Sunday, January 31, 2016

Confessions of a Pack Rat

by Tim Maleeney

When I was a kid I collected everything--baseball cards, comics, bottle caps, key chains, action figures, coins, stamps, electrical circuits plastic tubing and even pieces of wood in case I had to build a rocket ship or teleportation device.  Boxes and bins filled my room, the closets, and the bookshelves, along with hundreds of books (which were probably the second thing I started collecting, after stuff animals).

Some of those collections were put on display, many were played with,  but there was something magical about having a collection just in case. Nothing was more exciting than playing a game which suddenly called for a contraption that could only be made with fifty bottle caps and ten yards of old string, knowing you had those essential ingredients somewhere in your closet, in the blue box with the Batman sticker.

Years later my desk and the walls of my office look a lot like my childhood shelves, with scraps of paper, scribbled notes, photographs, and file folders everywhere. Some of the information is new, dug up at the library or printed from my computer, but many items were found years ago and have only recently been pulled from a drawer or taken from a bulletin board to become part of my next novel.

[One of] my books, which has the unlikely title Greasing the Pinata, was called by Library Journal "a cracking good mystery!" When I look at some of the disparate elements that comprise the plot, they include a missing U.S. senator, a trip to Burning Man, a bipolar drug lord, a clergyman-turned hitman, a female assassin reared by the Hong Kong Triads, a trip across Mexico, and a financial scam that begins in corporate boardrooms and ends somewhere in the heart of the environmental movement. (Those are just a few of the major players or setting because I forgot to mention San Francisco, the box jellyfish, the  magic act and the castle on the beach.)

So the questions are how these seemingly unrelated items ended up in the same book, and  how  do they work seamlessly in a story that Publishers Weekly said "smoothly mixes wry humor with a serious plot? Did I know I was going to use them all when I started writing? Absolutely not. But more important I didn't realize I was going to use any of that information when I first discovered it--I just collected it as I went along, putting each experience, article or thought into its own bin to retrieve later, just like those bits of plastic and electrical circuits from my youth. As a writer, you never know when you'll have to build a time machine.

I used to travel for work to places like Hong Kong and Mexico, and though I wasn't writing then, I did collect those experiences, along with some snapshots, stories and memories that came in handy when I decided to set my novel there. A file folder stuffed with articles about deadly sea creatures came in handy when I decided a box jellyfish should make an appearance. And a box of magic tricks I performed as a child, which I've since taken from the attic and given to my daughter, provided the inspiration for one of the more memorable scenes in the novel.

I see my daughters collecting things, both of them already interested in writing their own stories even as they are learning to read, and though I occasionally step on a bottle cap, it always makes me smile. 

(Excerpted from The Mysterious Writers where you can read not only Tim Maleeney's interview but those of 75 others. Available in ebook and large print.)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Going for the Blogosphere!

by Robert W. Walker

While an author needs be cautious with BSP-–Blatant SELF-Promotion-–as it can be as off-putting as SPAM, there are professional techniques. For instance, learn what is acceptable or not when on a given site/chat group. Below are acceptable forms of BSP-ing every author should look into:

Sig line: We all know to beef up emails with a signature line—always a good idea, but many folks on various groups are terribly put off by our doing a full-blown commercial for our books on their “space”. This said there are legit ways to gain attention for a forthcoming book.

Set up a blog from your series/main character’s point of view or your own perspective. Many authors are doing this these days. Setting up a blog is easy at Google spot easy to navigate.

Set up a Group-a-Blog! Yes, a group of us Chicago mystery and suspense writers are an example at Acme Authors(http.//’s great as you’re only responsible for content one day per week. We began as Chicago authors but recently have added on, and we have frequent interviews and guests. A group-a-blog that involves many authors also means a built in support group!

Set up a website most assuredly! An author needs an online address to promote herself, set up free advice, contests, and giveaways as I have at It is so important that people can find you and your books—public figure that you are.

Join the web Bandwagon! How many times this week did you hear the word Twitter? Check out and join as with other seriously large social groups online like, www.myspace,com,, of which allow you to “network” online, building connections so that “your web” grows larger said the spider to the fly.

Cross pollinate! Once you’re part of a huge social network, lure readers to your work via your various addresses while being your wonderful self (if they like you, they buy your book!). Humor and interesting content is how you Pied Piper people to your blog and website. I’m on and in addition to all of the above. You tell people at the various bandwagon sites in quick bites where they can find the whole meal deal at your site and your blog. You suggest, cajole, urge folks over without a smell of leftover Spam by providing a url, which allows Dick and Jane to decide and not you for them. Meanwhile, you can also duplicate your blog efforts (articles) to play on some of these bandwagon sites (cut and paste your original blog, and it does double or triple-duty at myspace, facebook, crimespace blogs. It’s how we got through college—making one research paper do double duty in more than one class/venue! You can also catch my articles on writing at Does it keep me busy? Yes. Does it pull me away from my next book project? Yes. Is it worth it? By all means.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Marketing Two Books at Once

by Betty Webb

In December, 2008, when Poisoned Pen Press released my kinda-cozy “The Anteater of Death,” the first book in the Gunn Zoo series, I had a choice to make. I could tour the brick-and-mortar stores and never mention my earlier 2008 release, the dark “Desert Cut,” or not bring up that fifth novel in the Lena Jones series at all. After all, I’d already conducted a brick-and-mortar tour on “Cut”.

But the bookstores ordered more Lena Jones books for me to sign on the “Anteater” tour, so I realized that I had to come up with a way to discuss two very, very different types of books in the same talk. The answer came when the store managers asked me why I was switching from dark material to light, and was that switch going to be permanent. As I began explaining, I thought, “Gee, this is exactly the kind of stuff audiences might be interested in.”

My explanation? Researching writing the socially conscious Lena Jones books -- Desert Cut in particular -- is so time intensive and emotionally grueling, that I needed a break. Such as writing something funny. But where could I go for laughs? Then I realized that in my four years as a volunteer at the Phoenix Zoo, I’d seen some pretty funny things, and that a mystery set in a zoo and with a zookeeper protagonist would provide the comic relief I was looking for. I picked one of my favorite animals, Lucy, a Giant Anteater, and framed her for murder. Only the clue-sniffing actions of her fond keeper -- the intrepid Theodora “Teddy” Bentley -- keeps Lucy from being shipped off to a different zoo.

So I pepper my in-store talks with funny stories about zoo life; a giraffe kicking a pesky ostrich ten feet into the air, a cowardly bear, and the sex lives of Mexican gray wolves (they’re not as monogamous as some people believe). When people ask about my Lena Jones material (and there are always some), I address those issues: abuse of eminent domain in “Desert Noir,” polygamy in “Desert Wives,” publishing scams in “Desert Shadows,” Arizona history in “Desert Run,” and a horrendous type of child abuse -- performed on millions of little girls -- in “Desert Cut.” This extreme duality makes for some pretty peculiar talks, but it works. I’d thought that the two different series would appeal to different readers, but to my surprise, many readers buy both.

My promotional material reflects the duality of the two series. Side A of the full color brochure for “The Anteater of Death” flyer talks about the anteater (cover, plot line, reviews, short bio, etc.). Side B lists the entire Lena Jones series, the five books and their plots (and covers), and some of the more widely-read reviews (New York Times, Chicago Tribune, etc.). I designed my two-sided, full color book marks the same way, although I was only able to fit in two Lena Jones books; I chose the best-selling books (“Desert Wives” and “Desert Cut”). And, of course, my web site address appears on everything.

The promotional material worked even better than I’d hoped. Seems like every day I get an email from a flyer reader who’s decided to read their way through my list. The only drawback is that they want me to write faster. And -- God help me -- tour more often.

Friday, January 1, 2016

A Visit with Alafair Burke

Alafair Burke "is a terrific web spinner" who "knows when and how to drop clues to keep readers at her mercy," according to Entertainment Weekly. Her two series feature  NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher and Portland Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid. A former prosecutor in the Portland, Oregon, DA's office, she currently teaches criminal law and procedure at Hofstra Law School  in New York.

How did NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher come into being as well as Portland Prosecutor Samantha Kincaid?

I was a prosecutor in Portland, Oregon, for several years. After leaving to move to New York, I missed my office. I missed Portland and my friends. And as a long-time mystery reader, I had always wanted to write a crime novel. I thought I’d finally learned enough about the world to give it a try, so I started with Samantha Kincaid, who is a prosecutor in the very office where I served.

By the time I was working on my fourth novel, I’d been living in New York for a few years. I thought the anonymity that comes only in a city this big was exciting territory for me as a writer. I was also ready to write a faster paced book with an investigator, instead of a lawyer, at the center. I had a story I wanted to tell that involved Internet dating, and I thought a young New York City detective was the perfect narrator. I actually meant for that book (Dead Connection) to be a standalone, but I knew when I wrote the final chapter that I’d still be hearing more from Ellie.

I love your Duffer Awards. What prompted them?

The only thing I love more than reading books is talking about them. Sometimes I think I only write so I’ll have a work-related reason to talk all day about mystery novels.

I’m traveling less this year for book tour, so I wanted to do some fun things online that would involve interaction with readers I might not get to see in person. A couple of months ago, I gave out some so-called “Duffer Awards” in my newsletter, and my readers thought it was a big hit. I thought it would be fun to let readers vote on a new award every day for a month. And since I don’t like real competitions like smartest sleuth, where feelings can be hurt, I decided that the awards had to be for silly stuff like Best Hat and Most Likely to be Institutionalized. I hope crime fiction readers will stop by every day to cast a vote on each category. And to sweeten the pot, anyone who posts a comment is entered to win signed books and gift certificates to booksellers. The more comments, the more chances for loot!

The awards are at As I type this, Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller appears to be locking in a win for Most Likely to Marry His Ex-Wife (over Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone).

How do you manage to write two crime series while serving as a Professor of Law at Hofstra University? What’s your writing schedule like?

I honestly don’t know how anything gets done. I Facebook, Tweet, and eat constantly, yet at the end of the year, I usually have a book and a couple of law review articles on my computer. I do try to write every day, and very rarely miss two days in a row. That continuity makes a big difference. Even if I only write a couple of paragraphs on a busy day, I can jump in the next day, fully aware of where I am in the story, how my characters’ voices sound, and how they feel in that moment.

Tell us about your latest release.

I’m very excited about Long Gone. It’s my first stand-alone thriller. I guess I said that about the first Ellie Hatcher book, too, but this time, I think I really mean it. And it’s the first time I’ve written about a character who is outside the criminal justice system.

After a layoff and months of struggling, Alice Humphrey finally lands what she thinks is her dream job managing a new art gallery in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. Everything seems perfect until the morning Alice arrives at work to find the gallery gone—the space stripped bare as if it had never existed— with the man who hired her dead on the floor. Overnight, Alice’s dream job has vanished, and she finds herself at the center of police attention with nothing to prove her innocence. There’s also a missing girl from New Jersey, a rogue FBI agent, and Alice’s nightmare family running around the pages, but I promise it’s all one story.

This is a higher concept book than my series novels, and sometimes those don’t end as successfully as they start. I’m very proud of how all the threads come together here, though.

How much of an influence on your own writing was your father, James Lee Burke?

With a father who was writing and mother who was a librarian, we were a family that not only told stories, but thought it was perfectly natural to write them down. My mother would take me to the library every Saturday for a new stack of books. The rhythms of story telling and character creation become ingrained when you read all the time.

Advice to fledgling crime writers?

Read. Read a lot. But don’t try to copy anyone. Figure out what you can offer the genre. And then write every single day – without starting over – until you finish. Once you have a beginning, middle, and end, it is much easier to make adjustments than you’d ever believe. The hard part is getting it done.

How, in your opinion, is the ebook revolution affecting major publishing practices?

I’m a bit like the ostrich in the sand on this one. Or a kid with fingers in ears saying, “La, la, la, I’m not listening to you.” I try to focus on the books and appreciating the readers I have instead of figuring out the business. That said, my sense is that publishers were more panicked two years ago than they are now. They still believe that writers need a conduit between them and retailers (whether electronic or paper). In my case, they are really pushing the idea of growing my readership through e-books. For example, they’re currently offering Angel’s Tip for $1.99. (See how I worked in that plug. Wily, huh?)

What has brought you the most pleasure and satisfaction?

Knowing that someone is reading your work is a grand high. When I hear from readers who say they stayed up all night because they couldn’t put down one of my books, I still want to scream out loud.

Any publishing regrets?

I don’t believe in regrets. Maybe my very first book would have been better if I’d cut back on some detail, but debut novels are detailed for a reason. New writers share some of the same habits. I like to think that every book I’ve written has been better than the rest. As someone who cares more about the longevity of my publishing career than dollars and cents, that makes me pretty content.

Thank you, Alafair.

You can visit Alafair at her website:
At Twitter:
and at: (where Duffer voting is taking place)