29 September 2009

Pre-Bouchercon Guest Blogger #14 -- Kelli Stanley

Bouchercon is just a few weeks away the guest blog tour rolls on today with Kelli Stanley. Kelli shares about how attending Bouchercons in the past propelled her writing career forward.

Bouchercon Dreams by Kelli Stanley

It’s hard to believe my first Bouchercon was only two years ago in Anchorage, Alaska. It was my first time in Alaska and my first ever big mystery conference (my very first conference was No Crime Unpublished, put on by the wonderful Sisters in Crime Los Angeles every two years, and now known as The California Crime Writers Conference). The release of my debut novel, NOX DORMIENDA, was almost a year away.

That first Bouchercon changed my life. When I received my publishing news in January of 2007, I was a complete neophyte. I didn’t know the business, I didn’t belong to Sisters in Crime or any other organizations, and I literally didn’t know anyone (I’d just graduated with my MA, which had taken up a lot of time!).

In Anchorage, not only did I learn a lot about the business—not only did I forge friendships that I knew would endure throughout my life—but on the creative side, my Bouchercon and Alaskan experiences inspired me to plunge ahead and write the novel that had been percolating … a novel that became CITY OF DRAGONS.

My goal then—and my goal still—is to make writing my life. To make a living from my books, to be able to not split my time with a day job. And I knew that my chances of being able to do that would improve tremendously if I could move to a larger publisher with better distribution. Five Star is wonderful—I’m tremendously grateful to them for giving me my first chance, and for just being some of the nicest and most supportive folks in the industry. But with the logistics of the business side—I knew larger distribution was a must.

I also discovered—thanks to a quick education at Bouchercon—that it’s very difficult to approach another publisher about taking over a series. So—given the hard-headed pragmatism of wanting another saleable book—and the inspiration I received from listening to writers talk about writing (a highlight was Diana Gabaldon’s blessing)—I took a deep breath and wrote CITY OF DRAGONS while doing everything I could to get the word out about NOX DORMIENDA, which was published in July of 2008. Last October, I traveled to Baltimore, and enjoyed another Bouchercon—again, learning, connecting, being inspired.

By the time CITY OF DRAGONS was ready to be shopped by my wonderful agent, it was January of this year. That was an amazing month for me. I was blessed and honored beyond belief by a nomination and for the Bruce Alexander Award. And within three weeks, we sold CITY OF DRAGONS to Thomas Dunne/Minotaur Books and my incredible, fabulous editor, Marcia Markland.

Subsequent months went by in a blur. At Left Coast Crime—another conference that has meant so much to be, personally and professionally—I won the Bruce Alexander. I was nominated for a Macavity. I have a short story—a prequel to CITY OF DRAGONS—coming out in June, in an International Thriller Writers anthology called FIRST THRILLS, which teams best-sellers with up-and-comers.

And so, when it came time for me to write the dedication for CITY OF DRAGONS, in addition to my family, I dedicated the book to my “other” family … the community I first came to know at Bouchercon, Anchorage.

As of this writing, we’re also hoping to get my first series placed with a larger publisher. My dream is two series a year, with the occasional stand-alone … a graphic novel … and other projects, too. In just a few weeks, I’ll be heading back to the fountain of dreaming, the big, bold, wonderful and always different, but always amazing conference called … Bouchercon. I hope to see you there!

28 September 2009

Book Banter -- Sandman Slim

Title: Sandman Slim
Author: Richard Kadrey
Length: 388 pages
Genre: paranormal fantasy
Plot Basics: James Butler was sent to Hell 11 years ago (not dead, mind you). Now, he's managed to find a way to come back and exact revenge on the people who sent him there. And while being a hitman from Hell has its tactical advantages, other people what him to take sides in a much bigger conflict.
Banter Points: Word Nerd picked up this book just from walking past it on the new books shelf at the library. It was the title that caught her eye and then the book jacket made it sound like something she might enjoy (a hitman from Hell, why not?!). And she did -- but it's one of those stories that she feels sort of bad about liking. It's rather violent. It involves completely wacky theology. But it's very well-written and hard to put down. Kadrey has all these great descriptions for things (at one point, James said something along the lines of feeling like he got hit with a bag full of cans of tuna fish). Rounding out the crazy cast of characters is a fallen angels, immortal French thief, human-eating girl and talking head (literally), it's a mind-whirling read.
Bummer Points: If this isn't the first book in a series, Word Nerd's going to be disappointed.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Fans of the Dresden Files, possibly Anita Blake-esque books, and the Joss Whedon show Angel should definitely check out Sandman Slim. Also, Word Nerd thinks this could be her dark horse pick in her 2009 top ten books list.

25 September 2009

National Novel Writing Month

November is still some weeks away -- a good thing, that.

But Word Nerd is starting to contemplating trying to do National Novel Writing Month this year. Yes, she has a novel already done. It needs to be shopped out. While she's waiting for replies, she's interested in working on something else. For which she has an idea.

Realistically, there's never been a good year for it before. Word Nerd always had to cover elections which were held in November. Then, it was right after she moved to Indy. And then, right after becoming gainfully employed again. This year, though, it's looking do-able. Maybe.

So -- from past participants, what advice do you have? What does Word Nerd need to think about before launching into this on November 1st?

24 September 2009

Pre-Bouchercon Guest Blogger #13 -- Denise Dietz

Nothing unlucky today -- we've got Denise Dietz with a conversation about the pitfalls of her next great idea. Denise (Deni) Dietz – http://www.denisedietz.com - is the author of the popular “diet club” mystery series. For people who will only read a series from the beginning, Deni is launching Wildside Press’s updated, reissued Trade paperbacks of THROW DARTS AT A CHEESECAKE, BEAT UP A COOKIE, and CHAIN A LAMB CHOP TO THE BED at Bouchercon. The fourth in the series, STRANGLE A LOAF OF ITALIAN BREAD, came out in hardcover last May. After waiting tables for 17 years, Deni finally got up the nerve to 86 a waitress. Deni’s Bouchercon panel is: “WHICH END IS UP? Plotting forward from a premise or backward from an ending. Where do we start?” It’s on Friday at 9:00 a.m. She didn’t plot the following, to which she says, “Oops, my bad.”

Since vampires seem to be in vogue, I decided to write a crime fiction story starring a vampire. Having never met one face-to-face, I knew I had some intense research to do, and somehow I didn’t think Google would fly. Furthermore, no Facebook vampire wanted to be my friend. So I looked up Vampires in the Yellow Pages. It took 3 phone calls, after midnight, but I finally found one who was willing to talk to me.
Deni: Thank you so much for agreeing to meet me, Mr…what do I call you?
Vampire: Rice. My name is Rice.
Deni: Like, Anne Rice?
Vampire: Never heard of her. My name is Rex Rice, but most people just call me Rice.
Deni: Okay, um, Rice. Thanks again. I really do appreciate it.
Vampire: You’re velcome. I’m glad you’re a redhead. I love the color red.
Deni: Yes, well (glancing down at notes), where are you from?
Vamp: California. But I’m always looking for new locales. I visited Salem’s Lot once. Didn’t like it.
Deni: Whoa. Wait. You’re not from Transylvania?
Vamp: Never heard of the place.
Deni: I’ve read about vampires, of course, and seen movies, but I had no idea they … you … looked so … well, normal. You could be the bachelor on one of those bachelor TV shows, especially with that chest. Do you wax it?
Vamp: I do.
Deni: And your dimples are to die for. I mean, live for.
Vamp: Thank you. Out of curiosity, vhat do you write?
Deni: Historical romances as Mary Ellen Dennis and crime fiction as Denise Dietz. That’s DIET with a ‘Z.’ I was thinking about creating a vampire detective. Why are you shaking your head?
Vamp: It wouldn’t vork, unless he vorked the night shift. Or if he only vorked on cloudy days. Maybe if he lived in a Lincoln Continental. With tinted windows.
Deni: How about a vampire cop?
Vamp: Same problem.
Deni: I see your point. No offense. I mean, your fangs and all.
Vamp: Freudian slip. Happens all the time.
Deni: How about sunscreen? Maybe I could concoct a special, secret, government sunscreen, a la Dean Koontz.
Vamp: Sunscreen might vork, or maybe Mime makeup. If a Mime fell in the forest, would anyone know? (laughs) Do you have a title for your story?
Deni: I was thinking of calling it ‘The Vampire Wore Prada,’ but now I’m thinking ‘The Lincoln Vampire’ might fly.
Vamp: Yes.
Deni: Yes, vhat? I mean, what?
Vamp: I thought you were asking if I could fly. The answer is yes.
Deni: That’s good to know. It could be an important plot element. Do you change into a bat, first?
Vamp: You’ve been vatching too much TV. Or too many Bela Lugosi movies. Vy vould I vant to be a bat? All that guano. Ick.
Deni: Sorry. I don’t usually stereotype. So, no detective protagonist and no cop. What, exactly would you like to be?
Vamp: Your perp.
Deni: Perp? How do you know that word?
Vamp: Vhat? You think vampires can’t read? Some of my best friends are librarians.
Deni: If you were my perp, who … whom would you kill? I mean, who would you bite?
Vampire: Stephen King.
Anyone in the market for a story called THE VAMPIRE WORE SUNSCREEN?

23 September 2009

Book Banter -- Magic to the Bone

Title: Magic to the Bone
Author: Devon Monk
Genre: urban fantasy
Length: ~350 pages
Plot Basics: Allie Beckstrom could have all the riches in the world if she went to work for her magic-mogul father, Daniel Beckstrom. But Allie wants nothing to do with that life, preferring to Hound (literally sniffing out magical crimes) for those without the same kind of influence as her father. But when he turns up dead after a heated argument with her, Allie becomes the top suspect in his murder. But she's fairly sure that someone else is behind his death (magic use sometimes causes her memory loss) and in proving that she's innocent, Allie discovers that her abilities with magic are far more powerful than she ever thought.
Banter Points: Word Nerd read this on the recommendation of one of her long-time blog readers (hi Rox!) and is glad she listened. For an urban fantasy, the world that Devon Monk created is pretty nifty -- magic is used as an everyday commodity, but like the current technological divide, not everyone has the same access to magic. The price of using magic (physical pain or memory loss) is a neat twist, an often-missing actions-have-direct-consequences piece to some plot lines.
Bummer Points: So, this is a first novel and in some places it shows. A few times, Monk goes over the world-building stuff too much (repeating key info), but it's not such a detractor to make the book unreadable.
Word Nerd Recommendation: This book has the same sort of feel as the first couple early Dresden Files books -- like the author has a killer idea and it's just a matter of time before it takes off. Word Nerd checked and Monk's got book 2 out and 3 on the way. Word Nerd will definitely read more.

22 September 2009

Book Banter -- Blood Work

If you are looking for a pre-Bouchercon guest blog, there isn't one today. Come back Thursday. Meantime, here's a review of another of the back-list titles from Bouchercon's Guest of Honor.

Title: Blood Work
Author: Michael Connelly
Length: ~450 pages
Genre: mystery
Plot Basics: Former FBI agent Terry McCaleb is happy to spend his days repairing his father's boat and taking life easy after his life-saving heart transplant. He was a top investigator, often cracking open cases that local police departments couldn't solve, finding new leads in cold cases. When Graciela comes to his boat, asking him to investigate the shooting death of her sister in a convenience story robbery, McCaleb's first inclination isn't too help. But Graciela convinces him and Terry takes on what might be the case of his life.
Banter Points: This is another one of Connelly's non-Harry Bosch books, though the Bosch history is helpful as McCaleb refers to some the cases solved in those stories. Word Nerd won't give away the cool twists, but she'll just say that she didn't see many of them coming. McCaleb isn't the tortured hero that Bosch is, and that's sort of refreshing.
Bummer Points: Word Nerd thinks she might be temporarily Michael Connelly-ed out. She's been reading him consistently to get ready for Bouchercon, but after some eight or nine Connelly titles in as many months, she's ready to switch series for a while.
Word Nerd Recommendation: If you are a Connelly fan, it's a fun read.

17 September 2009

Book Banter -- The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

Title: The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet
Author: Reif Larson
Genre: literary fiction
Length: ~380 pages
Plot Basics: T.S. (short for Tecumseh Sparrow) lives on a ranch near the continental divide in Montana, with his rancher father, scientist mother, and pop-obsessed older sister and the shadow of his dead younger brother. T.S. makes maps and drawings for scientific magazines and museums and one day, receives a call that he has won a prestigious award from the Smithsonian and needs to come to Washington D.C. It's clear, however, that the Smithsonian does not know he's 12. T.S. decides to accept the award and decides the only viable way to get to D.C. is to be a hobo on an east-bound train. Through his journey, he learns about himself, family, what it means to be an adult and comes to grips with his brother's death.
Banter Points: Larson's debut novel is completely endearing. The book is captivating with all the illustrations and diagrams in the margin that are intended to be T.S.'s own drawings. Additionally, T.S. is a fascinating character as he vacillates between 12-year-old logic and moments of adult insight.
Bummer Points: The ending. For as strong of a book as it was, Word Nerd was hoping for something else at the end. She's not sure quite what would have made it feel more satisfying to her, but something else (though the end did provide resolution.)
Word Nerd Recommendation: Read it! (And look for it on Word Nerd's Best of 2009 list at the end of the year.)

Pre-Bouchercon Guest Blogger #12 -- Roberta Isleib

Today's guest blogger, Roberta Isleib, lets us in on how she got an idea for a novel, through a real-world experience. Isleib attended her first Bouchercon in 1999 (Milwaukee, WI), desperately seeking publication, she knew no one in the mystery business. Many Bouchercon conventions later, she has had eight books published in the advice column and golf lovers mystery series (Berkley Prime Crime.) Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She is looking forward to meeting old friends and new in Indianapolis! http://www.robertaisleib.com

AN IDEA IS BORN by Roberta Isleib

Sometimes a powerful personal experience percolates for years, lying in wait for the right moment to work its way into a book. I can trace one event quite directly in the first Rebecca Butterman advice column mystery, DEADLY ADVICE (Berkley, March 2007.)

My first marriage petered out twenty years ago during the last year of my graduate program in clinical psychology. I took the cats and moved from our cozy starter home, which had included a dog, a garden, and a wood stove, to a tiny apartment in a row of tiny apartments. No families here, just single folks, and not the kind who led swinging singles’ lives.

The separation didn’t have a dramatic “War of the Roses” kind of climax, but it felt plenty sad all the same. Questions circled: Was I doing the right thing? Would I always be alone? If I disappeared, would anyone notice I was missing?

Answers drifted in: Yes, I was making the right move. Someday I’d sort this out and find a relationship that fired on all its cylinders. And please, lose the melodrama! This was a period of pulling in, marshalling the interior troops, mustering energy for my dissertation and internship—I was not seeking new friends.

Every morning, my taciturn next-door neighbor left for work at 7:30, returning by six. She had no visitors and rarely went out. We never really talked, just nodded our polite hellos. She didn’t bring over a “welcome to the neighborhood” casserole. We never had coffee. Some nights she’d appear outside on the sidewalk between her car and her apartment and grill one hamburger. Medium well, I’d think, considering the time it sat on the coals. We might have exchanged a word or two about the weather. How sad, I’d think. Is that me? I’d wonder next.

I returned to my apartment from the library one evening and noticed a small U-Haul parked in front of my neighbor’s apartment. An older couple was loading the contents of her place into the van. I waved but didn’t ask questions. It wasn’t my business; we weren’t friends.

Over coffee the next morning, I skimmed the Gainesville Sun as usual. My attention was drawn to a small article near the bottom of an interior page. Based on the address listed in the paper, I realized that my neighbor had shot herself several days earlier. Her dead body had lain in the apartment next to mine for over forty-eight hours before someone found her.

I felt shocked and sad. What if I’d tried harder to connect with her? Could I have saved her? What private misery led her to take her life in such a violent way? Isn’t this every single woman’s worst nightmare—dead two days and no one even notices you’re gone?

Twenty years later, that’s where DEADLY ADVICE begins. When Dr. Rebecca Butterman returns home to find her neighbor an apparent suicide, she's wracked with guilt. As a psychologist and advice columnist, she should have been able to help the young woman. But the young woman’s mother suspects foul play, and soon persuades Rebecca to investigate. Before long, the newly single Rebecca wishes she had someone to advise her as she navigates her neighbor’s world of speed-dating and web-blogging, where no one is who they claim to be.

She doesn’t save her neighbor—as I didn’t save mine—but she resolves to unravel the story behind this woman’s tragic end. And that’s why I love reading and writing mysteries. A story that’s rife with loose threads in real life can be all tied up in a hopeful way in a book.

16 September 2009

Characters I Wish I Could Meet

Word Nerd is borrowing this post idea from her writing buddy, Stacie, over at Stacie's Lists.

1. Gandalf, from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
2. Joanne Baldwin, from Rachel Caine's Weather Warden series
3. Halloween, from Nick Sagan's Idlewild trilogy
4. Bren Cameron, from C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner series
5. Vlad Taltos, Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos series

Who would you want to meet?

15 September 2009

Pre-Bouchercon Guest Blogger #11 -- Chris Roerden

Not to short change the editors who work their magic to make the craft of us writers into something really amazing, we're visited by Chris Roerden. Chris is a career editor whose Don’t Murder Your Mystery won the Agatha Award and was nominated for the 2007 Anthony, Macavity, and ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year. Authors she’s edited have been published by St. Martin’s, Berkley Prime Crime, Midnight Ink, Viking, Oceanview, and Walker & Co., to name a few. Today she shares some secrets for how to make the most of the Bouchercon experience.

Who Knew? A Handful of Secrets
by Chris Roerden

More than any other venue, Bouchercon offers the opportunity to see more mystery authors in one weekend acting in ways more raucous, shy, modest, nerdy, down-to-earth, and funny than you never pictured while reading their fiction.

I know not to visualize characters as stand-ins for their creators, but I often do anyway (don’t you?) — at least until each year’s Bouchercon turns the fantasy to reality. If you, like me, had not seen Harlan Coben before last year in Baltimore, who knew he was twice my height? So is Hank Phillippi Ryan, who’s also twice as glamorous as I am, but that’s another story.

Despite my having admired the quick-wittedness of Laura Lippman’s P.I. Tess Monaghan on paper, I had not expected to be completely charmed by the author in person as she exchanged quick comebacks with panelists and fans. Who (among the general reading public, that is) knew?

On at Bcon
Because of Bcon, as many refer to it in our abbrevd ecom, we’re also introd (stop that) to more NEW writers whom we’ll want to read if for no other reason than the interesting and unexpected remarks we hear them make on panels and maybe after hours. Each year that I attend I learn more, meet more, network more, and go home energized more, er . . . more energized.

Speaking of funny and quick-witted authors, don’t miss Cathy Pickens as moderator of the panel “Southern Voices.” I’m proud of having proposed the topic last year and this. Cathy’s revelations of the secret meanings hiding behind familiar southernisms had last year’s audiences howling with laughter. This hit will replay in Indianapolis with my picks of Cathy Pickens (Can’t Never Tell, Hush My Mouth, Done Gone Wrong, and more); Vicki Lane (In a Dark Season in the Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian mysteries); T. Lynn Ocean (Southern Peril in the Jersey Barnes series); and Scott Pearson (whose first two medical mysteries, starting with Rupture, I had the privilege of editing). I look forward to meeting Deborah Sharp (Mama Rides Shotgun) who’s also on the panel, and I’d like to say “Bless Your Heart” except that I now know what the expression really means.

This year I was picked to moderate the panel “Guidance from Writing Guides,” where James Scott Bell, Kathy Lynn Emerson, Hallie Ephron, Nancy Pickard, and I discuss the elements of great fiction from the perspective of our having deconstructed mysteries, analyzed how they are put together, and revealed the secrets of writing fiction in our own nonfiction.

Who’s learning?
Another treat not to be missed is the first national Sisters in Crime writing workshop, SinC Into Great Writing. It’s being held the afternoon and evening of Wednesday, October 14, the day before Bouchercon officially begins, from 1:30 to 9 pm. Here’s where writers, published and not yet there, get to soak up 4 hours of instruction in “Writing the Breakout Novel” from Donald Maass, famed NY literary agent. After that you’ll be ready to chow down a great dinner, with Nancy Pickard telling “Tales of Survival in the Mystery Business," including what happened to her when her first editor got fired.

Next you’ll endure the agony of choosing between Hallie Ephron and me and our simultaneous 2-hour workshops on craft. Hallie deals expertly with plot and how to get secrets to fall into place along the way so readers keep turning the pages. The secrets I deal with are how the majority of manuscripts sabotage themselves, how they are actually handled when submitted, and how writers can develop the indefinable writer’s voice that agents and acquiring editors are genuinely looking for, even in a slow market.

My final secret, which I’m sharing absolutely free, is that nonmembers can save $60 by first joining this vibrant organization of sisters and brothers, thereby getting all its benefits for the extremely modest dues of $40, and not having to pay the nonmember fee for the workshop. But seating is limited and filling fast.

If a math-impaired editor like me could figure out what a good deal this 7.5-hour content-packed workshop is for only $50, including food, anyone could. So I can’t say who knew. The only mystery is why this bargain isn’t being shouted out in libraries and bookstores everywhere.
Say, when our paths cross in Indianapolis next month, as they will many times, please stop me to say hello and let me know if you met me here. If we miss each other, I answer questions about writing, revising, and getting published on my Amazon blog. Shortcut: http://snurl.com/editorsblog and my website is http://writersinfo.info/

14 September 2009

Andrew Peterson's North! Or Be Eaten Blog Tour (AKA Book Banter)

Title: North! Or Be Eaten (Wingfeather Saga bk. 2)
Author: Andrew Peterson
Genre: fantasy
Length: 323 pages
Plot Basics: (some spoilers, if you haven't read the first one...)

Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby thought they were normal children with normal lives and a normal past. But now they know they’re really the Lost Jewels of Anniera, heirs to a legendary kingdom across the sea, and suddenly everyone wants to kill them. Their escape brings takes them to the very brink of Fingap Falls, over the Stony Mountains, and across the Ice Prairies, while villains galore try to stop the Igibys permanently. Fearsome toothy cows and horned hounds return, along with new dangers: a mad man running a fork factory, a den of rockroaches, and majestic talking sea dragons.

Banter Points: Word Nerd seriously wishes that these books had been written when she was about 10-12 years old because they are absolutely endearing and full of the sort of inventiveness and imagination she craved around that age. But what makes it really great is that they are still a great read for an adult, a cross-over that doesn't always work.

Through the story, Peterson quietly lauds the virtues that we want children to possess -- honesty, loyalty, family, creativity, compassion for others, self-confidence, and an understanding that actions have consequences. While the story is a great page-turner with one narrow escape after another, these values (which also under gird Peterson's songwriting) are a firm foundation for the characters and a platform on which the whole story rests comfortably. It's nice to see a story for younger readers that isn't preachy about good characteristics, and doesn't extol lying (like Harry Potter), meanness (like all Gossip Girls books and their ilk) or the supernatural (like Twilight and the legion of of YA vampire books.)

In addition to the deeper roots of the story, Peterson just tells a darn good yarn. From the wildly inventive origins of Aerwiar to the soul-sucking fork-factory to the dramatic appearance of the sea dragons, Peterson has the pulse of a good story and keeps readers hooked.
Bummer Points: Word Nerd's not going to say why, but make sure you have a box of Kleenex handy at a couple spots through the story. Peterson pulls real emotions from his characters and since he makes them so lively, he brings the reader right along in the sorrows and triumphs of the Igiby children.
Word Nerd Recommendation: As with her recommendation on the first Wingfeather book, Word Nerd recommends these as a great read aloud pick for parents of older kids. Somewhere after Chronicles of Narnia and before introducing kids to Hazel and Fiver (of Watership Down) or Frodo and co., Janner, Tink and Leeli should be an enjoyable read.

10 September 2009

Pre-Bouchercon Guest Blogger #10 -- Brandt Dodson

Move over, Fox Mulder. Today's pre-Bouchercon blogger -- Brandt Dodson -- knows a thing or two about the FBI (he used to work there) and now, his protagonist, Colton Parker, used to work there too. Here, Dodson explains how his past with the FBI has influenced his writing.

The FBI and Me
by Brandt Dodson – Author of the Indianapolis-based, Colton Parker series

I’m a man. That means I like the things that most men like. I shoot guns, follow boxing, lift weights, eat steak (rare), watch military /action /western movies (John Wayne is still tops with me), and read fiction that is testosterone-driven and that allows me to live vicariously through the male lead. I read Tom Clancy, Jack Higgins, Robert B. Parker, Vince Flynn, and Raymond Chandler along with a little Hemingway thrown in for good measure. Consequently, it was no surprise that when I began to write and publish I would choose a genre that attracts a strong male readership and that would feature a character with whom most men can identify – even if they don’t always admire him. And, like most writers, when it came to developing the right character, I found myself being heavily influenced by the life I’ve lived. In my case, that meant the FBI.

I was born into a family of police officers. My mother’s family (cousins, uncles, and aunts) were members of the Indianapolis Police Department going back as far as the early 1930’s. My father was a Marion County Deputy Sheriff (Marion is the county in which Indianapolis is located) for almost forty years, and I have a cousin who is the current Chief of Police in Mooresville, Indiana, the town which gave birth to John Dillinger. The result of all this influence was that when it came time to decide on a career, it was a foregone conclusion that I would choose law enforcement. That being the case, there is no better police agency than the FBI (which, by the way, is neither “police” nor “agency”. It’s a bureau of investigators. Hence the name.)

I began my career as a clerk just prior to my 19th birthday with the intention of finishing my degree and joining the ranks of the bureau’s Special Agents. It was a job I thoroughly loved.
During my employment with the FBI, I met and talked with foreign intelligence agents, bank robbers, serial killers, bombers, and would-be assassins. I had a high-level security clearance and was privy to information involving national security and domestic terrorism – and all of this prior to my twenty-first birthday.

But as time progressed, and I began to learn - truly learn – about myself, I knew that I would have to embark on another career track. This change in career lead me into medicine, so I left the FBI in 1981, but I left with a level of respect for the men and women who work there that was as high as it was before I started my employment. That level of respect is even higher today.

The FBI is comprised of people who take their job very seriously – recognizing that they are often the first (and sometimes, only) barrier between a calm and orderly society and the people who would tear that society apart. The Bureau (a term commonly used by FBI employees) functions as a team and by doing so, rises or sinks on the weakest link in that chain. It is no wonder, then, that “failures” such as Robert Hansen, the FBI agent who was brought down by an FBI clerk for spying on the U.S., stain the reputation of all the good men and women who do their job admirably. His arrest stained me, and I’ve been gone from the FBI for almost 28 years. (Gee, that’s along time. In fact, I just read where the Deputy Director of the FBI, who will be speaking at my alma mater, The University of Indianapolis, in October, began his career two years after I left.)

When I began my Colton Parker series, I initially envisioned a man who was as suave as Matt Helm, as debonair as Napoleon Solo, and as deadly as James Bond. Instead, what I ended up with was an ex-FBI agent who was fired because he couldn’t function as part of the team. And that weakness haunts him still. I also chose Indianapolis as my setting since it was the Indianapolis Field Office in which I was employed, and because I know the underbelly of that city in a way that most do not.

Colton is an amalgam of people I’ve known (yes, including me) and he is a solo-flyer; he is true loner whose only friend (and burgeoning love interest) is FBI Special Agent Mary Christopher.
When I created the series I knew that, despite my initial desire for a super-human character, I would need an average man. Someone who does right, but does it wrong. I wanted a man who has his heart in the right place (as most men do) and with whom most men could identify. So I chose to give him an FBI background, because the people who populate the Bureau are, first and foremost, people who care. But since I wanted a PI – a fictional PI – one who could work outside the law, I had to get him out of the FBI. No one who shares Colton’s proclivities could work there for long. As I’ve said, the FBI is a team in which no one person rises above the organization. (At least, not now. Although Hoover unquestionably promoted himself above the Bureau that is another discussion entirely).

So, twenty-five years after I left the FBI, the Bureau’s influence on me is still profound. Colton Parker was born out of that influence, and I’m glad that he was. He’s a better character for having served with the FBI, despite his failures, and I’m a better writer for it.

For more information on the Colton Parker series or the FBI:

09 September 2009

August Bibliometer

It's been a while since Word Nerd updated the bibliometer, but August was a good month for reading.

10 books
3,525 pages
113 pages/day (average)

64 books
20,813 total pages

Comparing year-to-year, Word Nerd's behind from 2008. Last year, in total, she read 98 books, but at the rate she's going this year, it may only be in the mid-80s range. Which is OK.

08 September 2009

Bouchercon Guest Blogger #9 -- Joanna Campbell Slan

Say hello to Guest Blogger #9 -- (sorry for any musical references that may drum up in your heads.) Joanna Campbell Slan is an author, but she's also a Hoosier and shares this week a great memory about growing up in Indiana.

Back Home Again to a Place I Love

By Joanna Campbell Slan

Every family has its traditions and fond memories. Most of mine go back to living in Indiana. We loved growing up there! In fact, whenever a road trip brought us back home, my sisters and I would be on the look out for the big “Welcome to INDIANA” state sign. The moment we crossed the state line, we’d break out into a chorus of “Back Home Again in Indiana.” (I still do this even today!)

I love Hoosiers. They are hard-scrabble, hard-working folks. They love speed (like at Indy), but they also understand the joy of taking one’s time. They are good neighbors and lifelong friends. They know how to take the simplest of things and create a good time. Hoosiers are good at understanding that complex does not necessarily equal better.

As a kid growing up in Vincennes, none of us had any money. But we never ran out of fun stuff to do. Especially in the summer. We would turn hollyhock blossoms upside down and pretend they were fairy princesses with frilly dresses. (Toothpicks made the arms, and we stuck on paper faces. We would suck the nectar out of honeysuckle flowers. We used wooden clothespins to clip playing cards to our bike spokes so we could pretend to be riding motorcycles. We would flatten heavy cardboard boxes and slide down the levee of the sluggish Wabash.

Best of all, we used to make “boxcars” and pull them behind us and our bicycles after dark. A boxcar is a pretend train car made out of a shoebox and lit from the inside out. On a hot summer night, a parade of “boxcars” moving along a city sidewalk is a moment of surreal beauty. Here’s how to make one:

1. Get a sturdy empty box you can seal shut. A shoe box is ideal, but a small cardstock box also will work. The box must be able to rest on the ground without tipping over, and a big flat bottom is best. (For the box! Not the crafter!)

2. Attach a string by running it through a small hole in one side (about middle of the way up). Tie it to a small stick or tape it down so it won’t pull out.

3. Cut decorative holes in the box. These will be “windows” and your light will shine out. (Think of Jack-O-Lanterns, but remember this is summer. We favored trying to turn our boxes into real train cars.) You can put colored cellophane behind the holes if you wish. That way your windows will be different colors.

4. Get a candle (the shorter the better, votives work well as do old birthday cake candles) and an empty tuna fish can. Adhere the candle to the can by letting the candle wax drip and pushing the unlit end into the gummy mess. Now using double-stick tape, you glue the can to the center bottom of your empty box.

5. SAFER and more modern way: Buy a cheap flashlight or any battery operated light. Even one of those glow sticks will do. Stick it in the box.

6. Close up your box.

7. Pull the string and drag it around behind you as you yell, “Choo! Choo!”

Now, you’re a happening Hoosier!

# # #

Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of Paper, Scissors, Death, an Agatha Award nominee for Best First Novel. Visit her at http://www.joannaslan.com/ She will be attending Bouchercon, where she will be in charge of a session on scrapbooking.

03 September 2009

Boucheron Guest Blogger #8 -- Rachel Brady

Please give a warm welcome to the 8th Bouchercon blogger, Rachel Brady. Today she's sharing about coming out from being a closet writer to being an author. For more info about Rachel you can check out her website or her blog.

Closet Writers: Not that there’s anything wrong with that, by Rachel Brady

I’m delighted to visit Word Nerd as part of Bethany’s Bouchercon Authors series. The upcoming Indianapolis event will be my first Bouchercon Convention and I’m wildly excited for the opportunity to go interact with so many other mystery-loving Word Nerds.

Another recent first for me was the release of Final Approach, my debut mystery. When Bethany and I exchanged ideas about this post, she suggested I might describe how I took the manuscript from idea, to draft, to publication. I nearly followed up with that, but then something interesting happened to change my mind. For those interested in the evolution of my book, you can read about the process in abbreviated form here. But today I’m curious to know whether there are any closet writers reading this?

I wrote in the closet for a very long time.

After reading mysteries for several years, it occurred to me that I never, ever, not a single time, figured out whodunit. This bothered me. How did the authors manage to trick me every time? I might simply have a slow wick, I knew, but it was easier on the ego to credit authors with a mastery of misdirection. I started to wonder if maybe I could do it too. I almost didn’t dare think it, and certainly never asked it aloud. But I decided to try. And I wrote in secret because I worried that telling people what I was doing would come across as either arrogant or pitiful. And worst of all, if I failed, everyone would know.

Before I signed the contract for Final Approach, only four people (outside my family and critique group) knew I’d been working on a book. Four! Even once it was assigned a cover and a release date, I remained tight-lipped. By then it felt like I’d been misleading the world. How do you tell somebody you see every day, who doesn’t even know that you like to write, that you have a new book out? I feared it would be perceived as a weird kind of betrayal. Spreading word about the book release in my personal sphere has been oddly uncomfortable although everyone has been totally supportive, excited, and encouraging in all ways I could have hoped and many I’d never imagined.

Another thing happened, the part that inspired the topic for this post. It seemed people everywhere began to confess to me that they, too, enjoy writing. Engineers and scientists at work, social friends, folks from the gym. What? We all write? And we’ve known each other how long and this hasn’t come up yet?

Why do we do this to ourselves? We write in a closet until it’s comfortable to peek out. For me it took publication. Looking back I find that borderline clinical. Certainly, few if any of the people I mentioned would have come forward to tell me about their secret writing lives had they not first known that I was guilty of this pleasure myself. This makes a girl wonder. It’s dark and lonely in the closet and now I ask myself why I stayed in there as long as I did.
So to the closet writers out there, I get you. I really do. Writers like us are scribbling in secret notebooks and opening hidden Word files everywhere. I hope that hearing this will make your private writing world a little bit brighter.

And if you’re a closet writer attending Bouchercon, let’s meet for drinks and talk shop. Your secret’s safe with me.

01 September 2009

Bouchercon Guest Blogger #7 -- Austin Camacho

The pre-Boucheron guest blog tour rolls on this fine Tuesday with author Austin Camacho. Camacho is the author of five detective novels in the Hannibal Jones series - Blood and Bone, Collateral Damage, The Troubleshooter, Damaged Goods and Russian Roulette.

The Eternal Question – How Do I Get Published? – by Austin S. Camacho

I talk to a lot of authors who ask me to read a sample of their novels, which I almost always do. I see a lot of work that looks well written, heartfelt work by writers who have something important to say. But these days their most frequent question isn’t about craft or concept. More likely I’m asked, “How do I go from here to getting someone interested in perhaps publishing this thing? What’s the next step?”

That’s the question, isn’t it? Especially when often I don't think even the well-written books are particularly commercial. Of course, that's just one opinion. If I was an expert I’d already have that million-dollar advance.But even great manuscripts won't appeal to every publisher, so I strongly recommend they get their book in front of the right publisher as agented submissions. And if the writer is working in my genre, crime fiction, these are books that not every agent will know how to promote. Your novel might not be the kind of thing that would get my agent excited but I’m sure there are people out there who would love to represent it. That leads me to two major recommendations for getting started.First, invest in a copy of the Writer’s Market. That book lists all the best agents, their contact information and what they’re looking for. Go thru those listings and submit to those that are looking for the kind of thing you write. The Writer’s Market will tell you what each agent wants to see (sample chapters, outline, sometimes just a letter with a synopsis.) Second, Google “Writers convention” and “Writers Conference” to find these events in your area. You should attend any public event that offers a chance to speak with and network with authors, agents and editors. These connections make your manuscript more welcome when it turns up on someone’s desk. Sending a book to an agent or editor you’ve met in person is a million times better than sending to a stranger.

And if you’re a mystery writer, Bouchercon is the one writer’s event worth travelling cross country for. This is where you can chat with people writing in your genre to learn how they made it. You can also talk to people who read your genre. They can tell you what they’re looking for in a new novel. And you’ll find that just answering the obvious questions like "what's it about?" and "what makes your book different from all the others?" can help you make your manuscript better.

And in case you’re wondering – I met the editor who eventually published Blood and Bone at a writer’s conference. I didn’t meet my agent at a con, but I did meet the author who introduced me to her at Book Expo America. I hope I meet YOU at this year’s Bouchercon.