Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Triple Threat Tour - North Carolina

Folks in North Carolina, you've got an opportunity to see three great mystery writers this weekend! I'm hosting award winners Julie Hyzy, Karen Olson, and Hank Phillippi Ryan and have some great venues set up for them. I hope many of you can join us somewhere. Here's the schedule:

Friday, February 26
12:00 noon Eva Perry Library, Apex
6:30 Page-Walker Hotel (cultural arts center) in Cary, sponsored by the Cary Public Library

Saturday, February 27
11:00 Mcintyre's Fine Books, Fearrington Village
5:00 Jamestown Public Library, Jamestown, NC

Sunday, February 28
12:00 Flyleaf Books (next door to Foster's Market, a great place to grab brunch), Chapel Hill

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Guest Blogger Patricia Sprinkle

Patti Sprinkle is one of the most energetic women I've ever known! Since I've known her she's moved several times, served as president of Sisters in Crime, organized numerous SinC booths at conferences, gotten an advanced degree, toured tirelessly, and, most importantly to her legion of fans, written many books. Patti will be at the Cary Library on Friday, March 12, to talk about her most recent book, Hold Up the Sky. Even though she says this one is not a mystery, I know there will be something to solve included—and I know I'll like it!

Welcome, Patti!

Good Readers are Great to Find
by Patricia Sprinkle

Why do so many people introduce themselves to me as, “I am just a reader”? Do they not realize how many readers every writer needs?

Readers are the people who keep us searching for exactly the right word to best tell our story; who cheer our spirits on dreary days with four magic words: “I love your books”; who, like writers, think there is nothing crazy about wanting to know intimate details about the lives of imaginary beings.

My characters are as real to me as my husband and children, but my husband and children never ask, as readers do, “Whatever happened to Joe Riddley’s parrot?” “Did Sheila Travis ever marry Crispin?” “Is Katharine Murray going to dump that insensitive husband of hers?”

If you have unanswered questions from some of the books, ask away. I’ll tell you anything my characters have told me.

One mystery I have not solved is why some people are readers and some are not. What made a reader out of you? For me, it was Mother—who later became a reading specialist—circling words in newspaper headlines when I was very small: in, to, go, with. Mother was not fond of phonics, she felt a reader ought to gulp words whole or at least a syllable at a time. She had me reading by age three.

Readers are a special breed of humans. We identify with Maureen Corrigan in Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading when she says that in the middle of every special event there comes a moment when she thinks, “I’d rather be reading.” We stop by the library on the way home from the bookstore and know we won’t live long enough to finish the to-be-read stack by the bed. We utterly understand whoever it was who said, “Whenever I have money, I buy books; when I have more money, I buy food.”

Where do my readers come from? I get clues from occasional e-mails: “ I found three of your books at a garage sale.” “My mother, who lives in Georgia, sent me four of your books for Christmas. I read them and got so homesick, I am moving back to Georgia.” “My sister passes me all the books she has read and she sent some of yours.” One of my favorites was, “I was on the Queen Mary and found your book in their library. Loved reading it on the cruise and will get more.” When I get the travel bug and don’t have money for a ticket, I can now close my eyes and picture my books cruising the world. I hope they have as much fun traveling as I’ve had writing them.
It is good to get, once in a while, to hear, “I found your books browsing the bookstore and have now bought them all.” After all, books bought at garage sales and passed along by sisters don’t pay royalties, and writers do like to eat.

I hope mystery readers will follow me as I shift for a time to general fiction. Hold Up the Sky, my first non-mystery in a while, comes out March 2. I threw in a small mystery and one body, but this is the story of four women in crisis who discover that true strength comes not from independence but from interdependence. I know avid mystery readers will read all the mysteries in your stack before you open a general novel. I know that because I am one of you. But give this story a try. You might like it.

Meanwhile, I lift my iced tea glass to readers—to those who read a book and let the author know if they like it; to those who recommend books to family and friends; to readers who work in libraries and bookstores, helping others find books they will enjoy. And while she will blush when I say it, “Here’s to Molly Weston for devoting a large part of her life to generously befriending authors and readers and to putting us in touch with one another.”
When introducing yourself to an author, say proudly: “I am a reader.” And if you have time, write a comment on this blog to let us know what made you the reader you are. After all, you are what keeps us writers writing.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

MINT JULEPS, MAYHEM, AND MURDER by Sara Rosett (Kensington)

Although this is the fifth book in the Ellie Avery Mystery series, it is the first I have read. It is a great “Mommy cozy” mystery. Ellie is a military wife, mother and part-time professional organizer (cleaning up clutter…not rallying the troops!). Her husband’s commander is murdered and the police naturally think the wife did it. The wife is Ellie’s friend and asks for her help. The clues point to several suspects, including the wife. Ellie’s husband has several “accidents” and it becomes apparent that he is also the target of a killer. Is it the same killer and if so why? Ellie uncovers clues as she goes about her part-time job and while attending military social gatherings. The reader gets a first-hand look at into the lives of military families. I look forward to reading some of the earlier books in this series.

Review by Helen Jones
FTC full disclosure - book provided by the publisher

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Guest Blogger Penny Warner

One of the best things about growing older is having long-time friends. I met Penny Warner many years ago at a mystery conference, and I've enjoyed our frequent encounters since. Of course, I've gotten much more from these encounters than she—I've been on the receiving end by reading her great books.

Penny is not only an excellent mystery writer, but she's done books for early childhood and an outstanding YA book entitled The Official Nancy Drew Handbook which included "skills, tips and life lessons from everyone's favorite girl detective. I was delighted to see that Nancy Drew espoused many of the same guidelines that girls' mothers had been giving for years!

Now, Penny has begun a new series featuring San Francisco party planner Presley Parker. I had so much fun reading How to Host a Killer Party that I dropped it in the bathtub and had to get out the hair dryer so I could finish it before bedtime!

Please join me in welcoming Penny Warner!

By Penny Warner
Don’t you just want to slap the next person who blurts out the overused phrase, “Get a life!” I have a life. In fact, with writing mysteries and teaching college classes and babysitting grandchildren, I have more than enough lives. Truth is, what I need right now is a plot. Not a cemetery plot, a story plot. For those who don’t know, a plot is similar to a life, but it’s fiction and has a deadline—although I suppose you could argue that life does too.

I write a bi-weekly column for my local newspaper, based on my life, so I’m glad I have a life. If I don’t experience something interesting, then I have nothing to write about. But when writing mysteries, that’s—to use another overused phrase—“another story.” Making stuff up is much like being a good liar, only you have to lie for about 300 pages. And for that, you need a plot.

After writing the first book in my new mystery series, How to Host a Killer Party, as soon as I finished it, I found I needed another plot for the next one. So far I’ve poisoned a bride, drowned a socialite, bludgeoned a philanthropist, and creatively murdered several other fictional characters. I’ve got the murder stuff down. What I need now is a cleverly twisting story full of red herrings, misdirection, and cliffhangers.

And it has to sound like real life.

Therein lies the problem. While I have “a life,” it doesn’t include mayhem, malice or murder. My life is mostly peaceful and pleasant. If I want drama, I turn on the TV and watch shows like “The Mentalist,” “Castle,” and “Criminal Minds.” Sometimes these shows give me ideas for my own plots. But I have to be careful I don’t steal the stories outright. That could lead to courtroom drama of another kind.

At booksignings, I’m often asked, “Where do you get your plots?” My fellow writers usually give a witty response, like “At the plot store” or “Wal-mart.” But the truth is, plots are difficult to come by, especially when your amateur sleuth isn’t a police officer or attorney or private detective. Plots just seem to fall into the laps of those characters.

In How to Host a Killer Party, my protagonist, Presley Parker, is party planner, who lives and works on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay Area. In her first mystery, she hosts a party at the infamous tourist attraction, Alcatraz, where the guest of honor is soon found floating in the bay. And that’s the just beginning. So many people have been dropping dead at her parties, she’s going to be out of business soon. That’s called the “Jessica Fletcher Syndrome.” Remember how Jessica Fletcher was always tripping over dead bodies in quaint little Cabot Cove? It’s a wonder there was anyone left in the town.

Besides, who’s going to hire Presley Parker to host a party when inevitably one or more of the guests will be found dead in the punchbowl? In real life, her “Killer Parties” business wouldn’t last the party season. But luckily, writing fiction isn’t like real life. You can make up anything you want. That’s called plotting. And now I’m right back where I started this lament.

Maybe I should take a break from the world of fiction and get back to real life by throwing another party. As long as no one falls face down in the punch bowl. I’d like to keep fiction and real life separate as much as possible.
I’d love to hear how other writers come up with plot ideas. Just don’t tell me you got them at the local “Plot Shop”….

The first book in Penny Warner’s new mystery series, How to Host a Killer Party, is just out from Obsidian/Penguin. Penny Warner has published more than 50 books, both fiction and non-fiction, for adults and children, including more than a dozen party books. Her books have won national awards, garnered excellent reviews, and have been printed in 14 countries. Her first mystery, Dead Body Language, in her Connor Westphal series featuring a deaf reporter in the California Gold Country, won a Macavity Award for Best First Mystery and was nominated for an Agatha Award. Her non-fiction book, The Official Nancy Drew Handbook, was nominated for an Agatha Award. Warner writes for party sites such as,,, and, and with her husband Tom creates interactive murder mystery fundraisers for libraries across the country. She'd love for you to visit her website.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

ALL THE WRONG MOVES by Merline Lovelace (Berkley)

I'm delighted to present a new reviewer today. Helen Jones has attended my mystery talks at the Cary NC Library, and when I asked if any of the folks would be interested in reviewing some books, she stepped up—and how! Helen has already read and reviewed the first bag of mysteries I took her—and is waiting for more today. Welcome, Helen!

Lt. Samantha Spade, USAF works with a team of civilian geeks and nerds evaluating unusual inventions for the military. She is a sarcastic, funny, lovable and smart lady. In this first episode, after discovering two bodies in the desert, she gets involved in an arms scam being investigated by a slew of government agencies. I laughed at her honest reactions when life gave her lemons and I could not put the book down during the lifethreatening drama scenes. Her “love” interest, Border Patrol Agent Jeff “Mitch” Mitchell, adds just the right amount of romance. I hope future books will involve the members of her research team in solving the mysteries. Their characters were very interesting and each one reminded me of someone I have known.

--Helen Jones

Monday, February 01, 2010

Guest Blogger Blaize Clement

Blaize Clement doesn't feature talking animals or ditzy old ladies who talk to them. Dixie Hemingway is a former law enforcement officer with a tragic history who is now a professional pet sitter in idyllic Siesta Key, Florida.

Today, Blaize talks about character names and how important it is to get them right. She'll welcome comments and questions about character names—or anything about her writing.

Please welcome Blaize Clement!

Names Matter

I'm now writing the sixth book in the Dixie Hemingway Mystery Series, and, as usual, thinking about character names. I believe names are vitally important in a novel. I doubt that John Updike's Rabbit would have grabbed readers' imagination if his name had been Wolff, or that Huckleberry Finn would have become a classic illustration of an American era if Mark Twain had named him Jimmy Jones. For that matter, would Mark Twain have become a popular author if he'd stuck to his real name of Samuel Clemens?

I used to keep a file of good names gleaned from wedding announcements, death notices, or just run-of-the-mill news stories, and from time to time I'd refer to them to see if any of them fit a character l was creating. They never did. In fiction as in real life, a name stands for the person. If the name doesn't fit the person, it creates a kind of awkward dissonance that permeates everything else. In real life, people can change a name that doesn't suit them, but fictional characters are stuck with them, often to their ultimate downfall. Nadine Gordimer once said she couldn't get a story right until she got the right name for her protagonist. I imagine a lot of authors feel that way. I know I do. I've started a lot of novels that never got finished because the main character refused to reveal him/herself to me via a name.

And then there's the need to give each character a name that readers will remember, not to mention the need to think of how the name will sound when it's given a possessive case or is spoken aloud. Give a character a name like Cass, for example, and you have to contend with the possibility of awkward phrases like "Cass's sassiness." Or if you name a character something like Wendy Lou, you run the risk of creating hilarity when you didn't intend it. Give two characters names beginning with the same letters of the alphabet and readers will confuse them and have to go flipping back to see whether Carol is the good twin and Claire the evil one, or vice versa.

Readers frequently ask how I came up with the name Dixie Hemingway for the main character of my mystery series. It wasn't easy. I struggled for a long time before the name came, but as soon as I had it, I knew my character. Just having the name brought her out fully realized, as if she had handed me a written bio. I wish I could say that always happens, or that I have a sure fire way of making it happen again, but I can't. All I know for sure is that it's important to wait until it does happen and not try to force a name on a character that doesn't fit.

The latest book in the Dixie Hemingway series is Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs. To read an excerpt, check out Blaize's website. By the way, I just got an email from Cary Librarian Karen Kiley which said, "I just finished Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs by Blaize Clement. It was wonderful. Would you like me to do a review for your blog?" Of course, I answered affirmatively. I'll post the review as soon as it's available.