Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mystery Writers of America University: New Orleans, October 1

Now a plug for my friendly neighborhood writing organization:

Mystery Writers of America University (MWA-U) is a full-day, low-cost writing seminar designed to teach folks the essential skills needed to write a novel. The workshop covers everything from the idea stage to the final edits. Here, college level courses are taught by published mystery writers who are also experienced teachers. Topics include:
After the idea

  • Dramatic structure and plot

  • Setting and description

  • Character

  • Editing

  • The writing life

The Southwest chapter of MWA will host this workshop on Saturday, October 1st in New Orleans. If it interests you, please click here for more information.

Happy writing!

Friday, August 26, 2011

How to handle life and what to avoid in the school cafeteria, as explained by my little girl

This month at the Stiletto Gang, I turned to my nine-year-old daughter for some life guidance.

Kids are insightful. Also kind of funny.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Live Simply, Live Well.

Today at the Stiletto Gang, I share my recent impressions about the power of paring down.

Monday, July 25, 2011

What happens when you listen to audiobook Disk 2 before Disk 1?

Nothing really. Which I found remarkable.

I'd never read The Devil Wears Prada (Lauren Weisberger) or seen the film, but plenty of my girlfriends have loved it, so when I saw the audiobook at the library, I picked it up. Rachel Leigh Cook did a fabulous job narrating and I was completely immersed in the story when Disk 1 ended and I reached for Disk 2, which turned out to be the real Disk 1.


Had I really just jumped into a novel partway through and not noticed?

Yes. Thank you, library patron who borrowed this audiobook before me.

I struggled with how to handle it. Put in Disk 1 and catch up on what I'd missed in the opening chapters? Or stay in the flow and go forward with Disk 3?

I went on to Disk 3.

The remainder of the book was as entertaining as I'd hoped and I had no trouble following along. When it ended, I went back and played Disk 1, finding that it didn't reveal anything I should have known to enjoy the rest of the story. The mistake actually reminded me of something I often hear in writing circles, which is that many of us open the action in our novels too soon. In fact, with Dead Lift, one of my critique partners told me to open the book with Chapter 4. That is the scene that now appears as Chapter 1 in the published copy.

My audiobook gaffe was amusing. I learned two things: Read the labels on audiobooks. And I want to rent this movie. :)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book Buzz: Dead Man's Switch by Tammy Kaehler

Tammy Kaehler delivers a solid debut with Dead Man's Switch, featuring racecar driving protagonist Kate Reilly. The story opens when Kate gets a much needed chance to accelerate her racing career after veteran driver Wade Becker turns up suspiciously dead just days before the American Le Mans Series finale.

Kate isn't a total rookie. She's shown her driving skill in earlier races and has made herself available for this one, hoping to score an invitation to drive. Granted, she didn't expect her invitation to come because another racer turned up dead. But, like her grandad always says, beggars can't be choosers.

Turns out, the racing community isn't full of hugs and brotherly love. Plenty of racers on the circuit are jealous. Did Kate sleep her way into the Corvette's driver's seat? Maybe she killed Wade to get a shot at the big league? Rumors fly around the track about as fast as the cars. Kate has to keep her thinking clear and focus. She has a car to learn, a track to learn, and a team to learn . . . all in four days, when she'll finally get her chance to drive in the spotlight, *if* she can keep a persistent police detective off her back.

Dead Man's Switch is a great pick for fans of strong female protagonists, amateur sleuths, all things racing, and those who like to be first to find promising new mystery authors. Two thumbs up! Vrooom.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The "Heeeyyy! Whatcha doin'?" call

I never liked those calls.

You know, the ones where somebody calls you up for no reason in particular. When I answer my phone, I expect 1) news or 2) a request.
Example of #1: "There's a hurricane coming!"
Example of #2: "Will you help me avoid my mother-in-law?"

Calls like these serve a purpose and have a natural ending point.

The "Heeyyy! Whatcha doin'?" phone call doesn't work for me because I have a job and three kids and one of those things is usually what I'm doing, plus I'm not confident that the awkward phone call is ever going to end, and I'm never clear about why it's happening.

Much like this particular blog post.

And for that, I'm sorry. But tonight I realized that I haven't posted here for two months and felt compelled to do a check-in call, even though it's kinda lame.

There's no hurricane coming. At least not to Houston. We haven't had rain for about six hundred years . . .

And, yes. Of course I'll shield you from your mother-in-law.

I'll also try not to let the blog get this dusty again. I hope everyone is doing well and ready to enjoy the holiday weekend.

Happy 4th!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Why I Will Survive an Alien Attack

Today at the Stiletto Gang I discuss another embarrassing mind game that I play with myself. But this one is potentially useful in the event of an alien attack.

In case, you know . . . you're worried about that.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Buzz: The Albuquerque Turkey by John Vorhaus

John Vorhaus brings his personable, yet criminal, main character--Radar Hoverlander--back for some schemes-gone-wrong in his new release, The Albuquerque Turkey. Readers met con-man radar and his equally lovable and crooked new girlfriend, Allie, in the series debut, The California Roll. Now the pair is back for their toughest challenge yet: a respectable life as crime-free, upstanding citizens. Easier said than done for these two.

Add in a grifter patriarch, an old nemesis, and a couple of eccentric artsy friends on the make for fame and glory, and pretty soon it's impossible to tell who's double crossing whom.

Radar's a charming, affable narrator and I really enjoyed his quirky supporting cast, both the good guys and the bad. (Probably because much of the time I couldn't be sure of the difference.) Twists in the story are frequent and amusing. This is a great choice for those looking for fast thrills and a break from predictable PG humor.

I almost never laugh out loud while reading, but The Albuquerque Turkey got me more than once. Thumbs up.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Why a first draft is like a poorly planned paint job

This post has automagically uploaded today while I'm off chatting up mystery writers at the Left Coast Crime mystery convention in Santa Fe, NM.

At the Stiletto Gang today, I talk about first drafts that do not behave. I hope your manuscripts are not as disobedient as my WIP.

That's "work in progress" for those of you with dirty minds.

Behave yourselves while I'm gone. Write lots of words, use your spellchecker, and don't answer the door for anyone.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Houston area writers: affordable writers' workshop near you on April 16th

A little shout-out to my fellow Houston area writers. Alvin Community College is hosting a writers' workshop on April 16th. It's open to the public, and I'll be one of the speakers. Come on out and get your inspiration on. :)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

What makes a good story, how GPS works, and other questions answered...by a 10-year-old.

Sometimes it helps to look outside our own heads for a fresh perspective. So I went to my daughter and we had a chat.

RB: When you are working on a story, what has been the hardest part?

JB: The quotation marks, because I always forget to put in the "he said" and "she said" parts.

RB: The tags.

JB: Right. The tags.

RB: Tell me why you started writing stories.

JB: Because my teacher made me.

RB: Sometimes I write in a notebook and other times on my laptop. Do you have a preference about the way you write?

JB: The computer is better because it tells you if you spell something wrong.

RB: You just finished reading a huge book in three days! (Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow by James Rollins, ~400 pages) I've never seen you do that before. What elements in the Jake Ransom book made it so important that you read it that fast?

JB: It was funny and scary at the same time. Animals with swords? Is that not funny and scary?

RB: Tell me your opinions about audio books vs. real books.

JB: Audio books are faster but real books . . . when we read those, we have to imagine the voices.

RB: Some people are using e-readers now, like a flat little computer you hold in your hand. The whole book is on there, kind of like a Word document. What do you think about that?

JB: That sounds strange. I've never seen one or heard of one.

RB: Would you try one?

JB: Yeah. It would be neat to own a little electronic device like that and have it all to myself.

RB: Do you know what a card catalog is?

JB: No.

RB: Do you know what an encyclopedia is?

JB: Yep. A long book, sort of like a dictionary, with different topics.

RB: If you needed to find out a phone number, how would you do it?

JB: By asking the person.

RB: I mean, if they weren't there with you.

JB: I'd e-mail them.

RB: If you didn't know their e-mail address?

JB: I'd mail them a letter. And I already know what you're going to say next. If I didn't know their address, I'd wait until the next time I saw them.

RB: What about getting directions somewhere? How would you do that?


RB: Do you know how that works?

JB: Yes. It's another little electronic device. It sits in your hand or in your car, and tells you where to go.

RB: Yes, but how does it work?

JB: It's just smart like that.

RB: GPS works because it talks to the satellites in space. They know where you are, and they know where you are trying to go.

JB: Oh. Sweet.

RB: Do you have any idea how much a stamp costs?

JB: No. A dollar?

RB: Forty-four cents.

JB: *shrugs, unimpressed*

RB: I'm always after you to try new foods. If I would stop nagging you about any particular food, which would you choose?

JB: Well, which one do you cook the most? I guess corn or carrots.

RB: Moms are embarrassing sometimes. How am I embarrassing to you?

JB: At the Christmas parties, sometimes you kiss me.

RB: If you had to explain to a little kid why reading is important, what would you say?

JB: It's good for your brain so it doesn't turn into mush. That's your line.

RB: I'm glad you remember my line.

JB: You say it enough.

RB: What message do you have for the people who will read our blog?

JB: Wait. People are going to read this?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Around the Interweb

I'm feeling very spoiled this week because Marshal Zeringue has been kind to host me at a couple of interesting blogs, including The Page 69 Test, which is less perverse than it sounds, but no less fun, and Writers Read, in which I disclose what books I am currently courting.

Today I was flattered to be invited to speak at an upcoming writer's workshop. I can't think of anything more enjoyable than that. Writers. Books. TALKING?! Sign me up.

And, there were brownies and ice cream at my office.

The day was good.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Rachel Brady, Master Trickster

I'm up to bat at the Stiletto Gang, talking about the head games I play with myself to get stuff done. Please stop by and chime in, but only if you're a slacker. Super heroes are banned today.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wonderful news from Left Coast Crime

Dead Lift has been nominated for a Watson, Left Coast Crime's award for the best sidekick in a mystery novel. Thanks to everyone who nominated it! Jeannie wants to buy you a round. :) I'm humbled by the company in the nominee list.

At the conference in March, I'll moderate a panel called "Detectives Without Badges." Panelists are Laurie R. King, Annette Mahon, and Lawrence Light. This should be a fantastic time!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Thinking about new writers

Yesterday I attended the monthly local meeting of Mystery Writers of America. Without fully understanding how it happened, I'm now serving as the chapter's vice president. This is an honor, but what scares me about it is knowing that I was recommended for this position because others believed I could infuse "new energy."

You know how it goes. Complain enough and somebody eventually says, "Well, if you think you can do better, we invite you to try."

MWA is a fabulous organization, but the complaints I allude to have to do with my outspoken opinion that the organization doesn't do enough to mentor its pre-published members.

So yesterday, I voiced some of my ideas to improve that. And today it occurs to me that I may be able to do something similar here at the blog.

One fortuitous side-effect of writing has been meeting other authors. What a cool bunch of people writers are. This morning I am wondering if the readers of this blog would be interested in posing a few questions to "authors at large." I could collect feedback from some of my author friends and post it here, and that would give you an opportunity for a little insight into their writing lives and their challenges in publishing.

Any interest? If so, please post your questions in the comments. I'll collect them and return with some professional feedback to share.