Category Archives: Guest Blogger

Your work . . . starring?

Normally, here at Murderati, we don’t have guest posts. However, this guest is an alum  — though you’ll have to guess who he or she might be — and I’m delighted to see this author’s work on our pages again. ‘Nuf said.


by E.J. Copperman

Let’s get it out of the way up top and then move on: I have a new book coming tomorrow . . . that’s Feb. 7. It’s called OLD HAUNTS. I think it’s good, others have agreed, and I’d appreciate it if you’d give it a look.

Okay. now we can get down to business.

The film version of Janet Evanovich’s ONE FOR THE MONEY was released recently, setting off the traditional brouhaha among mystery and crime fiction fans about who was cast, who SHOULD have been cast, and why Evanovich would ever have allowed such a thing as (fill in your own personal outrage) to happen.

At roughly the same moment, filming was continuing on ONE SHOT, the first adaptation of a Lee Child novel featuring the mega-popular character Jack Reacher. The film is due into theaters on February 8, 2013 (which, I might note, is exactly one year and one day after the release of a certain book that means a lot to me, but that’s beside the point.) And once again, there has been apoplexy (Paramount has had the audacity to cast an actor in the role who is–brace yourself–short). The fact that the actor is also the producer is apparently irrelevant to the height-ists among us. 

Personally, I find it hilarious that people think the author has even 1% of authority over who is cast in, writes, produces, directs, or provides craft services on a film made from one of his/her books. Should a producer show interest in one of my novels–and if you’re a producer, have your people call my people (hang on: I AM my people)–I will be tickled with the idea and expect that they’ll send me, perhaps, an autographed poster a couple of weeks after the movie makes its debut on DVD and Blu-Ray. 

The fact is, an author has one choice, and only one, when a producer offers money to option/buy the rights to a book: To take the money, or not. That’s it. If you take the money, you’ve SOLD the rights. That means someone else owns them. And they can do with your work as they please. 

Look at it this way: You decide to sell your car. You put an ad on Craigslist, and someone responds. You negotiate a price that you and the buyer can agree upon. So they give you a check, and you give them the title, and the transaction is done.

The next day, the new owner drives by your house. He has had the car painted orange with pink polka dots, and removed your $2000 sound systems in favor of two tin cans and a string. 

You have no recourse. You sold it. That’s it. 

So if you have trouble with Debbie Reynolds playing Granda Masur or Tom Cruise standing on a box to be Reacher, you can choose to read the books and avoid the movie. Or you can blame the producer, the director, the studio or the casting director.

But don’t get mad at the author. He or she is writing a new book for you right now. 


E.J. Copperman is the author of the Haunted Guesthouse mystery series, in which a divorced mom moves to her Jersey Shore hometown to open a guesthouse and finds two ghosts there. So far, the titles have included NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED, AN UNINVITED GHOST and now OLD HAUNTS. E.J.’s last name is not “Cooperman.” In case anyone asks.

Marcus Sakey on Successful Query Letters

Zoë Sharp

About two years ago I came across a piece by Marcus Sakey on his blog at The Outfit about writing successful query letters to agents. It was excellent down-to-earth advice. So good, in fact, that every time I’ve taught a workshop, or done a speaking event where there are would-be authors, I recommend that they go and read Marcus’s blog.

Things have changed a little over the past couple of years, however, and I wondered if Marcus had any new tips to add to his original post. Hence the fact I invited him onto ‘Rati for Expect The Unexpected Tuesday to offer an updated version.

For the one or two of you who maybe are not familiar with him, Marcus Sakey is the bestselling author of five novels, three of which have been optioned for film. He has been called “A modern master of suspense” (Chicago Tribune), and “One of our best storytellers” (Michael Connelly). 

His latest novel is THE TWO DEATHS OF DANIEL HAYES.  Marcus is also the host and writer of the acclaimed television series HIDDEN CITY on Travel Channel.

When I speak at a writer’s conference, I’m often asked about finding an agent.  And my response tends to piss people off. 

I explain the concept of a query letter, and then I say that a properly-written one should result in at least 75% of agents requesting the manuscript. 

People tend to disagree rather vehemently.  To them, I can only respond: respectfully, you’re wrong.

I know because I had that success rate.  In fact, once I had my query in its proper form, about 80% of the agents I queried requested materials.

Some people say that this isn’t realistic for today’s market.  And publishing has changed since I signed with my agent in 2005.  But while publishing has changed, the business model of agents has not. 

Other people point out that I’m an established author.  I wasn’t then.  In fact, I had no credits whatsoever.

Still others say that there are too many variables in play for query letters to achieve that success rate.  But remember, I didn’t say any query letter.  I said a properly written one.

Before I go on, I should address the elephant in the room: whether or not you even need an agent or a publisher these days.  After all, e-publishing, and especially Amazon, has fundamentally changed our business.

Whether or not to self-publish is a personal decision.  There are a lot of great arguments for it: a higher royalty rate, direct control of the promotion and pricing and cover design, an expedient publishing process.  Some authors, like my controversial buddy Joe Konrath, make the case that going with a traditional publisher at this point is akin to booking passage on the Titanic.

Me, I wouldn’t go that far.  I believe there are a lot of benefits to traditional publishing.  Foremost among them is the active involvement of a skilled professional editor.  I can say with certainty that my editor has dramatically improved all of my books.  I also believe that having a hurdle-clearing process benefits the overall quality of literature.   And the self-publishing world is still akin to the Wild West; some people will make their fortunes, but plenty will die of dysentery.

What will the publishing world look like in even one year, much less five?  I have no idea, and neither does anyone else.  Would I consider self-publishing?  Absolutely.  In fact, I have.  I self-pubbed a short story collection called SCAR TISSUE, and am delighted I did. 

But this article really isn’t about whether or not to self-publish.  Weigh the arguments.  Consider your own abilities (Can you write fast enough to feed the beast?  Do you believe an editor can improve your work?  Does the safety of an advance and a contract provide you a better headspace to write novels?) as well as the work you’re willing to do (Do you want to spend time formatting e-books, writing promotional copy, and managing cover design?  Do you have a platform to help you promote?  Do you enjoy the rather constant effort of reaching out to potential readers?) and make up your own mind.

If you decide that you would like to try the traditional approach, this is how you do it.

First of all, finish the book.  And I don’t just mean type “THE END.”  If it isn’t polished to a high gleam, if it hasn’t been read by a dozen friends and re-written in response to their comments, then you aren’t ready to worry about Step Two.

But let’s assume that it is.  The next thing you need to do is decide which agents to approach.

This is one of the ways you limit the number of variables in the equation.  Only query agents who represent work like yours. My own agent, for example, specializes in crime fiction, thrillers, and some nonfiction. Sending him fantasy would be a waste of time. It’s not his market, and even if he did like it, you’d be better served by an agent who really knows your field.

How to do that? Go to your local bookstore or library, and bring a notebook. Find the section that matches your genre, and start pulling books down. In their acknowledgments, authors almost always thank their agent (if they don’t, you don’t want that agent anyway.) Focus on books that are somewhat similar to yours, but don’t obsess. Don’t try to pick a favorite in advance.

After three or four deeply boring hours, you should have a sizable list. To find their addresses, turn to the Internet. You can Google search, using quotes around their full name. You can also look at sites like and Again, not fun, but necessary. Make a spreadsheet, and include the agency, the agent’s name, the authors they represent, the address and email, and sections for dates to track who you’ve sent letters and when.

Okay, so you’ve got a targeted list.  Now it’s time to write the dreaded query.

It’s dreaded for a reason, which is that you already wrote the book. You slaved over every one of 350 pages. You know its intricacies, its subtleties, its moments of grace and its smelly underarms. Now you have to forget all that.

Here’s the key to writing queries. You’re not actually selling the book.

I want to repeat that:  You are not selling the book.  In fact, you could write a highly successful query for a book that does not exist.

All you’re doing is seducing the agent. You want to get them interested enough that they ask to see your manuscript. That’s it.

It’s like online dating. If you can write a charming email, you might get a date; if you get a date, who knows where it could lead. But try to put all your history and baggage in that first message and you won’t get any play. Instead, demonstrate that you’re worth someone’s time. That you are interesting, sincere, and respectful.

How do you do that?  Well, for one, you’re polished. Your language is compelling and your presentation is perfect.

Also, you’re brief. Agents are busy. There are hundreds of other queries to read.

Finally, you are a storyteller. You know how to tease, how to intrigue, and you’re not afraid to put those wiles to work.

After a professional greeting (Mr. or Ms.), begin with a 1 – 2 line paragraph explaining that you are writing them because you know they represent X, and your book is similar.   This shows that you have done your homework.  It also begins to frame their expectations.  By implication they know the genre and style of your work.  This is also a good place to put the word count, because if it’s appropriate (70,000 – 120,000, depending on genre), that’s a hurdle you’ve already cleared.

Next, in 3 – 5 lines, sum up your story. This is the hard part, but it’s easier than most people make it.  In essence, what you want to do is leave out the tangents, complications, minor characters, and themes. Remember, this is seduction. Focus on drama and stakes. Here’s mine:

For Danny Carter, retired thief turned respectable businessman, a normal life sharing a Lincoln Park condo with his loving girlfriend seems like the ultimate score–until his former partner comes looking for him. A hardened killer fresh out of Stateville, his partner wants to kidnap the son of Danny’s millionaire boss, and he needs help to pull it off. Doing the job could cost Danny his career, his relationship, and his freedom.

Refusing could cost him his life.

Did I leave out a lot? About 86,974 words. And man oh man did it hurt at first.  But look at what it accomplished.  By keeping the pitch brief, using only one name, and including significant stakes, I demonstrated that I know how to tell a story.

And that, my friends, is the point of the query letter. 

Think about it.  Agents get hundreds of these a week.  Do you really think they remember them?  Hell, I bet they forget the beginning of most by the time they reach the middle.  You try and read 300 queries, see how fast your eyes glaze over.

So instead of trying to convey the beautiful bleeding soul that is your novel, just show an agent you know how to tell a story.  That’s what makes them willing to read your manuscript.

Okay, next paragraph.  This is the place for awards, previous publications, and nepotistic hookups. Will Stephen King blurb you?  Is Oprah your aunt?  Do you run a wildly successful blog?  Put it in there.

Also, if you have some experience that informed the book, consider including it. Be judicious: if you’re hawking a mystery novel, by all means mention that you’re a cop. If your character likes to cook and so do you, leave it out. In fact, if you have nothing to mention here, leave the whole damn ‘graph out.  Never write just to fill space.

Finally, end with what in advertising is known as a call to action: “May I send you the finished manuscript?”

If you’re writing a conventional query, you’re done. However, these days I recommend you query via email. There are a couple of reasons. First, e-queries are cheaper and faster and better for the environment. Second, you can include a little taste of your novel. Do it like this: “Page one of <insert compelling title here> follows. May I send you the finished manuscript?”

Then, after your name and contact info, paste in the first page or so of the novel. Do not attach it, as that will freak people out about viruses. Also, be sure to check your formatting, since email can screw that up, and manually insert line-breaks to double-space. Finally, make sure that you end on a minor cliffhanger, something interesting.

The idea is simple. The agent has just read your brief and compelling query letter. They’re intrigued. It’s the easiest thing in the world to scroll down and read a little more.  And then, because your first page is dynamite (right?), hopefully intrigued upshifts to excited. Simple as that.

A good query letter is not written in a day. Write it and rewrite it. Have friends and critique partners read it. Buff the hell out of it. Once you feel like it’s ready, start sending out waves, say 5 – 10 a week.

Doing it in waves is crucial, because it will tell you how effective your query letter is.  (Note: I didn’t say how interesting your book is.  Query letters and novels are separate things.)   Remember, your query letter isn’t finished until you’re seeing about a 75% request rate.

When you do get a bite, remember to write REQUESTED MATERIALS in big letters on the envelope or the email subject so that your manuscript hits the top of the pile. Then do a little happy dance and go send out another couple of queries.

Of course, the painful part is that for all the manuscript requests, you’ll get plenty of rejections.  I did.  This is a subjective business, and some very big names told me they didn’t like the book, that it lacked tension, that they didn’t think it had a market.  Which made it all the sweeter when CBS Sunday Morning called THE BLADE ITSELF “how immortality gets started,” or when we sold the film rights to Ben Affleck. 

Don’t sweat the rejections.  Have a beer, then send another query.  And great good luck!

Guest Blogger #1

Louise Ure


It’s been an odd and disquieting month.


First, my 96-year old aunt died in Tucson. She was the last of her generation and the matriarch of our clan.



Decades ago, when she and my mother realized that we had too few plots in the family graveyard for all the folks who were dying before their time, they had agreed to be buried in the same plot, stacked one on top of the other like an underground condominium.

“But I get to be on top,” Tita insisted.

It was unlikely. She was the elder sister and long assumed to be the one to die first. But she outlived my mother by more than two years.

The services were there at the family plot, and the gravediggers uncovered my mother’s casket in preparation for this new arrival. But there was no new casket in sight. Instead, they lowered a ladder and scaled down into the grave to place an urn on my mother’s resting place.

“You had her cremated?” I asked.

“She doesn’t weigh much. She won’t be so much of a burden to your mother this way,” my cousin Mary replied.

They threw bright green feathers into the grave from her beloved 50-year old Amazon parrot, Nacho, who had expired only weeks before she did.



I provided the liquor for the wake. It’s one of those things that my family has come to count on me for. I’m good at it.



On an even sadder note, the 16-year old girl across the street killed herself  last Thursday. There had been moving vans at the house most of the day. She hung herself just after they left.

The block was ablaze with interested bystanders. Most of us watched from our windows – texting questions to each other as the fire truck was joined by an ambulance, six police cars and a Fire Chief’s truck. One person knew the family’s last name. One teenager said she had skateboarded with the victim.



Ours is a neighborhood where garage doors are opened remotely as the cars pull up. The residents disappear up interior staircases and live their lives behind grand curtains and shutters. There are no front or side yards. The houses bunch together, shoulder to shoulder, like a rugby scrum protecting their little piece of sidewalk.

There’s not much chance of interaction unless you seek it out. But this family – which by all accounts had lived there for over a year – was unknown to most of us.

We watched, safe behind our own glass, as the weakest of our herd was culled out and taken away.

Her name was Isabella, but she called herself Quinn. She was a 10th grader.



The loss to her family and friends is beyond calculation. But the rest of us will probably never know any more about Quinn than this, her last moments of life. And for us, that’s the saddest part of all.



As Pari noted yesterday, we’re going through some changes here at Murderati. Some of us will go on as usual. Some will seek other avenues to refresh between days writing. Like JT, I’m one of those going on hiatus, but for entirely different reasons.

My days are not too busy for Murderati. My life is not so full of commitments and promises that it’s stressing me out.

On the contrary, I need some time away to find that life again.

I’ll be traveling a lot over the next three months – often to places inaccessible to my handy iPad and iPhone – and it seems like a good time to regroup.

In my place, we’ll have Wild Card Tuesdays. Anything goes. You may see book reviews here, round table discussions, guest bloggers, bad jokes, crock pot recipes for tiger, idle threats.

I’m guest blogger #1 today.

Thank you all for such generous and loving support these last Murderati years. And to my fellow ‘Rati, thank you for keeping a place near the fire for me. I’ll see you all in the Spring.






I’ll be out of the country for a few weeks and I’ve asked a couple authors to pop in and introduce themselves while I’m gone. Today you’ll meet Eric Stone, and on September 23rd you’ll meet Miles Corwin, author of KIND OF BLUE, HOMICIDE SPECIAL and THE KILLING SEASON.

I’ve known Eric Stone for a number of years now. He’s a genuine nuisance and an all-around Good Guy. He is also the author of the Ray Sharp series of detective thrillers set in Asia and based on true stories that he covered as a journalist: The Living Room of the Dead, Grave Imports, Flight of the Hornbill and Shanghaied (in which he brutally murdered his series protagonist.) He is also the author of Wrong Side of the Wall, the true-crime / sports biography of Blackie Schwamb, the greatest prison baseball player of all time.

He is currently at work on a trilogy of coming of age novels set in Los Angeles during different eras and in different communities.

Eric worked for many years as a journalist in the U.S. and Asia, covering everything from economics to crime; politics to sex, drugs and rock & roll. He once wrote an advice to the lovelorn column for a bi-lingual (English-Chinese) fashion magazine. He currently lives in Los Angeles. You can learn more about Eric at his website,



A guest blog for Murderati by Eric Stone

This summer, for the very first time in my life I’ve been having an awful time trying to write. I don’t like anything I write and what little I manage to start loses steam, or slams into brick walls. Thirty years ago I would have been filling the wastepaper bin in my office with reams of paper. Now I’m more environmentally friendly – if you don’t take power plants into account – I just discard pixels.

All the palliatives and advice I’ve received and dispensed to others myself over the years have done no good.

“Inspiration is for amateurs.” Oh, fuck you Chuck Close, you get millions of dollars for one of your damned paintings made up of all those endless tiny self-portraits. You don’t need inspiration, you’ve got your shtick.

“When you face writer’s block, just lower your standards and keep going.” Blow it out your ass Sandra Tsing Loh, I find your Asian Valley-Girl Mom blather on NPR incredibly annoying. Talk about low standards.

“If you don’t think too good, don’t think too much.” You could hit the ball, sure, couldn’t you Ted Williams? But you weren’t much of a fielder. Booze used to be good for sticking to this advice, but as I get older the hangovers get worse and less worth it.

It might help if my latest book would sell. It’s been sitting on about eight editors desks in New York, mostly, since sometime in July. Waiting is murder, slow, torturous murder even when it’s your sixth book.

Maybe this is it, the end. Maybe all I had in me was five books. Most people don’t ever even write one.

But maybe by the time this blog is published – after Labor Day – the publishing industry will have finally left the beach, shaken off the sand, washed off the sunscreen and got back to their offices. Maybe some of them will take pickaxes and shovels to the piles in front of them and finally unearth my manuscript. Most of them will reject it.

Maybe one of them will realize it is the best thing I’ve ever written and the next book will be even better and they’ll buy it. That possibly hallucinatory carrot dangling just out of reach in front of my nose is what keeps me going. That might just prove inspiring. Take that, Chuck Close.

But there are those times when I think, sometimes even know that the smart move would be to simply give up. Who needs the damn carrot anyhow?

Those are the times when I’ll be chewing on a paperclip at my desk, wondering what would happen if I just swallowed it. I’ve never swallowed a paperclip.

Those are the times I can best picture the label on the bottle of good single malt in the next room. Not until five or even six, Eric. Not until you can think up something to reward yourself for or build up enough sorrow to drown.

Those are the times I am taunted by the knowledge that distraction, amusement, companionship and simple gratification are no more than a couple of mouse clicks, a phone call and a couple hundred bucks away.

I guess I’m just too stupid to give up, or to prematurely reach for that bottle or dial for that doll, or to do any of the too many things that I know would be easier than sitting here day after day spewing shit from my fingertips. (Although I might swallow the paperclip one of these days, by mistake if not intention.)

At times I feel like the aging, graying, sagging, verging on heat-stroked mule plodding up the narrow path of the Grand Canyon on a hot day. There’s all that cool, fresh water in the river far below. It glistens so beautifully it beckons, just sidle on over to the edge and lean a little too far and it will all be over soon.

But what can I do? I’m a mule, just another fucking mule. Even I know that the promised carrot is probably an illusion. And it sure as hell isn’t cake. But it’s a carrot and I’m a mule and the only thing I really know is how to keep putting down one hoof in front of the other and maintain just enough balance to keep from stumbling over the cliff.

Every day that I get up and want to do something else, want to get in my car and just drive away, want to go score some good strong dope and turn myself into one of the blissfully, mindless walking dead, I have to flog myself out of it. I have to whip myself with the only one word of real, smart advice that any writer ever gets. It’s the dumbest, most obvious thing anyone can ever tell a writer or a writer can tell themselves, but it’s the only thing that makes any sense in the end. It’s the only thing that any writer who really is a writer can really do anyhow.

Eric, just shut the fuck up and write.


Welcome Aussie author, Katherine Howell

By PD Martin

Today I’d like to welcome fellow Aussie crime writer, Katherine Howell to Murderati. Katherine is an ex-paramedic turned author who uses her own expertise to create realistic characters and scenarios. So far, she’s won two Davitt Awards (Sisters in Crime Australia) and has recently hit the best seller lists here in Oz.

Her third novel, Cold Justice, has just been released in the UK. In Cold Justice, Detective Ella Marconi is on the trail of a cold case, an eighteen-year-old murder. Katherine is giving away three signed copies of Cold Justice to Murderati readers…scroll to the bottom for more information.

Katherine also has ties to other members of the Murderati gang, namely Tess Gerritsen – who had the following to say: “COLD JUSTICE races like a speeding ambulance, delivering so many surprises and thrills that you’ll scarcely have time to breathe. This was one of my favorite books of the year. Katherine Howell has written a real winner!” Katherine is delighted to be interviewing Tess in Melbourne at a Sisters in Crime dinner on Saturday 27 August. You can find out more at the Sisters in Crime website. I’ll be there 🙂

You use paramedics and police almost equally in your books. Can you tell us why you decided to do that?
I always wanted to write a crime series, partly because it’s what I love reading and partly because the idea of developing characters over a number of books really appealed to me. But I started the early drafts of Frantic with paramedic Sophie as the main character and no cop in sight! I felt I couldn’t write a cop point of view because I didn’t know the police world the same way that I knew paramedic life and worried about being able to portray it with convincing detail. I realised, though, that the story would be so much deeper and stronger if I could build the POV in, and also it was going to be a stretch to have a paramedic coming back in each book, especially if I was going to have her solve crimes! I needed to pull myself together and just do it. I have a number of cop friends who help with the facts of the job and draw on my own experience in being called as a paramedic to police stations and the cells and so on too.

And so Detective Ella Marconi was born. She’s about half of each book that I write. The stories involve one and sometimes two paramedics who get caught up in crime in varying ways—sometimes they’re called to a homicide scene, sometimes they find a body, sometimes they’re involved personally—then Ella is one of the investigators called in on the case.

What differences do you find writing a paramedic versus cop?
The main difference is their role in the story: Ella investigates and is fairly distanced emotionally, while the paramedics are caught up and drawn in and often are very emotionally involved. The way I write each point of view differs too: I’m very comfortable writing the paramedic scenes because of my years of experience there, but with the police scenes I’m continually questioning my detective friends over each little detail: what would the detectives say here? What would they do next?

Is Cold Justice based on something that happened to you while you were working as a paramedic?
Paramedic Georgie in Cold Justice was viciously bullied at her previous station, and when I was writing the book there were many reports in the media about bullying cases in the ambulance service and their subsequent investigations. None of this was news to me or to paramedics I knew, however. The things that happen to Georgie are a combination of tweaked stories that I’d heard, made-up events, plus a few of my own experiences. The plot however is fictional. While I use some elements of particular cases that I did (such as a burns case in The Darkest Hour), none of the plots as a whole are based on anything I did.

To date, your books are published in several countries, but not the US. How can American readers get copies?
There are some copies on Amazon, including for Kindle. I’ve heard that once you hit check-out you can’t actually get it due to territorial restrictions, but I know my Australian publisher was working to sell the ebook rights so maybe they’re now accessible. (If someone out there buys one, or can’t, could you let me know in the comments please?) Otherwise check out the Australian publisher’s site ( or any of the online booksellers. Or contact my partner’s bookshop ( and I’ll even sign a copy to you before it hits the post! If all else fails, you can read the first chapters at least on my website

Tell us a bit about your writing day and space.
I have an office at home and I write at the computer (though now and again I like to take a notebook and sit in the sun). I get in there about eight or nine but I write best in the afternoons so unless I have a looming deadline I tend to spend the morning dealing with emails and working on whatever author talks or workshops I have coming up, and uni research (I’m doing a PhD in writing at the moment too). I have a big corner desk currently covered in edit notes and reports. My window looks out onto the garden, and in the co-worker department I have a big, fat, long-haired cat who sleeps in her bed on my desk and a Chihuahua pup who sleeps in a blanket on my lap. Lazy girls.

Win your copy
Win a signed copy of Cold Justice by guessing which of the following statements about Katherine is a lie. The first three correct guesses will win! 

  1. I used to have a pet goat whose name was Boris. 
  2. I have a tiny tattoo of a bluebird on my hip.  
  3. I was in an ambulance crash once and was unrestrained in the back at the time; but the only injury I got was a fat lip.  
  4. Once, while I was travelling alone back from the UK, I ran into my sister in Singapore Airport.
  5. At one of the Davitt award ceremonies I had to leave proceedings to play paramedic for a woman who’d collapsed in the toilet. 

Thanks to Katherine for being my guest today! She’ll be online to respond to comments and of course to check for winners.

The Next Word War

(While I’m traveling on book tour, I’m delighted to have John Lutz here as a guest blogger.  John, take it away! — Tess Gerritsen)


by John Lutz


“History repeats. We are always fighting the last


                war. Blah, blah, blah…”

                                         — Just about everyone.

I’m not that old, but I remember when television was certain to be the end of radio and movies. It was obvious to everyone. Movies meant leaving home, paying for a ticket, sitting in a dark theater while people around you talked, smoked (!), rattled candy wrappers, and sometimes made various kinds of love.

Radio? Why? There was a new bully on the block. The simple box had learned to show us moving pictures and it called itself television. We could dim the living room lights like they did in movie theaters, pop our own corn, bark at any of the kids who dared rattle candy wrappers, and … well, that was easier, too.

Where were books during all of this? In bookstores, libraries, drugstore and grocery store paperback racks. Hemingway was still going strong. James Gould Cozzins was selling big. So was Mickey Spillane. Something to remember. In that war, books were like Switzerland during World War Two.

Make no mistake: war was being waged. Movies versus the Allies: radio and television.

Movies struck back. More and more were produced in Technicolor, with story concepts that required a vast canvas that could part the Red Sea, show the Pyramids being built in Egypt, and accommodate chariot races and all Ten Commandments. Put that on your eight-inch oblong screen and strain your eyes.

Radio came at television with car radios and suitcase-sized portables, all playing music made by the likes of Johnnie Ray, Frankie Lane, Patti Page, Les Paul and Mary Ford, the Platters, and then – Elvis

Television counter-attacked with daily local programming before five P.M. After five it was Milton Berle in drag, the brilliant Sid Caesar, Lucy, Peter Gunn, even Kate Smith and the American flag.

Movies hit back with stereophonic sound, vibrating seats, Vista Vision, Three-D, radiation-created gigantic ants, lizards, locusts, A-bomb bred creatures that toppled buildings and terrorized the world.  

Television came at us with sports. Baseball that seemed to be covered by one guy with a big TV camera, sitting behind home plate. Hockey. (Where’s the puck?) Boxing? Well, that was okay. Everything happened in an eighteen-by- eighteen foot ring. Boxing was made for television, and vice versa.

Grace Metalious sold a zillion copies of Peyton Place. Agatha Christie was writing and selling well. Spillane was still going strong.

Radio gave us high fidelity. That helped some. Especially if you wanted to hook up a string of speakers so it sounded like a train was roaring through your apartment.

Then television fell prey to an advantage that also became a vulnerability. Advertising. Lots of advertising.


Who wanted to watch Dinah Shore again and again in her Chevrolet? Or those dancing cigarette packs?

You didn’t have to sit through that kind of stuff at the movies.

Radio gave us FM.

Television came at the enemy with color.

Still, more than two people on a TV screen was a crowd, and everyone had green-tinted skin.

Radio gave us the Top Forty, and then the Top Ten. Elvis, Elvis, Elvis…

Movies recruited foreign allies with potent forces like Brigette Bardot, La Dolce Vita, and Brigette Bardot.

Truman Capote was a hit with his short stories and novellas. Spillane was going strong, even had a TV series and played himself in the movies. Détente.

Brando screamed for Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire. The Desperate Hours was a hit play that later became a hit movie. Sweet Bird of Youth was a hit play and became a hit movie. If it had been a quality play, it didn’t matter if the movie was in color or black and white. In fact, black and white movies sometimes denoted quality. Film noire, Don’t Bother to Knock, Hatful of Rain, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, On the Waterfront. Movies had struck on something here. Burl Ives got rich. Elia Kazan got even. Arthur Miller got Marilyn Monroe.

Plays that originated on television, like Requiem for a Heavyweight and Marty also became hit movies. Hit plays could become sure-fire hit movies, even in black and white and two dimensions on average-sized screens.

Herman Wouk was on the bestseller lists. So was Mickey Spillane.

Television continued strong. Bob and Ray, Jack Benny, Burns and Allen – those people were funny even when you could see them. Red Skelton especially when you could see him. Lots of people watched them. They sold lots of products.

The thing is, this mess eventually sorted itself out. Movies gave us great production values and special effects. Also people like Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Allen, and Steven Spielberg. Television learned how to report news almost instantaneously, and produce meaningful entertainment. Some of the time, anyway. And virtually every car has a radio, tuned to everything from rap music to Verdi to Howard Stern.

John Sandford, Sue Grafton and Jonathon Franzen write bestsellers. Spillane still sells well.

The war between the forces of television and the radio-movie alliance wound down.

Sometime, in some way, the ebook invasion of publishing will also reach a conclusion. Peace will prevail. Whether we (writers and readers) will be the better or worse for it, I don’t know. At this point, I don’t think anyone does.

Someone forwarded to me a piece wherein an intellectual in the late nineteenth century argued logically and convincingly that the invention of the phonograph meant the end of books. Who would want to exert the effort to read a book when they could have it read to them? Narrators, readers, and not the writers, would become celebrities. The emphasis would be upon the performing of the book rather than on how some anonymous wordsmith arranged sentences.

We are part of an essential change in human contact and relationships, sailing into a foggy future, and with no more idea of where we’re going than the guy who would have put his money on the phonograph.

It will be fascinating to see where we are when the fog lifts and there evolves some kind of truce.

I have a hunch the book will be okay.  Like radio and the movies, it is a survivor.

10,000 Hours of Pure Joy

Hi there! I’m in New York today, attending the party conference known as Thrillerfest. As such, I’ve asked a friend of mine, award-winning author, cameraman, and all around cool guy Tom Kaufman to sit in. His post is incredibly intriguing, and you all know how much I love figuring out these kind of puzzles. Read his post, and at the bottom, I’ll share my results. Would love to hear everyone else’s too!

Without further ado – Tom Kaufman!


 Thanks, JT, for letting me drive the bus today.

Have you ever finished reading a book, and thought, wow, what a great writer?  I’ve often wondered what it takes to be great at writing. Is it having an ear for dialogue?  Knowing how to plot? Writing characters that resonate in the mind of the readers, long after they’ve finished your book?

Well, yes, of course.  But according to Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, OUTLIERS, it’s also 10,000 hours.

First of all, what exactly is an outlier?  Gladwell says,

‘Outlier’ is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience…In this book I’m interested in people who are outliers—in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August.”

In OUTLIERS, we’re told that all of the greats, the people who have really excelled in their fields, have worked at what they love for at least 10,000 hours.  And I have to say, Gladwell, a wonderful writer himself, makes a compelling case for this rule.

One of the examples he sites is the Beatles. Before they went to Hamburg, they were just an average rock and roll band.  But in Hamburg they had to play 8 hours a day, six days a week.  They lived on stage.  And when they returned to Liverpool, their friends told them how different they sounded, like a professional band.

Did John, Paul, George, and Ringo get their entire 10,000 hours in Germany?  No, but they had played together for years prior to that.  What Hamburg offered them was the chance to work together intensely, day after day.

Another example Gladwell hands us is Bill Gates.  As a teenager, Gates would sneak out of his parents’ house at midnight, and walk to a local university that had a computer lab.  The lab was open 24/7.  Gates spent every night there, writing code and programming, then hustle back to bed around four or five in the morning.  His mother said she always had trouble waking up Bill for school.

Now, to be a huge success, there’s often more to it than simply being prepared.  OUTLIERS goes into a lot of detail as to what exactly happened, the string of events that mad it possible for Bill Gates and the Beatles to get those 10,000 hours. 

(By the way, Gladwell tells us that it’s a mistake to think we live in a meritocracy.  We don’t, not as long as random chance plays a part.  OUTLIERS shows us that being born in the right year is as important as the desire to work hard.)

The thing is, for these people, that work wasn’t a tedious chore. To you and me, 10,000 hours of computer programming might be hell.  For Gates, it was heaven.  Likewise, sleeping on cots, eating crappy food, and playing rock for German businessmen for eight-hour stretches seven days a week might seem like a punishment. For the Beatles, it was an incredible opportunity.

So let’s say we’re all on board with this, right?  We want to be great writers.  So how do we do that?  Basically, we do what Ed McBain instructed, sit our fannies down and start typing.

Could we get our 10,000 hours in a year? Sure, if every day had over 27 hours in it, and we skipped little things like eating and sleeping.

Okay, well maybe three years?  Yes, if you wrote for nine hours every day.  Piece of cake, right?

Well, maybe for you.  Nine hours a day is a bit steep for me.  I might manage four hours a day though, in which case I’ll reach my goal in just under seven years.

Seven years?!

Yes, and that’s if I write every single day.  If you want to factor in a few holidays, sick days, and those days when your mother comes to visit, you’re really looking at eight years.

It would seem daunting, if you didn’t love to write.  But if you do, if it feels good to you, and not some chore you have to get out of the way, then it not only can be done, it has been done.  Look at the great writers in our field, folks like Donald Westlake, Lawrence Block, and yes, Ed McBain, to pick three at random.  They began their careers in the late fifties.  They hit their 10,000 hours sometime in the mid- to late-sixties.  And their work got progressively better.

Westlake once said, “The thing that I prefer, when I’m working on a book, is to do a seven-day week, because it’s easy to lose some of the details of what you’re doing along the way. Years ago, I heard an interview with violinist Yehudi Menuhin. The interviewer said, ‘Do you still practice?’ And he said, ‘I practice every day.’ He said, ‘If I skip a day, I can hear it. If I skip two days, the conductor can hear it. And if I skip three days, the audience can hear it.’ Oh, yes, you have to keep that muscle firm.”

How about you?  Do you think 10,000 hours is an attainable goal?


Thomas Kaufman is an Emmy-winning director/cameraman who also writes mysteries.  His first book, DRINK THE TEA, won the PWA/St Martin’s Press Competition for Best First Novel.  His second book, STEAL THE SHOW, comes out this July.  You can see the rest of his blog tour here.




JT here. OK. I’ve done my calculations.

I’ve been writing full time for 8 years. In that time, my fiction output – this is fiction only – is at about 1,000,000 words: 9.5 novels @ 100,000 apiece and 15 short stories. 8 years = 2,920 days = 70,080 hours. I can’t average my daily time spent writing because it fluctuates too much, so I’m going by word count. It takes me 1 hour to write 1,000 words. 1,000,000 words/70,800 hours = 14,269 hours over the course of 8 years.

So 10,000 hours in a year, no way. But I probably did it in 6. And Lord knows, I love what I do. Am I an outlier? I don’t know. But I loved having a chance to examine the concept. Thanks, Tom!

So what about you?

Neil Nyren is Back: The 5th Annual State of the Industry Interview

JT and Neil at Thrillerfest 2010 NYCWe are so honored to have legendary editor Neil Nyren back to Murderati for his annual State of the Industry interview. For those of you living under rocks new to the game of publishing, Neil is arguably the preeminent editor in New York: as Senior Vice-President, Publisher, and benevolent Editor in Chief of Putnam, his magnificent list of authors reads like a who’s who of literary dignitaries. He edits several of my favorite authors, too, which led me to seek him out in the first place five years ago to see if he’d be willing to come on Murderati and talk about publishing. He magnanimously agreed, and here we are, all these years later.

An April visit from Neil is a must for all of us in the publishing industry. It is a perfect moment to reflect on the changes we’ve seen in the past year, and look to the future, all in the capable hands of one who knows. If you’ve missed any of our previous interviews, feel free to indulge in their excellence. 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010.

So buckle your seatbelts and spread the good word, kids, because this is the best one yet. Without further ado…. I give you Neil Nyren!

Many congratulations on your well deserved win of the 2011 Sluethfest FlaMANgo of the Year award! Do they pass that pretty pink boa on from year to year like the Miss America crown, or do you get to keep it all to yourself?

Thank you, JT, thank you so very much. It was indeed a signal honor, perhaps the capstone of my career, certainly the accomplishment I expect to see in my obit headline. Though – strictly between you and me, now – I have a hunch that the fix was in. One of the people I beat was Dennis Lehane – I mean, come on! And another was Johnny Temple. Have you seen Johnny Temple? Have you seen his hair? No way I beat that dude in a fair fight.

The boa was returned to the tender ministrations of the Sleuthfest boa ladies, for next year.

What’s the biggest misnomer in publishing right now?

“Traditional publishers.” “Legacy publishers.” Ugh. Publishers are publishers.

Is the sky really falling for the traditional New York Publishing Deal? Barry Eisler famously announced his move to self-publishing on the same day news broke that self-pubbed phenom Amanda Hocking was involved in a huge auction for a traditionally pubbed deal. For me, that was a perfect example of how things change, yet stay the same. And the stigma of “self-publishing” seems to have gone the way of the dodo. Is it safe to say we may have two markets forming? To steal from Dr. Suess, are we facing a sneech market – only some have stars on thars?

Ebooks and Eisler and Hocking, oh my!

People have been writing about the publishing sky falling ever since I’ve been in the business. But it ain’t fallen yet, and there’s no reason to think it’ll happen now. I’m going to give a pretty long-winded answer covering a bunch of ebook things, so bear with me.

Look, there’s no question things are changing rapidly, and where they ultimately end up, nobody knows. There are people who claim they know — but they don’t know. They’re just grinding their own axes. At my office – and I’m sure it’s the same for all the other publishers – we keep a constant eye every day on the sales in both print and ebook, and keep adjusting as we go. The main question is not whether ebooks will drive out print books, because nobody with any common sense really believes that, it’s what the ratio will be. Right now, the ebook slice of the market across the industry is about 15%. That’s 15%, not 50%. That differs, of course, from author to author and book to book. Your mileage may vary!

But it’s not going to stay at 15%, we all know that. So we keep recalibrating, on the books for which we’re about to push the button, the books we’ll be publishing six months from now, the books for which we’re drawing up the p&ls to buy for next year and the year after that. We have to figure: How many books do we think we’re going to initial ship, how many should we print, is it less than the writer’s book last year, do we think ebooks will make up the difference? And of course it’s not just ebooks that affect those numbers. We’ve got to take Borders into consideration, too, and the continuing state of the economy.

But some people think we – the so-called “traditional” publishers, the “legacy” publishers — should be feeling somewhat suicidal about ebooks – and that’s just a myth. Yeah, there are changes we have to adapt to, but, you know, that’s always been the case. If you can’t do that, then you don’t belong in this business. The bottom line is: Ebooks are a big part of our future. We like them. We sell them. It’s a different channel, a different format, but it’s the same book. And it’s opening up new markets.

Let’s just look at where we were last year at this time. The iPad had only just been announced, the Nook had only been shipping for a few months, there was no Google books or iBookstore, many of the bookselling apps didn’t exist. One of the bellwethers of electronics is the Consumer Electronics Show in January every year. Last year, the big news was that 8 or 9 different kinds of ereaders were introduced, because the manufacturers finally saw enough upside to make it worth pouring R&D money into them. This year in January, the big news was tablets – nearly 100 different kinds of tablets were introduced. They had all kinds of functions and affiliations and specialties, and many of them will probably never actually see the light of day, but the one thing that most of them – maybe all of them – have in common is: apps. And among them will be bookselling apps and reading apps. And the more ways you have to buy a book, the more ways you have to read a book, the more formats and platforms you have…the more books you’re going to sell. That’s the bottom line. We’re going to sell more books – and so are you.

Now, as to Barry Eisler and Amanda Hocking and the whole ebook self-publishing thing, it was obviously really interesting to everybody to see those two pieces of news on the very same day – just another sign, to all sides in the question, that no matter what your viewpoint, no matter what you think you know… you don’t know.

Barry thinks he can make more money publishing just in ebooks, and maybe he can. We don’t know. We do know that in giving up print books, he’s giving up that huge chunk of the market that is still print. Whether he can make that up, even with the larger share of the royalties he gets, that’s a lot of ground. I know he’s got a lot of stats and calculations up on his blog and elsewhere, but it’s still a lot of ground. In his favor is that he’s going back to the John Rain series. The last two non-Rain books never caught on, so I think people will be very glad to have the series back, and I expect that they’ll be ebook bestsellers. But they might also have been print bestsellers. His last Rain book was very high up on the Times extended list – it would only have taken another book or two at most to break through on that series. So his ebooks are going to do well – but he could have done well in both formats. So I think he’s giving up a lot. But we’ll all see together!

And Amanda Hocking — nobody’s done better than she has with self-published ebooks, she’s amazing, but as I’m sure you’ve all read, the reason she sold that YA paranormal series to St Martin’s was twofold: She was bothered by the fact that nobody could buy her books in bookstores, and she was a little fed up with spending 40 hours a week answering emails, formatting books, designing jackets, hiring editors, and all the rest of it. She just wanted to concentrate on writing. Does anyone here think she’s not going to sell a ton of that series in print? In addition to the ebooks? She could be the new Stephanie Meyer. But, again, we’ll see. I’m not claiming I know, because: See previous statement. Nobody knows.

Now, I think if anyone reading this is considering ebook self-publishing, here’s the thing that’s most important. There are advantages and disadvantages, and you have to decide what’s right for you — for your situation, not anybody else’s, not Eisler or Hocking or anybody.

The disadvantages are that: a) you are giving up that print market completely except for whatever you might get using print on demand, and b) it’s all on you. Not only the editing and the formatting and the covers, but promotion. You think it’s crazy now getting attention to your book? Mix it in with the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of ebooks pouring out, then see how hard it is. The odds of becoming Amanda Hocking or John Locke or any of the other names you hear are pretty slim.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t make some money at it. That’s the biggest advantage. If you’ve got some OP books, or a book that’s a departure from what you usually do, or some short stories – you don’t have to sell huge amounts. If you just make your rent every month, that’s money you didn’t have.

There are just two things I’d ask. First, think about consulting with your publisher, if you already have one. He’s already put time and money into you, don’t forget — and he might be interesting in working with you. On April 26th, for instance, we’ll be publishing a short story by CJ Box as an eSpecial. All the etailers will have it. His new book, Cold Wind, came out on March 22nd – and here a short detour: This was the 11th book in the series…and the first to go on the New York Times bestseller list. I can’t tell you how happy that made us all. It’s a tribute to the old-fashioned way of making a bestseller: book by book till you break through! Anyway –detour over — the short story features his main series characters, Joe Pickett and Nate Romanowski, and we’ll be publishing the story shortly after he gets off tour. It’s designed to give both him and his book an extra promotional bump once the first waves of promotion and reviews are over – and to make some extra money all by itself.

That’s the first thing. The second is: If you’re thinking of self-publishing an ebook, please—don’t make it a manuscript dump. Most ms never see the light of day for an excellent reason – they’re not very good. Before you put your book up there, make sure you really think it’s ready. Respect your readers. Because there’s enough crap published already, in all formats. And really if, through all the noise, you do get people to read your self-published book, and they don’t think it’s good – you’ve lost them as customers. And that’s simply bad business. You are in a business, you know.

Now that the NY Times is more representative of how most (not all) books are selling, both eBook and print, does it change its relevance?

An excellent question – I don’t know. It certainly doesn’t change anything yet. You’ll notice that the great majority of the books on the New York Times ebook bestseller lists are the same titles as on the print lists – the promo and readership driving one are the same elements that are driving the other — so I’m not sure if anybody’s really using the ebook lists for anything in particular right now. But they’re very new – let’s see what happens. Meanwhile, it’s interesting to see what kind of new things do manage to peek through.

I applaud the entrepreneurial spirit that is the eBook original author. But sometimes, those authors are foregoing the most important part of finishing a novel – the editor. So many editors were laid off on Black Friday last year – is there an opportunity here?

Black Friday was nothing unique. As long as there’s been publishing, there’ve been editors (and agents and writers) who’ve become freelance editors, for a multitude of reasons, and a book is still a book. Whether you’re planning to publish in print or digitally, you still need a discerning editorial eye to help you get the book in its best possible shape. If you skip that step, you’re just asking for trouble.

What role do independent bookstores play in the new landscape?

Independent bookstores – in fact, all bricks-and-mortar bookstores – are still very, very important players. The things they provide in terms of bringing books to our attention, arranging events, making recommendations, providing services, giving us a place to actually look and feel and browse, are irreplaceable to book buyers. It’s simply not the same online. And the indies will be selling ebooks, too – some of them already are.

Will the agent’s role change and shift with the new market?

First of all, again – most of the business is still print. Ebooks have not taken over the universe. Agents bring a lot of value to the table, and I think that’ll continue to be true. But you know what you should do? Ask an agent to respond to your readers on Murderati. I can guarantee you they’ve all been thinking long and hard about this very subject, and I’ll bet they have some things they’d like to get off their chests!*

So many authors now are crossing genres, writing for multiple houses, and literally working their fingers to the bone. Is it better to focus on a single series, or type of book, or try your hand at whatever story you think will work best? Are authors spreading themselves too thin trying to capture the market trends?

First of all, I’m always worried when authors chase trends, because trends are transitory and can dry up in the blink of an eye. Plus, if you’re chasing trends, your heart’s often not in it, and it’ll show in your work – it won’t have the passion that makes for great reads.

The danger in working in multiple genres is that readers who like one kind of book won’t necessarily care for the others. You want them to keep coming back to you, book after book, and if they don’t know what to expect, you’ve muddied the waters. I always advocate that writers find what they’re best at, and really concentrate on it, so that their audience builds and builds. Of course, sometimes your audience is so strong that it’ll follow you anywhere – just be really sure of it. And if you do have something you want to try, and you’re not sure if they’ll go for it or you actually want to try for a new kind of audience, there’s always that trusty standby, the pseudonym: consumer-tested and effective for centuries!

Is there any good way to gauge outward success anymore?  Do reviews in the NYT, huge print runs and co-op matter the way they used to? I saw Jean Auel’s print run of 1,000,000 copies was halved in anticipation of eBook sales. Is that a common trend?

My opening line here is the same as for the agent discussion above: Ebooks have not taken over the universe. Print is still the biggest piece of the business by far. So, yes, these all matter.

Reviews: The biggest selling tool for books – the most valuable, by far — is word of mouth, and good reviews help spark word of mouth. So do recommendations (especially from friends, colleagues, family members), and media (print, electronic, digital, you name it). And this is true no matter what form the book is in.

Coop: So if you’ve heard some word of mouth, and you walk into a store, and it’s right there on a front table staring you in the face – your odds are much better that you’re likely to at least give it a second look, maybe pick it up, right? Or if you get an email from Amazon or saying that if you buy that book right now, they’ll give you 30% off, you might consider taking advantage of that offer, right? That’s why coop matters.

Print runs: I discussed above the adjustments in print runs that all publishers are doing on a regular basis in response to the growth in ebooks. However, some of that adjustment  still comes from the lasting effects of the recession, as well – as soon as the economy got rocky, all the accounts became much more careful about their ordering, and that remains the case today. Instead of ordering several weeks’ worth upfront, they order a short-term amount, and then if there’s movement they quickly come back for reorders. All of that naturally reduces the initial printing. The most important thing for publishers when planning print runs is to be realistic – to assess the market for a particular book, add up the advance orders, add a suitable cushion, and then be prepared to go back to press immediately as circumstances dictate.

This is a touchy one. At Left Coast Crime last week, David Morrell pointed out that only about 1,000 authors are actually earning a living as full-time writers. Assuming that the numbers are correct, and 175,000 books are published in any given year, that means less than 1% of authors make a living as full-time writers. Why? And what can we do to change that?

I couldn’t tell you if David’s figure is correct or not, but the gist of it is nothing new. It’s always been true that most writers don’t support themselves full-time from their writing (in the back of my mind, for instance, I remember a 1979 survey of American authors which showed that the median annual income for them then was less than $5,000!). It’s also just as true for most actors, artists, musicians, etc. “Don’t give up your day job” isn’t just a saying, it’s been a standard piece of advice from veterans to newbies in the creative arts ever since I can remember.

For authors who are feeling the pressure of having to spread themselves to thin, and the peril that lies in not foregoing marketing to work on your actual book, any advice?

I think I may well have said this before in one of my interviews here, but, yes, it’s all about balance. You have to balance the needs of your writing – my mantra here is always: The book comes first – with the needs of your promotion. Both are important – but you can’t do everything. You just can’t. And the amount you can do is different for everybody. You have to look at your own unique situation, see what’s most important, see what needs your effort and for how long (not forgetting that you also have a life that needs tending outside of writing!) and what’s superfluous. Then you adjust according to what’s right for you – and you keep on adjusting, because “what’s right” is going to change as you go along.

Will the traditional book tour be a casualty of the new shift in publishing?

It might be – if print books no longer existed. But they do, don’t they? And how else is a fan going to meet and connect with a favorite author, live and in person?


For all of the next four questions, I make no judgments about “best” or “favorite” – they’re just things that have given me a lot of pleasure!

Best books from April to April?

Last year: Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter; Emma Donoghue’s Room; Tana French’s Faithful Place – fabulous books, all.

This year so far: Kate Atkinson’s Started Early, Took My Dog; Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!; Julia Spencer-Fleming’s One Was a Soldier —  if you haven’t read ‘em, don’t wait.

Favorite movies?

Nothing this year so far makes my list, but last year! Winter’s Bone (brilliant). That great Aussie crime movie, Animal Kingdom (put it on your Netflix queue immediately!). That equally great Argentine crime movie, The Secret in Their Eyes (ditto!), the Swedish Girl trilogy (the first one was by far the best, but as a trilogy, an impressive piece of work – I’m looking forward to what David Fincher does with the American versions). The Town (a big shout-out to Ben Affleck for laying it all on the line – directing, writing, starring – and bringing it off beautifully). And last, but certainly not least, Toy Story 3 – seriously, why is it that Pixar is the only Hollywood studio to consistently get the one basic fact: Give people good stories with characters they care about, and they’ll come running. Something we should all think about as we do our books, right?

Your favorite bottle of wine?

Right now on my table: a great Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc and a lovely Greek red called Paros Reserve.

Best restaurant in New York?

There’s no such thing as a best restaurant in New York – there are just too many good ones. But if you’re ever up in my neighborhood, JT, I’ll take you and Randy to my favorite neighborhood restaurant, an Italian wine bar and grill named Cavatappo, for a meal of fried olives, gnocchi, pistachio-crusted salmon, a pear and almond tart to die for, and a splendid Italian red!

*  Editor’s Note: As we were preparing this interview – an agent happened to address the role question. Click here to see what Rachelle Gardner from WordServe Literary has to say.


Neil S. Nyren is senior vice president, publisher and editor in chief of G.P. Putnam’s Sons. He came to Putnam in 1984 from Atheneum, where he was Executive Editor. Before that he held editorial positions at Random House and Arbor House. Some of the author’s he’s edited are Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, Jack Higgins, W.E.B. Griffin, John Sandford, Dave Barry, Daniel Silva, Ken Follett, Alex Berenson, Randy Wayne White, CJ Box, Carol O’Connell, James O. Born, Patricia Cornwell and Frederick Forsyth; and non-fiction by Bob Schieffer, Maureen Dowd, John McEnroe, Linda Ellerbee, Jeff Greenfield, Charles Kuralt, Secretary of State James Baker III, Thomas P.M. Barnett, Sara Nelson, and Generals Fred Franks, Chuck Horner, Carl Stiner, Tony Zinni and Wendy Merrill.

Meet Author River Jordan


JT Ellison

I have a friend named River Jordan.

That’s her on the right. Isn’t she pretty?

River is an incredibly accomplished woman: a radio personality, a playwright, and author. She’s also one of those people who you want to turn to in troubled times, and one of those people you want to turn to in celebratory times. River is… special. I don’t know how else to put it. She’s got this grace, this humility, that’s rare in the ego-driven creative world. She spends the vast majority of her non-writing time promoting others: having authors on her radio show, sharing their books on her various blogs, connecting people with folks who can help their careers. She always has a smile on her face. She’s always inspired me personally, because she’s the kind of person I like to emulate. Add to that a wicked sense of humor and a southern drawl that makes us all proud, and you’ve got a pretty unique package.

River has a new book coming out April 5. It’s a bit of a departure from her usual southern mystical work, books that always seem to find that bit of magic residing in the most common of situations, and the uncommon ones as well. When River told me about it, I got shivery, all over. Visceral, goose bumps, hair raising shivery.

It’s called PRAYING FOR STRANGERS. It is, like it’s author, something special. Not religious. Not preachy. But spiritual. Hopeful. Lovely.

As 2009 approached, New Year’s resolutions were the last thing on River Jordan’s mind. Her sons were both about to go off to war and all she could do was pray for their safety and hope to maintain her strength, until she unexpectedly came upon the perfect New Year’s resolution-one that focused on others instead of herself. She would pray for a complete stranger every single day for a year.

In Praying for Strangers, River Jordan tells of her amazing personal journey of uncovering the needs of the human heart as she prayed her way through the year for people she had never met before. The discovery that Jordan made along the journey was not simply that her prayers touched the lives of these strangers, but that the unexpected connections she made with other people would be a profound experience that would change her life forever.

And today, I’d like to share my dear friend River, with you. Considering it a little blessing from me to you on this fine Friday. I’m running around Washington D.C. right now, researching the new book, so bear with me comments wise….

Without further ado (if I keep going she’s gonna strangle me, in a loving way, of course) meet River Jordan.

Tell us about how Praying For Strangers was born.

From this moment, standing in my kitchen packing to meet the family in the mountains for a major gathering before ‘the boys’ were deployed. You know how you’ll get an idea for a novel setting, plot, or character? It was just like that except – New Year’s Resolution – Pray for a Stranger everyday.

Are your boys both home safe and sound now?

They are both stateside. One of them has orders to deploy again already. I’m a worrying kind of Mom. My son was here yesterday and drove off late last night in the rain and I’m saying, “Oh, be careful, be careful! Those roads are so wet out there.” I sound just like my Grandmother.

Have any of your “strangers” been in touch now that the book is coming out?

One person just called me because we struck up a conversation and I told her she was my stranger as we were deboarding the plane and I gave her my card. They haven’t really had a way to contact me as no one knew about the book exactly, how to find the website, etc.  But I had the pleasure of running into some of those strangers again and delighted in doing so. All of them were in happier places when I saw them again. The woman so down about her kitchen being torn apart had pictures of it rebuilt, the girl that had been hungry at lunch, crying and without money, was all smiles and getting ready to graduate, the woman whose grandchild had really been in trouble whispered to me that things were much better in that area. That kind of thing.

Do you have a favorite story relating to the book or the people in it?

I think my favorite is really the over-all story. The fact that it has been such an eye-opening, heart-warming experience to me and that this tiny thing has meant so much to these people on any given day I met them. But I remember the stories, the moments, and so many of them have been really spiritually poignant. They still impact me.

You’ve been predominantly a fiction writer up to now. How different was it to write non-fiction?

I think due to the fact that the book is also part spiritual memoir it was very difficult. I am a very private person. Not that I don’t love people and joke around but some of those cards I keep really close to my chest. Mostly, the ones about my prayer life. And now I’ve written this very raw, personal book. It was hard. No lie. I love losing myself in fictional stories, characters and strange places. There was no hiding on this one.

Will you do it again?

People are already asking me if I will write a follow up to Praying for Strangers. Since it has been such a rich read and rewarding experience for the people reading it I can’t rule that out. Occasionally, I bump into a true story about a person, or place. I think – Oh, that would make a great book but so far I haven’t gotten around to putting any of those thoughts on paper. I have about three novels that are wanting me to really sit down and get those words on page.

If you had to pick one thing, what do you think is the most effective use of a writer’s time?

Writing. I think we can drown; I can drown, in the publicity end of things these days. So much of a writers work is about that now. Publishers expect it and readers love to have a connection of some kind with their writers. We can research, pitch, talk, and do the wild dance all we want but nothing takes the places of locking yourself away for hours or days and doing the real work of writing.

You’ve been a driving force behind what we in Nashville call the Dutch Lunch, a monthly gathering of people tied to publishing: writers, editors, agents, librarians, readers, etc.  Why is it important to have these face-to-face events?

We need each other beyond our two-second tags on facebook, comments, and tweets. It’s about relationship really. And I love some of those round tables that have included people from all facets of the book life. It helps to look around that table and see an agent, publicist, reviewer, and all the people you mention and say – Yes, this is who we are collectively. Sometimes writers feel very isolated also. Strangely unplugged. It was a way and still is for us to spend a little time together breaking bread and telling stories.

You also have an amazingly engaging radio show. Tell us a bit about that.

The radio show has been continuing for about three years now. I always think I’ll stop doing it just because it’s very energy and time consuming. But I love it. It’s really a mixture of things that I adore – writers, a few great tunes, literary news and reviews – all with a touch of good attitude. When one of my guests, an Irish writer, told me his parents (who are from the old country) were getting up early on the West Coast, driving to someone’s house who had a computer and sitting by it so they could listen to the show their son was on live and streaming, well, that just touched my heart so much. I thought, I can’t stop doing this!

How do you manage your time? Or are you an organic being?

I’m way too organic. I try to block off hours for this, days for that – and occasionally throw in a load of laundry in the process. Then there are taxes, bills, and the life overload. So, I must confess, lately, with the novel out last fall, editing, the new memoir now, radio and life – I have to carve out that writing time for the new novel like riding a wild beast.

You come from a playwright background. Will you ever return to the theater?

I’m always writing plays in my mind. Particularly, when I’m listening to family members tell stories. Or just talk. The thing about theatre is you can write a play alone in your room if you want but that would be the tiniest of beginnings. It’s a group process. You need actors, a director, people who are good and who you trust. You must listen to the words; see if your cross-lines are working. I would have to be at a place in my life where I had the time and access to work with an ensemble like that.

What’s next for River Jordan?

God only knows. This is going to be a very, unusual year for me. Safe to say, I’ve never been in this place before. My gypsy blood says it’s okay. The adventure continues.


River Jordan is a critically acclaimed novelist and playwright. Her fourth novel, The Miracle of Mercy Land, a southern mystical work set in 1938, features a protagonist full of moxie and a ‘backbone of worthy’ in this suspenseful story about love, mystery, and the choices we make. Jordan’s first non-fiction narrative, Praying for Strangers: An Adventure of the Human Spirit arrives from Penguin/Berkley in Hardcover April 5, 2011. She speaks around the country on the “Power of Story,” and produces and hosts the radio program, Clearstory on 107.1 FM from Nashville, TN where she makes her home.

For more on PRAYING FOR STRANGERS, click here

Christmas Eve(sdropping)

by JT Ellison

Well, Merry Christmas Eve! I don’t know about you, but I’m taking a bit of a break. A few days of no work, and all play. Of wrapping and cookies and family. My blood relatives, that is, I feel like all of you are family too. If you celebrate, may I wish you a very merry Christmas. And to all – a brilliant New Year!

Two of my favorite writers have new books out, and I thought it would be nice to share them with you. Libby Fischer Hellman and I go way back – we’ve run into each other at conferences for years. And Michelle Gagnon and I debuted together at Mira back in 2007. Libby’s new book, SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE, has been garnering praise from all quarters. Michelle’s newest thriller, KIDNAP AND RANSOM, is ripped from the headlines of the drug wars in Mexico. These are two seriously talented chicks, my friends.




I owed them both a gust spot here at Murderati, so I thought it would be fun to have a chat between the three of us. We managed to cover a lot of ground. Without further ado, here is the chick chat.


 This is now a group chat. Libby Hellmann has joined. Michelle Gagnon has joined.


JT: We’re all here!


Michelle: Yay! Just an FYI, there might be a few pauses if I have to deal with a testy 4 year old. I forgot school would already be out. But I’ll do my best to keep them brief.


Libby: I love technology when it works! Hi, Michelle.


Michelle:  Hi Libby!


JT: I thought we could talk a bit about each of your books, what’s going on in your writing lives, how you’re coping with all the crazy changes (if you’re seeing any on your end, our main bookstore just closed)


Michelle: I just saw that the B&N on Fisherman’s Wharf is closing, so it’s not just the indies…


JT: Scary


Michelle: So scary. Ed at M is for Mystery gave the most depressing State of the Industry talk ever at the Xmas party.


Libby: I think the B&Ns and Borders are next on the list of dinosaurs. Actually, I think indies might, if they’re still around, be okay. There are still a lot of readers out there who want the direction and guidance of indie booksellers.


Michelle: I wonder if the new Google books app will help them?


Libby: Especially now that Google is making their ebook store available to indies… Great minds, Michelle…


Michelle: Ah, Libby, great minds… lol


Libby: Jinx


JT: Will ebooks from Google save the indies? Or will they be the place we go to get all nostalgic fro the ways things used to be?


Libby: Both.


Michelle: I think possibly both. I’m not entirely clear on how the Indies get paid via Google.


Libby: I’m not sure of the profit structure between Google and indies, and frankly I’m not sure if there might not be a backlash against ereaders sometime soon…


Michelle: I think that part of the problem is that as everything moves online, online groups will fill the void indies now occupy in terms of finding lesser known books. Wow, Libby, we really do think alike!


Libby: We do. It’s scary. The issue about moving online…. Here’s what I still don’t get. How will people KNOW where to go to find lesser known authors? I think it’s still TBD


JT: Are you both purposefully seeking out new authors through the indies to help counteract the ebook revolution?


Michelle: I don’t know. I have to say I never would have heard of Lenny Kleinfeld’s fantastic debut if it weren’t for the Amazon group Libby and I both subscribe to. Because it was published by 5 Star, few indies knew about it either, even Lenny’s local bookstore. I have to say, most of the new authors I’ve discovered have been online or via word of mouth. Sad but true.


Libby: They are, btw, some of the most knowledgeable people I’ve ever communicated with. But even the most popular thread for us only has 300 plus members on it.


Michelle: I still think the internet is a fad.


JT: LOL. I just read Hamlet’s Blackberry, and Powell talks about how in times of great change, there’s always this feeling that things won’t last. Like the written word during Plato’s time. It was just catching on, but Socrates thought it was a disaster and wouldn’t last. I think that’s what’s happening with ebooks.


Libby: Boy, would I like to believe that, Michelle, but I’m not convinced. I’m looking at the promotion I’m doing for STNOF and I have to say that 80 per cent of it is online.


JT: I agree.


Michelle: Almost all of the promotion for my last thriller was done online. Although the only personal appearances I made were at independent bookstores.


Libby: Me too. And a few libraries.


Michelle: Exactly


JT: Interesting. Any particular reason you didn’t hit chains?


Michelle: Honestly, there are more indies here than chain stores. And I haven’t had great luck touring the chains. I always end up sitting at a table directing people to the bathroom.


Libby: For me it’s easy. I’m with a small publisher and getting them to carry my books is like the myth of Sisyphus. They just won’t do it.


Michelle: I think that people aren’t as likely here (in San Francisco) to attend events at the chain stores.


JT: I’ve had the exact opposite issue. Many indies haven’t carried me in the past, but the chains sold me like mad.


Libby: Which is one reason I like internet promotion. Every book, every author, starts out with equal footing online.


Michelle: Interesting…


JT: Yeah. You’re both on ebook, right?


Michelle: Yes, on Kindle but not the iBookstore yet.


Libby: Yes… all my books are on Kindle and Smashwords and the other etailers.


JT: Are you seeing any uptick in sales?


Libby: Absolutely. But it it’s the result of conscious ebook promotion on my part.


Michelle: At least on Amazon, my ebook sales outpaced physical book sales three to one for the latest release. It was actually pretty staggering.


Libby: Wow. That’s impressive, Michelle!


JT: Holy crap.


Michelle: I know. And I have to say, those ebooks are a godsend in terms of the backlist.


Libby: Actually, that’s happening with STNOF too, although it’s only been out a few weeks.


Michelle: I really think those Amazon discussion groups make a big difference.


JT: I haven’t gotten my ebook numbers for my October release, you’re talking about your November release, right? Kidnap and Ransom?


Michelle: Yes – but I use Novelrank to keep track of Amazon sales. Supposed to be fairly accurate.


Libby: They must be, Michelle. Or something.


JT: Novelrank? I’ve never heard of it. Will be signing up for THAT asap.


Libby: I don’t know Novelrank.


Michelle: It’s amazing. And sadly addictive. It tracks all of your books and estimates sales based on changing rankings minute by minute.


Libby: Well, we can add that to the list. Have you seen the new stuff on Author Central at Amazon? Amazing.


Michelle: Yes, I love that we can finally access Bookscan numbers. Amazon must have paid a fortune for that.


JT: Love that. It’s so nice actually getting a snapshot. I use Publisher’s Alley, but that’s just Baker & Taylor.


Libby: I heard a rumor they may be buying it.


JT: Amazon buying Bookscan?


Michelle: Really?


Libby: And I heard Bookscan is only 25% of your total sales.


JT: I’ve heard 60%


Libby: Yes. That’s what I hear.


Michelle: Much less for ours, actually- have you found the same, JT?


Libby: Gee, are you surprised?


JT: So Libby, you go first. Tell us about your new book, SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE, and the fabulous new PW review you just got!


Libby: Well, the review called it a “first rate stand-alone thriller”. Not that I’ve memorized it or anything. It went on to say it was “insightful and fascinating…” I can live with that.


JT: A fitting description, of both the book, and the author. Michelle, you reviewed Libby. What do you think, does PW capture it?


Michelle: Absolutely- it’s a fantastic read!


Libby: It’s the story of past and present and how the repercussions of the past still influence events in the present.


Michelle: Loved it.


Libby: Thanks, Michelle. I’m so happy you did. I was really, really nervous about this one… because it’s a standalone. My first. And because there are more characters than I usually have in my novels.


Michelle: So different writing a standalone, isn’t it? My new book is a standalone. You did a wonderful job of developing even the more minor characters, though, Libby.


Libby: I really like the freedom of a standalone.


JT: Oooh, talk about that. What’s different?


Libby: You can plot the character development more carefully and not have to think about future arcs, for one thing. You can also have incredible obstacles thrust at your protagonists and not have to worry if you’re “using them all up”…


Michelle: I’ve discovered that it took some time to really hear the voices. Starting the series books where I knew at least two of the characters really well was like starting on first base. That’s true about future arcs, though. And about “using them up.”


Libby: That’s true Michelle… but for me it was liberating not to have to write in Ellie or Georgia’s voice.


Michelle: It was a nice break. In some ways felt like I’d spent the past six years at a continuous cocktail party with a group of people who I largely loved. But six years is a long time to be with anybody.


Libby: I can relate. The other thing I love about the standalone format is that I can make the characters anyone they want to be. They don’t necessarily start out being heroic… or assertive… or even noble. I don’t have to worry about their interior make-up. Their actions on the page will show readers what they’re made of. And then they’re gone! Poof… I don’t have to deal with them anymore.


Michelle: I’ve been writing a lot slower – partly because I’m not on a strict deadline, so I have the luxury of time, but also because I want to give the story time to simmer. With the series books, even though I don’t plot them out in advance, I always kind of knew what was coming. With the new book, I’ve constantly been surprised. You did have some very noble characters in STNOF though, Libby. I liked that by and large everyone’s motivations were very clear.


Libby: Thanks for your comments, Michelle, about the FIRE characters. What I love about your writing, Michelle, is your relentless sense of pacing. At least in KIDNAP AND RANSOM, there wasn’t a wasted page. I don’t know how you did it! How did you come up with all the obstacles and permutations?


Michelle: I actually ended up trimming about 10,000 words off the first draft.


Libby: You’re kidding.


Michelle: Thanks for saying so – I did aim for that with K&R. I tend to overwrite, then go back and get rid of any extraneous scenes


JT: Michelle, tell us about KIDNAP AND RANSOM, your new thriller.


Michelle: So basically the idea for K&R came to me when I was researching US/Mexico border issues for The Gatekeeper. I stumbled across a story on the recent kidnapping of the world’s foremost hostage negotiator.


Libby: Irony of ironies…


Michelle: And I was struck by the irony of the hero becoming the victim (which ended up as the tagline on the cover) The most ironic part was that he was in Mexico to give a speech at a conference on the recent uptick in kidnappings. Yet oddly there was no ransom demand, and none of the drug cartels claimed responsibility. So K&R is about the attempt to rescue him, and a (fictionalized) reason for why he might have been taken in the first place.


Libby: Did he ever turn up in reality?


Michelle: Not yet. It’s been two years this month.


Libby: He’s gone.


Michelle: I think so. It’s been terrible for his family not to know for certain. I received an email about a week after the book came out from another guy who had been at a restaurant with him the night he was taken.


JT: Michelle, does that make you uncomfortable, being right in the mix with a crime, or did it enhance the story?


Michelle: A bit. I received a few other emails too regarding the negotiator. However I (hopefully) made it very clear in my author’s note that I write fiction, and this was not intended to reflect him in any way, shape, or form. It’s just where the idea originated. I like starting with something grounded in reality, however. I’ve done that to some degree with each book.


Libby: Me too. I do that also.


Michelle: And Libby’s latest is all about that. What I loved was learning more about a time period that I didn’t know very well.


Libby: I lived through it. Many of the scenes actually happened.


Michelle: That’s amazing! Where did the young Native American boy story come from?


JT: background, please!


Libby: That was pure fiction. I knew I needed something to tie Alix and Dar together, and the boy served his purpose. Background: Parts 1 and 3 take place in the present. Part 2 starts in 1968 and goes thru 1970 in Chicago.

The protagonist in Part 1, Lila Hilliard, is a 30s something professional who finds out her parents are not the people she thought they were. Part 2 is the backstory of who her parents really were and how they were all connected. It’s basically about 6 people who lived together in a commune after meeting at the Democratic Convention. Part 3 is what Lila does as a result of knowing her parents’ history.


Michelle: It was a fascinating story, very intricate and yet really well woven.


Libby: Thank you, Michelle.


JT: I can’t wait to read it! It sounded fascinating when we were talking back in Nashville in October. So let’s talk a bit about the community. Best places to meet and mingle with writers?

Libby: Google chat?


Michelle: Good one, Libby! Bouchercon, hands down. Facebook too, for the day to day. I have to put myself on a Facebook diet. If I had a real job, I’d probably spend 75% of the day at the water cooler. It’s a problem.


JT: That’s the fun of the conferences, I think. The essence of being in a huge office building with all your peers.


Libby: Actually, I’m not so high on big conferences anymore. Sure, you can say hi, how are you… but it’s fairly superficial. I learned more about you JT in Nashville than any other conference that we’ve both attended. So I guess I like the smaller venues.


JT: I like the small ones too. It’s easier to get to know people.


Libby: What gets to me at conferences is the need to be on all the time. I’d rather chat informally, either on line or on Skype… or, now that I have my iPhone, Facetimes!


Michelle: Oh, how is Facetime? I haven’t used it yet.


Libby: Facetime is amazing! My daughter and I use it all the time… like of like a mini Skype.


Michelle: I haven’t been to a lot of smaller conferences. Aside from Book Passage in Marin, which is amazing.


Libby: I’ve heard. What do you have to do to get invited? Sell your first-born?


Michelle: Pretty much. They gave mine back, though.


JT: Favorite book you read this year (aside from each others, of course)


Michelle: FAITHFUL PLACE by Tana French


Libby: That’s a tough one. Probably Daniel Woodrell’s WINTER’S BONE. I loved it. Also enjoyed SAVAGES by Don Winslow.


Michelle: I haven’t heard of Woodrell! (See how useful the online word of mouth can be?)


JT: There’s a new movie made out of Woodrell’s. I just bought the book, It looks…deep.


Libby: The movie was beautiful too. Really well done.


Michelle: Which movie?




Michelle: Great, thanks


Libby: It’s set in Appalachia, in the middle of meth labs and extreme poverty.


Michelle: These are a few of my favorite things…


JT: Any predictions or resolutions for 2011?


Michelle: I always make the same resolution – to learn one new thing.


Libby: Stop procrastinating. I’m a wizard at it.


Michelle: This year…back handsprings. Because that window is surely closing for me. Oh, and less procrastinating on Facebook.


Libby: I used to be much more disciplined in my writing. Not any more.


JT: Why does that seem to happen? I’ve had that issue too. Is it because we’re stretched so thin across the online world, having to do marketing and promotion, that we have less time?


Michelle: I’ve been trying to just shut off my internet connection when I’m writing, because it’s far too easy when the writing lulls to think, “I wonder if any new email came in?” Or, “What’s happening on FB?” And then I’m off and gone…


Libby: I think so. And there are so many worthy distractions. FB, Twitter and all the links that follow… online reviews… I have to shut it off. Otherwise, I’m just fooling myself.


JT: Freedom. Works like a dream. I use it religiously.


Libby: Btw, JT, your husband hit the nail on the hammer with the elections.


Michelle: ?


JT: I know. Michelle, he’s a pollster.


Libby: See how ADD I’ve become?


Michelle: Exactly, we’re rapidly becoming an ADD nation


JT: Read Hamlet’s Blackberry. Truly fabulous look at how this has happened so many times in history.


Libby: oops.. it’s the hammer on the nail. Or something.


Michelle: Link?




Libby: See, I’ve learned two new things today… Novelrank and Hamlet’s Blackberry. I’m good for the next hour.


Michelle: Thanks! All I can say is don’t get involved with Angry Birds. You’ll lose hours every day


Libby: So I hear.


JT: Random – do you get dressed in the morning to write, or are you slovenly like me and work in yoga pants? And what’s your writing schedule like?


Libby: I LOVE days when I don’t have to shower or get dressed and all I have to do is write. Or pretend to. I write in my bathrobe half the time.


Michelle: Totally slovenly. To the point where the UPS guy thinks our place is a halfway house.


JT: Mine too.


Libby: I won’t even answer the door…


Michelle: It tends to be the only human interaction I get most days, so I make the most of it.


JT: LOL. Don’t you work in an office though, Michelle?


Michelle: Not anymore. Honestly, I get less work done when there are people around. I need total silence and a fridge nearby. I usually exercise first, and deal with minutiae in the mornings. Then I start writing after lunch.


JT: That’s my schedule too. I can’t do the coffee shop thing, I need solitude.


Libby: I try to write fresh material in the morning. Even if it’s only half done. Then I can spend the rest of the day refining it. My best writing sessions are when I set a timer for 45 minutes. I don’t answer email, the phone, the door, or anything. I just write. Not edit. Just write. Sometimes I feel like a monkey typing drivel. But eventually something worthwhile emerges. That may be all I do for the day, but putting it in shape takes the rest of my writing time.


Michelle: That’s a great idea, Libby. I’ve heard there’s actually a program that will prevent you from accessing email etc for periods of time


Libby: Then at the end of 45 minutes I give myself permission to check email, etc.


JT: I do that with Freedom. Set it for 60 minutes. Write my tail off. Then take a 5 minute break to check email. You can easily write 3K a day that way


Libby: Really? That much?


JT: Yeah. Writing, not editing.


Michelle: Signing up for it right after this. Oh, and after I check my email. And Facebook. And play a Lexulous move.


JT: It’s a great tool, if you use it.


Michelle: I aim for 2000-2500/day. About eight-ten pages. And I’ve decided that rather than feel guilty about it, I’ll just try to get as much done whenever that window opens up. Sometimes that means working at night


JT: Do you write every day, 5 days a week?


Michelle: I try, but that’s simply not always possible.


JT: Well, you have a toddler. That’s a challenge to creativity, right?


Michelle: Preschooler now. Great, but challenging. Plus I’m trying to get her into Kindergarten right now, which is a part time job in and of itself.


JT: I’m not up on the kid lingo


Libby: I try for 5 days a week. But my kids are grown and out of the house.


Michelle: That must make it easier…


Libby: Easier, and when I don’t do it, guiltier too.


Libby: OK. So that’s my resolution. A 45 minute session every day. Whether it ends up 3K words or not.


JT: I can’t even imagine. What are we missing here?


Libby: I don’t know, but if you find you are missing things, just let us know by email….


Michelle: Absolutely- email is the easiest way to reach me. And I’m around this week.


Libby: Boy, now you have to make this seem like a logical, intelligent conversation. I’m sorry for you…


Michelle: This was great, JT. Thanks so much again.


Libby: It’s been fun. Really. Have a great holiday, ladies.


Michelle: I know, I was thinking the exact same thing Libby! Happy holidays!!!


JT: Have a fabulous week, ladies, and Happy New Year! Don’t forget to stop by Murderati and answer questions Friday! xoxox


Libby: I’m so glad this worked… it was my first time using Google chat!


Michelle: Definitely. See you both then… xoxoxo


Libby: Will do, JT. See youse both.



With the release of SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE, Libby Fischer Hellman will have published seven novels by the end of 2010. About her fifth novel, EASY INNOCENCE, the Chicago Tribune said, “There’s a new no-nonsense detective in town… Tough and smart enough to give even the legendary V.I. Warshawski a run for her money.” They were referring to Georgia Davis, Libby Hellmann’s PI protagonist in the thriller. Davis returned, paired with amateur sleuth Ellie Foreman, in Hellmann’s sixth crime fiction thriller, DOUBLEBACK (2009), which was selected as a Great Lakes Booksellers’ Association “2009 Great Read.”


Michelle Gagnon is a former modern dancer, bartender, dog walker, model, personal trainer, and Russian supper club performer. Her bestselling thrillers have been published in North America, France, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Australia. BONEYARD was a finalist for a 2009 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. She lives in San Francisco with her family.


Wine of the Week: Hot Spiced Christmas Wine


  • 2 oranges
  • 2 (750 milliliter) bottles red wine
  • 1 (750 milliliter) bottle white wine
  • 1 (3 inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, or to taste
  • 1/4 cup brandy (optional)


  1. Use a sharp knife or a vegetable peeler to remove the zest from the oranges in strips, being careful to remove only the orange part, leaving the pith behind. Then, juice the oranges into a large, heavy-bottomed pot.
  2. Pour the red wine and white wine into the pot with the orange juice. Place the strips of orange zest, ginger, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and brown sugar into the pot with the wine mixture; stir to dissolve the sugar.
  3. Cover and heat over medium-high until heated through, but not boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low and heat for an hour or longer to bring all of the flavors together. Adjust the sweetness by adding more brown sugar, as necessary. Strain and serve hot with a splash of brandy, if desired.