Friday, April 30, 2010

It's Not Just the Life in Your dogs, It's the Dogs in Your Life that Count by Joanna Campbell Slan

Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of the Agatha-nominated Paper, Scissors, Death, featuring single mom and scrapbooker-turned-sleuth, Kiki Lowenstein. The second book in the series—Cut, Crop & Die—was released June 2009. Photo, Snap, Shot is now available for pre-ordering at  You can read an excerpt from Photo, Snap, Shot at

It’s Not Just the Life in Your Dogs, It’s the Dogs in Your Life that Count By Joanna Campbell Slan    

Recently, Entrepreneur Magazine announced its list of ten hot trends for the coming decade. Trend number ten-and-a-half on the list was pet-ownership.

 Boy, I saw that one coming.

 Here’s the scoop: Love me, love my dogs. It’s just that simple.

 We’re a package deal.

 Yes, I have a thing for cats, too. If my husband and I weren’t so allergic to them, we’d have several kitties. (Although I’d probably stop before I collected seven, like my friend Shari has.)

  Seriously, if a creature has fur and legs, I’m all for it. And it doesn’t have to have the requisite FOUR limbs either. My Bichon-poodle mix rescue pup Rafferty only has three legs. When SPCA found him, Raffie was holding his right rear leg pitifully and not putting weight on it. The vet at the animal shelter thought the leg was broken. It wasn’t. Raffie had been left outside in the elements so long that the fur wrapped around the limb, cutting off the blood supply. Although the vet tried to save Raffie’s leg, it eventually had to be amputated.

 But you’d never know Raffie was one leg short. Trust me. People watch him run around, jump up, and never realize Raffie’s missing ANYTHING, unless they stop and do a paw count. As my son says, “Rafferty falls down, he gets back up. He doesn’t waste time feeling bad. He just enjoys life. Raffie could teach anyone a lesson in not feeling sorry for yourself.”

 I can’t imagine a home without pets. Actually, I don’t think a domicile qualifies for “HOME” status unless it’s co-inhabited by fur children. My husband works long hours. My son is off at college. My life would be awfully lonely without my pets.

  My dogs are my friends; the constants in my life. When we moved to the metro Washington DC area from St. Louis four months ago, I knew I had at least two pals I could rely on: Rafferty and Vicky, my BDF (Best Dogs Forever). They sat in the passenger seat for the 882-mile drive. They were model citizens at the hotels where we stopped along the way.
  Okay, mostly model citizens. There was that one incident when the maid ignored the “Do Not Disturb” sign, and Rafferty felt compelled to play guard dog. He has a powerful “woof” but he’s really just a lover-boy. I guess when you’ve been abused, you want to protect a family that treats you like top-dog. He sure does.

 Vicky and Raffie rode beside me into my new life, and even as I cried a little to say goodbye to our home of 17 years, I knew that as long as I had my dogs, I’d be fine.

  And I am.

 Thanks in part to my dogs. They keep me sane.

 Being an author means spending days and hours alone in front of a computer.  Being a writer means you spend a lot of time with imaginary playmates. My dogs rescue me from myself by forcing me to return to the real world. Rafferty gets hungry around five o’clock. He’ll start nudging me, bumping my elbow, which makes typing really tough. Vicky, my little girl Bichon, takes up the challenge and starts licking me, which makes concentrating difficult. So by about five-thirty, I’m ready to take a break, even if I do come back and work more later. Writing is a very addictive process. If my dogs didn’t interrupt me, I might never, ever move from this spot.

 Shoot, let’s be honest. If they didn’t force me to get up and go out, I might never have a REAL life at all.

 Furthermore, I get my best ideas while we go on walkies. Long, long walkies. In hot weather and cold, in rain and in snow, on sidewalks and down paths. They sniff; I think. They explore; I plot. They piddle; I shout, “Eureka!”

 So, the next time you see my byline on a book, go ahead and smile. Sure, it’s my name on the cover. But you know I had two furry co-authors. Just don’t tell my publisher, okay? 

Photos courtesy of the Connection Newspapers. Taken by Donna Manz.

The Edgars - 2010

Mystery Writers of America has announced the Winners for the 2010 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction,non-fiction and television published or produced in 2009. The Edgar® Awards were presented to the winners at their 64th Gala Banquet, April 29, 2010 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City.


The Last Child by John Hart (Minotaur Books)


In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff (Minotaur Books)


Body Blows by Marc Strange (Dundurn Press – Castle Street Mysteries)


Columbine by Dave Cullen (Hachette Book Group - Twelve)


The Lineup: The World’s Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives edited by Otto Penzler (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown and Company)


"Amapola" – Phoenix Noir by Luis Alberto Urrea (Akashic Books)


Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Books)


Reality Check by Peter Abrahams (HarperCollins Children’s Books – HarperTeen)


"Place of Execution," Teleplay by Patrick Harbinson (PBS/WGBH Boston)


"A Dreadful Day" – Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine by Dan Warthman (Dell Magazines)


Dorothy Gilman


Mystery Lovers Bookshop, Oakmont, Pennsylvania
Zev Buffman, International Mystery Writers’ Festival


Poisoned Pen Press (Barbara Peters & Robert Rosenwald)

(Presented at MWA’s Agents & Editors Party on Wednesday, April 28, 2010)

Awakening by S.J. Bolton (Minotaur Books)
Our sincere congratulations to all the winners AND all the nominees 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bridges to Memories by Mary Reed

Mary Reed is co-author with Eric Mayer of the historical novel series featuring John, Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian. The eighth entry, Eight For Eternity, appeared in April 2010 and is set during the murderous Nika Riots of 532, which destroyed much of Constantinople and almost cost Justinian the throne. Details about the series and their other writings plus essays on a variety of topics, links to etexts of Golden Age mysteries and classic supernatural tales, a list of mystery author freebies, and much more can be found on their website at

Bridges to Memories
by Mary Reed

Imagine my delight when I read this year's Crimefest conference in the UK is co-sponsoring a special programme item offering a conversation with Mike Hodges and a screening of the original version of Get Carter, which he directed.

Get Carter features Michael Caine returning to Newcastle-on-Tyne in northeastern England to establish the true circumstances of his brother's death. In the process he wreaks havoc in the local criminal underworld and the whole thing ends in tears, as noir films so often do.

Unfortunately for me, I'm unable to attend Crimefest, for although I've viewed the film several times, I still enjoy seeing its familiar settings, especially now many of them have changed or been demolished in the march of time and progress.

Locations in the film bring back pleasant recollections of growing up in the grimy industrial city. Pink Lane, where Jack advises his niece not to trust boys -- oh, the irony of it! -- stirs faint memories of tripe purchases in a shop in that narrow alleyway, and glimpses of the quayside recall to mind the Sunday morning market to which my brother would sometimes take my younger sister and I. After a bus ride along Scotswood Road from Elswick we'd gulp down huge glasses of made-on-the spot sarsaparilla and buy bulging bags of assorted sweeties from our shilling a week pocket money.

Though the green arch of theTyne Bridge shadowing the quay is a Newcastle icon it did not feature strongly in the film, whereas two of the other bridges spanning the river made appearances: the Swing Bridge and the High Level Bridge.

I must point out however our wallpaper was not as shocking as some shown in the film, as my mother generally favoured white with a discreet stripe and tiny motif. Nor were our back stairs roofed like those in the back lane scene with the six-chimneyed Dunston Power Station belching smoke in the far background, though our street was only a few bus stops away.

During the Inspector Morse series my family got sick of me exclaiming "Hey, that's the Ashmolean Museum, I worked right around the corner and used to boggle at its Pre-Raphaelite paintings in my lunch hour!" or "The Trout Inn in Woodstock! I lived  twenty minutes' walk away from there and sometimes imbibed a lemonade on that very terrace!" Filmed largely in and around Oxford, the settings provide quite a contrast to Newcastle -- though Morse's sidekick Lewis has a Geordie accent, meaning he's from Newcastle or elsewhere on Tyneside. Given the softness of Lewis' speech, if pressed I would guess he was from the County Durham side of the river, possibly Gateshead. Thinks: *was* his home town ever revealed?

Since we've managed to come back to the old stamping grounds, the 1950s thriller The Clouded Yellow starring Trevor Howard and the lovely Jean Simmons is in my opinion an overlooked gem, a Hitchcockian drama about a young woman (Simmons) falsely accused of murder and her subsequent flight from police and other interested parties with the aid of a former secret service operative (Howard). During the chase, the couple go to Newcastle, where at one point they emerge from a chare (a very narrow alley, often with steps and landings, leading down between warehouses and other buildings to the river bank or the quayside), which is more or less where we came in.

How about you? Have you seen a familiar place on-screen?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lost (and Found) in Books by Barbara Fister

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, where she buys books with other peoples’ money, shows students the ropes of research, and teaches courses on international crime fiction, research strategies, and the place of books in contemporary culture. She writes a weekly column and occasional features for Library Journal, reviews books for Mystery Scene Magazine and Reviewing the Evidence, blogs about Scandinavian crime fiction, and looks for time to write her own mysteries. Her second Anni Kokinen mystery, Through the Cracks, comes out in May. According to Publishers Weekly, “thoughtful attention to the complexities of police work and social justice lift this gritty mystery well above the norm. Koskinen's empathy with both cops and victims as well as her fierce, brittle independence make her easy to root for." 

Lost (and Found) in Books
by Barbara Fister

Victor Nell, a psychologist, conducted experiments to find out how using your eyes to decipher squiggles on sheets of paper can immerse us in an imaginary experience that somehow offers transcendence from everyday life. What’s going on in our heads when we’re “lost in a book”? What is it that leads us to hit the pause button on our own existence, check our prejudices, personal history, and time/space coordinates at the door, and deliver ourselves willingly to a vicarious experience, spending hours absorbed in an activity that has no practical purpose? In Lost in a Book, Nell called this phenomenon ludic, which comes from the Latin word for “play,” though it is one Latin root that has very nearly disappeared from our language. (Have our lives have become too purposeful?) When we’re in this peculiar state of mind, we are no longer aware we are reading, only aware of the sensations and events in the story itself.

Ludic reading isn’t indolent escapism, however. Though critics of the novel in the 19^th century warned that reading fiction was like using opium, a drug that induced craving for more, but dulled the intellect, reading fiction actually engages more of the mind than many other activities, such as watching a story on film. Reading can be so intense an experience that it shuts out all other distractions and becomes totally absorbing. And it’s a form of thinking that engages both cognitive and emotional parts of the brain. Other researchers have found reading fiction can enhances one’s ability to engage in empathy, appreciate diversity, and understand social issues better than non-narrative forms of writing can do. Reading for pleasure can help us understand ourselves and the world.

Yet curiously, one of the defining qualities of this kind of reading tends to be that it doesn’t serve any purpose other than itself. When we read for pleasure, we aren’t seeking information, but what we encounter enters our knowledge base. We come away from a book knowing more than we ever thought we wanted to know about Laos or change ringing in English churches or how to crack a safe. We are learning—but without ever having to worry whether what we’re reading will be on the test.

I think there’s a corollary, ludic writing. When I was drafting the final chapters of my third mystery, Through the Cracks, I finally had enough time away from work to focus, and the story was far enough along that it began to take on a momentum of its own. That’s when I realized that much as I enjoy the nuts and bolts of writing—the crafting of sentences, the pacing of a scene, the constant revising that trims out the unnecessary bits or finds a new way to hide important information in plain sight—there is a very different kind of writing experience, a transcendent state that is intensely pleasurable. When I finally reached that point, it ceased to be craft and became an alternate reality, more vivid, more intense than real life. During those weeks, I would emerge from the story, confused about what day it was, what month—because the moment I had been in was ticking away on book-time.

I told my husband that it reminded me of playing “let’s pretend” when I was a kid, another experience that was all-immersive. We’d set up a scenario, become other people, and leap into an improvised world, only coming back to earth when we heard our parents calling for us to come in. “No, it’s not dark yet,” we’d argue, though it was. Our eyes had so gradually adjusted to twilight, we hadn’t noticed the stars coming out. Those summer evenings were a special in-between place, where anything could happen, but when it was time, we knew we’d always find our way home.

When we read or write fiction, we’re remembering something that was lost at around age twelve, when self-consciousness became too demanding to allow ourselves the pleasure of imaginary play. We’re too busy creating a self that will fit into the world, too aware of ourselves, yet at the same time too insecure about who we’re becoming, to leap wholeheartedly into an improvised imaginary world.

But that magic isn’t gone for good. When I read a mystery that works so well that everything else fades away, or when I’m writing a story and forget what time it is, it’s almost like being back in that summer twilight: our eyes have adjusted to the dark, our imaginations are fully open. Anything can happen, but we’ll still get home safe.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Beach Trip, Beach Reads, AND a Give-Away

A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in.  
 ~Robert Orben

And that's the truth! 

And that's what Donald and Harley and I are looking forward to in just a few weeks.


A whole week of . . . .

            no firm plans

                   no firm schedule

                           loads of leisure time

and lots of reading . . . .

And we'll be doing it at the beach.

Some of you have been kind enough to listen to me moan and groan about vacation since this past winter when it snowed practically every single day for weeks and weeks and weeks.  And if we weren't getting snow we were getting ice.  I was pretty much a wussie about it all and started my beach vacation count down as soon as we put the Christmas decorations away.  

Thank you all for being so patient with my whining.   Good things come to good people, you know.  And to thank you for being such good people I'm having a give-away.  

But first you have to allow me to squeal about our upcoming vacation!  otay?!

Hey - I'm not above a little blackmail here.  LOL!

“Don't grow up too quickly, lest you forget how much you love the beach.”
-- Michelle Held

“Why do we love the sea? It is because it has some potent power to make us think things we like to think.”
--Robert Henri

“The Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
--Jacques Cousteau

“The waves of the sea
Help me get back to me.”
--Jill Davis

“The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea.”
--Isak Dinesen

We're headed back to one of our favorite places on God's green earth

AND -  we'll be celebrating 24 years of marriage. 

We both love the beach, and both feel a primal connection to the water that is impossible to explain to someone who doesn't feel it.  Not everyone loves the beach and not everyone feels the urge or understands the need that Donald and I both feel when it comes to the water.  His comes, I guess, from being born an Aquarius.  Mine comes, I suppose, from being born and raised on the water.  As much as I love our little mountain home, I miss being on the water and have this deep and constant need to travel to the coast and wiggle my toes in the waves.

So, this is a vacation that will also include . . . .

              long walks on the beach

                            long naps 

long periods of time just sitting on the deck watching the waves

and lots of reading

 And we'll pick up pretty shells and sea glass

and we'll eat when we want, maybe  probably at odd times

      and we'll have lots and lots of seafood (and continue our lifelong hunt for perfect pizza)

             and we'll take little trips to explore the island

                  and we'll rent movies to watch on TV and

we'll read

And we'll watch gorgeous sunrises from our deck

and gorgeous sunsets along the sound

and we'll probably play Canasta

                and Scrabble

                            and we'll watch Harley being silly

and read

lots and lots of reading . . . 

oh boy.

I  love having a stack of books with me while I'm at the beach.

This year at the top of the stack is Anne Morrow Lindberg's "Gift from the Sea."  This is the only "old" book I'm taking with me.  It's a book I re-read often, and can't imagine not having it close at hand.  Anne Morrow Lindberg wrote this eloquent book of essays while at the beach; Captiva Islanda, FL.  She writes about solitude and her contentment with it.  There are passages about the ocean and about the beach, and about things every woman thinks about and ponders; age, marriage, relationships, etc.  The gifts from the sea are the shells she collects - “One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach; one can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few."  

I think women universally can feel an attachment and an understanding to this lovely little book, and if you're in love with the beach, and feel the need to renew yourself there, as I do  - the connection will be even stronger.

And some of the other books I'll be dragging along with us are some new ones by some of my favorite authors.  Lucky me that so many were released just in time for our trip to the beach! Yay!

Here's some that I think will be going with me, unless I give in and read them before we go . . .

Book 18 in the China Bayles Series by Susan Wittig Albert

Book 18 in the Mrs. Murphy Series by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown

A "new to me" writer - Dan Chaon.  A highly recommended book by a couple folks I trust.

Stand-Alone by Harlan Coben

Book 16 in the Inspector Lynley Series by Elizabeth George

Book 22 in the Richard Jury Series by Martha Grimes

Book Three in the Bride Quartet by Nora Roberts

Tenth Book in the Mary Russell Series by Laurie King (I was a lucky winner of an ARC for this - Yay!!)

Book Five in the Monkeewrench Series by P. J. Tracy (its been four years since the last one!)

Tenth book in the Bay Tanner Series by Kathryn Wall

and a book that's getting lots of attention.  I had several people recommend this one  -

Will I read them all while we're gone?!   Probably not - but, maybe.   Who knows which I might be in the mood for - different books do fit different moods after all.  And then too - it could rain every day . . .   Laws, I hope not!  I don't mind a rainy day or two while we're at the beach, but not a whole week's worth!  Cross your fingers for us that that won't happen!

And now . . . . . 

Our Give-Away!


Leave a comment telling me what you're looking forward to reading this summer, along with your email address, and I'll toss your name into the virtual hat.  

The winning name wins . . . . . 


I loved this book.  It's the first of the Father Tim novels -  not one of the Mitford series.  It's a little different  from Ms. Karon's usual fare and has Father Tim facing some tough stuff from his past.  Some things he's had a difficult time facing head on, but finally decides he needs to come to terms with.   And I wish she'd hurry on with things and give us the next in the series - I am hooked!

I'll draw the winning name this Sunday evening, April 25 - check back here to see who the winner is.

FCC Disclosure
this copy of
is one I bought.
I have not received a copy of this book from the publisher or from the author or from any other interested party.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It's Never Too Late to Start by Chester Campbell

Chester Campbell was born in Nashville, TN in the midst of the Roaring Twenties. When he was a kid, he loved to read short stories in magazines like The Saturday Evening Post and Liberty. He never thought about writing until shortly before he was discharged from the Army Air Corps at the end of World War II. He was in the first class (1949) to complete the journalism curriculum at the University of Tennessee. The rest, as they say, is history. He currently writes the Greg McKenzie and Sid Chance PI series.

It’s Never Too Late to Start
by Chester Campbell

I can’t believe I’ve been retired for twenty-one years. Come June 30^th , that’ll be the case. The last of many jobs I held, all related in some way to writing, was management of a Tennessee trade association where I edited a bi-monthly magazine. Prior to that I had been a newspaper reporter, freelance journalist, political speechwriter, local magazine editor, advertising copywriter, and PR flack. When I announced my intention to retire from the association, I made it quite clear what I planned to do. Write novels. Unlike some authors I’ve read about, who say their family and friends ridiculed their efforts, I received nothing but support.

All during the Cold War I had been an avid reader of spy novels by Helen MacInnes, Graham Greene, John Le Carre, Ken Follet, Robert Ludlum, and others. When the Cold War wound down about the time I left the workaday world, both the Soviet KGB and American CIA faced either dissolution or serious cutbacks in funding. I used that premise for my first post-Cold War thriller titled Beware the Jabberwock. High-ranking officials of both intelligence services plot the assassination of the Russian and U.S. presidents at an appearance in Toronto.

Several editors said they liked the book but gave the familiar line: “It isn’t quite what we’re looking for.”

That was 1990. Using the same central characters, I turned it into a trilogy, writing The Poksu Conspiracy (much of it set in Korea) and Overture to Disaster over the next two years. All three books required a considerable amount of research, some of it based on my travels in Europe and the Far East. Overture had scenes in Hong Kong, which I had visited, while Poksu made use of my experiences in the Korean War and a visit to Seoul in 1987.

They were fun books to write, but neither sold. I won’t go into my agent problems during this period. Suffice it to say I had several who accomplished nothing. But I stayed at the keyboard (and the library), turning out The Cumberland Caper and The Cambridge Declaration, Grisham-type stories involving ordinary guys who get caught up in conspiracies and are forced to battle their way out.

I also wrote a fictionalized version of a difficult situation one of my daughters found herself in, crafting it in the form of a lecture by a reporter who tells the story. An agent I sent it to found it too heart-wrenching to sell and suggested I might try it as a serialized story in a magazine. By then my daughter had decided she preferred I not push it, so I shelved the idea.

By this time my wife was having serious problems with Parkinson’s Disease, which slowed my writing. When my sisters-in-law came to give me a break, I went on a church seniors’ bus tour to Natchez and New Orleans. I followed that up by writing Hellbound, the story of a similar trip that includes a man who crafted his own false identity after skipping the witness protection program. A Mafia hit squad comes after him and winds up hijacking the bus as a hurricane bears down on The Big Easy.

When my wife died in 1998, I took a Holy Land tour with my brother’s Sunday School class. Out of that came my eighth novel, Secret of the Scroll. This one made it into print in 2002 as the first of a three-book contract with a small press. It came out shortly before my seventy-seventh birthday. Proving you’re never too old to learn, this experience taught me things not to allow in a book publishing contract.

After completing my obligation with Designed to Kill and Deadly Illusions, the second and third Greg McKenzie mysteries, I had problems collecting my royalties and got my rights (and a supply of books) back. I turned to a new micro press formed to rescue authors disenchanted with my old publisher. It gave me more control over things like covers and release dates. Night Shadows Press published the fourth McKenzie novel, The Marathon Murders, in 2008 and will release A Sporting Murder, the fifth, this fall.

Not totally happy with some reviewers calling the McKenzie books cozies (maybe because they feature a senior husband and wife PI team), I decided to try a new series with a little harder edge. The Surest Poison hit the shelves last year. The protag is a six-foot-six single guy who doesn’t mind throwing his weight around. I gave Sid Chance an interesting part-time sidekick, a wealthy former cop who isn’t afraid to use her wiles as needed.

Kaye asked for a photo of my workplace. It’s about as untidy as my daily schedule. Actually, schedule is something of a misnomer. I re-married ten years ago and picked up a grandson, now twelve and living with us, in the bargain. With school and other activities to keep up with, daily (when possible) two-mile walks at the mall, miscellaneous responsibilities like delivering Meals on Wheels, and a variety of chores, no day is alike. I do most of my writing at night, using my laptop in the living room. The office is mostly for the business end of the business. 

With piles of manuscripts on the floor, including a few unpublished ones that I still believe are salvageable, and soon-to-be six published books on the shelf, I’m quite pleased with the way retirement has shaped up. It would’ve been nice to have started a bit earlier, but I’m looking forward to getting my second Sid Chance mystery and my seventh published novel out in my eighty-fifth year. I feel like I’m just getting started.