Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Wild Hog Murders by Bill Crider

I was borned on a mountain top in Tennessee and kilt me a b’ar when I was only three! No, wait, that was Davy Crockett. Sometimes I get the two of us confused. I’ve been in a bar or two, though, and in the winter I sometimes cover up with a kilt. Or a quilt. I’m getting confused again. At any rate, I’m pretty sure I’m the author of more than fifty published novels and numerous short stories and that I won the Anthony Award for best first mystery novel in 1987 for Too Late to Die. I was even nominated for the Shamus Award for best first private-eye novel for Dead on the Island, and I won the coveted Golden Duck award for “best juvenile science fiction novel” for Mike Gonzo and the UFO Terror. My wife, Judy, and I won the best short story Anthony in 2002 for “Chocolate Moose.” My story “Cranked” from Damn Near Dead (Busted Flush Press) was nominated for the Edgar award for best short story. Check out my homepage at or take a look at my peculiar blog at

The Wild Hog Murders
by Bill Crider

What’s all this about wild hogs?  

Well, the truth is that feral pigs are a terrible problem in Texas. For years they’ve infested the country, and now they’re moving into the cities.  There are over two million of them in this state alone, probably about half the nationwide population.  They’ve gotten so bad that the during its last session, the Texas legislature made it legal to hunt them from helicopters. 

Since I’m always ahead of the curve on these things, I’ve been featuring wild hogs in my Sheriff Dan Rhodes series since the very beginning, back in 1986.  The sheriff had a pretty serious encounter with some feral pigs in that book, and for some reason they’ve been mentioned in just about every book since.  My sister called me one day after reading an article about them and said she thought it was time for me to make them the focus of a whole book.  I was thinking about starting a new book at the time, and it sounded good to me, so that’s what I did.

Someone asked me the other day if I’d ever gotten up close and personal with any feral pigs.  The answer is that I haven’t.  I do, however, own some land that’s overrun with them.  When my father died some years ago, my brother and sister and I inherited his ranch.  My brother now oversees the property, and he’s tried just about everything (except hunting the porcine destroyers from a helicopter) to get rid of them.  

Nothing works.  They root up the fields, they carry parasites and disease, and they breed faster than rabbits. 

I’m not the only one who’s talking about those pesky porkers these days.  You can check out YouTube if you want to see videos of people hunting them.  Or if you like more conventional television, the A&E network is about to present a new series called American Hoggers, about a family that makes a profession of hunting feral pigs.  I suppose this is more toward the “entertainment” half of the network’s name rather than the “arts” part.  Some people might even find it questionable entertainment. 

My book is plenty entertaining, though.  Trust me.  And while you’re trusting me, buy a copy and put a nice review on Amazon.  Help me to become rich and famous and to start living in the style to which I’d like to become accustomed. 

The sheriff and I thank you.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Why I Write Mysteries by Judy Hogan

Judy Hogan was born in Zenith, Kansas.  She has lived in the Triangle area of N.C. for 40 years.  She brought to the state a new poetry journal (Hyperion, 1970-81) and in 1976 she founded Carolina Wren Press.  She has been active in the area since the early 70s as a reviewer, book distributor, publisher, teacher, writing consultant, and organizer of conferences, readings, and book signing events.  She was Chair of COSMEP (Committee of Small Magazine Editors and Publishers) 1975-78.  In 1984 she helped found and was the first President of the N.C. Writers' Network, serving until 1987.

She has published five volumes of poetry with small presses, and two prose works, Watering the Roots in a Democracy: A Manual for Combining Literature and Writing in the Public Library (1989) and The PMZ Poor Woman’s Cookbook (2000).

A translation of her poetry book, Beaver Soul, was published by the Kostroma Writers’ Organization in 1997.       

Her papers, correspondence, and 25 years of extensive diaries are in the Special Collections Department of the Perkins Library at Duke University.

She has taught all forms of creative writing since 1974, through libraries, in extension programs, and on her own.

She taught Freshman English 2004-2006 at St. Augustine’s College, an historically black college in Raleigh.  She does free lance editing and offers workshops for creative writers.

Between 1990 and 2007 she visited Kostroma, Russia, five times, teaching American literature at Kostroma University in 1995 and giving a paper to a Kostroma University Literature Conference in March 2007.  She worked on five exchange visits, as well as cooperative publishing with Kostroma writers and exhibits of their painters.  She has been active in environmental and community issues in Chatham County.

She’s also a member of Sisters In Crime (Guppies, GuppyPressQuest list).

Judy lives in Moncure, N.C., near Jordan Lake, in Chatham County.
Why I Write Mysteries
by Judy Hogan

I began reading mysteries in 1980, when my elder daughter left for college. Once the two younger children were in bed, and I'd finished my work for the day (I was editor and publisher of Carolina Wren Press, as well as teaching some writing classes for adults), there was an hour or so when I wasn't sleepy yet. I began with Agatha Christie. Amy and I had watched Mash together. Now I read mysteries.

My father, a United Church of Christ minister, had read mysteries to relax, so I asked him for suggestions and began with British women: Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, P.D. James. Friends suggested Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, Amanda Cross, Martha Grimes, Arthur Upfield, and over the years I've been delighted to read all the books of: Louise Penny, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Elizabeth George, Laurie King, Peter Robinson, Stephen Booth, Lindsay Davis, Charles Todd, Eliot Pattison, Michael Innes, Margaret Maron, Marjorie Allingham, Jacqueline Winspeare, Barbara Hambley, Alexander McCall Smith, Tony Hillerman, Margaret Coel, Elizabeth Peters, Ellis Peters, Reginald Hill, and new favorite, Sasscer Hill.

I liked a plot, but what gave the most pleasure were the subplots, the exploration of human relationships, and the different worlds I could enter. Mysteries became a way to relax and let go my worries and responsibilities for awhile, yet have new things to think about. I especially liked strong women protagonists, but I loved best the books that gave me what I call the cozy feeling. I liked it when the protagonist and friend would have comfort food, give each other emotional support. The crime had to be solved, but there was time for food, drink, humor, and love.

These days a cozy has come to mean a craft mystery novel, but when I think of a cozy mystery, it's more in the Malice Domestic Traditional Mystery mode (as in their contest sponsored by St. Martin's Press for the first best of these novels): no explicit sex or violence. The victim and the murderer are known within a limited world; there are suspects, and the reader is given enough clues to be able to guess whodunit.

In 1981 I began going abroad when I could afford it, as my ex-husband took the children more in the summer. I called these trips writing vacations, and my favorite place to go in the 80s was to the Gower Peninsula in Wales, where I could explore a variety of landscapes and historical sites down through the ages, from Ice Age caves to prehistoric stone monuments like Arthur's Stone, Norman castles, limestone cliffs, bays with their exotic wild flowers and tide pools teeming with sea life. I'd write poetry, but in the evening, I'd read what my landlady called "murders." She couldn't get me to watch the telly. I'd be too caught up in a "murder" provided by the little local library.

Then in 1990, on one of my long walks between Rhossili and Llangennith, I sprained my ankle. No more long walks that year. I wrote poetry and read, but I was housebound for several weeks. My landlady said, "Why don't you write a murder?" I'd never thought I could do it. They seemed at the opposite end of the literary spectrum from poetry, but, for fun, I began to plot my first mystery, set on Gower in a Bed and Breakfast, and the next summer I wrote The Sands of Gower.

I've begun my eighth mystery this month, going back again in imagination to Gower. In between, over the last twenty years, I've had my amateur detective, Penny Weaver, a mid-fifties poet, who likes to cross the ethnic and cultural boundaries that usually keep people apart, working on environmental and other local issues as part of an interracial community group. She is married to a Welsh Police Detective. Killer Frost, the sixth novel, when Penny teaches in an historically black college, was a finalist in the St. Martin's Malice Domestic First Best Traditional Mystery contest this year. It gave me my first major lift up. By 2007, when I became semi-retired, I joined Sisters in Crime and the Guppies (the great unpublished) and worked on finding an agent for the early books in the series. But, even with being a finalist, no agent grabbed up Killer Frost. I'm now querying small presses, using information provided by the SinC GuppyPressQuest listserve. Generally, I have had more interest from the small presses doing mysteries than from the agents.  I think the early ones are worth publishing, but for me now, I want to get Killer Frost out there first, and then I'll see how to handle the earlier ones.

Why do I write mysteries now? There are human experiences I've had and things I know that I can't get into poetry or my journal and autobiographical books but only into fiction. It also gives me an opportunity to take up social and cultural issues I care about. I have been an activist like Penny, working on safe nuclear storage, air pollution, local elections, etc., but I feel now that what I have to give the wider world that is potentially the most helpful are my writings - all of them - and the way I see people and the world we live in.

Our two biggest issues, I believe, in the twenty-first century, are learning to take care of our earth so we can continue to live on it and learning to understand and appreciate people different from ourselves, instead of warring, persecuting, and generally reducing to less than human those with whom we share Planet Earth. Like my favorite mysteries do, I want to give the reader cozy moments, time to eat, laugh, and love, between the difficult issues we all have to cope with, and I take the opportunity to explore what I know and didn't know I knew about people, as my characters interact.

Thank you, Kaye, for inviting me to blog here on a blog I deeply respect, Meandering and Muses.

Judy Hogan, Moncure, N.C.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

LIGHTS! CAMERA! LEVINSON! by Robert S. Levinson

You can find some of Robert S. Levinson’s early novels and short story collections at Amazon Kindle and other ebook locations, among them THE JAMES DEAN AFFAIR, THE JOHN LENNON AFFAIR, and THE ANDY WARHOL AFFAIR. Learn more about Bob, who “mixes Hollywood fact and fiction with a master storyteller’s magic wand,” according to William Link, five-time Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award winner, at or check him out on Facebook.

by Bob Levinson

Robert S. Levinson’s bestselling crime novels and short stories have featured star-powered Hollywood settings and situations from his first book, THE ELVIS AND MARILYN AFFAIR, to his ninth, A RHUMBA IN WALTZ TIME, due in September, which Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Joseph Wambaugh has applauded as “a nostalgic, wisecracking, action-packed romp filled with an insider’s knowledge of show business and the movie star gossip mill.” 

“Insider,” indeed. Before turning to fiction, Bob wrote about the movies and movie stars for newspapers and magazines, created and headed what became the world’s largest music public relations firm, wrote and produced more than two dozen comedy, variety and music specials for television, and special events for the Friars Club and Hollywood Press Club.

Earlier this year, the Derringer Award winner toyed with movie history in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (“The Killing of
Stacey Janes” ) and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine (“Any Similarity to Persons Living or Dead is Purely Coincidental.” ) He’s currently putting the finishing touches to PHONY TINSEL, a novel set, like RHUMBA, in the movie world of the 1930s. Also in the works, a non-fiction collection of memories that recount his adventures as a pre-teen chasing after autographs, CONFESSIONS OF AN AUTOGRAPH HOUND IN THE GOLDEN AGE OF HOLLYWOOD, that starts:

I  got  it  in  my  head  one  day, when  I  was  ten  years  old  and collecting autographs  regularly on the most notable streets of Hollywood, one of  those "hounds"  who  clustered wherever movie stars were known  or  expected to congregate, that a signature in less than real ink was less than satisfactory.

And that's what I was getting every so often.

It  wasn't enough to carry an ink pen and, sometimes, a second in  reserve.  It wasn't  enough that a fellow collector would be there to volunteer his own in the event your pen ran dry.

There  were  some  stars  who, however  amenable  to giving  an  autograph, insisted  on using their own pen, and chances are it would be a ballpoint.

Everybody  knew that  ballpoint  ink  wasn't the real stuff. It was impermanent. No  chance  it would last the centuries these autographs merited.

Or,  it might be pencil or crayon. Edward G. Robinson carried a  thick  drawing pencil—take it  or leave it. Herbert Marshall preferred  a  black  crayon; better  anyway  than  pencil.  Metro- Goldwyn-Mayer's  resident  opera  singer, Lauritz  Melchoir,  went  them  both one  better.  He  passed out pre-signed, postcard-sized pictures. At least, they were personally signed in real ink.

Well,  I got Robinson to sign in real ink and Melchoir to sign in real ink on real paper, and I even finally got that damned crayon away from Herbert Marshall.

But  the  horrors  of ballpoint were consistent, especially with celebrities not seen  too often, visitors from another coast or another country, or those who lived normal lives outside their professional obligations.      

One  of my pals came up with a solution. Cover the ballpoint signatures  past correction  with  clear  Scotch tape. The tape would  protect  the  autographs against the eroding elements of air and water and fire and large criminals  who might  try to  steal  the  pint-sized,  2 1/2  x  4  1/4-inch  autograph books I preferred to any other type. 

I did it immediately. (Remember, I was ten years old.)

I  deprived  myself  of lunch and spent the money on a  roll of  clear  Scotch tape.  I  located  the offending autographs and, one after  the  other,  covered them  with  tape, carefully measuring out and applying bits  and  pieces, first over  the body  of  the  signature,  then  smaller  strips  for  the arc of a mountainous "b" or the last-gasp extension of a "y."

Thus, all these years later, Arthur Kennedy remains entombed in Scotch  tape. So does Robert Keith, Henry Daniell, Ann Rutherford and Elioj Mjn.

They  don't  seem any worse for wear than any autograph signed in  real  ink, except  that the Scotch tape has yellowed with age, contrasts with  the  page color and made dark patterns on the back side of the pages.

What is sad is Elioj Mjn.

That  is  how the signature reads today, to somebody who was  delighted  to collect  the  autograph,  promptly enshrined  it  in  permanent  memory,   and continued pursuing  his boyhood avocation with an ongoing  vow  to always remember how to decipher even the most illegible scrawls and flourishes.

I have failed you Elioj Mjn. 

Or were you possibly Eliot Imju thirty-odd years ago, generous enough to take the book from the young boy and to even inscribe the autograph, "To Boby"?


That was something I couldn't control.

"Will you sign it, 'To Bobby'?," I requested.

Most  of  the  time  I got "Bobby." But sometimes I  got "Bobbie"  and  other times,  mainly  from foreigners, I got "Boby." And many times I  only  got  the name.  These were celebrities either in a hurry or rude. I would like to believe, even now, after all these years, that most of them were in a hurry.

Sometimes, I got nothing.

Most  of  these  people  were  not  in  a  hurry.  Some  were constrained  by circumstance  or some personal phobia against giving autographs. Some  were polite,  but adamant, and even bothered to explain their reasons while  posing for the regular collectors who preferred snapshots to signatures.      

But  most of these people couldn't be bothered. They were beyond their  fans and unlike the giants, the Gables, Bogarts, Stanwycks and Crawfords, who  in the course  of   becoming   "stars"  had  studios  to train them in the responsibilities of stardom. 

I'd like tell you who they are, but I don't remember their names.

One name I’ll never forget, however, is Alan Ladd, whose stardom was forged as “Sparrow,” the killer on the run in This Gun for Hire.
"Hollywood   Star  Preview."   Sundays  over  the  NBC Radio  Network.   An established  name and his personal choice for future stardom co-starring  in  a drama  tailored for them. A clever format for radio and, for  a  movie studio, clever  opportunity  to  promote a new film, generally one in which the two actors just happened to appear.

An  informal conversation followed the performance, the listeners'  chance  to get acquainted with this unfamiliar name (and the unreleased film). For us, the chance  at somebody  who might not be signing autographs one day soon, after stardom grabbed him by the box-office.      

Alan Ladd came one Sunday to introduce his choice, Douglas Dick, who had a Big Break kind of major role opposite Ladd in Paramount's upcoming "Saigon."  Ladd was  at the peak of international fame then, rarely seen  in and around Hollywood, and a coveted target for the autograph hounds.

We  missed  his arrival.  He'd been early, and we were late leaving Lux  Radio Theater rehearsals up Vine Streeet and a stakeout  on  Dana  Andrews.  We couldn't  afford  to  miss his departure following the broadcast. It would be our only shot at him.

Ladd came out of the Artists Entrance thirty yards away.  We were ready for him and broke fast from  the gate, at top speed before we saw that three uniformed ushers  were immediately behind Ladd, escorting him to his car.

We stopped.  We froze.  But we didn't retreat.

The ushers, as if they practiced drill team maneuvers in their off hours, turned as  one and leveled three index fingers in our direction. It meant, Out!  Scram! Through the gate.  You know the rules.

We  were  too  close to scoring to obey.  We  capitalized on the  momentary standoff, as we had on several previous occasions.

During  those earlier encounters, the stars left the ushers to their  duty.  They would  keep  walking  across  the driveway,  climbing  the  stairway to the network's parking lot and a waiting limousine.      

Something   made  Ladd  stop  half  way  up  the  stairs. He   observed   the confrontation, while we began calling, "Please, Mr. Ladd, please."

He pulled the cigarette from his lips, nodded, and said, "Okay."  His voice  was low, almost a whisper, and when it become obvious the ushers had not heard, he raised it. "I said it's okay."

One  usher turned to tell him, in a manner canned with simplistic  seniority, it couldn't  be okay. There were rules and they had their instructions.  We were on private property. We had to leave.  Now.      

Ladd  didn't  change  his  expression,  the  one  that  over the  years riveted Veronica  Lake,  Brian Donlevy, William Bendix, Preston Foster,  Laird Cregar, other actors and millions of moviegoers.

"I said it's okay," he said. He looked through them while instructing us, "Come on."

He  signed  autographs for everyone who had made the run. Nervous  hounds who had  stayed behind the gate because of the ushers  quickly  covered  the thirty yards  distance  to Ladd.  He signed for them, and he posed for  the cameras.

The ushers, roundly defeated, could only look on. And Ladd left only when  he knew all the hounds had been satisfied, adding a polite "Thank you" to us and to the ushers.

I  encountered  Ladd  a  few years later outside  Paramount Studios,  at the DeMille Gate, and  my memory went immediately to that scene on the steps—

The star sides with the kids against their natural enemies, the ushers.      

As  he  signed for me again, I realized that I had grown  over those  summers since NBC.  I was now taller than he was.      

Or so it seemed.

Today, upon reflection, I know I was wrong.

Alan Ladd has always been ten feet tall.

Rosie says "Arf"

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Out of the Wilderness and Loving it! by Sarah Shaber

 Sarah Shaber is the author of the forthcoming LOUISE'S WAR (Severn House, July 2011), the Professor Simon Shaw murder mysteries, and editor of TAR HEEL DEAD.

Out of the Wilderness and Loving it!
by Sarah Shaber
Last summer, when Kaye asked me to blog for her this year, I remember saying something like “but Kaye, I haven’t had a new book since 2008, what if I don’t have a new contract?”  She assured that she wanted me on her schedule anyway.  I thought then I’d write about being a frustrated writer wandering in the wilderness of the unpublished.
A little background is in order.  I wrote five Professor Simon Shaw mysteries for St. Martin’s Press. The first, SIMON SAID, was a Malice Domestic Award winner. A couple of the sequels were Mystery Guild selections. I always earned out my advance and got good reviews. But then I caught the midlist disease.  My readership wasn’t growing, and St. Martin’s started letting my backlist go out of print, even though they were getting orders for those books. This became common practice among publishers during the decade before the Great Recession, when publishers focused on bestsellers instead of their entire list.
I’m not picking on St. Martin’s here. I’m beyond grateful to them for publishing me.  They introduce more new authors to the mystery community than any crime publisher out there. Ruth Cavin, my editor, was a jewel. She bought all five books I submitted to her.
But who wants to read a mystery series if all the books aren’t available?
I decided to start a new series and find a new publisher.  With the advent of ebooks, keeping a backlist in print would be easier, too.
My first series featured a historian as sleuth.  I decided my new series would be historical, set during World War II, and star a young woman who goes to work in Washington DC during World War II. Louise Pearlie was born.
I had no idea how much work this would be!  I researched and wrote draft after draft, wearing out my agent, family, and friends.  We’re talking three years, people! But I’m persistent (stubborn) and an optimist (Pollyanna) and I kept at it. Finally the manuscript of LOUISE’S WAR was ready to submit.

Then the Great Recession hit.  I don’t have to tell you what happened.  Publishers and bookstores hit the trenches.  I began to wonder if I’d ever be published again.
I have the best agent in the universe, Vicky Bijur.  She submitted LOUISE’S WAR to four editors she believed would like the book.  I got one offer, a two-book deal from Severn House, but one is all I needed!
LOUISE’S WAR will be published officially on August 1, but it’s already available.  I’ve almost completed a sequel, LOUISE’S GAMBLE.  Publishers Weekly gave LOUISE’S WAR a very good review, as did the Wilmington Star. There’s a five-star reader review on Amazon already. 
Yesterday I went to Quail Ridge Books, my local bookstore, and signed newly arrived copies of LOUISE’S WAR.  I’m having a launch party, with cake, at Quail Ridge on August 9.  I am a happy writer!
And out of the wilderness!      

Sarah R. Shaber

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Urban Cozy: How an Oxymoron Inspired a Bestselling Series by Cleo Coyle

Cleo Coyle is a pen name of Alice Alfonsi, who collaborates with her husband, Marc Cerasini, to write the national bestselling Coffeehouse Mysteries. Cleo’s 2010 release, Roast Mortem, was a “Favorite Book of the Year” reviewer’s pick. Her new hardcover release, Murder by Mocha, is a featured alternate selection of the Mystery Guild for the month of August; and the audio rights to the entire Coffeehouse back list recently sold at auction to AudioGo (BBC Audiobooks).

Under the pseudonym Alice Kimberly, Alice and Marc also write The Haunted Bookshop Mysteries. Like their ten Coffeehouse books, their five “Ghost and…” novels are works of light amateur sleuth fiction. They are also national bestsellers for Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime, and more are signed up to be released in the near future.

When not haunting coffeehouses, hunting ghosts, or wrangling stray cats (including their in-house editor, Mr. Fellows), Alice and Marc are also New York Times bestselling media tie-in writers. Their Wiki entry can tell you more:

Urban Cozy: How an Oxymoron Inspired a Bestselling Series by Cleo Coyle

Thank you to Kaye for inviting me to muse with you today. :)

    Writers are often asked what inspired their series, and I’m no exception. I mean, sure, I drink a scary amount of bean juice, but caffeine consumption was not my sole inspiration.

    I live with my husband in Queens, New York, but I wasn’t born in the Big Apple. Like my coffeehouse manager Clare Cosi, I grew up in a blue collar neighborhood outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

    Unlike Clare, who dropped out of art school, I completed my degree at Carnegie Mellon. Thanks to some early writing awards, along with a journalism program at American U. in DC, I landed a cub reporter's spot at The New York Times.

    During my early years in New York, I lived in a tiny apartment in Alphabet City. These days, much of that Manhattan neighborhood is packed with trendy bars and clubs. Twenty years ago, it was simply a low income wing of the East Village.

    Although my Avenue B apartment was Lilliputian in size and sat across from a park that was (at the time) a haven for crack dealers, it’s location also put it two floors above a small, no-frills bakery called Bread and Roses—a ray of warm light in a manifestly noir-ish landscape.

    The women who ran that bakery served coffee in the mornings, and I took blissful pleasure from the wholesome smells wafting from their shop: cookies, muffins, pies, and freshly brewing java. Their welcoming outlook was equally reassuring as I attempted to stay afloat on Manhattan's crowded, competitive (way crazy) island.

    That concept of a cozy oasis nestled in a land of noir stayed with me for years and became fundamental in the development of the Coffeehouse Mystery series.

    Sure, I know…setting a series in "the Village" of big, bad New York seems a cheeky irony for anything calling itself a cozy, which typically locates its amateur sleuths in pastoral towns. Honestly, though, many aspects of the city—from its unique neighborhoods and mom-and-pop businesses to its populace that loves baseball, gossip, and pets—have a lot in common with small town living. The historic, upscale West Village alone is very much like its own little burg.

    So maybe my husband and I are writing a hybrid. Or maybe we should call what we write an Urban Cozy. Whatever it is, male-female collaboration is part of it.

    Many people have asked Marc and I how we write murder mysteries together without killing each other. Our answer (sans punch line)—long experience. 

    We were both multi-published authors before we met, and we each hit New York Times bestseller lists with solo efforts before we started writing together. Consequently, both of us were more than passing familiar with the highs, lows, twists, turns, and downright hellacious snags that come with penning novel-length fiction.

    “Publishing is not a business,” insiders say. “It’s a casino.” Certainly writing as a profession is far from a sure thing, but then Marc and I were wed at The Little Church of the West in Las Vegas. What keeps us going is a fairly simple philosophy, one we hope all writers can share.

    Stay at the table. The dice will be nice to you eventually, but only if you keep throwing. (Caffeine doesn't hurt, either.)

    Thanks again to Kaye. Enjoy your summer reading, everyone!

~ Cleo (Alice)

To learn more about Cleo’s books, drop by her virtual coffeehouse at, where she maintains a message board for her readers; posts recipes; and makes unique coffee picks from roasteries across America.

To enter Cleo’s weekly free coffee drawings, simply send an e-mail that says “Sign me up” to

Follow Cleo on Twitter at:

Friend her on Facebook as “Cleo Coyle” 

Download her tasty Key Lime Coolers (cookies) recipe by clicking this link:

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Keeping Series Characters Fresh by Melinda Wells

Melinda Wells is the author of 8 mystery novels published by Berkley Prime Crime, with a 9th scheduled for publication in 2012. As Linda Palmer (her legal name) she teaches novel-writing in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program. In 2010, she was named Outstanding Instructor in Creative Writing. She is the program's only two-time winner.  She loves to hear from readers, and can be reached through her web site, 

Keeping Series Characters Fresh
by Melina Wells

"Pie a la Murder," number 4 in my Della Cooks mystery series, was published this month (July 2011) by Berkley Prime Crime. Someone in the novel-writing class I teach in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program asked, "Don't you get tired of writing about the same characters?"

My answer was immediate. "No, because I like getting to know my 'Della Carmichael' and her friends better as each new situation tests them." For example, at the end of book number 3, "The Proof is in the Pudding," the man in Della's life, the previously commitment-shy Nicholas, asks her to marry him. She loves him, but because she's surprised by the proposal, she jokes, "Louder, please, I can't hear you."  The scene ends with the strong implication that her answer will be "yes." But, a short time later, at the beginning of "Pie a la Murder," Nicholas tells her that he has an eighteen-year-old daughter, Celeste, whom he hasn't seen since she was a baby, and that she's contacted him to say that she's coming to Los Angeles to live with him. Nicholas is thrilled because he never wanted to be separated from his child, and hadn't done anything to deserve his ex-wife's whisking the child away to Europe before he could prevent it.

Della is genuinely happy for Nicholas, but Della's best friend, Liddy, sees nothing but trouble for Della, citing TV talk show hosts who say that the greatest threat to a romantic relationship is a man's daughter from a previous marriage. Liddy turns out to be right, but not even Liddy guessed that the trouble Della was going to face would involve murder.
Naturally, Celeste's presence in the story puts any marriage plans that Della and Nicholas might have made on hold. Nicholas and his daughter need to get to know each other, and Celeste needs to get to know Della.  Della doesn't feel there's any need to rush to the nearest minister.

Now, I'm writing book number 5 (called "Seven Layer Death," to be published in 2012) and in a scene between Della and Nicholas I discovered – and I have to admit that I was surprised as Della was – that Nicholas had been concealing his anger that she never said "yes" to his marriage proposal. She can't believe what she's hearing and tells him that he knows she wants to marry him; if he was upset about her not saying the actual word "yes" then he should have said something. What started as a discussion turns into a fight: (He accuses her: "Did you buy a dress?" She shoots back: "Did you buy a ring?")

I'm telling you about this because I didn't know consciously that Nicholas was seething. It's an incredible thrill for me as a writer when my characters become my collaborators. I knew that Della wasn't going to roll over and apologize for not being able to read Nicholas's mind. Calming down, she realizes that his anger is not really at her, but at a huge professional problem that has just hit him. Still, she's worried that a secret she's been forced to keep from him for twenty-four hours could damage their relationship when he finds out about it.
Della's best friend is happily married Liddy, but a couple of books ago I realized that Liddy's husband, Bill, was keeping a secret from her—about having had lunch with a woman he met outside his Beverly Hills dental office. It was just lunch, downstairs in the building. The woman tried to turn it into more, but Bill refused. Yet he made the classic mistake of not telling his wife about the lunch. As a result, he ended up being suspected of murder.
Can you tell how much I enjoy spending time with these characters? I really do!  In fact, lately I've been worried about twenty-two year old Eileen O'Hara (Della's unofficial "daughter" and her business partner) because Eileen had terrible luck with men in these books. And, is Celeste's desire to be an actress the real reason she came to Los Angeles to live with her father? If it turns out that she's using him, it will break his heart.
I hope this series goes on for years because I have many more stories to tell about Della and her friends. And, it's fun to add new characters to the mix in each book—people who make trouble. Legendary TV producer Aaron Spelling called this part of story-telling "putting a cat among the pigeons." He used that line to explain why he injected the Joan Collins character into his series, Dynasty.

In between writing cooking mysteries 4 and 5 I wrote the first book in what I hope will be another series. This is a novel-of-suspense with a male protagonist, a man who has lost everything that mattered to him and finds that he must re-invent himself. He doesn't know what he's going to do with the rest of his life, but on the day he's released from the hospital, an old enemy with a big problem offers him a job. In agreeing to help her, he begins to rebuild his life. I already know what the next book in this future series will be—what will happen to one of the characters from book number 1, and how the hero and his new circle of friends will be affected by sudden violence.
Thank you, Kaye, for inviting me to meander and muse. And Happy Reading to all.

Melinda Wells  (aka Linda Palmer)


And, the winner is . . . 

I used a random number generator to choose a name, and as coincidence would have it, the winner is Jill who lives right up the road.  I'm tickled pink that she won, but feel kinda odd about it too - so if y'all will bear with me, I'll have another give-away in a few months.  I hope you'll come back and leave your name in the hat again for a copy of WOMEN'S SPACES WOMEN'S PLACES.  I'll give a shout when I'm ready to do that.  In the meantime, I thank you all for your interest, it means a lot.  Hugs!!!

I had a give-away when one of my essays was accepted for publication in CLOTHES LINES from 75 western North Carolina women writers a couple years ago, and now I'm tickled pink to have another give-away.

This is for a copy of WOMEN'S SPACES WOMEN'S PLACES from 50 western North Carolina women writers.  I'm every bit as proud of this anthology as I am the first one, and am over the moon about having had another essay included with this group of talented women.

We can thank Celia Miles and Nancy Dillingham for both anthologies.  They are tireless advocates for women writers.  Both these women, talented writers in their own right, take time from their work and busy schedules to help other women get their work out there and promote it.  Including their support of The Candy Maier Scholarship Fund, which is a “go to” site if you are a woman who wants to take a class, workshop, conference having to do with writing and need some financial assistance. Founded to honor writer/friend Candy Maier, The Candy Fund assists with up to half the cost (to $250) with few restrictions imposed.  

My hat is off to both of them - they own a little piece of my heart and my endless thanks, along with a great deal of admiration and respect.

How gorgeous is this cover, by the way??  It's by Karen Hollingsworth.  You can see more of her work here:

Both WOMEN'S SPACES WOMEN'S PLACES and CLOTHES LINES are available at many North Carolina independent book stores, or you can contact Celia at  to receive one directly through the mail.

Here's a few links with a little bit to say about WSWP -

If you'd like to drop your name in the hat for a chance to win a copy of WOMEN'S SPACES WOMEN'S PLACES, please just leave a comment including your email address.  I'll draw a name and mail off a copy to the winner this coming Wednesday, June 20th.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Summer Lovin', Had Me a Blast . . . by Mary Welk

Mary Welk writes the "Rhodes to Murder" mystery series featuring ER nurse Caroline Rhodes and history professor Carl Atwater. Her short stories have appeared in several anthologies; three shorts--A Family Affair, Murder Most Politic, and Hickory, Dickory, Doc--are available as Kindle downloads at Mary is a native of Chicago and lives with her husband in the city's Edison Park neighborhood. She is an avid gardener and a college football fanatic. 

Summer Lovin’, Had Me a Blast…
by Mary Welk

Ah, yes. Summer lovin’ often leads to summer weddings, which can be a blast—if they go according to plans. Later this summer I’ll be attending my youngest son Matt’s wedding at Cumberland Falls State Park, Kentucky. I have no doubt it will be a blast, mainly because my future daughter-in-law is a corporate travel planner who knows how to get things done right the first time around. As mother of the groom, there’s little I’ll have to do but enjoy the day. 

It was a different matter altogether back in 1997 when my two oldest daughters and my niece all married in the same year. Three weddings, three showers, and all three brides, plus my youngest daughter, served as bridesmaids for each other.  All this occurred between April and October. Let me tell you, the pocketbook really got hit that year.

My daughters’ weddings were as different as different could be. Sarah inherited the sensible genes of her frugal German ancestors, meaning she never bought something for twenty dollars when she could find it elsewhere for ten. Her fiancĂ© Tim was cut from the same cloth. Both considered lavish weddings a waste of money, so they opted for simplicity with an outdoor ceremony and indoor catered reception at The Grove Redfield Estate, a 1929 Tudor-style home surrounded by 123-acres of lawn and woodlands. 

Jennifer, two years younger than Sarah, inherited her genes from the crazy Bavarian side of the family. I swear, she was born smiling at the obstetrician. If newborns could talk, she would have said, “Wow! That was a trip and a half!” Her intended shared a similar outlook on life. A diabetic since childhood, Jay’s motto was “Life is short. Enjoy it while you can.” Jenni and Jay decided a big wedding would be fun for everyone, so they opted for a banquet hall package that provided all the extras.

Using her skill as an artist, Sarah designed their wedding invitations, created the table and room decorations, and gathered all the flowers ‘PTA style’ for the basket arrangements pictured here. (And if you don’t know what ‘PTA style’ means, it’s probably best you don’t ask!) It took her three months to get everything done.

Using her skill with the telephone, Jenni ordered the invitations, booked the hall, and selected the food, the flowers, and the band. It took her three days to get everything done.

As for wedding gowns, I accompanied both girls to a local bridal shop where, in response to the owner’s queries, Sarah said, “I want the simplest gown you have.” Jenni’s reply went along the lines of “lots of satin and lace and a really long train.” Five minutes later the woman entered the dressing room with two gorgeous dresses. My daughters were thrilled with her choices; much to my shock, we were out of the shop in less than an hour, having bought the first and only dresses they ever tried on.

Sarah wanted her three bridesmaids dressed in gowns they could use again in the future. As a result, they wore floor-length V-necked black sheaths with matching long-sleeved jackets, bought off the rack at a Chicago department store and perfect for the black-and-white theme of the wedding and the cool April weather. 

Outside of the fact that I missed the rehearsal dinner—I was stuck out in the garage with buckets of flowers that still needed arranging in baskets—Sarah’s wedding went off without a hitch. 

The same could not be said for Jenni’s big day. Her eight bridesmaids were fitted for their maroon satin and velvet floor-length dresses at the bridal salon where we’d bought her gown. And this is where the best laid plans of mice and men went horribly awry. 

With the wedding scheduled for October 4th, ordering the bridesmaid’s dresses in January seemed reasonable. Unbeknownst to us, the company supplying the dresses wanted to shut down their plant in Pennsylvania and shift all business to the South where labor was cheaper. The proposed moved caused a battle with the garment workers’ union, which led to a slowdown in the factory where the dresses were being made.

Six dresses finally arrived two weeks before the wedding, and all six needed substantial alterations. Despite daily phone calls to Pat, the salon’s owner, and her calls to the garment company, the last two dresses still weren’t in the shop on the Wednesday before the wedding. Jennifer was nearing hysterics by then, so I knew it was time to take matters into my own hands.

Having obtained the phone number from Pat, I called the vice-president of the company in his Boca Raton, Florida office. I got no further than his secretary, who said the dresses might be delivered on Friday, but she couldn’t guarantee it. Being a native Chicagoan with plenty of friends from sunny Italy, I knew exactly how to reply.

“You tell your boss that the family is very upset over this matter. Very upset.”

The woman must have caught how I stressed the word 'family', because she hastily assured me her boss would return my call. And he did. At 4 p.m. About an hour before closing time at the factory. 

“Listen,” I said in my best imitation of a Mafia moll, “my son-in-law-to-be thinks we should sue you. But I told him no, that’s not how the family works. The family takes care of its own problems. Now, if Jennifer walks down that aisle on Saturday with only six bridesmaids instead of eight, her grandfather is going to be very upset. And when her grandfather gets upset, the whole family gets upset. Capisce?”

There was a moment of silence before the vice-president said, “What do you mean by ‘the family’?”

“Must I remind you I’m calling from Chicago,” I asked. “What do you think it means?”

Another short silence, then the man said, “Is that a threat?”

“No,” I replied. “It’s reality. I’m telling you what will happen if those dresses don’t arrive tomorrow in time to be altered for Saturday.” And I hung up the phone.

Jenni was appalled by my ruse. “Nobody’s dumb enough to believe that line about ‘the family’!” she insisted. 

"We'll see," I said, hoping she was wrong. And she was. A jubilant Pat called me Thursday morning. The gowns had been shipped overnight express and were in her shop awaiting the girls. By evening the first fittings were done. The girls were able to pick up their dresses late Friday after the wedding rehearsal. The next day eight beautiful bridesmaids walked down the aisle at church with Jennifer. The wedding ceremony was lovely, and the reception that followed was truly a blast.

Needless to say, Jenni’s grandfather, looking down from his home in heaven, had nothing at all to be upset about.