Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Good-bye, Mr. Majestyk

As I write this the world has been without Elmore Leonard less than five hours and I am feeling the loss of my greatest writing mentor, although we never met.

Leonard didn’t win a boatload of awards and I don’t think he was ever regarded as a great literary figure.  Nor do I think he wanted to be.  What he did was write stories that hooked you at the start, held you thru the middle, and gave you a satisfying ending.  He was the master of crisp, realistic dialog that always rang true.  And he wrote the best damned characters in the English language, bar none.  That’s why he was a writer’s writer, the guy all us fiction writers wanted to be.  That’s why Stephen King called him The Great American Writer.

Leonard’s career started in the 50s with westerns.  He responsible for one of the best known western films (Hombre) and one of the all-around best westerns of all time (Three-ten to Yuma.)  His misbegotten people just trying to make it, combined with his dialog tells their hearts, made the transition to crime fiction so natural, that many of his works seem to fall into both camps.    

Leonard gave us more than 50 great novels, at least 19 of which went to the screen.  As such he is responsible for kicking off a lot of Hollywood careers including those of Roy Scheider (52 Pick-Up,) Burt Reynolds (Stick,) and Charles Bronson (Mr. Majestyk.)  And there is no doubt that he saved John Travolta’s career when it was on life support with Get Shorty.      

A healthy stack of Leonard short stories have also become films or television shows.  One of his short stories, “Fire in the Hole,” has offered Timothy Oliphant the role of his career on the TVshow Justified.

I feel a more personal loss than many today, not because of the great entertainment we will miss in the future, but because of all that I learned from the master’s work.  I learned all I know about creating characters that readers will care about by studying Leonard’s stories.  I learned the importance of both common and unique traits, of small mannerisms and emotional variety, and of terse, telling comments.  I learned how to put feeling into description and how to hold a point of view. 

And I learned one other thing: that a good writer can go whole chapters without using a single adverb.  You can search a long time without find a word that ends with “ly” in any of Leonard’s book.  Short, direct sentences driven by active verbs give his writing more life than almost any other author.  I’ve avoided adverbs in this piece in his honor.

I don’t know if Elmore Leonard is riding the range now like a ghost rider in the sky, but I would bet that the angels are begging him every day to tell them a story, because his stories always told you what it was like to be human.

So long to my greatest mentor.  Elmore, I’m still trying to walk in your footsteps.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

XM is Serius Radio!

I've had a few radio interviews in the last few years, some good, some not so good, but none of that experience quite prepared me for the interview I did a couple days ago with Maggie Linton onXM Sirius radio.

 We authors want to reach out to readers across the country so we appear on a lot of local radio stations, or blog talk radio.  In either case, we usually speak from our own homes, on the phone, in our fuzzy slippers with all our notes in front of us.  So the first difference with XM Sirius radio was that I went to the studio and could actually be face-to-face with my interviewer.

The building, in Northeast DC, is an impressive stone structure on a oddly-shaped corner.  To get in you give your name to the guard who lets you into the fenced-in parking area.  You sign in, and wait for an escort to walk you to what looks like a huge steel blast door.  He presses his ID badge against a scanner and the steel door silently slides into the wall on your left.  You are guided down a corridor lined, left and right, with what must be 30 discreet studios.

Maggie Linton's studio is bigger than my living room, dominated by a desk the size of my dining room table - with the leaf in.  That's the inner studio.  I waited in the control room where two techs handle the sound and watch the action thru a huge window.  I got to listen to the end of her last guest's segment before being ushered In. 

Maggie greeted me with a hug and a smile.  We met at Thrillerfest two years ago and have stayed in touch.  We had only seconds to exchange pleasantries before I donned the headphones and got down to business.

 Maggie Linton is the consummate professional in the studio.  She ran thru my short bio and launched into a list of questions calculated to guide me into telling her exactly what her listeners would want to know.  For the fastest half hour of my life we ran thru my writing career, the creation of Intrigue Publishing, and the upcoming Creatures,Crimes & Creativity conference.  She made it effortless, just a conversation between two pals, and I quickly forgot that I was talking to the whole country.

Too soon it was over, Maggie and I were shaking hands and she was preparing for her next guest.  It was a fantastic experience, so much better than "phoning it in."  I'm already trying to squeeze into her schedule again.  If you have XM or Sirius radio, I hope you'll seek our my interview.  Even if you don't you owe it to yourself to add Maggie Linton's show to your listening diet. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

How I Spent My (Unpaid) Summer Vacation

A couple weeks ago I told you that I was one of the Defense Department workers being furloughed, working and getting paid for a 4-day week instead of 5, for 11 consecutive weeks.  I thought you might be curious about how that affected this writer's life.

Monday, my furlough day, was not wall to wall writing.  As it turns out, days off are magnets for chores, errands and appointments.  It just seems like the easiest time to schedule that dental appointment, get the car's emissions test done, pick up the dry cleaning and buy random needed groceries.  It was nice to get things done without wasting my weekend.

But ultimately I did get quite a bit of writing in.  I called up the document of my next novel in progress.  I don't love either of the working titles - Capital Loss and Crossing the Line - so for now this document goes by Hannibal Jones #6.

The last scene I laid down was an action scene.  Now it was time to write the calmer emotional scene that comes next.  It had been a couple days since I added to this story, so I had to go back and read the previous chapter.  Nice stuff, if I do say so myself, even elegant in its way.  I burrowed back into the emotional flow of my characters.  Hannibal is almost being a narrator here.  His girl Cindy is carrying the emotional weight after a horrible night of violence.

It has been a long time since I settled into laying down words without watching the clock.  It's a joy I've missed.  I watch the movie play out in my head and record the events on the screen, making sure to see, hear, smell and feel what my point-of-view character experiences.  And I found my pace hasn't changed over the years.  I create about 1500 words an hour.  Five good pages that are raw, intense and sometimes clumsy or grammatically incorrect.  But I can't worry about that.  I'm too busy telling a story. 

This must be what it feels like for people who have no other job except writing.  I envy them more than you can ever suspect.  And I treasure those days when I can pretend, just for a little while, that I am one of those people.

But today the Defense Secretary announced that the planned 11 furlough days would be cut to six.  My financial life let out a cheer of celebration.  The writer in me heaved a sigh of disappointment.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What's YOUR Excuse?

"I don't have time to write."
"I'm too busy to attend writers conferences."
"With all that's going on I can't focus on a book."
Yep, I've heard them all... all the reasons people who say they want to be writers just don't get those words on paper.  I've heard just about every excuse there is.  But not from mystery author Robert Bailey.   After three award-winning novels about private eye Art Hardin, Bob won't let things like time, work, or even a brain tumor get in the way of his writing.
That's right.  Bob is a glioblastoma patient.  He has spent the last two years battling his tumor in the speech and language area of the brain to finish his fourth book.
But he doesn't let "cancer patient" define him.  He still defines himself as a writer.   And well he should.  After five years as a corporate security director in Detroit and twenty years as a licensed private investigator, his first novel, PRIVATE HEAT,won the Josiah W. Bancroft Award at the Florida First Coast Writer's Festival in 1998.  When it was published in 2002 it was nominated for a Shamus Award.  Art Hardin's adventures continued with DYING EMBERS and DEAD BANG.
Bob's fourth novel, Deja Noir, is coming more slowly because the tumor is causing a condition no writer would want to face: expressive aphasia.  As his wife, Linda, writes on his blog:
"Part of having expressive aphasia is trouble getting words and phrases that you are thinking to actually come accurately out of your mouth, or fingers, as it were. "
But this hasn't stopped Bob from creating.  On the days he can't get the words into the computer in the right order, his wife is there to support him.  As she says in a recent Facebook post,
"Back to working on Bob's book. He can't type, but he can talk. I can type."
And he is still an active member of the writing community, doing book signings and attending conferences all over his area.  He'll be at the Hanover Book Festival next weekend, and I'm very excited to say he'll appear at Creatures, Crimes & Creativity in September.   He talks about his plans to be there on the C3 blog this week.  I will admit that I'm looking forward to shaking his hand, sharing a drink, and chatting with this man about private eyes and writing. 
In the meantime, he has served as an inspiration for me personally.  Nothing is going to stop Bob from finishing his fourth novel.  If I don't write today, what in the world is MY excuse?
What's YOURS?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Congress + Furlough = Free Writing Day

The dominoes fell this way: Congress failed to contain spending. Congress passed laws requiring automatic spending cuts. The Defense Department used furloughs as one of its spending cuts.  Since my day job is a DoD position, I join my 650,000 coworkers in working 32 hours a week in July, August and September… and maybe longer.

So, how does the furlough affect THIS  writer’s life?  How does anyone deal with a 20% pay cut?  Well, first you whine.  You rail against cruel fate and forces beyond your control.  Then you examine your expenses and make adjustments.  You shift things from your “need it” list to your “nice to have” list.  Then you do what you always do when you need to escape this unruly world.  You write.  You slip into an orderly universe where, even when things go wrong, everything makes sense.   

For most of us, our jobs are part of our identity.  What we do is, to an extent, who we are.  But it’s different for us writers.  My DoD identity is my version of Clark Kent.  That’s the disguise.  It’s what I do so I can be myself at home. Who I really am is a novelist.

So I haven’t simply lost 20% of my income for three months.  I’ve traded it for a full day every week, a day that I can devote to reading, or watching TV or meditation.  Or I can use it to catch up on those big projects I always put off, like thoroughly cleaning the aquarium.  But of course, what will really happen is that I’ll write.  And with the house to myself there’s a good chance I’ll write a lot.

Many people divert their life plans and sublimate their true desires for the security a government job offers.  At a time when that security seems less than secure, I imagine a lot of Defense workers are using their unexpected weekly free day to spend more time with their real but sidetracked desires.

For me the furlough has provided hours I can devote to Intrigue Publishing and more importantly, to HannibalJones and his supporting characters.  More than half way through the next mystery I need to focus on the back story that needs to be filled in.  There is character development that needs to be done.  Writing is just better when you can do it in larger chunks of time.  So in future posts I should be telling you about all the catching up I’ve done. 

For now, the furlough days have just started.  And this week… well, I did in fact give the aquarium a thorough cleaning.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

What a Week!!!

I spent last week in New York for Thrillerfest and it was such a whirlwind I had to take a couple days to sort through the collage of memories to try to answer the question: What do you get out of attending these conferences?


While I was on the panel, “Are You Combat Ready” one of the other authors mentioned that troops today go into battle with something called the THOR system.  It jams cell phones in your area, preventing the enemy from setting off IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices.)  I didn’t know about this particular tool, but you can bet my thriller hero Morgan Stark will be carrying one in the next book… And criminals in another story may use it to keep people from calling for help.


Asked how a writer can know what to write about, Alexandra Sokoloff said, “Write about what makes you angry.”  On another panel we were told that one way to get background information into your book without slowing the story is to put it into a conversation between characters and have one of them use the backstory as ammunition.  This kind of writing guidance is priceless.

Freebies – Advance Reader Copies and giveaways were everywhere.  These were not just great thrillers, these were novels that are not yet available to the public - the very latest books and future best sellers.  The fun is to gather the books as if you’re playing Pokemon (Gotta Catch 'Em All) then scamper about the conference hunting down every author to get your books signed.  My score this year: 32 books, and that doesn’t count the four free magazines.


Not everything happens AT the conference.  Strolling through the streets of Manhattan we happened upon a television shoot.  We got to watch all the activity that surrounds filming an episode of White Collar, and catch sight of the actors slipping into or out of their trailers.  When show star Tim Dekay stopped for a glass of juice we declared ourselves fans of the show.  His response was, “Well, hey, let’s get a picture.”  He was so gracious and relaxed, and these photos are the kind of souvenir you can’t plan of or go after on purpose.


The number one reason to attend conferences like Thrillerfest is to meet and hang out with other authors.  Chatting with Steve Berry, F. Paul Wilson, Lee Child, Anne Rice, Michael Connelly and R.L.Stine at cocktail parties after listening to them on panels is how you get to be part of a writing community that can boost a career or just keep you inspired to write more.  And after the Con, those connections tend to stay in touch… which is why you’ll see my comments on August McLaughlin’s blog today. I actually know August from an earlier Love is Murder conference.  So you see, you make connections that last and are reinforced at future events.  So now go over to August’s blog and see what SHE got out of Thrillerfest.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Thrill of the Fest

Next week I will join the Intrigue Publishing team at Thrillerfest, one of the most exciting writers’ conferences of the year.  Thrillerfest is a celebration of thriller books, the authors who write them and the fans who read them. It’s always a great time, but fun isn’t the only reason I attend.

Certainly a lot of writers, and aspiring writers, go for Wednesday’s craftfest.  Many more attend Thursday’s agent fest.  For me the first thrills will be at Thursday night’s opening reception.  The real attractions are Friday and Saturday when there are panels all day, five to choose from in any given hour.

The biggest reason I attend Thrillerfest is that it attracts the cream of thriller authors.  For me it is the chance for the best kind of networking.  There is no greater joy than to find myself surrounded by serious writers.  There is nothing more inspiring than chatting with authors you admire and respect.  When I’m on a panel, as I am this year on Friday afternoon, I sit side-by-side with some of the best and my thoughts and opinions float out at the audience mingled with theirs.  That alone makes it worth the trip. 

Big name authors.  New and upcoming writers.  Panels of authors talking about their craft. Presentations from the giants of the writing world.  A grand banquet.  All these things add to the fun and value of Thrillerfest, but you will find all these things at many other conferences: Bouchercon, Love is Murder, and Creatures, Crimes &Creativity all offer these same types of events.   The one thing that makes Thrillerfest different, and at least partially justifies it being so much more expensive than the other cons I named, is location.

New York City is the home of the publishing industry. That means authors, editors, agents, publishers and publicists are all nearby.  Many of them can walk to Thrillerfest.  They attend, just because it’s easy.

I drag down from Maryland and am happy for the opportunity.  I created a Facebook event for Thrillerfest but for some reason And I’ll be there for one more reason: I’ll be recruiting fans and authors to attend the Creatures, Crimes & Creativity conference.  I want it to be at least as much fun, and as inspiring, as Thrillerfest.

BTW, I've created a Facebook event but for some reason Facebook won’t let me invite my friends, but I want to know if you’ll be there so please go click the link and leave me a note so I’ll know to look for you.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tweet Your Way To A New Kindle

What do social media, Kindle E-readers and literary conferences have in common? I’m so glad you
asked, because we’ve found a unique and fun way to tie those things together.

Social media have become the best and easiest way to make contact with a large number of people with whom you have something in common.  We share what’s cool, and see what others think is cool.  And let’s face it, Facebook and Twitter are fun to use.

The Kindle is generally considered the best and easiest way to find new authors and read new books.  You can find them effortlessly by searching, download them wirelessly, and read them easily on the screen.  And you can gift books to others – a great way to share what you think is cool in the book world.  And the cool devices are fun to use.

Conferences are the best and easiest way for writers to make contact with a large number of readers, and for readers to find new authors with great books.  Readers can get to know the people who write their favorite books, authors get in-person feedback from readers, and writers learn a lot from each other watching panels and chatting in the bar.

So how do we put them all together?

Well, there won’t be a conference that’s more fun than Creatures, Crimes & Creativity in September.  And if plan to attend, and you like to use Twitter, you might end up with a brand new Kindle all your own… for free.
We want all the folks registered for the C3 conference to start tweeting about the conference, using  #MDC3Conference.  That part is important because C3 staff members are tracking all Twitter activity between now and September 12.  We will award the Kindle to whoever sends out the greatest number of tweets with that hashtag.

You could just tweet that the Con is in Baltimore on September 13, 14 & 15. You could mention that we will gather readers and writers of mystery, suspense, thriller, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and steampunk fiction.  You could remind folks that the registration fee includes five meals so that readers and writers will dine side-by-side, mixing and mingling. And there’s so much more to talk about.

Don’t worry about those posted by our staff members Sandra Bowman, Juli Monroe and B.Swangin Webster.  They can’t win.

At the conference banquet on September 14, before Jeffrey Deaver’s keynote address, we will present the new Kindle to the champion tweeter. 

So get out there and get tweeting.  We want you to win that Kindle.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Where Do These Characters Come From?

Now here’s a question I was recently asked for the first time: “How did you create the characters in your most recent novel, The Ice Woman Assignment?”

Well, I spent some time and deep thought coming up with the answer, and I’m happy to share it with you.  But not here.   Since fellow author Sophie Duncan asked the question, it was only fair to respond on HER blog.

I will be featured on Sophie’s Thoughts and Fumbles today.  Check out the interview, then come back here and post a comment letting me know what you thought.  You could win a prize!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What's in a Name?

When we create fictional characters they have to become real to us.  We see them in our minds, hear their voices, and notice their personal habits.  To know them well we decide where they’re from, what they do for a living and every aspect of their lives.  Of all those details, how important is the character’s name? And if names matter, how do you choose them?

For most writers names aren’t random choices.  That’s good because as superficial as we are, we draw a lot of meaning out of a person’s name.  That means you can pack a lot of meaning INTO a character’s name.  For example, my detective Hannibal Jones has a very common last name, indicating an everyman.  His father named him after the only African military conqueror he could name, the man who led elephants in his army and almost defeated the Roman legions. 

So when you have a significant character to name, who is your character named after?  Who named him, mom or dad?  Does she have a name that indicates parental personality expectations, like Chastity or Felicity?  And that is the case, has your character grown into her name, or taken a stance in opposition to it, like fictional adventurer Modesty Blaise? 

Last names are revealing too, because they often indicate nationality with all the assumptions they bring.  If you have a fellow named Patrick O’Connor in your book, and he ISN’T Irish, you’d better tell us right away because your readers will have already slotted him.  And in fact if he isn’t, there’s probably a great story there that will tell us a good deal about him. 

Similarly, nicknames tell us a lot about your character.  If you give your character a nickname, you’ll need to know if he took the nick himself or if someone stuck him with it.  Some choices are obvious.  If you introduce me to Tiny I expect a giant.  But if her pals call her Brain, she might be the one who always has a plan, OR she might be an idiot.  Either way, the fact that she accepted that nickname tells us about her confidence level and self-image.

So how do you find the right name for that imaginary person?  The phone book?  Names of people you know?  Or some gut instinct?  Let me know YOUR method, and how important names are to your fiction.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Thrill of the Panel!

One of the best things about attending a big-time writers conference is being able to participate in panels.  When you sit on a writer panel you get a chance to reveal yourself to readers who may never have heard of you.  If they find you interesting, they may well find your books interesting, so being a panelist almost always leads to book sales and new fans.  Plus, you get to know other writers with whom you have something in common.

In July I’ll attend Thrillerfest in NYC and the panel I landed on sounds like great fun.  It’s called “ARE YOU COMBAT READY? PREPARING FOR A MISSION.”  That’s the subject I’ll discuss with five other authors on Friday, July 12 at 4:00 PM.

The way these things usually work (like the panels at the Creatures, Crimes and Creativity conference) is that someone is dubbed moderator, and that title is all the description we get.  It is up to the panelists to decide what direction the conversation will go.  It gives us all a lot of flexibility.

And I will be speaking with a pretty interesting group.  Bob Gussin, our moderator, was a medical researcher before he founded Oceanview Publishing.  His wife, Pat is the accomplished thriller author. Simon Toyne is a Brit TV producer and director who has written an international best seller and has been called the “English Dan Brown.” John Dixon’s first book isn’t even out yet, but it’s already the basis for an upcoming CBS TV show called Intelligence. Leo Maloney is a former Black Ops contractor who worked for a clandestine government agency for many years. And Guy Burgstahler has no military experience nor is he an author.  He IS the Chief Marketing Officer for 5.11 Tactical and has studied how marketing has been used as a tool to fuel military initiatives.

So what will our panel be about?  Maybe we’ll discuss how we would prepare to attack a well- guarded safe house in Kosovo and extract someone.  Or, how we would capture a target from a heavily guarded compound in the middle of the desert.  We may consider night attacks versus day, etc.  We could compare and contrast the mission prep we see in movies and TV with the more realistic view we try to give in our novels. Or how about comparing the preparation our protagonists have to go through with the ones the writer has to go through to be able to render them accurately on the page? We might explore the moral and emotional preparation for combat. Or discuss our writing methods.

There are so many possibilities, and it’s such a diverse panel, that I can’t wait to sit in front of that audience and throw myself into the mix.  Of course there will be a book signing right afterward and if we have enough fun, I know the audience will too!  And that will mean a chance to sign some books and make new fans. 

And then I’ll get to watch some other guys’ interesting panels.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Coming to your senses

            When I sit down to write sometimes I’m focused entirely on the blank screen in front of me.  On those days not much happens on that screen.  To be really effective I need to be less focused.  I need to be in contact with the world around me, the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and even the feelings.  Because to write well I need to use all five of my senses.
            Great fiction comes from creating great characters.  For your characters to be really solid, the reader needs to feel how they experience their world.  Just showing us what that world looks like won’t do.  The reader needs to be immersed in your fictional universe.  For you to pull the reader in and make him feel it all, you the writer need to be there, and you need all your senses to do that.  For me, that only happens when I’m fully aware of what all my senses are telling me while I write. Using all the senses helps you to create atmosphere and your writing will have the desired mood.
            When you are writing a scene, run through your five senses to see which ones are significant to the atmosphere.  Don’t stop after describing what you see or telling us about what your characters are eating and drinking.  Smells are important triggers, and most writers consider sounds.  But the sense of touch is often overlooked.  Don’t fail to consider temperature, humidity, and other things we feel.  Then cut those that don’t matter, leaving only those that would be affecting your point of view character right then.
             How do you gain that level of awareness? You must train yourself to be an observer in real life.  When you walk into a room and feel excited or frightened or nervous or cheerful, consider exactly what caused you to feel that way.  In my writing classes I use the example of dealing with a flat tire.
             If you're changing a tire in the rain, are you frightened or just angry? And what made the difference? Maybe the isolation of the road or the small number of cars makes the determination for you. The headlights passing might remind you of the eyes of hungry animals coming out of the darkness at you. Or perhaps the whine of the tires on the road as cars scream past sounds forlorn to you. The rain itself could be cold or steamy and sticky. The smell of your wet wool coat might be depressing. The lug nuts could be stubbornly resisting you, adding a note of frustration, as they appear to exert a cruel will of their own. You can FEEL them fighting against you. 
            See what I mean?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

When Reading Is Work

I write mysteries and thrillers specifically for that group of people who enjoy a good book.  My books aren’t for the self-help crowd or folks researching their term papers.  People read my books for fun.

I’m also one of those people who loves to read just for fun.  But now an officer of Intrigue Publishing, it is now often work when I read books in my genres.  I have to get serious about deciding if a particular manuscript will be fun for others to read – fun enough to be worth parting with fifteen or so of their hard earned dollars.

But what about you? As a writer, sometimes your pleasure reading needs to be work.  When you’re just a reader you can sit back and enjoy.  But sometimes when you’re holding a good novel you need to read like a writer.  When you’re enjoying a top-notch novelist – Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, Jeffrey Deaver – you have an opportunity to study the masters. Painters examine the brush strokes and techniques of other artists.  Writers should do the same. 

When you find yourself in love with a character and feel you know him as well as your real life friends, look back and figure out what the author did to make you feel that way.  When the pace or the suspense makes your heart race, examine the techniques the writer used to get you there.  If you slap your forehead when the killer is revealed, trace the clues back to see how the writer fooled you.

Look at the mechanics too.  How long are those chapters?  How much of the text is dialog, as opposed to prose? How much description does he use? What is it about that dialog that makes it ring true?

If you get to the end of a book and think, “Man, I wish I had written that,” it’s probably because the plot unfolded just the way you think a plot should.  If that’s true, why not go through the whole book again and outline it?  Break the story down to its skeleton, and note the order of the significant events and how information is played out.

If you work on your writing while you’re reading, your work will improve, and you may find you enjoy your reading even more.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

All Hands On Deck

Once in a while, you get something you really wanted and it turns out to be all you had hoped it would be. So it was with my new deck. I'm just a "sit out back" kind of guy, and this new addition makes me smile every time I walk past the sliding glass doors that separate it from the "indoor" part of the house.

And yes, this really does have to do with my writing life. These days, I'm not just a novelist. I'm also one of the principals of a publishing company so I find myself spending more time on other peoples' manuscripts than my own, rooting through the slush (with respect) hunting that rare jewel that we will want to bring to readers. And there is the money part of the business. And the networking. planning. Marketing. And working with other talented authors who, by definition, are just as tempermental as I am.

All that to say that time is my most precious resource. But this past weekend I found myself with a couple free hours. It was sunny and warm and, while I had the usual list of tasks I got to take it outside. I was able to settle onto my wrought iron chair with a glass of wine and cheese and crackers and settle into the impressive Young Adult submission I've been wading through. It was the rare joy of relaxing in the perfect place with a good book - the experience I hope that Intrigue Publishing provides for other readers.

Each of us has a perfect place to read or, if you're like me, to write. For me that place is my humble wooden deck, where I can look up at the trees between chapters, catch a random deer wandering by, taste the fresh earthy air, enjoy my own eclectic music mix, feel the breeze trying to push through my shirt and the sun trying to tan my hide. Just being there is a reminder that good ficiton incites all of the senses.

If you haven't found your perfect reading/wrting location, you should do so without delay. And if you HAVE found YOUR special place... well, tell me about it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

New Giveaway and Thriller - The Jeweler

Ken Murray served in a top secret cryptographic unit of the U. S. Army in the Pentagon during the Korean war, organizing intelligence from codes deciphered by the National Intelligence Agency. He moved to Florida in 1958, retired early and for the past fifteen years has been writing novels and poetry.  His latest novel, The Jeweler, made me want to know more about him, and then share it with you.  I'll let him introduce himself, then you get to see how the get some cool free stuff in his giveaway. 

Thanks Austin for letting me post on your blogspot. I've been writing for over 15 years, self-published three books, and soured on trying to get published - too many rejections, even though most all authors have had the same problem, like James Lee Burke, said he took thirteen years to get noticed.

And guess what - the muse fell off my shoulder. I'd never had writer's block, but attitude can change everything.

Then I found poetry, studied it, took critique poetry classes at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, where we live - then she talked to me again. Muse said "Let's go for it." Done some presentations with the curator at The Orlando Museum of Art, combining paintings and poems. Poetry is much more intense than prose, and very satisfying.

I'm back! All three novels are now ebooks, and I just finished "The Second Creation," a sci-fi novel. I want the challenge of writing in a number of sub-genres under the heading of fiction.

Now my wife says - "all this news about dark matter in space physicists can't find. All of its in your brain." Damn, I hope so - near insanity is a writer's best friend. Here's two verses from my poem:


                                                Abnormality, paranoia, insanity
                                                I'd prefer to be a savant
                                                Could I then hear, touch, sense,
                                                The mystical monk's chant.

                                                Give me the right lobe of
                                                One blessed with a 200 IQ
                                                And I'd shame Shakespeare
                                                Poe, Mozart, and Montesquieu.

Besides putting my new sci-fi novel on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo; I'm going to put a few chapters on Wattpad or Scribd. See if I can pick up some action there.

"The Jeweler" idea came to me when we were with my daughter in the panhandle of Florida and she stopped to get her earrings fixed and introduce us to her jeweler, Rock Hard. I spent some time then, and later talking to him (part Indian) and his beautiful native American Indian wife. His early life was fascinating; growing up in different parts of the world as his father was in the US Army. I refer to that in "A Note to the Reader."

Ken Murray would love to hear from you.  You can reach him at

·         Twitter:

Where to Purchase:


·         First prize: Autographed Copy of The Jeweler; $20 Amazon Gift Card
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About The Jeweler: 

Cole Hanson learned the jewelry trade early in life. Dealing in emeralds in Columbia, Hanson is kidnapped and taken to the mountain jungle lair of the Black Jaguar, a cocaine drug lord. He witnesses a horrible triple murder, executes the killer, and escapes. Hanson is overwhelmed by a euphoric rush and struggles with this discovered Jekyll and Hyde personality. Hanson is recruited to become an assassin for the CIA who learns of his strange predilection for death and uses this alter ego to press The Jeweler ever deeper into espionage and assassinations around the world. Murder occurs in England. Diskettes with top secret information about the Soul Catcher are stolen. Incensed, Hanson seeks the killers, but is on his own without CIA approval as clues take him across Europe and to the Vatican for revenge. After twenty years of service The Jeweler attempts his toughest sanction. Hussein is well guarded moving between palaces and seems an impossible target until fate deals a hand. Hussein flees on his mega-yacht. Hanson battles his way on board for the final action and twists in the Persian Gulf.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Helping Others Write

Today's guest, Nancy Parker, is a regular contributor to and loves to write about a wide range of subjects.  Today she examines writing as a team sport.

When You think about being a writer you usually picture a novelist or someone who is looking to get rich and famous. However that goal is usually outside the realm of most writers. That does not mean that their work is any less important. May writers enjoy fulfilling careers as ghost writers who never get any credit or even as writers who help others to achieve their goals.
Think about it. How often have you read a book by a celebrity and have seen another name under theirs on the cover. That person is the real ‘writer’ of the book. While celebrities often have a lot to say, it is very rare that they are naturally talented writers. Instead they hire a writer to help them out. This writer makes sure they stay on topic, that their writing flows and much more.
Is there any shame in this position? No way! Although you may not be getting all the credit for your writing skills you are still doing a job you love and helping someone out in the process. Let me give you a real life example:
A friend of mine is very much into games. He loves Dungeons and Dragons type games and has created an online version that has become extremely popular over the past few years. In this game he has created an elaborate and complex world where player and non-player characters interact in a true to life way. Trust me, once I got into it I was astonished by the complexity and intricacy that his game world involved.
Anyway, to the point. He wanted to write a book about his game. Something that players could use to create games of their own and enjoy once the game was no longer available online. However he was more of a ‘just the facts’ man. He is a good writer with a vivid imagination, but his writing tends towards facts and figures and not really the type of thing that would attract readers. That is where I come in. He asked me to fill in the blanks for him. He had complete stories ready to go with characters and everything, but he needed the word flow of a creative writer.
Wow! What an opportunity. I jumped at the chance to write a story cooperatively and become a part of his intricate world. Though the project is still far from complete it has been one of the most enjoyable things I have ever written.
Many writers can have the same great experience if they are willing to let go of their dreams of being the next big things and have fun doing what they love and helping others in the process.

 Nancy also likes to make contact with other writers.  You can reach her at

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Marrying Your Hero …

Today's guest blogger, Lauren Carr, fell in love with mysteries when her mother read Perry Mason to her at bedtime. The first installment in her Joshua Thornton mysteries, A Small Case of Murder was a finalist for the Independent Publisher Book Award.  Lauren is also the author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, which takes place in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. It’s Murder, My Son, Old Loves Die Hard, and Shades of Murder, have all been getting rave reviews from readers and reviewers.

Today, she treats us to a sneak peak at Blast from the Past, the fourth installment in the Mac Faraday Mystery series. But first, she offers a unique look at the relationship we writers have with our fictional characters.

Are you ready to get married?
I sense two reactions out there:
Who me? Married? Never! or When? Give me the date and I’ll be there!
No, I’m not talking about Prince (or Princess) Charming. I’m talking about someone who many writers never think about marrying: The protagonist in your series.
Believe it or not, when you pen a book with a protagonist who you hope to carry on into future books, you are, in fact, making a commitment to that character—and your readers. You might as well be saying, “I do.”
Depending on how things turn out, this can be a good or bad thing.
It’s a good thing if your series takes off. You now have a foundation for that writing career that you have always yearned for. Readers are now clamoring for future books. With each new book’s release, you have readers snapping them up. That feels really good.
Bad thing: Suppose you fall out of love with your series protagonist? Suppose you never did love him. Suppose you only created (used) him to sell that series in order to build a career?
Unfortunately, readers now have expectations. Like your Great-Aunt Martha expecting to receive a wedding invitation to see you tie the knot with that wonderful girl you brought to Christmas supper, you’re now stuck with either going through with this commitment in order to keep your career going (sort of like marrying the boss’s daughter) or disappointing everyone by walking away.
Now some of you are laughing while thinking, “Like that’s ever going to happen.”
It has.
Here’s an example:
According to Wikipedia, and some other sources, Agatha Christie created her most famous detective, Hercule Poirot, in 1916. In 1920, her first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring Poirot was published. Well, we all know what happened then. Agatha Christie became the Grand Dame of Mystery.
Isn’t that every author’s dream? Of walking down the aisle, arm-in-arm with your famous protagonist to cash your big fat royalty check?
Well, here’s what can happen after the wedding.
By 1930, Agatha Christie found Poirot “insufferable.”
By 1960, she felt that he was a "detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep".
Yet the public loved Christie’s detective and wanted more of him. Claiming that it was her duty to produce what the public liked, Christie continued penning her Hercule Poirot mysteries.
Sorry, but I can’t imagine investing the time and energy into writing a book with a protagonist who I consider “a creep”. Good thing I like my Mac Faraday.
It’s like staying married because of the children.
So, if you yearn to write a mystery series with a continuing character, here’s something to think about:
Don’t create a character who you can’t envision staying with beyond a one-book stand. Accidents do happen and you may find yourself stuck with this character. In one interview I saw, Tess Gerritsen chuckled about the creation of Detective Jane Rizzolli, who has become a beloved protagonist in her series, Rizzoli and Isle. She referred to Jane Rizzolli as a quirky little character who was only supposed to be in one book, The Surgeon. But, both readers, and Tess, fell in love, so the relationship continues, with much success.
Don’t look for a flashy, shallow, series characters who will impress literary agents, publishers and readers. Just like your mother told you, look for someone who you can love today, tomorrow, and the next day.
After all—you’re the one who’s going to have to live with them.

Lauren Carr wants to hear from you and she's easy to contact: at
Blog: Literary Wealth:

Lovers in Crime Facebook Page:
Acorn Book Services Facebook Page:

Twitter: @TheMysteryLadie

AND NOW... here's an excerpt from Lauren Carr's new novel:

Blast from the Past
Book Excerpt

Spencer, Maryland – Deep Creek Lake – Present Day

“Gnarly, it’s time for to go to your appointment.”
Lovely in her soft grey Chanel suit, rose-colored blouse, and stylish pumps, Archie Monday, assistant to the late Robin Spencer, hurried up the stairs to the second floor of Spencer Manor and down the hallway to the master suite.  The rose leather clutch bag under her arm was a perfect match for the fedora she wore over her pixie-styled blonde hair.
“Gnarly, are you in here?” She threw open the double doors to find the German shepherd sitting in the suite’s bathroom doorway. “There you are. It’s time to go.” She gestured for the dog to come to her.
Instead of obeying his favorite human, Gnarly whined and turned his attention back to the happenings inside the other room.
“Go where?” Mac Faraday called out to her from the bathroom.
She crossed the width of the suite to peer in at him. The sight that greeted her wasn’t what she had expected from the son of Robin Spencer, whose roots were as blue-blood as they come.
The clichéd appearance of a wealthy man calls for him to be tall, dark, and handsome—maybe ruggedly handsome—and at the very least, well-groomed. A man of wealth is best able to achieve this requirement by hiring others—like plumbers—to do the dirty work.
Two years after his inheritance allowed him to retire from his career as a homicide detective, Mac Faraday had chosen to ignore that rule.
His middle-class upbringing had a different rule: If you can do it yourself—no matter how dirty the job—it’s a waste of money to hire someone else to do it for you. 
Determination had drawn Mac’s handsome face into a scowl. His blue eyes were narrowed into slits focused on the toilet in which he was plunging away. Water splashed upwards to spill over the sides and drenched the lower half of his sweatpants down to his bare feet.
Even in this less than glamorous setting, Archie did find his arm and chest muscles, bulging from the workout, appealing. When Mac yanked the plunger up from out of the toilet, in the process splattering the water across his firm stomach and down the front of his pants, she reconsidered that assessment. Maybe not that appealing after all. She asked, “What are you doing?”
“What does it look like?”
“It’s stopped up.” He shook the dripping plunger in Gnarly’s direction. “And I have a feeling I know who did it.”
Uttering a whine, Gnarly moved to hide behind Archie’s legs.
She jumped to the shepherd’s defense. “Why are you blaming Gnarly? He doesn’t use the toilet. You’re the only one who uses this toilet.”
“You’ve used it.” Mac reminded her of her frequent nights spent with him in the master suite. “Maybe I should blame you.”
She folded her arms across her bosom. “I wouldn’t go there if I were you.”
“That’s why I’m blaming Gnarly.” He again pointed the plunger at the dog. “Look at him. Do you see that guilty expression on his face? He’s done something, and I suspect it has to do with this toilet.”
“Even if he did drop something into it, how did he flush it?” She giggled. “Mac, he’s a dog.”
The phone on the bed stand rang before Mac could come up with a response. “Answer that, will you?” He returned to his plunging.
“I need to take Gnarly to the groomer,” she called in to him while trotting to the king-sized bed that they had been sharing.
Mac Faraday had inherited the mansion from Robin Spencer, who, as an unwed teenager, had given him up at birth. However, his late mother had stipulated that her research assistant and editor, Archie Monday, was permitted to live in the stone guest cottage tucked away in the rose garden for as long as she wanted.
The beautiful green-eyed blonde had come with the house, and Mac Faraday was in no hurry for her to move out … nor was she in any hurry to leave.
Spencer’s police chief David O’Callaghan didn’t sound his usual jovial self when Archie answered the phone. After a quick hello, he asked for Mac.
“David, you sound terrible,” she observed.
“My weekend’s been shot,” he replied. “One of my cruisers was stolen last night.”
“Are you serious?”
Mac came into the bathroom doorway. “What’s wrong?”
She told him, “One of David’s police cruisers got stolen.”
David told her the reason for his call. “Tell Mac that I’m going to miss the game this afternoon. I need to fill out a ton of reports and find out how someone was able to break into our garage to steal a police cruiser.” He added, “Our guys are going to be the laughing stock of the state for this.”
In Archie’s other ear, Mac was asking, “Does he need any help finding the scum who stole it?”
“It was probably some bored teenagers pulling a prank,” she told them both.
“Committing a felony doesn’t make for a very good prank,” they told her in unison.
Seeing the time on the alarm clock on the bed stand, she announced, “Gnarly and I are late.” She handed the phone to Mac.
“Where are you taking Gnarly?” he asked her.
“To the groomer,” she said. “It’s the first Saturday of the month.”
“What does that have to do with it?”
“Mac?” David called to him from the phone.
“Gnarly has a standing appointment for the first Saturday of the month,” she said with her hands on her hips. “Ten-thirty with Misty. He gets the works.”
“What’s ‘the works’?”
“Mac, are you there?” David asked him.
Archie ticked off each item on her fingers. “Shampoo, deep conditioner, teeth cleaning, toenails clipped, aromatherapy—they’re having a special today on strawberries and champagne—and—and this is Gnarly’s favorite—a deep body massage.”
Gnarly pawed at her hand.
“For a dog?” Mac’s voice went up in pitch.
“Dogs need pampering, too.”
“How much is all this going to cost?” Mac asked.
“Only two-hundred and twenty-five dollars.”
“Only two hundred and twenty-five dollars?” Mac objected. “I don’t spend that much a year on my own hair, and I’m a human.”
“And you look like it.” She kissed him. “I have to go. Misty is very popular. She will only hold Gnarly’s appointment for ten minutes. Once I was late, and she gave his appointment to a chow. Gnarly was in a snit the whole next week until Misty was able to fit him in.”
Gnarly uttered a whine mixed with a bark before charging down the stairs. Archie tucked her handbag under her arm and hurried after him.
With a shake of his head, Mac sat down onto the bed and brought the phone to his ear. “Dave …” All he heard from the other end of the line was a dial tone.

* * * * *

Gnarly loved riding in Archie’s royal blue Escalade. Mac would always order him to the back seat, which the German shepherd would ignore. Not so with Archie. When riding with his favorite lady, he was invited to ride shotgun in the front passenger seat and stick his head up through the sun roof when the feeling struck him to do so.
After climbing into the SUV, Archie noticed that the bangs of her shortly cropped blonde hair were curling funnily. That would not look good at the book club luncheon at the Spencer Inn, for which she was already running late. While the automatic garage door went up, she licked her fingertips and finger combed it.
Gnarly pawed at her arm to urge her to get moving.
“Sorry, Gnarl, I can fix them later at the Inn.” She put the car into gear and backed out of the garage, which housed Mac’s black SUV and red Dodge Viper. The last stall was still home to Robin Spencer’s yellow classic 1934 Bentley Park Ward convertible, which the late author had rarely driven. Mac had yet to drive it. He was afraid of wrecking it.
In the heart of Maryland, the cedar and stone home, known as Spencer Manor, rested at the end of the most expensive piece of real estate in the resort area of Deep Creek Lake. The peninsula housed a half-dozen lake houses that grew in size and grandeur along the stretch of Spencer Court. The road ended at the stone pillars marking the multi-million dollar estate that had been the birthplace and home of the late Robin Spencer, one of the world’s most famous authors.
Along the stretch of Spencer Point, Archie waved to the Schweitzers, who lived in the last house before crossing over the bridge, and then turned right onto Spencer Lane, which took her around the lakeshore. She noticed the Spencer police cruiser fall in behind her after she made the turn.
With her eye on the speedometer, she eased her foot on the gas to stay under forty-five miles per hour. With the other eye, she glanced at the black and gold SUV through the rearview mirror. She squinted in an effort to see who was driving.
It wasn’t Deputy Chief Art Bogart. He had his own cruiser. David was still at the station. Any of the dozen officers on the police force would have waved to her when she drove past.
I have a bad feeling about this… who’s that in the passenger seat?
The alarm inside her head kicked up the tempo a notch. The Spencer police department did not operate in teams. The force was too small. Each officer had his own cruiser and patrolled alone. If backup was needed in the small resort town, another officer would be only a few minutes away.
Something’s not right—not right at all.
The blue lights flashed on in the cruiser behind her.
“We have company, Gnarly.” She eased her SUV over to the side of the road. Through the trees on the right, she could see that the lake was tranquil. Most of the residents of Spencer were still waking up and starting their day. Across the road, the woods and trails led up the mountain on which rested the Spencer Inn, another part of Mac Faraday’s inheritance.
In her side and rearview mirror, Archie watched the two men with silver police shields pinned to their uniforms, dark glasses, and hats, get out of the cruiser. She could see by the fit of their shirts that they were wearing amour vests.
Gnarly looked over his shoulder and growled.
“Easy, Gnarly.”
While the driver approached Archie’s side, his partner came up along the rear passenger side. They were both wearing utility belts with guns, batons, and radios.
With her right hand, Archie reached into her clutch bag that she always kept tucked in between her seat and the hand break.
The driver reached around behind his back.
“Down, Gnarly.”
Gnarly lay down in the seat.
When she saw the butt of the gun come out from behind his back, Archie, her eyes on the target in her side rearview mirror, fired three shots from her pink handgun, engraved with The Pink Lady across the muzzle, over her left shoulder. The first shot took out the rear driver’s side window before ripping through the gun man’s neck. The other two went through his head before he hit the ground.
In one movement, Archie threw her right arm around to fire out the rear window at the partner who only managed to get one shot before she hit him in the lower neck. Her second shot went through his head.
The world seemed to stop.
Breathing hard, she clutched the gun and stared in the rearview mirror for any sign that they were still alive and would try again.
The next thing she was aware of was Gnarly clawing at her. When she didn’t respond, he licked her face. She had no idea of how long she had been sitting there.
“Oh, my!” She heard someone yell.
Archie opened up the car door and stepped out.
A car filled with tourists had driven up to the scene. Seeing the woman in a Chanel suit holding a pink handgun and standing over two dead police officers next to a cruiser that still had its blue lights on, they immediately became hysterical. The tires burned leather on the road when the car sped away.
After checking out the two men, Gnarly, assured that they were dead, came back to sit in front of Archie. His big brown eyes were questioning. What just happened here?
Archie knelt down and took the paw he offered her. “Well, Gnarly, it’s a long story."

Get YOUR copy of Blast From The Past Here!