Monday, April 30, 2012

The Best Laid Plans

So much for my updates from Malice Domestic convention! It wasn't that I was partying so hard that I had no time. I actually missed the entire convention due to an accident on the first evening. I went out to dinner with a group of friends. We were given a big table at the back of the restaurant and I dakidn't realize it was up a step from the rest of the room. At the end of the meal I decided to use the rest room before we walked back to the hotel. I turned from my chair and stepped out into nothing. I went down like a tree onto brown ceramic tile. There was no kind of stripe or indication at the edge of the step which was tile like the rest of the room.

I was taken in a taxi back to the hotel and then it was determined I should go to the emergency room. It was my first experience of being in an ambulance and such cute paramedics too, but I was hurting too much to enjoy the experience. Three friends from dinner--Carolyn Hart, Eve Sandstrom and Jan Giles--came with me and spent the next seven hours with me in the emergency room, chatting to me and keeping up my spirits. I can't say enough how wonderful they were.

Less praise for the emergency room. It didn't seem busy but it took over an hour each time between doctor visits, e-rays, CT scan and all the while I was lying on a very hard gurney. It even took an hour and a half before I got an ice pack and then only because Carolyn made a fuss.

End result was that I have broken a bone in my pelvis. It is in place and the only cure is time. At close to five o'clock in the morning we arrived back at the hotel. The staff there (Hyatt Bethesda) were fantastic. I can't say enough about their kindness and willingness. The bell man who pushed my wheelchair up to my room telephoned the next day to see how I was getting along. The hotel sent up flowers and a lovely note. How rare is such attention these days.

I also can't say enough about the kindness of my roommate, Carolyn Hart, and of Eve and Jan, and so many other mystery writing friends at the convention. They kept up my spirits, came to visit and looked after me so well. As you can imagine I was worried about how I'd get home from Maryland as I couldn't put any weight on my left leg. Then I remembered that we have emergency medical evacuation insurance (taken out in case we got sick somewhere exotic) but it worked equally well in the USA. The next day a nurse arrived for me with limo to the airport and then she accompanied me home, first class, with a limo at the other end.  So given the circumstances it could not have been better managed.

The next morning I learned that I had won the Agatha Award for NAUGHTY IN NICE. I rather think the sympathy vote had something to do with it, but I promise not to go to extreme measures to win any awards in the future!

So now I'm home in my own bed and already thinking impatiently about starting my next book. I have at least a month ahead of me not being able to move, so why not get a head start. I've already got a great idea for Georgie's next adventure!

I'll keep you updated on my progress.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tomorrow I'm off to Washington DC to attend the Malice Domestic convention in Bethesda, MD. It's always something I look forward to with my favorite people assembled in one place to talk about the traditional mystery all weekend (oh, and there is quite a lot of eating and drinking too. And laughing.) , Almost two hundred authors are slated to attend and many more fans.

There's only one thing wrong with the Malice Domestic convention--it's on the East Coast. Which means I have to get up horribly early every day and be bright and witty at what is five o'clock in the morning for me. I am not by nature bright and witty in the early mornings.

Apart from that it's all good--dinner with a group of friends (who are also A list writers--Carolyn Hart, Margaret Maron, Katherine Hall Page, and I won't name any more because I know I'll leave someone out) on Thursday, breakfast with a group of fans and friends on Friday. Then I interview Poirot award winner Lee Goldberg. That will be a challenge. Lee is receiving the award for his work in the TV mystery--Monk, Diagnosis Murder, Spencer for Hire etc. He is also one of the funniest men around and really quick witted. So I'll have to be on my toes. Actually erase that image--it conjures me dancing Swan Lake with Lee Goldberg and it's not a pretty sight.

Friday evening is the opening reception at which I am introduced with fellow Agatha nominees. Then I join my fellow Berkley authors for dinner with the publisher (more food). Saturday I have a panel with fellow nominees, then drinks with Jungle Red buddies before the banquet. I'm thrilled that my agents Meg Ruley and Christine Hogrebe are coming down from New York to join me.

Then home on Sunday afternoon. It is my 14th year in a row that I've attended this convention and it never gets stale. I'll keep you updated as we go along and even try to take some candid pix.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ten Mistakes that New Writers Make.

I've had to read several books by new authors recently and I've found that there are newbie mistakes that make me want to put the book down in the first chapter.

So I thought I'd share Rhys's Ten No-nos for opening chapters:

1. Don't introduce too many characters at once. We can't take in too many names and descriptions.

2.  Don't give characters similar sounding names. If there is a Joan and a Jean in the room, I'll get them mixed up. If possible don't have names starting with the same letter.

3: Don't feel a need to describe everyone in the scene. It gets boring and overwhelming if we are told that a tall, distinguished gray haired man is talking to a short, red-headed, pudgy man. If the description is important then give us the sentence. If age and relationship don't come out through dialog, then do mention them. I like to know that Sarah is Isobel's mother and not her friend. But this can be done so easily through dialog. "Really, Mother, you're always criticizing."

4;Set the scene well so that we know where we are

5. Make it clear who is speaking, especially at the beginning of a book before we are familiar with the characters.

6: Make sure something happens in the first chapter. I don't mean that we need a dead body sprawled in the first paragraph but the reader has to have a reason to keep reading. I was once given an unpublished book in which the protagonist arrives at his mother's house, chats, has tea, goes to play tennis with her, in the midst of which she says "By the way dear, someone has kidnapped your father." Needless to say this book was never published!

7. Don't interrupt action to give us backstory. If there are things about the character's past that we need to know you can slip in a tantalizing line if you have to but save the details for later. It's more exciting that way.

8. Don't interrupt action to give us a personal description. Someone chasing a kidnapper is not likely to stop, look in a mirror and notice that her face was oval shaped.

9. Don't feel that you have to tell us everything right away. Think of a real life party. You meet someone... you get a first impression of them. They may reveal a fact or two about themself. You may overhear someone saying, "Such a pity about Sylvia." And you are intrigued. You may not find out about Sylvia until much later.

10: Don't start with "It was a dark and stormy night."  Unless the weather is going to play a major role in your story find another way to start the book. Readers today are impatient. They need to be hooked right away, so work extra hard on that first paragraph.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

New Ways to Waste Time Or How I learned to Quibid.

If you know a writer, you'll be aware that we will do anything rather than write. We will throw a load in the laundry, polish our jewelry, take the dead heads off the roses, all the while knowing that we should be sitting in front of the computer and the deadline is getting closer. I don't think any writer can sit down in relaxed manner at the computer every morning and say "Now to get on with today's 1500 words."

At least no writer that I know. My latest distractions are mostly social media, of course. I have to read my email, comments from my website, my blog, my group blog (Jungle Red Writers), Facebook, Twitter, my Amazon stats... and all this takes precious time I should be writing. I tell myself every day that I must write first and do meaningless stuff afterward. But I can't seem to learn the lesson.

And yesterday, when I have a book to edit and tax to finish, I stumbled upon Quibids. It seemed that people were buying iPads for fifteen dollars so I had to check it out. I signed up so that I could see what was going on, and next thing you know I find I have just bought $60 dollars-worth of bids. Now I have to use up $60 somehow. It turns out that isn't hard.

I don't know if you know how Quibids works, but each bid raises the amount by one penny (only the bid costs the bidder sixty cents). When the time gets down to zero the auction is closed and somebody has won. It goes very fast with people bidding like crazy and just when you think you have won, someone else jumps in. Some things went for 25 cents, and on some the bidding went on for hours. (and remember each bid is 60 cents.)

So I tried my hand and won a $25 gift card to Applebees for 25 cents and a professional steamer for 2 cents.  But along the way I had somehow spent $18 and then had to pay another five for postage.
So I guess there are small savings, but nothing like the bargains people feel they have scored. I have to use up the rest of my $60 and then I'm out of there. Maybe I'll use it all trying to score and iPad. Or maybe I'll stick to a Target gift card!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Feeling Nostalgic

Happy Easter to my Christian friends and a blessed Passover to my Jewish friends. I sang for two hours at the vigil service last night. It is always so beautiful with the church in darkness and everyone holding candles.

And any minute now the family will invade for Easter brunch. But it gives me a few minutes to be nostalgic. I remember the days when I got up really early to hide 4 Easter baskets and lay a trail of clues to each one. The kids would then dash madly around the house until they found their baskets. And I remember one year being up and finished with the baskets and it was a gorgeous morning, so I walked up the hill behind my house and stood amid a carpet of poppies and lupins, listening to the birds. Now that was a truly spiritual moment. I'm looking up at the hill now but it seems rather steep these days.

And my nostalgia goes back to my own childhood. I used to love sugar eggs with an Easter scene inside them. Do you remember those? You peered in one end and the sugar was spun so fine that it let in the light and there was a whole little 3 D scene inside. I liked those so much better than chocolate!
And hot cross buns. I'm sorry but nobody in America seems to know how to make good hot cross buns! I've tried supermarkets and really expensive bakeries and none of them taste like home.
Any good recipes please?

So wishing you all a lovely day with no commercialism, no stresses and a chance to enjoy nature and family.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Giving it Away

I confess--I do go to Amazon to check my book stats, leaving me either elated or depressed each day. I know. Pathetic, isn't it, but I can't help it.
But if you click on my name the first book that appears is The Amersham Rubies. It's a short story that my publisher had me write to entice new readers to Molly Murphy. It says clearly A Molly Murphy Story on the cover, and it also contains a teaser for the next book. Oh, and it's free.

And it was also the first time in my life that I got one star reviews. Why, you may wonder. It's actually a good, fun story but the one star reviewers were bitching that it wasn't a full length book. "I feel cheated" some of them wrote. Did I mention that it was free? That they were getting a free Rhys Bowen short story to entertain them?

The problem is that there are now plenty of authors out there so desperate to have their work read that they are ready to give it away. Amazon readers have become used to finding whole books given away free. I find this a dangerous and scary trend. I am a writer by profession. It takes me half a year to complete a book. This means essentially that these Amazon readers expect me to live on air for six months. The government doesn't fund me. There is no generous charitable foundation slipping me money. I write for a living. It's like calling in the plumber to fix a leaky sink and then expecting him to complete the job out of the goodness of his heart.

But because so many writers are now willing to put up their work for free, readers are feeling entitled. So what is the answer?

  Another worrying element is that many of these books are what we in UK would call UTTER RUBBISH. They are poorly written, poorly constructed and are crying out for good editing. I'm not saying that all free books are like this, but a good number are. They haven't sold elsewhere with good reason. 

This should be good news for me and fellow writers who write good books, you would think. But I'm worried that someone who decides he might like to read a mystery and tries one of these give-away books will decide that mysteries are not worth reading because they are poorly written. He will then trash all mysteries.

I'm not sure if there is a solution to this. One can hope that good literature will always find a market. But I'm waiting for the entitlement to spread to other industries. The day they start handing out free designer fashions, I expect I'll be first in line.

So let's hear what you think--are free books a good way to discover new authors? Do you think writers should give their work away for nothing?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Looking Back on Left Coast Crime

What will I remember about this year's Left Coast Crime in Sacramento, I wonder? Chicken garlic soup. Cheerleaders. Special moments with Jackie Winspear. The Armani Jacket disaster.
Oh, and it was a great convention, extremely well run by Cindy Sample and Robin Burcell. Everyone loved the panels and the hotel with its big bar area. They thought the food in the restaurant was good. I wouldn't know. There was an hour's wait any time I wanted to eat.
I arrived in Sacramento with a nasty cold--the type in which my head and chest felt stuffed and heavy. Then I discovered the Hungarian/Romanian/Greek restaurant across the street and a bowl of their chicken garlic soup opened all those blocked sinuses and led the way to feeling better.
On Saturday I had to interview Guest of Honor Jacqueline Winspear. The interesting thing for the audience was how much we have in common: lived in the same county in England, studied in London, came to America, married a man called John and now live FIVE MILES APART. We also write about strong young women in the 1930s. We've won the same awards. Our work habits and approach to writing is identical and we even look quite similar. One woman said we sound so alike that if she closed her eyes she couldn't tell who was speaking. (I'm thinking clone)
Jackie was an absolute trooper at the interview and the whole convention as her father in UK has major health problems and she was worried about him.

There was a cheerleader competition going on across the street. Little girls with HUGE bows in their hair and too sexy outfits were looking really stressed.  Their mothers were fussing around looking way too involved. Can somebody tell me why little girls have to look provocate and sexy in order to compete? Surely cheerleading is all about the athletiticism?

Oh, and the story of the Armani jacket. I found a fabulous Armani jacket in a designer resale store. Pale blue. Gorgeous. And being the creator of Lady Georgie (just a little clumsy by nature), I managed to drop a piece of salmon in a gooey sauce down my front. On my way to the dry-cleaner.

Now it's back to work trying to finish my new Molly book to deadline.