Saturday, January 29, 2011

Laugh for the Day

This is one of my favorites from the family picture file. My youngest enjoying his first experience with swimming (sort of) in a pool, and all the equipment that required.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Limerick Fun

Recently in my creative writing class, we learned just how fun and addictive writing limericks can be. I wrote three, but this was my favorite:

There once was a cat with two tails
Who longed for a cottage in Wales;
He wagged and he grinned
Till he made such a wind
That he flew there as if he had sails.

If you leave a comment, be sure it's in limerick form. :)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Lois Winston on Writing Well, Being Crafty, and Singing Broadway Classics

Hi, Lois! You have had a mighty busy year, and a look at your blog suggests that things aren’t going to be slowing down soon. Do you like the hectic pace of publishing?

I’ve always worked in industries where deadlines were the norm, and everything had to be done sooner, rather than later. So I’ve never known anything but a hectic pace. Not sure I could slow down if I tried.

You write a mystery series about a crafty woman named Anastasia Pollack. How did you come up with that name?

Ah, names…they’re the bane of my existence. I have to have the perfect name for a character before I can write about him or her. One of the most dog-eared books on my shelf is 35,000+ Baby Names. However, Anastasia was easy to come up with. I wanted a Russian name because of the antagonism between my protagonist’s mother, a woman who claims to descend from Russian nobility, and her mother-in-law, a flaming red commie. What better first name than that of a Russian princess? As for Anastasia’s last name, I came across it in something I was reading, and I liked the way the two sounded together.

You yourself are crafty. Did you craft all of your Christmas presents this year?

Not all but I did make some of them. Back before I was juggling so many deadlines, I made most of my gifts, but that was a long time ago in another life in a galaxy far, far away.

You’ve won lots of writing awards. Which one meant the most to you?

That would have to be the contest that led to the sale of my first book. It was a publisher-sponsored contest, and although I didn’t win (I was first runner-up,) I was offered a publishing contract at the conclusion of the contest.

One of your pet peeves is reality tv. I’m with you there, especially since there’s nothing realistic about it. On the other hand, your favorite all-time show is M*A*S*H. I’m with you there, too—I’m a big Alan Alda fan. But what’s your favorite currently on tv?

That would be The Good Wife. Between the multi-layered character development and intricately woven subplots, it feels more like reading a good novel than watching network TV. The writing is phenomenal. The storyline was ripped from recent real life political scandals, but the writers have gone well beyond that, creating something with considerable depth.

You love Broadway Musicals. If we were to meet and I started singing, say, “ . . . you and the world we knew will glow, till my life is through, for you’re part of me from this day on . . . and someday, if I should love, it’s you I’ll be dreaming of, for you’re all I’ll see from this day on,” what would you sing back?

Trust me, Julia, you really, really don’t want me to sing! But those lyrics are from Brigadoon, and the next lines are:

“These hurried hours were all the life we could share.
Still, I will go with not a tear, just a prayer
That when we are far apart, you’ll find something from your heart
Has gone! Gone with me from this day on.”

Yea! Now, on to the important question: If Andrea Bocelli and Pierce Brosnan both invited you for a romantic moonlit gondola ride at the SAME TIME and you could only choose one of those experiences, in whose gondola would you climb? I know you probably get asked that all the time.

Talk about an unfair question! How about if Pierce Brosnan is my date and Andrea Bocelli is the serenading gondolier? Pierce is definitely better looking, and since I don’t speak Italian, we wouldn’t have a language barrier, but have you heard him sing? What in the world were the producers thinking when they cast him in the movie version of Mama Mia and let him sing his own songs?

I have heard him sing, and I did giggle a lot. But I would still let him sing to me. All day, if he wanted. :)

What are you writing now?

I certainly hope by the time this interview is posted on your blog, I’m hard at work on book 3 of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries.

How are you enjoying the promotion of your book, ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN?

Authors are supposed to enjoy promotion? I must have missed that memo. Seriously, though, in-between the nail biting of waiting for reviews and sales figures, I am enjoying the blog tour I’m on to promote ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN because it’s giving me a chance to connect with readers from all over the country and beyond. The tour began the end of December and will continue throughout January. By the way, anyone who posts a comment to any of the blogs where I’m guesting will be entered into a drawing for one of five copies of ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN. You can find the tour schedule at my website, and at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers (Anastasia’s blog),

Today’s successful writer is a multi-tasker. Are you good at multitasking? Are you able to knit with your feet while you type your books?

Actually, I prefer to cross stitch with my feet while I type.

Fair enough. You love Manhattan, a place I have never been. Assuming I travel there, what should I absolutely see before I leave?

Hmm…that really depends on your interests. Manhattan has something for everyone. Let me know when you’re coming, and I’ll give you a guided tour designed especially for you. Given that you knew those lyrics from Brigadoon, I’m thinking you’d definitely want to take in a show, and I know how to score half-price tickets ahead of time instead of waiting in line for hours at the TKTS booth.

Awesome! That would make the trip worthwhile.

Where did you celebrate the holidays?

Our family is scattered all over the country, and many of them flew in the end of October for a family wedding. So 2010 was a small, intimate Christmas with just my husband and the newlyweds.

What are you reading right now?

Email and blogs. However, at the top of my towering to-be-read pile is City of Shadows by Ariana Franklin. I loved her Mistress of the Art of Death series and am hoping City of Shadows is just as good.

What’s your biggest wish for 2011?

Another one of those questions where I can only choose one answer? So not fair! Peace would have to top the list because war is not healthy for children and other living things. But I’d also like lots of zeros -- both in an advance on my next book contract and on my royalty checks.

That sounds good! Thanks for chatting, Lois!

Thanks for having me, Julia!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Julie Hyzy on Writing Well, Fitting in Family, and Reading Regularly

Julie Hyzy is an award-winning Chicago area mystery writer. Her current series are the White House Chef series and the Marshland Manor mysteries. Her latest in the White House books is called Buffalo West Wing, and it debuts today. Julie last visited this blog in 2006.

Hi, Julie! So much has happened since last you were on this blog. You have become the Stieg Larsson of cozy White-House mysteries. :) How do you feel about your meteoric rise to fame?

Ha ha ha. Don’t I wish!! Oh wait… on second thought, maybe not … he’s not here anymore and I’d like to stick around a bit longer. But you’re so sweet. I’d hardly say I’ve experienced a meteoric rise to fame, but winning the 2009 Anthony and Barry Awards did have me walking on clouds for a long time. (Want to know the truth? I’m still flying.) No complaints. Things have been good and I’m a very happy camper. And it has been a while since I’ve been here, hasn’t it? Love this blog. Miss talking with you!

Congratulations on your very big year last year! Your White House mysteries are very popular—what’s your writing schedule like? Are you working on a book right now?

I’m always working on a book. LOL. I heard a great quote (paraphrasing) “Writers don’t take vacations. They’re either writing or thinking about writing.” Is that true or what?

Right now I’m busy with getting the word out for Buffalo West Wing, but I’m also in the middle of copy edits for the second Manor House Mystery, Grace Interrupted. (They’re planning to include “Grace” in every title. I love it!)

As far as my writing schedule goes – I’m kind of in flux right now. I’m thinking about changing things up a bit. I had planned to write five days a week in 2010, leaving weekends and evenings open for family, but I had a lot of commitments during the year that threw my schedule way off. After having way too much fun (can you say “procrastination”?) I found myself under the gun in October and November, writing three to six thousand words per day. As it turned out, I cut about half of them, but they needed to be written first.

Believe me when I say I don’t want to be under that kind of pressure ever again, so this year I plan to write 2,000 words per day three days a week. Even if I miss a day here and there, it ought to be more than enough for the two books I’m under contract for, plus another book (or so). Promotion takes up a lot of time, so I’ll use Mondays and Fridays for that, and still try to keep weekends and evenings free. That’s the plan, at least. Check in with me at the start of 2012 and I’ll let you know if it worked!

Yeesh! There's only so much time in the day. Speaking of political leaders (as we were with your White House novels): you are a Chicago girl; what do you think of the fact that Chicago will soon have a new mayor?

Oh my gosh, how fun is this? My favorite story so far has been how the powers that be who are opposed to Rahm Emanuel talked the man living in Rahm’s Chicago residence into running for office just to screw up the works. Is this entertaining, or what?

I know that city finances are a mess, but I am sorry to see Richard Daley go – for a couple of reasons. I love Chicago--and love spending time in the city. Visitors always comment on how beautiful and how clean the city is. After touring a few other major cities around the world, I realize how right they are. Say what you will about his politics (and how much $$ he spent), but Daley really made the city sparkle.

I’m also very sorry to hear about Maggie’s health problems. I’m sure her battle with cancer played a big part in Richie’s decision not to run again.

It is a lovely city.

As you mentioned, you're working on another Manor House Mystery. Is one series easier to write than the other?

Hmm… interesting question. I guess I don’t think about it that way. I love writing for Ollie [in the White House series] because I know her very well now. She still surprises me from time to time but good friends do that in real life, right? Grace is newer to me. I’m still learning about her—about her hopes, dreams, and what makes her tick—and that’s endlessly fascinating. I suppose it’s been slightly easier to follow a printed floor plan of the White House than to create my own original as I did for Marshfield Manor, but I really enjoyed that project. And I keep adding rooms.

I think Grace and Ollie are equally easy and equally difficult. Both heroines have minds of their own and both refuse to cooperate if I try to push them to act out of character.

But I love questions that make me examine how I write and your question did just that. Thank you!

You blog at Mystery Lover’s Kitchen. Have you always been a foodie, or were you sort of forced to become one when you began the White House series?

If you count eating, I’m a foodie and always have been. Love, love, love going out to dinner. People want to know what I do when I’m not writing. You know, like a hobby?

I eat.

That doesn’t mean I like to cook. I usually try to avoid cooking if I can get away with it. I’m actually pretty good in the kitchen and I’m not afraid to experiment, but if it’s a choice of writing, reading, or cooking… kitchen duty always loses.

I make no secret of the fact that all the great recipes in the back of my White House Chef Mysteries are created by a professional chef. She is amazing. My family and I have thoroughly enjoyed every single one of the items she’s come up with. Delicious!

That said, I’ve been coming up with new and mostly original recipes for Mystery Lovers Kitchen once a week for over a year now. You know what? It’s been fun. To my great amazement, I’ve really enjoyed creating new dishes. My husband loves it and so do the kids (when they’re home). I’ve even started to amass kitchen gadgets. I now have a food processor, a potato ricer, and--my newest addition--a set of good kitchen knives. Real ones! With blades that actually cut!

Cool! Your website says that fiction is your passion. Do you feel passionate about it when you’re in the throes of revision? :)

Even when the passion manifests itself as hatred, it is there nonetheless.

Seriously, though, I love revising. Love it. It’s probably my favorite part of the process. I’m happily surprised when some of the stuff I’ve written isn’t always as bad as I remembered, and the stuff that is horrible gets tossed. Love that. That’s where I’m happiest.

Wow! That is a gift. I wish I could love revising. What are your plans for 2011?

I have two books to write—the third Manor House (the second, Grace Interrupted, comes out in June) and the sixth White House Chef (the fifth one is turned in, but no title yet). I’m keeping my fingers crossed that both series will continue beyond my current contracts. I also hope to write a third book in 2011. No solid plans on that one, though. Right now it’s just a jumble of ideas.

What are you reading these days?

Believe it or not, I’m finally reading the first Stieg Larsson – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I had such trouble getting past all that Swedish economy blather, but now the story seems to be taking off. I’m also reading a couple of books about the White House. Research for the next Ollie.

I just read the first one recently, too. You're not the only one who is tardy in experiencing the Larsson phenomenon. :)

You’re a busy mom; when do you find time to write?

Sniff… my baby just finished her first semester in college. Although the girls are all home fairly often, I have lots more time now than I used to. It’s nice, but if someone gave me the chance to go back to when they were 2, 5, and 8, I’d jump on that in a heartbeat.

I can relate. Even writers have their guilty pleasures. What’s your favorite tv show?

Oooh. Favorite now? Or all time?
What the heck – I’ll answer both.

Favorite recent TV shows:
Criminal Minds

Favorites of all time:
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Star Trek: The Next Generation

Worst Guilty Pleasure I’m almost afraid to admit:
1,000 Ways to Die

Interesting! I knew about the Star Trek passion, but the others are a nice potpourri.

Now on to a business question: Where do your books sell better—in stores, or on Kindle?

So far, they all seem to sell better in stores, but Kindle/Nook/etc. sales are increasing by the minute. E-readers were the big gift this holiday – or so I’d heard. I think they’re predicting a 70% jump in e-book sales in 2011. I bet it’ll be higher.

I don't doubt it (said the new owner of a Kindle). You’ve traveled a lot for your writing; is there anyplace you’ve discovered that you would consider moving to, or is Illinois the best place for you?

With family here, Illinois will always be home, but I would love (dreaming now…) to have a second place for the frigid winter months. I loved North Carolina when I visited there, but my husband (the accountant) prefers Florida because there’s no income tax. By the time we ever get there, we might not even have income, so I guess maybe he’s dreaming too!

I did not know that about Florida! Or maybe I did and forgot. Hmmm.

What environment do you need when you’re writing? Music on or off? Peaceful or chaotic? Good luck charms, or not?

Total quiet. In fact, I prefer writing when there’s no one else in the house. Music would drive me bonkers. No specific good luck charms, but I do have my writing room which is filled with wonderful little reminders of good times, happy writing, and special events.

What’s your best advice for people who want a writing career?

Write every day.

Great advice! Thanks for chatting with me, Julie!

Thank you, Julia! It’s been too long!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Coming Soon . . . .

It's January, and the new slate of interviews is here! Coming on Tuesday, an interview with the wonderful Julie Hyzy, the author of the White House Chef mystery series and the Marshland Manor series.

Her new book, Buffalo West Wing, debuts this week.

Later in the month, I'll talk to Lois Winston about our shared love of Broadway musicals and her new book, Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun.