Category Archives: Allison Brennan

Of books and blurbs

By Allison Brennan

Book Two in the Lucy Kincaid series, KISS ME, KILL ME, went on sale Tuesday, the same day as J.T. Ellison’s SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH, of which I bought two copies — one for me, one for my mom. I gave my mom her copy today at my book signing and she will probably finish it long before me. (Probably? Most certainly, because I still have THE IMMORTALS to read . . . now I have both staring at me from my To Be Read Next shelf.)

I read J.T.’s debut book, ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS, as an ARC. I don’t remember exactly how this came about, except I think she asked me if I’d read it when we met at the first Thrillerfest in Arizona.

(As an aside, I would love to have a reunion Thrillerfest in Arizona. There was something about that conference that was so magical, I want to do it again.)

I remember where I started reading the book–in an airport. I don’t remember why I was in the airport, or where I was going, but I vividly remember drinking a beer while quickly flipping pages wanting to know what happened next. J.T. had me hooked.

I never offer a quote to books I don’t read, which means I don’t blurb a lot of books because I don’t have as much time to read as I used to. Too many times, I’ve said, “No promises, but send me the book and let me know when you need a quote” . . . and then the deadline passed and I never made it. I feel bad, but what can I do? I can’t quote a book I haven’t read, and J.T. is the primary reason for this rule.

More of my readers have THANKED ME for recommending J.T.’s book than any other book I’ve blurbed. They tell me they picked it up because of my quote, and were looking forward to the next.

I hadn’t been sold on the power of blurbs until I had multiple emails about J.T. I think it helps that we write in loosely the same genre (suspense) with a strong female protagonist. Readers who like my stories would be naturally attracted to J.T’s Taylor Jackson. But it also brings home the fact that if I don’t read a book and know what’s between the pages, I can’t in good conscious tell my readers it’s a great book. Because if it’s not, they’ll be disappointed, and the next book I blurb they won’t trust my recommendation, which doesn’t help anyone.

Anyway, while I haven’t read SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH (yet), I’m confident that J.T. has written a story that is as good or better than her other Taylor Jackson books.

I’ve been blessed by three generous authors who have given me a quote: Mariah Stewart on my debut novel THE PREY, Lisa Gardner on SUDDEN DEATH, and Lee Child on LOVE ME TO DEATH. I appreciate all of them for taking the time–I know how valuable a writer’s time is.

KISS ME, KILL ME is my sixteenth novel, the second in my Lucy Kincaid series. Writing a series is a lot different than writing loosely connected books with different heroes and heroines, but I’m really enjoying the change. I can grow Lucy and her boyfriend Sean Rogan over time, not needing to wrap everything up in a neat bow at the end of the book. Since the suspense plot is always primary in my stories, having this freedom with character is invigorating. I’ve already done two “firsts” with this series. In book one, I wrote my villain in first point-of-view. In book two, I didn’t go into the villain’s POV at all–a definitely first for me, because I love writing the villain’s point of view. And now I’m in the middle of book three, IF I SHOULD DIE, and while still a romantic thriller, the story backbone is more a true mystery . . . and there’s no serial killer. (Yes, someone . . . or some two . . . die, but no serial killer. SEE NO EVIL, TEMPTING EVIL and FATAL SECRETS aren’t serial killer books, either, so this isn’t a “first”, but it still feels different.)

Now, a little blatant self-promo for my new book . . . RT Book Reviews gave it four-and-a-half stars and said, “Lucy Kincaid’s saga continues in the second installment of Brennan’s riveting new series. This time Brennan tests her heroine’s emotional and intellectual strength on a missing-teenager case that horrifically intersects with a twisted serial killer. Lucy continues to be a fascinating and enticing character, and her ongoing development adds depth to an already rich brew of murder and mystery. Brennan rocks!”

And, two weeks ago, LOVE IS MURDER, my digital exclusive novella, hit the New York Times e-book list. I was stunned, but of course thrilled.

And the winner of Season One JUSTIFIED DVD set from my blog two weeks ago is . . . TRACY NICOL! Congratulations. Please email me at and I’ll ship a set out to you!

Now my question of the day: what was the last book you bought because of an author blurb? Have you ever bought a book because of an author quote only to be disappointed? Have you discovered a new favorite author because of another author’s recommendation? Comment for a chance to win a copy of LOVE ME TO DEATH, the first book in the Lucy Kincaid series.

It’s Justified

By Allison Brennan 

Our dear friend Rob is buried in deep deadlines, and allowed me to take over his blog today to talk about one of my favorite television shows.

I’ve been pleased with the quality of the new crime shows on television these past two years. I’ve long grown tired of the CSI franchise, irritated with Criminal Minds practically since the beginning, and while I still enjoy Law & Order SVU, it doesn’t have the same energy. And the idiot power that be cancelled one of my favorite series after two seasons, LIFE. The “classic” crime shows don’t have the edge, or they’re sorely outdated.

DARK BLUE and DETROIT 187 – both of which I downloaded because of comments on this blog – are fantastic. I edge to DETROIT because some of DARK BLUE feels unreal (and I don’t like the FBI Agent Alex Rice from Season Two-I still have three episodes to watch, so no spoilers-but I’m kind of hoping she gets killed off, or we find out she betrayed the team-which I think she planned to do all along. I just don’t trust her.) But both shows have terrific characters, and that is ultimately why I watch television.

Last year, I was surfing through iTunes and found a new show called JUSTIFIED, an F/X original program. It starred Timothy Olyphant (who I loved in DEADWOOD), and at the time there was only a couple episode that had aired. I was surprised I hadn’t heard of it, but I bought it for two reasons: it was based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, a consultant on the show, and starred Timothy Olyphant. (Whoops, I already said that.)

(As an aside, Timothy Olyphant is welcome to play nearly any of the heroes in my books, but I’m partial to him as Gallatin County Sheriff Nick Thomas who, in SPEAK NO EVIL, is a fish out of water in San Diego as he sets out to prove his brother is innocent of murder. Or Sheriff Tyler McBride, also in Montana, from TEMPTING EVIL. Or FBI Agent Mitch Bianchi from PLAYING DEAD. Or . . . well, he’d fit many of them. Just saying.)

I remember watching the pilot, not really knowing what to expect, only to be floored by the best five-minute opener of any television series I’ve seen. I was more than hooked; I became an evangelist for the series. I remember emailing our Toni and telling her she had to watch it. She’d turned me onto LIFE; I had to return the favor.

JUSTIFIED is based on Leonard’s character US Marshal Raylan Givens and the short story Fire in the Hole which is currently a free read on the HarperCollins website. (A bit of trivia-well, maybe everyone here knows this, but I didn’t until this afternoon, but Leonard-who writes all his stories with pen and paper-wrote Fire in the Hole for the e-book market in 2001.)

Leonard is pretty amazing-over three dozen books, a Grand Master of Mystery Writers of America, and now consulting on JUSTIFIED. His advice to writers is legendary: “Leave out the parts everyone skips.” But my favorite is, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite.” Which reminds me of another quote-though I don’t remember who said it-“It’s not easy to write a book that’s easy to read.”

The show has the same sharp, story-driving dialogue that Leonard is known for. The timing is perfect, the actors amazingly well cast, and the setting is itself a character. Nothing is wasted, a good lesson for writers.

The pilot episode follows the short story fairly closely, except for the end. In the story, Boyd Crowder dies. In the television show, he’s redeemed.

Or is he?

Raylan Givens (Olyphant) is the star, but first I’m compelled to talk about Boyd Crowder (played by Walton Groggins). When Crowder is introduced, he’s the villain. A racist who blew up a black church-or is he? Why he hit the church with a rocket launcher isn’t as clear-cut as it seems in the beginning. Crowder is definitely bad news. He has a mail-order ordination and quotes (and misquotes) the Bible to justify his white supremacy. His father Bo controls the drug trade in the area, and is working with a nasty cartel. But as the season goes on, Boyd has (possibly) a complete change of focus.

What is so fascinating about Boyd is that the writers on the show redeemed a despicable character in an amazing and plausible way. We, the viewers-and Raylan Givens, who worked with Boyd in the mines-are skeptical of his change of heart. Even now, I’m not certain, but I want him to be redeemed.

I’d read last year that Groggins wasn’t supposed to become a continuing character, but after the pilot the chemistry between Olyphant and Groggins was so amazing, that they kept him on.

Raylan Givens. His ex-wife (and I hope she stays his ex-wife because I do NOT like Winona) told him in the first episode that he was the angriest man she’d ever met. And his anger simmers under his skin, giving him a perpetual brooding appearance. Where Boyd Crowder is a complex character, Raylan Givens is not. I wouldn’t call him simple, either. There is also a strong cast of supporting characters from Nick Searcy as Chief Art Mullen to the other two US Marshals in the office (Jacob Pitts and Erica Tazel) to the other Crowders, and even Winona (though I don’t like her character, the actress, Natalie Zea, is good.)

In the first season, Raylan spends his time split between protecting Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) from the rest of the Crowder family, and handling his cases. (I read somewhere that Ava was “self-widowed” which I got a kick out of -she killed her husband, Boyd’s younger brother Bowman, while he sat at his dining table. Some might call Ava a battered woman-and she certainly was when Bowman was alive-but I call her a survivor. I didn’t like her at the beginning of the show, but she grew on me for two reasons: first, she doesn’t pretend to be someone she’s not. She’s not stupid, but she’s uneducated, and while she would be safer leaving Harlan, it’s the only place she knows. And second, she will stand up for herself–at least now she does. She’s scared, but she won’t be chased from her home. She doesn’t always make the right decisions, but she’s not conniving or playing some game. What you see is what you get. Which, ironically, is a lot like Raylan.)

Raylan isn’t perfect. He doesn’t always make the right choices. Sleeping with Ava Crowder when she’s the only witness in his shooting of Boyd Crowder wasn’t a smart move, and set up a lot of the conflict in the first season. The second season starts where the first season left off-but new viewers can hop right in. You’ll get a sense of the first season, but the opener introduces a whole new-level of home-grown bad guys. The last person on the planet I’d want to piss off is Mags Bennett (played by Margo Martindale.) She makes Bo Crowder look like a kitten.

I could talk on and on about the tight plotting, the fantastic choreography, the setting, the action-but I can’t do it justice. You’ll just have to see it for yourself. If it sounds like I’m doing the hard sell, maybe I am. All my favorite shows tend to get cancelled after a season or two, and I’m doing my level best to ensure that JUSTIFIED has a third season.

When it comes to fighting the bad guys, there is no one you’d want on your side more than Raylan. While I wouldn’t call him simple, he’s straightforward. We know how Raylan will react. We know what he’ll do. And we know that it’ll be justified.

Some memorable quotes

Raylan: Alright, I tried to be reasonable. You give me your word in ten seconds or I shoot you in the head.

Reyes: My God, she needs a doctor.
Raylan: She’s needed one for a while, but I don’t think these next two minutes are going to kill her.

Raylan (to sex offender): Normally, I would’ve just shot you myself the second you pulled, but I am doing my level-best to avoid the paper work and the self-recrimination that comes with it, though Lord knows you’re the kind that makes it worth it more.

Raylan (to his father, Arlo, a criminal): Sometimes we have to make deals with lowlifes because we have our sights set on life forms even somehow lower on the ladder of lowlife than they.

Ava: Didn’t the district attorney order you to stay away from Boyd?
Raylan: It was more of a suggestion.

Raylan: I wasn’t in a shootout, I was just near one.

Raylan: I shot people I like more for less.

Winona: You’re a little old to be fighting, aren’t you?
Raylan: Certainly too old to be losing.

Bo Crowder: Howdy Marshall, I sure am glad you could join us
Raylan: Oh, no, no, no. I’m not joining you. You were just leaving.

Hanselman: Next time you’re in Cincinnati, come by the gallery, I’ll show you my collection. I think you’ll be quite surprised.
Raylan: Honestly, I’d rather stick my dick in a blender.
Chief Mullen: Well, that would solve a few problems.

US Marshal: How’s Winona?
Raylan: Oh, she’s still happily married to someone else, thanks for asking.

Raylan: If you’re going to talk, I’ll put you in the trunk and drive myself.
Dewey: I can’t drive handcuffed to the damned steering wheel!
Raylan: You’ll get the hang of it.

I’m in a really good mood after watching a bunch of clips from JUSTIFIED in preparation for this blog (grueling work, I know, watching Timothy Olyphant all night. As an aside, I saw on Elmore Leonard’s blog that two-thirds of JUSTIFIED viewers are men, and I’m like, WTF? I think every romance writer on the planet watches the show, if the status bars on Facebook are any indication.) If you haven’t seen the show, watch it. Download it to your computer or buy the DVD ($22.99 on iTunes; $19.99 on Amazon.) I’m giving away a DVD set of Season One-just comment below. If you haven’t seen the show, tell me if you want to see it-and what is your favorite show so far this year. And if you have seen it, do you have a favorite episode or quote?

In case you missed it, here’s the Superbowl commercial promoting the series–it’s pitch perfect.

And here is the Season 2 teaser

The Creative Process

By Allison Brennan


Tess’s blog on Tuesday reminded me of a blog I posted last year on Murder She Writes about how manuscripts change. I had blogged about one scene from rough draft to final draft. I’d picked a scene that had stayed in the book, not one I had cut. Most of the scenes I cut either on my own or during the revision process I wouldn’t want to share because they lead the reader down the wrong story path. The exercised showed that the first, lean draft (for me) can have the same rhythm and content and voice . . . but be so much stronger with layers and depth and editing.

Revisions usually make an “okay” scene stronger. I love revisions—not just my own edits before I turn the manuscript into my editor, but editorial revisions and even line edits which, for me, tighten and strengthen the story.

Every writer has a different process, and most of us are stifled when our process is forced to change. Our process is as much part of writing as the writing itself. Meaning, some of us plot extensively, some of us plot loosely, and some of us don’t plot at all. When I say don’t plot I mean it literally—I start with a premise or situation, a “What If” scenario, and at least one character I kind of know (or think I do) and start from there. This is why my beginnings (the first act) take me twice as long to write as the second and third acts combined. I write and rewrite until something clicks, then I finish the rough draft, usually with only light editing until my editor sees it. I usually revise once with her notes (sometimes extensively, and sometimes not), then another clean-up edit to tighten, fix errors, add more layers to a scene if necessary, ultimately making sure each scene is as strong as it can be.

Some writers—published and unpublished—love to tell people that their process is the best way, or the “right” way, or some other such nonsense. I’m telling you right now: my process is mine. It’s not better or worse than anyone else’s (though I sometimes wish it were easier . . .) The process works if you put words on paper (or screen) and write the best story you can. Process isn’t talent, it’s not voice, it’s not anything except how you create.

When I get the page proofs back, I don’t make major changes (though I have been known to add or cut a scene or three and I probably make a mark on nearly every page.) I read the proofs out loud because it helps me make sure the rhythm of the book works. (See Alex’s fabulous post yesterday on voice—the rhythm of the book is part of the author’s voice.)

I’m not looking for how the book sounds as much as how it feels when I read it. I’ll catch the obvious typos and repetition, but more important, I’m making sure the dialogue is natural, that the characters aren’t just talking heads but there is action even in the most sedate scenes. That when I’m in deep POV, I feel like I am that character. If I need to add an internal thought here or there to deepen the POV and make it more immediate, I will.

Another thing I do is take a visual assessment. This isn’t conscious on my part, but when I see a lot of text on a page, I’m looking for obvious breaks that I have missed. This is where I’ll break apart paragraphs—sometimes I’ll add a single sentence paragraph between two larger graphs if I missed it before. This might be weird, I don’t know, but see my comments regarding process. It’s mine, it doesn’t have to be yours. I don’t like big blocks of text.

My “clean” rough draft, which is usually what I send to my editor knowing I’ll be working on revisions, is usually short. It’s mostly the meat of the story with no dressing. My descriptions are vague, if there at all, and my ending is usually rushed (because I’m excited to figure out crime!) Case in point: my first draft of LOVE ME TO DEATH was 78K words. My revised draft was 117K, and the final draft 120K. My first draft of KISS ME, KILL ME was 86K, my final draft 96K.

And what is my point? That writing is rewriting. That very few writers, if any, write a perfect first draft. Writing is practice. I believe in writing every day, because for me if I don’t write for a day or two, it always takes me a day or two to get back into my rhythm. If I write every day, I can keep up the momentum for a longer time, and my final product is always better.

As I was writing LOVE ME TO DEATH, I knew it was about a vigilante group killing sex offenders. Originally, I had the group using Lucy to draw them into a trap ala Dateline’s TO CATCH A PREDATOR, but instead of exposing them on film, the suspected sex offenders were killed. But I had a bit of a moral dilemma with the set up (innocent until proven guilty.) Lucy was having some issues with it as well, and no matter how I wrote it, she was either too cold and criminal, or stupid because she didn’t catch on.

I was wrestling with that problem when I toured Folsom State Prison with my FBI Citizens Academy group (fellow thriller writer James Rollins was also there.) During the tour, the warden told us that with the tight budget cuts, parolees were rarely, if ever, sent back to prison because of parole violations. They usually had to be convicted for a new crime before they went back (while waiting trial, most accused are in jail—funded by counties—rather than prison, which is funded by states. Though I’m sure all states have different processes, I only know mine.)

That tidbit of information solved my problems. Lucy would have no problem targeting paroled sex offenders. Sex offenders, particularly those who prey on children, have a high recidivism rate. She happily set them up to go back to prison . . . and when she found out some of them were being killed, she could have a moment’s pause. That maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing.

Of course, vigilantism breeds anarchy and it’s a slippery slope to complete lawlessness.

My story took off, and also gave me a strong sub-plot that had theretofore been weakly connected to the main story.

What did that revelation ultimately mean? You got it—a near complete rewrite of the first 100 pages of LOVE ME TO DEATH, before it ever went to my editor. But the story ended up so much stronger, it was worth it.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Practice is part of everything we do. Musicians practice daily. Artists draw daily. Athletes exercise daily. And often, what they all do when they’re not practicing or playing, contributes in some way to their talents. I wasn’t writing when I took the Folsom Prison tour, but it was instrumental to my creative process.

Next month, I’m going on another fun FBI excursion, this time back to the former McClellan AFB to participate in SWAT training exercises. I was a “victim” last time . . . I might ask to be a bad guy this time. It might just fuel my muse.

Where Blog Ideas Come From

I’m writing this blog Saturday night, in San Jose (two hours from home) because my oldest daughter has a weekend-long volleyball tournament.

They played six matches today (lost four, won two) and will be playing a minimum of four tomorrow. The team is new–most of the girls haven’t played together before, but by the end of today they seemed to have developed a rhythm and camaraderie that was lacking at the beginning. Tomorrow should be a lot of fun for all of us.

We got back from dinner with the team at eight, and I knew I needed to write this blog. So now I’m sitting at the computer and have no idea what to write about.

I wrote five original blogs and answered two interviews for my January blog tour to promote LOVE ME TO DEATH. I’m kind if empty on the blog ideas.

Should I talk about my digital-only novella, LOVE IS MURDER, that was released last week? No, too self-promo.

When I’m stuck at home, I look at my book shelves. Just look at them, remember the books I’ve read and what I liked and disliked about them; books I haven’t read and why. I look at my desk and see work or a drawing from one of my kids. I skim through my iTunes thinking about music or the television shows I recently watched.

Should I talk about my two new favorite crime shows, DARK BLUE and DETROIT 187? Hmm–no, because I vaguely remember that Brett . . . or someone else . . . recently blogged about t.v., which was the reason I downloaded DETROIT 187 in the first place. I don’t know if I should kiss or curse whoever told me it was a must watch show. Fabulous.

Or, maybe I could talk about research . . . the research for my current WIP, Lucy Kincaid #3 IF I SHOULD DIE, or that I’m participating in another SWAT training session . . . I don’t know yet whether I’ll be a victim or a suspect! That’s in March. I’ve blogged a lot about research, so I’m kind of burned out on the subject. (But I will blog about SWAT after the exercises!)

The big problem? I’m not at home. I can’t just look around my office or go into the house and pour a margarita or pull a book off the shelf to jump start the muse into inspiring me.

So I asked Twitter.

One problem with Twitter is that first, I have just less than 2000 followers. Second, it’s after 9 p.m. on a Saturday night and I’ve learned that Tweets slow down at night and on the weekends. Hmm . . . does that tell me people Tweet at work? No! Can’t be! Or maybe people have lives outside the Internet? Really? 

In the twenty minutes since I posted my plea for a blog idea, I’ve had four:

@jennspiller suggests death by volleyball.

* Does this mean I’m suppose to write a short story about a murder at a volleyball tournament? Who’s the victim? Why? Where? How? With the net? Strangled? Even a short story would take a couple thousand words. Next?

@kendraelliott says “I don’t know how you write so many blogs. And you always keep them fresh.”

* Thanks, Kendra. I really needed that pressure tonight.

@APMonkey suggested “How you balance the toughness of your female leads with their femininity?”

* I do? Really? Wow! Great news. I’ll go ask my characters and get back to you.

@rrsmythe wrote: “how about…how writers pick their genre…or does it pick them based on their personalities…;)”

* Is that a loaded question or what? But I think I can answer it fairly quick. I don’t think personality has much to do what writers write. I don’t think romance writers are naturally more romantic, or mystery writers naturally better at solving puzzles. I think genre comes partly from voice, partly from personal interest, and partly from talent–i.e. what they’re good at.

Because if my personality shaped my genre, I must be a very curious, very odd, very morbid person. (As well as cynical and hopeful a the same time, which is just too much like a split personality.)

So thank you Tweetheads for helping me tonight. I now have over seven hundred fifty words about nothing. I would be upset, but Seinfeld–the show about nothing–seemed to do pretty well for many years.

Sometimes, ideas just pop into my head and I barely have to think before I write; other times, the ideas take longer to percolate. Both for blogs, and books.

Since I don’t have any good questions for you all, why don’t you ask me something? Or maybe something you’d like me to write about in the future? I’ll have my iPad courtside during the volleyball tournament ready to answer. And, if you’re stuck like me, go out and have a great day.





The First Five Pages

By Allison Brennan

Literary agent Noah Lukeman wrote a book more than a decade ago called THE FIRST FIVE PAGES about the importance of openings. I’ve heard many editors and agents state that they know whether they’re going to reject something within the first five to ten pages–even one posted on a blog somewhere that in three pages she knew. In one of his books on writing, Sol Stein said he walked into a bookstore and watched browsers. Most who picked a book up off the shelf would read the inside flap/back cover copy, then turn to the first page. If they turned the page, they were more apt to buy the book. If they didn’t turn the page, they were more apt to put the book back on the shelf.

One page to hook the reader.

Before I started writing, I always finished books I started, even if they weren’t very good. I was practically compelled to do so–as if it would be sacrilegious to not finish the book. Now? Unless it’s an author I trust who has never let me down in the past, if I don’t like the story after a chapter or three, I don’t finish it. Life is too short to read books that don’t grab me. Apparently, I’m one of the more generous readers.

Some readers complain that in the effort to start in action, they’re thrown into a story completely lost. Other readers don’t like a long set-up. But what is a long set up for one reader is short for another.

Editors buy books, generally, because they love the author’s voice, they care about at least one character, and they have a sense of where the book fits. One editor told me there are two things that need to be in a manuscript before she would even considering buying it–character and pacing. And she knows if they are there before she’s done with the first chapter. 

Agents and editors won’t read past the first few pages if they know they won’t buy, and readers won’t, either. Teasers–the sample chapters you can read online or download to e-readers–are more important for many readers than most of us realize, especially now when it is so easy to download a chapter, and then buy it if you like it–or not.

Some writers lament that “if only” the editor would read more, they’d understand the importance of starting the book in the slower spot, or in that character’s POV, or with five pages of description. But if readers who buy the book aren’t going to give them past the first page or two, why should the editor hope that there’s something more enticing later? I’d suspect if the voice is so strong and compelling that the editor will give it a longer read, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they bought it, that the editor wouldn’t ask for a more compelling opening.

All this hit home to me (again) when I received the Romantic Suspense entries for RWA’s Golden Heart contest. I decided to read the first five pages of each story as if I were an editor acquiring the book, or an agent who wanted to sell it. While I read the entire entry and give it a fair score, because that’s my responsibility to the contest and entrants, after five pages, only one grabbed me enough that I wanted to read more. I marked where the author “lost me” — it was by the second page. Each one was for a different reason–poor writing, stereotypical character/opening, and one that–surprisingly–started with a great hook, but it was poorly executed. It dragged out something that didn’t need to be dragged out, so it felt forced and contrite. 

If I were an editor, four of those would have been sent rejections already. The fifth, the one that grabbed me and I wanted to read past page five, I can picture an editor taking it home, hoping it fulfills her wishes.

Just like any reader.

I thought about this even more this past week as I was writing the third Lucy Kincaid book. I knew there was a problem with the beginning, but I didn’t know what, so I just continued writing, figuring I’d fix it later or my editor would figure it out. But that was me being lazy. At one point, it hit me, and I went back and rewrote the opening two chapters. I ended up in the same place so I could save the next three or four chapters (just some minor editing) but the first two chapters are completely different. Different POV, different set-up, but the same story. I’m much happier, and have written more in the last two days than I had in the last week–because subconsciously, I knew there was something wrong with the first five pages.

It’s scary being a writer today knowing that readers judge books on the opening page or two. But I don’t really blame them. We’re all busy. We have families and jobs and responsibilities, and when we read we want a book we know we’ll like. Maybe now, more than ever, because we don’t want to spend money on something that doesn’t entertain us, nor do we want to waste time. I’m guilty of the same thing. After putting myself in an editor’s shoes, I realize how easy it is to reject — but not as easy as it is for a reader.




Be it not resolved

By Allison Brennan


I don’t make New Years resolutions.


If I set the goal too high, I fear I won’t make it. If I set it too low, I fear that I’ll only attempt to achieve the bare minimum, and never really know if I could have done more.


Why set myself up for failure? Why set myself up for mediocrity?


I don’t like comparing myself to others, because either I’ll fall short or feel superior. I don’t like people comparing themselves to me because they usually have no idea what being in my shoes is like. Some may be a better “me” than me, and others may drop dead after a day.


I write fast, but I’m not the fastest writer. I’m a decent storyteller, but I’m not the best storyteller out there. I’m diligent, but there are writers more focused than I. All I can plan to be is the best me.


So I don’t make resolutions.


I make plans.


I know I have to write at least one more book this year, because I’m contracted for one more book. I want to write another book, so I hope to be contracted for it – but if I’m not, I’ll write it anyway because I’d be looking for the contract and need to have a book to go out (or at least a proposal.) So I plan to write two books this year, and part of a third.


I want to write three short stories—one I’m contracted to write, and two I’m submitting blind. I plan on completing at least two of these, and hope to write the third.


Family is the most important thing, therefore, I plan to attend at least 90% of my kids sporting events. That means not making outside plans in the Fall unless it’s crucial, because four of my five kids are involved in Fall sports. I plan to have a large, family dinner every Sunday. Plan, because I’m not the only person involved in the event and sometimes, other people’s plans interfere with my own.


I plan to be patient, considerate, and tolerant in my daily life. Plan not resolve, because some people just tick me off and then I lose patience and tolerance all at once.


I plan to read one book a week (before I was a professional writer, I read 4-5 books a week.) This is difficult, because when I’m deep in the zone, I can’t read anyone else’s books. That means that between books, I go on reading binges, a book or more a day for a week or three.


I quit my trainer in August because of conferences and deadlines and general stress. I gained 12 points. I will go back to my trainer starting the second week of January. I’m not going to resolve to lose weight because I know me, and I know I’ll disappoint myself; but I will exercise a minimum of three days a week. Exercise will get me in shape, and if I lose weight that’s incidental to my plan to get back in shape.


All these are plans I would have made simply because I’m done with one book, and starting the next. They happen to coincide with the New Year. But they’re not resolutions. They’re plans, and plans can change.


What do you plan to do this year? Other than, of course, buying LOVE ME TO DEATH if you haven’t already–it’s on sale now. 🙂




By Allison Brennan

Several friends recommended Detroit 1-8-7 as one of the best new television shows out this season, so I downloaded Season One thus far and will start watching it while wrapping Christmas presents this week. It’s an ABC show, and I think I avoided it when it started because I rarely watch network TV anymore. Castle (ABC) is my guilty pleasure, and Law and Order SVU (NBC) has been a long-time favorite. But looking at my iTunes directory, there are no other network shows. I grew quickly bored with Criminal Minds, stopped watching CSI years ago, and NBC ticked me off when they cancelled LIFE after two incredible seasons. As far as I’m concerned, network TV is no better–and often worse–than cable television. The pluses are that when they are good, they have the money to really produce a top show–with solid writing and great actors and no skimping on the budget. But unless I hear from people I trust–like I did about Detroit–I won’t invest the time or money in network TV.


FOX launched in 1986, and brought with it some innovative programming. The WB and UPN were merged into The CW a few years ago, but the WB in particular had some great shows. X-Files came from FOX and one of my favorite shows (SUPERNATURAL) is on the CW. The formerly small networks are now competing with the big guys and I think it’s to the advantage of television fans to keep the creative competition thriving.


Enter cable TV. It used to be, at least for many people, that cable television was blah–unless you had paid premium cable like HBO and Showtime. To me, ten years ago cable television was all boring documentaries and some good kids programming (like Nickelodeon.) But over the last few years, I’ve found that cable is bringing me my favorite new shows. And while in the past cable networks weren’t widespread or you had to buy specific packages, now there’s more universal cable programming. And even better for people like me, if you don’t subscribe to premium programming, you can still buy many of the shows on iTunes to watch only a few hours after they air. But it’s still the basic cable programming that is really shining for me.


Take F/X. JUSTIFIED is my new favorite show of 2010–and I’m thrilled Season Two is starting in two short months–sometime in February. It’s edgy, fun, witty, dark, with some of the best characters on television today. US Marshal Raylan Givens is based on an Elmore Leonard character, and Leonard is involved in the show. 


And I’ve been enjoying THE GLADES (A&E) and am glad it’s returning for a second season. The show works because of the protagonist, Chicago transplant to South Florida Det. Jim Longworth played by Matt Passmore, and his best friend, the forensic pathologist Dr. Carlos Sanchez (Carlos Gomez.) It’s not JUSTIFIED, but few shows are. But it’s fun, and Longworth is a great character.


And I’m still watching SUPERNATURAL, now in Season 6, on the CW. The show is about two brothers battling supernatural forces–the standard demons and vampires and ghosts, as well as less common creatures like the djinn, tricksters, and ghouls. I was skeptical that it would survive without its creator, the amazing Eric Kripke, and when the season started my first thought was, “Damn, they should have ended on a high note.” Kripke had a five season story arc for the show, and it was pitch perfect. But still, I continued on, until two weeks ago when they aired “Appointment in Samarra” and I thought, “It’s back.” In summary? Dean, the older brother, agrees to be the Horseman Death for a day if Death will get Sam (the younger brother’s) soul out of Hell where it’s trapped with Lucifer and Michael. If they keep up this storytelling, SUPERNATURAL will return to being one of my top two shows. I’m only disappointed that it took them half a season to regain their footing.


And then there’s FRINGE, a FOX program. Season one? Terrific. Season two? Awful. I don’t know why, but I really didn’t like it at all. It just didn’t click for me. But so far, Season three is fantastic. I hope they keep it up.


To me, there’s sort of a realignment going on in television–and possibly all media. The big guns are no longer the big guns per se, but when they get it right they do it right. But the cable networks — even with small budgets and shorter seasons — are creating some amazing new programming, focusing largely on quality character development as well as edgy storylines, without being unbelievable. So while I’m looking forward to ABC’s DETROIT because my friends tell me it’s amazing, I’m truly looking forward to seeing what cable comes up with next. Another fun thing about cable shows is that they often launch mid-seasons, with fewer episodes but original programming when so many other station are putting up re-runs. 

Now, there’s no new trailers for JUSTIFIED, but I found this on YouTube and I thought those who love the show would enjoy the minute of clips from Season o ne, and those who haven’t seen it will get a taste of a terrific program.


 What mid-season premiere are you most looking forward to returning? Here about anything new coming up that sounds like great television?


The Cost of E-Books

By Allison Brennan


Publishing is in a flux for many reasons, the rise in e-books only one–but perhaps the primary reason.

I’m going to separate e-books into four categories for the sake of argument:

1) Traditionally published books that also have e-books as one of many available formats (i.e. my books are primarily mass market, but they are also available electronically, in audio, and large print);

2) E-books published by an e-publisher and primarily available only electronically, though there may be a POD version available or trade or mass market version on sale usually more than three months after the electronic release;

3) Self-published e-books that have never been to market and are published by the author directly to electronic format and available for one or more e-readers;

4) Out-of-print (OOP) books that had been traditionally published, but where the author has retained or regained their rights and has chosen to release the book electronically themselves, and the book is now available only in electronic format and one or more e-readers.


OOP books are seeing a return because authors are finding a great opportunity to publishing these books for their readership. These books all went through a traditional editing process, and while some have to be updated, most of the authors don’t need to do anything with the story itself. All the work is in making the physical formatting conform to technology. (Or, for some of the older books, re-tying the entire manuscript. Did you know that in the past, most books were written entirely on a typewriter?)

And self-published books electronically are the same as self-published books in print–the author incurs all the costs, and gets all the profit.

The November issue of RWA’s Romance Writers Report had a very interesting and eye-opening article on the cost of e-books by Sourcebooks CEO Dominique Raccah. The reason it caught my eye was because for so long there’s been this myth that e-books should be much cheaper than they are priced because they are much cheaper to produce. Raccah debunks the myth, and everyone interested in this subject should read the entire article. I’m summarizing some points here.

First, she points out that between traditional, self, and e-publishing, that 2009 heralded a record in books published (to be surpassed this year for sure) – one million. That’s 1,000,000 books.

A million. Books. In one year. Nearly five times the number published in 2008.

One of the big implications of this, according to Raccah, is that it devalues content. There is too much and too little time.

I completely agree.

With all the noise, it’s why my comments here last April still hold water: the bestsellers will continue to do well, but most of us—both traditionally published and self-published– will be fighting for sales. We’ll be spending more on advertising, more time online social networking, more time positioning our books . . . and less time writing.

What I think is important for writers and readers to understand that there is a cost to create e-books.

Raccah says, “If publishers and authors want the ebook available broadly – everywhere readers might buy their ebooks, rather than just one e-tailer – the publisher has to manage every one of those customers individually.

That also means that we have to manage their technical requirements individually. With printed books, we ship the same product to different retailers. Barnes & Noble, Borders, Walmart, Target – everyone receives the same book. That’s not the case with ebooks.

Ebook retailers use different file formats. Despite attempts at standardization, the reality is that if you want ebooks available in as many retailers as possible, you will be creating a minimum of three different file types based off that one original file. The technically savvy among you who’ve worked with InDesign might say, “easy! I select ‘Export for Digital Editions’ from the pulldown menu. Done!” And welcome to the world of broken files, widows, orphans, and stray Cyrillic symbols.”


To be honest, I hadn’t considered the formatting problems with e-books. I’d assume that one “good” electronic file was fine—but according to Raccah, there are a minimum of ten e-tailers and devices to prepare separate files for, and each of those files must be manually checked for quality control. 

“Just as “spell check” won’t produce a cleanly written text (in lieu of writers, editors and proofreaders) automation and technology are aids but not an all-encompassing solution for ebook production (at least not at this time). You still need human beings to check it all.”


With the rise of e-books, publishers must bring on technically trained staff to handle the new workflow, plus keep up with the constantly changing technology and new e-readers. 

One problem area Raccah cited was in metadata—all the information related to each specific book including title, author, ISBN, cover, etc. Each e-tailer has different requirements in how they receive that data, meaning it’s not an automated process to get your e-book up in all available e-markets.

All this is before the book ever goes to market. Editing, copyediting, proofreading, production, cover design is all part of the print process, and while e-covers are generally different formats, it’s only designed once. But even taking out the cost of printing, paper, and shipping, publishers are incurring additional costs on the technology end for each and every book. And that doesn’t even begin to speak to marketing.

I’m happy to take my lower royalties in the traditional market and not have to incur the technological costs of e-book production, in addition to editing costs, cover design, and everything else a publisher does. But if someone else wants to do it, great. I just want everyone to look hard at the costs and not get all dreamy-eyed because they can made 37.5%-70% royalties.

Now, even saying all this, I’m not happy with lower royalties across the board. What I mean is, there are extensive costs the publisher incurs to produce e-books across all e-tailers, just like they incur costs to get books in physical bookstores and mass merchandisers. The first books sold cost the most to the publisher. (For example, a publisher would always prefer to sell 100,000 copies of one book than 10,000 copies each of 10 books.)

It’s standard in the industry to have escalator clauses in publishing contracts. In mass market, the “standard” clause is 8% of cover price up to 150,000 copies sold, then 10% of cover price. In hardcover, the “standard” clause is 10% royalties of cover price for the first 5,000 copies sold, 12.5% for the next 5,000 copies, and 15% for copies over 10,000.

Traditional publishers make their money selling volume—they’d go under real quick if every book they published only sold 10,000 copies. The cost of printing, e-printing, editing, copyediting, cover design, marketing, sales, accounting—and more—for each book would be impossible. That’s why they 1) love backlist and 2) need to sell their frontlist in volume.

Right now, there really isn’t a standard royalty rate for e-books through the traditional publishers. Most houses (Harlequin is the big exception with 6% cover price e-royalties) pay 25% of net. That very roughly works out to be about 15% of cover price.

E-published authors point to the fact that their publishers pay 35-50% royalties. Most e-published authors who go through an e-publisher, like Samhain, don’t incur any editing or publishing costs—nothing more than what a traditionally published author is expected to do (i.e. have a website.) Self-published Amazon authors point to the 70% royalty rate they get for books over $2.99 (this doesn’t include costs the author incurs to sell through Amazon, or the rules of the 70% royalty rate which I tried to understand but couldn’t—if anyone has facts to share, please do.)

Lou Aronica—author, publisher, and incoming President of Novelists, Inc, a professional writers organization—gave me permission to share his numbers for e-books costs and royalties. In light of the Sourcebooks data above—the cost of producing e-books—I think Lou’s numbers make a whole lot of sense.

He extrapolated the cost of ebooks based on firm costs—for example, it costs a “flat” rate to prepare files, metadata, etc for each and every book a publisher offers. He used a $7.99 priced book for the numbers—I can’t remember why, but it made sense at the time he wrote it. (I’ll send him a note and see if he’ll come here and elaborate.)

His conclusions:

25% net royalty: If the publisher sells 2,000 copies, the publisher loses money. The author will still make royalties on each unit sold.

25% net royalty: If the publisher sells 4,500 copies, the publisher makes money, and in fact makes nearly the same dollar amount as the author.

Now, after 4,500 copies, if the author is still making 25% net royalty, the publisher continues to see their numbers go up exponentially because the costs incurred (other than marketing and incorporating new technologies) are fixed whether the publisher sells one copy or 100,000 copies.

Lou’s argument is that, like other publishing models, e-books should be paid on a sliding royalty scale. That after XXXX units are sold, authors get a higher royalty. Based on his numbers, that first threshold is 4,500 copies.

Copies between 4,500 and 10,000 should be paid 37.5% net royalty. (He factors in increased marketing costs for books that sell more copies, and I’m sure he has data that supports this.) But once the e-book sells over 10,000 copies marketing costs don’t increase at the same rate, and thus the author should be getting 50% net for all units sold after the initial 10,000, and that when he extrapolated the data at different sales points (10,000, 50,000, 100,000, etc) his numbers held.

To summarize and compare author royalties



First 5,000 copies sold                           10% cover

On the next 5,000 sold                         12.5% cover

Over 10,000 copies sold                        15% cover


Mass Market

First 150,000 copies sold                        8% cover

Over 150,000 copies sold                        10% cover


Electronic Books: semi-standard

all copies: 25% net


Electronic Books: what should be standard

Up to 4,500 copies sold                        25% net

4500-10,000 copies sold                       37.5% net

Over 10,000 copies sold                        50% net


I am very supportive of the publishing industry as a whole, because I think they are the gatekeepers. I don’t want to be my own publisher and incur the costs of editing, design, copyediting, technology, and everything else. I’m happy to let them do it, and they should make money off their risk. That’s my choice. But I firmly believe that authors need to fight for escalator clauses for their electronic sales like we have for our print sales.

I honestly don’t care how people read my books–whether listening, in print, or electronic. I love that readers have options, because that means (I hope) that more people will read more books. I, personally, prefer to read in print, but that doesn’t mean I’d never buy an e-book (and I have bought e-books, and own an iPad.) All these changes are scary and exciting at the same time. 

My e-book sales have always been a small percentage of my total sales, while I’ve heard that my hardcover thriller friends have been seeing a substantial increase in their e-book sales—20 to 50% total sales being electronic. This may be a factor of being released in mass market—the price point for a paperback ($7.99) is better—especially in this economy—than the price point for a hardcover ($25.) I also think that e-book sales for mass market authors will grow, but most of us who have always been traditionally published in mass market (opposed to authors who started in e-publishing), we’re still seeing single-digit percentages.

This may have something to do with the discount on the electronic book for mass market is less (about 15-20% less) than hardcovers (50% or more.) I don’t know what the right price point is, but for the most part, publishers and e-tailers are losing money on the $9.99 threshold—as the Raccah article and this article written by industry veteran Bridget Kinsella shows.

“Sargent says publishers are figuring out how to manage that evolution wisely. “The way I see it,” he says, “our job is to do two things: make sure we make that transition well, and we also must protect the value of the intellectual property as we go through the transition.” Once that’s done, he adds, publishing must “make sure, in the end, that the consumer pays a price that is fair and isn’t artificially made cheaper.”

It is truly an exciting and changing time, but anything we do–as authors, publishers, or retailers–we need to decide only with facts and information, and not on fear and the unknown.

Now, to completely change the topic, my publisher is releasing an exclusive electronic novella on January 24th that’s part of my new Lucy Kincaid series. Both Steve Berry and Dean Koontz have published e-novellas prior to the release of their next big book. I was thrilled to be asked to write a short story (well, not-so-short—Love is Murder clocked in at 25,000 words) to be released electronically between Love Me To Death (12.28.10) and Kiss Me, Kill Me (2.22.11) which are both mass market originals.





After a tough breakup with her boyfriend, Lucy Kincaid needs a different kind of break. So she heads west to join her brother, an ex-cop, for a long weekend of skiing in the mountains. At a picturesque lodge tucked high in the Sierra Nevadas, Lucy finds just what she’s looking for: a peaceful retreat undisturbed by internet, television, and cell phone distractions. She also finds an unexpected group of newlyweds seeking their own idyllic getaway.

But finding one of her fellow guests dead wasn’t in the brochure. And neither was the overnight snowstorm that leaves the lodge cut off from the outside world. When Lucy’s brother suspects the honeymooner’s death was foul play, he’s mysteriously stricken ill. Now, to keep them alive, it’s up to aspiring FBI agent Lucy Kincaid to figure out which of the lovebirds trapped in the lodge is really a bird of prey.


So because I’m very excited about this e-book, and the entire Lucy Kincaid series, and because I believe in giving away books whenever I can, THREE randomly chosen commenters can pick any book in my backlist.

I could ask any number of questions–I probably went too long in this commentary!–but I think I’ll just say let me know what you think about this whole thing, and if you have anything to share, please do! If not? Then enjoy this new picture of my daughter’s kitten Nemo as he “helps” me write:



How do you read?

By Allison Brennan


E-books and e-readers are topics of conversation everywhere, and no place more so than among authors.


I could discuss any number of things related to e-books, but the topic could fill a novel—far more than I want to write on a Saturday night!


I think that there are two truths that most people can agree with, to differing degrees. One, e-books are here to stay and they’re a growing market. And two, print books will continue to sell.


I honestly don’t care how readers read my books. If they enjoy them electronically or in print or listening to them on tape or download. Truly, my job is to entertain by telling a good story.


At some point—when, I have no idea—there’ll be a balance between e-books and print books, just like there is a balance between hardcover and paperback releases. This unknown is one of the reasons that publishers are in a tizzy—it’s nearly impossible to plan print runs and create marketing plans when readers are all over the map. When an author like myself—a mass market commercial fiction author—has a book out there was a plan. But those plans are constantly in flux because of the unknowns.


We can say that ebook sales are increasing exponentially, but every author—with a particular eye to format and genre—is affected differently. My ebook sales are still in the single digits of total books sold. I know a lot of people who are selling upwards of 35%–most, if not all, of these authors are published in hardcover. Some of my mass market friends are seeing low two-digits—10-15% e-book sales, but most mass market authors aren’t getting the near half sales electronically.


So there are a lot of unknowns!


One of the problems everyone is having is with statistics. Numbers mean something, but methodology is crucial when looking at the stats. We’re hearing that Amazon is selling more digital books than hardcover books—but the problem with that statement is that they don’t tell us whether they’re selling more digital copies of books that are also available as hardcover, or are they selling more total digital copies than hardcover books.


I’m not discounting the quantity, because I know that hardcover authors are selling very well electronically, but we need to compare apples to apples if we can possibly plan for future books as well as know our audience.


For example, according to “Self Publishing Resources,” the average POD (which I am assuming includes self-published books, but I can’t be certain based on the wording) sells 75 copies, and Author Solutions reports that they sell on average of 150 copies of each of their self-published novels. According to a New York Times report in early 2009, when Bertram Capitol merged with Xlibris, they published six times more titles than Random House—the worlds largest publisher.


Quantity of titles doesn’t equate to success. Well, the vanity press companies are certainly successful, for one article on the Self Publishing Resources website states that 81 percent of the American people believe they have a book in them. And with the ease of getting that book published, there are now over 480,000 titles published today (2009.)


But the vast majority of those titles are selling less than 1,000 copies. One report I remember reading (but can’t find though I searched!) is that only 25,000 titles have a print run in excess of 5,000.


My point is that the big sellers are driving the digital train just like they drive the high print runs. I think when the New York Times starts their ebook bestseller list, that’s going to prove that it’s still the John Grishams and Lee Childs and Nora Roberts and Stephen Kings of the world that are dominating the sales. There will be new up and comers for certain, just like on the traditional print lists, but as more digital titles are available, readers will still gravitate to their comfort reads and proven authors.


I’m certain that there will be a lot of changes to come, some exciting and some scary. We don’t really know what’s going to happen, only that more people will move to reading some or all of their books digitally. And because this is technology based, it happens faster than other changes.


Decisions based on fear and not fact will only hurt authors—and, in the long run, readers. We need statistics that make proper comparisons, such as comparing e-book sales to print sales on those titles that are available in both markets. Unknown authors who think that they can break into digital publishing and make it big have a lot of work ahead of them—just because you can keep more money from each book sold doesn’t mean it’s the right decision. Or the wrong decision. Because of the potential for entrepreneurs who have both talent and marketing sense, there will be success stories. It’s inevitable. And I think that’s great.


But none of that means death to print publishing. 8% of the reading public owns an ereader—and that is expected to double within the next six months. And those who own ereaders are more likely to read more books. But there are still a lot of people who state they will not be buying an ereader in the next year. According to Harris Interactive (which I hesitate to quote because it’s an opt-in poll of people who are online and thus not a cross-section of all readers) the two demographic groups least likely to own or buy an ereader in the next 6 months are the 65+ group and the 18-33 group. That these are people who are active online and not moving over to ereaders is significant—I only have my unscientific poll of my teenagers who, when I offered them an ereader, said, “Hell, no.” (And I have an iPad, so I’m not opposed to ereaders!)


Their reason? They spend so much time on the computer, they don’t want to read books on it or any electronic device. Their textbooks are on the computer. They have assignments on the computer. They text and facebook and chat on the computer. Is there going to be a small technology backlash in the younger generation? Maybe. Maybe not.


But that’s the point—everything is changing so rapidly and data is incomplete. That’s why taking in the big picture and making smart, strategic decisions—both for authors and for publishers—is so important.


One experiment that my publisher is trying is releasing an exclusive electronic novella between the first two Lucy Kincaid books. Love Me To Death, the first Lucy Kincaid book, will be out on December 28, hopefully everywhere books are sold. Then on January 24, 2011, a novella Love Is Murder will be available everywhere electronic books are sold. Then Kiss Me, Kill Me, the second Lucy Kincaid book, will be out on February 22. I’m very interested in seeing the numbers—whether having an e-exclusive story increases e-sales of KMKM over LMTD, among other things.

Yesterday, my editor sent me two printed copies of Love Me To Death. When I opened the package, the same warm, happy feeling came over me that I had five years ago when I received the first two copies of my debut novel The Prey.


So to celebrate the pending publication of my fifteenth book—which happens to fall on the five year anniversary of the release of my debut novel—I’m giving away a set of my first trilogy: The Prey, The Hunt and The Kill. If the randomly chosen winner already has those books, I’ll send them any set of my trilogies that they want. In print—because I have the copies.


So tell me . . . have you converted to reading ebooks and if so, are you mostly reading books published exclusively as ebooks; ebooks that are also available in print; or a mixture of both?



For Pet Lovers

By Allison Brennan

Once again, I’m stuck for time. I have copyedits coming on Wednesday, and a short story due a week from Monday–that now I have to get done early because I only have five days for copyedits. When it rains it pours!

So after writing all afternoon (after a football game and a soccer game), I’m brain dead. So when Pari asked us if anyone wanted to write a post for our good friend Simon Wood, I jumped at the chance! Why? Because it’s easy for me to talk about my pets, and I like Simon.

My mom was never a cat person, so we always had dogs growing up. My first dog was a Sheltie, and I’m still partial to them. After Shotzi was hit by a car when I was four, my mom turned to smaller dogs–a little poodle mix (Misty) then a pomeranian (Becky.) But I was always a cat person in my heart.

My first cat was my grandpa’s. Spooky was black with white paws and he didn’t like anyone but my grandpa. (It might have had something to do with the fact that grandpa bought him liver and gave him a little every night for his “dessert.”) I made it my life’s mission to get Spooky to like me. It took months, but I became a tolerable to the cat. When my grandpa died, I inherited Spooky.

In college, long after Spooky was gone, my roommate and I rescued a kitten from a fraternity. It’s not that they would have hurt him, but we didn’t want to take the chance. Nixon became my cat, and traveled with me wherever I went. As a kitten, he loved the car. When I got a job in Virginia, I flew him cross country. After that, he hated travel.

It was Nixon who converted my dog-loving husband to tolerate cats. Why? Because Nixon acted like a dog. He came when you called him, he did his business outside in the garden, and he didn’t scratch the furniture. (Though, why Dan would care about that considering his dog, a chocolate lab, ATE not one, but TWO sofas!)

Nixon came down with cancer when he was only seven, and there was nothing we could do because it had spread so fast. I was pregnant at the time, and so heartbroken because he was my first pet that was all mine. I’d had other cats that I’d acquired and found homes for over the years–all while I had Nixon–but they were more like friends who came and went, and Nixon was family.

Nixon also trained our puppy, Curly (a friend of ours had a surprise litter just before we were married), to like cats, and the two of them were best buddies. After Nixon died, Curly was as sad as we were.

Shortly after my daughter (#2) was born in 1996, I went to the grocery store and people were giving away kittens. Two were left, curled up in a box, one orange and white like Nixon and one a dark tabby. I took them both and blamed post partum depression when my husband balked. (After all, I had just given birth to a ten pound baby, I could get away with almost anything at that point.)

We named them Toulouse (left) and Neelix (right), and because Nixon had trained Curly so well, we had no problems with the dog getting along with the cats. She knew who was boss (the felines.) In 2005, Neelix disappeared–we thought he might have been injured by a car or animal and wandered off to die. He was known to bring rabbits and huge rodents and birds to our back porch. He may, in fact, have been the only cat to deliver us a baby bunny on Easter morning. Thank God we woke up before the kids!

Toulouse was a character. He used to torment my younger daughter by always sleeping on her toys. Her favorite stuffed animal was this Mickey Mouse, and Toulouse loved to drag it from her room and sleep on it. If there was a piece of paper on the floor, he’d be curled up on it. Anything new became his bed for the day.

Below is Toulouse in the dog’s water bowl:


One Christmas, he found an empty box:



And then our kids left the skateboard out one spring day . . .



He found more innovative places to sleep as he got older. He liked getting into cabinets, or finding the one toy that was sure to bring the most attention:


Being cute by the garden statue:



Being not-so-cute on top of the toaster:



And two months before he died, we still don’t know how he had the energy to jump onto the counter, open the coffee cabinet, and jump up to the third shelf:


It was nearly two months ago when we had to put Toulouse to sleep. He was well over 14 years. Toulouse had a tumor for years, but because of the location and his age, it was safer not to perform surgery. He survived happily for nearly five years, but the tumor grew suddenly and quickly and we had no options once he stopped eating. Then two weeks ago, my daughter’s boyfriend asked my permission to give her a kitten for their 6 month anniversary. I went with them to the Sacramento SPCA to pick him out, and we brought home an orange and white tabby we named Nemo. Nemo can never replace Toulouse, but we love him just as much! When he woke up my daughter in the middle of the night to play, she brought him to my room and said, “Nemo won’t let me sleep!” I told her that sounded familiar, but at least he wasn’t wet, crying, and hungry. (I probably should have used the event as a life lesson about sex and babies, but it was 3 in the morning.)


Meet Nemo




When Murderati alum Simon Wood asked if we would post a special charity appeal here, I agreed because we just had a wonderful experience at the pound getting Nemo, and part of the great experience was having the foster parents comments about all the cats–which ones were good with kids, other animals, etc. That was invaluable to us as adoptive cat owners, because it would have broken my heart to find out after a few days that our new cat hates little kids. Fortunately, Nemo fit in perfectly!

So from Simon:


This is for the animal lovers out there.
 I doubt anyone is aware that my wife and I foster animals for the ASPCA and other organizations.  We usually take the no hope cases, where the animals aren’t expected to survive or need specialist care.  Over the last few years, we’ve rescued dozens of cats and dogs and found them new homes.  Our family pets are all rescues — ones that we couldn’t give up after the care we’d given them. 
 Our cat, Bug, was one of those rescues we couldn’t let go of after we’d taken him in.  After five fun fill years, Bug died last week.  He was a great cat and a lot of fun to have around the house.  We’re going to miss him a lot. 
 In Bug’s honor, I’m going to donate all eBook royalties earned at Amazon and for the next two weeks to Best Friends, an organization I truly admire. This applies to the following titles: 
 Please feel free to share this appeal on Twitter, Facebook or your blog.  If there’s a strong showing, I’ll extend the appeal.  
 Thanks for listening, 


So you get to read a great story for a couple bucks, and Simon gives the money to a worthy charity!


And I’ll up the ante. I’ll donate $25 to Simon’s charity in the name of the first person who guesses how we named Toulouse, plus I’ll send you FEAR NO EVIL, my Daphne du Maurier award winner which introduces Lucy Kincaid–just in time to read the book before I launch her series on December 28 with LOVE ME TO DEATH.


Also, share with us how you ended up with your most recent pet, or another funny (or special!) animal story. (For example, my brother-in-law the wildlife biologist visited us one day–and his car broke down and he stayed overnight–with a mountain lion cub. They are NOT cute. The cub, named Flash, has been integrated with the mountain lions at Folsom Zoo, a rescue zoo, where my mother volunteers.)