asset to your craft. Not only does someone else read your stuff and provide feedback, but you are exposed to different styles and genres which in turn help you expand as a writer.

Anyway, these are rules I believe.

Unfortunately, I don’t actually practice any of them.

Not a damn one.

For instance, if Martha Stewart saw the hot mess I created the time I tried to recreate her spaghetti sauce, she would hop on her private jet, knock on my door, and slap me silly. And you know, it would hurt. Martha does not mess around. So, if we have spaghetti, it's made with Prego, and I avoid slap marks.

If Sponge Bob and Bugs Bunny didn’t exist, my kids would be under my feet all day and I would get nothing done. And you know what? No one in our family laughs harder at the coyote’s mutilation trying to catch the road runner. (And if you want to read something really funny, go here. It’s the opening statement of the case of Coyote v. Acme.)

I really, really want to learn French. I took it in college, and my husband even bought me the Rosetta Stone software. Every once in a while I look longingly at the dusty box in the corner and think, “One day…”

I wish I had the time for a critique group. I really do. When I first started writing, I gave my stories and chapters to family and friends. They loved it. All of it. I was elated until I remembered that these were same people that hung my crap finger paintings on the refrigerator like they were Picassos, so it’s safe to say that they were a biased group.

Knowing this, I went in search of unbiased critiques. I found a website (writing.com) which fit the bill nicely. I could post anonymously and receive reviews from complete strangers. They had no reason to be anything but blunt and I loved it. Later, I joined another group that formed out of a class I took, and then it got trickier. I became friendly with some of these people and had a hard time being completely honest with them, for fear of hurting their feelings. The group shrank until it was just me and one other woman. Her writing was great, and I loved her feedback on my stuff. But at this point another problem crept into the arrangement.

The laundry.

Now, I have three kids – one of whom I am convinced is dumping her clean clothes into the dirty laundry bin rather than putting them away. (How else do you explain a winter coat needing washing in the middle of summer?) But even with three kids, the amount of laundry around here is staggering. In fact, I am beginning to suspect that the neighbors are sneaking their clothes in with mine. But the point is (yes, I’m getting there), that I just didn’t have the time to read someone else’s writing and respond with thoughtful comments. I loved the feedback I got, but didn’t feel that I was able to reciprocate.

So, once again, another one of my hard and fast rules for living is in the corner gathering dust.

Right next to that damn pile of laundry.

ENDNOTE: On my last post, I offered a free copy of my book Murder on the Bride's Side to the first person to correctly guess my truths and lies. No one got it (hint: I did once jump off a bridge. And sadly, it was because everyone else did). So instead, I will offer the book to the first person who can correctly tell me, in Pride and Prejudice, which of the Bennet sisters is the tallest?