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Saturday, December 25, 2010

I Start Knowing Nothing: An Interview with Rhys Bowen

Rhys Bowen will be appearing at the Love Is Murder Conference in Chicago, Feb. 4-6, 2011. For more information go to

1. Murphy’s Law starts with a wonderful first sentence: “That mouth of yours will be getting you into big trouble one day.” In fact, all of your books start with a super first line. Any hints about how you make that happen?

I spend a lot of time thinking about the first line. I think it’s so important where you come into a story. Murphy’s Law doesn’t start with a high drama scene. It starts where she’s poised between two worlds. Getting a fast start is more important now than ever because so many people are buying books online. If you don’t come up with a good first line you’ve lost those readers.

Today’s readers are not going to wade through pages and pages of details like they would in the past. No one has the time for that anymore. Everyone has been raised on TV, and that comes in 90-second bites. So deciding where to come into a story is important.

2. Tell us about your process. You do a terrific job of giving backstory while in the midst of an action scene. How do you do that?

It’s going to sound awful, but I start knowing nothing, or the least little thing. For example, I’ll think, “Wouldn’t it be fun to have Lady Georgie going to a wedding in Transylvania?” Then I plot maybe 20 pages at a time. But that’s all. I’m not a puppet master making my sleuth do this or that; I’m following my sleuth and seeing where she goes.

I’ve tried working from an outline, but it doesn’t work for me. When I finish the outline, I think, Oh, I’ve finished with that book. I’m terrified for the first half of every book, and I’m writing scared. When I get to the middle and I start to see how things are taking shape, I start to relax a little.

3. How do you plug in the backstory?

Giving the reader a big dump of backstory is the mark of a beginning writer. It’s more fun to give people hints. For example, at the start of Murphy’s Law, you know Molly is out of breath and her bodice is ripped but you don’t know why. Really it’s like when you are watching a movie and you see a hint of something dashing across the screen. You stop and think, “Oh! What is that?”

So the trick is to keep filling people in, while at the same time you are moving them forward, and not slowing them down. Less is always more with writing, so give the reader the least hint possible you can. My writing is quite spare. I don’t add a lot of description.

4. Both Molly and Georgie, your two protagonists in your two series, recognize that being financially dependent on anyone is the absolute pits. Where does that come from? Is there something in your life that makes that resonate with you?

I’ve been lucky enough to have a husband who is good with money, but I’ve had friends who are not so fortunate. Writing historicals, I’ve noticed that when women had no money, they were completely at the mercy of a man. That’s the way the laws worked, and that was not only true in the 1900s, but you can look at the I Love Lucy episodes and see it. There’s that one where Lucy was terribly afraid to tell Ricky she’d bought a new hat!

My own mother worked as a school principal. She had her own bank account. She made her own decisions, and I learned from her that having your own money allows you to be independent. So I guess that’s my own life coming through.

It’s funny. I’ve written a lot of books but these are the first characters, Molly and Georgie, that I’ve seen myself in, although I didn’t start out with that intention.

5. Speaking of women and their roles, tell us more about Sid and Gus. Were they modeled after Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein? Are they lesbians?

Alice and Gertrude--I didn’t even think of that until you suggested it. I could have a lot of fun with that, but no, they weren’t. Sid and Gus are the epitome of what free women can undertake, what sorts of life they can live, when they have no financial restrictions. And, yes, they are lesbians. You can imagine what might happen to a lesbian couple if they weren’t financially independent. However, in Victorian times, a romantic relationship between women wasn’t frowned upon at all. In fact, it was considered rather sweet for two women to walk down the street holding hands. It was thought that women would grow out of their attachment to each other. And I wanted to portray Sid and Gus as a true Bohemian couple of the times. (And I would have liked them as my next door neighbors.)

6. You’ve collected tons of awards. Tell us what these mean to you.

One thing I can tell you is that it never gets old. Some people get terribly blasé, but I’m always absolutely amazed every time I win, because I know every year that there are a good number of books that were fantastic. I put my awards on a big shelf by my stairway, and I have to see them as I go up and down stairs every day. When I have a depressing day I think, “Oh, well, I have those.” You know, being an author is such a roller coaster ride. One day you click on Google and someone’s said something unkind about your work. The same day, there’s this fantastic interview.

I think we all need to be told all the time that our work is good. When I send a book out to the publisher, I wait to hear back from my editor, “This is good!”What you’re doing is putting out the best part of yourself each time.


Rhys Bowen’s most recent work, Royal Blood, will be out September 7th. To learn more, visit her at

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Christmas Eve That Changed Him--and a Free Book Giveaway

Note: Doug Brendel and I have been friends now for nearly forty years. He's one of the smartest, kindest people I know. He might also be the bravest. For years now, he and his wife have been traveling to Belarus to minister to people. His newest book is called, "Why I Quit the Church." I asked him to share a post with us, and I think you'll be impressed by what you read. Doug's honesty comes through, shining like a star atop a Christmas tree. His words will help remind all of us to think beyond the simplicity of making purchases, and to move closer to the real spirit of this amazing season.

Want to win a copy of Doug's book? Comment on this post. I'll choose one lucky commenter to win a copy of "Why I Quit the Church," a sometimes humorous, but always honest memoir of Doug's personal journey to find the right church for him.--Joanna Campbell Slan

By Doug Brendel

The Christmas Eve that changed my life was not a starry night. It was a grim, gray morning.

Some guy named Mike and his pals had been feeding homeless people in the park every Saturday morning. But that year, Christmas Eve fell on Saturday; Mike’s pals were out of town. He asked our pastor if our church could help.

I was the associate pastor. If Pastor said yes, I was stuck.

“Say no!” my heart screamed.

Pastor said yes.

I was afraid.

I had never encountered a homeless person in my life.

They must be dangerous.

I was a skinny nerd with a paunch.

I had suburbia written all over me.

These people weren’t going to take breakfast from me. They were going to eat my lunch.

That frigid morning, we scrambled dozens of eggs, made gallons of coffee, loaded serving tables into a pickup, drove to the park — and here they came.
Homeless people began stalking toward our vehicles. My internal radar was beeping madly.

“Morning, Mike!” “Merry Christmas!” “Kim! How ya doin’?”

They were coming to help.

Mike’s group had been showing up in the park every Saturday morning for months. These were friends. They looked forward all week to this.

The breakfast line formed. There were 50 or so.

A good-looking young man — could have been a movie star — blond hair, chiseled features.

A round-faced Native American, pockmarked and bloated.

Small red-haired woman, no more than 30, but shriveled and bent.

Guy with one eye.

Jolly fellow, Arkansas twang, face encircled by red curls.

Young guy wearing far too little in such cold. Old guy wearing so many layers, he could hardly move.

Smiley, tousled-haired boy, three fingers missing.

Cackling, greasy-bearded hobo.

Babbling, shiny-faced girl: mental case.

Tall guy, cross-eyed, in an outback safari hat.

Sleepy gray-haired woman wrapped in a blanket.

And I was not afraid.

Even today, years later, I can’t explain what happened to me that day.
I moved among these people, and my heart moved in with them. This lovely mixed bag of miscreants and sad sacks. It felt like a family reunion. I shook hands, grabbed wrists, gave Christmas greetings. I slipped an arm around people’s shoulders, joked and laughed.

You can tell when someone wants to talk, and sometimes that’s when you can move in close, close enough to smell the days-old perspiration permeating their clothing, look them in the eye, put your hand on their elbow, maybe even reach up behind their neck and pull them into a hug. The fabric they’re wearing can be slick with grime. They can reek with the sweet salt stench of sweat. But when you touch them, something happens. It’s not that they come to life; they’re already alive. But they brighten. Or they animate. You might be the only person to touch them that day — or that year.

I kept going back, every Saturday.

They taught me to love.

I became their pastor.

Christmas Eve has never been the same for me.


Doug Brendel’s new book is available at

Monday, December 6, 2010

That Creative Urge

I've decided that I simply have to have a shell covered mirror for the bedroom of my new home in Florida. So I've been shopping. Online. In person. In catalogs. The prices of such mirrors are reasonable until you get to a certain size, the size I need.

I was in a retail store the other day, talking with the owner, who happens to be a friend of my sister Jane. Jane seems to know everyone in southern Florida! I told the owner what I wanted. She had several mirrors with shells, but none of them was large enough.

"Don't buy one," she said. "Make one. Go to Walmart. Find a mirror the size you want. Got a glue gun?"

Of course I have a glue gun. It was one of my first purchases after I arrived in Florida.

"Use your glue gun. Buy shells if you have to or collect them."

Wow. I mean, I'd thought about gluing a shell mirror together, really I had, but I figured there was some trick to the whole enterprise. That the shells would stink. And yes, I know that they can. One year we picked up shells from the beach and I didn't boil them. I usually do, but this year I didn't. We were driving back to St. Louis from South Carolina when we needed something from the trunk. David popped it open and the smell about knocked us over. Lesson Learned: Boil shells to make sure you get all the dead critters out!

So...I'm going to make myself a glorious mirror. Stay tuned! I'll tell you more as I go along!

I'm curious: Do you ever convince yourself that you can't possibly try making something? I know I sure do. And yet, everything we see was made by somebody, wasn't it? So why shouldn't we be the creators?

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Believe in Instinct: An Interview with Jon Land

Jon Land will be appearing at the Love Is Murder Conference in Chicago, Feb. 4-6, 2011. For more information go to

1. Your books are very complex with multiple points of view and several story lines running through them. How do you plan them out? What strategies and techniques can you share?
Great question to start with—you’re challenging me right off the bat. And the simple answer I actually don’t plan them out. As a writer, I believe in instinct. You got by your feelings, let your gut tell you where to go. But the real thing is, and this goes to strategies and techniques, to never lose sight of the most important thing a thriller must have: pace. That’s what keeps readers turning the pages into the wee hours of the morning. You make it impossible for them to put the book down by never having any slow or dull parts. And its instinct, your own sense of entertainment as you write, that dictates when it’s time to stay with a sequence and when it’s time to cut. My experience in screenwriting has helped me out a lot here but generally it all comes down to telling a story.

2. For someone who has never written multiple points of view, can you give any pointers?

I may have already done that but let me summarize it this way: know your characters and know the story you’re trying to tell. John D. McDonald once said in answer in the question what is story, “Stuff happens to people you care about.” Well, the more you know your characters, the more they come alive, the more reader cares about them. The structure of thrillers harks back to old-fashioned quest stories. People are after something, what Hitchcock called the McGuffin. So in writing the multi-plotted thriller the question a writer needs to keeping asking themselves is What is my hero after and why? If you can’t answer that, something’s wrong.

3. From Israel to Mexico and many places in between, you move your characters around the globe. Please “talk” about settings. Do you chose a place you want to visit and then write your books or do you travel first and then develop your settings? How do you manage to portray places with so much gusto? You are very good at involving all the senses.

Oh boy, you had to ask me that! Okay, confession time: I’m a Goggle-natic. It’s impossible to visit all the places I write about, so the trick is find enough information out about a place to make it seem like I was there. My late great agent Toni Mendez also represented Milton Caniff, the cartoonist behind Terry and the Pirates. Milton described himself as an “armchair Marco Polo” and I think I’m following his example. Creating a strong sense of place has always been important to me but it’s reached new heights in my Caitlin Strong/Texas Ranger series because there’s so much available. The key, and this relates to my responses to your other questions, is to describe the scene from a character’s viewpoint instead of the narrator’s. In other words, give us the scene from the inside out, not the outside in. Do that and you’ll be describing what the character sees, what’s important to him or her, not you as the author.

4. You chose an unlikely pairing, a Jew and a Palestinian, Ben and Danielle, for Keepers of the Gate. Talk about why you selected such star-crossed lovers, and why you ended the book on such a poignant note. What sort of research did you do for the book? Were there really Nazis who passed themselves off as Holocaust survivors to escape prosecution?

That takes me back a ways since it’s been so long since I worked on a Ben and Danielle book. But that series was a culmination of two things: my growth process as a writer where I wanted to incorporate more emotion in my stories and, frankly, the fact that the sales of my more traditional action-adventure thrillers had bottomed out. I needed to do something more, both creatively and business-wise. As far as research, I have always refused to be a slave to it. In other words, I decided what I want to do and then I find a way to make it work. Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote that it doesn’t matter to me if you believe what I’m saying is true; all that matters is that you don’t disbelieve it. When I started the book I had no idea if there were Nazis who actually pretended to be Jews, but it turns out there are a number of stories just like this. And, I’ve gotta tell you, the great thing about writing about places few will ever see is that nobody knows when you mess things up! (laughs) Like my descriptions of Gaza and the West Bank. In the case of the Ben and Dan books, though, I’m amazed at how far my research into those places carried me in the compliments I’ve received over the years from people on both sides of the fence. Literally now, regrettably.

5. Your Caitlin Strong series also features two people from opposite ends of the spectrum. There’s third-generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong and Cort Wesley Masters, the killer. Why do such pairings appeal so much to you? Do you consciously design such friction to use to create tension? Your names seem to foreshadow the characters’ personalities. Please comment on that.

Well, you kind of answered that in your question. Story is all about conflict, putting forces in opposition to each other. When people interact, there has to be something tugging or pulling at them, something they’re trying to resolve. That’s easy when it’s a hero and a villain confronting each other, less so when two characters on the same side interact. The key is to create emotional conflict as opposed to physical conflict. In the course of the kind of scenes you’re alluding to, characters don’t just reveal truths about themselves, they’re forced to confront those truths. James Lee Burke is a master of this. As for names, well, in STRONG ENOUGH TO DIE giving the villain the name “Harm” might have pushing things a bit but go back to the books that helped create this genre: Ian Fleming’s Bond series. How about those names? Oddjob, Goldfinger, Rosa Klebb, Emilio Largo, Dr. No—I could go on forever. I’ve got a screenplay out now where the villain’s name is “Payne.” The hero of the same script, based on a short story I wrote for THRILLER 2 called Killing Time, is Fallon. No first name, as if part of his life is missing which it is.

6. You are a master of short chapters that leave the reader with a cliffhanger. Do you plan these? Talk about that technique.

I do indeed plan that and it goes to writing in a format that is comfortable and easy for readers to follow. I used to write longer chapters and use scene breaks. Now, just about every time the scene breaks, I start a new chapter instead. I think it was Michael Crichton who first did that, followed by James Patterson. Comes down to helping the reader find his or her own comfort zone. As far as cliffhangers go, hey, that goes all the way back to Dickens whose novels were first serialized in magazines. He was paid by the word and a cliffhanger each installment was crucial so readers would buy the next one. My primary goal as a writer is to make it impossible for you to put my books down. Do that and everything else falls into place.

7. Obviously, Caitlin Strong is a woman. And so is Danielle. How does a man write from a woman’s point of view? Since Caitlin isn’t a girly-girl and Danielle is pretty tough, I imagine you can take some liberties, but did you have to make any mental adjustments? How do you make sure you get it right

I’m very much in touch with my feminine side! (Laughs) No, seriously, I’ve written about serial killers, human monsters, Palestinians, criminals, Russians and I’m none of those either. I don’t know if you’d call it a mental adjustment. It’s more about perspective, since all my scenes are written from the viewpoint of characters. That forces me to get inside their heads and let them drive the action instead of me driving it for them. I don’t write their dialogue, they recite it and I transcribe it. The fun in writing characters like Caitlin Strong is that she’s a woman trying to make it in a man’s world. So right away you have conflict, tension, something she must overcome. These books never would have worked had I written her as a man. Getting it right means staying true to the character I’ve created. My final edit is always done by my publisher, Tom Doherty. And after reading the next Caitlin Strong book (STRONG AT THE BREAK, Forge, June ’11), he said not only did Caitlin gun down too many bad guys, she was starting to enjoy it too much. That was a great note and I took it to heart since it I think it revealed that Caitlin was becoming desensitized to all the violence around her. My point is you have a strike a balance between traditional female qualities of love and nurturing and the gunfighter Caitlin is at her core. And that’s probably one of the greatest features of this series.

8. Where did you come up all that wonderful Texas Ranger lore?

Well, I’m happy to say for once this is all about research. There’s a wealth of books available on the history of the Rangers and I’ve read probably a dozen of them, always in search of those stories and parables that begin each section. I think I get as many compliments about them as I do anything else in the Caitlin Strong books!

8. Your books are so varied in the worlds they portray. Talk about that, please.

Let me answer that in terms of the “emotional” words they portray. Each character has his/her own quest, something they’re trying to attain. In my older work, the quest was always clear. But in the Caitlin books the characters aren’t always sure what it is they’re searching for. The difference, and what I strive for in this series, is to provide that motif for all characters, no matter how minor. I need to define all my characters, in other words, by detailing how they define themselves. The conflict lies in the fact that it’s dynamic, not fluid. Like Guillermo Paz, the assassin first assigned to kill Caitlin who ultimately becomes her protector. He’s the series’ most beloved character in large part because he is still evolving emotionally.

9. In the Strong Justice, you have a character say something to the effect that the United States worries too much about terrorism abroad and not enough about securing our own borders. Please comment. Is that just a character’s point of view, or do you share that concern?

I do share that concern but let me answer the question as it relates to my next Caitlin Strong book, STRONG AT THE BREAK, in which Caitlin takes on the right wing extremist militia movement. Homeland Security has already identified homegrown terrorists, not just Muslims either, as the greatest threat facing our country today. The level of hatred that has spread across this country since Obama became president is despicable. America at its absolute worst. I know I’m wearing my politics on my sleeve here but how can you now listen to these right-wing wackos calling for Second Amendment remedies, secession, and armed insurrection and not be both pissed off and scared? How long before the murder of an abortion doctor or Holocaust museum guard becomes a bomb in a temple or a courthouse or a black church, or gay and lesbian center? These people only respect the laws they agree with and they lack the intelligence and understanding to even consider opposing points of view. This same mentality was behind the burning of witches and the hanging of blacks in the South. And now we’re seeing it again at a much more pervasive and frightening level.

10. What do you think is really happening to the women of Juarez? Any ideas how to stop the drug warfare in Mexico? (That is, do you agree with some experts that legalizing marijuana in the U.S. would help, because right now we have what amounts to another Prohibition.)

You started with a tough question and now you’re ending with an even tougher one. There is evidence that a very small number of people is behind the murders of the Women of Juarez, so the concept of a single serial killer holds water. I don’t believe there’s any way to stop drug warfare in Mexico because it’s systematic to their culture and political problems. The drug gangs are filling a vacuum and Mexico’s culture is essentially tribal to begin with. Would legalizing marijuana help? Just about every study insists that it indeed would.

For more information about Jon Land, visit him at

Suggestions for Being a More Productive Writer

Melva Gifford took these notes on a presentation by Kevin J. Anderson that was available through Dave Farland's website. I thought there were some great ideas here.

Presentation by Kevin J. Anderson on Nov. 10, 2010

1. Shut up and write. You can't wait to write until the muse hits. Think of your writing as a job. Brandon Anderson had a night job as a clerk at a hotel when he first started out as a writer.

2. Defy the empty page: If you can’t get through the first sentence
(stuck) then go to the second sentence/scene. Crash through words. Story will pick up its own momentum. If stuck on starting where you left off, then retype the last page of what you wrote before and that can get you going.

3. Dare to be bad: work on different projects at the same time. A. Research B. Outlining, breaking up chapters, C. Character development etc. D. Write the first draft of the manuscript. E. The editing phase. F. Proofreading part (grammar spelling) and G. Running around and do promotions. Kevin has about six projects in various stages of production. If swamped on one project than move to another. Your projects can becomes a horse race with five horses (books) running at a time. Maybe put something on the fire for a new idea if you don’t have other books currently in process.

4. Know the difference between writing and editing. The writing part is the creative part such as building characters and describing the adventure. Editing is the analytical part of the brain. This is where you A. study the sentences, b. determine why a sentence is flunky. Confirm details of the story. When you’re writing, turn off the editor in your head. If you get to a spot that needs research, then make a note on it and just continue with the draft and come back later for the fix or research.

While writing you need to keep focused. Save self criticism and editing of details for the second and later drafts. Be more productive by just concentrating on getting through that draft. Once that is done you can turn off the internal editor. Just concentrate on editing.

5. When you get time to write determine how to use every minute you write. Figure out how to use all that time economically. Even in half hour blocks a lot can be accomplished. Even a few sentences or paragraphs in a short time can move the story forward. John Grissom wrote one page a day on the first book he wrote. Everyone can find time to write one page a day. Even page or few sentences moves the story forward.

6. Set goals for yourself and stick to them. If you set goal to write 5 pages a day than you need to stick to it. It must be an inflexible part of your life even if you stay up to ensure that you write those 5 pages.
Set realistic goals that are challenging. If you set a goal of 5 pages but only consistently write two then modify your goal. Make sure the goal is realistic.

7. Some authors are productive when they think of their manuscripts as being in a race. Once Kevin and his writing group kept track of how many things they had in the mail at one time. Have a list of various markets and just send things out constantly. Have it be a challenge to each other.

Use deadlines for different markets, contests to submit to. Decide that there will be a new story for that deadline for each quarter of writes of the future. Find a way to create goals and write for them and submit to them. Give a reward for accomplishing different goals.

8. Create the best writing environment for yourself. See when you are the most productive. What makes you get inspired to do more work? Figure out what time of day you do your best work. Some authors work well in the morning or evening. See what works best for you. Maybe you need to get up early before you go to work. Some may need music to play in the background while writing. Some may require no sound at all. Some authors might like to go to places because it is busy but they don’t’ have to be involved, such as a coffee shop. Construct your writing environment to create the best environment for you. Look at your office setup. Is your equipment ergonomically correct for your health? Don't hunch. A bad posture/working environment can cause muscle or joint damage.

9. Think outside the keyboard. Your job is to capture words in your imagination. Doing this is not restricted to a keyboard. Some find long hand more useful in their first drafts. Some like to sit outside with a laptop. Some will dictate their story into a digital recorder, while they are hiking. Sometimes the outside environment can add to the creativity.

10. How to get inspired: The more stuff you know about or learn the more that goes into your writing. Learn stuff. Take trips and see things, learn ball room dancing. Take wood working or language. Different experiences can add to your knowledge database. Watch people and maybe make up stories that could give an explanation of why they might be doing what they do. Learn science, politics, other countries and cultures. Take a balloon ride or go pheasant hunting. Shot a gun or visit foreign countries. Learn about other cultures. Don’t just be a home body. Be a sponge you’ll never know where all those experiences and knowledge will fit into a story. Your experiences will be your toolkit for future stories.
11. Know when to stop. Once you’ve edited four or five times, stop and send it out and move on. Be careful of getting input from others. Don’t waste time talking about writing. Many authors waste time "talking" about writing rather than actually writing.

Q & A:
1. Pacing suggestions. Different scenes can accomplish multiple
things simultaneously. Mix world development in with the action. If you have a scene of two charters talking have that scene take place in an interesting place. An example may be of a relationship breaking up while they are at the horse races and they’re betting on an important race that they must win. Or there may be a dialog in a spot where the world building can take place. Scenes don’t have to be an "either/or"
situation. Have scenes do doable or triple duty.

2. What shouldn’t you do as a writer? Don’t get involved in too
many distractions. Turn off your email program. Don’t play games during writing. Try to have your writing computer be a distraction free zone. You may want to check email every hour on the hour. Maybe set time goals for yourself when you meet the daily goal then you give yourself the reward such as playing your favorite Facebook game.

3. How to find professional editing help. Most charge thousands of
dollars to read a manuscript. But many books don’t need it. The book may be ready to send out. When choosing a reviewer, look for their references so you can contact those authors who have used them and see how they did.

For more information, see Kevin Anderson’s website.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Of Mice and Men and Pigs

A couple of weeks ago I visited the local family-owned hardware store for mouse traps. It's not that I saw any mice, but I saw a few droppings and I heard the chewing in the walls. We've learned the hard way that mice travel in troops, and when the weather changes, they find their way indoors for shelter. David is a masterful mouse-trap setter, but he has one type of trap he prefers, so I'm a picky buyer. While I hate killing the little rodents, they do carry fleas and ticks that harbor Lime Disease, so I feel I must keep my family and my dogs safe. Spring loaded traps kill quickly and humanely, whereas poison can be eaten by dogs or kids. For a week thereafter, we caught a mouse a day.

I love hardware stores, and this one is particularly wondrous, full of nuts, bolts, tools, small appliances, fertilizer, and most delightfully, an indoor farmers' market. That day there was a special treat: the owner brought his pet pot-belly pig. I've never "met" a pig before, so I asked permission to scratch her behind her ears. When I did, she had a surprise for me--she fell over on her side as if dead.

Of course, I was appalled. I thought I'd killed her. Turns out she just loves to be scratched and that's her way of showing her enthusiasm. Her owner explained that she is very smart, smarter than a dog, and very clean.

Which brings to mind another neighborhood pig. This one is made of concrete. The story is that one brother gave the other a silly gift. The second brother, wishing to "get back" at his sibling, retaliated with this concrete pig, thinking that he was really "pimping" his brother by giving him something so hard to move. But the second brother had a playful streak, so instead of moving the pig and getting rid of it, he set it out in his front yard. Now he changes the pig's wardrobe and setting to match the seasons.

I love this pig. I've forgotten it's name, but I take my dogs on daily walks around the pig to see its seasonal changes. I've told the family how much joy they have given me.

That's something I love, the unintended positive consequences of living an interesting life. I'm sure that Brother #2 wasn't thinking, "Boy, will I make Joanna Slan's day." He was just doing this thing. But he has made my day. I enjoy his sense of humor.

As they say in the South, "I'm with the pig."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Lessons Learned Judging Contests

Right now, all my spare time goes to reading manuscripts for a contest. This isn't the first contest I've judged, nor is it likely to be the last. Although the effort is certainly time-consuming, it's also a great education. I thought I'd share some of the lessons learned, lessons that apply to any contest you enter.

1. Read the directions. I know you're probably thinking, well, duh! But I can't tell you how many people goof this up. They misread the word count or the number of layouts or the sizes or word length or whatever. They don't include everything that's requested. I suggest you print out the rules and highlight them as you check them off. Ask someone to double-check your efforts. It's easy to get confused when you are nervous, and all of us get nervous when we enter c0mpetitions.

2. Don't annoy the judges. Another, duh! However, one person in this contest sent me a testy email demanding to know why I hadn't acknowledged receipt of his manuscript. I hadn't acknowledged it because I was out of town doing booksignings, and I hadn't seen it. I gave his work a fair reading, but another judge might not have been so forgiving. The rules said not to send anything that required a signature for receipt, which is a pretty clear indication that they didn't want the judges to be bothered. (Yep, that's what that means.)

3. Do put your name on everything you send in. When I judged the Best of British Scrapbooking and Card Contest, I was shocked at how many entries were not properly labelled. When a judge is comparing a lot of entries, it's easy for your work to get separated from your cover letter. Make it clear what's yours. (Of course, if the contest is a blind contest, ignore this.)

4. Use your head when you package your entry. One of the Best of British entrants copied six of her layouts onto one sheet of paper, then folded that paper into itsy bits and stuffed it all into a tiny envelope. It came out looking like an origami project gone wrong. Two of the manuscripts I received were packaged in stuff that caused a huge mess, with stuff falling out, sticking to everything, and generally causing havoc. Another chose a box so big that I might have to add an addition to my home to store it. Another taped and bound her manuscript with such gusto that I spent twenty minutes trying to release the papers and a half an hour prepping the packing materials for the recycling bin. One person three-hole punched his manuscript and put it in a binder. Most readers prefer loose pages. That means we can slip them into a bag and haul them around with us easily. The binder was definitely overkill, although I appreciated that he was trying to make it easier on me, it wasn't.

5. Be honest but not stupid. Don't tell the judges you just whipped this project out in your spare time for a lark. Look at it from a judges' point of view. Here we are giving these entries our best, spending our time on them, ignoring our own work, and a person who didn't give this much effort is basically dissing our craft! If you don't care, don't enter. Leave the field open for people to whom the contest matters. Also, don't tell me how many contests you've entered and lost. That does not inspire confidence!

6. Tell me about yourself, but don't go overboard. One entrant in the Best of British did ten layouts all featuring photos of her. She was sprawled over a sofa with a rose in her teeth and the header was "BEAUTY." She was posed in a half shadow of a doorway with her head cocked back and her eyes closed. That one was called, "MYSTERY." By the time the other judges and I got to the fourth entry--"SEDUCTIVE"--we were rolling on the floor laughing. Needless to say, she didn't make it to the finals. By the same token, tell me your background, but twenty pages of stuff or a page that looks like it came from a publicity kit are not going to help you. They'll just make my eyes glaze over.

7. Make sure you mail your entry in plenty of time. It's really sad when an entry shows up after the deadline. Mail delivery can be unpredictable, and usually if you ask, the folks at the post office or at Fed Ex or wherever will give you the broadest range of arrival times. So do yourself a favor and mail/send your entry in early.

Then move on.

Yes, move on.

Don't fret about this contest. You learned something by getting ready for it. You completed something important. You grew. So you've already benefited, you see. And someone, somewhere saw your work and formed an opinion of you. If you don't make it to the winners' circle in this contest, you might still advance somewhere, somehow in another.

Yes, it's hard. Yes, you are nervous. And yes, we've all been through this. Remember that the judges know what this feels like. And we're rooting for you. We sincerely hope you'll do well, because we enjoy seeing good work.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How to Talk Like They Do in the Lou

Last week I took my niece Lexie, my sister Jane, and Lexie's son Skyler to lunch down in Florida. Since Skyler is only two, the nice greeter at Chili's gave him the kid's menu and a couple of crayons. I helped a little with the coloring, and then Skyler turned over the menu and there it was...the St. Louis Arch.

That's a photo I took of the Arch this summer looking straight up at it. It's an amazing piece of sculpture. In one way, it's like the pyramids in Egypt. You have no idea how big they are until you get right up next to them. The Arch is huge, the stainless steel panels are huge, and the way it soars up in the sky is breath-taking.

Of all the emblems of Mound City (a nickname for St. Louis), that's probably the most iconic.

I miss St. Louis now and again. I miss my neighbor Kathy and her husband, John, and their dog Bogey. I miss the colors of fall there. I miss knowing where everything was, and oh, a dozen small conveniences like Dierbergs and Annie Gunn's and having a Target right around the corner. For the most part, Northern Virginia feels like home now. It's funny that it only took me a year to be able to travel ANYWHERE confidently without the GPS. Today I dropped David off at the Amtrak Station in downtown DC and realized, "Hey, I know where I am!"

So if you get the chance to visit St. Louis, by all means go. Here's an article I wrote for AOL that will help you talk like a native.

Be sure to take the time to visit the Arch. It's just magnificent. You'll want to go underneath where the museum is and see the film on how the Arch was made. A friend who was living in St. Louis at the time told me that the two sides were not going to meet, but somehow they obviously worked that out.

There's a lesson there, I think. Even when stuff doesn't look like it's going to work out, don't give up too easily. I know that my husband is the most tenacious person I've ever met. A lot of times, I'll think, "This is the end of the road." But David will just keep on keeping on. And you know, he usually gets what he wants.

I hope I can emulate that quality more and more as life goes on.

This photo gives you an idea of the scale of the Arch. At night, the ambient light bounces off it, making a watery swirl of colors, a sort of metallic reflection of the water in the Mississippi River. And of course, the Arch is on the banks of the Mississippi, so that's very fitting.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Halloween Close Call--A Kiki Lowenstein Novella

Need a Kiki fix? For less than a cup of coffee, you can read the most recent adventure of Kiki Lowenstein, “A Halloween Close Call.” Kiki Lowenstein is invited to a Halloween Party at Detective Chad Detweiler's parents' farm. But mysterious happenings around St. Louis have everyone on edge--and Kiki has a close encounter that leaves a surprising clue behind! This entertaining 10,000+ word novella is only $1.99 and available at A Close Call.

Here's a sample:

Chapter 1
“If it’s spooky or scary, count me out.”
Detective Chad Detweiler grinned at me. “Even if I’m there to hold your hand?”
“Sorry. I don’t do scary. I love Halloween but I draw the line at being frightened out of my mind. I get enough crummy surprises in my daily life, thank you,” and to underscore how adamant I was, I crossed my arms over my chest. But I couldn’t look stern for long. Not when I was around my friends, so I spoiled the impact by smiling. I know I did.
See, my name is Kiki Lowenstein, and I’m the original Mrs. Nice Guy. I like butterflies and rainbows, puppies and kittens, sugar and spice, and brightly colored flowers. I always make sure to get my daily quota of cute. You can never have too much cute in your life. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
“So the woman who stared down her husband’s murderer is a big ‘fraidy cat.” Johnny Chambers winked at me. Johnny has Bad Boy written all over him, whereas anyone can see that Detweiler is a Knight in Shining Armor.
I shrugged and stared off into the metal shelves where we kept excess merchandise for the scrapbook store where I work, Time in a Bottle. My friends and I were holding an impromptu get-together here, in the stockroom of the store, to discuss our plans for celebrating Halloween. But walking through a “haunted house,” one of those converted warehouses complete with “zombies” and “ghosts” and “monsters” did not appeal to me one bit. “I did what I had to do to survive. This is different. You all are talking about getting your wits scared out of you as a form of recreation. If that’s your idea of a good time, have at it, go ahead, love you to bits, but I’m taking a pass.”
I know I sounded a bit whiny. I couldn’t help it. Years ago, I learned the hard way that I have a very poor tolerance for spooky stuff. I’d gone with my late husband to a screening of Carrie, the movie made of the Stephen King book by the same name. That last scene where Carrie’s hand shoots up out of the grave had me so terrified I almost went into shock. My teeth chattered and I shook like the leaves on a maple sapling before a tornado hits. It took me weeks to calm down.
I was not interested in submitting myself to being jumped at, touched, or grabbed in the dark by people I didn’t know. Especially if they’re dressed like Frankenstein or the Mummy or even Count Dracula. Ugh.
No sirree. I’m not interest in paying to be shocked and surprised.
Detweiler laughed and pulled me close. “Come here, you.” He hugged me. I relaxed into his arms, a place where I always felt safe. Listening to the soft lub-lub-lub of his big heart reminded me that I wasn’t alone in this world. “If you don’t want to visit a haunted house, we’ll find another way to have fun on Halloween. No problem.”
I stayed in Detweiler’s arms, but rotated slightly so I could see my friends. Clancy and Johnny were joined by Laurel Wilkins and her fiancé Pastor Joe Riley. What a cute couple those two are. Joe and Laurel both are in their late twenties. When they walk by, people turn and stare because they are two exceptionally good-looking people. I mean, you feel like you’re in the company of Hollywood stars when you’re with the two of them. And nice? Shoot. You couldn’t find two sweeter people.
Clancy and Johnny aren’t really a couple, but they are pals, so they occasionally accompany each other rather than sit home alone. It’s an arrangement that suits both of them very well. Clancy could easily be mistaken for Jacqueline Kennedy, she’s got those dramatic, classy looks. And Johnny, well, Johnny is a scamp. There’s a roguish side to his personality that comes through with every move he makes.
I hated disappointing all of them. They had their hearts set on celebrating this Halloween by all of us doing something special.
The question was, what?
Now that I’d put the kibosh on going through one of the many “haunted houses” that regularly sprang up this time of year all over the metro-St. Louis area, what would we do for fun?
“Look, I don’t want to be a party pooper. You all should go without me. I’ll be fine passing out candy at my house.” Of course, I didn’t mean a word of that. I would hate to be left out, but it did seem like giving everyone else permission to carry on was the gracious thing to do.
“Mo-om,” moaned Anya, my thirteen-year-old daughter, who had just joined us. “I’m too big to trick or treat. Sitting home on Halloween will be, like, totally boring. Geez.”
“I didn’t quit trick or treating until I was sixteen,” said Laurel. “But I understand what you mean, Anya. Don’t worry. We’ll think of something fun to do.”
. “Kiki, we wouldn’t enjoy ourselves if you don’t come,” Clancy Whitehead patted me on the back as I pulled free from the big detective’s embrace. “And Anya’s right. Sitting at home would be a drag. So, we’ll make another plan. I’ve never been overly fond of haunted houses either. Some of them are okay, but I was in one where this hand reached out and--”
“La-la-la-la-la,” I stuck both fingers in my ears and sang. “Don’t want to hear it!”
“Geez, Mom,” said Anya. “You are being such a baby about all this.”
“Anya-Banana, it’s okay. Your mom is just being honest with us. We’re all friends here. That’s the way good friends operate. They take each others’ wishes into account,” said Detweiler. He was the only adult officially authorized to call my darling daughter by her old nickname. The hunky detective and my daughter had a wonderful relationship. He was very careful to be totally respectful and clear about boundaries with her, and he was teaching her that sticking up for her rights and feelings was important. He’d seen too many teens talked into stupid stunts by their peers. And worse, he’d handled a grisly abuse case where the stepfather was molesting his stepdaughter. Detweiler, Anya and I had even discussed the situation over the dinner table one night, with him emphasizing that she should never hesitate to tell the authorities if someone acted inappropriately toward her or her friends. No matter how powerful the perpetrator seemed to be.
I could see that he was supporting me in nixing the haunted house to help Anya realize that friends don’t push friends into uncomfortable situations.
I have to admit, my heart was overflowing with love for my daughter and my new beau. I’d heard a lot of horror stories about women with kids getting involved and bad outcomes. But so far, the three of us had been able to discuss frankly any hiccups along the way to becoming a family.
One of those hiccups was melding with Detweiler’s parents, Louis and Thelma, as well as his sisters, Ginny and Patty. Since Detweiler and his wife Brenda were only officially separated, and not yet divorced, I wasn’t sure how the Detweiler family would feel about me. I thought I remembered hearing that Patty and Brenda were good friends. But I was afraid to ask.
Maybe Johnny was right. I can be a ‘fraidy cat. I know I sure do stick my head in the sand sometimes, so maybe I’m more like an ostrich.
“Don’t worry, Kiki. I’ll come up with something fun for us all to do on Halloween,” said Detweiler, giving my hand a gentle squeeze. “That includes you, Anya. My niece Emily has been asking about you. She wants to hear how your kitten is doing.”
Anya’s face broke into a huge smile. “Seymour is getting big. Wait ‘til I tell her about how Gracie picks him up and carries him around.”
Hearing her name, my wonderful harlequin Great Dane started to thump her tail happily. Gracie is totally besotted with Detweiler. She had managed to lean her entire body weight against his leg while we were all talking. Now she was looking up at him with moony brown eyes.
Yeah, no doubt about it. My life was full of love and happiness. This wonderful support system of friends gave me all sorts of self-confidence. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve never been more happy or secure.
But I still wasn’t willing to visit a haunted house.
Huh uh.
No way.


Hungry for more? Upload the whole novella in seconds at A Close Call.


Copyright 2010, Joanna Campbell Slan

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I'm a Researchaholic: An Interview with Joe Finder

Joe Finder will be appearing at the Love Is Murder Conference in Chicago, Feb. 4-6, 2011. For more information go to

1.Unlike most action oriented books, your settings are not exotic. Often the scariest scenes occur in office buildings. Many authors rely on dramatic settings. How do you manage to make such commonplace settings still seem frightening?

The familiar is what we identify with most, and we need to identify with a situation before we can be frightened. Alfred Hitchock understood this. He was the master of taking the ordinary man in the commonplace setting, and turning it into something tense and unexpected. That tension, that fear happens when something disrupts the familiar: the thing under the bed, the noise on the stairs. That’s what I’m interested in.

2.Your hero/ine is often a sort of “every man” or “every woman” who is discounted by others. Why does this type of character appeal to you? It would seem that the pitfall would be a character who is too bland or boring to hold the reader’s attention, and yet your characters are compelling…even if they are slackers. Please comment. Also, you seem to include male characters who are amazed that they’re loved by smart and attractive women. This goes contrary to many male fantasies of being irresistible. Tell us about that.

I think the “everyman” is the ideal protagonist for a thriller, again because of this question of identifying with the hero. I also love the idea of the underdog, the person the reader wants to root for because everyone else seems to underestimate them. Nick Heller can be beaten, and because we know that, the stakes are higher. It’s much more exciting for the reader when he overcomes those obstacles.

Men might pretend to think they’re irresistible, but I’ll let you in on a secret: most of us know that’s a fantasy. Most men have no idea why any woman would find us attractive. Life’s not an Axe commercial. I think both men and women appreciate a more realistic approach.

3. Your books are full of tension and suspense, but it comes from events most of us might imagine ourselves in, such as snooping around in an office where we don’t belong. Or getting caught in a lie. You are a master at upping the stakes and amplifying the threat. How do you do that?

All of my anxieties feed my twisted imagination, or maybe it’s the other way around. I imagine myself in a given situation and ask, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Then I play out the scenario in ways that will challenge the reader’s expectations. If a reader thinks, “Oh, I know where this is going,” but something completely different happens, that’s exciting, that’s thrilling.

You have to start with a character the reader cares about, and then put them through a sequence of events that escalate, with moments of real tension — cliffhangers — in between.

4.You write with great precision about technical situations, such as how cargo planes are managed, how corporate secrets are stored, how stock issues and buyouts happen. You list a lot of experts as resources. Please talk about how you do your research. Do you do it all upfront? Or in stages? Do you interview people or ask questions as you go along? Have you ever be headed down the wrong path and then discovered, because of your research, that you needed to rewrite a chunk?

Research my favorite part of the process. I love research. I’d go so far as to call myself a researchaholic. I need to keep myself from overdoing it, because the easiest thing in the world is to put off writing while I check one last fact or interview one more source. Usually I’ll start with a general idea of setting and plot, but the research will shape the setting, and also provide plot ideas; I’ll ask someone, “What could go wrong? And what would you do then? And how could that go wrong?” The big research happens at the beginning of the process, and I’ll gather enough information to get the engines going.

Once I start writing, though, questions about details inevitably come up. I’ll keep track of them as I go, and call or email my sources during breaks in the writing to get answers. So far, I haven’t had to go back to correct something because I learn it’s not feasible. I’ve usually done enough research in advance to give me a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t.

5.What’s your process? How do you come up with your concepts? Do you outline? You have a lot of twists and turns, and you manage to end many chapters with cliffhangers. Do you plan these in advance?

Everything starts with the “what if?” question. What if my new neighbors were actually spies? What if someone started taking those “business is war” books a little too seriously? What if the entire leadership structure of a shaky company were taken hostage?

From there, I start populating my scenario with characters. Who’s my hero? Where does he or she come from? What does he or she want? Who and what are the obstacles to this desire?

Then I brainstorm the major “beats” of the story, creating a beat sheet that lays out the major plot points of my story. I don’t get too detailed, because I need to figure a lot of it out along the way. If my outline’s too detailed, I’m bored before I even begin.

I follow the basic formula of “surprise, reverse, reveal.” We start with situation A, which suddenly becomes situation B — except it’s actually C, which turns out to be D. It’s like peeling the layers of an onion, and sometimes — actually, often — I surprise myself. I don’t always know where the cliffhangers turn up, and the ultimate resolution often doesn’t reveal itself to me until I’m writing it.

6. Your book “High Crimes” was made into a movie. You were able to make a cameo appearance and spend time on the set. Talk about the difference between a movie and a book. (You did this eloquently in the interview during the movie trailer, so if you could repeat that here, that would be great.)

My big discovery, in watching HIGH CRIMES become a movie, was how much more scope I had as an author than screenwriters or even directors do. I can develop characters and storylines in a 500-page novel that filmmakers can’t hope to convey in 120 minutes. They just don’t have the time or the space to create the kind of world I try to build in each book. Authors can form relationships not only with their fictional characters, but also with their readers, because of the time it takes to read a book. Even a fast-paced thriller is going to take at least a day to read. At the end of that time, the reader feels a connection to me that I think it’s hard to feel with the director of a film.

Beyond that, I had a new appreciation for the absolute control I have, as an author, over my plot and my characters. Filmmaking and television producing are collaborations, and those collaborations create marvelous things. I can feel the excitement and the attraction of being part of that kind of collaboration, but they’re no substitute for the thrill of being able to sit at a desk alone and create my own stories from thin air, with no one to answer to but the reader.

That said, I think authors can learn a lot from the movies: the importance of having your reader identify with the main character, the need to start as late in the action as possible, the deadly effects of over-narration. I want my books to feel like great movies, but deeper, and more nuanced.

7.Your first book at age 24 was a nonfiction account of the ties that Armand Hammer had with the Soviets. For that, he threatened to sue you. How did you cope with the stress of that? What lessons did you take away?

I loved doing the research, making those discoveries, and putting it all on paper. I didn’t love the controversy. What I learned was that I could still do the research, still make those discoveries, still put it all on paper — but I could do that and actually make the story up, rather than being constrained by the facts.

The research I did for RED CARPET became the foundation of my first novel, THE MOSCOW CLUB. I discovered that I could use even more of my research, in a way that was more creatively interesting, if I turned it into fiction. It was a revelation.

8.Talk about the time in your career when your agent suggested you might have to write under another name to “redeem” yourself. What kept you going? What did you do? What did you learn?

Almost every author I know has had times when something went wrong in the publishing process, where sometimes external issues created obstacles an author had no control over. I didn’t want to write under a different name. Instead, I took a break and did other things, and I took a broader look at the genre I was working in.

I saw what John Grisham was doing, setting his stories in law firms, and noticed that no one was setting thrillers in the everyday working world, the place most people live. I saw that the old 1970s conspiracy stories could be played out in today’s business world — in an office environment that looked ordinary to an outsider, but might have secrets buried within.

So I came up with a new “what if”: what if all those old spy techniques — the moles, the leaks, the theft of secrets, the double agents — were being used in today’s high-tech corporations? And what if an ordinary guy — the Hitchcock hero, someone the reader could identify with — got pulled into one of these operations?

The result was PARANOIA. It took me a couple of years to research and write, and when I was finished I felt that it was something truly new, and something I’d be proud to put my name on.

9.Your agent also told you that humor was incompatible with suspense, and you’ve obviously ignored that. Your humor contributes to your characters and gives the reader a nice change of pace. Tell us why you didn’t take your agent’s advice on dumping the humor.

This was another piece of advice I decided to ignore when I wrote PARANOIA. At that point, I felt I had nothing to lose by letting my own voice come through — and that voice, often as not, is the voice of a smartass.

But again, the humor is part of how my protagonist stands in for the reader. When I first started researching PARANOIA, I walked into Cisco Systems and it was like visiting a foreign country. All this jargon was flying through the air, words I’d never heard before, like “bandwidth” and “pushback” and “escalation.” Humor was a natural reaction to that kind of information overload, not only for Adam but for me, and for the reader. Especially when you’ve dropped a character into a strange and complicated situation, humor is a way to reassure the reader that the characters are taking it all in stride, and they should, too.

10.You grew up as a “third culture” kid, a child who spent several years as an expat. Research has shown that “third culture” kids are more curious, more adventuresome, and more accepting of diversity. They tend to get bored easily. Given that many Americans don’t even own a passport, what could you say to encourage Americans to travel and experience other cultures?

This is a really interesting question. What I would say to Americans is that the world is a mansion, and we live in only one room. There are many ways to open the doors to that room, and travel is only one of them.

When you move a lot, you get used to paying attention to new situations. It teaches you to be an observer, to ask questions, to figure out what you need to know. Those are essential skills for a writer.

I’d certainly encourage Americans to travel, but I realize that it’s not always possible, given time and money constraints. That’s one of the great things about books: they let you experience cultures and identify with people whose values might differ. As many places as I’ve been, one of the best trips I ever took was Eleanor Cameron’s The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, which I read as a kid. That was the book that first made me want to be a writer, and I might have found it even if I’d never traveled anywhere.

Monday, October 25, 2010

How to Make a Book Safe and More from Angela

Angela Daniels wrote a neat post about her visit to Bouchercon. You can read it here. And that's a picture Angela took of one of the book safes she made in her second session.

You can go directly to this LINK, and see her how to info. Isn't this just the cutest thing?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Blast at Bouchercon

I had such a great time at Bouchercon and visiting San Francisco in general. My dear friend Camille Minichino was in charge of the craft rooms at Bouchercon, and she just did a bang up job.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Bouchercon, it's the conference named for Anthony Boucher, and it's the largest mystery conference in the world. The setting rotates from town to town, and since I'd never been to San Francisco, I was happy to have a great excuse to visit.

Another friend, the adorable Angela Daniels from Fiskars, presented two crafts at the conference. Gosh, Fiskars was so incredibly generous! They sent along scissors, tape runners, supplies and bright orange bags.

Angela's first project was covering a composition notebook. I took photos of the results. I'm always amazed at how given the same materials, people put their own creative spin on projects. Aren' t these wonderful?

Her second craft was to make a "secret safe" out of a paperback book. I wasn't able to hang around for all of that because the date coincided with my 28th wedding anniversary, and I wanted to have dinner with my husband.

But I must admit, I'm eager to try that project now. Everyone can use a good safe!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bouchercon by the Bay

I'll be appearing at the Midnight Ink Booth from 12:30 to 1:30 on Saturday, and in the craft rooms with my friend Angela Daniels from Fiskars at 11:30 and 4:30. On Friday night, I'll be doing a signing at the crop at Scrapbook Territories in Berkeley, CA.

If you've never been to a large conference before, or even if you have, these are great tips from Sunny Frazier.


Wear comfortable shoes, clothes that travel, and layer clothes.

Be ready to exchange business cards and have plenty handy.

Ask people to attend your panel as you chat them up. They will love the fact you've asked them to come! You get to sign books afterward.

Plant a few copies of your book in the give-away section. This assures you of a few people in your signing line.

Bring a camera, take lots of photos for your website. Pose with the big names. When people ask to pose with you for their website, comply.

Don't try to hit a panel every hour. You will exhaust yourself and you'll hurt from sitting so much.

Get to the humor panel early. It fills up fast. Same with the bar.

Don't spend all your time bonding with the guys. Women are the ones who buy books.

Always be on your best behavior--especially in the elevator.

Stare at people's chest and read their nametags. It's the only time this practice is acceptable.

Rest. It will seem like the longest long weekend of your life. Slip upstairs and crash for a bit during the day. Stay hydrated.

Bring something "nice" to wear to the banquet. Most of the time dress is casual. This is California, but it IS San Francisco.

Find the hospitality room immediately. See what they have up there to munch on. Sometimes this is the only time you get to eat.

Scope out the entire conference set up ahead of time. Study the conference book and try to memorize faces in the book and a bit about each author. I start weeks ahead using the names listed online.

Smile until your cheeks hurt. You'll feel like you're running for Miss America.

Most of all, enjoy the experience. It's the BIG one!

See you there,
Sunny Frazier

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fall Wall Hanging

The colors of fall inspire me! I love my photos of fall scenes, and I didn't want to hide them away in an album. So I started collecting twigs, and then I came up with this idea.

Here's how I made my fall wall hanging:

1. Tear a piece of cream muslin 6 1/2 x 15 inches.
2. Using a cross-stitch and embroidery floss, stitch on the three twigs.
3. Add a colorful ribbon tied in a bow. Attach the ends of the ribbon to the hanging with buttons.
4. Matt two photos. Glue these to the fabric.
5. Punch lots of leaves in a variety of shapes and colors. Glue the leaves along the sides of the hanging, taking care to overlap the leave shapes. See the detail photo (below) for ideas.

6. Add buttons.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Whazzup? Thoughts about Words and a Link

At first I resisted text-ese and slang, but I started thinking about Shakespeare and how he created so many words we use daily, and I changed my mind. I think some of the new words floating about--LOL, Whazzup?, whodunit, chillaxing--are pretty cool.

How inventive was Shakespeare? One site lists 1,700 words that Shakespeare first used in his works. These include:

* accommodation
* amazement
* courtship
* countless
* frugal
* fitful
* lonely
* majestic
* suspicious

He also coined many phrases that we use today, including:

* dog will have its day
* eat out of house and home
* all that gilters
* break the ice
* kill with kindness
* it's Greek to me

The English language grows every year. One reason is technology. We add new words to accommodate (thanks, Will!) new ideas. I was working with a computer tech the other day, a man young enough to be my son, and we discussed how computers of old took up entire floors. How they had to be shut down to cool off. How all the programming was on punch cards. Think of all the changes! It's now commonplace to talk about:

* Mac
* PC
* Microsoft
* Windows (with a capital "W")
* hard drive
* laptop
* Internet
* thumbdrive

And of course, words that once had meanings have changed, so that when we talk about "wireless" we're not discussing a radio.

Another way that words are added is by adopting foreign words, such as jihad, shirah and anime. Since the world is a smaller place (theoretically), we have more contact with other cultures, so we're adopting more words than ever.

Then, we have the zeitgeist words, the words that come out of our culture. These wouldn't make sense to someone who lived in another time, but they are au courant and useful now.

* "tea party"
* mortgage backed securities
* Madoff
* September 11

And words from the world of science, commerce and medicine, such as:

* Viagra
* supernova
* blood diamonds
* botox

It's interesting how the newest words seem to come with the most baggage. That makes sense when you realize that words spring from political situations or cultural icons/changes.

Some words are only regional. Yesterday I was working on Ink, Red, Dead, which is the tentative title for Book #5 in the Kiki Lowenstein series. I described one of the new characters as having grown up in the "boot heel." Now, if you are from St. Louis, you would understand that this is the southwestern corner of the state of Missouri, and that anyone coming from the "boot heel" is probaby considered a hillbilly by the swanky folks in Ladue.

It's weird how a word can be so loaded. Kiki would never think twice about someone coming from the boot heel, but other people in the book definitely look down upon this woman's background.

Another word I'm using is "scrubby Dutch." Okay, really that's two words. It describes the houseproud German immigrants to St. Louis. "Dutch" is a mispronunciation of "deustch." At first I felt pretty squeamish about this phrase, because I didn't want to be offensive. But a lovely group of my fans met me at a Barnes and Noble in Fenton. They actually asked me to create a "scrubby Dutch" character.

So I did.

Which leads us to another word: EASY.

Yeah, that's what I am. I'm sort of a pushover where my fans are involved.


Here's a link to a new review of Photo, Snap, Shot. I was delighted that P.J. liked the book, because she's a real expert on mysteries. I was hoping I could grow enough as an author to please her!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Interview with Joan Johnston

Note: Joan Johnston is one of the authors who will be appearing at Love Is Murder, Feb. 4-6, 2011, in Chicago.

1. Joan, you are an incredibly prolific writer as well as a successful one. Tell us about your habits as an author. Can you share any tips for staying focused and productive? You’ve said you write one book at a time. Do you work on other ideas, but only write one at a time? It seems like you must have a lot in the hopper, as well as what you are working on.

I'm currently working on a five-book series called the Benedict Brothers for Mira. The first book of the series, Invincible, will be in stores October 26. The next book in the series, Unforgettable is due October 1. I also just signed a three-book contract with Ballantine Bantam Dell to write a series of historical westerns call the Mail Order Brides. I've been thinking about the western historicals while I work on this contemporary series with a suspense element, but I only write one book at a time. I'm always writing in my head.

I sold my house and moved in August, so staying focused on writing has been a challenge. But I love writing books in a series and want to be sure my novels (both contemporary and historical) are the best they can be. So the secret to being focused and productive is . . . keeping the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. Being prolific (I'm on a three-book-a-year schedule right now) really is about putting in the time to do the work.

2. You describe your latest books as “romantic suspense.” Could you define that term? How are these books different from your earlier romances?

In a romantic suspense, as opposed to a romance, the suspense is more than just a device to keep the characters together in the same place. I write suspense rather than mystery because I'm not good at keeping secrets. Usually the reader knows who the villain is in my books. The literary question is: Can the hero and heroine, through their combined efforts (that's the romance part), keep the villain from prevailing?

3. Your fans clamored for you to continue the saga of the Bitter Creek characters. The cast is staggering. How do you keep all that straight? Please share any suggestions for plotting and character development. How do you keep all the names straight?

Characters become real people when you write about them, so they're easy to tell apart. But the truth is, I do make mistakes. Readers are quick to point them out.

One of my favorite reader "catches" was the fact that in The Cowboy (first book in the Bitter Creek series) Trace and Callie had a three year age difference, even though Ren was supposedly pregnant with Callie at the same time as Eve was pregnant with Trace. That led to some serious finagling on my part--and a fabulous storyline that resulted in a lot of powerful scenes in later books in the Bitter Creek series (especially The Texan and The Loner).

4. You are obviously good at branding yourself. How did you nail down your brand? What has helped you clarify who you are? How does it help you promote your books?

I've written a lot of the same kinds of books--powerful family dramas--even though they may be historical, contemporary or contain suspense elements. The logo "Escape with Joan" came about when I was looking for a specific brand that I could use to describe the experience I wanted readers to have with my books. I began reading to escape from the stresses in my life, and in this challenging world we live in, that's the escape into adventure and romance that I hope to provide for my readers.
In purely practical terms, it also helps to use the same size and font for your name on the cover, and to have some continuity in the look of your covers. I've been lucky to have long-standing relationships with publishers (Ballantine Bantam Dell, Harlequin, Pocket Books and Avon) who've maintained a Joan Johnston "look."

5. Your publication story is unusual. You went straight to two editors and asked to meet them in New York. Do you think that could happen today? And you are very clear about reading the genre and taking classes before trying your hand at a book. What advice would you give unpublished authors based on your journey?

I still think it's possible to meet an editor at a conference, make a connection and then submit your work directly to that editor without going through an agent. However, for this route to work, you need to have written a book that's publishable without a lot of editing. In other words, the onus is on the writer to know the genre (hence, the rigorous reading I recommend) and have some idea where his or her work fits into the needs of the publishing house to which he or she is submitting.

Which means, if you want to write for a particular house, you need to be reading everything that house is publishing in the genre in which you want to write, so you'll know what they're currently buying. Remember, whatever is being published was bought at least a year ago. This doesn't mean you have to write exactly what's being published; it does mean you have to be in the same ball park. Right now, publishers aren't taking risks. I always remind myself I'm not writing the great American literary novel, I'm writing commerical fiction, which means that it needs to appeal to a broad audience, so the publisher can sell a lot of copies (which is why they're in business).

A note about choosing a genre in which to write: Remember that publishers are going to want another book in the same genre as the first one. They've spent a lot of money (hopefully) getting your book out to an audience, and now that you've established an audience, they want another book along similar lines. So don't write a vampire novel (popular right now) unless you love writing vampire novels. Having said that, I've made a point of watching which way the market is trending and changing what I'm writing to fit the market. So I started in historicals, changed to contemporaries and will be writing historicals again (along with contemporaries). The market moves. You can't stand still.

6. I love your line “go for the choke.” Please explain what that means. Your characters do, indeed, tug at the heartstrings. Please share how you accomplish that.

If a scene doesn't bring me to tears, it isn't going to do the same for readers. I'm looking for ways to provoke powerful emotions, which is what I call "going for the choke." It's always amazing to me that just changing one word--or removing or adding a single line--can "ruin" the choke. So be careful when you write. If you write a great scene and have "found" the choke, don't lose it by editing it out.

Okay, so how do I do it? I'm not quite sure. The "choke" arises out of the scene, the characters and the emotions they evoke. It's a sort of "payoff" the reader has been waiting for--which suggests there are also elements of conflict and pacing. It's sort of like mental instability. You can't define it, but you know it when you see it.

7. Your characters get into some highly unusual situations, but you manage to make the reader BELIEVE these situations could happen. You are a whiz at making the reader suspend his/her disbelief. How do you do your magic?

I wish I knew. I'd write a "how-to" book and make a fortune. The magic probably comes from me believing it, and writing that belief into the book.

8. You read a lot of books by men, but you write for a general audience, and I assume that your fan base is more female than male. What do you, as a reader and author, get from male authors that you don’t get from women?

I love books about war; I love cowboys; I love strong men who sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Women aren't (usually) allowed to write about war, presumably because we don't have credibility on the subject, and more men than women are interested in the subject and men prefer to read a book about war written by men. I'd love to write a book about war (especially WWII). It would be an interesting challenge to try and get it published with my name on it.

I grew up in a family of six sisters and one (much younger) brother and my military father was absent most of the time. Reading books written by men gives me a great deal of insight into how men think and how they attack an issue (although not so much about how they feel). One of the reasons I enjoy W.E.B. Griffin's books so much is that not only does he write about war, but he writes about soldier's feelings about the war and about the women in their lives.

A former attorney, Joan Johnston is the best-selling, award-winning author of 50 novels. Invincible will be available in stores on October 26, 2010. Visit her at

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Now Available on Kindle!

I know you've been waiting, and so have I! So I'm pleased to announce that Photo, Snap, Shot is now available on Kindle.

Yes, now you can read Photo, Snap, Shot in whatever size font suits you. You can carry it in your purse along with all my other books, and you won't even have to struggle under the weight of three books...because you can upload Photo, Snap, Shot in your Kindle.

Enjoy! I'm doing my own little happy dance here in my office!

You know, I'd sent emails to Amazon trying to track the progress of this, but to no avail. You see, after my publisher sends out the file, there's a waiting period, and it's up to Amazon to load the file and offer it.

So how did I learn that the book was available on Kindle? One of you told me! I was attending a super class at ScrapbooksPlus! in Chantilly (VA) called "Domestic Goddess" and taught by Sue B. There I was working away on my album when one of the other students mentioned she'd just uploaded Photo, Snap, Shot.

Wow. Have I mentioned lately that my fans mean the world to me? You sure do!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cork Stamps and a Contest

Lately I've had fun experimenting with cork stamps. I carve them myself from corks leftover from wine and champagne bottles.

Here's what one looks like:

Here's how to make your own:

1. Sand your cork so that the face of it is as flat as possible.
2. Choose a simple shape. If you don't trust your art ability, find a small clip art image. Either glue it to your cork or draw it on the flat edge of the cork with a felt tip marker.
3. Carve out the image. I find that I do best if I use my craft knife and slice straight down into the cork, then I chip away the excess. Your goal is to leave a slightly raised image.

To stamp your image, use a thick piece of styrofoam under your paper. This compensates for the fact that your cork probably won't be as flat as you'd like.

Now, press the raised image against your ink pad and then onto your paper. Don't worry if the entire image does NOT transfer. That's part of the beauty of this art form.

Finally, add dimension to your image with watercolor paint.


If you would like for me to send you a bookmark featuring some of my cork stamping, just comment on this blog. On Tuesday, I'll choose one lucky commenter to win a custom-made bookmark.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Decorating Composition Notebooks

This is a perfect time of year to buy composition notebooks at a great price. Big box chains like Walmart and Target, as well as drugstores like Rite Aid and CVS, all have these notebooks at reduced prices.

I suggest you grab a handful and have a notebook decorating party.

Above are a few of my faves. (Starting upper left, going clockwise)

1. Nana--I started with a red background color on the front and back. Tip: Lightly sand your notebook cover to make the paper grip. Add bits of scrap paper in red tones. I painted a piece of chipboard and used rub-on letters to write "Nana." Then I punched a hole in the upper right corner and tied on some ribbon. Last, I glued a piece of velvet along the spine and added sequins.

2. Shop 'til You Drop--The inspiration for this notebook was a marketing flyer I found. It had all the little shops on it. Since notebooks don't need to be acid-free, think outside of the box and use magazine photos or promotional materials. (Yeah, rah, recycling!) I added my initial from a QuickKutz font and a penny.

3. Gryffindor--I think this Harry Potter sticker came with a Happy Meal or some other sticker pack. I wrapped ribbon around a slide mount and "framed" the sticker.

4. DS--I had some embellishments left over after I did a golfing page for my husband. Again, I used my Quick Kutz lettering tool for the DS. On the very center page (with the stitching) I added a silky thread and a metal tag. I stamped the word "Dad" and colored the tag with chalk.

Think of all the ways you could use these notebooks: party favors, stocking stuffers, thank you gifts, teachers' gifts, and again, why not plan a party around making up a bunch of them? They're easy, cheap, and useful.

My kind of scrapping!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

It's My Story, Damn It! -- An Interview with F. Paul Wilson

F. Paul Wilson will be appearing at the Love Is Murder Conference, Feb. 4-6, in Chicago.

1. Paul, you’ve said you don’t believe in gore on the page. You prefer to make the gross/horrific stuff happen in the reader’s head. Would you tell us more about that and why it works so well?

I tend to go by the maxim that less, if done properly, is more. I’ve been through med school and a rotating internship that included surgery. I’ve dissected a human body and I’ve been up to my wrists in blood in someone’s open abdomen. Blood and gore don’t get to me. I’m more disturbed by what I don’t see.

Remember the little girl in The Leopard Man banging on the door to her house to be let in because something was following her? Remember how you thought she’d get safely inside, but she didn’t? Remember how she screamed and went silent? Remember the blood flowing under the door?

I do. And in my mind I saw worse things happening than Jacques Tourneur could ever have shown on the screen. I first saw that scene in the 1950s and I still haven’t forgotten it.

Consider this scene from FATAL ERROR, the most recent Repairman Jack novel: I’ve got a bad guy tied up in a van. He has info he’s not giving up. It’s an improvised situation. The person who’s going to get that info arrives with a paper bag labeled “Ace Hardware,” gets in the van, and closes the door. I don’t need to take you into the van for the details. The Ace Hardware bag is unsettling, but what’s really chilling about the scene is that the person with the bag is an ordinary housewife whose little boy was seriously hurt by this man. Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned … but a scorned woman’s fury can’t hold a candle to that of the mother of a brutalized child. No, you do not want to be in that van.

2. You often write lean. How does one go about learning to write lean? What are the advantages of it? Is it simply your voice or is it a style you prefer?

I let the story choose the style. Lean and mean is good for the Repairman Jack novels—they’re dark and fast-paced—and that’s the style that’s defined my work over the past decade. But if you read The Keep, it’s quite a different style; it’s set in Europe in the early 40s and requires a more elaborate style. Black Wind spans nearly twenty years from the 1920s to the 1940s and involves a clash of cultures; that book demanded still another style.

Lean (but maybe not so mean) works well in the YA Repairman Jack novels. Because I use short, staccato prose, and short paragraphs, the Flesch-Kincaid level for my adult books is around fourth grade. So I didn’t have to change much except the language for YA.

3. Story comes first, you’ve said. How do you meld story and character? Please describe how you move from a story, a narrative thread, to a fleshed out book. How do the characters occur to you?

I rarely start with well-drawn characters because I don’t want the story hindered by what might or might not be consistent with a character. It’s my story, damn it, and you’ll do as you’re told.

In my first draft, the characters tend to serve the plot – but they take on flesh as they react to events or make them happen. Then I go back and further flesh them out into distinct individuals who would be capable (even if the don’t know it) of doing the things they do in the story. I determine what in their past, in their makeup, has made them into this person. And then they become real people.

Repairman Jack was an exception. He and The Tomb served each other. I needed a character who could survive the rooftop battle (even though I didn’t know what he’d be battling), but I wanted Jack to be mine. I took every cliché about the loner hero and turned it on its head. I made him blue-collar, self-taught, and fallible – a reaction to the super-competent, super-trained, always one-step-ahead-of-the-bad-guy Jason Bournes of the times. In fact, I decided on an anti-Jason Bourne – with no black-ops, SEAL, or Special Forces training, no CIA or police background, no connection to officialdom. In other words, no safety net. No one in the system he could call on because he’s under the system’s radar. He has to rely on his own wits and his own network.

Turned out people loved that. They could never be Jason Bourne; they have a better chance at being Jack. He’s a regular guy; people can see themselves having a beer with him.

4. You mentioned your editing process in one interview. Tell us more about it. Any suggestions for how we could all improve our editing? You’ve written so many books. How have you improved your editing skills?

By teaching at the Borderlands Press Writers Boot Camp. Parsing other people’s prose is such detail led to some eye-popping revelations when I returned to my own writing and realized I was committing many of the errors I’d been flagging in others. You know better, but you simply don’t see the errors in your own writing. I became much more conscious of my own prose. I can see a definite difference between my pre- and post-2005 writing. Editing others helped me edit myself.

5. You’ve said that marketing departments got mad at you because you “genre hopped,” talk about how much authors should or should not care about the marketing department. In today’s market, we all seem to want to please our agents and editors. But you seem to have listened to a voice inside, and it has served you well. Could you encourage the rest of us to do the same?

I’m usually two books ahead in my brain, and so I’ve always written the next book that’s ready to go. I’ve felt free to do that because I’ve always had another source of income. That’s one of the reasons a day job is important – it frees you from living advance to advance and allows more elbow room in your writing. You can never ignore your editor and the sales force, but you can challenge them. A day job also keeps you in contact with real people in the real world outside publishing, and that’s very valuable.

6. You have said that no one wanted your horror, which was your first love, until Steven King’s books made it big. Talk about staying true to what you love to write.

I wish I could puff out my chest and say that I’ve stayed true to my muse no matter what, but in reality I don’t have much choice. My brain is wired for the outré. I write weird stuff because that’s how I see the world. My first sale was to John Campbell for Analog – yeah, it was an SF story, but about intelligent mutant rats on interstellar cargo ships, and at the end they ate the bad guy alive. As I said: It’s the way I’m wired.

7. You believe that villains should have a code of honor. Explain that, and why it makes a book “sing.”

Not “should.” I don’t like to “should” on people. Remember, a villain doesn’t think of himself as the bad guy. And I think some of the most interesting villains do have a code that they follow. Fu Manchu and Hannibal Lecter are examples. Kusum in The Tomb had his code. But Rasalom, my big bad guy throughout the Secret History, has no code. He wants to win – by any means necessary. He’s the compleat sociopath, who feeds on pain and misery.

8. You write part-time. Talk about how you use your time, and how you make sure you stay on track with your writing. It’s pretty easy to let other stuff get in the way, and since you are a doctor, it sure seems like you would get some pretty important distractions.

Technically part-time, I guess, but it’s a much bigger part of my time than when I started out. In 1994, after twenty years of writing and practicing medicine each full-time, I cut my practice (I’m in a group) to Mondays and Tuesdays. Those are two long days that leave no time for writing. So, I write Wednesday through Sunday. I try to do a minimum of a thousand words a day on those 5 days. That allows me to accrue 100k words (usually more) in 20 weeks.

As for part-time writing, here's what worked for me: I found a minimum of 3 first-draft double-spaced pages per day did the trick. That's 21/week. At that rate you've got over 540 pages in 6 months. That's a decent-sized novel.

In writing those 3 pages pre day, avoid tinkering with them. This stalls you by fooling you into thinking you're still writing. You're not. And you're losing momentum. Get them down and then leave them alone and go on to the next 3. The time to fix and hone them is after you've finished that all-important first draft. You'll know your characters better then and can go back and make meaningful edits and additions.

When I was practicing full time I'd use commuting time to mentally compose my next pages so that I'd be primed when I sat down at the keyboard. That’s a key point: TURN OFF THE DAMN RADIO AND TAKE OFF THE DAMN HEADPHONES. Stop wasting valuable time listening to other people's words. You're a writer. When you're driving or walking around you should be working on YOUR words -- the words you want to tell other people.

9. You teach writing. If there was one lesson that every student could learn, what might that be? What mistakes do you see people making over and over?

Matters what you want from writing. If being a dilettante suffices, then write when the mood hits you. But if you want to have a career in writing, I think you’ve got to write every day. Even when you don’t have a story, reconstruct conversations, describe settings in new ways, and save it all for later cannibalization. If writing is a career, then it’s got to be part of your everyday life.

10. The scene that sparked Repairman Jack came to you in a dream. How did you happen upon his character? You make a big deal of one of the character’s (Kusum’s sister’s) physical beauty, but you also emphasize that beauty and sexual competency are not ultimately as fulfilling as the union of two souls. Pretty romantic for an action hero. Comments?

As I’ve said, I deliberately designed him as the antipode of the typical thriller hero. I wanted to do the same with his relationships. No new-book / new-girlfriend scenario. That allows for more sex, brings more hormones into play, and that’s exciting, but I decided to go for a stable relationship. I did, however, choose a woman who’s very unlike him – a single mother and a functioning member of society – and, even though they share core values, there’s a lot of conflict. But we can’t always choose who we fall for, and conflict is the heart of drama. The relationship has mellowed Jack, something I didn’t see coming.

11. I find the concept of Repairman Jack fascinating. There’s a Hebrew phrase “tikkun olem” which refers to “repair of the world.” Are you familiar with it? I know your political leanings factor into what you write. Do you see writing as a way each of us can repair the world?

People write for many reasons. For some it’s self expression. For others it’s the words themselves, for others it’s the sheer joy or telling a story. For some it’s an o-c disorder. And for still others it’s because they’re pathological liars and fiction allows them a socially acceptable outlet for their affliction. Too often it’s to achieve a sort of immortality—the hope that something of theirs will go on living after they’re dead. Woody Allen once addressed this in a typically pragmatic way. “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work—I want to achieve it through not dying.”

I believe the “repair the world” approach causes far more problems than it solves – rife with unintended consequences. All politics are local, all repairs are local. Jack shuns the world. He repairs only his world, and that’s a big difference. I’ll repair things right around me, and you repair things around you, and that guy over there will repair things around him, and so on and so on. And eventually, by default, maybe we’ll fix the world. Maybe not.

12. You’ve created such a tight-knit community among your fans. You even play get-togethers with them. What’s the secret to developing and maintaining such a loyal following? How do you balance your personal privacy with being so available to your fans?

It’s not so hard, really. A littler interaction goes a long way. I answer email, participate in the Forum, go to conventions, do signings where I hang out with readers afterward. I happen to like my readers. On the whole I’ve found them to be very bright and fun to be with. But it’s probably the Secret History that glues us. All the interlocking stories challenge them to come up with more connections binds them to each other as well as me. We’ve become this large, polymorphous organism.

F. Paul Wilson is an award-winning, best-selling author of more than 40 books in genres including science fiction, horror thrillers, contemporary thrillers, and novels that defy categorization. The Keep, one of the novels in his Repairman Jack series, was made into a major motion picture. Visit his website at