Friday, December 31, 2010

Rachel's Letter to Teen Me

Today at the Stiletto Gang, I've posted a letter to my teen self!

What would go in your letter?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Book Buzz: The Last Innocent Hour by Margot Abbott

Reviews are often most useful when we're talking about new books, but new books are seldom what I read. I just finished an old book (1991) that I thoroughly loved and suspect some of you will, too--The Last Innocent Hour by Margot Abbott. Set in Berlin circa the 1930s and 40s, this novel is best described as noir meets love story meets Nazis meets journey of personal growth and recovery. Kind of a Sophie's Choice with a Romeo and Juliet star-crossed lovers angle thrown in. Trust me. It's incredible.

The reason I'm so enthusiastic about sharing this one is that I had a very emotional response to it, which for me is the hallmark of excellent writing. This is the first book I've read in a long time, since longer than I can remember, actually, that sucked me in even when I was not reading it. You know this type of book. The one that you can't get back to soon enough. The one that makes you giddy because it's time (!!) to sit down and get back to the story. The one where you think you know the characters and feel like they are with you in your living room.

It's okay. You don't have to publicly admit that you do this like I do. But for me, this was that book.

Recommended for fans of historical fiction, noir, or dark romance.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Up in Flames. Dead Lift starts a fire.

My friend told me a distressing story today!

She was getting ready to fry some okra when the mailman pushed her letters through the slot in her front door. The oil was heating on the stove as she stepped away to gather the mail. One of the items was a package from Amazon with her new copy of Dead Lift.

But that isn't what got her attention. An envelope was wedged in the slot that had a Sprint rebate for $100 that she'd mailed days ago. Somehow, it had gotten smashed up in there and the mailman had missed it. This bugged her. Soon the rebate would expire.

And then she pulled Dead Lift out of its packaging, and instead of finding the hardcover she was expecting, she was holding a large print paperback. "Whoa, there! My eyes! How did this happen? Who messed up my order? Am I going to get a refund from Amazon?"

Meanwhile, grease fire!

The pan was in flames. Not as high as this picture. She went to handle it. She assures me that, at this point, she was very calm. An extinguisher was near, but first she removed the pan from the burner. Then, since it was a grease fire, she thought she would toss flour on it to put it out. The flour (from making the fried okra) was right there.

Only, not flour.

It was powered sugar.

Whoosh! More fire.

Then she started to freak out because the flames were high! She tried again to move the pan and it fell, splattered hot grease all over the floor, burned the rug.

And her hand. :(

At last, water put it out. Three hours of icing her hand contained the burn damage.

Such a scary story. I hate that it was peripherally tied to the receipt of a Dead Lift copy.

Be careful out there. Let's learn from my friend's experience.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How fast can you reject me?

This e-mail came today from my writer friend who is querying agents:

I've sent a handful of queries out into the great void. Yesterday I got a response from an agent in New York dated at 2:56pm to a query I'd emailed at 3:35pm. Which means that, due to the vagaries of the internet, my query was, technically, rejected even before I submitted it!
Ouch. And yes. This is exactly how much querying sucks.

I recall sitting down with a list of e-queries I planned to send one afternoon. Of course, I was spending inordinate amounts of time personalizing each one with small nuances to suit each particular agent. I sent one off, and before I had the next one crafted, a rejection from the first agent popped right up into my Inbox. Total time? Maybe three minutes.

I think these quickies are more palatable than Rejection by Omission, though. There were quite a few queries I sent that never received a response of any kind. So we're kind of comparing the "rip off the Band-Aid fast" rejection against the "I know you're bleeding, but I'm just going to let that gusher go forever until you give up and die" rejection scenario.

How do you take your pain? Got any good rejection stories you're willing to share?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Stage Fright

Today I guest blog at Kaye Barley's Meanderings and Muses and discuss how you are similar to Ed Harris. One lucky commenter will win a signed copy. :) I hope you'll stop by.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Books for Banter: You Talk. I Send Books.

"PI Richard Cole puts Emily Locke on a case that gives her a real workout in Brady's well-crafted second mystery to feature the 33-year-old single mom (after 2009's Final Approach). Brady's wry look at fashionista spa life and the spirited, down-to-earth Emily mark this as a series to watch." —Publishers Weekly

Win free copies ~ November 26th - December 4th.
DEAD LIFT is here! I'm celebrating with a contest to help spread the word. You can participate on Twitter, Facebook, at your blog, or by e-mail. Link to this post to be entered to win your choice of a signed copy of Emily's latest adventure, Dead Lift, or the first in the series, Final Approach.

Friday's winner (11/26): Tammy Kaehler
Saturday's winner (11/27): Beth Robertson
Sunday's winner (11/28): Laura Dealoia
Monday's winner (11/29): Ken Buxton
Tuesday's winner (11/30): Jenni Kershaw
Wednesday's winner (12/1): Brian Brady
Thursday's winner (12/2): Julie Hennrikus
Friday's winner (12/3): Lisa Keeling
Saturday's winner (12/4): Mary Langdoc

Four ways to play

1. Twitter

Tweet some variant: RT @Rachel_Brady New gym/spa mystery, DEAD LIFT, is here. Free giveaways this week! and link back to this post.

(The @Rachel_Brady is important because it's the only way I'll see your post to know to enter you.)

2. Your blog

Mention Dead Lift on your blog with a link to this post. Then comment here with a link to your blog. You're entered!

3. E-mail

Mention Dead Lift, with a link to this post, in an e-mail to your friends who enjoy crime fiction. Be sure to copy me at rachel(at)rachelbrady(dot)net so I know to enter you.

4. Facebook

Facebook gets sub-bullets because *I Heart Facebook*:

4a) Mention Dead Lift and link to this post on your Facebook page and you’re entered to win. Message me to let me know. (My Facebook feed gets kind of long and I don't want to miss you.)

4b) Add yourself as a "Liker" of my page and I will enter you because I like to be liked! Say hi on the Wall so I'll know to enter you.

Extra stuff

  • Enter multiple times with any combination of the above.
  • I'll collect names from Twitter, Facebook, blog comments, and my Inbox all week long.
  • I'll draw a winner every day, up to and including Saturday, December 4th.
  • Daily winners will be announced here at the blog and on Twitter and Facebook each evening.
More stuff

Are you a librarian? Do you belong to a book club? I send a complimentary signed copies to book club organizers and librarians who introduce Emily Locke to their reading groups.

Thanks for playing, and good luck!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Celebrate the Small Stuff

A good friend of mine was fond of reminding me to celebrate all the small things in life. I finally made it to a place where I remember to do this on my own.

For me, once the book is written and turned in, there are three events in the journey that feel really good:

1. When the editor finally says the revisions are over. "We're moving to production."

2. The first time I see the cover art.

3. And this one...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Popping up around the Interweb

Friend and librarian Terry Jacobsen was kind enough to include me in her Bouchercon write-up for Library Journal. When I read her piece, I got exhausted from Bouchercon all over again. Thanks for the kind words, Terry!

Today I was delighted to see this favorable review of Dead Lift from Lenore Howard at Fresh Fiction. Thank you, Lenore!

I'm making my way through a short work week, gearing up for the New England Crime Bake writers' conference that begins this Friday night. Speakers include Dennis Lehane and Charlaine Harris, and the Saturday night banquet is a costume event again this year. How can this not be fun?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Greater than the Sum of the Parts

Today at the Stiletto Gang, a little story about my day job...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ships in Harbor

Mystery author Dennis Palumbo gave a memorable talk at Bouchercon last weekend. In addition to writing, he works as a psychotherapist. When he said that most of his clients were writers, I laughed. Considering the audience, I assumed it was a joke.

It wasn't.

His talk focused on writer's block, what it is, and why it happens. I'll summarize his points here in a sec, but after thinking about his message for a while, I've determined that much of what Dennis said about writer's block can be applied to all kinds of challenges in life.

He gave the writers in the room three credos:
1. "You are enough." --There is no lack in you.
2. "Work with what you're given." --All of us have a story, and it might be staring us in the face.
3. "Writing begets writing." --If blocked, write anyway. If you must, write about how much it sucks to be blocked.

He offered hope for writers, suggesting that blocks occur when we are growing. They mark a natural step in our evolution as developing writers. Inevitably, we feel better about ourselves and our skills after we've made it through a block. Nobody looks back and says, "Overcoming that problem made me worse at what I do." Instead we look back and know that we identified a hurdle, cleared it, and learned something from the experience. Blocks, he said, are good news.

On a related topic, Dennis suggested that procrastination is a protective device. Some part of us welcomes it. Otherwise we might confirm our worst fear: that the thing we want most won't work out for us in the end.

He delivered one line I absolutely loved:

"Ships in harbor are safe, but that's not
what ships were built to do."

I haven't stopped thinking about that since.


Dennis Palumbo's book, Writing From the Inside Out, addresses the ideas in his talk. His crime novel, Mirror Image, was released in August.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Bizzy Schmizzy

Today at the Stiletto Gang, I go all introspective and evaluate the meaning of life. Mine, anyway.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Good news today from Publisher's Weekly

Getting book reviews is a crap shoot. There is no guarantee that any given book will be reviewed in the first place, and if it is . . . well, you just hold your breath and hope it's favorable. Today I was happy to learn that Publisher's Weekly not only gave Dead Lift a look (which feels like a miracle), but a nod (even better):

Dead Lift: An Emily Locke Mystery Rachel Brady, Poisoned Pen, $24.95 (250p) ISBN 978-1-59058-810-9; $14.95 trade paper ISBN 978-1-59058-812-3

PI Richard Cole puts Emily Locke on a case that gives her a real workout in Brady's well-crafted second mystery to feature the 33-year-old single mom (after 2009's Final Approach). Houston socialite Claire Gaston stands accused of killing top cosmetic surgeon Dr. Wendell Platt. Has former model Diana King framed Claire, because Claire had an affair with Diana's husband and Wendell's partner, Dr. Chris King? Emily and her funny visiting best friend, Jeannie, check out the exclusive Tone Zone spa, managed by the jealous Diana, where they hope to unearth some clues. The closer Emily gets to catching Wendell's killer, the more she worries about the safety of her daughter, Annette; her boyfriend, Vince; and Jeannie. Brady's wry look at fashionista spa life and the spirited, down-to-earth Emily mark this as a series to watch. (Dec.)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Book Buzz: Ice Cold by Tess Gerritsen

Outstanding! This isn't the first in Tess Gerritsen's Rizzoli & Isles series, but it's the first one I've read. Keeping up with the story was no problem because the pertinent back story was all filled in nicely. After thoroughly enjoying Ice Cold, I'll pick up the others in this series, too.

Boston Medical Examiner Maura Isles travels to a Wyoming medical conference in the middle of a very harsh winter. Plagued by personal issues, saddened by her current relationship, it seems a good opportunity for her to put her head back on straight. At any rate, it's a chance to have a little fun with a charismatic, good-looking man from her past who resurfaces at the same venue. Within a day of their meeting, though, they are isolated in blizzard conditions and are fighting for survival in a ghost town (really, a ghost town!) where circumstances suggest that something unthinkably sinister has happened to the town's ill-fated former occupants. With no viable options to return to civilization, Maura could very well be the next one to mysteriously disappear for good . . . unless she can figure out just what the hell is going on.

"Winter" seems to be a character in this book. The setting is so huge a part of the action and the imagery so well-developed that I felt like I was stranded in the snowy Wyoming valley with her. This made it a great novel to read in Texas in August. :-)

Recommended for fans of female protagonists, medical thrillers, and just plain creepy stuff.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Excerpt Friday: Dead Lift

Stiletto Gang authors are running a series of excerpts, and today I'm up. There's a sneak peek at the opening pages of Dead Lift over there. Hope you'll stop by. :)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Book Buzz: The Queen of Patpong by Timothy Hallinan

It's no secret that I'm a big Tim Hallinan fan. I've said so here and here and here and here. His latest Poke Raffery thriller, The Queen of Patpong, comes out on Tuesday! I had the good luck to read an early copy, so right now I feel kind of like I do when there's a dessert in the kitchen and I tell my kids to let Mom have the first bite to make sure the cookies aren't spoiled or anything. This here's some gooood cookies. :)

Hallinan delivers another gripping page-turner in his latest Poke Rafferty novel, The Queen of Patpong. There's a new man in Bangkok--pure poison, evil to his core--who has it in for Rafferty's wife, Rose. And in typical Rose fashion, she's too stoic and independent to tell Rafferty just what the hell is going on.

The novel switches between Rafferty and Rose's present day danger and Rose's private history, which we learn was both tragic and heroic. Readers will come away from The Queen of Patpong with a whole new respect for Rose, guaranteed. Other favorite characters--Arthit, Kosit, Miaow--are back too. Fans of the series who remember Miaow's obsessively parted hair will smile when you see what she's done to it now. :)

In this beautifully written story, Hallinan once again uses brilliant characterization and the backdrop of an amazing city to subtly show us another perspective of a misunderstood community in the streets of Bangkok--the girls and young women who dance in bars and support their families via prostitution. As he says in his author's note, and portrays through Rose's story, many of these women have done the best they can with a very limited number of choices. What Hallinan does here is strip away the collective grouping of "bar girls" and "hookers" and instead let us spend a few hours with Rose, Fon, Oom, and Nit. I found that, just like in real life, once you know people as individuals and begin to understand where they came from, a situation you thought you understood can appear in a whole, new light.

That's Hallinan's hallmark--making huge statements through the lives of his characters. This is an entertaining, tense thriller with sophisticated prose and characters about as human as they come. Fans of Poke Rafferty won't want to miss it, and new readers can start here if they like. There's enough back story to bring everyone right up to speed.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Dance (and write?) Like Nobody's Watching

Today at the Stiletto Gang: how good friends prevent a writer from looking stoopid.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

How many words is a picture worth?

I set aside time this morning to drive around a neighboring community and work on my book--in pictures.

I've done this for all of my books. I drive around a new area and take photos and notes, then weave those details into the work in progress. It started as a way to enhance setting. Now it helps with mood.

Look at the details we can capture by exploring this way. I wouldn't have been able to imagine these.

I'm not saying they're all pretty. Just suggesting that exploring with a camera is one of my favorite ways to grab sensory detail.

From this little trip, I drove straight to my local indie bookstore, Murder by the Book, where I had the pleasure of meeting author Tess Gerritsen in person. All in all, a great day for books.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Book Buzz: Mean Mothers by Peg Streep

Here is a book for women raised by emotionally absent mothers. Peg Streep draws on scientific research, interviews, and personal stories to suggest reasons why unloving mothers might be the way that they are. She stresses the importance of approaching these questions from a multi-generational angle. Most importantly, care is taken to explain how damaged mother-daughter relationships affect the psychological make-up of the daughters. Streep discusses a wide range of emotional unavailability and expounds on what this means for unmothered daughters when they grow up and have kids, particularly daughters, of their own.

The sibling relationship is also examined and explanations are offered for why children from the same family often have wildly different stories about their childhoods and about what kind of people their parents were. Streep points out that some mothers are emotionally available to some children, but not all, and she describes how this factors into the sibling bonds or lack thereof.

The entire presentation is both fascinating and validating. If any part of this summary resonates with you, there is something for you in this book.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mark David Gerson on What's Right for Right Now

I like Mark David Gerson's perspective on the interplay between our writing projects, our timing, and what might be going on when those two things don't seem to play nice.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Find Out For Yourself

I liked this passage from a chapter called "Find Out For Yourself" in a book called "Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen" by Shunryu Suzuki:

The moment you are told something by someone and you think you understand, you will stick to it, and you will lose the full function of your nature. When you seek something, your true nature is in full activity, as if you are feeling for your pillow in the dark. If you know where the pillow is, your mind is not in full function. Your mind is acting in a limited sense. When you are seeking for the pillow without knowing where it is, then your mind is open to everything. In this way you will have a more subtle attitude toward everything, and you will see things as it is.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Great Hits: My Kids' Best One Liners

Sometimes, the words I write are not my own. At the Stiletto Gang today, I share the best one liners my kids delivered during the last year. No writer could make this stuff up.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Who me? Yes. I can focus intermittently.

Seinfeld fans will remember that it was “the show about nothing.” Similarly, this post is my post about everything. I’ll do it in 500 words.

This year I’ve been working hard to make all kinds of changes. Too many to intelligently tackle at one time, but whatever. The things I want are coming into focus and now that I’m seeing them more clearly, I just want to get on with it already.

One of them, of course, has to do with writing more. This change includes the implementation of my new mantra, BICHOC, which other writer-types may recognize as the acronym for Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. It turns out, this really is the only way to get my manuscript to continue growing steadily. I’ve been applying BICHOC for two months and it has not failed.

Sure, I’m a writer and yes, I like to do it. But I’m also a mother, researcher, fitness instructor, runner, internet addict, social butterfly, and leisure reader and I like to do all those things too. Reminding myself to make time for writing is not as natural as one might assume. I put my progress on display for the world to see (left sidebar) and some of you are actually keeping an eye on it (thank you). This accountability is a huge motivator and--knock on wood--the first draft of the next book has been my fastest so far.

It will take one more paragraph before I get to my point.

On a seemingly (but not) unrelated point, I vehemently dislike “stuff.” What is stuff? Put simply, it’s everything around a home or office. Clothes, cooking utensils, staplers, paperwork, shoes, toys, pictures, remote controls, jewelry, CDs, DVDs, knick-knacks (I especially dislike those) and any manner of clutter constitutes “stuff” in my book, and I mightily strive to have as little of it as possible. The problem is that I have three kids, and while clutter is Kryptonite to me, it is oxygen to them. When I pare down the household stuff, my kids act like they’re going to shrivel up and die without it. So the battle between good and evil, or Mom and Stuff, continues always in my house.

Now it all comes together.

I’ve become a fan of a new website. It’s not solving my clutter problem, my parenting anxieties, or making me a better writer, but it sure is helping me get some perspective and focus more on what is important to me.

Shared here, in hopes it helps you with whatever your goals and demons are is Zen Living. And, although I keep finding wonderful stuff in the archives of this site, my latest favorite that I reference often is 20 Strategies to Defeat the Urge to Do Useless Tasks, which I think might possibly have been written especially for me.

If you like my new favorite web site a fraction as much as I do, we’ll all become better people and I will have done a good deed. Marines say, “Semper Fi!” I say, “Simplify!”


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Book Buzz: Boulevard by Stephen Jay Schwartz

I met Stephen Jay Schwartz at Left Coast Crime, and here I offer further proof that if I ever want to get caught up on my reading stack, I must stop meeting other writers. Because when I like people, the natural extension is to go read their stuff. And without fail, these new novels cut to the front of the line, and the rest of my stack gets dusty.

No matter! Boulevard was totally worth it.

This one blew me away. I was hooked from the start, and then became irritated and grouchy when real-life interruptions got in the way of my read. That's a very good sign. :)

In Boulevard, Schwartz's debut thriller, we're introduced to a troubled protagonist, Hayden Glass, a dedicated and gifted robbery and homicide investigator plagued by a private demon, sex addiction. Slowly, we learn the many facets of Hayden's true self that have been lost to his addiction, but what really brought this character to life for me was the realistic "one step forward, two steps back" portrayal of his continued efforts to heal and recover.

As Hayden works a string of murder cases, he discovers that he is the link connecting them all. While other detectives in his division are headed down the wrong path, Hayden struggles to end a serial killing spree alone, without backing from his comrades or captain. He knows he is a common link to each crime, but can't come forward with full disclosure without essentially ending his career. Worse, he doesn't believe the men left to do the job have the capacity to do it right.

With tight prose, outstanding dialogue, and strong supporting characters, I enjoyed this novel as much for its impressive writing as for its fast-paced and gripping storyline. Highly recommended for thriller fans, readers of police procedurals, and those who like a dark, disturbing read that taps uncomfortable spots in the psyche. This one is definitely an emotional ride.

I'm standing by for the next in the Hayden Glass series, BEAT, coming in September, 2010.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Book Buzz: Gravity by Tess Gerritsen

Imagine that somebody wrote a novel about your workplace and got it right on, and then added a twist, and a turn, a biohazard, some romance, and a smattering of sci-fi. Yeah. That's what I was reading over Memorial Day weekend. Good stuff, right here.

Wow! A friend of mine, both an avid reader and fellow NASA contractor, put this one in my hands. Gravity was published in 1999 so I was late to this party, but it was an amazing read--and I feel safe now in adding that it's timeless. I appreciated Gerritsen's care with technical facts at NASA, as well as her accurate depiction of Johnson Space Center and the Houston area in general. Just a real fun read all-around, close to home for me, and nicely done!

Gerritsen did a remarkable job blurring the line between modern-day science and science fiction. Gravity asks readers to consider the limits of secrecy that are justified in the name of "public safety." It also explores the limits of love and professional duty during times of crisis.

I was delighted to recognize some professional acquaintances in the Acknowledgments, and I was saddened at the mention of Columbia (the novel pre-dated the tragedy). This was a touching read for me as our nation's Space Shuttle program, which is close to my heart, draws to its close. Heartily recommended for fans of medical thrillers or space aficionados. Required reading for JSC contractors and civil servants. :)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Book Buzz: Iron River by T. Jefferson Parker

It occurred to me that I post my impressions of books at Goodreads and sometimes at Amazon, but I've never done it here at the blog. So today I'm going to start. One thing that helps authors is word of mouth, and I want to be a part of encouraging folks to read more.

With that, I'm posting my short review of Iron River, a book I finished yesterday:

This was my first T. Jefferson Parker novel and my introduction to his series character, Charlie Hood, an ATF agent who patrols the "iron river" where illegal guns move from the United States over the Mexican border to the drug cartels. Much of the story's backdrop was new to me, and I appreciated the unique setting and inherent element of danger in Hood's life and in those of his colleagues. What really set Iron River apart for me were its characters. The story is narrated partially from Hood's viewpoint and partially from his adversary's. I liked the way Parker took the time to illustrate the humanness of all his characters, whether they were "good" guys or "bad." A favorite character was the puzzling and seemingly eccentric Mike Finnegan, who seemed to have insider information about a range of past, present, and future events, all from the confined space of his hospital room. Switching between the perspectives of these intriguing characters kept my interest high and made for a very enjoyable read. Recommended for those of you who like bad-ass operatives with a side dish of romantic interest.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Because I Feel Like It

Today at the Stiletto Gang: How my emerging attitude problem is ramping up the word count.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sixteen Degrees of Separation: When Texas and New Jersey Cohabitate

I had a fabulous time with mystery writers and fans at last weekend's Malice Domestic Mystery Convention in Arlington, Virginia. You can click here to see pictures from the weekend or here to read about the interesting and unexpected thermal issues I encountered in my hotel room. :)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Messily in the Middle: Getting Happy in my Writing Skin

One of my favorite authors, Tim Hallinan, graciously invited me to guest blog in his series about plotting vs. pantsing. I described how the process has been different for me with each book. Where do you fall in the spectrum?

Friday, April 30, 2010

How Sexy Shoes Will Write This Book

I'm playing motivational mind games with myself again and this time I'm spurring my word count with help from some shoes. Read the whole sordid story by clicking through to the Stiletto Gang, a very appropriate place for this particular post.

Today I'm in Arlington, VA, at the Malice Domestic Mystery Conference. Tomorrow morning I'll attend a new authors breakfast and later I'll speak on a panel about Mysteries Set in the Great Outdoors. At the evening's Agatha Awards, I'll finally get to wear the shoes mentioned in today's Stiletto Gang post. It should be a fun weekend. I'll bring back a full report. :)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Did that kid just hit on me? A post by Mrs. Robinson.

This afternoon I was at the library (which is all this post has to do with books, sorry) and as I was leaving, two respectable looking young men came in the door. I'd put them in their late teens.

I did the door dance with one of them. You know the one. I swerve, he swerves, we both go the other way, no wait, after you, how about I go over here? Right. So that happened. I smiled at him because it was funny, and I left. Nothing was said.

Past that exit is a foyer before you get to the real exit that goes outside. In this foyer, I turned off into a corridor to stop at the ladies room, and when I was partway down that hallway, I heard someone behind me:

"Excuse me?"

I turned. It was the door dance kid: "Are you married?"


I must say, though, his timing was impeccable. Just this very day I found another gray hair.

"I'm . . ." (trying to calculate your age, can you even vote?) ". . . married."

He gave me a warm smile and a polite apology, told me to have a nice afternoon, waved, and left. I went into the ladies room and wondered what the heck just happened.

I've been told a few times in lo, my many years that I'm fairly oblivious to come-ons. I tend to just assume everybody is friendly, and that's all. But, wow. "Are you married?" That's pretty clear, right?

But wait.

Maybe he wasn't a teenager. Could it be that he was really 25, not 18, and that I'm so old now that a 25-year-old looks 18 to me?

Or what if I'd said I was single, and then he'd said, "Super. Would you give me a hand with my tenth grade sociology project? I'm supposed to interview women in mid-life who have not found love."

I imagine many endings to the alternate conversation, and all of them end in embarrassment. I just don't see myself as the cougar type, although I would really like to have my own theme song.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Before Sending Off Your Novel

My friend Chris La Tray posted this excellent find today. I confess I'm guilty of many of these in my early drafts. The trick is spotting and fixing them on later passes, before the world sees.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

“Hey Rachel, how’s the book doing?”

People are often surprised to hear that I don’t know.

This post falls under my “demystification” heading and is meant for those of you interested in what happens on the business end of a book contract. Keep in mind that I’m an “n of 1,” as we in scientific fields say. Others will have different experiences, and that’s why it’s important to visit other writing/publishing blogs and make lots of writer-type friends to learn more about how stuff works.

Some background:

Final Approach came out eight months ago. My contract says that every April I’ll receive a royalty statement for sales in the previous calendar year. That’s fine, except it left this newbie with a few anxiety-filled questions for eight long months while I waited for April to roll around:

  1. Is my publisher losing money on me? I’ve said before that one of my biggest worries has been letting down the folks who took a chance on me. A publisher invests money in its authors. There is always a bit of stress on my end wondering if that risk paid off. I’d hate to disappoint my publisher, and I’d really, really hate to cost them money.
  2. Did the ads work? Last fall I dropped a lot of cash on print ads in skydiving magazines, hoping to reach readers in that niche. A royalty statement that blankets sales for the whole previous year doesn’t indicate which months did better than others. So there was no way for me to know if this method of promotion should be abandoned or repeated.
  3. What about bookstore and library events? How about on-line promotion? Was there a sales spike during weeks I guest blogged, or during the months I did more in-person events? No telling.
  4. “How many copies have sold?” Your guess is as good as mine.

The statement came last week and some of these were answered. I was relieved that I sold through my advance, which I’m guessing means that my publisher did not lose money on the book. Since the statement reported total sales, there wasn’t an indication which months sold better than others, but my publisher is changing that this year and will mail statements more frequently. That means authors will have a better idea about which of our promotional efforts are working. Good news, all around.

Mainly, I was excited to see that more copies of Final Approach sold than the number of people I know on the planet. That means that my neighbors and mailman aren’t the only ones picking up the book.

For those who may wonder, I still spend way more money on writing than I bring in. The bulk of what I spend goes toward conference travel, the rest goes toward promotion. I’d go to writers’ conferences even if I didn’t have a book out; those things are just plain fun. So I don’t view that as a loss. But I’m sharing this here to reiterate what you probably already know: writing probably won’t make you rich. The rewards, for me at least, are the intangibles: time spent in my imagination, watching a new story unfold, and the feeling of accomplishment when I finally get to type THE END.

Switching gears now, I have a Book 3 update: I finally started it.

To keep myself honest, I’ve added a progress bar over there on the left. If you see it sit in the same place too long, consider this your license to open a can of whoop-ass on me. With the help of a friend, I’ve devised a humiliating punishment for any weeks I may miss my word count goal, and this will be unveiled on my April 30th Stiletto Gang post.

Gotta keep things fun.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Left Coast Crime from a librarian's perspective

You'll meet a lot of great people at writers' conferences. Last month at Left Coast Crime I met Terry Jacobsen, a librarian from California who wrote a nice piece about her conference experience. It's shared here in hopes that those of you who are setting out on your writing journeys will get your booties to the next conference near you.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Nathan Bransford: The Way Cocktail Parties Should Really Go

Not much I can add here except that I really liked his post today and think it's worth a read. It made me smile.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Hitting the Links

I found some sweet links yesterday, neither related to the other.

From the business end of things, Eric at Pimp My Novel included a list of publishing acronyms that may be useful to new writers. At Backspace Writers, author Marcus Sakey shared fantastic advice about storytelling that I think is great for new writers and veterans alike. It's a very nice piece.

Synopsis update: Slow, but moving forward.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Library Love, Part Deux. Thank you, Tomball, Texas!

It's no secret around here that I love my library. Now I love another library too. But it's okay. Libraries don't get jealous.

Last week I was invited to visit the mystery book club at the Tomball College and Community Library. Talking to book clubs is always fun, but this one was especially welcoming. I knew I was going to like it there when I walked in the door and Angela Hunter (left), from the Friends of the Library, told me I looked like a teenager. Fifty points to my new BFF.

Georgia Owens (right) planned an outstanding event. She even decorated with a parachute! I was greeted with a ginormous, laminated rainbow sign that said, "Welcome, Rachel" and a gorgeous bouquet of flowers that she later sent home with me. Thank you, Georgia! They are almost as lovely as you! :-) Her husband Mike, even catered for us. He makes great queso. Thanks, Mike!

Much as I was loving the decorations and food, the visit got even better once we started talking. What a great group of readers! We talked about lots of things, including, but not limited to:

  • Final Approach
  • My next book, Dead Lift
  • How I write
  • Cover art
  • Where book ideas come from
  • Life at NASA
  • My hobbies and follies
  • Our favorite authors
  • Our favorite mystery series-es (is there a word for this?)
  • Fashion trends of the 1960s
  • Snobby women
  • Women who wear too much make-up
  • How Jerry Baker from the Houston Chronicle will one day make us famous
  • Whether I could possibly move to Tomball so I could hang out with all my new friends, pictured here.

This was a fabulous group, one of the most fun yet, and I had the time of my life.

Sincere thanks to Georgia for setting this up, and to Angela for buying more copies for the Friends of the Library. See you guys in a few months for Dead Lift. Library Love!

Friday, March 26, 2010

In My Mind, I Run Like a Kenyan

And write like one too, I guess. The full story is at the Stiletto Gang today. Please click through and reassure me that I’m not alone here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Left Coast Crime: Best Advice Summarized.

Usually when I return from conferences, I write posts that are too long. What can I say? Conferences energize me, and the energy manifests in a torrent of words.

My opinion about the importance of attending writing conferences is already documented, so in the spirit of my last post (Just Say 10 Words and Shut Up), I will simply share the best two pieces of advice I took away from Left Coast Crime: Booked in L.A.

#1. Tim Hallinan: When pushing through a story outline or synopsis, try writing brief opening lines of dialogue for each scene and then summarizing--briefly--how you see the rest of that scene or chapter going. Then move on.

#2. Twist Phelan: For short stories, think about a character you wouldn't want to spend a whole book with. Or maybe find the one exciting thing that happens in the life of an otherwise normal person.

Both food for thought.

Here's a picture of Tim and I. Can you tell I adore him? In a few weeks I'll be guest blogging for him, talking about my "writing process." I hope the piece will generate some discussion here because I'm always keen to learn how others make up their stories.

My goal for March is to write a synopsis for Book #3 so I'll report back how Tim's advice works out for me.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Just Say 10 Words and Shut Up.

My friend Carrie (of the ditch story) recently helped me reach a positive-thinking Nirvana state, described today at the Stiletto Gang. We hope you'll click through, but making fun of us is not allowed.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Training to Write

Last year, Mystery Readers Journal called for articles related to sports mysteries. My Emily Locke series is set in various sporting communities, a different one in each book, so naturally I was excited to contribute my article Training to Write.

If you're a mystery fan, consider a subscription to Mystery Readers Journal. If you're a Twitter user, consider following the Journal's editor, "JanetRudolph." She tweets about Mysteries all the time. Janet also keeps a great blog about all things mystery at Mystery Fanfare.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Thank you, Wendy R.

A generous reader took the the time to write a kind review for Final Approach. When I encounter these, I can't explain how much they encourage me to keep writing.

The two biggest book-related compliments, in my opinion, are 1) when a person tells me s/he stayed up too late reading it, and 2) when someone likes it enough to spend time saying so on-line. Both absolutely make my day.

Thank you, Wendy R!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ode to Revisions

You wear me down
Make me confused
I type in words I have already used

Forgot that guy's name
Need a new twist
Finding the stuff my spellchecker missed

Due date is coming
Brain waves are humming
If I don't fix this soon I'll be majorly bumming

Red ink in the copy
Notes everywhere
No time to be sloppy
My nerves are bare

Kiddos are loud
TV through the walls
Pulling out hair
Nonsensical scrawls

"Part of the process!"
"Good for your work!"
Revisions, I hate you.
You make me berserk.

welcome back.
With you at hand I feel right on track.
Facebook, Twitter... all progress slowed
And my latest time waster,
Writing an Ode.

Friday, January 29, 2010

You Know in Your Heart You Want this Skittle

Today at the Stiletto Gang I talk a little bit about tackling self doubt, something I think all writers experience. Self doubt can be big or small, and like all things, I believe that managing it takes practice. Click through to read about my latest personal challenge. :-)

Monday, January 25, 2010

What's in a revision letter, anyway?

The revision letter came, and I promised I'd share. In the interests of demystifying the process, here it is with as much detail as possible. At the end of the letter I'll add a few closing remarks . . . one potentially helpful to fellow writers, the other just plain funny for anyone. Here we go!

Dear Rachel,

I hope this finds you well. Happy new year.

I finished the MS of Dead Lift. Much improvement in some areas we discussed, especially Jeannie and her interaction. And less of the old story.

I will write to you fully when I get back end of the month, but some points to consider are:

Emily working for [character omitted] – is there a satisfactory wrap up to this issue, ie her dislike and the role Richard has put her into…. Maybe she needs to consider more the ramifications of a new job and thus how to execute it (doing stuff she doesn’t like). I do think you do a good job with the mix of [character names omitted], it’s a poignant position for all.

The cell phone deal, Richard not replacing hers, its unreliability. I see why you need it disabled for the plot mechanics, but a new cell would be so easy and so cheap to pick up, this isn’t very credible. What real reason can you give when say Jeannie is flinging money around on clothes etc and Emily at the spa while snooping why Emily doesn’t just buy a new one? Why must it be a phone purchased for her by Richard and why is she willing to leave herself vulnerable and unable to do her job well by waiting on him?

[Character]. Is it believable she is so criminally careless with [details omitted]?

The largest problem has to do with [character names omitted]. First, if [this guy's] mom was 90, then how old is [this guy]? Mom left two sisters and a brother in law who are still alive albeit elderly. So where are they in this picture? Is [this guy] an only child?

[Unfortunately, I'm cutting a huge part here in the middle because it has to do with the Whodunnit portion of the novel, sorry.]

Further, I see no way [character] would have [done that]. And anyone who went into the house would discover as easily as did Emily what [bad guy] is up to.

One way you could deal with this – you perhaps should get legal advice about [character's situation] – would be to [editor suggests a plot alternative here].

You should try to talk to [professionals in the field, basically do some more research] and think this through. It’s a good plot idea but simply can’t work the way you have set it up.

When we get back I’ll send the MS to you with my usual scribbles and they may reveal a few other points but this is the big one.

This is a relatively short novel so you have room to expand without damaging the pace as long as you weave it in with dialogue etc and don’t drop in facts. Might be fun to embroider on the plight of people like [character].

You have already realized that your audience for this is going to be mostly women via the spa setting, which is fine. But it’s a bit different than the appeal of Final Approach, and a landscape of interest to men, ie sky diving. No criticism, just reiterating. It probably fits well with the central trope of Emily, Annette, and building some kind of family.

Vince progresses nicely and as said, Jeannie is great!



When I received my first revision letter for Final Approach, I wondered what "TEE" meant, because those are not her initials. I was afraid to ask. Eventually, another author at the press clued me in: The Evil Editor. But the truth is, she's not evil at all. In fact, "I luv my Editer." :-)

Cell phones, on the other hand, are the devil to mystery writers. Or at least to this one. That bit about the phone up there says it all. To put characters in true peril, we take away their lifelines and force them to be resourceful. But today phones are so fast and easy to replace. I shake my fist (and my red editing pen) at cell phones.

As promised, here is a helpful article by Jennifer Hubbard about dealing with revision letters. I was lucky to read this before Final Approach sold and still approach the revision process the same way.

And finally, an oldie but a goodie. This is kinda how it feels to be me today. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Last Ditch Effort: My Latest Race Day Screw-up

Sometimes things go wrong on race day.

I've missed a tri because of a flat tire when I had no spare tubes. Once, at a breast cancer 10K, I wore pink ribbon socks, even though they weren't running socks, because I wanted to be in the spirit. That decision ended with blisters. Last year I forgot how old I was and went out in the wrong swim wave. My friend Carrie and I once missed the turn-off to our race site and overshot it by about twenty miles. I've even wrecked my bike on the course. Things go wrong.

I'm also a horrible driver and back into lots of things. This has included a couple cars, my own garage (twice), and a pole. But today was the first time I've combined my poor driving with my penchant for messing up races. I drove into a ditch two hours before gun time.

Since this is a writing blog, I'll tie this into writing eventually. But it's also a "how I fit it all in" blog, and wrecking cars and screwing up races is some of the stuff I fit in.

To shorten a very long story, the only things hurt were my pride and my wallet (turns out, AAA only tows for free when your car breaks down, not when you are stupid). My friends came to the rescue and got me to the start line on time. My car was waiting for me after the race in the parking lot across from the Extraction Point.

It was an embarrassing drive home, but I think I got it washed before the neighbors noticed.

We had a good half marathon this year. I didn't beat my personal best, but had a fantastic run considering my level of training this season. The hardest part was running past a donut shop at Mile 8 and then running past the same shop again at Mile 10 after a turn-around. Heavenly smelling donuts. Lisa had a funny song stuck in her head all morning and sang about having our "Pants on the Ground" loud enough for all to hear.

As to how it might tie into writing. I once read that bad decisions make good stories. If I'd had an uneventful morning, I wouldn't have written about it. Conflict and tension is good for a writer, even when it makes you wish you could crawl under a rock.

Parting words . . .

I'm fond of a t-shirt that says "Run Like a Mother." After this morning, my husband says I need one that says, "Run Like a Mudder." I think he's right on.

Friday, January 15, 2010

20 Great Things About Dating a Writer!

An adorable post I found via a Facebook friend: 20 Great Things About Dating a Writer

Monday, January 4, 2010

Pre-submission rituals. I have no shame.

Last month I turned in the first draft of my next book. After finishing the substantive changes my critique partners suggested, I went through some pre-submission rituals to check the copy. My list isn't exhaustive, but I thought it might be useful for some.

1. Spellcheck. Enough said.

2. A "Find and Replace" that changes two spaces to one. When I learned to type, we were taught to space twice after periods. The habit is mine for life now, but it's unnecessary now that we use computers instead of typewriters.

3. Check that chapter headings go in order. This manuscript went from Chapter 31 to Chapter 33.

4. Search for my personal over-used words. When I turned in my last manuscript, my editor said I used the verb "yank" too much. I checked it out. Sure enough, curtains were yanked, hair yanked, etc. She also said, "Everybody in this book wears a boring t-shirt!" It's normal; we all do it. A best-selling author I enjoy has a protagonist that "turns on her heel" every time she gets upset, in every book. The thing is to try to become aware of those words and phrases and find substitutes. This manuscript had a few that I found:
"irritated/irritate/irritating": appearances cut from 12 to 5.
"for the first time": appearances cut from 8 to 4.
"random": cut from 6 to 4.
"eyebrows": cut from 16 to 8.

5. Look for words I don't need. Examples: just, that, was, saw (28 uses), heard (41 uses), smelled (0 uses). There is almost always a stronger way to build a sentence.

6. Check for unnecessary dialogue tags. "Said" is the preferred one, but if it can be removed and replaced with a character action that indicates the speaker, all the better: "I can't believe I used the word 'eyebrows' sixteen times." Rachel reached for a cookie. "Am I really going to admit this on my blog?"

7. Try to remove adverbs. I did a search for words ending in -ly. I was horrified! 931 uses! Thankfully (there's another -ly) these weren't a bunch of quicklies, swiftlies, softlies, tenderlies, and smoothlies, though. Most common -lys that I found: Emily (34 uses, and that's excusable!), mistakenly, definitely, only, probably, eventually, actually, finally, family, personally, immediately. You can see that not every -ly word is an adverb. Still, I think it's worth a look.

The revision letter is coming, guys. If there are comments that I can share without giving away story elements, I'll post them in all their horror so we can learn together.

Write on!