Category Archives: Elaine Flinn

To Blog – Or Not To Blog – That is the Question

Last year I was asked to contribute to an article for The CWA monthly magzine RED HERRINGS, about Blogs and Writers. Naturally one of my first choices was to ask Elaine Flinn as I loved her ‘On The Bubble’. The essay was great but due to a conflict in schedules the commissioned piece was cancelled hence I never got to use Elaine’s essay. This week, I have been thinking about Elaine a great deal and of course I remembered the essay. So I thought it apt to pass it back to Murderati where she was one of the co-founders

– Ali Karim



by Elaine Flinn

And it was a major question for me when Pari Noskin Taichert invited me to join Murderati. I was hesitant to take the plunge. I mean, the net was already burgeoning with author blogs. Could readers be interested in yet another one? I’m not an essayist, nor am I a short story writer. Hell, I can’t even write a short email. And anything I might have to say about the writing life, the publishing world or marketing – has been said umpteen times by others more eloquent. So what was left for me to offer? Not a damn thing, I quickly thought.

But I was intrigued, and knew that being on a blog was a great way to meet new readers and maybe get a gleaning of what they liked, or didn’t like. Pari had rounded up an interesting mix I thought might be unique. Her series has a quirky protag who promoted New Mexico, Naomi Hirahara had an ethnic protag, J.T. Ellison was newly agented, but unpublished, Jeff Cohen and Deni Dietz wrote humor, and Simon Wood was a hopeful horror writer. And moi? I have an antiques dealer who can’t stay out of trouble. But still, I was wary. I’m not presumptuous enough to think I had anything profound to say. While I’ve been fortunate to have garnered four nominations and the Barry Award for my mystery series, I still didn’t feel like an old salt or qualified to offer advice to anyone.

My Eureka moment arrived one night while I was watching David Rose. Interviews! Yes! That’s what I’ll do. I can’t make a fool of myself asking questions, right? I’ll interview writers. But I decided not to ask the same boring questions; how do you come up with plots?, what’s your writing schedule like?, etc, etc. I’ll mix it up – make it tongue-in-cheek – maybe throw in a serious one now and then. Thus, ON THE BUBBLE was born. So I signed on for a year. The fact that I had to come up with fifty-two author interviews hadn’t crossed my addled mind at that point.

Attracting readers for a blog is a slow process, but we trudged on hoping to increase our ‘hits’ and hoping like hell we’d accumulate more comments each day. I mean, we all supported each other on a daily basis, but comments from our fellow blog mates praising each other’s contributions was not what we were after. After about three or four months, we made great leaps and attracted more and more readers. Whew.

I like to think of the writing world as being organic. Change is constant – new sub-genres evolve, scores of new writers debut, some favorites fade away, certain plot themes are suddenly all the rage, and then quickly die. Blogs are susceptible as well to the evolving moods and interests of writers and readers. We experienced changes at Murderati which introduced new voices and new perspectives. When Paul Guyot joined us, that change was immediately apparent. His incredibly popular former blog – ‘Inkslinger’ – daily produced one of the highest traffic counts ever on the web. His legion of fans and friends were quick to engage him again at Murderati. And when Alexandra Sokoloff and Louise Ure came on board, we attracted yet another new set of readers. All great writers with singular voices sharing their world and how they view it. And that is – without doubt –the raison d’etre of a blog.

But I’ve mentioned change, have I not? And blogs – like the writing world – as being organic? Now, I too am part of that swinging door of evolution. I’ve left Murderati, and so has Paul Guyot. Why? Simple. Blogs, dear readers, are hungry beasts leaving few hours in the day to devote to OUR raison d’etre. Paul and I both knew that every minute blogging – was a minute lost writing.

My protag, Molly Doyle is an antiques dealer – and her word of caution to readers is – Caveat Emptor – Buyer Beware.

So – To Blog – Or Not To Blog? Writer Beware!

A Tribute to Elaine Flinn


Hey there, Murderati fans,

Alex is in Alaska at this year’s Bouchercon. I’ve been going through the archives and found this gem from last year. So, let’s get to know Alex all over again through the wonderful interviewing of former Murderati member Elaine Flinn. Elaine now has her own blog at http:/

PICTURE THIS:  Gorgeous blonde mane, a body built for dancing (you should have seen her at ThrillerFest!), hands that play classical piano and can fly just as fast across a laptop producing screenplays and really scary novels and who do you see?  Why, just my guest today – Alexandra Sokoloff – and she is about to set the vast world of mystery/suspense on it’s ear.   Not only does Alex manage to scare the hell out of us with her new book – THE HARROWING – but she has also written, directed and acted  in productions from Shakespeare to street, choreographed four full-scale musicals and spent a summer as a backup singer!  But wait! There’s more!  She’s worked for numerous Hollywood studios- adapting original and suspense thrillers for producers such as Michael Bay, Laura Ziskin, David Heyman and Neal Moritz.  Her adaptation of Sabine Deitmer’s psychological thriller COLD KISSES was filmed in Germany by director Carl Schenkel.

This is what I call multi-tasking to the fullest!  Oh, did I forget to mention that somehow she managed to graduate Phi Beta Kappa as well?  Don’t you just hate people like this?  I mean, don’t you feel utterly under accomplished?  I know, deep down in your heart – you’re hoping to learn she has at least one or two faults – but even if she hasn’t…we can pretend, right?  But don’t look too hard – none of my friends have faults.  They’re all perfect. 🙂

So after you’ve listened in on my chat with Alex today – mosey over to her website and get the full story on this fabulous new writer – because she is – despite all her talents – one terrific gal!

EE:  I know everyone wants to know this, so my first question is:  At what point in your life did you find it necessary to abandon the arcane and highly competitive catacombs of academia for the more welcoming and stable life of a screenwriter?

AK:  I’m not sure I’d call the Los Angeles Juvenile Court System the catacombs of academia.  Catacombs, maybe.  I was teaching incarcerated and emotionally disturbed teenage boys in the lockup campus (yes, with this hair…)  Wrangling emotionally disturbed teenagers was excellent training for dealing with Hollywood executives.  Seems like a pretty natural transition to me.

Yes, I understand the suits can be a rather emotionally challenged breed.  Your training did you well!  I mean, you survived and lived to tell about it!

EE:  While we all know you’re an accomplished pianist, is it true you listen to Handel whilst you write?  I’m also told you hum along to the Hallelujah Chorus when that new paragraph just ain’t going the way you want.  As you can tell, I have spy’s everywhere.

AK:  Accomplished pianist – NOT.  I do love doing the gang bang Hallelujah Chorus thing at Christmas, actually, but darling, you can’t think that I’d come up with the stuff I write if I were listening to Handel while I wrote it?

Hmmm, well, I kinda thought  my spy was a bit off – but then – he’s new, so I’ll overlook this for now.  But not long.  I demand accuracy!

EE:  Uh, Alex?  You wanna tell us about that year in Istanbul when you were sixteen?  Or, do you want to save that for another time? 🙂

AK:  Seriously, it was very hard.  I was blonder than I am now and so, so obviously American.  I was harassed everywhere I went – abduction attempts – not fun.  But that’s the year that I threw every practical plan out the window and decided to go into the theater, because life’s too precious not to do what you love.  And Istanbul itself is a phenomenal city – it was life-changing.

Life changing??  How about life CHALLENGING??  Abduction attempts??  Aieeee!  But wait.  There could be a story here.  I can see it now…Jude Law is at an outdoor cafe at the Grand Bazaar, in the main great bazaar commissioned by Suleyman…sipping thick Turkish coffee, pondering his life when he witnesses an attempt to kidnap a  young girl.  He springs to action…  I mean, think about it, okay? 

EE: Whew.  I’m still thinking about Jude – but we can talk about him later.  Let’s get back to the writing life for a minute.  When the last page is written-and you’ve sent the manuscript off to your editor – and you’re ready to lax out – what is your favorite retreat?  And what do you do there?

AK:  The most relaxing thing for me is to blow out dancing.  And – anything on the water.  So the perfect combination is this great swing dance weekend that happens every summer on Catalina Island. There are classes in all kinds of dance all day, and dancing to the big bands all night in the Avalon Ballroom – THE most romantic dance venue I’ve ever been in – huge octagonal floor under a domed ceiling, a 260 degree view of the ocean from the wraparound balcony – just magical!

Ah, Catalina Island!  I know it well.  And you’re so right – it is magical!  And there’s something about big band dancing that is entrancing.  It conjures up images of Fred & Ginger, don’t you think?  And those wonderful days -Those late, great days of Hollywood musicals – where have they gone?

EE:  Okay, it’s time for your Walter Mitty Dream!  Keep it sorta clean, okay?  We’re all for dish, but some dreams are best saved for – well, later.

AK:  I thought this WAS my Walter Mitty Dream!  You know, I’m really not getting enough sleep.

What?  Being here at OTB?  Or writing what is sure to be a mega seller?  Oh, being here?  Gosh. You are too kind.  Really.

EE:  Word on the street is you went into a fit of depression when you only graduated Phi Beta Kappa.  I mean, I know who disappointed you must have been, but surely you’ve put that behind you.

AK:  It was too surreal to process.  My extracurricular activities had been so extremely – well, extreme – that the possibility had never occurred to me.  I still have dreams that I haven’t graduated.  Not that anyone’s ever asked to see my degree.

Only a cretin would ask! But about the dreams – think about Jude rescuing you from those nasty kidnappers- and then maybe improvise a bit?  Surely that would work.

EE:  Rumor has it John Travolta is begging you to teach him ballet for his next film – but you turned him down.  Was it because you just couldn’t envision him in tights, or what?

AK:  I don’t have the slightest difficulty in imagining ANY man in tights – I have this Elizabethan fetish.  I wouldn’t presume to teach JT anything about dancing – but I’d dance with him any time, any place, anywhere.  Can you set that up?

Can I set it up?  Darling, you are talking to moi!  Consider it done.  John and I go back, you know?

EE:  My favorite little spy told me that you’re working on new lyrics for a duet with Paul Guyot for next year’s gala at ThrillerFest, but Guyot wants to make it a trio thing and have Tony Bennett do backup.

AK:  I have no doubt Guyot would be up for a trio thing, but Tony Bennett wouldn’t have been my first guess for a third.  Works for me.

You sure about Bennett?  I mean – I can talk to Guyot.  Between us – we could pull a few strings and get someone else.  I hear Wayne Newton is writing a thriller and could use the exposure.

EE:  Suspenseville is abuzz about a certain few female writers jealous of your glorious blonde mane and are intent on having a ‘Sokoloff look’ – care to offer a few tips here?

AK:  My hair does whatever it wants to – I just follow along.  I have no control whatever.  How do you think I get into these situations I get in?

Oh, it’s your hair that gets you into…well…uh, situations?  What the hell, I’ll buy that.

EE:  I understand you have a fetish for avoiding cracks in the sidewalk.  No – don’t ask who told me.  I don’t reveal my sources – but he’s very high up in the…well, the industry, okay?  Anyway, isn’t that a little tough when wearing those to-die-for spike heel boots of yours in New York?  Is that also a problem in Raleigh?  How do you manage?

AK:  My street boots are very well constructed, actually, because I like to walk places whenever possible.  I save the spikes for – indoors.

Hmmm.  I think he set me up with that question.  I wonder if he’s reading us today?

EE:  Okay, Alex – now that you’ve left LaLa Land behind, and are now a full-fledged suspense writer, who would be your ideal panel mates at the next ThrillerFest?

AK:  Anyone in the Killer Thriller Band, of course – I can’t get enough of them. But ITW is such a candy store, don’t you think?  So how can you begin to choose?  Can’t we all just dance this year instead?

Ah, yes. The Killer Thriller Band!  Can’t blame you there.  Candy store?  Oh, darling – my sweet tooth was never so sated!  I like your idea of just dancing – let’s start a conga line next year!

EE:  My most trusted spy told me that you’re no longer accepting calls from Clive Owen.  Is it because he’s driving you nuts with his constant entreaties to be written into your next book?   Surely you can find a spot for him in THE PRICE!  Alex!  I mean – CLIVE OWEN???

AK:  Elaine, you’re a genius- Clive Owen would be perfect for THE PRICE.  But as the hero or the devil?  Hmmm.  I just love ambiguity in a man…

Yes, it’s true – I can be a genius now and then.  It’s so kind of you to remind everyone.  But getting back to Clive – the hero, of course!  But…ah…with maybe a little devilish twinge lurking?  Those eyes of his…that sexy accent…those… 

Note to readers:  Hot flashes overtook me at this point and I had to stop the interview.  Alex, however, was making notes to include Clive in her dreams along with Jude – we both agreed the combination was a sure-fire way to end her nightmares about that graduating thing.  I eventually regained my equilibrium and continued the interview.

EE:  Now Alex, this is serious:  Whispers are rampant that a certain NYT Best Seller followed you all over Bcon in Madison last week, and that you finally had to tell him to take a hike.  Tough to do – ’cause the guy is really a hunk, but I’m proud of the way I heard you handled it.  But spilling that wine on him was an accident, right?

AK:  I’m having trouble keeping track of who I was stalking and who was stalking me.  In any event, we’re writers, and we call that ‘research’.  No wine was harmed in any of these incidents.

Ah, a lady with discretion!  Isn’t that nice to find these days?  Okay, we both know who it was – so we’ll just leave that alone.  Not that I expected you to name him you understand – I was just hoping you might give us a few specifics.  A little dish to chuckle over….but hey, that’s fine.  Glad to hear about the wine, though.

EE:  Okay, here’s a question I ask every guest – and I ain’t letting you off the hook – so – which writer would you loved to have all to yourself in a cozy corner of the bar at next year’s ThrillerFest?  Now the bar at the Grand Hyatt isn’t all that big, but I sure as hell know you can handle more than one, so be my guest.

AK:  Seriously, the amazing wonderful thing about these cons is that you really don’t have to choose.  Line ’em up.  Have I mentioned how much I love this job?

Now that’s what I call a clever non-answer answer!  Notice how she skirted that one?  "Line ’em up??"  Oh, to be young again – to be blonde and…

EE:  You’re having six guests for dinner.  Who would they be, and what would you serve?  Your guests don’t have to be alive…er, I mean – I know you’re a spooky writer, but they can be historical personages too.

AK:  To my left, Jefferson, Adams and Franklin.  To my right, Shakespeare, Elizabeth R and Oscar Wilde.  However, I’m not cooking.  Believe me, it’s better that way.

Now that’s a dinner party I’d volunteer to cook for you!

My thanks to Alex for being such a fun guest -for taking time to play – and to wish her all the success in the world with her debut – THE HARROWING.  This is another book that requires leaving the lights on!  Don’t miss it!  This will reel in the noms. Remember – you read that here, okay?



If you were expecting a Q & A with Evil E – I’m sorry to disappoint you – because it ain’t gonna happen.  What?  Do you think I’m crazy?   Besides – who was gonna add my usual pithy comments?  But what the hell – I put my photo up anyway.

But – I am ‘On The Bubble’ today.   To say goodbye.

I’m not a cliché person, however, ‘All good things must come to an end’ seems appropriate. Other commitments require my full attention now, and the time constraints of weekly contributions to On The Bubble can no longer be offered with my usual brilliance and alacrity.

It’s been a marvelous year here at Murderati, and I’ve had great fun with all of you – and of course – with some of the best and brightest writers and reviewers around.  Brave souls all – and great sports who braved the danger in the basement as they descended those dark stairs and never once turned on the light as they willingly played with me at On The Bubble.

So (and in alpha order) may I offer my thanks again to: 

Raymond Benson, Cara Black, Stephen Booth, Jim Born, Robin Burcell, Barry Eisler, J.T. Ellison, Robert Fate, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Tess Gerritson, Chris Grabenstein, Paul Guyot, Denise Hamilton, John Hart, Gregg Hurwitz, Alex Kava, Bob Levinson, Laura Lippman, Gayle Lynds, David Montgomery, Donna Moore, P.J. Parrish, Ian Rankin, Linda Richards, Gillian Roberts, Jim Rollins, M.J. Rose, Dylan Schaffer, Alexandra Sokoloff, Pari Noskin-Taichert, Louise Ure, James Lincoln Warren and Chassie West.

My thanks also to Gar Haywood for his wonderful guest blog last week.  Oh, to be so gifted…

And to those wonderful writers and friends who had been waiting in the wings – my apologies for not staying around long enough to give you grief.  So – Heather Graham, Lee Child, David Morrell, Val McDermid, Steve Brewer, David Corbett, Dominic Stansbury, Dan Hale, Shaz Wheeler, Ali Karim, Ken Bruen and Lee Goldberg – drinks are on me at ThrillerFest!  Uh, just the first round.

Many, many thanks for stopping by each week.  YOU – and my wonderful guests – have made the trip loads of fun – and so very worthwhile.


I Know I’m Good Because…uh…

 by Gar Anthony Haywood


Like  everyone else here (I’d be willing to bet), I have a Manuscript In a Drawer.

You know the one I’m talking about.  The orphaned child that Cannot Be Published, because it’s too flawed or too violent, too personal or too counter to the market decrees of the moment.  It shames you, and yet it calls to you.  It is useless because no one else wants it, and yet you have a love for it that will not die.


In my case, the  MIaD is 140 pages of a standalone thriller that has never found a reader who didn’t prove to be indifferent to it.  My agent didn’t get it; my former editor passed on it without breaking a sweat; and the two or three other people to whom I’ve shown it over the years have all responded to it with a collective shrug.

It’s gotta suck, right?




I still can’t wrap my head around the idea that it might.  It is going on seven years old, and the idea from which it sprang is much, much older than that, but here I am, as convinced as ever that this is one great book.  A modern classic of noir fiction that if I don’t write, some other smart bastard eventually will.

So help me God, I have tried and tried to believe otherwise.  I take the manuscript out of its musty hole every now and then and scour its pages for that thing, that big, ugly wart of mediocrity that everyone else but me can see—lousy prose, phony dialogue, a plot that just drags on and on—and I can’t find it.  It isn’t there.  My instincts tell me again and again that I’ve got something here, something special that a large audience would embrace if they only had the chance to discover it…

…and yet I won’t go back and finish it.

I’ve got better things to do, bigger (read: more likely-to-be-profitable) fish to fry.  It is my baby, and yet I fear that to devote any more time and energy to its care and feeding would be an inexcusable waste of however many days I have left to write on this earth.

In other words, I’m in a long-standing state of paralysis where this book is concerned, and the reason is quite simple:

I don’t trust my own judgment enough to fight for this thing.


And I know what you’re thinking: Who the hell does trust their own judgment?  The writer has yet to be born who isn’t shackled to some extent by insecurity.  Self doubt is as much a part of our makeup as a need for wide-spread acceptance and, yes, the cash to pay our mortgage in perpetuity.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that the people who achieve large-scale success in our business tend to have a very healthy appreciation for their own work, if not a downright, pathological determination to see it take over the world.  You talk to these people, you read and/or listen to the interviews they do, and what you hear is someone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass what their agents, editors or critics have to say, and probably never did.  Their inner-voice has told them that their stuff is worth every penny of a six-figure contract and a fifteen-city book tour and, by God, they aren’t leaving the room—or sticking their manuscript in any goddamn drawer—until they get it.

Man, I would love to be one of those people.

But I read my work and I just don’t know.  I like it, some of it even makes me proud as hell, but is it great?  Even when it feels great, when I read it and re-read it and keep coming away with the same conclusion—Damn, this is some good shit!—what is that but just one man’s opinion?  The feelings of a father who can’t see anything but beauty in the (quite possibly homely) child he’s created?

Perhaps if every writer of my experience who exhibited the kind of unassailable self-confidence I’ve been talking about was as good as they think they are, I’d be more inclined to follow their example and go balls-to-the-wall for something I’ve written when my gut tells me I should.  But too many of these people—in my judgment, anyway—are completely clueless as to the quality of their work.  Even those who have made it, and who have the sales figures to prove it, aren’t all that.  I’ve read them and I know.  So this listening-to-your-inner-critic business is not exactly an exact science.  Sometimes she’s right on, and sometimes she’s about as trustworthy as a dime store compass.


Let me tell you a little story to illustrate my point:

Years ago, I attended a Writers Guild screening of “The Sixth Sense,” which was followed by a Q & A with the film’s writer and director, M. Night Shyamalan.  “The Sixth Sense,” you may recall, was Mr. Shyamalan’s breakout hit; he was a relative unknown prior to this point.  Yet he told the WGA audience that, upon completing the film’s screenplay, he gave his agent instructions to shop it to only a handful of major studios, making sure each understood that bidding for the script would start at one million dollars.  Then he locked himself and his family up in the most expensive hotel room he could find in Philadelphia and waited for the offers to roll in.  Which, needless to say, they eventually did.


Nobody had to tell Shyamalan he’d created something extraordinary.  He knew, and he behaved accordingly when he took his script to market.  The man got his money, and the rest is history.

Now personally, I think “The Sixth Sense” is a pretty damn good movie, so if any original screenplay ever deserved a million-plus writer’s fee, that one probably did.  Meaning M. Night’s supreme confidence in its worth was arguably justified.


Anybody here see some of the man’s more recent films?  “Signs”?  “The Village”?  “Lady in the Water”?

They stink.  Hoo-boy, like the month-old tuna sandwich you just found in the pocket of your kid’s windbreaker.  A million would have been about $995,000 more than Shyamalan should have been paid for writing the screenplay to any one of them—and yet I have no doubt that, had he written “The Village” first, he would have given his agent the very same instructions he issued for “The Sixth Sense.”  His faith in his own talent is that unbreakable.

(Get it?  “Unbreakable”?  Forget it…)

Anyway, Shyamalan is a prime example of how unreliable an author’s assessment of his own work can sometimes be.  You’re so close to the material, it’s invariably so saturated with those things in life that you find wonderful and scary and important, that of course it strikes you as genius on occasion.  But is it?  Or is its brilliance just another figment of your hyperactive imagination?

This question is on my mind right now because, just in the last two weeks, I’ve finished a novel it’s taken me almost three years to write.  I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.  It’s big, smart, complex.  But it’s not particularly commercial. Almost every character in it is black, and few of them are women.


I don’t care.  I read it and think, “Big Time, goddamnit.”

Still, the novel’s not going to my agent until I’ve gotten three or four second opinions from a select group of readers I trust.  Because I’m the guy who wrote the Manuscript In a Drawer, remember?  The “modern classic of noir fiction” that’s never raised anyone’s pulse but my own?  What the hell do I know about the value of the book I’ve just written?

Is this a problem you can relate to?  Or are you one of those rare birds who always knows immediately when they’ve written a winner or a stinker?  Maybe you have a Secret Reader locked up in a room somewhere who has impeccable intuition about such things, someone you can always rely upon to give you the straight scoop about your latest masterpiece.

If you believe yourself to be a great author—and come on, people, some of you do—where does that belief come from? 

And how do you know you’re right?





Elaine Flinn

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
The slings
and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
by opposing end them?

Damn, but that ole’ Will had a way with words.  And what, pray tell, is Elaine Flinn doing
here on Friday – taking J.T. Ellison’s day on Murderati?

Well, I’ll tell you. I’m here because J.T. and my terrific blog mates have asked me to
address a problem that has sprung up recently – and that is the volley of ‘slings
and arrows’ aimed at the award judges for International Thriller Writers on a
popular blog.

The target for these arrows is the judges themselves (we
were all named) and the short-list of honorees that have been designated as the
best from their respective committees. To be blunt – and have you ever known me not to be? – NO WOMEN.

No women. And why,
they fervently lament, is that? Were
the judges biased? Are they
bigots? Do the judges think women can’t
write a thriller good enough to make the short-list? If you think I’m making this up – think again. All these ‘arrows’ were shot off
clearly. But, they missed the mark. And I mean they were way off.

And let’s get one other thing out of the way – I’m not here
to disparage anyone’s right to complain – it’s a healthy human trait – and
thank God we live in a society where we can do so – and that includes
Mystery/Thrillerville. But to even
suggest any of us were gender biased, or bigots – is unfounded, insulting our
integrity, and patently childish.

But the real raison
for this post is to address the dilemma facing those asked to a serve as a judge for an award. It
goes without saying it is a daunting task. In fact, it’s much like being asked for jury duty – to sit and decided
the fate of another.

And being a judge for a literary/mystery/thriller award is
not much different. Besides the fact
that you are bombarded with books, (often several dozen to even hundreds) which
you must read and not ‘skim’ – you have your own writing to do, or maybe you’ve
got a slew of signings to travel to – or maybe (if you’re one of the lucky
ones) – a publisher paid book tour. Oh,
and then there is your family, your life, your leisure. It’s gone baby, gone. It’s gone, because you have pledged to honor
a commitment that can often make fabulous giant steps for someone-other than
yourself –and their career. Throughout
this process, you will spend much time e-mailing back and forth with your
fellow (not being sexist here) committee members. You will be discussing the merits of a certain book, wondering if
a particular book really fits into your category, telling your chair you
haven’t received a book on the monthly update, discovering a submission was
published in another country prior to the year for which you are judging. Oh, there are many more reasons for
communication – but I don’t want to bore you.

So, is it any wonder – that after months of honoring your
commitment – for being flattered to have been considered qualified, objective
and NOT gender biased to judge your peers – that it’s damn hard to find
yourself a sitting target from those who have no idea what being a judge
entails? I’m still amazed, even after
being an Edgar judge a couple of years ago – that this post is even necessary.

Guess you know now why it’s so hard to find someone who is
willing to be a judge. Who the hell
wants to spend all that time, questioning and double questioning your decision,
set aside a well written book that simply doesn’t meet the criteria set out by
your organization, wonder if you’re going to be vilified because of gender
cries, hope to hell you won’t get raked over the coals because the books you
and your committee choose won’t be popular choices?

See, here’s the thing: a book is judged by certain standards. Not that it’s a big seller, not that the author is one of your
favorites, not that the author is a friend, not that the author gave you a
blurb for one of your own books, not that the author missed out on another
award you felt he or she should have won – but BECAUSE the book meets the
standards you’ve been asked to use. Which is basically excellence of execution. In the case of ITW, it had to be a thriller. Now, that didn’t mean it couldn’t be a
medical thriller, or a legal thriller, or a P.I. thriller, or a cop
thriller. It had to THRILL.

Oh, there’s another subject I want to add – and that is –
all judges were asked to voluntarily sign a confidentiality agreement. This agreement bound us not discuss any
aspect of the judging process – communications, decisions, comments,
deliberations, disagreements – and so on. Sadly, one of the ITW judges apparently ignored that pledge, and that –
besides the gender/bigotry charges – created the firestorm that is hopefully on
the way to being extinguished.

I’m not going to offer you the percentages of books
submitted by women, or how damn hard it was to even get them in. I’m not going to tell you about the hours
Jim Rollins – our awards Chief – or the other judges, including myself, spent
tracking down editors, agents, publicists and writers to get their books
in. Gayle Lynds, ITW’s co-president,
has written a wonderful letter detailing all the specifics – and you’ll find it
on several blogs.

But do you want to know what I’m really ticked off
about? Only a small handful of posters
on that popular blog (after I offered my comments) realized the one thing they
should be complaining about – was missed. And that was the lack of ethics of the judge who broke the
confidentiality pledge and blabbed about the ultimate decisions being
‘sexist’. To me, that is more important
than whether or not a woman was short-listed or not. I mean, if your word means nothing – then what the hell are you? And guess what? They still didn’t get it.

So now I guess you’re wondering if I’ll ever be an award
judge again, huh? Especially after the
Edgar brouhaha I was involved with – and now this?

Okay – here’s my answer. YES. And it should be yours too
– if you’re ever asked.



In Julia Spencer-Fleming’s life – it’s pouring awards, accolades, starred reviews, legions of adoring fans clammoring for more, and book sales to make us all green with envy.  But then – Julia has given us four books that have touched us.  Yes, there is murder, yes there is mayhem, but there is faith as well.  Is it any wonder she has won an Agatha, Anthony, Barry, Macavity, Dilys – and was short-listed for an Edgar, Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and a Romantic Times?  And did you know that her debut book – IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER won more awards than any first mystery novel? EVER?

I was thrilled to receive an ARC for Julia’s latest – ALL MORTAL FLESH – and while I loved all of her books, I was especially touched by this one.  You’ve heard this before – and felt it  yourself, I know – but I didn’t want it to end.  Oh, and this just in – ALL MORTAL FLESH already received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and Library Journal!  Talk about a trifecta! 

Here’s Julia:  Oh – me too.

EE:  I was told by someone close to you that you can’t write unelss you’re listening to Cajun music.  Uh, Cajun music in Maine??

JSF:  It’s true I can’t dance unless I’m listening to Cajun music.  It takes a mighty musical force to break the entrenched non-rythmic ways of my people, the Espiscopalians.

Oh, you poor dears.  But then – my people ain’t very rythmic either.  But we’re good with Latin chants and guilt.

EE:  Living in Maine must be bleak in the midwinter, where is your favorite retreat?  And what do you do there besides conjuring your next best seller?

JSF:  My favorite retreat is the Leeward side of Oahu, where I slather myself with SPF 500 sunscreen and sit on the beach watching my children frolic in the warm waters of the Pacific.  Alas, that oppportunity rarely presents itself, so my second favorite retreat is the Salmon Falls Library, where I write while my children frolic at home, completely out of earshot.

I hope you don’t venture out to Lualualei Beach though-da kine beach pilikia!  Mo betta you go Pokai Beach, yeah?

EE:  Ah, now that I know you have the aina of Hawaii in your soul, surely you must have a wonderfully romantic Walter Mitty Dream.  30,000 words or less will suffice.  And please keep it clean.  I mean, it’s best not to get the clergy in an uproar.

JSF:  "Spencer-Fleming jammed her hand in the rock’s vertical crack, ignoring the gasps from the climbers belaying behind her. ‘Don’t do it!’ Kuiper, the Swiss, whispered. ‘Hush, man’, Spencer-Fleming said cooly.  ‘You’ll frighten the others.  Up and over is the only way off this mountain.’  ‘But this ascent has never been done!’  The taut, muscular climber ignored him and proceeded to pick her path across the almost-featureless rock wall.  Above them, the rotors of the rescue helicopter that was waiting for them turned with a lazy ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa.  Spencer-Fleming swung up, grasped the final outcropping, and chinned herself over the top, to the cheers of the stranded climbers.  ‘We’re saved!’  Welles, the Englishman, shouted.  In a moment, Spencer-Fleming’s face reappeared over the edge. ‘The pilot’s unconscious from altitude sickness,’ she said grimly.  ‘I’m going to have to fly us out of here.’  She hammered in the belaying pins…

‘Mom? Mom?’

‘Huh? What, sweetie?’

‘Are you going to get that can off the shelf or just stand around on that chair all night long?’

Holy Moly!  You had my hands sweating there for a minute!  I was all ready for some starlight night, gentle swaying palms, the soft sounds of the surf…

EE:  Okay, Julia!  Let’s get serious, okay?  Word on the street is that there is an underground movement among female Episcopalian priests to move to small villages and find their own Russ Van Alstyne.  And – they’ve been contacting you for guidance.

JSF:  Hah.  If they want a Russ Van Alstyne, they’ll have to go out and find him like I did.

Julia!  How uncharitable of you!  The least you could do is give them a few pointers.  Kinda like a trade off instead of a tithe?

EE:  Oh, this is a hot one running around Manhattan!  Rumor has it that Donald Trump is building a chi-chi gated community on Long Island-and he not only wants to call it ‘Millers Kill’ – he’s asked you to pose for a bronze bust to set at the entrance, but you turned him down.  What?

JSF:  I didn’t want my bust to be responsible for a bronze shortage, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

Ahem.  Well, darling – I’m always up for a compliment, but truth be known – in my case it’s the result of too much pasta. 

EE:  My favorite little spy told me that you have a fetish for M&M’s and you can’t write unless you have the pantry stocked with them.  Not that you have to eat them, just that they’re there.  Like a talisman kinda thing?  Is that it?

JSF:  Talisman? Huh?  I mean – yeah.  That’s right.  I would never dream of touching one of those three-pound Party Size bags.  Uh uh.  Why are you looking at me?  I’ve got candy-coated shell bits on my teeth, don’t I?

Uh, no…not really.  I, uh…well, I thought maybe it was a new trend.  You know…multi-colored caps?  Striking though…I mean, really different.  You could start someting here.

EE:  Mysteryville is abuzz about the rumor that you and Ross are leaving for Hollywood to have talks with an un-named network about a reality show portraying the life of a best-selling author.  Care to comment?

JSF:  I’m trying to picture this reality show.  You’d have a scene of Ross taking the kids to school-and then a scene of me sitting in front of a computer.  Maybe some comical stuff with the kids getting into trouble or with my whacky next-door-neighbor–and then a scene of me sitting at the computer.  A phone call from my agent–and then me sitting in front of my computer.  The big exciting part would be when I make dinner.

Oh, this has got legs!  I tell you, I’m rivited.  Now about that wacky neighbor-has it been cast yet?  I’m free for a few months after October.

EE:  Denise Hamilton told me you’re direction challenged.  And Ross even said you get lost at the supermarket.  How do you cope with this?  I mean, I have the same problem, so any help would be appreciated.

JSF:  Okay, hold your hands up in front of you.  Pretend to pick up a pen.  Shake your writing hand around.  That’s your right.  Write-right, get it?   If you’re left-handed, I can’t help you.

Uh, okay.  I think.  But, see – it’s when I get out of elevators.  I never remember which way I’m supposed to go.  What the hell – I’ll give it a try.

EE:  While I try to figure that one out – tell me who would be your ideal panel mates.

JSF:  Why, Jeff Shelby, Peter Spiegelman, Marcia Talley, and Kathryn Wall, of course.  With whom, as chance would have it, I am appearing Thursday, September 28th at noon at the World Mystery Convention in Madison, Wisconsin.

Yes, that is about as blatant a panel-plug as you can get.  But look at us!  It’s the first panel on the first day of Bouchercon!  We’ll be lucky to have an audience of three!  Please, somebody, keep us company.  I’m begging here.

Oh, pshaw!  You’ll have an SRO crowd! The only begging you’ll have to do is ask for a bigger room!

EE:  So, Julia-move in close, and tell me the real scoop about that dinner date with Harrison Ford you refused.  Was it really because he insisted Ross stay at home?  I mean, I know you two are as lovey-dovey as can be, but Harrison Ford???

JSF:  I got all excited because I thought he wanted to fly both of us to Las Vegas and then pay a cool million to spend the night with me.  But then it turned out my cell phone number is one digit off Demi Moore’s, and the whole thing fell apart.

Oh.  Okay.  Wink, wink.  I get it.  No problemo.  Gosh, just imagine.  One digit off, huh?

EE:  On a safer note (?) – which writer would you love to have all to yourself in a cozy corner of the bar at Bcon?

JSF:  Janet Evanovich.  In the shadowy darkness, I would slip an undetectable poison into her drink.  Then, after removing her body under the guise of ‘helping out a friend who had too many’ (an utterly believable alibi at Bouchercon) I would fly to a South American country where a bribeable yet skilled plastic surgeon would give me Janet’s face.  I would then seamlessly step into her life, with none the wiser, except maybe for a few suspicions when in 14 Points Stephanie Plum joins the Episcopal church and developes a hopeless yearning for a married man.

You wouldn’t!  Would you?  Think it might really work?  Tell you what – you give it a try.  I’ll check back with you and then maybe you could help me with…….

EE:  Whilst I jot down a few names for this caper, tell me what – Heaven forbid (excuse me Clare) would you be doing if you weren’t writing?

JSF:  Oh, Lord.  I’d be working in a law firm somewhere, wearing panty hose every day, sucking up to the partners and spending 50-60 hours a week trying to make idiot clients look good.  Thank you, everyone who has ever bought one of my books, for saving me from such a fate!

Funny you should say that – I was talking to John the other day – oh, excuse me – Grisham, I mean – and he feels the same way.  Lawyering seems to do that, doesn’t it?  Is that why so many of them become writers?  Hmmm.

EE:  You’re going on the road – it’s gonna be a long tour – but hey, your publisher is paying the freight – but still, it’s lonely.  So tell me who would be your ideal tour mate.  You can have more than one, okay?

JSF:  This sounds like the beginning of that joke that goes, "I’ve had both of ’em…," but I’ve already found my ideal book tour mate.  Denise Hamilton and I not only have similar tastes, interests and habits, she also makes me laugh more than should be allowed.  When we’re on the road, Denise forces me to eat good food and understands when I drop everything to call my kids.  She navigates, placates, orates and she lets me take the driver’s seat.  Her only drawback is that her wildly successful Eve Diamond series is now on a different publishing schedule from my books.  We have to do something about that.

Uh, don’t get me wrong – I adore Denise – and I love her Eve Diamond series – but, uh, I did say you could have more than one.  I mean, I don’t mind sitting in the back seat.  Honest.  And I don’t hum to myself anymore.

EE:  You’re having six guests for dinner.  Who would they be, and what would you serve?

JSF:  They’d be Anthony Bourdain and five of his chef buddies.  And I’d serve drinks while they cooked.

Now, here is a woman after my own heart!  That’s the ticket, kiddo!  I have a great receipe for Sazerac.  Ali Karim suggests adding a cucumber, but I prefer champagne. Shall I send it on?

EE:  This rumor is burning up the internet, Julia – and an inferno is threatening.  Even Otto Penzler has taken notice!  I really must insist you clear the air.  I’ve been told by Paul Guyot is ready to leave his family for you if you’d only run away with him to watch a Portland Sea Dogs game.

JSF:  Elaine, I know you undestand what it’s like to be the sort of woman men just throw themselves at no matter what you do.  I simply can’t be responsible for every Tom, Dick and Harrison out there who shows up on my doorstep, carrying flowers, threatening suicide, etc., etc.  That being said, everyone knows I’m a big booster of the Sea Dogs, and this August they’ve been wilting like the Red Sox.  No. Wait.  I can’t say that anymore…HURRAH!  The Sea Dogs need energetic cheering to get them back into first place in the Northern Division of the Eastern League (got that?), so I suppose I’d be willing to let Guyot tag along.  He has to buy the Sea Dog Biscuits, though, and get me home at a reasonable hour.

Sigh.  Yes, Julia – I do understand.  It’s something you and I just have to accept and learn to live with.  And, I must say, you’ve done it with the utmost grace.  Nonetheless, Guyot is one persistant, but oh-so loveable devil.  I am sure, however, he will comport himself well, and have you home before the witching hour.  Right, Guyot?

EE:  And last, but not least, Julia – what’s in store for Clare and Russ?  You can tell me – you know my lips are sealed. More or less.

JSF:  The fifth book – ALL MORTAL FLESH – is coming out at the beginning of October, and you can take a sneak peek at my website.  In the meantime, I’m hard at work on the as-yet-unnamed sixth book in the series.  As far as what will happen with Russ and Clare – well, I’d tell you, Elaine.  But then I’d have to kill you.

Oh.  In that case, I’ll just wait and buy the book.  I mean, I’m dying to know (scratch that word), but then – who would do On The Bubble?

So very many thanks to Julia for being here with us today!  And to those of you who have dropped by, I hope you’ve had as much fun as Julia and me.  If not -then, well…never mind.


I love to chat with debut writers.  They’re so filled with energy and optimism – so ready and eager to offer their stories – stories they conjured night after sleepless night – stories they knew might never see the light of day.  But they kept on – realizing that dedication and perseverance – even after facing countless rejections – was not for the faint of heart.  I guess you could say that ‘strong heart’ is what I appreciate and admire about them.  We won’t tell them that was the easy part.  They’ve all got a new battle ahead – finding readers – hoping for great reviews – setting up signings that may only draw a handful of people, deciding which of the dozen or so mystery conventions they can continue to afford to attend, acceptance from their peers – maybe even a nomination  – or  – gulp – just ‘selling through.’   Oh, yes – and add to that the pressure to join a blog to keep your name alive – being an active participant on the scores of listserves – and in between – get the next book ready!  Phew, huh?  Like I said…not for the faint of heart.  Just surviving all of the above is daunting in itself.  Even stepping over the dead bodies along the way takes some doing… 

You will note that I’m not replying today with my usual inane comments.  Debut writers have enough to contend with…

So let’s all wish them luck – and we’ll start right here, right now – with our own J.T. Ellison.

Jt_in_color_1 J.T. ELLISON

EE:  As one of the main founders of Killer Year 2007 – tell us how this innovative cabal came about?

JT:  It all started as a conversation among friends about how we could get reviews for our paperback novels.  It’s hard enough to get reviewed as a debut author.  To be in paperback makes this feat a bit of a double whammy.  After a few well-placed comments by some industry biggies, like Sarah Weinman, we realized we had something that would help us not just with reviews, but with one of the most important aspects of marketing – promotion.  Thus, KY was born, and we’ve been enjoying the ride since last summer.  We’ve got authors in each medium, paperback, trade and hardcover, and the reviews so far have been stellar.

EE:  If you were planning a multi-city book tour, which writers (two) would you love to have join you? And why?

JT:  That’s easy.  Tasha Alexander, because she keeps me sane, and people flock to her, and Stephen King, because he’d bring out a huge crowd and could teach me about writing better afterward.  Both authors are our of my immediate genre too, which means I’d get good crossover exposure.

EE:  What is your greatest indulgence – before and after you got your advance?

JT:  Hmm, that’s a hard one.  I’m a sucker for a good pedicure, so I’d have to list that as my before.  As for after – well, I did the wisest thing I could possibly do, and didn’t go crazy.  We were finishing a remodel of our master bath, so I used a tiny bit for that and invested the rest.  I’ll get a new laptop one of these days, and I need a new truck (mine has seen better days), but since I only drive to bookstores and Starbucks, it’s not that pressing.  I guess I’m just a little too practical for big indulgences.  How boring am I?

EE:  How about sharing your thought when your agent told you your series had been sold.

JT:  I’m pretty sure there were dogs three neighborhoods over cringing.  I was very, very excited.  It was one of those odd moments, too, because my parents don’t live near me, and they were driving through and spending two days.  We were watching THE HISTORY OF VIOLENCE when the phone rang and I saw that ‘212’ area code.  My heart took off; I just knew something was up.  I actually uttered a very bad word.  I answered, listened, stopped my agent and made him repeat everything because my brain wasn’t processing.  I kept quiet, managed to call my husband, then broke the news to all three of them at once.  It was the second greatest moment in my life.


EE:  What do you see as your greatest challenge now that your first book will be out this fall?

JT:  Balance is first and foremost on my mind right now.  There’s so much to be done to launch a career in this industry.  The marketing, getting my name out there without being too pushy, hoping that people buy, read and enjoy the book, and continuing to write at the pace I’m going is daunting.  But I have a wonderful support system.  Between family, writing friends and non-writing friends, I’ve got some amazing people who help keep me grounded and sane.  Once the balance is achieved, I’m going to have to deal with the whole public speaking issue.  I’m nervous, but I keep asking myself, what’s the worst that could happen?  I flub.  Life will go on, right? The people who love me will still love me.  I know I’m going to make mistakes, I make plenty every day.  The crime fiction readers are so generous, I hope they’ll forgive me a botch here and there.

EE:  I understand you have two more books in the series ready to go – and they will be published in rapid succession – six months apart -rather than the traditional one year system.  Is this a pace you feel you can continue, or is this something new your publisher is experimenting with? 

JT:  It seems to be a trend in publishing in general.  Allison Brennan got it kick-started in crime fiction,  but there are plenty of writers who do more than one book a year.  I know Mira has two of us on this schedule, and Harper is debuting an author next summer with the same model.  Happily, I write fairly quickly and consistently, shooting for at least 1,000 words a day no matter what.  It takes me about 4 months to do a draft of a manuscript.  Then I get it out to my readers, let them make comments and I do a big rewrite before turning it in to my editor.  I like the pressure.  It makes me reach for goals I wouldn’t normally set for myself.  Can I keep it up?  For a while.  Forever?  I don’t know the answer to that yet.

EE:  So, J.T. – with Nashville being the home of country music – is it true that bumper stickers are being made to publicize J.T. Ellison as being the first writer to change that to ‘the home of killer fiction’?

JT:  Ha!  I actually did my first face-to-face Nashville interview last week, about both my books and Killer Year.  I’ll wait to see if anyone wants those bumper stickers after that comes out in April. I don’t write about country music, and I don’t glamorize my town.  It’s a living, breathing entity in my books, a strong character in it’s own right, full of flaws, and there’s none of the fluff sometimes associated with Music City.  The real Nashville can be very dark, and I try to capture that essence on paper.  I want people to know that there’s more to Nashville than country music and the Swan Ball.

EE:  Rumors are rampant that Willie Nelson wants you to write him in as a new character – but you had to tell him you’d already settled on Sheryl Crow.  So, is Willie still calling?

JT:  Good old Willie.  I remember my mom playing his albums when I was a kid, and loving that track ‘Always On My Mind’.  Other than that, I don’t know the man well enough to write him in.  But since all the big rock stars are moving to town, Sheryl might get a slot.  Or Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban.  Nicole’s just so stunning, and really engaged in the Nashville lifestyle.  Ashley Judd might be in the running too.

EE:  What book do you wish you’d written – and why?

JT:  I don’t think I could have written anything but what I’ve done.  I’ve got my own little niche, my own style and voice; I’d ruin anyone else’s effort.  If forced, I’d say Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’.  Brilliant use of unreliable narrator, something I’ve always wanted to try.  In epistolary form, of course.

EE:  Time for your Walter Mitty Dream.  Besides being published that is.

JT:  Anything vaguely heroic I leave to my protagonist, Taylor Jackson.  Me, I’d like to have a nice little farmhouse in Castel Rigone or Castiglione del Lago, on the Tuscan-Umbrian border, someplace where hubby and I could escape for a few months out of the year.  An hour to Florence,two hours to my famila in Pinarolo, that would be pretty much perfect.  I’ve also always wanted to own a bookshop in a small Colorado mountain town, the kind where everyone knows your name and there’s nothing to do but read, ski, and socialize.

EE:  If you weren’t writing – what would you be doing?

JT:  I tried to envision this the other day.  I’ve worn a lot of career hats, and if I had it to do over again, I’d become a writer.  I’ve never been so content, so fulfilled.  But I did have a missed opportunity – I should have tried to go go Q school for the LPGA and attempt to make the majors.  I thought going to college was more important.  D’oh!  I could be playing golf year round and getting paid for it.  Teenagers are so dumb sometimes.

EE:  What is your least favorite sound?  Or word?

JT:  I cringe every time I hear the word ‘moist’.  I just don’t like it.  It’s icky.  And I’m not a big fan of my next-door neighbor’s dog.  There’s a possum living in the woods behind us, and the nasty little creature teases the dog, who rises to the bait every time.  Which means endless days of barking.

EE:  Give us three wishes.

JT:  That there were no more flame wars, no ill will, no jealously among writers.  Controversy is a fact of life, if there was a way to have it without being personal, that would be lovely.

For readers to enjoy my books.

For us to win the lottery so hubby can sit around and eat bon-bons all day.

EE:  Suppose you were moderating a panel – who would be your ideal panel mates?

JT:  Lee Child, for the gravitas.  Diana Gabaldon, because she knows how to engage an audience.  Barry Eisler, for his immense innuendo skills.  Miss Snark, so I could publicly thank her for the laughs.  And Tasha, of course, so I wouldn’t throw up.

EE:  And last – which writer would you love to have all to yourself in a secluded corner of the bar at ThrillerFest this year?

JT:  There are so many people I’m looking forward to seeing in New York this summer, the list is too long to post here.  You and I certainly need a quiet moment or two.

Thanks for playing with me, Evil.  This was great fun!

Uh, J.T.?  This last comment?  Your closing?  It’s mine, okay?  Capice? 🙂



I wanted to introduce Cara in French – you know – something sophisticated – something to make me look worldly – but my Berlitz Dictionary of Foreign Terms only has one listing that came close; "Parler francais comme une vache enragee – which means – to speak French like an enraged cow – or – murder the French language.  So – I’ll just say you don’t have to murder anyone to read Cara’s wonderful series – she handles the murders very well on her own – and solves them with utmost soigne.


Caras_color_photo And here is Cara’s new book!  Ohh, La La!  This one looks like a dark and stormy night is ahead!

Caras_new_b_ook_2007 EE:  Whispers are rampant that some envious wags (once upon a time) claimed you began your series in Paris just so you could fly over there each year and call it ‘research’ – but now that your SEVEN books have become such hits – isn’t it terrific to have the last laugh?  Come on – fess up – it feels great, n’est-ce pas?

CB:  It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.  Now at least I can write it off.  But I still pinch myself, wish I could say there was a big plan – but in my wildest dreams I never thought I’d write a book set in Paris, let alone more than one, or a series.  I never intended to.  Pablo Picasso said, "I am always doing things I can’t do.  That’s how I get to do them."  For me, since childhood, there was always this draw to Paris and this passion to find a voice and relate a story of my friend’s mother – a hidden Jewish girl during the German Occupation of Paris – that drove me.  I was reading tons of P.D. James (Baroness P.D. James), at the time…and thought, well, what about using a detective story as a structure, a framework to tell this story?  I needed a detective, one who tied her scarf the right way, but was an outsider because I can’t write as a French woman.  That idea, three and a half years of writing it and dumb luck converged.  My publisher took a big chance and bought it.  I’m truly blessed.

What an important and inspiring subject matter to explore – particularly today for so many younger readers.

EE:  With the great success you’ve had in Paris, any chance you might someday begin another series in a different locale?

CB:  I’d like to take Aimee out of my Paris to Marseilles or Lyon for the weekend.  There’s lots of crime there, but every time I mention it, my editor shakes her head.  So I guess a new series is in order.  Or a standalone.  People always ask me why I don’t write about San Francisco, where I live – but it feels too close.  I don’t feel removed enough to write about it…at least now.  During several years spent traveling – I’ve got experiences to draw on; living in Switzerland and working in a train station, riding a motorcycle across North Africa – Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, later running out of money and sleeping in a Bangkok temple.  It’s all fodder.  And there’s an incredible part of London with canals – they call it the London Venice – and it’s so cool and…I really need to explore.

Need to explore?  What?  You haven’t seen enough yet?  Sheesh.

EE:  Speaking of Paree – what is your greatest extravagance when there?

CB:  I go bare bones on research trips, scrape up frequent flier miles and camp on my friends couch in Montmartre.  But taking my friends and contacts out to dinner has become part of the routine, especially the policewoman who invited me to the police firing range and the private detective who lets me hang out with her…inviting them out is the only way I can thank them.  And the French dining is an art form, a wonderful experience lasting hours, with the wine flowing, many courses and full of discussion.  I splurged once attending the Comedie Francaise, the national theatre – red velvet seats, murals – the works – to see Phedre, the Greek tragedy.  Despite the classical French which went right over my head, just sitting in those seats that Proust, Cocteau, you name it, had sat in was worth it.

Oh, to sit in the same room as Proust or Cocteau!  How I envy you that!

EE:  If you were not writing – what other artistic career might you have chosen?

CB:  Photography.  I’d master an old Leica, figure out all those F-stops and adjustments and develop my own film and do gelatin prints.  Lazy me, I use a digital like everyone and I wish there was more ‘traditional’ photography.

Honey, I’m all for the old stuff – I royally screw up my digital.  A simple point & shoot is my speed.  Do they even make those anymore? 🙂

EE:  Is it true you listen to old Yves Montand and Edith Piaf recordings when you write?  Or, is that another little tid-bit one of my not so dependable spies made up?  I tell you – I gotta watch those guys like a hawk.

CB:  They are remarkably informed.  Matter of fact, Piaf’s on right now singing ‘Je ne regrette rien’ – she sets the mood.  And the singer Georges Brassens who slips in zingers of social content and sexual innuendo in his songs and isn’t well known here.  He was sort of a folk hero, anti-establishment, and died in poverty – but is almost as well-beloved as Piaf in France.  I love those old died-in-the-wool socialists and anarchists who breathe character along with their Gitanes smoke and are never PC.

I once had a mad crush on Montand.  But Simone Signoret (his wife for those of you too young to know) wasn’t too happy with me.  But when he was spirited away by Marilyn – we became fast friends.  She was a formidable woman – hell of an actress too.

EE:  Mysteryville is abuzz with the rumor that your Aimee Leduc is being considered as a future "Marianne" = the symbolic figure of the French Republic (ala Catherine Deneuve whose face graced the medal between 1985-2000) – but you’ve declined the honor.  What?

CB:  That was Aimee’s decision.  Not mine.  I tried reasoning with her. But she just shrugged, expelled air with that Gallic pout and rolled her eyes.  "Not my style," her only comment.

You need to sit down and talk to that woman!  She turned down having Paris at her feet?  Nay – the whole of France?  Listen, Cara – I can fly down to The City anytime.  Just call me, okay? We’ll talk some sense into her.

EE:  Okay, time to get serious.  You’re going on tour – you can combine efforts with two other writers.  Uh, departed writers.  Who would they be?  And what about the new book?

CB:  The dream dead tour would be; Raymond Chandler ( a big drinker-we all know him), Jean-Patrick Manchette (a hard drinking, smoking French noir writer who died too early).  I’d just sit on the sidelines and watch.  For the new book – I’m doing a series of events with David Corbett, Tony Broadbent and Rhys Bowen.  We’re taking the California libraries hostage with panels on mysteries in foreign lands.  I’d love to do another reading with Diane Johnson, (Le Divorce).  She’s a wonderful writer, wit and ex-pat doyenne of Paris.

Like I said – I can fly down to The City anytime.  I mean – if you needed an extra hand, that is.  Oh, wait.  Carmel isn’t a foreign land, is it.  Scratch that.

EE:  What book do you wish you’d written – and why?

CB:  I just finished The Comedians by Graham Greene.  I could never write that book.  It’s his, but it blew me away.  There’s two books that inspire me.  The Lover by Marguerite Duras.  The words, the sensory detail, the emotion painted with economy, forbidden love, the poignancy of a young girl adrift in the turmoil of colonial Indochina…the book touches me every time I read it . And The Day of the Jackal by Fredrick Forsyth.  Not a false note – we’re every step of the way with the Jackal – and despite the fact that we all know de Gaulle escapes assassination, I’m hooked each time.

Great choices!  Graham Greene is one of my all-time hero’s.  I haven’t tried Duras – but I’m all for sensory detail. 🙂

EE:  With seven books under your belt – what do you consider your greatest challenge with the series?

CB:  Finding the part of Paris that gets under my skin and makes me go out at night to explore and walk the cobbles.  In the rain or sleet – but holding that something, a nuance that intrigues, indefinable and hard to pinpoint.  Sometimes it comes from an old black and white photo in a bin a the flea market, an 1940’s Paris phone book in the bookstall on the quai, the damp morning grass in the Luxembourg gardens, or meeting my friend’s neighbor who found an abandoned baby on her doorstep, overhearing a conversation in a cafe, that nugget the cafe owner drops about his time in the Resistance, or the gangster who he hid during a turf war in Pigalle.  It’s always different and I’m always searching for that speck of gold to grow into a story.  And to keep it fresh.

Hell, any one of those ‘nuggets’ would be terrific!

EE:  What trait do you most admire in people?

CB:  Loyalty.  It’s underrated.

Oh, tell me about that.

EE: What is your least favorite word?

CB:  Totally.

I thought you were going to say ‘Awesome’.  But I totally agree. 🙂

EE:  Time for the Walter Mitty Dream.  What’s yours?

CB:  Besides the farmhouse in Provence?  The dream starts ‘Fasten your seat belts please, we’re beginning our descent into Charles deGaulle airport, Ground Crew reports weather in Paris a sunny 75 degrees.’  By some force of magic – a motorcycle awaits me outside Terminal 1 and I zoom along the peripherique into the outskirts of Paris, then onto Boulevard Saint-Ouen, nodding to the local cheese seller who waves ‘I’ll save you that good Camembert that just came in.’  I pull up at Cafe Rotonde, to find my smiling friends Anne-Francis, her beautiful one year old daughter, Zouzou, Sarah (re-united with her long lost love-but that’s another story) and Cathy, my policewoman friend with an open bottle of champagne – Veuve Cliquot, of course -sitting at an outdoor table.  And then my son, magically arrived from high school, appears with our dog Kipper who also magically behaves and has – by osmosis – imbibed the well behaved manners of Parisian dogs followed by my husband who smiles..’I’m going to run a bookstore in Paris now…you’ve convinced me.’  Of course, we’re joined by Catherine Deneuve who just happens to be walking by and shares her makeup secrets and Charlotte Gainsbourg who begs, "I want to play Aimee in the new film, please.’  And the incredible director, Bertrand Tavernier appears with a script in hand.  ‘I’ve made a few changes, little ones.’  And then Georges Simenon, magically risen from the dead and writing again, sits down, pipe hanging from the side of his mouth and says – ‘Maigret needs a helper.’

Seriously, what is REALLY your Walter Mitty Dream?

EE:  I’m almost afraid to ask what you consider a perfect day now.

CB:  Awakened at five by the aroma of freshly brewed espresso next to my pillow.  The laptop connected and open to the page I was working on yesterday.  Without further thought rereading the last paragraph I worked on and my fingers going from there into killer chase scenes…my favorite thing to write…and this time Aimee takes off into places I’d never even thought of.  Five pages later – after figuring out a wonderful plot line that needs a little more simmer time in the unconscious, I throw on sweats, clean and warm from the dryer, take my dog for a walk, pick my son up from school and hear the teacher say ‘Yes, his homework was on time.  He’s even done extra credit.’  My husband returning home from his bookstore after a record breaking day of sales, we order South Indian take out, and eat in front of the tele watching the French news and then The Wire.

Actually, that sounds pretty perfect.

EE:  Oh, you’re gonna love this question – I stole it from Barbara Walters;  If you were a tree – which would it be?

CB:  A budding plane tree on the quai d’Anjou bordering the Seine outside Aimee’s apartment.

Why am I not surprised?

EE:  Which writer would you love to have all to yourself in a quiet corner of the bar at the next con?  And what would you talk about?

CB:  Olen Steinhauer.  Over a bottle of Polish vodka.  We’d talk about everything-everything Budapest and Eastern Europe and where the hell does he get those stories, those multi-layered characters that live on the page, that breadth of knowledge about Hungarian secret police and how does he write such gorgeous books?

He won’t tell.  He’s ignored my e-mails.  But if you can wrangle it out of him…well, maybe we can talk?

My thanks to Cara for playing On The Bubble with Evil E today!  I hope she’ll think kindly of me and come back again.  And don’t forget – MURDER ON THE ILLE SAINT-LOUIS is ready and waiting for you to pick it up.  And you don’t have to use, beg or borrow frequent flier credits to visit Paris – just tag along with Aimee and you’ll see the real deal. 


Mystery Shop Company

Elaine Viets is probably one of the most ‘fun’ writers I
know. I mean, she’s a special gal – and
I’m not just saying that because we share a first name. Honest. But I love telling her – "Oh, Elaine! You look just gorgeous (which she is)." It just has a nice ring to it, you
know? Kinda like a personal echo? Anyway, you’ve all heard that mantra –
‘write what you know’ – Elaine Viets does exactly that! She has worked in a bookstore (Murder
Between The Covers), a bridal salon (Dying To Call You), and with her fifth
novel coming out next month – MURDER UNLEASHED – her first hardback (where she
belongs!) – she worked at a high-end dog boutique! I mean, this is suffering for your craft! This is a writer who brings you the real
inside dope, so do yourself a huge favor – get thee to a bookstore and load up
on a fun Florida ride with Elaine.

And now – a few things you never knew about Elaine Viets! 

EE: Word is you’ve created your new ‘mystery
shopper’ series just to get freebies from Valentino, Versace, St. Laurent and
Gucci and they’ve been sending you boxes of designer clothes just to stay on
your good side. Care to comment?

EV: There’s absolutely no truth to that story –
darn it!

EE: I understand Uma Thurman and Charlize Theron
– who share your willowy height- are really ticked off about this designer deal
since they only get one gown for the Oscars and are threatening to become
mystery writers so they can get in on the largesse. You really need to answer this, Elaine.

EV: Is that one gown apiece or one gown between

 How did you know it was only one
gown? Charlize told me the cat fight
was Oscar worthy.

EE: Other than scoring this incredible deal with
these jet setting designers, what is your proudest achievement?

EV: What? Isn’t that enough? If I have to
be serious, I’m proud of making a living at mystery writing. Not many people like their jobs.

 And if anyone deserves it – it’s you!

EE: What
is your favorite movie? And I don’t
mean Batman that George Clooney sent you as a personal gift.

EV: I’m such a movie slut. I don’t have favorites. I like the last one I spent the evening
with. Currently, it’s "Good Night
and Good Luck", about Edward R. Murrow.

 Sigh. I miss Murrow. Yeah, I’m old
enough to remember him.

EE: What best selling book do you wish you’d

EV: Anything by Nelson DeMille.

 Wonderful choice! He’s truly one of the very best.

EE:  Tell us what you would consider a perfect

EV: I am awakened by my agent, who says he sold
the movie rights for my Dead-End Job series to Spielberg. I try to go back to sleep, but the phone
rings again and my editor says I’ve made the New York Times Best Seller List
again. After my massage, I settle in
for five minutes of uninterrupted hours at my computer. At four PM, I meet my writer friends for
drinks, when we complain about out agents and editors. Then my husband and I go out for dinner, and
afterward, we walk along the beach.

 What? You mean writers bitch about their agents and editors? I’ll be darned.

EE: Readers have been bombarding me with
questions for you, but I’m selfish and would rather ask my own, so me first, so
WHY do you keep turning down an appearance on Letterman?

EV: The dress hasn’t arrived form Versace yet.

told me it is on the way – so get ready

EE: Who would be your ideal book signing tour

EV: The mysery genre has lots of congenial
writers. I’ve toured with Marcia
Talley, and we still liked each other at the end of the trip.

 That’s wonderful! But then, like they say-great minds think

EE: And speaking of writing stuff, which writers
would be on your ideal panel at a con?

EV: Charlaine Harris, Reed Farrell Coleman,
Laura Lippman, Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Harley Jane Kozak.

 An absolutely Standing Room Only crowd.

EE: Talk is you can’t write a word unless your
favorite Rock & Roll artists are playing in the background. Now, for a gal who gives so much of her time
helping new writers, the least you could do is share their names.

EV: I am a huge (well, very tall) fan of the
Austin Lounge Lizards, especially their non-hit sont, "Jesus Loves Me (But
He Can’t Stand You)."

 Is it out now? Where can we buy it before it goes platinum?

EE: Everyone has a Walter Mitty dream. Tell us yours. But keep it clean, okay?

EV: See answer to Question 6

 Quick! Which one was No. 6??

EE: Which writer would you like to have all to
yourself in a cozy corner of the bar at the next Bouchercon?

EV: Gasp. I’m a happily married woman. Maybe Robert Crais, with Michael Connelly, Lee Child and Harlan Coben as
chaperones. I want to ask Mr. Crais
about that episode of "Miami Vice" he wrote staring Frank Zappa.

 Uh, could you sqeeze over? 

EE: Level with us, Elaine – what is your
favorite indulgence?

EV: My favorite printable indulgence is 70
percent Lindt dark chocolate.

were hoping for more, but that’ll work

EE: Even though your closet is loaded now with
designer duds, what was the last thing you bought for yourself?

EV: A nice batch of publicity. Seriously, my new book, MURDER UNLEASHED, is
coming out May 2nd in hardcover. I’m
giving a buck a book to PAWS and other animal charities if you buy the book
betweennow and May 20th online at or at selected IMBA bookstores. Pre-orders are accepted. This is my own money, not the
publishers. Buy the book and help me go
to the dogs. NOTE: The details are on
Elaine’s website at

 How can you not love this gal? Go out and buy the book, okay? You’ll love it anyway!

EE: My most burning question is why the hell did
you refuse to accept those flowers from Brad Pitt after he vowed his undying
love for you at last years Edgar’s? One
can’t help but wonder if this is what threw him into his mid-life crisis and
Angelina’s arms.

EV: It’s all my fault, and he never even called
to thank me.

 He may be calling you again to

A round of
applause, if you please, for a terrific writer, a lovely person, and for having
the courage go go On The Bubble!



BARRY EISLER doesn’t really need an intro.  A Barry Award and Gumshoe Award winner, not to mention being on countless ‘the best of’ lists – his books have been published in twenty countries – his national reviews are top-notch – and have been optioned for film by Barrie Osborne, Oscar-winning producer of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.   A lot of ‘Barry’ mentions here – so maybe that’s a good omen.  But there is more to this very nice gentleman (a term I do not use widely) – there is a razor sharp mind inside this handsome head – and all you have to do is spend a little time with this guy to quickly recognize there are many layers of insights and thoughts swirling round.  Where they’ll  eventually land – is anyone’s guess.  For our sake – let’s hope it will be many more books.  But don’t take my word for it – come meet a side of Barry Eisler you may not know.

Barry_eisler_photo BARRY EISLER   

Darn!  I wish I could have made this photo larger!  Sigh. I mean – it’s a killer!

EE:  What prompted you to create that great blog – THE HEART OF THE MATTER?  And when the hell do you find the time?

BE:  I realized it was unfair to make my wife continue to endure my constant political rants all by herself.  HEART OF THE MATTER is my support group for her.  The other reason is, I’m a longtime political junkie, and I read, think, and talk politics constantly.  But what really engages me isn’t the kind of venting and acrimony you see on 99% of political blogs, but rather an attempt to honestly understand – and possibly respect – bedrock political differences.  Hence the name of the blog…the point isn’t to yell, vent, insult, etc., but to try to work together to understand what’s really going on for a given issue.  Thinking is hard work, and not getting irritated when someone doesn’t share your politics takes discipline, but I find the whole exercise enormously satisfying.  I wish I had more time for it.

Well, for once – an author won’t get a cute reply from me here.  I’m a big fan of THOTM and seriously urge you to stop by.  The subject matter is always concise, pertinent to what’s going on in the world – and presented in a simple and straightforward manner.  The exchanges are wonderfully civilized and erudite – and from some names that would surprise you.  I just wish Barry would let me bandy his name around the political blogs as a man we need to represent us some how and somewhere.  But damn, he’s such a spoilsport.  He won’t let me.  Do I hear any volunteers out there to give me a hand?  Hell, we could really start a grassroots movement.

Barrys_new_book_2 EE:  I hear whispers that the next book after REQUIEM FOR AN ASSASSIN is a standalone.  Can you give us a hint or tow?  Or, is this one of those ‘need-to-know basis’ things?

BE:  I do have an idea for a Delilah-centric Rain book, so there will probably be more Rain at some point, but I’ve decided to put that on hold and write something entirely different for #7.  It’s a thriller, it involves Asia, and there will be plenty of realistic action and steamy…er, love scenes, but that’s all I’m saying for now…

Darling, say no more.  I’m ready.  To read, of course.

EE:  Rumor has it that you’ve patterned John Rain after a real person.  That can’t be you, can it?  I mean, Barry – I’ve always thought you were such a sweet guy.  Not that I don’t adore Rain, it’s just that…

BE:  I’ve never admitted this publicly, but…John Rain is patterned after Paul Guyot.  There, I said it! The burden is lifted!

Who?  Is this someone I should know? 

EE:  I love that section on your website – JOIN THE FIGHT.  Your crusade, as it were, against ‘linguistic viruses.’  What is your feeling about writers lately using that venerable musician’s term – ‘doing a gig’ – when describing a book signing?  I know a few musicians – and they’re a little pissed off about this.

BE:  This is the first I’ve heard of it.  But it seems a little silly to me…the point of live music is live music.  the point of an author reading is to sell books.  I know I’m over-generalizing a little, but writing is my ‘gig’, not book signings.  Those are more a means to an end.  But that’s just my opinion; I could be wrong.  On "like," "you know," and the other linguistic viruses with which I do battle, I know I’m doing God’s work…

And He is pleased

But, like… you know…what I’m hearing from friends (names withheld to protect their careers not their innocence) is that writers supposedly have vast vocabularies and they should coin their own words, man.  Like, you know?

EE:  And speaking of words…which words or phrases do you think you most overuse?

BE:  Elaine, I doubt you could print them here.

Oh, those words?  Probably not.  Betcha they’re some of my favorites too.

EE:  So, I understand the CIA got into a tizzy when your publisher used their official seal on the jacket of the UK versions of your first four books, huh?  Uh, just how angry were they?

BE:  I don’t know that the organization is sentient enough to become angry.  Actually, their objection created a terrific promotional opportunity, which my UK publisher, being a bit more retiring than I, declined to pursue.  I wanted to put big orange stickers on all of the covers declaring that "The author’s previous employer, the CIA, has not authorized, endorsed, or approved the contents of this book."  It would have been great.

Damn, what a lost opportunity!  Too bad you couldn’t have sneaked a few on. 🙂

EE:  What are you reading now?  And which book do you wish you had written?

BE:  I just read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  It blew me away – maybe his best yet.  As for a book I wish I had written…there are a lot of books and authors I admire enormously, but I never really think about writing anything other than what I write.  I couldn’t write anyone else’s books, and on one could write mine, and that always feels good to me.

Perfect answer…and one which I will leave alone.  And what timing – I have The Road on order – and am doubly looking forward to it now.

EE:  Which living person do you most admire?

BE:  Nelson Mandela.  If to forgive is divine ( I think it is), he’s as close to a living god as I expect to see in my lifetime.

Yes – I think forgiving is divine.  And I applaud your choice.  How sad that Stephen Biko wasn’t able to do the same.

EE:  What do you consider your biggest challenge?

BE:  Right now, juggling writing, the writing business, and family.  But that’s a quality problem to have.

Ah, yes.  The business part.  A complaint widely heard these days.  Newbies take note.  It doesn’t get easier either.

EE:  Have your many travels to Japan – and your experiences there – influenced any aspect of your way of life or your thinking?

BE:  Probably more than I’m aware of.  Living in Japan certainly gave me the kind of perspective – that is, relative objectivity – about my own culture you can only get by looking in from without.  I also admire (and aspire to) the restraint that is fundamental to so many aspects of Japanese culture.

Restraint.  Yes, a perfect word to describe so much that is Japanese.  From their manners, to their sense of personal dignity and honor.  I too am an admirer of their way of life – and their impeccable manner of simplicity.  Much of our home reflects their artistry – simple pieces, yet offering a daily sense of serenity.  So, Barry – let me know when next you traipse off, okay?  I have a never ending shopping list.

EE:  Okay, let’s get serious now.  Tell us who would make up your ideal panel – and why?

BE:  I think I already did the ideal panel, at the Toronto Bouchercon.  I moderated, the subject was something like "The Bad Guy Protagonist," and the panelists were Ken Bruen, Victor Gischler, Simon Kernick, and Jason Starr.  Duane Swierczynski couldn’t make it, and Reed Coleman, who’s a terrific panelist, was set to stand in, but graciously made way for Victor instead.  We had a blast.

So did the audience – and so did I.  Uh, so did the gals sitting behind me.

EE:  If you could change one thing about yourself, what would that be?

BE:  I wish I were one of those people who needed three or four hours of sleep a night.  It would be like having a whole additional life to live.

If you figure out how to accomplish that – please do let me know.  We could bottle it.

EE:  Barry, darling – something has got to be done about all those swooning women when you’re on a panel.  I couldn’t hear a damn word you said at the last one with all the sighing and moaning going on around me.

BE:  Yeah…someone needs to get ’em new eyeglasses!  That, or Jim Born was up there with me, and the swooning was for him…

Oh, be modest if you must!  Such an endearing trait…but Jim – adorable/macho as he is – wasn’t on the panel.

EE:  Time for your Walter Mitty Dream.  Other than a cozy dinner with moi -what’s yours, Barry?

BE:  I get to do my life over again, and start living abroad, learning languages, and training in martial arts from a much earlier age.

Oh.  I was hoping that…well, nevermind.

Arigato, Barry – for playing On The BubbleAnd Sayonara – but not for long, okay?