Michael Haskins

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Award winners!

Congratulations to the many fine books and authors honored at Bouchercon (the World Mystery Convention) this weekend. Half a dozen different prizes are awarded at this gathering, recognizing quality in every different aspect of crime fiction.

I want to add my personal congratulations to my fellow mystery writers Sean Chercover for his winning the Anthony Award for his short story, “A Sleep Not Unlike Death” and his Crimespree Award for “Trigger City;” and Robert Crais for his Crimespree Award for "Chasing Darkness.' Robert got the award for ongoing series and, I've gotta tell you, he sure has a fantastic series about Elvis Cole and Joke Pike. If you haven't read any of Bob's book, get going. Also another congratulations to fellow MWA - Florida board member James O. Born for winning the Barry Award for his short story "The Draught." All three of these writers are friends and if you haven't read them, you should.

We salute all this year's winners:

Anthony Award, given by the attendees of Bouchercon:

Best Novel: Michael Connelly, THE BRASS VERDICT
Best First Novel: Stieg Larsson, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
Best Paperback Original: Julie Hyzy, STATE OF THE ONION
Best Short Story: "A Sleep Not Unlike Death," by Sean Chercover from Hardcore Hardboiled
Best Critical Nonfiction Work: Jeffrey Marks, ANTHONY BOUCHER: A Bibliography
Best Children's/Young Adult Novel: Chris Grabenstein, CROSSROADS
Best Cover Art: Peter Meselund for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson
Special Service Award: Jon and Ruth Jordan

Barry Award, given by Deadly Pleasures magazine:

Best Novel: Arnaldur Indridason, THE DRAINING LAKE
Best First Novel: Tom Rob Smith, CHILD 44
Best British: Stieg Larsson, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
Best Paperback Original: Julie Hyzy, STATE OF THE ONION
Best Thriller: Brett Battles, THE DECEIVED
Best Short Story: "The Draught" by James O. Born, from The Blue Religion

Crimespree Award, given by Crimespree Magazine:

Favorite Book: Sean Chercover, TRIGGER CITY
Best in an Ongoing Series: Robert Crais, CHASING DARKNESS
Favorite Comics Writer: Brian Azzarello
Favorite Original Paperback: Christa Faust, MONEY SHOT
Favorite Mystery Bookstore: Once Upon a Crime, Minneapolis

Derringer Award for Short Mystery Fiction, given by the Short Mystery Fiction Society:

Best Short Story: "The Cost of Doing Business," by Michael Penncavage (published in ThugLit)
Best Flash: tie – "No Flowers for Stacey," by Ruth McCarty (Deadfall: Crime Stories by New England Writers;); and "No Place Like Home," by Dee Stuart (Mysterical-E)
Best Novella: "Too Wise," by O'Neil De Noux (published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
Best Long Story: "The Quick Brown Fox," by Robert S. Levinson (published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)

Macavity Award, given by Mystery Readers International:

Best Mystery Novel: Deborah Crombie, WHERE MEMORIES LIE
Best First Mystery: Stieg Larsson, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
Best Mystery Short Story: "The Night Things Changed" by Dana Cameron from WOLFSBANE & MISTLETOE
Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery: Rhys Bowen,A ROYAL PAIN

Shamus Award, given by the Private Eye Writers of America:

Best Hardcover: Reed Farrel Coleman, EMPTY EVER AFTER
Best First P.I. Novel: IN THE HEAT, Ian Vasquez
Best Paperback Original: Lori Armstrong, SNOW BLIND
Best Short Story: "Family Values," by Mitch Alderman
Hammer Award (for character longevity): Matthew Scudder, created by Lawrence Block
Lifetime Achievement: Robert J. Randisi

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

NY Times: Price War Over Books Worries Industry

As a writer this article has caused me to be concerned about the future of the printed book. Let me know what you think.

Price War Over Books Worries Industry


Published: October 16, 2009

A tit-for-tat price war between Wal-Mart and Amazon accelerated late on Friday afternoon when Wal-Mart shaved another cent off its already rock-bottom prices for hardcover editions of some of the coming holiday season’s biggest potential best sellers, offering them online for $8.99 apiece.

Publishers, booksellers, agents and authors, meanwhile, fretted that the battle was taking prices for certain hardcover titles so low that it could fundamentally damage the industry and the ability of future authors to write or publish new works.

The price cutting began on Thursday when Wal-Mart announced that it would take pre-orders for 10 yet-to-be-published hardcovers for $10 apiece on its Web site, Walmart.com. Later that day Amazon quietly began cutting the prices of those same titles to the very same $10, prompting Wal-Mart to lower its price to $9, a markdown of 59 to 74 percent off the list price of the books. Amazon had matched the $9 price by Friday morning, and Wal-Mart had lowered its price again, to $8.99, by late afternoon.

The titles affected include Sarah Palin’s memoir, “Going Rogue”; John Grisham’s short-story collection, “Ford County”; Stephen King’s “Under the Dome”; Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel, “The Lacuna”; and the latest installment in the Alex Cross thriller series by James Patterson, “I, Alex Cross.”

Although Wal-Mart, Amazon and other retailers like Costco, Target and even pure bookstore chains like Barnes & Noble typically discount best sellers, they usually don’t take more than 50 percent off the list price. Wal-Mart’s move, and Amazon’s reaction, signaled a new threshold in price cutting for books and left publishing insiders wondering how low it would go when the beleaguered industry is already worried about the effect of $9.99 e-books and a slowdown in book sales over all.

On Friday a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart said in an e-mail message that the company would “continue to adjust our pricing so that Walmart.com offers the lowest prices on these top pre-sellers in books.” Amazon declined to comment.

Wal-Mart has said for the moment that its $8.99 offer is limited to 10 titles that will officially be released in November. Once they are published, the company said, the price could go up. Still, publishing industry veterans were worried about the potential long-term effect on the consumer mindset.

“If readers come to believe that the value of a new book is $10, publishing as we know it is over,” said David Gernert, Mr. Grisham’s literary agent. “If you can buy Stephen King’s new novel or John Grisham’s ‘Ford County’ for $10, why would you buy a brilliant first novel for $25? I think we underestimate the effect to which extremely discounted best sellers take the consumer’s attention away from emerging writers.”

The immediate impact of the low prices was likely to be felt by other bookstores, including chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders. As of Friday, neither of the Web sites for those companies indicated that it was matching the $9 price. At BN.com and Borders.com, the titles were generally discounted by 40 percent.

A spokeswoman for Barnes & Noble declined to comment. In a statement Borders said the majority of its revenues did not come from best sellers. “Our model does not rely on being the lowest priced,” the company said in the statement. “It relies on offering our customers a true bookstore experience — the opportunity to explore a vast array of titles within a comfortable environment where shoppers can go where their interests take them.”

Independent booksellers have long struggled to compete with discounts offered by Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Wal-Mart. William Petrocelli, an owner of Book Passage, an independent company that has stores in San Francisco and suburban Corte Madera, Calif., said that for now he was relying on the loyalty of customers who valued staff recommendations and author events as much as prices. But, he said, if the low prices siphoned off too many customers and put independent stores out of business, it would ultimately affect what would get published.

“What this does is accentuate the trend towards best sellers dominating the market,” Mr. Petrocelli said. Without independents, decisions about what books to put on store shelves would reside in the hands of a few corporate executives rather than hundreds of idiosyncratic booksellers, he said.

“You have a choke point where millions of writers are trying to reach millions of readers,” Mr. Petrocelli said, “but if it all has to go through a narrow funnel where there are only four or five buyers deciding what’s going to get published, the business is in trouble.”

For now, Wal-Mart and Amazon will make a loss on the sales of the discounted titles because publishers generally charge retailers 50 percent of the list price.

Publishers hoping to sell large volumes of titles like “Going Rogue” or “Under the Dome” might see the discounts spur more sales. One publishing executive also said Wal-Mart’s move was welcome because it signaled that another large competitor was taking on Amazon, which currently dominates online sales of books. As long as the $8.99 price was promotional, rather than a permanent trend, this executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid commenting publicly about a customer, said there were some positive aspects to Wal-Mart’s move.

“If this is a short-term statement to let hundreds of millions of people know that they will be able to buy books from Walmart.com,” the executive said, “it’s a good thing.”

Rafi Mohammed, a consultant and author of “The Art of Pricing,” said he was surprised by the radical discounting because he could think of no other industry in which retailers cut the prices of the newest or most popular goods. “You always pay the highest price for the latest and greatest,” he said. (In fact, new music CDs are often discounted.)

Indeed, Mr. Patterson, who said that while he was glad to be included in the top 10 most popular preordered books at Walmart.com, he could not think of any other industry accepting such dramatic discounts.

“Imagine if somebody was selling DVDs of this week’s new movies for $5,” Mr. Patterson said. “You wouldn’t be able to make movies.” He added, “I can guarantee you that the movie studios would not take this kind of thing sitting down.”

Brad Stone contributed reporting from San Francisco.

A version of this article appeared in print on October 17, 2009, on page C1 of the New York edition.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Literary Legend Elmore Leonard set to receive Lifetime Achievement Award


EN, has unveiled the winners of its prestigious 2009 Literary Awards competition. The prizes, announced by PEN USA Executive Director Adam Somers, honor outstanding work by writers in 10 separate genres. They will be presented at the 19th Annual Literary Awards, which will be held at the BeverlHills Hotel on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009.

In addition to the literary prizes, PEN USA’s LitFest gala will feature several other honors. As a ribute to his writing accomplishments, legendary author Elmore Leonard will be presented ith the Lifetime Achievement Award. In a career spanning 60 years, Leonard has published 3 novels and numerous short stories, creating a distinct literary style that has delighted readers nd influenced a new generation of writers. Books like Swag, LaBrava, Freaky Deaky, and Tishomingo Blues are not only classics of the crime genre, but some of the best writing of the last alf century. Many of Leonard’s novels and stories have been adapted to film: most notably Get Shorty, starring John Travolta, and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld; Out of Sight, starring George Clooney and directed by Steven Soderbergh; and Jackie Brown, from the novel Rum Punch, directed by Quentin Tarantino. In the spring, a TV series based on Leonard’s short story, Fire in the Hole, is scheduled to premiere on FX. Leonard’s most recent novel, Road Dogs, has received some of the best reviews of his career. He is currently finishing his next book, entitled Djibouti, to be published in 2010 by HarperCollins/William Morrow.

Recipients of the literary awards were chosen by a distinguished panel of writers, editors and journalists. Winners were selected from among more than 500 entries. Each winner will receive a $1000 cash prize presented at the Literary Awards Gala.

Past recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award include: Woody Allen, Ray Bradbury, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Betty Friedan, Larry Gelbart, Vaclav Havel, Christopher Isherwood, Walter Mosley, Neil Simon, Jane Smiley, Robert Towne, Gore Vidal, and Billy Wilder.


Fiction KIM BARNESA Country Called Home (Alfred A. Knopf)

Creative Nonfiction STEVE LOPEZThe Soloist (G.P. Putnam's Sons)

Research Nonfiction LESLIE T. CHANGFactory Girls (Spiegel & Grau)

Poetry SEIDO RAY RONCIThe Skeleton of the Crow (Ausable Press)

Children’s Literature KATHI APPELT • The Underneath (Atheneum Books for Young


Translation MAXINE CHERNOFF & PAUL HOOVERSelected Poems of

Friedrich Hölderlin (Omnidawn Publishing)

Journalism KAREN OLSSONBefore and After (Texas Monthly)

Drama MARISELA TREVINO ORTABraided Sorrow (El Centro Su


Teleplay GEORGE MASTRASBreaking Bad: Crazy Handful of Nothin’

(Sony/Gran Via/Highbridge)

Screenplay DUSTIN LANCE BLACKMilk (Newmarket Press)


PEN USA is a non-profit Los Angeles-based membership organization of professional writers, and the International PEN center in the United States for those writers living west of the Mississippi River. Its members are connected by the goals of building interest in the written word and defending writers worldwide by protecting freedom of expression. Among its many contributions to the literary world, PEN USA’s Emerging Voices program awards fellowships to

promising writers from underserved communities and provides them with an intensive eight month program of workshops, classes, seminars and individual mentorships. In the classrooms of many underprivileged schools across Southern California, its PEN in the Classroom program helps children and teachers alike in the process of creative reading and writing.

For further information, visit www.penusa.org

Friday, September 18, 2009

How many words a day makes you a writer?

My writing is going well. The story has taken itself from me and moved in areas that I hadn’t thought of. That often happens when I write. I know the beginning and I know what I want the end to be and I begin.

So far, I’ve been lucky with the beginning. Endings haven’t changed too much, from the concept I was working from, but the middle is something else.

My new Mad Mick Murphy Mystery, Car Was Blues,” is going well, as I’ve said, but I am not sure it’s because of me or in spite of me. I have actually sat down in the morning and finished a thousand-plus-word chapter, more than once. In my past two novels, I have had to sit down more than once to finish one-thousand words.

I was telling all this to my friend Art who arranges the entertainment (and much more) at the Hog’s Breath Saloon.

Steven King writes all day,” Art said, a cold bottle of water sitting in front of him.

“I’m not Steven King.” I sipped from my plastic cup of ice and Jameson.

“A thousand words doesn’t seem like a lot.” He looked at me as if I really didn’t write and took a long pull on the water bottle.

“I write from about 7 a.m. until 10 a.m.,” I said, almost embarrassed in admitting I only spent three-hours writing. “I am exhausted after that and usually go to the Caribbean Spa’s gym for my workout.”

He looked at me and smiled and I knew he was thinking, ‘You workout!’ But asked, instead, “How often do you get to the gym?”

“I try for five days a week, but I am happy with three.”

“What do you do with the rest of the day?”

I’ve noticed that people with real jobs think I do nothing all day. Here was my chance to change that.

“I usually go back and read and self-edit a few chapters, including the one I wrote in the morning,” I said proudly. “It’s important to do some self-editing as you go along.”

I explained to Art that after thirty-days I will reread the whole manuscript and begin putting it into one long document. The thirty-day rule gives my mind time to move forward, so when I reread the story I am often surprised at mistakes I find and sometimes the writing is so good I don’t remember writing it.

I told him that I’d just signed a contract with Books in Motion so he could expect to see (or is it hear?) an audio version of “Chasin’ the Wind” sometime soon. I also slipped in that the publisher had said a contract for the second in the series, “Free Range Institution,” was in the mail.

Art looked impressed, I finished my Jameson, and the bartender, Irish Bob, refilled the plastic cup with ice and Jameson.

“You going to take a vacation with all the advance money?” he asked and tossed his empty plastic water bottle in the recycle bin.

“What money?” I sighed and Art stopped looking impressed.

To read a little of "Free Range Institution" and "Car Wash Blues," go to www.michaelhaskins.net.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Hawk Channel Chase by Tom Corcoran - an Alex Rutledge Mystery

Tom Corcoran’s sixth Alex Rutledge Mystery, “Hawk Channel Chase,” (Ketch and Yawl Press) will not disappoint his fans. It has been a few years since Corcoran’s “Air Dance Iguana,” and it was good to find everyone on Dredgers Lane had survived.

In fact, reading “Hawk Channel Chase” is like running into old friends and finding they hadn’t really changed much and that is a good thing.

Alex Rutledge can stand still and find himself embroiled in turmoil and the new book takes the reader on a trip up and down the Keys with Rutledge as he tries to find out exactly what he’s gotten himself into.

Firsts there are rumors, as only Key West can have, that border on conspiracies as federal agents refuse to deal with Monroe County Sheriffs and Key West cops, leaving everyone in the dark about something that happened a few miles behind Baby’s Coffee on Bay Point. Some how it seems connected to a real estate investor who is trying to buy up Dredgers Lane, even as he asks Rutledge for helping finding his missing, college-aged daughter.

Capt. Sam Wheeler, Rutledge’s best friend, is mixed up with illegal sails to Cuba, leaving Rutledge pondering Sam’s fate as black-bag federal agents start coming around with questions and threats.

Wheeler is another old friend to Corcoran’s fans, and if he wasn’t getting Rutledge in trouble, it would be the other way around. Of course, the fly in the ointment is that Wheeler’s longtime partner, reporter Marnie Dunwoody, thinks Wheeler has a girlfriend and asks Rutledge about it, pointblank.

Bodies begin to pile up at a proximity to Dredgers Lane that cause the local cops to begin to consider Rutledge a person of interest.

What would Rutledge’s life be like if Corcoran couldn’t throw some love-life pandemonium in and he has done this as Rutledge’s current squeeze, Sheriff Detective Bobbi Lewis adds some zingers of her own into the mess, blaming her job and the feds, leaving Rutledge with some long, lonely nights.

“Hawk Channel Chase” reads like a ride-along with Rutledge on his old Triumph 650 Bonneville motorcycle, as he dangerously takes on US1, way past the speed limit, and maneuvers the road’s twists and turns like a race driver.

It is a ride that leaves the reader breathless on some turns, smiling at others, and always in a hurry to get to the end. And it takes getting to the last few chapters before seemingly unrelated instances fall into place and unites Rutledge, Sam, Marnie, and Chicken Neck, a strange foursome even for Key West, to reach the story’s unusual climax. Corcoran’s novels challenge his readers, and this one is one of his best mind twisters.

Corcoran has weaved the background of “Hawk Channel Chase” out of today’s headlines, locally and nationally, involving Key West land-grabbing deals at prices people can’t turn down, to the debacle in Iraq, politics in Cuba, and drug smugglers; all the while taking readers on a magical tour of Key West with a peek at the Old Key West he knew from his early days as a bartender at the Pier House’s Chart Room and his consorting with little known singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett.

“Hawk Channel Chase,” is about a Key West we have all grown to love, especially the parts that have been lost to us, and Corcoran’s characters are old friends and like old friends, you deal with their quirkiness, the good and the bad, because they are always surprising you, but never disappointing to be around. Corcoran brings Key West to life, even for those of us that live here.

If you can put “Hawk Channel Chase” down, it’s for one of two reasons – you need to go to the bathroom or you’ve turned the last page.

www.tomcorcoran.net, for more information.

To see more photos of Tom, go to my website's photo pages:


Monday, August 24, 2009

Shamus Award nominees

Congratulations to the nominees for this year's Shamus Awards, given annually by the Private Eye Writers of America. The awards will be given at a banquet on Friday, October 19, during Bouchercon in Indianapolis.

Best Hardcover:
Salvation Boulevard by Larry Beinhart (Nation Books)
Empty Ever After by Reed Farrel Coleman (Bleak House Books)
The Blue Door by David Fulmer (Harcourt)
The Price of Blood by Declan Hughes (Wm. Morrow)
The Ancient Rain by Domenic Stansberry (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Best First PI Novel:
Stalking Susan by Julie Kramer (Doubleday)
Swann's Last Song by Charles Salzberg (Five Star)
The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang (Simon & Schuster)
In the Heat by Ian Vasquez (St. Martin's Minotaur)
Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson (St Martin's Minotaur)

Best Paperback Original:
Snow Blind by Lori Armstrong (Medallion)
Shot Girl by Karen Olson (Obsidian)
The Stolen by Jason Pinter (MIRA)
The Black Hand by Will Thomas (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster)
The Evil That Men Do by Dave White (Crown/Three Rivers Press)

Best Short Story:
"Family Values" by Mitch Alderman (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, June 2008)
"Last Island South" by John C. Boland (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Sep/Oct 2008)
"The Blonde Tigress" by Max Allan Collins (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, June 2008)
"Discovery" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Nov 2008)
"Panic on Portage Path" by Dick Stodghill (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Jan/Feb 2008)
Have you read any of these books or short stories?

Friday, July 31, 2009

Writing, politics and business planning . . .

What can a writer learn from small-town politics and businesses? When it comes to writing our books, a lot. For one thing, if you follow politics, you know nothing is etched in stone. Nothing.

The example I thought of today, while having breakfast with my son Alex at Banana Café in Key West, had to with do how, only a year or two ago, the chamber of commerce and many business and political leaders decided the city needed to cater to upscale tourists. Shorter stays, more expensive hotel rates.

The business leaders and politicians figure to be rid of the family tourist and go for those that spend big. Hell of an idea and it gets you to fill your coffers and streamline your business and government.

There is a section of the island, when you drive in, called the triangle. Along the triangle, there are four or five motels/hotels (six or one, half dozen of the other) and the plan by the owner of the property was to tear them down and put up condos, one upscale hotel, and a convention center. Great plan, since the economy was booming (or we were fooled into believing it was).

It reminds me of mentally mapping out my second novel. I had a beginning and an end and soon pieced together what was needed to go from page one to page three-hundred. Now, all I had to do was write each day and my story would end on page three-hundred, as I planned it.

Like the plans of the property owner, it didn’t work out as planned.

For him the economy went into the toilet, so he didn’t demolish the property. The motels/hotels stayed open. That was a good thing for him, since he didn’t have a large payment on empty land to make.

However, other businesses on the island were counting on all those rooms to be off the books and that would allow them to raise prices! Oh yeah! In their business plan for the year, some counted on the new rates. Well, they didn’t come.

In writing, for me, sometimes a character says or does something that changes were I am going and I have to adjust. Sometimes, the story takes on a life of its own because of words or actions that I thought I controlled, but in reality, the story flows on its own and all I do is record it!

Of course, as the writer, I could scrap where the story seemed it wanted to go and I could stick to my sketchy outline; I needed to get to the end, which I know, so follow the plan.

My personal belief is if you follow the plan, the story isn’t as strong because the characters are not as strong. Go with the flow and adjust.

Businesses were caught short, because the rooms didn’t go off the market. Some lowered their prices, got ride of mandatory five-night stays and survived. Others kept to the plan, laid off employees and survived, but not as strongly as those that adjusted their prices.

A bad book is not better than no book. A business that survives is not as good as a strong business.

How do politics get involved in this, you ask.

Well, if room rates go way up, upscale visitors come to the island and there is more money and more money equals more tax revenue and that helps the city. Local politicians were in favor of that, but it didn’t happen.

Now, this year’s budget hearings are suggesting higher tax rates, but most property owners are homesteaded and their taxes cannot go up but a certain percentage. So, the part-time resident and business owner have to make up the money.

I am glad all I do is write and can adjust, because if my characters had the opportunity to vote me in or out, like a politician’s constituents, I might lose the election.

Today, at breakfast, I saw four families with children in the café. Two families had infants with them. It is the weekend, people with families can’t afford to fly to many places, so they take thee-day trips to Key West. Maybe once a month. It is not what the businesses wanted, but many are more than happy to put their heads in beds.

Moral of all this: as a writer, plan, in pencil, and when your characters want to make changes, erase and let them fill in the blanks and just remember to record it correctly. It will be a better story.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Don't pay the ransom. I've escaped!

It seems like forever since I’ve sat down to blog. I guess a few months is forever to some. Would you believe that I was kidnapped by members of the MWA Florida board of directors and held on bread and water until I agreed to join them?

If you knew Jim Born, president of the chapter, mystery writer, FDLE agent, and all around scoundrel, you’d believe me. Honestly.

Thanks to some board members, namely Diane Stuckart, Linda Hengerer, Miriam Auerbach, Rhonda Pollero, Deb Sharp, Rick Wymer, and Neil Plakcy, I was allowed to spend part of the summer with my family (supervised by the heavily armed Born). My advice to you, Google these names, you will find some talented writers.

When my family had left, Born water-boarded me into submission. So, I am now on the board of the Florida chapter of MWA. What does that mean? I drive once a month, usually, from Key West to the Deerfield Beach Hilton (4 hours) and then home. The chapter holds its monthly luncheon meeting there and the board usually meets prior. Due to the threat of more water-boarding by board members, I ignore the fact that I have to be on the road by 6 a.m. to make the board meeting.

Of course, I kid about the water-boarding. Jim Born didn’t really do it. He did use the threat of doing it (and some other interrogation techniques he has learned from Republicans in the old Bush White House. Rumor is, Jim taught Chaney to duck hunt.)

When Neil Plakcy called and asked me if I would be interested, I said yes. It has given me a chance to be active in what the chapter does and doesn’t do and as a first-time novelist that’s important to me. I share many of the same problems other first-time novelists have and I have not forgotten the hell of a climb it was to get here – level one.

What has really been amazing is discovering that the chapter’s established writers haven’t forgotten those days. The whole purpose of our SleuthFest gathering the end of February, is to help everyone, the pro, the newbie, the wannabe and let the fan/reader get up close and personal with their favorite writer and maybe discover their next favorite writer.

Are you in that mix? Check out the SleuthFest website. It is still building, but it will give you some ideas. Check out www.mwaflorida.org and you will learn about the chapter and SleuthFest. It is a few minutes well spent. Come SleuthFest in February 2010 and see if what I am saying about Jim Born ain’t true! I can’t promise he won’t want to water-board you, but I can guarantee you a great three-day weekend.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

When A Good Thing Goes Bad

I can remember using a typewriter on one of my many unpublished novels back in the mid ‘80s. Soon afterward, two friends pulled me kicking and screaming into the computer generation. I finally welcomed the scary process because of spell checker.

Today, of course, spell checker is only a little of what writers get from writing programs. There is auto correct, a favorite of mine, since my mind often works far ahead of my fingers, and I am always transposing letters. I have many words, like because, in auto correct. For whatever reason, when I am going along at a good pace, I spell because “becuase.” No rhyme or reason, it usually comes out that way, but with auto correct, the computer fixes it. That’s a major saver when I click on spell check.

Good things in life have a tendency to turn bad and it’s usually because of the involvement of humans.

Take nuclear power. If that were all it was, our power bills would be low, our skies would be clean, and maybe global warming would never have happened. However, some genius figured a way to make a world-destroying weapon using nuclear waste . . .

I am not sure which came first, the weapon idea or the power idea, but you get my point. Now, you want to know how this connects to computers, right?

The Internet followed the computer. Wow! Research at your fingertips. I was a reporter in Boston and when you needed information, if it wasn’t in the paper’s morgue, you went to the library or the source. Image that, walking the streets of Boston in rain or cold or summer humidity to work on a story.

Not today, all any reporter has to do is Google and all that research is there for them, in the air-conditioned comfort of the city room.That’s a bad thing. It has taken the human contact I had as a reporter out of the process and in journalism, the human contact is very important. In addition, it makes journalists lazy.

Nevertheless, I do admit, for research as a mystery writer, Google is a benefit. I am fortunate to have friends and contacts in military intelligence, and the local police force, as well as the national weather service. These personal contacts have been of more concrete help in my writing than if I only had Google.

Now we enter the millennium and humans are still at work screwing up good things.

To a writer, time is everything. Time to write, edit, think, read. I would guess that most writers would argue in favor of a 30-hour day, not a 24-hour day. And, of course, 30-hours wouldn’t be enough.

Writing can be lonely. You open the day by staring at blank computer screen and you have to get what’s in your head onto it. Sounds easy, but ask anyone that has tried it. Writers, and I am generalizing here, are great procrastinators. We don’t need to be offered more ways to put off writing. We need more incentives to sit down and write.

A little more than a year ago, a writer friend knew I was promoting my book, Chasin’ the Wind, and suggested I get on FaceBook. I did and it was great for my procrastination process. Then another writer friend sent me another site and soon I had a list of sites and blogs I HAD TO READ.

Here is where a good thing has gone bad.

My usually schedule was to get up at 6 a.m., make my café con leche and write until 9 a.m., or, on a good day, until noon. Then I would have lunch and read into the early afternoon and somewhere, if possible, I would watch the taped edition Morning Joe.

Now, I have never sat from six to nine or noon without getting up. I get another café con leche, I listen to CNN while pondering some dialogue I want to get right, or try to figure out how to get my character out of a situation, realistically, that I have put him or her in. Sometime I face the blank page and panic because I fear writer’s block.

But, eventually, I get my time in. My word count (I note it each day) maybe only a couple of hundred words, or a thousand. I also edit as I write. So, if stuck on something, I will often go back and reread and edit.

What I found myself doing, after my friend turned me onto FaceBook, was checking my emails at 6 a.m., answering my FaceBook friends and then going to the blogs I HAD TO READ. It is amazing how fast three-hours can fly by when you are on the Internet. Also, I find those three-hours are mentally exhausting and that hurts my writing.

I cannot change the Internet, but I can control that section on my computer. I do check my emails at 6 a.m. because I have family around the country and it is how we communicate (though I would rather use the phone). However, I do not answer emails from FaceBook until late afternoon or early evening, and I have cut many of the blogs out that I HAD TO READ.

I must admit to enjoying Crime Always Pays and Criminal Brief daily. I also check other writers’ blogs, but no longer daily.You cannot afford to waste time and the clutter on the Internet steals your time, especially if you are a writer. The computer is a great thing and the Internet is amazing, just don’t let it takeover your life.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

SleuthFest Notes

I just returned from the four-day SleuthFest gathering of writers and fans in Deerfield Beach, Fla. It is sponsored by the Florida chapter of the Mystery Writers of America (I am on the chapter’s board) and its two guests of honor were writers John Hart and Brad Meltzer. John spoke at the Friday luncheon and Brad on Saturday.

Taking the weekend (Thursday – Sunday) out of order let me say the guest speakers gave interesting talks. Both are recovering attorneys (as were many in the crowd), but what else they had in common interested me a lot more. John and Brad agreed that perseverance was important to writing, but then they each added that luck was the big secret ingredient in their success. They talked about their many rejections, but the luck of finding one person (an agent or editor or publisher) that saw something in their manuscript that twenty-four or more others didn’t see.

I have perseverance, just by the fact that after many years of writing I finally was published and I am still writing and waiting to hear about my sequel. Now, if I could just find out where luck is hiding, I would go and try to seduce it.
I was on two panels. Friday, 2:15 p.m., I was a panelist on “Wright Great Dialogue” with Terry Odell, Deborah Shlian and Joan Johnston, with moderator Gregg (my father wanted a boy) Brickman (PHOTO above). You can read about that panel in my last posting.
The panel was well received and four of us had different suggestions and opinions on what good dialogue was.

I attended the “Agents’ Roundtable” at 10 a.m. and met Jill Marsal, an agent, who is now looking at my second novel, “Free Range Institution.” At 11 a.m., I attended the “Creating Memorable Characters,” with panelists Barbara Graham, Leighton Gage, Jeremiah Healy and moderated by our favorite bookseller Joanne Sinchuk.

After the luncheon, I attended the Supernatural Sleuths & Vampire Villains, with Deborah LeBlanc and Joe More. Let me tell you, they are two great panelists. Joe writes a thriller and if you liked the Da Vinci Code, you’ll love Joe and Lynn Sholes series. Deborah, from New Orleans, writes about the supernatural and has stories of her experiences into the supernatural that can curl your hair!

We were off to the hotel bar, after that!

Saturday, I was a panelist at the 10 a.m. “Working with the Police and other Experts” panel with Randy Rawls and P.I. Steve Brown. Randy is retired military intelligence (I know, it’s an oxymoron immortalize by Capt. Flagg on the old M*A*S*H* TV show), I have friends and people who have helped me that are local cops, FDLE, DEA and JIATF, so I guess that qualified me to be on the panel.

Afterward, at 11 a.m., I went to the “Anatomy of a Thriller” panel, with Joe Moore, Nicole Kenealy, and Benjamin Leroy (Bleak House Books).

I spent the rest of the afternoon with writer Leighton Gage, an American who lives in Brazil and writes about a Brazilian federal police officer. A well-written series gives the reader a look into the Brazilian police system. Leighton and his wife, Eide, are great people and we hung around the pool talking shop, like book signings, getting published, getting paid, and the cost of traveling and book signings! He was on his way to the Northeast (good luck with the current weather) for more book signings before heading to visit family in Europe.
(PHOTO above, Buck, me and Leighton -notice sign behind us? The bar was in front of us, enough said.)

Also got to hang with retired FDLE agent Buck Buchanan. Buck is a writer who is battling the good fight to get published. He is a friend of chapter prez and FDLE agent Jim Born. He had an agent appointment to pitch his book and was asked to send the manuscript in, so he was in a good mood.
Also hung out with P.I. Steve Brown. Now there’s a guy whose mind you wanna pick if you are writing a P.I. novel. His book, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigation,” now sits on my bookshelf. The title tells you all about the book.

I enjoyed SleuthFest, feel it is well worth the financial investment, and would be for wanna-be writers because mystery writers are a friendly bunch and always seem willing to talk to you and offer advice. Sometimes it is just good to hear someone else has gone through the rejections before finding success. Writing is a lonely business and full of strange people, so it’s good to mingle with other writers and find out you are not all that strange.

I am getting ready to make a road trip to my daughters in the NY/NJ area (weather permitting) in a week and will be gone for a month. If something interesting happens, I will blog it.
Please, Google the writers I’ve mentioned, they are great people and I am sure most of you will find their books a good investment of your time and money.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

SleutFest Panel - Write Great Dialogue

I will be on the “Write Great Dialogue” panel at the Florida chapter of MWA’s SleuthFest 2009 at the Deerfield Beach Hilton, Feb. 26 – March 1 (http://www.mwa.fla.org/), along with Terry Odell – www.terryodell.com; Deborah Shlian - www.shlian.com; Joan Johnston – www.joanjohnston.com, and moderator Gregg Brickman – http://www.greggebrickman.com/, on Friday, Feb. 27, 2:15 p.m. We follow the luncheon where chapter President Jim Born – http://www.jamesoborn.com/ - introduces guest speaker John Hart – www.johnhartfiction.com.

The three-days of panel topics is online and a good event for the writer, the wannabe writer and mystery fans. Check it out.

I am not sure why someone thought to add me to the panel, but I would like to think it had to do with that someone reading my book (Chasin’ the Wind) and being impressed with the dialogue in it. A while back, in my blog, I wrote about hanging out at the Hog’s Breath Saloon and Schooner Wharf Bar, and how it had more to do with noticing how people (especially tourists trying to fit in and have a good time) talked and intermingled, then it did with drinking too much Kalik beer or Jameson. Some people even believed me!

As reading is important to writers as writing, observation of people is important to good, sorry, “great dialogue.” A paragraph or half page of dialogue needs something to make it move and that something is short description of how people talk. I sat and watched a man try to pick up a young woman at the bar and while he talked he absentmindedly pulled at his earlobe every so often. Did he do it on purpose? I doubt it, I think it was a habit he’d had for a long time.

Another time, I sat close to three young women who were having fun drinking their rum-and-cokes and key lime cocktails and talking about the men sitting around the bar and two of the band members. One young lady, with red hair hanging past her shoulders, twirled her fingers through a few lose strands of hair and neither her friends nor she were aware of her doing it. It was a habit of her’s and no one paid attention to it (but me).

Adding these small habits to break up a long paragraph of dialogue helps the reader take a breath and is important.

Observation is important and so is listening. One advantage of hanging out at the Hog and Schooner Wharf and the Green Parrot, is you get to hear all kinds of accents; foreign as well as regional. While too much accent in written dialogue will bore your reader, the right sprinkling of it will get your point across and your character identified.

Going back to junior high school (you know the old red, one-room schoolhouse), I always remember one thing I learned (Okay, so I wasn’t the best student in the room, but I did learn something!) from the teacher and that was that the way someone from a place pronounced its name was the correct way to say it. When you do that in writing, you usually have to spell a word phonetically.

I have friends from the great state of Louisiana and learned from listening to them that they pronounce it ‘Lous-E-anna.’ One evening I was sitting at Schooner Wharf with my friend Bob Pierce and at the table next to us, four young, collage-aged women were having a hell of a good time. One wore a LSU T-shirt. We were smoking cigars and one asked if it was all right for them to smoke cigars. We assured them it was and told them the cigar roller at the bar had small, flavored cigars, but they wanted ‘real’ cigars. Bob walked two of them to the cigar roller and they came back with fresh cigars. We showed them how to cut and light them. Next round of drinks was on them (seems Bob paid for the cigars – you know how those Texas gentlemen can be). I thanked them and asked where in ‘Lous-E-anna’ they were from.

They laughed, not at me, but in amazement, they said, because they’d never heard a Yankee pronounce their state’s name properly.

While I don’t hear my Boston accent, people that meet me for the first time usually catch it, or think I am a New Yorker (God forbid, I’m a Red Sox fan!). While we may all speak English, there are dialects. Talk to an Irishman or a Scotsman just off the boat and you need a translator!

What am I going to bring to the panel? I guess it will be to tell those in the audience that to write great dialogue the writer needs to listen to people, their accents and observe their distinctive gestures while talking, to be able to capture the whole picture. After all, do you want to read pages and pages of straight dialogue? I know I don’t. I want to be able to see the speaker, as he/she uses hand gestures and other body language as the conversation moves forward. It even works in short sentances and helps identify a speaker without repeating his/her name with he said/she said.

What do you think? Please let me know.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bob Morris & the USA Today Syndrome

My friend and fellow mystery writer Bob Morris – www.bobmorris.net - taught me something about myself recently when he was at Murder on the Beach Bookstore – www.murderonthebeach.com - in Delray Beach to sign his new Zack Chasteen novel, “A Deadly Silver Sea.”

Bob read a printout version of my novel, “Chasin’ the Wind,” and gave me a nice blurb for the cover, long before we had actually met. He did it because he’s a nice guy and, like most mystery writers, remembers what it was like to get that first novel out. That and the fact that I really enjoyed his other Zack Chasteen novels, “Bahamarama,” “Jamaica Me Dead,” and “Bermuda Schwartz,” made my driving almost 200 miles to the bookstore an enjoyable trip. Of course, the fact that Bob also is known for serving a sampling of his famous rum mojitos at his signing was also another reason for the drive.

By 7 p.m., the bookstore was standing room only and I got to see Deb Sharp – www.deborahsharp.com – and talk about first publications and got to discuss my book with some of the guests while we sipped mojitos and waited for Bob to talk.

Bob stood up in front of the crowd, ignoring the overstuffed chair, and began to explain how in the new book he had to go into different voices to make it work. Not to give the plot away, but the story takes place on a luxury cruise ship and the action is nonstop.

One of the things Bob said to me, after reading, “Chasin’ the Wind” was that he liked that my chapters were short and ended with him wanting to turn to the next chapter so he could answer the question or see the solution to the dilemma that ended the previous chapter.

Bob explained the difficulty of writing a book that took place on a cruise ship and how he came about deciding to use different voices in telling the story. Then he talked about why his chapters were short. He explained that he saw his chapters as scenes in a TV show or a movie and went into a little of his background in advertising and entertainment.

I sat there and realized how right he was about chapters being scenes. I had spent most of my wayward youth in Los Angeles working on TV shows and thought maybe that explained why I also wrote short chapters.

Of course, I began with short chapters because of what I call the “U.S.A. Today syndrome.” People are busy today and want to see everything capsulized as U.S.A Today does to the news and as televised news does in its broadcasts.

I don’t really outline my story, but I do make notes on things that should happen and begin giving them chapter numbers. Usually, that goes away because the story begins to write itself and some ideas are tossed aside and others move further up in the storyline and, on occasion I even have to go back and insert something I thought would work further in the story back to an earlier chapter.

I was interviewed on Sun Radio, 95.5 FM, here in Key West, by morning DJ Bill Hoebee and one of the nice things Bill said about my books was that he began it, got hooked on the short chapters and kept wanting to put the book down but needed to know the answer/solution to how the last chapter ended. He said, on air, that by midnight he had to stop reading because he had to be up at 3 a.m. to get to the station. He also mentioned that it was the first novel he’d read since leaving college, because it was an easy read that hooked him. From Hoebee’s lips to readers’ ears!

Not all chapters are short, but most are within the three-to-five page range. I read a lot of news magazines and newspapers and have noticed I usually avoid the “in-depth” pieces unless it’s a subject that really interests me, but I will read many of the shorter pieces. I do this, of course, looking for idea germs and maybe a little something that I can use in background for my novels and short stories.

Short chapters don’t work for everyone, but they seem to work for me, so I have kept it up and am working on my third book, “Car Wash Blues.” I am more aware of chapter length and reread them a little more often than I used to do, because I want to make sure the chapter works, and that I am not just trying to cut them to the bone and leave the reader missing the meat.

Do short chapters work for you? If they do, or don’t, let me know the reason, please.


FEEDJIT Live Traffic Map