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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Unplanned and Perfect

Nothing ever goes as expected. You can take that to the bank! But if we allow things to evolve naturally, sometimes the end result is better than we planned for.

I've been saving this wire grid for months. I found it on the beach, and the sturdy construction intrigued me. So did the dark green color and the hint of barnacles. With those qualities in mind, I started collecting seashells with naturally drilled holes. I also picked up pieces of driftwood.

Over Christmas, I began my project. I threaded fishing line up and through the holes in the grid. I strung shells on the piece. But I wasn't really happy with the outcome. My friend Lynn Butler encouraged me to keep at it. My sister Jane liked how organic the piece was becoming.

I guess I'd featured something more structured and formal. However, as I worked, I started to run out of the same-old, same-old shells. I became more and more interested in adding unusual shells--and thinking through how to string up shells with more complicated holes. You see, the conchs don't have holes that are drilled straight through!

Yesterday, I hung up the finished product. My friends helped me--and Rodney Butler took this photo. What I love most about this wind-chime/whatever is that it will always remind me that the best result isn't necessarily the one I planned for!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Killer Characters: Searching for Baby Jesus

Killer Characters: Searching for Baby Jesus: By Grace Ann Terhune of the Southern Beauty Shop Mystery series as dictated to Joanna Campbell Slan (who likes to think of herself as an author, bless her heart).

Read a short, short story detailing what happens when a Baby Jesus goes missing from a creche scene in St. Elizabeth, Georgia.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It's Hump Day!

When I worked in a cubicle, this was my favorite day of the week! (Next to Friday, that is.) I also breathed a little easier knowing the majority of the week, and nasty Monday, was behind me. Back then, I worked faster than my boss did, so I often found myself with nothing to do. It wasn't like I didn't ask for chores. I did. But often, I sat at my desk and twiddled my thumbs.

When I got REALLY bored, inevitably, I also became sleepy. I would wait as long as possible to go to the ladies room. There I would fall asleep on the toilet with my head resting on the toilet paper roll. I never slept very long, because as I relaxed I would sink a little. And a little more. And when my tushy hit the water, I'd wake up with a start--and go back to work.

The other day my sister complained that I was working around the clock. I explained that when you are an author, you are essentially self-employed, and you work the hours you need to work, regardless of the day or the week or the length or your workday. That's fine by me. I'd rather be busy. But it can be frustrating to work from home because your neighbors and family rely on nine-to-five hours. My work life is anything but nine-to-five.

So here's to HUMP Day. I'm wishing you flowers, happiness, and fulfilling work--because that's what really makes the hours fly by!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Behind That Door...

For months I've been driving past a sign that says, "Sunshine State Carnations." Today I decided to drop in. The kind lady who greeted me laughed. "We don't have carnations. Haven't for fifteen years."


I was really disappointed. But I wasn't about to give up. I'd seen the small riding tractors. The greenhouse webbing. And I wasn't ready to go home. So I said, "What do you have?"

She laughed softly. "Come see," she said as she led me to a huge steel door.

"I'm not going in," said my husband. "That looks like a morgue.

The woman laughed again. But I was game. Then she opened the door.

When they opened King Tut's grave, and Lord Carnervon asked Howard Carter, "What do you see?"

And Carter said, "Wonderful things."

That's what I saw, too. Aren't these flowers beautiful?

 I bought an armful! They had been cut fresh from the growing fields just that morning. See that smile on my face? Oh, boy. I filled three vases with my haul.

I encourage you to open that door...the one that looks frightening and forbidding...because behind it you might find FLOWERS!

Take a virtual tour of "Sunshine Carnations" aka Sunshine Tropical Foliage. 

Lots of love,


Friday, December 7, 2012

'The Best Promotion is a Good Book': An Interview with Bob Mayer

1.       In your book The Shelfless Book, you mention that your goal was a breakout book. What made you think you have a breakout book that was e-published? (Since most people think of traditional publishing as the way to breakout.) What was your strategy? You weren’t entirely confident that e-publishing would work, but it did. What convinced you to give it a try?

The concept of a breakout book has changed. In e-publishing break out can happen many different ways.  You can go viral, aka 50 Shades of Gray. But it's more likely you build a fan base gradually over time. So the need to have that immediate splash isn’t as pressing any more.

I’m in this for the long haul. My mantra is “the best promotion is a good book. Better promotion is more good books.”

I wasn’t confident e-publishing would work back when it was only 3% of the market place. But after committing to it, I grew more and more confident. It’s now at least 30% of the market in just three years.  And it’s spreading all over the world.

We’ve actually changed the title of ShelfLess to How We Made Our First Million On Kindle: The Shelfless Book. We did that because title is metadata and that title gets more attention.

2.       Most authors don’t seem to set goals beyond “get published” or “become a bestseller,” but you have carefully delineated and broken down goals. Could you tell us about goal setting for authors? Since the number of sales isn’t in our control, how can we effectively set goals for ourselves?

Most authors’ goals are:
                1.  Get published
                2.  Get the next book deal.
With goals like that, the vast majority (over 90%) end up failing. The number one definition of success is:  set a specific long-term goal and doing whatever it takes to achieve that goal. Just getting published is the first step, and in this digital age, relatively easy.

I disagree with your second premise. The number of sales is, to an extent, in our control. By the quality of the book. The professionalism that goes into cover, editing, formatting, etc. I think authors surrender too much control emotionally.  If the author doesn’t control the book, who does? Actually, with e-publishing, we control many times more than we used in traditional publishing.

There are other things authors control and need to put time and effort into. A big one is networking. I go to a lot of conferences and conventions. I schedule meetings with reps from Amazon, PubIt, etc. I just visited Kobo headquarters in Toronto last month. That puts a face on the books. Even though our work is done electronically, it’s still a people business.

I also think it’s key to be innovative. To try to think ahead of the technology and not chase it. As I write my replies here, Jen Talty and I are emailing back and forth about the possibility of producing a pocket size version of my next book: The Green Beret Survival Guide for the Apocalypse, Zombies & More. We plan to publish that in the next couple of weeks and it occurred to me a small version that can be easily carried would be a good idea. So Jen is checking into the various options out there. We went to Barnes & Noble with the Nook First concept in 2011 and ended up with a #2 national bestseller with The Jefferson Allegiance as the first title in that program. We’re always searching for ways to innovate.

3.       You teamed up with Jen Talty to produce and market e-books, but you weren’t entirely sure you wanted to be an e-book publisher when you started. What have you learned about e-books since you began your venture? Could you tell us about being a “hybrid author”? Can you tell us about the advantages of being a hybrid author versus a traditional print author?

I was still thinking about taking my next manuscript to my agent back in 2010. But I studied the business and considered not where traditional publishing currently was, but rather where it would be in three years.  And I felt it would be in bad shape. I’d played the NY game for 20 years and 42 books. I decided to take a risk and go it on my own. But not on my own since I had Jen working the technical side of things. I think the term “self-publishing” is wrong. You can do it for one or two titles, but to be in this for the long haul you need a team.

What have I learned about e-books? One of the reasons you need a team is that an e-book is organic. It’s not static like a print book. We’re constantly updating, reformatting, doing new covers, etc. There are so many things you have to do and can be done, that it’s a full time job for Jen to keep track of it all. In fact, we’ve expanded and hired someone to work with her, since we’ve got around 100 titles now at Cool Gus Publishing.

4.       In Bodyguard of Lies, you often write from the perspective of two women. Hannah and Neeley. Hannah seems like a stereotype, but she quickly proves that she is anything but. You find all sorts of talents and resources in this woman. Is that your take on modern women? That they have talents and skills often forgotten and under-utilized? Was it hard for you to write from a woman’s POV?

It wasn’t hard, but I have an ace in the hole. My wife is a story-streamer. In TV they call someone like her a story-pusher. The author gives her an idea of where she wants the book to go and my wife writes a stream of consciousness laying out the scene. The author than can pick and choose what they want to use. It's a pretty unique talent. Hannah and Neeley were constructs we did together. Men and women do think differently. Which is why a man would have a hard time writing a romance. I wrote some with Jennifer Crusie, but I wrote the male point of view. My wife has worked with a #1 NY Times bestselling author with her streams and now she works full time with me. 

I believe a good writer can do the POV of the opposite sex if they are capable of getting out of themselves.  It’s all about mastering point of view.

5.       If you were going to counsel someone who was interested in e-publishing, what might you say to him or her? What are the pitfalls? What assumptions should be challenged?

That it’s easy. It’s not. You have a lot more control, which also means a lot more responsibility. You have to be in it for the long haul. You can’t keep checking sales every day.

A big pitfall is that many people seem to be forgetting about craft and focusing too much on promotion and marketing. Again, the best promotion is a good book. You can tweet and Facebook and all that constantly, but it really doesn’t sell books. Good writing sells books.

6.       Many self-pubbed e-authors don’t generate a lot in terms of sales. Can you address that? What’s the greatest misconception they have about the market? Can you tell us what you’ve learned about promoting e-books?

They aren’t thinking long term. Someone asked me that when I was on a panel at the Self-Pub Book Expo:  he had one book and had great reviews but it just wasn’t generating a lot of sales. He wanted to know what to do. I said: “Write the next book.”

Become better writers. I’ve worked on my craft constantly. I know I’m much better now than I was just a year ago. Learning how to really work with my wife has been very hard, but we’ve hammered out a working system. Even then, though, it’s difficult.

More product on more platforms equals more sales. I’ve invested around $50,000 in ACX audiobooks in 2012. I view that as a long term investment.

A big key is series. The biggest mistake I made the last couple of years was writing a bunch of stand alone books rather than pushing series forward. The most successful indie authors have series.  I’m correcting that mistake with Area 51 Nightstalkers coming out on 11 December. It’s a spin off of my best selling Area 51 series and starts a new series, basically pitched as: The Unit meets Warehouse 13.

7.       You are obviously incredibly prolific. Please tell us about your work habits and your process.

I work seven days a week. The mornings are my creative time. I literally have to turn off the wireless on my computer and set a timer on my iPhone to keep myself from getting distracted. 

There is no substitute for success in this business that’s more basic than actually planting your butt in chair and writing.


Bob Mayer will be a featured guest at the Love Is Murder Mystery Conference, Feb. 1-3, 2013, in Chicago. For more information, go to  He'll also be speaking to the First Coast Chapter of RWA in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, March 16, 2013. Keep checking this website for details:   

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing

I was invited to participate in the Next Big Thing by my friend, Barb Goffman, who is blogging about her new short story "Murder a la Mode" here:

1. What is your working title of your book (or story)?

Death of a Dowager (Book #2 in The Jane Eyre Chronicles)

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

My research into the Hanoverian Dynasty led to information about love letters written by King George IV. I was amazed by how many fervent letters he wrote—and how he had to buy them back! And of course, this book is a continuation of the series I’ve begun that stars Jane Eyre as an amateur detective.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Historical Mystery (with a touch of romance)

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’d love for Keira Knightley to play the part of Jane Eyre. I realize that most people would think Keira is too stunning for the part of the overlooked orphan, but when Ms. Knightley played the lead in Bend It Like Beckham, she downplayed her looks and seemed fragile.

For Mr. Rochester, I’d choose Jeremy Northam. He’s not classically attractive, and when he wants to, he can look rather rough. Also, he’s 6’2” and Edward Rochester was a tall man.

For my two “new” characters, Lucy Brayton and her brother Bruce Douglas, I would choose Renée Zellweger and Owen Wilson.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

 All of London is abuzz in the months leading up to the coronation of King George IV. But a letter in Jane’s possession could topple the throne and cause the deaths of two innocent women. Before Jane can decide what to do, the Dowager Lady Ingram drops dead, and Jane must play amateur sleuth to solve a murder—and save an empire!

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m represented by Paige Wheeler of Folio Literary Management.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Six months.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Fans of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell (Sherlock Holmes) series would enjoy The Jane Eyre Chronicles, as would fans of Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is my favorite book of all time.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

A night at the opera in 1820 was very different than what we might suppose today. People started arriving at four in the afternoon and stayed until past two in the morning. The huge candelabras dripped wax over the patrons, who made so much noise that those on stage had to shout. Private boxes were incredibly expensive, and everyone who was anyone wanted a box on the fifth level. The theatre in Haymarket could seat 2,500 patrons!

And now I turn this over to my friends:

 Sandra Balzo is an award-winning author of crime fiction, including nine books in two different mystery series--Main Street Murders, set in the North Carolina High Country, and the Maggy Thorsen Coffeehouse Mysteries, which have garnered starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. She'll be blogging about Murder on the Orient Espresso (Book #8 in the Maggy Thorsen Mysteries), which is a work-in-progress. Catch her blog post at


Kelly Cochran lives in St. Louis, Missouri and is the author of Buying Time, the first book in the humorous mystery series about personal concierge, Aspen Moore. (Release date will be early 2013.) Kelly's original life plan involved a career in writing, but a simple missed deadline changed her life. Find out how her life changed by visiting'll be writing about Borrowed Time on her blog


Born and raised in New Jersey, Linda Hengerer has lived in Florida for over 20 years. She left Corporate America behind to create fulfilling worlds where bad guys die and justice prevails. She'll be blogging about Dead Man's Float, the first in the Deadly Pleasures series, featuring Sabal Bishop Taylor as a former law enforcement professional who came back to her hometown to care for her mother. She starts a pool cleaning company and finds a dead body floating in one of her pools. This is a work-in-progress and will be done by the end of January. Check out Linda's blog post at Her website is


Sharon Hopkins is a branch manager for a mortgage office of a Missouri bank. She is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, the Southeast Missouri Writers’ Guild, and the Missouri Writers’ Guild. Her short story, DEATH BEE HUMBLE, appeared in the SEMO Writer’s Guild Anthology for 2012, and her newest short story, DEATH TO PONDER will be in a mystery anthology this spring. Her first Rhetta McCarter book, Killerwatt, was nominated for a 2011 Lovey award for Best First Novel and was a finalist in the 2012 Indie Excellence Awards. Her second book, Killerfind, was released in July, 2012.

She'll be blogging at , and telling us about her books Killerwatt, Killerfind, and the forthcoming Killertrust, which will be out this spring.Visit her website at


Thanks to all who participated!


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

'The Action in Publishing is Ebooks': An Interview with Lee Goldberg

By Joanna Campbell Slan

Note: Lee is one of the guests at the upcoming Love is Murder conference in Chicago. He's also the author of too many books to mention, as well as being a TV scriptwriter and producer. Visit him at


You’ve spoken candidly about your decision not to “ghost-write” any more Monk books. What would you tell any writer considering work-for-hire? Is it ever a good idea, and if so, why? If not, why not? What pitfalls can you tell people to avoid?

The Monk novels are not “ghost-written.” My name is on the cover. Ghost writers, by contrast, are not credited and do the actual writing for the person whose name is on the cover. But while I write every word of the books, I don’t own them. The rights belong to USA Studios and Andy Breckman, who created the show. At this point in my career, in this fast-changing publishing world, it doesn’t make any financial sense for me to write books that I don’t own. For a new writer, though, taking on a tie-in can be a shrewd move…introducing your name and your talents to thousands of readers. You get to ride on the coat-tails of an established franchise. My brother Tod was an established author of literary fiction when he took on the Burn Notice books. He sold more copies of his first Burn Notice novel than all of his previously published books combined…and saw an immediate bounce in sales of his backlist. He quit writing the Burn Notice books when the drawbacks (two books a year, small royalty, non-ownership, etc) outweighed the benefits. To learn more about tie-ins, and the business behind them, check out the book Tied In, which you can find on Amazon.

You were published very early, but never saw a dime from that first book. A lot of people get overly excited when offered a contract and jump at the chance to be in print. What would you counsel them?

You can’t really compare my situation thirty-some years ago to a new writer being offered a contract today. The business has radically changed…and is still in the midst of turmoil. 

The benefit of taking a contract -- from a known, reputable publisher -- beyond just getting some money is the opportunity to have your work professionally edited and marketed, to have it reviewed by respected publications, to become eligible for membership in professional organizations (SFWA, MWA, Authors Guild, etc.) and awards, etc.

For the time being, it still means something, it still has cache, to be published by publishing company. But financially, it might not be the best move…because you are likely to get a lousy advance and, for all intents and purposes, be trading ownership of your book forever.

The action in publishing is moving to ebooks, and there’s very little these days that publishers can do for you that you can’t do for yourself self-publishing (with the possible exception of the Amazon Publishing imprints, which have the benefit of being able to promote your book aggressively on the Amazon site and directly to its customers). You will own the book and the royalty rate is far, far better than anything publishers can offer you. However, if you self-publish, and if you want to do it right, you will need to hire a great content editor (i.e. ex-editors from major publishing companies) and commission a terrific cover, so your book will read as well, and look as good, as the stuff coming from major publishing houses. That will cost you money. Whatever you do, however, NEVER go to a company like Authorhouse (or their other imprints), Tate Publishing, etc. They are scams that prey on an aspiring author’s desperation and naiveté that will empty your bank account and, worse, eat up a huge chunk of your sales…assuming you ever get any through them, which is highly unlikely.

It costs nothing to have your book published as an ebook on Amazon or as a paperback from CreateSpace. The cost is in hiring the editor and cover artist. Take on that cost yourself personally, not through some third party that offers to do it all for you for a steep price. You will not only lose money now, but future royalties, too

Probably because of your work in TV, your books move swiftly. They are incredibly cinematic and crisp. Any tips on how to keep a manuscript tight? How do you plot? What’s your process?
Writing murder mysteries is, by far, the hardest writing I've ever had to do. It’s not enough to just tell a good story, you also have to come up with a challenging puzzle. It's twice as much work for the same money.
There is no right way to devise a murder mystery. For me, it never starts with the murder. It always begins with the detective, especially if the story I am setting out to tell is part of an ongoing series.
The idea for the mystery will arise from the personality of the hero, and what aspects of his or her character I want to explore, what arena (a place, industry, sport, culture, etc.) I want to put him in, and finally what kind of conflict I think will best bring all of those aspects together and give me a narrative engine for my story.
Once I have that, then the broad strokes of the murder will come quite easily, because it’s an organic part of the story, one that serves to create conflict and reveal character, rather than just a clever device, a really cool idea for a murder, in search of a story to put it into. Often at this point I will discover the story’s thematic through-line  -- what the story is actually about -- that will be in every scene and expressed, in some way, in action or dialogue or attitude, by every character.
Now I can get into the nuts-and-bolts of figuring out the clues, and how the hero will discover them.

At that point, I beat the story out the same way I would an episode of a TV show. I create a “beat sheet,” a few lines about each scene and the key conflict/story point that justifies the scene. If the scene doesn’t reveal character or movie the story forward, and if it doesn’t crackle with conflict, I cut it.

The Walk was frightening, funny, and poignant. It’s the story of a man who survives the “Big One” in LA and decides there’s nothing more important than getting home to his wife. Having only met you once, I wondered, “How much of Lee Goldberg is in the protagonist?” How much of Lee Goldberg is in any of your characters? What inspired that book? Did you ever have a similar life experience with the California earthquakes?

I’ve lived in California all of my life, so I have been through a lot of earthquakes, particularly the on in 1994 that destroyed my house. The idea for The Walk came to me while I was producing an episode of the TV series Martial Law on location in a terrible section of downtown Los Angeles. As I was standing there, I thought how horrible it would be for me if the “Big One” hit at that moment. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized I had a great premise for a book. The only things that reflect me in The Walk are that the hero is in the TV business and lives in a gated community in Calabasas. Other than that, I made it all up.

Why should a fiction reader buy a copy of your book Successful Television Writing? What can the average fiction writer learn from writing for TV?

The fundamentals of character-based story-telling, of generating and sustaining different kinds of conflict, and the key principles of the four-act structure, as well as examples of “beat sheet” outlines, are laid out in the book. You can use those same skills and principles in your novel writing. I certainly do.  Television writing is tight…you only have 42 minutes to tell your story. Character is revealed through action and dialogue. The pace is unrelenting. Those are all great qualities to have in a novel, particularly a mystery or thriller.

Your short stories end with wonderful unexpected twists. Any suggestions on how you come up with those “out of the box” endings? Any tips on short story writing?

I’m not really much of a short story writer. I think I’ve done four or five in my entire career. But when I do write one, I try to make sure I have a strong central conflict and a satisfying pay-off. Too many short stories are vignettes that, for me, feel pointless. I want a short story to deliver a strong emotional or visceral punch.

King City is full of contradictions. The protagonist decides to pursue some crimes, and walk away from others. He’s very much a Lone Ranger in his approach. How did you come up with him? Where did you come up with the various scenarios he’s forced to face? Did you talk a lot with cops or is this all your imagination?

I broke both of my arms in a bad accident a few years ago. Part of my recovery involved having my rebuilt right arm strapped into a nasty device from the Tower of London collection that bent and extended my arm for hours each day. During that time, I watched hundreds of hours of Gunsmoke reruns and was surprised by how much I enjoyed following stoic, leather-skinned Marshal Matt Dillon bring order, and sometimes justice, to lawless Dodge City.
Matt Dillon truly lessened my pain. There’s just something about westerns, about the simple concept and mythic characters of Gunsmoke in particular, that’s inherently compelling and deeply satisfying. I wondered what it was, and if I could capture it in a crime novel. So I studied the show and scores of classic western movies.
I discovered that it’s a lot more than just giving a guy a Stetson, a badge, and a gun.
A western puts a man in a lawless, unforgiving, brutal frontier, where he must somehow survive by living off the land, his wits, and his own rigid code. It’s that last bit, I think, that is the core of it all: a personal code of conduct that’s constantly, relentlessly, put to the test.
A true western character ultimately prevails against adversity because of a stubborn, unwavering faith in his own convictions and the righteousness of his cause, a determination to see the world shaped the way he wants it to be, rather than let himself be shaped by it. He doesn’t try to explain or justify himself because it’s pointless. His actions speak for him.
And as iconic and old-fashioned as that all may be, it’s so refreshing in a world where everyone, particularly heroes in crime fiction, are so self-aware and self-obsessed, so eager to accept the moral, ethical, professional, legal ambiguities in a situation rather than take a principled stand on something, regardless of whether it’s right or wrong to everyone else.
That led me to write King City, and to create Sgt. Tom Wade, a man of principle, whose values may be laudable but whose maddening, unwavering loyalty to them costs him almost everything and everyone that he cares about. He’s not out on the western frontier, but exiled to the worst part of a once great industrial city, where he is out-numbered and out-gunned, and must enforce the law on little more than sheer strength of will.
Viewing the tropes and clichés of a modern crime novel through the prism of a western gave me a fresh perspective on the genre that made the book a pleasure to write and, I hope, to read.
I relied on a few cop friends – Paul Bishop, Lee Lofland, and Robin Burcell – for advice and some facts, but mostly I made everything up based on my own experience writing cop shows and novels.
You spoke at Sleuthfest about a book you wrote that never earned back its advance of $1500, but that you’ve since re-released as an e-book, and that has gone on to earn $80,000. Please tell us about that—and about what you see as the future of publishing. Do you still want to work with legacy publishers? What direction are you taking your career? Is it possible that this direction is open to you because you’ve already build a following?

That book was The Walk … which was a bomb in print but has been a huge success for me as a self-published ebook. There’s no question that most of my initial success self-publishing came from having an established name, a large backlist, and lots of current titles in print. I had a pre-existing platform to build upon. Scores of midlist authors who were dropped by their publishers, or saw their entire backlists go out of print and thought their careers were over, are enjoying huge success now self-publishing their books. In fact, I know lots of midlist authors who are earning more from their books today than they did when they were originally in print. Amazon’s KDP platform…the ability to put your books on Amazon for free…changed everything for authors. I know authors who are turning down three-book contracts from “legacy” publishers because they can make far more money, and have much more control, self-publishing their books. And I know authors who have actually bought their backlists from their publishers, for as much as $50,000, and earned out on that investment within as little as 90 days.

There isn’t a lot that a legacy publisher can offer a midlist author in return for their massive share of the royalties and what essentially amounts to permanent ownership of your book…which is why you see guys like Brett Battles, Paul Levine, Blake Crouch and Joel Goldman moving into self-publishing and enjoying enormous creative and financial success.

Unless you are a major league author – a Janet Evanovich, James Patterson, Michael Connolly, Stephen King, John Grisham, Nora Roberts etc. – it doesn’t make a lot of sense to work with a legacy publisher anymore, not unless they radically change the way they do business and their relationships with authors, which doesn’t seem to be happening yet. 

For superstar, A-list, brand-name authors, legacy publishers are still the way to go because they have the deep pockets, marketing resources, corporate media partnerships and global distribution to make the most out of their literary franchises.

But that doesn’t mean I am walking away from the Big Six. I recently signed a four-book deal to co-write a series of novels with Janet Evanovich for Random House and I couldn’t be happier to be in business with them.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Very Kiki Contest!

Lately, I've been swamped re-writing and editing the second book in The Jane Eyre Chronicles, Death of a Dowager. Meanwhile, Kiki keeps calling to me, like an invisible friend who is feeling sorely neglected.

So I decided to do something fun...a CONTEST!

The rules:

1.  Tell me what you love about Kiki in an email. (Send it to
2. Put KIKI in the subject line.
3. The deadline is Oct. 15
4. I'll select a winner at random out of all your comments. That person will appear as a character in the next Kiki book or short story.

All comments will appear on my website, but I'll just use your first name and last initial for privacy's sake.

Okay--let the games begin!

Friday, September 28, 2012

An Interview with David J. Walker

Note: This year again, I'll be interviewing featured authors who'll be attending the upcoming Love Is Murder Conference, February 1-3, 2013 in Chicago. My first author is David J.Walker, the author of twelve mystery/suspense novels, and the creator of the Wild Onion Mystery Series, as well as a new series starring Father Paul Clark. The first book in it is called Company Orders.

David is a past president of the Midwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and he lives with his wife Ellen, just north of Chicago. He has been a parish priest, an investigator for the Chicago Police Department, and a lawyer. Now he mostly sits around and tries to think positive thoughts about the future of the planet. Oh... and he writes nearly every day. 

Special Note: I have an Advance Reader's Copy of David's newest book Company Orders to give away. Be the first to comment on this post and it's yours--just remember to email me your postal address at

1.      I have this theory that those of us who grew up listening to the portions of the King James Version of the Bible have a certain poetry in our souls. Do you agree? Do you feel that the time spent as a priest reciting and hearing these works informs your writing? Do you miss the “old” version of the service that was more poetic?

I’ve had twelve novels published over the last sixteen years or so, and I’m sure that my time spent as a priest informs my writing in many ways—some obvious and some I can’t even imagine. I’m not aware that my proclaiming and hearing Scripture was one of them, but that’s an interesting idea. I should also mention that, although the King James Version is beautifully poetic, in Catholic Church rituals we never used that translation.

As for the “old” version of the Roman Catholic liturgy, do I miss it? Not in the least. These days many are pushing to return to the old liturgy, and I think that’s a step in the wrong direction.

2.      When did you decide to become a writer? You’ve said that you always loved writing. What does that mean? What did you write before you became a writer? And when did you realize that you could be one, too?

I decided to become “a writer” in April, 1991. I remember the exact day. (In fact, it was dark and stormy, as I recall.)

But first…I always loved reading. I was very young when I realized I could be taken out of my world and live in a place and time that was fun and exciting—even dangerous—and where people like me faced incredible challenges…then stepped up and beat the odds.

I believe that’s why in high school I discovered I could write well enough to catch the attention of some of my teachers. And when we get praised for our work, don’t we love it? At least I did…and still do.
While a parish priest I happened upon a “free-lance” job, writing articles for religious publications. It was fun, and I got paid. I liked that, too. I continued to read a lot. Spiritual stuff, of course, but also plenty of fiction (mostly mystery/crime novels).

When I left the priesthood I went to law school pretty much on a whim. It was certainly not an informed choice. I soon discovered lawyering wasn’t for me, and I went to a career counselor (meeting her first on that dark and stormy day I mentioned earlier). “What I’d really like to do,” I told her, surprising even myself a little, “is write mystery novels.” “Really,” she said. “So…why don’t you?” Voila! The trick was learning to rearrange my life so that I could survive while writing.

3.      From a priest to a cop to a lawyer. Sounds like a tour de force of the best and worst in humanity. How do these professions still shape your work? What did you see/learn/feel that has shaped your world view as a writer? When did the stories start to form in your head? And are there stories you’ll never tell?

Actually, I was never a cop. During my four years in law school, I worked for the Chicago Police Department as an investigator in a unit called the Office of Professional Standards. We investigated police misconduct, mostly allegations of the use of “excessive force.” I spent forty hours a week taking statements from police officers, arrestees, and other witnesses; gathering police reports, medical records, photographs, and other evidence; and writing (yes, a major part of the job) findings and recommendations as to whether formal proceedings should be initiated against the accused officers. I should have paid the department for the experience and the inside view of cops and police work.

Roles for police officers and lawyers are common in crime novels, and I often say that priests keep showing up in my books, too, whether I was expecting them or not. I have used lots of bits and pieces of real events and conversations from my various “careers,” but no real stories from real life.

4.      You seem to have a theme of people breaking the rules and feeling they are justified to do so. For example, Kristen knows she shouldn’t break and enter, but she does. Dugan knows he shouldn’t pay cops to steer cases his way, but he does. Paul Clark knows he shouldn’t steal a friend’s computer, but he does. Comment? Do you think rules are meant to be broken? Is there a higher moral authority we should all subscribe to? Explain.

Rules, laws, ethics, morality, authority, behavior…that’s what it’s all about, right? In literature, and in life. Along with honesty, compassion, courage, wisdom, common sense, and the opposites of all those things. And there are so often competing values. Kirsten’s aware that picking a lock is against the law, but she does it, knowing it’s the right thing to do. Dugan’s aware that paying cops is against the rules, but he does it, knowing it’s the wrong thing to do. Paul Clark’s aware that taking his murdered friend’s computer is theft, but he does it, unsure as to whether it’s the right or wrong thing to do.

Is there a higher moral authority we should subscribe to? Yep. Can I explain? Uh…well… Maybe a few “rules of thumb for the private eye” would be a start:
When in doubt, lean toward the little, the weak, the outsider, the accused.
When “everybody knows” something is true, maybe it’s not.
Getting paid is good; righting a wrong is better; doing both is best.

5.      You have been open about thanking your writing critique partners, and about saying they’ve leveled some pretty tough criticisms your way. What have you learned from them that you use in your work? Were there any bad habits you needed to break? What skills do you have now that you owe to them?

The group I meet with has been a big help, particularly in matters of style and clarity. We have found it’s best to be honest but gentle in our critiques. A few examples of how the group helps? I like to put lots of humor in my books, especially with Kirsten and Dugan in my Wild Onion books, and the group tries to keep me from being too cutesy.  Or I’ll write a scene that’s perfectly clear in my head, and I think it’s clear on the page, but the group says: “Huh? We don’t get it.” I might write some incident I actually saw, and they’ll say: “So what if you saw it happen? It ain’t plausible.” Lastly, and this may be the most painful (read: “most useful”) criticism for me, is when I pour out my heart and someone says: “The writing is great, but this scene…what’s the point?”

(By the way, the group makes suggestions, the author accepts them or not.)

6.      What adjectives would you use to describe your character Paul Clark? What sort of character arc do you see for him?

Paul Clark is the protagonist in my latest novel, Company Orders. He’s a Chicago priest. He’s a good man, true to his obligations and to his calling. But he’s also ambitious. He wants to rise up through the ranks and be a bishop, be in charge of a diocese. He’s right on track, too, until he runs into a problem from far left field. Someone’s life is at stake, and Paul makes a deal with the devil…or with someone equally dangerous, a CIA agent. Paul’s always been good at preaching about love’s sacrifices, now he’ll find out what it’s like to live them.

7.      What is your process? Your books switch back and forth with point of view in a very complicated way. How do you plan your work? How do you decide who gets to tell his/her side of the story?

If a book needs multiple points of view, I generally change POV only when I start a new chapter. In the Wild Onion books I split the POV chapters between Kirsten and Dugan, but try to keep in mind that Kirsten’s the star. Dugan’s fun to write, but he’s basically a sidekick. I keep a chapter-by-chapter running outline as I write, and one thing I note is whose POV that chapter utilizes. If I look back and see it’s been too long since I’ve done a chapter from a certain character’s POV, I try to figure a way to get that person back in the spotlight.

8.      What parallels do you see between the sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church and the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State? From your unique vantage point as a former priest and a writer, what would you say about motivations and the preservation of the brand in each situation?

There are obvious similarities, notably that both situations involve institutions led by people who’ve been handed too much power, and are too anxious to hold on to it. People are oh-so-willing to give allegiance, almost worship, to heroes (or “important people”), and then are oh-so-disheartened and outraged when those heroes turn out to be just broken human beings who sometimes do terrible things, and/or cover them up. And aren’t we all broken…more or less?

9.      You do a masterful job with dialogue. Any secrets you’d care to share with the rest of us?

There’s an awful lot that could be said, but I’ll stick to these three rules: one, read everything Elmore Leonard ever wrote; two, take all of the dialogue you write and read it out loud (to yourself or, better, to your critique group) and then rewrite it and punctuate it the way it ought to sound; and three, forget the way people talk in real life, which is usually dull and boring and wordy, and write the way people talk in Elmore Leonard books, which is always cool and exciting and brief. 


Be sure to visit David at

Friday, August 17, 2012

Feight--A Zentangle Pattern

As some of you know, I've been certified as a Zentangle teacher. It's the most fun I've ever had with a craft. Probably, in part, because it's so incredibly portable. I can take my tangle stuff with me anywhere!

At night, when I'm done with my writing, I sit down and tangle. This particular design came from a "mistake" one of my students made. See, in the world of Zentangle, there are no "mistakes" only "creative opportunities. And he made one. And I went home and thought about it...and voila!

Feight is a beautiful tangle, I think. Easy to do. Very delicate. I hope you like it!

Can you guess where the name comes from? Hint: Pronounce it "Fate."

I combined "Figure" and "Eight" to become "Feight," and I love the sort of metaphor the name creates because a figure eight is also the infinity sign.

You'll also see another tangle, a very simple one, I call "Phrill." Yep, it's probably so simple it might not even BE a tangle, but who cares? I like the gentle curves.

To see the "step out" better, just click on the image.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Remembering My Mother

My sisters often send me photos of my mother's grave after they add new flowers. I appreciate the fact that my sisters are tending Mom's grave, but I hate those pictures, and I haven't found a way to tell Jane and Margaret my feelings until now. See, I don't want to remember my mother by visiting her grave. Yes, we picked a lovely spot in Port Salerno with a view of the water. Yes, it's an Episcopal church's graveyard, which would have pleased her. True, my sisters did a wonderful job of designing Mom's stone, including the ascending dove image, one just like the one she always wore on a silver chain. But that's not where my mother is. That piece of ground has little--or nothing!--to do with Mom, and certainly it's not how I choose to remember her. When I want to remember my mother, I dance. My mother was a ballerina who danced with the New York City Ballet, and the Atlanta Civic Ballet. She taught ballet all the years we lived in Vincennes, Indiana. My earliest memory is of her lifting up and over the broken glass in the door to her studio in Jacksonville, Florida. She'd locked herself out and to gain entrance she'd broken the back window. I guess she must have been desperate to get in because she was expecting to teach a class. That's all I can figure, given the rearview window distortion of memory. So when I think of Mom, I don't think of a static plot of grass. I think of her physical grace. I think of how triumphant she looked after completing a series of demanding fouette turns and how she often spoke choreography out loud when listening to music. I see the beautiful lines of her arms, the quicksilver way she translated music into rhythm, and the longing she carried with her, a longing that found its expression in dance. When I miss my mother, I don't visit the graveyard. Instead, I dance. As I turn and twirl and leap, I "talk" to Mom. "See? You aren't dead. You live in me!" I tell her this to reassure her; she was very frightened of dying. I remind her how she lives on. Because that's the essence of parenthood, that knowledge that we will go on, that we will live on in some small part because we were brave enough to have a child. And so she does. She lives in me, and she is most alive, and she is eternal when I am dancing. This Mother's Day, I challenge you to think of how your mother lives on. And instead of visiting a graveyard, I hope you choose to honor your mother in some activity that proves her love is eternal.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lucky 13 -- Thirteen Kindle Reads FREE Only on April 13!

By Joanna Campbell Slan

To celebrate the release of Ready, Scrap, Shoot, the fifth book in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery series (aka “Scrap-n-Craft Mystery series”), I wanted to do something really special. Something fun, something extra for my fans. So I’ve joined together with a dozen other mystery writers, and we’re turning Friday the 13th into a lucky day for anyone who loves to read. Yep, today you can download thirteen great reads for free on Kindle.

One of the reads is a short story featuring my protagonist, Kiki Lowenstein. I named it “Kiki Lowenstein and the Purple Passion,” and it’s been getting five-star reviews on Amazon.
Is it lucky for you? Undoubtedly. You’ll get to load up your Kindle with a fresh crop of books (and a short story!). If you don’t have a Kindle, you can load the app onto your computer for free.

Will it be lucky for me? I dunno. It’s a brave new world out there for authors with the advent of so many ways for readers to access our work. Since all thirteen of us are pitching in to promote our reads, I’m sure I’ll attract at least a few new fans.

So why not check out these thirteen offerings? And let me know…does this sound like a good promotional idea to you? Why or why not?

Sink or Swim by Stacy Juba- After starring on a hit game show set aboard a Tall Ship, personal trainer Cassidy Novak discovers that she has attracted a stalker. Can she trust Zach Gallagher, the gorgeous newspaper photographer assigned to follow her for a local series? As things heat up with the stalker and with Zach, soon Cassidy will need to call SOS for real. "Easy read and extremely well written." Stephenie LaGrossa, Survivor; "I could not put this book down." Book Club Queen

Darker By Degree by Keri Knutson - A missing girl. A mysterious break-in. A brutal murder. Actress Maddie Pryce is looking for her big break, but finds herself at the center of a series of seemingly unrelated crimes. Soon she’s tangled up with a persistent detective, a driven director, a playboy producer, and an unstable ingenue. Can Maddie unravel the clues before her next role is as a serial killer’s victim?

Diary of Murder by Jean Henry Mead - Dana Logan's wealthy sister, Georgi, dies and Georgi's husband claims it was suicide. Dana knows her sister would never take her own life and sets out to prove it was murder, with her friend, Sarah Cafferty. During their investigation, they stumble over more bodies and place their own lives in jeopardy when they encounter a vicious drug ring.

Ghost Island by Bonnie Hearn Hill - Is Aaron a dream, or is he something much more deadly? Livia Hinson has just begun a Seminar at Sea when a storm hits their boat. Now, she is stranded with the other students on an island off the coast of California. Far away from her foster home and her heartbreak, Livia finds Aaron, the perfect love. But the only way they can be together is in her dreams.

One Small Victory by Maryann Miller -the story of one woman's courage. Suspense novel by Maryann Miller, based on a true story of a woman who infiltrated a drug ring and helped bring down a major distributor in her small Texas town. Don't discount what a mother can do to protect her children. First published in hardback, now available as an e-book and as a trade paperback.

Rock & Roll Homicide by RJ McDonnell - The 1st novel in the Rock & Roll Mystery Series finds PI Jason Duffy helping the widow of a slain rock star after she climbs to #1 in the police suspect charts. Duffy, an inexperienced former club musician, sorts through suspects ranging from band members to the Russian Mafia in this rocking whodunit. 4.67 Star Average.

Southeast Asian Quartet by William S. Shephard - Suspense and murder in Southeast Asia in the style of Somerset Maugham, these four tales evoke Singapore, Borneo, Malaya and Indochina. Perhaps you'll solve the disappearance of Jim Thompson, the Thai Silk King, missing for 35 years. Draw up a chair at the Raffles Bar and join us!

Taken by Debra Lee - Welcome to the fictitious little town of Watery, Pennsylvania where the district attorney’s personal secretary, Mary Murray never planned to become a single mom or a suspect in her infant’s disappearance, but she plans to find Jena before she suffers the same fate Mary’s younger brother had when he was taken twelve years earlier.

The Four Last Things by Timothy Hallinan - Hired to follow a young woman, private eye Simeon Grist becomes mired in murder and a million-dollar religious scam in The Four Last Things, the first in a series of highly-praised LA private-eye novels written in the 1990s by 2011 Edgar nominee Timothy Hallinan. The Drood Review called it “One of the 10 best books of the year.” Publisher's Weekly: “Very satisfying;” Booklist: “a sure winner.”

When a Man Loves a Woman: Enhanced Multimedia Edition by Alina Adams - Can a man and woman ever truly be just friends? What about if one of them is married? What if one of them suddenly isn't anymore? Originally published as a paperback by Dell in 2000, the 2011 e-book re-release multimedia edition now features all the text of the original, plus a bonus musical soundtrack to compliment the story! A romance from mystery author Alina Adams.

Willowtree: A Bruce DelReno Mystery by Mike Bove - Bruce DelReno, retired postman, golf and food nut, finds a body near the golf course. He believes the murder is connected to others and involves his Apache friend. Together, they stay a step ahead of the police in trying to solve the cases. They uncover dark secrets of a close knit group of friends in the town of Willowtree, Arizona. This is a fun read with some interesting characters.

Kiki Lowenstein and the Purple Passion: A Kiki Lowenstein Short Story by Joanna Campbell Slan - When a customer’s daughter is falsely accused, Kiki Lowenstein foils a nasty plan to ruin the girl’s reputation. Mystery, crafts, recipes, humor, romance/short story.

Whispering by Gerrie Ferris Finger - Will Cleo Snow admit to making love with charming World War I fly-boy Graham Henry to

clear him in the disappearance of an island woman who claims he plans to marry her? Will Graham compromise Cleo to clear himself? With her spirit firmed by deceit, Cleo vows to uncover the truth and keep her secret.

Please mark your calendar for Give Your Child a Free Kindle Book Day on April 19 - in which numerous books for children, pre-teens, and young adults will be free.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Keep It Spare and Lean: An Interview with Chris Grabenstein

Note: Chris Grabenstein will be one of the Guests of Honor at Sleuthfest, March 1 - 3, 2012. He's the author of the John Ceepak series, for which he won the Anthony Award for "Best First Mystery."

JCS:  Chris, I know that unlike most authors, you didn’t just get a wild idea and start writing. Before you started your Cepak series, you studied James Patterson’s success. What sorts of decisions did you make? How have they worked for you? (I recall you talking about the titles that were all of the same ilk.)

CG: Well, sometimes, I just get a wild idea and start writing. However, when I first contemplated writing a mystery, I did approach the task the same way we used to go after a new campaign in advertising. What could I do that would be different in a world cluttered with seemingly millions of sleuths? How could I make a character stand out? This was the same exercise we always went through when developing a new TV spot -- how do I break through the clutter? How do I make someone not click the remote and zap my commercial?

Having worked with James Patterson at J. Walter Thompson advertising, I remembered his breakthrough coming with the creation of Alex Cross and a series of books titled after lines from nursery rhymes. ("Kiss The Girls," "Along Came A Spider," etc.) I set out to attempt to do the same thing. I had the title TILT A WHIRL before I had anything else. I knew the second book could be called MAD MOUSE or MIND SCRAMBLER. The books would all be named after amusement park rides...and the title rides would act as metaphors for what happened in the stories. To avoid the Cabot Cove syndrome ("Murder She Wrote") I set my series in a tourist town that could easily have a transient population and a new cast of victims and killers every week of the summer.

Then I needed to create a sleuth unlike any the world had seen. That's when I came up with the notion of an overgrown Eagle Boy Scout who will not lie, cheat or steal nor tolerate those who do. He seemed to be the polar opposite of the boozing, depressed, divorced, no-code-but-my-own, noirish heroes populating so many mystery stories -- the dark knights I still love. I created John Ceepak to be different.

JCS: How did you come up with the name “Cepak”?

CG: I came up with Ceepak after going to a wedding where one of the groomsmen, a former soldier, was named Ceepak. And all of his buddies called him by his last name. If you hang with a group of guys, there is usually one who doesn't seem to have a first name. I was always "Grabber" in high school; never "Hey, Chris," always "Hey, Grabber." You'll notice that very few characters in the stories ever call John Ceepak "John." And Danny Boyle is always "Danny." It wasn't until the third book that someone pointed out to me that Ceepak's initials were "J.C." Cue the Twilight Zone music...

JCS: Your books are a bit unusual because like the Sherlock Holmes stories, they are told in first person by a secondary character who admires the protagonist. How’s this working for you? Why did you choose to do this? What are the drawbacks and the strengths of this approach?

CG: I tell the stories in Danny's voice for the same reason I think Doyle tells the Holmes stories in Watson's voice: First person narration by our sleuths would have readers throwing the books against the wall in anger. Can you imagine a tale told by the arrogant, conceited, but brilliant Holmes? His brain would move far too swiftly to fill us in on all the little details he'd already deciphered and moved on from. The same with Ceepak. His by the book, just the facts, code-following ways may smack of a goody-two-shoes and Dudley Do-Right if he did the narration. So, I gave the story telling chores to a 24 year old part time cop who, like Watson, admires the master sleuth he is working with. Danny is also a lot funnier than Ceepak...although Ceepak is attempting to develop a sense of humor as the books progress.

I think the device works for this particular pairing -- because of the "lead" sleuth's personality.

The stories are also told in first person present tense...which drives some people batty. I think the present tense helps the action clip along and is how cops tell stories. "We go into a bar. There's this guy with a gun who has his paws all over a waitress. We pull out our service revolvers..."

JCS: Your background is in advertising. What did you learn from advertising that you apply to your work in novels? Your writing is very spare, with no wasted words or overlong descriptions. Has the art of brevity, which is key to advertising, ever been a problem when working on books?

CG: Yes. Right. We ad folks write tight. They used to tell us to keep a copy of a Hemingway book in our desks. Keep it spare and lean and don't waste time on the stuff nobody wants to read anyway, to paraphrase Elmore Leonard who, I think, also has a background in advertising. The biggest thing I learned in advertising came from James Patterson, who was my creative director: Hit 'em with a pie in the face and once you have their attention say something smart. Remember, nobody wants to watch TV commercials or stop listening to music on the radio to hear your ad or quit flipping through Kardashian Wedding updates in People magazine to gaze upon your glorious print ad. We learned to give readers/viewers a reward for their attention. Interestingly, when I was published by Carroll & Graf, the publisher told me, "I like advertising writers. You don't waste people's time." I guess that's because we only had thirty seconds (70 words max) to grab someone's attention and then convince them to go buy whatever Whopper we were selling that month.

Has it ever been a problem? I hope not. But, I try to write the kind of books I love to read: page turners that can make a transcontinental flight seem like it lasted three minutes instead of six hours.

JCS: Your plots hustle right along. What’s your process? Are you an outliner?

CG: I'll talk more about this at Sleuthfest on the plotting panel. I am a hybrid, I think. I stake out four key plot points, as if I were scripting a two hour, two-act movie. I then know where I have to be at a certain word count and work toward that goal. It help keeps things focused...but I make up what happens in between the plot points on a day-to-day basis. I also overwrite like crazy. My 75,000 word Ceepak novels tend to have first drafts that are 90,000 words long. Then I go back and chop and prune.

JCS: You’ve had such a successful career as a writer. What sort of advice could you share with others just getting started?

CG: First of all, that's very kind of you to say. My advice is probably the same as everyone else's: Read a lot. Write every day. I heard somewhere that it takes 20 minutes to drift off into that "awake dreaming" zone where the real magic starts happening. So, try to sit down for an hour everyday and get 40 minutes of dream time in. Also, and I learned this writing 500 TV commercials for every one that ever got produced, I think you have to LOVE the writing. Not the riches (well, there aren't any of those anyhow), fame, acclaim, awards, snazzy author photo, or cocktail parties with publishers (do they still have those? If so, how come I'm never invited?). The only part of this business you have control over is the words and the process of writing. I absolutely love sitting down every day and getting lost in whatever story I am weaving. I always have, I think. No one can take that feeling away. Everything else? It may never come or it might all disappear. Love the writing...not being "a writer."

JCS: You learned a technique in improv classes that you use with your writing. Would you share it?

CG: Yes, I will. In fact, my afternoon talk on Craftfest Thursday will be an improvisational workshop where I will teach everybody the "Yes, and..." rule of improv. It is a rule I use every day and will help writers get beyond the blank page and into places they never could've dreamed they'd be going. (Okay, that was a thirty second ad for Craftfest. Once an adman, always an adman...)

JCS: You live in New York City. Make us all jealous. Tell us if that has been a boon or a bane to your career.

CG: I think New York is a great place to live as a writer. If I need a crazy character, I go out and walk around the block. I found a major character for my new middle grades caper series on a bus ride uptown one morning. It is nice to be able to go to an MWA meeting in New York and rub elbows with superstars like Lee Child. However, I think writers can live anywhere.

I really think having an agent in New York has been a boon to my career. They go to cocktail parties. They schmooze with editors. They do a lot of lunches. That's how we got the idea to turn THE CROSSROADS from a 120,000 word adult ghost story into a 50,000 word middle grade mystery. My agent bumped into an editor at a party who was looking for ghost stories for middle grade readers!

JCS: Anything you want to tell me?

CG: I'm looking forward to Sleuthfest. I've always heard it's the best "writers" conference. And I can thank Charlaine in person for making me a New York Times best seller (because she and Toni Kellner asked me to do a short story in DEATH'S EXCELLENT VACATION which made the top ten..and not because MY name was on the book cover!)

Visit Chris at