Saturday, September 30, 2006

What I've Learned at Bouchercon

My first Bouchercon has been a lovely experience, and I will soon post pictures to prove it. What I can provide now is a top ten list of some of the most interesting things I've learned so far during my jaunt to Madison, WI.

1. Most people don't object to wearing large tags around their necks. We have all become used to seeing others look at our tags rather than our faces, and often, in my case, the eyes will often slide away, disappointed, without ever meeting mine. Not an esteem lifter, that.

2. Jess Lourey will not walk on sewer grates. (In her defense? She actually knows of someone who once fell through).

3. Not only is Madison full of brightly painted ceramic cows, but lots of people want their pictures taken with said bovine.

4. Sandra Ruttan has boundless energy, and should be considered as an alternate source of fuel.

5. Caroline Upcher does not, in fact, look like Angie Dickinson,(as I once surmised) but she is lovely and elegant nonetheless.

6. Diet Coke is tasty, but not a good meal replacement. And my one indulgence, a White Russian, can drunkify me in about 30 seconds.

7. Nevada Barr is a delightful speaker.

8. Bill Cameron frightened away a woman who happened to wander past his simulated puke anecdote.

9. Barbara Moore from Midnight Ink is gracious, elegant, and lots of fun.

10. Writers, when they are not feeling proud of themselves, are filled with self-loathing. At least that was the consensus of my little table at the bar.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg, but it's a little capsule of what I've experienced here at The Big Event. And by the way, Madison is quite beautiful. I'll be posting pictures of that, too.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Dave Barry, Bob Morris and Me




So Dave Barry has linked to my humble blog. Twice. Naturally I'd like to assume it's either because of my captivating beauty or because of my scintillating wit, or both. But my Christian upbringing prompts me to admit it has nothing to do with me, but with the ultra cool Bob Morris, Dave Barry's pal and fellow Florida writer/journalist. Because Bob was kind enough to once grant me an interview, I apparently gained Dave Barry bait. And twice he has linked to the Bob interview, which means that twice I have received an unprecedented number of hits on the blog. A small taste of Dave Barry's fame, and his fans. For a brief, shining moment. They read the interview, or at least the part that mentions Dave Barry, and then they are gone again.

For those of you who would like to see why Bob Morris is so cool, you can read his interview in this blog (Why Bahamarama Writer Bob Morris is so Caribbean Cool) or you can check him out at www.bobmorris.net)

Oh,and Dave Barry? If you happen to stop by again, please say hi, and stay long enough to answer a few fun questions.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Everyone's at Bouchercon . . . .

By now they've all arrived: they've checked in and greeted friends old and new. Many of my online friends are there already, and I can't wait to meet them in person.

But alas, I only leave in the morning, so my arrival will be different, like Cinderella coming late to the ball. Not quite so dramatic, of course, since it's not as though everyone will be gathered in one room and will turn to stare at my entrance. Although, in my nervousness, that's how I picture it.

The most anxious thing, I suppose, is that there are some things that I simply can't predict, no matter how hard I try or how much I think about it. Unexpected things give life its luster, and yet I try to make them safe and knowable. I try to see the scenario in my mind and say, "It will be like this."

But the one thing I'm certain of is that my pictured scenario will be wrong--how can I predict a scene which contains people I've never met?

That's the exciting part. Putting faces with all the wonderful names from book covers, from DorothyL, from my publishing house, from friendly e-mails.

I'm terrified.

I can't wait.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Julia Spencer-Fleming Chats About Maine, Mothering, Murder and Mayhem

Julia, thanks for chatting with me. You are quite the publishing phenomenon. Do you feel like a phenomenon? Or do you just feel tired?
I suspect it’s constitutionally impossible to have three children, ages 14, 12 and 6, and feel like a phenomenon. Do phenomenons have to do laundry?

No. I understand that all of your books are named after Episcopalian hymns; yet In the Bleak Midwinter is one of my favorite Christmas songs, I sing it every year in church, and I am a Catholic. Is this a hymn that spans denominations?
It is. The lyric is by Victorian poet Christina Rossetti, who was deeply involved in the Anglo-Catholic movement, which sought to bring Anglican ritual, music and devotions back to their Roman Catholic roots. She’s had several poems set to music (Love Came Down at Christmas and None Other Lamb are the most well-known.) I think the beauty and simplicity of her work appeals to almost everyone.

I’m always curious how a person handles being married, being a mother and a member of a community, being a professional (you are a lawyer), and then finding time to write and promote books. How do you handle that? Is being a writer what you thought it would be?
Honestly, I seem to do it by always being bad at something. If I have my nose to the grindstone writing, I’m neglecting my kids; if I’m squiring the kids around to cross country meets, I’m ignoring publicity and emails; if I’m answering emails and sending out pub pieces, I’m blowing off my volunteer work, etc., etc. One thing I can cross off my to-do list is lawyering—writing has been my full-time day job since 2003.

I never intended to be an author—I’m not one of these people who crawled out of the playpen and began typing my memoirs—so I had only the haziest conception of what being a writer would entail. Sadly, none of it resembled the vaguely Judith Krentz-inspired picture of unlimited wealth, limosine rides, and trips to the Cote du Basque.

You live in Maine. Do you live on the ocean? Does Maine scenery inspire the artist in you? How often do you eat lobster?
I live in an 1820s farmhouse about 14 miles west of the ocean. Maine is a wonderful place for a writer to live—not only the breathtaking scenery, but because living in the country where there’s not a lot to distract me is a big help! We don’t eat lobster very often because the fact that the creatures are alive freaks my girls out. (I suspect we traumatized them by holding pre-dinner lobster races on the kitchen floor when they were very small.) However, we do enjoy sushi frequently.

You told me that your mother circles swear words in your works in progress, writing “Is This Really Necessary?” And mine once read a description of my main character’s mother and jotted in the margin, “I am not like this.” :) So why do we ask our mothers to read our manuscripts?
For the same reason our mothers are one of the few people who will answer honestly when you ask, “Do these pants make me look fat?” And in my case, in addition to her willingness to be brutally honest for my own good, my mother is an extremely widely-read former English teacher. Really, I’m surprised more authors haven’t plagued her to read their manuscripts.

Well, there is one I'd like to send her . . . :)

The problem with your book titles is that when I read them, I always walk away humming, because I know the songs. Do you have this problem, too? A sort of constant musical thrum beneath the surface as you type?

I do, but often it’s not the hymn—or at least, not the hymn of the title. I don’t listen to music as I work, but I find myself supplying a soundtrack in my head. When I reread my work, I’m a bit surprised by how many references there are to music on the radio, the cd player, etc. All neatly underscoring some mood or the other. Other times, I’m singing beneath my breath with no idea how the song fits yet. While working on the as-yet-unnamed sixth book, I’ve been singing “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” quite a bit. Don’t know why. It won’t cut it as a title: “I Bind Until Myself Today” sounds a bit B and D out of context.


Do your children think it’s cool that you’re a writer?

My children think its cool that I come back from bookseller trade shows and bookstores lugging many volumnes for their delight. And they seem to enjoy the benefits of having a mother who sets her own hours and works from home—I can almost always make the cross country meets in the fall or take off for a float down the river in the summer. But cool? No. No mother in the history of mothering has ever been cool to her children.

Good point. As your publicity people point out, “Julia Spencer-Fleming is an Agatha, Anthony, Dilys, Barry, and Macavity Award-winner. Her books have been shortlisted for the Edgar, Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe, and Romantic Times RC awards.” In the world of Oscars, people always say it’s an honor “just to be nominated.” How do you feel about awards?
It is an honor just to be nominated. In some ways, it may be the best part—like getting ready for a first-time date. Then, it’s all soft lighting and great expectations. After, you eat rubber chicken while trying not to spill on your expensive dress, listen to speechifying, drink too much, nearly sprain your ankle in high heels, and still go home without getting lucky.

You are interested in writing romantic fiction. Do you already have some ideas for a grand fictional romance? Something along the lines of Scarlett and Rhett, Heathcliff and Catherine, Sonny and Cher?
I thought I was writing a grand fictional romance! In truth, I like my mysteries and thrillers with a steaming side of romance, but I don’t think I could ever write a book where the romance was the main plot. My imagination seems to go too much toward murder and mayhem for that. It veers off the road entirely at the thought of Sonny and Cher.

Readers seem to love the relationship between my two protagonists, the female Episcopal priest and the “very married” chief of police. I think there’s something very compelling about the whole “forbidden romance” thing, where this couple, who are obviously meant to be together, are forced apart by not only their circumstances, but also their own sense of honor and duty. Whenever the tension slacks off on the main, crime-solving plot, I bring the romantic subplot to the fore, and that has its own rising tension. The reader, I hope, never gets bored. My goal is to draw you in tighter and tighter, until at the end you’re stretched like a piano wire.

You write a column for Crimespree Magazine. You’ve written about how to promote a book, and you interviewed humorous mystery author Jeffrey Cohen. What do you plan to write about next?
I’ll be doing interviews with a phenomennal Canadian debut author, Louise Penny, and with Golden Dagger-award-winner Arnaldur Indridason. I’m having a great deal of fun with the column, because my brief from editor Jon Jordan, was, “Write about whatever you want to!”

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned now that you’ve been thrust from the silence of book creation into the hubbub of book promotion?
That an individual author can make a difference in his or her book sales. We can’t all rise to J.A. Konrath’s herculean efforts—signing at 500 bookstores, publishing a short story every five minutes—but we should all hear his message, which is: no one will ever want your book to succeed as much as you do. As an author, you need to figure out what you’re good at and how much time and money you can afford to spend. Then come up with a marketing plan and get to it. I’ve seen too many wonderful writers’ careers stumble because they didn’t figure that out until three books down the road.

Your debut novel, In the Bleak Midwinter, received an unprecedented number of awards for a first book. It begins with the compelling line, “It was one hell of a night to throw away a baby.” Did this just come to you as the perfect beginning, or did you struggle over a way to start this now-legendary story?

Oh lord, did I struggle. The original first line was, “The priest was putting on pantyhose.” I thought that was terribly clever—I’d drag it on for a bit and then reveal—tah dah!—that the priest was a woman! Then at some point it struck me if the thing ever got published, the flap copy would reveal who the heroine was, and my little joke would fall flatter than a pancake.

I must have written at least three versions of a first chapter, where we meet my protagonist, Clare Fergusson, and get some of her background, and then she discovers an abandoned baby on the church doorstep. Finally I realized that all that was backstory, and the real story didn’t begin until chapter 2, which opened with Chief of Police Russ Van Alstyne arriving at the hospital to check out the abandoned baby that’s been called in.

Readers tend to comment on these being Clare stories, but that first chapter of the first book is entirely from Russ’s point of view, and it’s his voice that enabled me to write that arresting first line.



Your next book, All Mortal Flesh, will be out soon. What’s it about? Besides mortal flesh in general?
The title was originally All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, but my publisher wanted it to be a “big book” and evidently “big books” have “small titles.” My agent said I was lucky they didn’t what to rename it Flesh. As to what it’s about, I think the flap copy gives the best flavor of it:

"Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne's first encounter with Clare Fergusson was in the hospital emergency room on a freezing December night. A newborn infant had been abandoned on the town's Episcopal church steps. If Russ had known that the church had a new priest, he certainly would never have guessed that it would be a woman. Not a woman like Clare. That night in the hospital was the beginning of an attraction so fierce, so forbidden, that the only thing that could keep them safe from compromising their every belief was distance. But in a small town like Millers Kill, distance is hard to find.

Russ Van Alstyne figures his wife kicking him out of their house is nobody’s business but his own. Until a neighbor pays a friendly visit to Linda Van Alstyne—and finds the woman’s body, gruesomely butchered, on the kitchen floor. To the state police, it’s an open-and-shut case of a disaffected husband, silencing first his wife, then the murder investigation he controls. To the townspeople, its proof that the whispered gossip about the police chief and the priest was true. To the powers-that-be in the church heirarchy, it’s a chance to control their wayward cleric once and for all.

Obsession. Lies. Nothing is as it seems in Millers Kill, where betrayal twists old friendships and evil waits inside quaint white-clapboard farmhouses."

Do you have spare time? If so, what do you like to do in it? (We will assume that your husband and children come first, but what about after that?) Do you have a fascinating hobby or secret pleasure?

I have no hobbies. My secret pleasures are: reading books I don’t have to (for blurbs, convention panels, etc.) doing the NY Times Sunday crossword puzzle in ink, and early bedtimes. I live a life of surpassing dullness.

Your protagonist, a woman, is an ordained Episcopal Priest. What have Episcopalians learned about women in the priesthood that the Catholics apparently have not? (Sorry, Catholics, but this is a fair question).
That the penis isn’t the necessary organ for ministering to your fellow humans and preaching the good news of the gospel.

Succinct and so true.

If we, two Julias, were to go out for dinner in Maine, where would you take me? I’m always begging to be taken out for food.

If the kids came along, we’d go to our fave place: the Super Great Wall Of China Buffet! All you can eat, no waiting. Try the crab legs. For adults visitors to Maine, one of the tiny restaurants that jut out onto the piers of Commercial Street, Portland. Enjoy the freshest seafood in the world while watching the ferries and tugs and lobsterboats go to and fro on Casco Bay.

Thanks so much, Julia, for answering my questions. I hope to see you at Bouchercon!

Steve Mandel on Theatre Majors, Little Debbies, Daughters and Another Lost Angel

Steve, thanks for talking with me.

You are currently an ad man by day and a writer by night; a sort of author superhero. Your site says that, as an advertising executive, you are good at getting people to buy what they don’t really need. So, what should I buy that I don’t need?
My novel, Another Lost Angel. Not only is it a damn good read, but it’s chock full of minerals and nutrients and contains the recommended daily allowance of riboflavin. It’s also rumored to have strange healing powers.

Sold! You were a Communications and Theatre Major at U of I Chicago, but “the theatre part was “never really [your] thing.” So why major in theatre? Does that experience help you now as you sell your books?
Well, the University was adamant about keeping the ‘and Theatre’ as part of the major, even though a whopping 100% of the students involved taking the major just wanted to Communicate and thought Ibsen was a small country in Bavaria. And while taking the ‘and Theatre’ classes has not helped me sell books, it has helped me land the role of Luisa Bellamy in a Broadway revival of ‘The Fantasticks’

Congrats, Luisa. :) Your dad, who worked in the Sheriff’s Department, talked you out of Law Enforcement as a career. Why?
He honestly thought that being a cop in Chicago was too dangerous. Obviously he had no idea about the kind of maniacs you run across in advertising. Give me an axe-wielding psychopath over a know-it-all client any day. Seriously though, I followed his wishes and regret it. I would’ve loved being a cop. And not just for the shooting people part of the job.

You list among your influences the late Eugene Izzi. So as a mystery writer, what’s your theory about Eugene Izzi’s death? Suicide, murder, or accident?
Wow, I don’t think there’s space to answer this sufficiently! Short answer, Izzi is the reason I became a writer. So as this huge Uber-Fan, I’d like to think it was something other than suicide. For a long time, I believed that he was possibly trying to act out a scene and it was an accident. However, I’ve heard from very reliable sources who were at the scene that Izzi did in fact take his own life.

Okay, now let’s talk about you as a writer. Another Lost Angel has gotten great reviews, as has your protagonist, Linny Nomar. How did you come up with that name, first of all?
Nomar comes from one of my favorite ball players, Nomar Garciaparra. Linny from the name Lincoln, as in Lincoln Full, partner and best friend to Linny’s father Ray, and eventually the man who raised Linny after Ray and his wife were killed in a car wreck.


What’s the premise of Angel? How did the idea come to you?
Angel is really a tale of redemption, It’s about a cop who has been numbed into apathy after a string of personal tragedies. He’s been working for the Chicago Outfit for a number of years and is content to be their puppet. That is until they order him to do something that shakes him out of his stupor and sends him on a mission to find the good guy he used to be.

You write about a tough and crime-filled world, but you live in a house full of females: a wife and three daughters. Is your writing ever an escape into a more testosterone-filled environment?
You would think, considering that my home life is a steady stream of princesses and ponies. Yet the truth is, while I think I write some damn good male-oriented murder and mayhem, my constant exposure to the XX chromosome has helped with writing more believable women.

In music, you like “jazz, blues, classical and Springsteen.” An interesting combination. :) Do you listen to Dick Buckley’s jazz show on WBEZ?
Yes I do. I also listen to 90.9 WDCB. It’s a phenomenal station. Not that light jazz stuff, but guys like Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Woody Shaw, Charlie Parker. It’s cool, man, cool. By the way, yesterday (9/23) was Springsteen’s birthday. Happy 57th, dude.

You are a White Sox fan. My husband says I should ask you why.
:) Yikes! Another question that would take volumes to fill! It’s easier to explain why I’m not a Cubs fan anymore. Simply put, 1984 & 2003. I also think that until people stop filling up Wrigley for every game, the Cubs have no incentive to put a winning team on the field. That said, Go Sox! (though sadly as of this writing, the boys are on the edge of elimination from post-season play.)

What are you writing now?
I have one book that’s waiting release, LITTLE HERO. I’ve just finished one called BLOOD IN, BLOOD OUT, and I’m plotting a book called MY BEAUTIFUL REWARD while writing YOU ARE MY GOD, I AM YOUR GUN.

That's a very interesting title, that last one. Do you find time to read? What are you reading now?
I’m just about to start 1776 by David McCullough and Gun Monkeys by Victor Gischler. And that’s pretty much my groove right now, mysteries and historical non-fiction. I’ve recently devoured everything Stephen Ambrose has written on WW2 and will probably soon go back and read Band of Brothers for a 3rd time.

We were recently on a couple of panels together, and you said that when you first got published you had the preconceived notion that it would bring you instant fame, and that when you left the house “trumpets would play.” In what way has being published changed your life?
The trumpets I heard actually turned out to be the stuck horn of a 1983 Ford Fairmont. How has my life changed? Well, instead of copious amounts of anxiety about whether I’ll ever get published, I now have copious amounts of anxiety about getting another book published. And about getting reviewed. And about getting into bookstores. And bout selling enough copies. And about, well, just about everything.

Me, too. Will you speak to me at Bouchercon?
I would speak to you! Not only that, I would rent a baby grand piano and sing show tunes with you!! If only I were going!!! See, I initially thought I would be unable to attend and once I realized I could go, registration was closed. So, if anybody wants to take me as a date or as their butler, I’m available.

Oh, man--and I'd love to hear you sing that Luisa part from The Fantasticks. Or anything, really. :) How can readers find out more about Steve Mandel and his books?
If one wanted to unravel the enigma of Steve Mandel, one could track down my family and friends and implore them to regale you with tales of my youth. Or one could simply visit www.stevemandelbooks.com and find out just what makes me tick. (HINT: Little Debbie Snack Cakes have something to do with it.)

I myself am partial to the Swiss Cake Rolls.

Thanks for chatting, Steve.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Musings of the Goat, Whose Hooves are Planted on the Wonderful Ground

I was reading Bill Cameron's blog, on which he confesses (as Bouchercon approaches) that he is a bit of a nervous flyer. Several other authors wrote in to say they were the same way. Well, naturally. You're leaving the ground.

I don't always believe in astrology, but sometimes the description of my sign, Capricorn, and the traits attributed to that sign, are amazingly accurate. Like the fact that the Capricorn, a goat, likes to keep its feet firmly planted on the good earth. Nothing makes more sense to me than that, which is why I am a plane virgin. And even when I drive, I'm oh-so-careful. Not an accident, ever.

I am backed up in this by a poll result posted online by Road and Travel Magazine. Insurance agents determined which Zodiac signs were the safest drivers, and guess what? You should drive with me. Capricorns were the safest of all. And now I quote them:

The study indicated Capricorns were the safest behind the wheel due to their patience and careful driving.

The study was based on 160,000 car accident insurance claims received over the past three years.

Suncorp Metway told Reuters it would not change premiums to reflect a person's star sign.

The company listed car accident claims by star sign as follows, with the most accident-prone at the top:

1. Gemini, May 21-June 21
2. Taurus, April 20-May 20
3. Pisces, February 19-March 20
4. Virgo, August 23-September 22
5. Cancer, June 22-July 22
6. Aquarius, January 20-February 18
7. Aries, March 21-April 19
8. Leo, July 23-August 22
9. Libra, September 23-October 22
10. Sagittarius, November 22-December 21
11. Scorpio, October 23-November 21
12. Capricorn, December 22-January 19


Okay. Added to that interesting tidbit is what I learned about my sign at Astrology.com, a tidbit that is remarkably true of me:

Capricorns are industrious, efficient, organized and won't make a lot of waves. They are scrupulous with details and adopt a rather conventional posture in business and in life. These folks feel best playing it safe, since this is a fail-safe way to get to the top -- eventually.

Okay, so I think that means that being safe can still make me successful, even if I am too careful to climb aboard a plane, which will take me off of my beloved ground.

So Bill and the others, I'll see your fear, and I'll raise you another fear: getting on the plane at all.

Oh, and I hope none of you Geminis going to Bouchercon come anywhere near me. You're number one on the list, and we all know that means you're reckless. :)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Bill Cameron: The Adventure Begins

Congratulations to my colleague and pal Bill Cameron, who recently unveiled the very cool cover of his very cool book, which comes out in April. This moody art should sell a lot of mysteries, eh? Have fun with P.R., Bill. Your selling adventure now begins.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Jane Cohen on Big Cats, Little Cats, Chow Mein Girls and Librarians

Jane, thanks for chatting with me.

You just got finished camping at the National Zoo, taking part in a Snore and Roar. What’s this all about?
Members of FONZ (Friends of the National Zoo), or our group of volunteers, pay for the privilege to set up tents and camp outside one of the exhibits for the night with special behind-the-scene tours. Ours included the latest Sumatran tiger cub litter. Being two feet (behind a do-not-cross on pain of losing fingers line) away from the cubs is an incredible rush of love; being two feet away from their mother when she leapt up at the highly-experienced keeper and roared was an entirely different type of rush. Normally you get to bed around midnight and wake up at seven for a continental breakfast. Since we had a downpour that left me a bit soggy, I cheated and headed home to a dry bed and warm cats.

While we’re on the topic of your zoo involvement, I understand you have a special place in your heart for Cheetahs. Why do you so love these fastest of animals?
I've always loved all cats, but to me cheetahs are the most beautiful - next to my cats, of course. They are unique in many ways, such as being the only adult cats whose claws do not retract, and highly endangered due to human encroachment and killing of their primary prey species, the gazelle. At the turn of the last century, they covered Africa, the Middle East and into India, but now, other than a small population in Iran, only exist in sub-Saharan Africa. Putting them in relatively small reserves with other predators, such as lions and hyenas, is not the best management, as only ten percent of cubs survive their first year in these environments. There's an incredible woman, Laurie Marker, who has been working for years in Namibia (which besides being the birthplace of a famous baby has the largest cheetah population left in the world) and Kenya to increase acceptance by the local herd farmers, including adding Anatolian sheep dogs to protect the herds, and create an area where the multiple owners agree to allow them to range. The Cheetah Conservation Fund (www.cheetah.org) is a wonderful organization that works where the cheetahs are and has had great success if anyone is looking for an animal organization to support.

I always enjoy your DorothyL posts. You always sign off as “Jane, nomless in Northern Va.” Why are you nomless? Were all the good ones taken?
Actually, some of my favorites taken were taken when I first subscribed, but it was more a matter of indecision on my part. I enjoy so many authors and characters I wasn't sure which one to pick.

After your name are the letters CIV DTIC O. I must confess I don’t know what those stand for, but they sound impressive. Can you translate?
It's a rather boring example of government acronyms gone wild. I'm a CIVilian who works for the Defense Technical Information Center in the Operations directorate.

Ah! You are not only a librarian, but a librarian for the U.S. Government. So what does your job entail? Any top secret stuff? Do you see any Congressional types in your library?
I do have a secret clearance because some of the publications we manage are at the that level, but I don't work in an actual library at the moment. Instead, I work on standards development, data elements and taxonomies. It's interesting to me and a few colleagues, but of limited interest elsewhere. When I was working as a reference librarian, I dealt with quite a few generals (which anyone in the military will tell you are more important than Congresspeople) and would help answer Congressional enquires, but that's as close as I got to them.

You obviously love mysteries. What good ones have you read lately?
I've read a couple of good manuscripts for Poisoned Pen Press, which I hope eventually get published, but I don't want to jinx anyone by naming them. Right now I'm starting Beverle Graves Myers, Painted Veil, and think it will be as good as her first one, Interrupted Aria, which I raved about on DorothyL. Another rave from me, even thought it's different than my typical mystery read, is Chris Grabenstein's, Tilt-a-Whirl. (Readers can see Chris Grabenstein interviewed in a previous blog).

You’ve also mentioned liking “antique travel narratives.” What’s a good example of a travel narrative? You mean like Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley?
Actually, I prefer fifty to a hundred years earlier, books like Amelia Edwards' (who provide the first name for Elizabeth Peter's Amelia Peabody Emerson), One Thousand Miles Up the Nile or works by Gertrude Bell or Mary Kingsley. Loving travel, but also loving modern ways of getting places, I find any non-missionary travel narrative to the Middle East or Africa before World War I fascinating, especially when written by those incredibly gutsy women.


You have two cute little cats. What are their names? Do they lie all over you while you read mysteries?

My current cats are Sweetpea and Calypso, both rescues, of course. Sweetpea prefers to curl up by the side, but Calypso enjoys being a lap cat. One picture I sent was of my main cat for over fifteen years, Eros, who was pure-bred Balinese, but couldn't be sold because he was the runt of the litter. That didn't continue when he topped out at close to fourteen pounds.



That's a big kitty!

You were an anti-war protestor as a college kid in the Vietnam era. Have you done any recent war protesting?

I admit to getting burned-out during those years after seeing a bit too much violence at one protest. Now I prefer to concentrate my activism on animal rights and trying to keep the planet going with enough resources for future generations. I truly do not understand people who believe if you have enough money to pay for them, it's perfectly all right to waste non-renewable natural resources.

One of your first jobs was as a Chow Mein Girl in a Chinese Restaurant. This sounds rather glamorous. Did it just mean you spooned Chow Mein onto plates, or was there more to it?

The Nankin was the large Chinese restaurant in Minneapolis at the time (ethnic cuisine has expanded tremendously there since that era), and I packed orders to go. Friday nights after the service ended at the Reform synagogue I attended was an especially busy time.

You mentioned in a recent post that you think fox hunting is animal abuse. What’s up with fox hunting, anyway? Do you think the British are trying to compensate for something?
No, I think it's a problem of people not wanting to accept that animals other than humans have senses and feelings. If you do, then you have to begin judging and changing all your behavior. I do believe society as a whole has begun to realize that watching other creatures get hurt is not a form of enjoyment, but with cock-fighting, bull-fighting, and sport (as opposed to food) hunting still around, we have quite a ways to go. I also believe that writers who claim the foxes actually enjoy being harrassed and run to exhaustion, even if they aren't eventually killed, should be ignored by all readers. Being a librarian I would never suggest banning any books, but being a consumer I have choices in my purchases; I will never buy anything written by someone who supports these activities.

Are you going to Bouchercon?
I wish I could, but this year I've already done a tour of Mayan sites in Central America, visited my sister in San Antonio and my brother and my best friend from first grade throughout high school in southern California, so I need to save my time for future vacations. I did attend Bouchercon when it was held here in the Washington, D.C. area (actually northern VA, where, as you know, I live), and it was a wonderful experience. I hope to go to future ones as well.

Who’s a mystery writer you’ve met and liked, or one you’d like to meet?
S.J. Rozen, a fellow Oberlin-grad and professional architect, is an interesting and fascinating person. She hasn't published anything in a while, but I hope she decides to continue writing mysteries, as she is one of the best around. I've also enjoyed meeting Donna Andrews, and being at a brunch table with Joan Hess during the American Library Association annual meeting was fun. I'd love to talk Egyptology with Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels) and meet Lev Raphael and Jeff Cohen. I've exchanged the occasional e-mail with both after DorothyL posts and would love a real conversation with either. Of course, Julia, I'd also like to meet you.

Why, thanks! That is mutual.

You love traveling. What’s the most beautiful place you’ve found on earth?

As with noms, there are too many to choose one. One that left me speechless, which is pretty rare condition, is Crater Lake here in the United States. The game reserves I've visited in Kenya, Dubrovik and the coast near it, ancient Egyptian sites along the Nile (and Abu Simbel when lighted at night after the tourists are gone), some of the traditional temples and cemetaries of Japan, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and L'Orangerie in Paris are all places of joy for me. One place few people visit, mainly because it only has good weather without killer mosquitoes and deer flies about two weeks a year, is the Boundary Waters area of northern Minnesota, especially if you're there at night when the Northern Lights are putting on a show.

Wow. You’ve lived in Japan and Germany as well as the U.S. What lessons did you learn as an expatriate (if only a temporary one)?
The most important thing is that the U.S. is not the center of the earth. If you buy a map in Japan, North and South American are far to the right of center, in Europe, far to the left. I've neven been to South American or Australia to buy one there, but it would be interesting to see the perspective from way south of the Equator. Most important, of course, is that human beings are human beings. We have different cultures and values, often heavily influenced by the languages we speak, but the basic attributes don't really change.

Thanks so much for talking with me, Jane!
Thank you for asking me.

Monday, September 18, 2006

My Midwest Literary Festival Adventure

Here are Julie Hyzy and Michael Black, who have been kindly showing me the ropes for this sort of event. Not that I didn't still make a dork-like impression.

And that leads me to TEN THINGS I LEARNED AT THE MIDWEST LITERARY FESTIVAL.

1. Be sure to show up for all of your assigned panels. Oops. Sorry again to the wonderful Henry Perez, who did such a grand job organizing everything. That empty chair shall haunt me all my days.

2. Don't hug authors who just want to shake your hand. I think in my eagerness I may have sexually assaulted a few people (for example Libby Hellman, who looks so lovely in the photo below).




3. When you arrive at your panel table, don't grab someone else's water bottle and say, "Oh, look! They gave us waters!" Sorry, Julie Hyzy.

4. When they provide you with a lovely nameplate, don't immediately hand it to your husband, who will disappear into the throng with the children and never give it back. I was the very professional author whose name appeared on a post-it note in front of her. (Thanks for the post-it, and for sharing my ignominy, Julie).

5. When you meet someone famous, like David Morrell (pictured with me, below), don't stare at the side of his head until he gets a complex, and don't show such open envy of his long signing line. Someday, grasshopper, you too will meet people who want signed books (just not your books).



6. There are a lot of nice authors out there, such as the ones pictured above and the one pictured here: Steve Mandel.



7. It's possible to meet your heroes: here my son Graham gets to meet the author of the Chet Gecko kids' mysteries, which have brought my boys hours and hours of enjoyment. Bruce Hale was kind enough to pose with both of my children, who are rain-speckled, due to a late-in-the-day cloudburst. (Notice Bruce's cool Gecko pin).



8. Have some copies of your book with you. Sure, I had them, but they stayed in the trunk of my car (long story) and I had to mooch a copy from Michael and Julie (who kindly purchased it) to display during the panel.

9. When the moderator asks you a question, it's a real Miss America moment. At one point J.A. Konrath (the legendary) asked me "If you could go back to talk to your pre-published self, what would you say?" And I suddenly felt like I'd already done the bathing suit and talent competition (juggling flaming swords) and this was my final chance to make an impression. It must have been the microphone.

10. And speaking of microphones, I learned that being on a panel is a bit like being at a Congressional Hearing.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

More Midwest Adventure Pictures

My son Ian enjoyed making funny faces with Bruce Hale, the author of the Chet Gecko children's mysteries (my boys have read them all, I think, so this was a big honor for them).

Here's one of my panels, with me at the far end, then Steve Mandel, a fellow mystery author, and then the three name authors:Melanie Lynne Hauser and Judy Merrill Larsen(who are also pictured below in close-up)


Melanie is the author of Confessions of Super Mom; Judy wrote the poignant All the Numbers.

Here's the signing table, but you notice the long line is for the legendary Max Allan Collins; this gives me time to chat with Laura Caldwell, also pictured below. Laura is the author of several chick lit novels and a couple of suspense books, including her latest, The Rome Affair.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Bouchercon Bound?

I'm going to Bouchercon in about a week and a half; are you? If you're going, too, I'd love to meet you. Send me an e-mail or put a comment here about where you might be found--maybe at a certain panel? and I can try to locate you. I know I'll be sitting at the MWA table some time on Saturday, although I'm not sure when at this point. I'll also be at the Midnight Ink event on Friday evening from 5:30 to 7:30. More information to follow.(Photo of Madison, Wisconsin at night courtesy of www.cooltownstudios.com)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Happy Birthday, Agatha Christie

I discovered Dame Agatha, thanks to a tip from my mom, when I was about fourteen years old, with a charming little adventure called They Came to Baghdad. I loved it. My mother, knowing me, had selected the best Christie to engage my teenage mind, but after that every one of the mysteries was fair game, because I knew that each one would hold a puzzle that I would most likely not be able to solve. But boy, I sure loved trying. And there were no hard feelings in the end, when I failed again to guess the solution. I'd always give Agatha a figurative bow, deferring to her cleverness.

You know when people sometimes ask "Who would you want to meet, if you could go back in time?" Well, aside from my own grandparents when they were young, and probably Abe Lincoln (I'd try to save him at the theatre), I'd want to meet Agatha Christie. Just sit and have some tea with her and say, "So what are you working on now, Agatha?" And I'd take a fairy cake from the tray, (hey, it's my fantasy, there's going to be cake), luxuriate back in my chair, and listen.

Mystery Writer Jane Cleland's Consigned to Success

Thanks for agreeing to chat with me, Jane.

Your novel, Consigned to Death, is a fun play on words. In one sense, of course, it refers to the antiques business, in which you have some experience. So, having run your own rare book and antiques store, have you ever felt “consigned to death?”
Interesting question... “consigned to death,” as in “shoot me now.” Yes, when I ran my rare books and antiques store... I occasionally felt that way—for instance, when explaining to a customer that “free gift wrap” didn’t include those items she’d purchased elsewhere, or when we foolishly opened on Superbowl Sunday and not one customer came into the store all day. Mostly though, I recall special moments—the delight of discovering a satiny-smooth leather bound book among a box of battered volumes or the look of elation on a collector’s face when he found a treasure in our shop.

You are also, according to your website, an “experienced speaker and meeting facilitator.” How did you develop experience in this area, and how does one facilitate meetings?
There are two theories to training professional speakers: hire a subject matter expert and hope they can communicate effectively or hire a really smart, excellent communicator and teach them the curriculum or subject matter you want them to deliver. I got into the industry more than twenty years ago via the second approach. I sometimes think of myself as the 7-11 of the information business—I’m very adept at distilling complex information into manageable and understandable “data chunks.” I have a behavioral slant, so all my business communications work aims to help people do something better. My clients are blue-chip: I write seminars for the American Management Association (they assign me a subject matter expert); and I develop and facilitate workshops for clients such as Pfizer and PriceWaterhouse Coopers. As to how one facilitates meetings well—well, that’s a huge subject—in fact, I offer a seminar on the topic, so it’s tough to summarize in a sentence or two, but here goes: to facilitate a meeting well, ensure that everyone in the room feels like a million bucks while maintaining an iron grip of control. I’m not being flip—those are the two qualities that excellent facilitators share. There are lots of ways to achieve these seemingly mutually exclusive imperatives, so there’s plenty of room for individual styles and personalities to succeed.

Your book has been tied in with the popular Antiques Roadshow. Do you think this has helped to contribute to its success?
First let me clarify that there is no official “tie-in” with the wonderful program, Antiques Roadshow. I was surprised when the early reviews compared Consigned to Death to the Antiques Roadshow, but, of course, I was thrilled at the comparison. I think Margaret Maron, Kirkus Reviews, and others really nailed an aspect of the book that I hadn’t really latched onto—the intriguing complexity of appraising antiques. I’m new to the writing business—Consigned to Death is my first novel. I think it’s crucial, when you’re a debut author to have a succinct way to describe your book. It helps people understand what they may be getting themselves into by starting it. Therefore, I think it’s useful that I can explain Consigned to Death as: “It’s like an Antiques Roadshow for mystery fans.” I think that’s clear and accurate.

Before writing fiction, you wrote several books on business, including Putting First What Matters Most: Proven Strategies for Success in Work and in Life. Were you a business major?
My undergraduate work was in communications, but my graduate work was in business. I earned an MBA.

How did you come up with the idea for Josie Prescott, your protagonist?
I wrote a mystery featuring a sizzling hot private eye named Tony Barnes who was based in New York City. It received the nicest rejections! Part of the message was that the market wasn’t strong for new series featuring a male private eye based in New York. I took it as a personal challenge and developed a mystery series featuring a female amateur not based in New York. I really love Josie a lot, so I’m thrilled she has come to life!

The nicest rejections--that's funny. But so true.

Since you have a great deal of business experience, are you handling your own public relations?
I’m handling a lot of it, but I have a good friend who’s helping me with some aspects of it, and I also work with an outside service as well—Breakthrough Promotions.

I’m also helping the Wolfe Pack, the fan club of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe books, publicize their literary awards. Starting in 2007, I’m taking over as chair of the awards. And I’m very excited to announce that we’re partnering with Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine to offer a new writing award—for best novella! Rules for submission will be posted on www.nerowolfe.org starting in October!

You have a husband and four cats. Are they a part of your business empire?

Sadly, I must report that one of our little cats has died. Very hard. We loved the little guy a lot. As to your question, I wish I had a business empire for them to be part of! I’m just a new author trying to introduce my protagonist, Josie Prescott, to as many people as possible!

You seem like a goal-oriented person. What are your goals for the next few years? Do you have a long-term goal?
I am extremely goal-oriented—and I’m always in a hurry. My goal up until a few months ago was to get a new contract. I did so—so St. Martin’s Minotaur will be publishing Josie’s adventures for years. I’ve completely thrilled!

Other goals—to keep introducing Josie to as many people as possible; to launch the Black Orchid Novella Award in partnership with Alfred Hitchock Mystery Magazine (see www.nerowolfe.org starting in October for details); to ensure that the Nero Award (I’m the chair starting in 2007) maintains its high quality level; to write good books; to serve well on the New York Board of the MWA; and to snorkel a lot.

Long term goal—all of the above, except more so.

You are considered an inspired speech-maker. Have you utilized this in promoting your fiction writing?
Thank you for the nice words! I don’t know about “inspired,” but it’s true that I am an experienced public speaker—all those years delivering seminars and facilitating meetings add up!

To answer your question—I’ve developed two speeches related to the Nazi theme in Consigned to Death—one is called Finding Stolen Art: A Detective Takes on the Nazi and the other is called The Politics of Stolen Art: A Legacy of the Holocaust. I’ve delivered them at Temple Israel in Sharon, Massachusetts—one to the entire congregation, and the other to high school students. They were very well received.

If any of your readers would be interested in learning more about those speeches, or a speech on another topic—such as Growing a Small Business: How to Get the Word Out—I’ll be happy to talk to them about it. They can e-mail me at jane@janecleland.net or call 212.332.9976. I’m very good about responding to e-mail, so if they don’t hear from me within a day or two, that probably means I didn’t get it! Please call!

I’m very interested in speaking at libraries, Rotary Clubs, Chambers of Commerce, and the like.

Because I’ve spent a fair amount of time researching how I can best introduce Josie (my protagonist) to people, and have had some success, I also offer a presentation on: How to Promote Your Book—20 Ideas in 40 Minutes.

Did you always want to write fiction, or is this a new discovery of your creative side?
I sort of knew I wanted to write fiction, but it was a long-sublimated desire.

Will there be more Josie Prescott adventures?

I’m trilled to report—yes! Deadly Appraisal will be published (also by St. Martin’s Minotaur) in April 2007, Lethal Legacy in April 2008, and so on. I have a multi-book contract, so we can expect Josie to have adventures for years to come!

What’s been the most unexpected part of promoting the mystery?
How thrilling it is to meet fans! I knew it would be fun to meet fellow mystery lovers, but I didn’t expect to be brought to tears as fans confide in me how close they felt to Josie because of her strength; or how their dad died, too, so they understood Josie’s struggle to overcome her heart-wrenching grief; or to hear their stories—like Jerry, a fan’s dad who gave her a flashlight when she was a little girl so she could read late into the night without risking her mom’s ire. I feel truly fortunate and grateful.

You encourage people, on your website, to share thoughts about the value of some of their antiques—going beyond the monetary and thinking in terms of emotional value. What sorts of stories have people told you?
One fellow told us about how he and his wife found a painting in the attic just after they married and moved into their first house, and how it still hangs in their living room reminding them of their love—and they’ve been married more than fifty years. A woman told us about her grandmother’s quilt, and how it traced the stories of her life. Very moving.

Jane, when do you find TIME to do all this stuff? Am I talking like a loser? Do I need to buy one of your books to help prioritize my life? :)
Ah, priorities! Part of why it seems that I accomplish a lot is that I don’t spend time doing things that other people do. For instance, I don’t have children! Another part is personality—I can’t sit still! I like being busy and I like getting things done. Still another part is that I’m a late bloomer and I want to make up for lost time!

See, that's a problem: I can sit still for HOURS.

How can people find out more about Jane Cleland and her fictional creation, Josie Prescott, and the mystery called Consigned to Death?

My website is a good source of information: www.janecleland.net – there’s an excerpt so people can try the book to see if it’s of interest to them, for instance.

I post two BLOGS a month—and starting this month, they’re available as podcasts! I discuss everything from nightmares to characterization through suspense.

The newsletters keep people up to date on what’s going on – like the major change in cover art that will occur when Consigned to Death is released as a paperback—and will be carried over in the branding with Deadly Appraisal. You can see the new covers in an article in newsletter, Vol I, No. 6: http://www.janecleland.net/htm/newsletter/newsltr.htm
I also include an unpublished fact about Josie in every issue of the newsletter--fun! Anyone interested in receiving it via e-mail can sign up on the site.

There are photos of Josie’s world on the site, recipes for all of the dishes mentioned in the book, and loads of other informative and fun content!
I’d love to hear from people. Folks are welcome to e-mail me at jane@janecleland.net or call 212.332.9976. As I mentioned above, I’m very good about responding to e-mail, so if they don’t hear from me within a day or two, that probably means I didn’t get it! Please try again or call!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

How Do You Say: My Life Does Not Translate Well


My current babysitter is an Italian exchange student. She looks like Sophia Loren's niece. Tall, graceful, lovely, silky-haired. She is babysitting my two sons, who have not reached puberty, but might cross over soon if she continues to visit. Sometimes I wonder how we look from her perspective.

On the first evening we met her at the door, but not before our dog did, leaping up on her with his rotten little paws and almost knocking her back down the stairs. Our cat, who is not allowed out of the house because of his pugilistic tendencies, darted past her in a bid for freedom. A shouting boy chased the cat down the sidewalk, fearful that he would get in yet another fight. (We've already been warned that if Pibby catches some dread disease from some other cat's saliva, he could potentially give feline AIDS to every cat in town. Are there greeting cards for that? Sorry I gave your cat AIDS?) The remaining boy sat glued to his Playstation, mumbling a greeting and shaming his mother.

I laughed nervously. "Sorry about the mess," I said, because I say this to everyone who comes over and sees the random piles of laundry, waiting in vain for someone to claim them and wash them, not to mention the stacks of paper and books and various boy toys: action figures and video game covers and Lego creations that simply cannot be taken apart, Mom.

She smiled uncertainly, and I gave her some final instructions: "Just be sure to keep this door shut, because the cat has torn holes in all the screens and he can jump right out. And try to keep the dog out of the attic. He goes to the bathroom up there. You know--bathroom?" We smiled, not certain of each other, and I was forced to leave her with the hyper dog, the AWOL cat, the boy who was somewhere outside, and the boy who was comatose inside. I figured she would never return.

To my surprise, she agreed to come the following week. She said the boys were quiet and she was able to do her homework; she would come that night. This sounded good. Unfortunately, some mysterious foreign object had made it inside our oven, and when I turned it on to bake something, the horrible smell of burnt plastic filled the air and smoke billowed through the house. Lord knows what superhero became an ashen offering, but the house smelled about as appealing as a rendering plant when the babysitter arrived. I stood, fanning away the last wisps of smoke and trying to smile about this kooky experience. "Our oven burned something," I said, shifting the blame where I felt it belonged. "So it made kind of a smell," I added, hoping she understood the part about the odor not being our fault. She wore a quizzical expression, perhaps trying to come up with an Italian equivalent of Pee-yew.

The stove dilemma was eventually solved (but not the mystery of what was burned), and the day I needed the sitter rolled around once again. I went out to the car that morning to find that it had rained all night and I had left the windows down. I ran back in for a dry towel to put on the driver's seat. No big deal--not until I came out of work eight hours later and the entire car smelled like a bad apple. The wet upholstery had soured, and the odor was unbearable. I wrinkled my nose all the way home, then tried various deodorizers--even just a few frantic squirts with a bottle of perfume. Yet when I arrived at her place to pick her up (of course she needed a ride this time, when my car smelled like a dumpster), the smell was worse than ever.

She climbed in and her lovely eyes squinted as the odor assailed her. She was so well bred, though, that she said nothing, and soon even her nostrils stopped flaring. "Heh, heh," I laughed nervously. "I left the car windows down, and it rained. WET," I added, in case she hadn't understood my excuse. What I really wanted to say was, "I swear, we're really not as smelly as we seem!"

She smiled and nodded. I could only imagine the e-mails she was sending home, about the eccentric family with the disobedient pets and the odd collection of aromas in an untidy house. Was there a word for "slattern" in Italian?

As we sat together in the smell, I asked if she was going to any dances at the school. "Yes," she said, smiling. "I go, but I don't know who."

"That's fun," I said. "Do you have a dress?"

"Yes." Her face brightened. "Black, with silver. And silver shoe."

That sounded glamorous. And she was going to look knockout gorgeous. I glanced down at my utilitarian sweatsuit, navy blue with a red racing stripe. It was the third day I'd worn it because it was really comfortable. People were probably talking.

I wondered, were there people in Italy with smelly cars and smelly houses and cats that picked fights and dogs that annoyed people and children who drooled in front of the television? Or were they all sort of elegant and effortless, the way this girl seemed to be?

Was my lack of glamour obvious? And what of my whole public persona? Would it come across at book signings that I had a messy house? Would people at Bouchercon know that I had driven there in a minivan that smelled like saurkraut? Would I really be able to chat in the bar without spilling drinks on people?

My reality is this: life is smelly. It pretty much has been since I changed my first diaper, and it probably will be until both of my sons leave home and I can really deodorize--maybe even pull up the floorboards and soak them in Pine Sol. I probably can't explain this to a beautiful Italian girl whose life does not smell, but I guess I've learned to live with it. And though I'm sometimes tempted to present a public image that includes a girdle, a wig and some neon tooth whitener, I figure I'll just go and be me, warts and all.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Theresa Schwegel on Hollywood, Cool Parents and the Success of Officer Down

You were born and raised in Algonquin, Illinois. How did you end up living and writing in California?
I went to Loyola University Chicago and got a bachelor’s in communication, which got me a job as a personal trainer. Of course. It was good money, but it wasn’t my thing; my thing was working for free for a small commercial production company. When the film bug nestled under my skin, I set my sights on Hollywood. For some reason I thought people wrote scripts and sold them. I had no idea. I ended up reading scripts, and working for free, again. In the meantime, though, I was enrolled in Chapman University’s Graduate Film program. I had a screenwriting professor who really got my writing, and actually talked me out of Hollywood (and, as it turns out, into this equally crazy business).

I still live in California because it’s a strategic family hub: the core group meets in Palm Springs each year for a few weeks. My grandmother started the tradition before I was born—the Schwegels love to golf—all except me. I’m poolside.

On your website you refer to your parents as your best friends. Not all offspring are wise or mature enough to see the truth of this. What makes you so appreciative of your parents?
You wouldn’t ask this if you knew them—you would join me in aspiring to their level of cool. I could run down the usual list about why anyone appreciates somebody else: support, encouragement, cash when you’re broke, etcetera, but here’s a memory that more creatively illustrates my point:

My parents and I don’t get to see each other that much, but as it turned out they were here and all three of us caught the same flight back to Chicago (I like to call those trips “research”). Our plane wound up getting diverted to Denver because it didn’t have enough gas—yep, that’s what I said. Long, painful United Airlines story short, we were stuck on the plane for about twelve hours, no food, no nothing.

When we finally got home, we’d missed lunch and dinner and nearly breakfast, too, and we were all on the brink of delirium. But did my parents give up, and call it a day (night/day)? No: my dad opened a bottle of Moet Chandon, my mom baked a tray of French fries, and we stayed up and told stories and laughed and made the whole ordeal worth it.

Maybe that doesn’t actually answer your question, but they always seem to have answers for mine.

I love your parents now.

You took a lot of screenwriting classes. What made you want to write a mystery novel instead of a mystery movie?

I did write a mystery movie. It was called OFFICER DOWN (no, not the one that wound up on Lifetime with Sherrilyn Fenn, thank you very much). Anyway I wrote it for my thesis; it won awards at Chapman, and was a runner-up in Scriptapalooza (I know: now you’re really impressed). I submitted it to a few agents and production companies. But as I mentioned, in my experience, Hollywood ranks spec scripts a few points lower than scratch paper. Even if you know someone who knows someone (which I did), the odds don’t fall in your favor.

There are exceptions, always—and in fact the reason I am published in the first place is because of my Hollywood experience. I also think screenwriting has influenced my fiction writing tremendously, particularly in structure and word economy.

What was the inspiration for Officer Down?
This story is getting old, particularly to the woman who served as inspiration: she’s one of my very best friends, and she had an affair with a married cop. I guess you could say she did my research for me. She was head-over-heels upside-down stupid for the guy, and he had no intention of letting her see him for who he really was.

What interested me about the situation was that my friend was (is) a strong, rational woman, and he was able to tear her down completely. In writing this story, I wanted to understand the mechanics of manipulation. I wanted to know how this man could call my friend a whore and make her believe it.

Obviously, in the novel, I heightened the stakes. In hindsight I think I got away with a lot of Mack’s behavior because I was able to play the grief card, and I’m not sure, even now, that I fully understand why she was with Mason. Low self-esteem is the easy answer.

There are so many women out there who fall into this trap; thank God my friend got herself out of it. Today she’s happily, normally married with children and would most likely prefer that I make up something for the inspiration question at this point. So maybe you heard it here last.

Well, thanks for telling it one last time. :)

You got terrific reviews of the book. Were you confident that you would, or did the overwhelmingly positive response surprise you?

Look, I’m surprised when people say they actually read the book—at least those who have had no direct contact with my mother. I didn’t expect good reviews, and I know I have been fortunate. Especially because what was most important to me was to write truthfully—to cut out the cool and get to the real grit—which is tough to do when the main character is in denial until about the last four pages. I suppose readers got that: Mack’s cool was a necessary cover.

I did receive quite a bit of negative feedback about the profane language and Mack’s drinking and smoking. But again, I was aiming for truth. And Mack’s bad behavior was part of the ‘cool’ she used to cover her self-loathing.

On the whole, though, the reviews have been unbelievably good. Guess my mother’s influence is far-reaching…

You are too modest. Is this novel a stand-alone, or will “Smack” Mack return?
I think Samantha Mack is in rehab. My editor and agent and I all agreed I’d pretty well exhausted her. For the next three books, I’m writing stand-alones within the landscape of the Chicago PD. My second novel, PROBABLE CAUSE, is a coming-of-age rookie story; my third, PERSON OF INTEREST, is about a gang-unit detective and his lonely mess of a wife.

You and I are both fans of Ross MacDonald’s writing. What is it that you like about him?

First, the no-frills style: he’s one of those writers who manages to pinpoint a character in their entirety in the matter of a single sentence. Second, voice: when I read MacDonald, the crime is hardly the point. For me, Lew Archer and the people he bounces around are what make the story work. I look to writers like MacDonald and James M. Cain and Charles Willeford and James Crumley—the men whose characters, and voices, are key.

It sounds like you’ve worked very hard to get where you are. Will you be taking a break any time soon? Going to the Bahamas and having a tropical drink with a little umbrella in it?
Taking a break for me right now is standing up and stretching. I will, however, be side-tripping a few days in Chicago after Bouchercon—more research, a Bears game. And, I’ll be touring in January for PROBABLE CAUSE with Megan Abbott, the Britney to my X-tina until after the Anthonys (or maybe it’s the other way around? She does have a better voice).

After all that, yes, a fruity drink and some sun would be nice.

What are you reading right now?
William Goldman’s MARATHON MAN. My friend Dan Judson recommended it and it’s the most entertaining book I’ve read in a while—so funny. I admire writers who can do humor, particularly in the face of tragedy. I’m trying to work humor into my third book (so far, no one’s laughed). Still, I think that’s why I write about cops: the more wicked the situation, the more wicked the joke. They have to be that way or they’d all eat their guns.

Do you have hobbies that keep you busy outside of writing?
Used to be reading, but my eye doctor recommended that I “go to the beach. Watch the birds. Quit looking at words.” I’m not so interested in birds, so I do yoga. Or I run. I listen to music—a lot of jazz lately. I like to paint, though I never hang any of the canvases. And bring on the HBO series shows: The Wire is the best show on television, period. Deadwood, Entourage, Rome—all of great.

When you're in Chicago, listen to Dick Buckley's jazz show on WBEZ. Best jazz show anywhere.

Where’s your favorite place to go in California?

Menlo Park/Palo Alto. Some of my family lives up there, and I find spending time there so peaceful and rejuvenating.

Also, Sonoma—wine country. Mmmm Cakebread (winery).

You mention that you wanted to go to Hollywood but never quite got there. Do you still want to go there?
Sure, if I have tickets to a rock show at the Hollywood Bowl. Otherwise I think I’ve done my time on the 405.

Do you have any particular ritual for your writing? Candles? Coffee? Pets on your feet? Or do you just write come hell or high water?
Some days I sit here and rearrange the same eight words. Others, I kick out 800 and I’m still going. I wish I had a ritual, or some system, but writing doesn’t happen 9 to 5 for me.

There is a pet at my feet sometimes, a cat-flavored dog, a chihuahua named Rex. He is not mine, though he lives here. He is very nervous.

You know, Theresa, even your interview answers are written like good sentences in a good novel.

Since you loved the aura of Hollywood, do you have a favorite movie?

Megan Abbott beat me to this one (insert catty look here): Double Indemnity. Film school turned me on to classic noir, and this is my favorite.

Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler adapting James M. Cain… wish they’d had their own shingle at Paramount.

There’s been a lot of talk about this film lately—probably since it was released on DVD—so I’ll let everyone else do that. I have a book to write.

How can readers find out more about you and Officer Down?
Check out my website, www.theresaschwegel.com, and for show and tell, go to my agent’s blog: www.dhsliterary.blogspot.com

Thanks for taking the time to chat, Theresa! This was a real treat.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Words of Abraham Lincoln: On Gratitude in A Time of War and Loss

"I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union."

Abraham Lincoln Source: "Proclamation of Thanksgiving,? Address, October 3, 1863

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Coming Soon To This Blog . . . .

Coming soon are chats with Julia Spencer-Fleming, author of the soon-to-be-released All Mortal Flesh and recipient of untold awards; Kate Stine, Editor of Mystery Scene Magazine; Theresa Schwegel, best first mystery Anthony nominee for Officer Down; and Jane Cleland, author of Consigned to Death. And much, much more (as they say).

Saturday, September 09, 2006

JT Ellison Explains Why You Need to "Drop the Body" on The First Page

You write flash fiction. What’s attractive about this relatively new genre?
Flash is a way for me to explore new horizons. I experiment – new voices, new characters, new settings. Plus, the challenge of telling an entire story in under 1,000 words is humbling, and very satisfying. You know how Johnny Depp takes on any role that he thinks will challenge him, and isn’t afraid to make a fool of himself? That’s how I view flash, and shorts in general.

Your book, All the Pretty Girls, comes out next year. What’s it about?
ATPG introduces Homicide Lieutenant Taylor Jackson, a metro Nashville detective carving a satisfying life out of the crime world. She comes from money, but has eschewed that life to be a cop, and has the respect of most of her peers. ATPG find her working two major cases, the serial rapist known as the Rainman, and a serial murderer who passes through Nashville on his deadly spree – leaving a body, a hand, and snatching a local girl. Taylor’s lover, FBI profiler John Baldwin, is hot on the tail of the Southern Strangler, and their cases intersect in interesting ways.

Cool. You live in Nashville. Have you ever met Chester Campbell?
I have, of course. Who hasn’t met Chester? He’s the treasurer of my local Sisters in Crime chapter and part of the SE Mystery Writer’s of America Chapter. Chester’s everywhere. Great guy!

Well, I haven't met him except via interview, but I hope to change that at Bouchercon.

How do you like blogging at Murderati? How did you happen to become a part of this group?

Murderati is a blast. It took several tries to find my stride, but now I’m comfortable with essaying, which has never been my strong suit. There’s something so scary about opening yourself up on a blog, to say hey, I’ve made this mistake, or I’ve had this success, and wonder if anyone really cares. The Murderati members are amazing, and the readers are even better.
Pari Noskin Taichert asked me to join, and I jumped at the offer. She took a major chance inviting an unpublished author onto the blog. Happily, I rectified that situation, but I’ll always be grateful that she and the rest of the Murderati crew were willing to take a chance on an unknown.

What are you writing right now?
I’m working on the second book in the Taylor Jackson series. It’s halfway done and I’ve given myself until November 1 to have a polished draft in place. So I better go to work! I’m also writing two shorts, and dogging both of them.

Why do you like mysteries? Who is your biggest mystery influence?
When I started reading mysteries, I was devouring authors like Sandra Brown, Tami Hoag and Patricia Cornwell. I bought every James Patterson book. As I grew as a reader, I discovered some amazing voices, people like John Sandford, Lee Child, John Connolly, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais. I aspired to write like Sandford and Connolly, and hope that I achieve that goal. I adore some of the new authors out there. Robert Fate and Cornelia Read have been my two favorite wonderful discoveries this year, and I adore Tasha Alexander and Alex Sokoloff. There’s just a bunch of great new fiction out there. I wish I had more time to read so I could rejoice in the written word of others more.

I think I’m drawn to mysteries because the authors right the wrongs, the black hats lose (or the story portrays black hats with such amenable action that we root for them). I like to feel swept away, breathless, uncertain what might happen next. I’m always so disappointed when I figure out “who done it.” I’m not as well read as a lot of people, so I still can get fooled pretty easily. Kudos to the authors who do that for me; you’re guaranteed sales for life.

Since you're in Nashville, I have to ask: do you like country music? Who are some of your favorite artists?
No, I really am not a country music fan. I’m into more rock and alternative. I dig U2, local bands like Jason and the Scorchers, Richard Stooksbury and the Glaring Mistakes, AC/DC, The Cult, stuff like that. And I’m a classical junkie.

You’ve blogged about the fact that a writer should grab a reader in the first two minutes. I think most publishers agree with you—but does the “grabbing” have to be a murder? What else gets your attention as a reader?
No, no, of course not. Though a murder is generally quite “grabbing.” I truly believe you have a finite amount of time to capture your reader's attention – be it with spectacular prose, engaging characters, a unique setting, even a brilliantly different point of view. I mean, look at literary novels. Usually they aren’t dropping bodies, yet they capture the reader's interest. It’s an easy device, a murder, to grasp attention. The trick is to keep them turning the pages. You can drop body after body, but if you don’t write well, don’t feed the reader's imagination, they’ll put the book down and move on to something else.

How do you apply the rule above to your own writing?
I drop a body on the first page and move on. No, I’m kidding. In ATPG, I do open with a murder, but I hope it’s the POV that will draw the reader in. The new book, on the other hand, opens with a media interview, and the readers is quickly aware that people are dead. The third has a completely different kind of scene, but I think it’s just as effective.

There are many different ways to open a book, but since I’m writing psychological thrillers, there’s no sense beating around the bush. I like to start with a bang and keep the hits coming throughout.

What’s the atmosphere you need to do some good writing? Do you need silence, white noise, lit candles, blaring radio? Or does it not matter?
I’m a silence person to an extent, though when I’m writing emotionally charged scenes, murders, sex, conflict, I have a few classical CD’s that I employ to keep me intense and focused. Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #3 is brilliant, Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique is chilling. Tchaikovsky is always a good choice, and Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concerto de Aranuez is stellar for emoting. It’s the basis for all of the sweeping music in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Of course, I’ve been known to throw some Smashing Pumpkins or Nine Inch Nails in for good measure.

Someone commented on DorothyL that there are several writers who go only by their initials. Why did you decide to go by J.T? Do you feel it makes you marketable to a wider audience?
Ah, the question I fear I will have to answer for the rest of my days. :)
My full name is difficult to pronounce and even more difficult to spell. JT was a nickname growing up, and my agent suggested we go with it. What I find fascinating is that so many of the initialed authors have a J – MJ Rose, PJ Parrish, JB Thompson, CJ Box… I could go on and on. What’s that about? At least I know mine’s organic.

And yes, there is the gender issue. I know my work will appeal to male readers, and if they actually get turned off seeing a female name on the cover, hopefully this will counteract that. We’ll see, huh?

What are your writing goals for the year?
Finish book 2 by November 1, get it all edited and done so I can start book 3. I’d like to do some more shorts, but between Killer Year and the novels, my spare time is getting sucked away. I’m sure I’ll have a few more flash pieces to submit, at the very least.

Once next year rolls around, I need to have Book 3 done no later than July. So I’m going to be a good girl and stay home, work on my books and emerge in time for ThrillerFest 2007, like a butterfly out of the chrysalis. Or a writer with a big lump on her butt from sitting at the computer for a year.

Thanks so much for talking with me, J.T!

No, Julia thank you! This was a lot of fun!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Brian Freeman on Promotion, Inspiration and The Long Road to Success

Hi, Brian—thanks for taking the time to chat.

Your novel, Immoral, is nominated for an Edgar and an Anthony for best first novel. But your website implies that you’ve been writing for a long time, and that you’ve been published “in 46 countries and 16 languages.” So you’re not exactly an overnight success, are you?
I remember telling my then-fiancee in college that I was going to support us as a writer. I guess I left out the part about it taking 22 years! (Good thing she stuck around.) So I only count as an overnight success if you leave out the first couple decades of trying and not succeeding. When it finally happened, though, it happened pretty fast. We’ve sold the English version of IMMORAL around the world, and we have deals for the book in 16 languages. Prior to publication, we’ve already sold the follow-up book, STRIPPED, in 8 languages.

You are from Minnesota. There are actually quite a lot of noted mystery writers from this state. Does Minnesota inspire mystery?
Minnesota is a place of extremes – at least when it comes to weather – and extremes always make for good mystery. The environment is dark and almost gothic, with great lakes and vast woods. It may be fly-over country to the US coasts, but for many people, it has a romance like Scotland or Ireland, both of which have produced great mystery writers.

Your detectives’ names are Jonathan Stride and Serena Dial. Both of these last names can be action verbs. Is that why you chose them? As in Stride to the phone and Dial the police? :)

I did, in fact, use Stride because of its action connotations. I wanted his name to convey who he is, someone driven and emotional and determined. As for Serena, well, she just seemed to pick Dial for herself.

When did you begin writing? And why mystery?
I can remember sitting in a sixth grade classroom, beginning a mystery novel about the death of a chess grandmaster. This was in the Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky days. Two years later, my eighth grade teacher told me to sit in a corner and write, and I began another novel, that I actually finished, about the kidnapping of the president. So I’ve been writing all my life. And mystery? Well, blame it on my grandmother. She would always tell us, “I’m reading this great book. It’s got lots of bodies in it!”

Do you have particular mystery influences?
No, I don’t really think so. I’ve loved many mystery – and non-mystery – writers throughout my life, people like Leon Uris, James Michener, Robert Ludlum, and Irving Wallace when I was growing up, and people like Michael Connelly, Peter Robinson, and Nelson DeMille today. There are probably shades of all those writers in how I approach a book, but I also just try to tell a story I think readers will respond to.

You are also a business writer and communication strategist. What does that mean?
I’ve been a story-teller all my life, and so I help businesses and nonprofit organizations tell their story. Building customer relationships is all about getting them to understand and relate to your story.

You were born in Chicago. What part? Do you ever come back to visit? Did you move to Minnesota because Chicago winters weren’t cold enough for you?
I grew up near Montrose and Western. Yes, I do come back to Chicago from time to time, and I love the city. We left when I was ten because my parents moved to California, but I really wanted to get back to the Midwest, because I missed the Midwestern way of life and the four seasons. So I went to college in Minnesota, met my future wife at school, and have lived there ever since.

How did you come up with the story for Immoral?<
There was a terrible case in Minnesota about a decade ago. A young girl disappeared, and her body was never found. But they brought charges against a family friend anyway. Without a body to establish the crime, however, they weren’t able to obtain a conviction. That concept of the trial without a body lingered in my mind, and I began to play with it. What if the victim were not a young girl, but a beautiful, sexually aware teenager? What if the circumstances behind her disappearance were far more complex than anyone imagined? That was the genesis of IMMORAL.

Your novels, Immoral and Stripped, are very suspenseful, and parts are told from the point of view of a murderer. Were you ever influenced by Poe and his unreliable narrators?
Well, I enjoyed Poe growing up, so there’s certainly a little bit of his sinister mind in there somewhere. I like to give readers a sense of why people behave the way they do – not simply give them evil deeds with no motive. Often, that means going inside the head of a killer.

You seem to have a very busy promotion schedule. Do you have time for any leisure between writing and promoting? Do you have any favorite hobbies outside writing?
For STRIPPED, the tour will involve about 27 events in 14 states in the course of six weeks. It will be grueling but fun. I love meeting readers. I don’t wind up with a lot of leisure time between writing and promotion, but when I do, my wife and I like to get away and walk, whether it’s in cities or in the country. We also have very close friends in the UK, and we try to get over to visit them as often as we can. Fortunately, having so many of my business interests in the UK makes that pretty easy.

I will say that my favorite hobby used to be reading, but I can’t quite lose myself in books the way I used to. It feels like work! I find myself analyzing what works and what doesn’t and what I would have done differently. I may need to find a new hobby!

What are you reading right now?
James Lee Burke’s Crusader’s Cross. He’s such an amazingly lyrical writer. I love his imagery.

I just discovered James Lee Burke myself, and I agree. Did you choose your own book titles? What advantages do you see in the one-word titles?
I do choose the titles, but they often go through multiple iterations in discussions with publishers. I try not to get too emotionally involved in the title. I don’t think there’s any inherent advantage in one-word titles, but I do think having consistent, similar titles helps in branding an author, so that readers remember you. It’s hard to forget titles like IMMORAL and STRIPPED. (And just imagine how pleased my mother is with those titles…ha!)

Ken Bruen wrote of Immoral that “the writing is tough, muscular, and shot through with such a sense of loss, torment, longing, and torn innocence that it’s downright Celtic in its sorrow.” Were you being consciously Celtic?
When you think of sorrow, don’t you always think of the Irish first?

No, I think of the Hungarians. :)

No, I have to say it was more of the Minnesota Scandinavian influence that drove my book. There’s such a tradition here of keeping emotions inside and not showing your real face to the world. That leaves one wondering what is going on under the surface.

Will you be at Bouchercon? And how can readers of Immoral find out about your next book, Stripped?
Yes, I’ll be at Bouchercon in Madison this year, and I look forward to chatting with readers. For more information about either book, just check out my web site at www.bfreemanbooks.com.

Thanks for the interview, Brian!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Megan Abbott on Film Noir, Raymond Chandler, and Writing Atmospheric Mysteries

Megan, thanks for chatting with me.

Your novel, Die a Little, is nominated for an Anthony, a Barry, and an Edgar for Best First Novel, and is said to be “Steeped in atmospheric suspense and voyeuristic appeal.” How did your study of Film Noir influence your plotting of Die a Little?
Movies in general remain my foremost influence, especially in terms of atmosphere, mood. As I write, I always picture actors, scenes, sets, even costumes from my favorite old movies. I’ll be writing a scene and in my head, there will be Lizabeth Scott sitting with a martini at a piano bar or Sterling Hayden at a bettor’s window at the track. I’ve never been able to get the rhythms, the feel of certain movies out of my head.

In 2000 you received your Ph.D in English and American literature from New York University. That’s a huge accomplishment. How did you celebrate?
From what I can recall, there was more than a little beer involved.

Not a martini at a piano bar? :)

You published a nonfiction study called The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled fiction and Film Noir. Was this your doctoral thesis? Can you clarify the term “white masculinity?”

Yes, it’s basically a variation on my dissertation. My basic premise is that the hardboiled “tough guy,” a descendent of 19th-century frontier and western heroes, emerges as a key cultural icon in the ’30s and 40s in hardboiled novels because he promises a secure white masculinity amid the turmoil of the Depression through the beginnings of the Cold War. Women are entering the workforce, race relations are shifting, there is all this social tumult, but the tough guy promises—even if he doesn’t always deliver—a stability. He promises that there is still a secure role for the white guy and he can handle it all alone. Of course, as you look at the hardboiled novels themselves (I focused on Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain), you see these books are far more ambiguous, far more complex. They don’t offer a simple promise of a man who can restore order with his own wits and fists. Their tough guys really exemplify the complexities of the time period.

And, in part, I wanted to show how rich these books are, how revelatory they can be about the culture in which they were produced. They can stand side by side with the literary stalwarts, Faulkner, Hemingway, etc.

And, then again, it was a good excuse to spend two years reading tons of wonderful hardboiled novels!

An admirable pastime. Your book takes place in 1950’s Hollywood and your next novel, The Song is You, takes place in the 1940s. Do you have a particular fascination with this period?
Yes. I’ve always been transfixed by it—part of this is the disjuncture between this placid image of America that dominated—the storied apple-pie-white-picket-fence vision—and the very real social instabilities of the time. You see that in the movies of the period where this gorgeous Technicolor melodramas and lush musicals are coming out of Hollywood at the same time as these dark, sordid crime movies. In Die a Little, I have my main character literally move from the first world—from her role as a loving sister and schoolteacher in suburbia—to the latter, the underbelly of LA. Inevitably, both genres are telling the same story, aren’t they? The chasm between the way we want to be or believe we should be and what we fear we are.

Wow. You phrased that beautifully.

Your photo looks like a fifties-era shot; was this intentional? It reminds me of some of the pictures of young Dorothy Parker.

Funny that you say that. My husband, Josh, who took the picture, is a big Dorothy Parker fan, so he’ll be thrilled that you thought so. Yes, he definitely wanted to mimic that style. And given how ’50s-obsessed the book is, it seemed only appropriate!

Lisa Scottoline wrote that you mix “a potent cocktail of jealousy, obsession and danger.” How were you able to create such a dark world? Did you have to watch old films to put you in the right frame of mind?
Yes, I honestly thought of myself as trying to write myself into those movies I loved as a kid, and still love. When I was young, I’d watch them on TV over and over. They were so hopelessly glamorous. I wanted to step into Gene Tierney’s beautiful bachelor girl apartment in Laura. I wanted walk into General Sternwood’s hothouse in The Big Sleep. I still do! And the literary influences are strong too—Cain, Chandler, Ellroy, Dorothy Hughes, Cornell Woolrich.

What’s your favorite example of Film Noir? Or just your favorite film?
It’s hard to narrow it down, but I’d say Double Indemnity is the most perfect. Sizzling, cool, ugly and gorgeous all at once. But there’s In a Lonely Place for the desperate romantic in me and Kiss Me Deadly for the inner bad girl. Watching Ralph Meeker slap everyone around as a supremely nasty Mike Hammer.

Who are some of your mystery influences? You’ve been compared to Raymond Chandler; are you a fan of his work?
More than a fan. I can honestly say that, when I was working on my dissertation, I actually dreamt about him. Reading Chandler truly humbles me. The master.

Your husband is an English teacher. Do you two talk literature over the dinner table?
I’m embarrassed to say we’re just that nerdy. We also talk a lot about Deadwood. But I consider that literature, too.

What’s your favorite hobby?
Paint by numbers. Really.

When Die a Little begins, there is a wonderful underlying tension that you heighten with lines like “At the time, she said that she had no family to invite, that she was orphaned and alone.” As readers we are forced to question the veracity of the story as it is being told, because the narrator is speaking in retrospect, and she only wants to reveal things in bits and pieces. Was it difficult to maintain this tension, this slow process of revelation?

Yes, and I’m definitely not sure I succeeded. But my thought was that my narrator, Lora, isn’t necessarily trying to fool the reader, she just doesn’t understand herself at all. She’s deceiving herself and she won’t tell us things she doesn’t want to reckon with herself. As a reader, I’m just a real sucker for unreliable narrators. I love being surprised by protagonists and what they’ll do.

Many of the writers interviewed here have pets. Do you?
No. I’m deeply, deeply irresponsible and have yet to maintain a plant for more than six months. I wouldn’t do that to an animal. Needless to say, I don’t have children either.

You live in New York but your book is set in Los Angeles. Do you think living in New York at all influenced your descriptions of 1950’s L.A?
That’s interesting. I don’t know … but I do know that my rendering of LA is pretty fantastical. It’s based again on movies. Luckily, my husband is from LA and he can sometimes stop me when I’ve veered into the ridiculous. I wrote a story set in my neighborhood in Queens for Queens Noir and it was somehow harder because I had to step out of my environs a little to make it vivid. It may be easier for me from a remove.

That's interesting! What are you writing now? What are you reading now?
I’m plotting out something new—something set in neither LA nor in the 1940s-50s. But there is definitely crime and maiming. I just finished what was one of the best books I’ve read in the last several years: Tomato Red by the flawless Daniel Woodrell. Country noir and heartbreaking. Right now, I’m reading Mitchell Bartoy’s new crime novel, The Devil’s Only Friend, set in 1940s Detroit. It’s dark and vivid and wonderful.

Are you currently teaching?
No. I taught a Hardboiled Novel class in the spring and had a great time. But, as you know, there’s nothing harder in the world than teaching. It wore me out!

I am with you there. :)
The covers of your books are terrific! Were you given some input into selecting the art?
No. But my editor, Denise Roy, really knows her stuff and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the covers. Richie Fahey has done both of them and I stare at them longingly hoping one day to write books worthy of their sumptuous sleaziness.

How can readers interested in Die a Little and your other works find out more about you?
You can definitely visit my website and/or drop me an email (www.meganabbott.com). Thanks, Julia—looking forward to seeing you at Bouchercon!

See you there, Megan!