Category Archives: Guest Blogger

Welcome Guest Blogger Sean Chercover

A Crazy Idea?  Or The Future of Publishing?
So, Trigger City is
out and I’m in the midst of my tour, town-to-town, up and down the dial
… which makes Tess’s post about the evolution of author tours even more
In order to ease the pain, I’d like to talk about a crazy idea.
I’ve often wondered why, with all the technology at our disposal, the
process of book cover selection hasn’t evolved.  It seems to me that a
book cover is just about the easiest thing in the world to
test-market.  It can even be done online.
potential book covers are shown around the publishing house, to the
author and author’s agent, and perhaps most importantly, to the buyers
at some of the bigger bookstore chains.
why not gather feedback from the front-line booksellers, indie stores,
librarians, book clubs, and readers across the country?
So I asked around, and mostly I heard that my idea was crazy, and variations on, “That’s just not the way we do things.”  But the forward-thinking folks at William Morrow were intrigued and agreed to let me share some of the book covers that were not chosen for Trigger City, and to gather feedback.
I’m psyched to offer you a glimpse behind the curtain and share a few
of these runner-up covers with you, along with a few words about the
deliberations that went into choosing. You can rate the different
designs, and we will share the feedback with the publisher.
This is just a fun experiment.  But looking forward, I see a time when we do this sort of thing before the final decision is made.  Wouldn’t that be cool?  Could this be the future?
Incidentally, I love the cover for Trigger City and
I think we chose the best one, but there were some other excellent
covers that didn’t get chosen, and I’m really curious to hear what
y’all think.
This interactive experiment takes place in the behind the scenes section of my website, here. When asked for username and password, enter "triggercity" (without the quotes) in both fields.
Let’s hear your opinion, on the covers and on this crazy idea…
big thank-you to the good folks at HarperCollins for allowing me to do
this … and a HUGE thank you to the awesome gang at Murderati for having
me as a guest blogger.]

-Sean, it was our pleasure!-

Formerly a private investigator in Chicago and New Orleans, Sean
Chercover has since written for film, television, and print. His debut
novel, Big City, Bad Blood, received the Gumshoe and
Crimespree Magazine awards for best first novel, was shortlisted for
the ITW Thriller and Arthur Ellis awards, and is nominated for the
Shamus, the Barry and the Anthony Awards.
When he’s not on the road, you can find him in Chicago or Toronto.  Trigger City is his second novel.


Brainstorming Rocks

Alex and half the rest of Murderati are in Baltimore at Bouchercon this weekend – we’ll all report back next week!

So please welcome today’s guest Blogger – T. Lynn Ocean


Some people try to get inside the heads of others because it’s what they do for a living. Psychiatrists, character actors, and hostage negotiators are a few examples. Me? I enjoy getting inside someone else’s head for research. I’m not talking about the generic emailed interview or even a face-to-face Q&A over lunch. What I’m referring to is brainstorming. Think cerebral orgy. Brainstorming with intelligent people is one of the most fun activities you can do with clothes intact! Imagine a game of Truth or Dare combined with Balderdash.

A down-and-dirty brainstorming session is good for any type of problem-solving, but since this is a Murderati blog, let’s say that you’re in the process of creating a character. She’s an elementary school teacher. Her plan is to kill the owner of a nearby dry cleaners, but she wishes to stay out of jail afterward. This simple setup can be the core of an hour-long brainstorming session that starts like this: If you were the teacher, how would YOU do it?

You can brainstorm with your spouse, friends and even strangers. If you’ve gathered the right type of open-minded and fun people, you’ll most likely walk away with several ideas on how the teacher can murder the business owner. One of the ideas just might be fresh, fabulous, and a perfect fit for your plot. If you decide to give brainstorming a try, choose your topic, have a notepad handy, and follow THE RULES:

First, anything goes. Second, no criticism is allowed.

The ‘anything goes’ rule is just as it sounds. Maybe the teacher isn’t a teacher at all. Maybe she doesn’t have a degree and she faked her resume. Maybe she is really a former pest control technician. And maybe the dry cleaners is experimenting with a new environmentally friendly cleaning solvent. Maybe there is a giant pothole in the road and a hubcap from a passing pickup truck knocked a vial of the solvent into a nearby Bloody Mary, and it turns out that the solvent is toxic when mixed with tomato juice.

What does any of this have to do with your main plot? Maybe nothing. But then again… the nature of brainstorming is that one idea fuels another, and that idea fuels another, and so on. It doesn’t matter if somebody verbalizes a thought that is wacky, tacky or totally unrealistic because someone else will take that cerebral stimulation and run with it. You’ll be surprised at the morsels that can turn up in a brainstorming session.

As for rule number two, no criticism, that one is simple. There is nothing that will bring a creative sharing of ideas to a screeching halt more quickly than a negative person spouting, “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” Or, “that would never happen.”

So the next time you’re working on a plot, planning a big event, or solving a problem at work—find some willing people, have a great time, and remember the rules.

Anything goes. No criticism allowed. Oh, yeah and one final thought. You might want to be careful where you have a brainstorming session, especially if you’re plotting ways to get away with murder.

Marital Marketing

by Roberta Isleib

(Clinical psychologist Roberta Isleib has just seen her eighth novel published in seven years. ASKING FOR MURDER is the third book in the series featuring advice columnist/psychologist Rebecca Butterman. Roberta is also wrapping up her year of service as president of National Sisters in Crime.

Let’s all welcome her to Murderati!)

Roberta_isleib_book_shRoberta:  Thanks for hosting an "Asking for Murder" blog tour stop at Murderati. And no, this is not a post about marital aids! But I did ask my husband, John Brady, to help me out. He wrote a post for my tour last year that was very, very popular.

Before I became a published mystery writer, I had a practice in clinical psychology. As with most businesses, I knew I needed to market my services as a therapist in order to fill up my caseload. I was a whopping dud in the marketing department. Advice from my professional newsletter suggested that psychologists pack up a nice picnic lunch and visit nearby physicians to chat about the kinds of people they might refer to your practice. I would have died before I brought a sack lunch and a marketing pitch to a doctor’s office.

John:  In the beginning, she thought marketing a mystery meant the husband attending conferences with the wife and passing out peanut butter cups.

Roberta:  It worked pretty well for Alex Matthews!

John: I couldn’t picture standing around with an apron and a basket of candy. But seriously, my entire business career was spent in marketing and advertising. I thought I was going to be Roberta’s marketing guru. Turned out that in just a short time Roberta has become a true marketing dynamo — and she should be helping me!

Roberta:  You see why I married him? John loves, loves, loves "best of" lists. Maybe we should do a top five best bits of advice here. Why don’t you start with telling them about the HR Challenge? We can all learn from that.

John:  Tip #1 — Find a way to be interactive with your audience. My team at BLR came up with the idea of an interactive quiz for Human Resource professionals — testing their knowledge about different HR questions. We all knew it would be a good idea, but were blown away when the website got so much traffic it overwhelmed the server. We ended up having to shut it down for 6 months and rebuild the site so it could handle the traffic. Think about questions or contests that get people involved in your story.

Roberta:  My biggest marketing coup had to be the article about the Golf Lover’s Mystery series that ended up in Sports Illustrated in 2004. The writer came out from Philly to do a four hour interview. The next thing we knew a NY photographic team was in our Connecticut town shooting photos of me looking very fierce in a salt marsh, a cemetery, and the sand traps at our golf course. From the outside, this might have looked like a lucky break. It was! But it came about because I doggedly sent emails and my own books to every contact I came across in the gold world. Tip #2 — exploit your niche(s) and be generous with review copies.

John:  Publishers are mostly interested in promoting the folks they have given the big advances to, so if you want to succeed, you better get good at promoting your own ventures (shameless self promotion: here’s my new websiteTip #3 — Pay attention to every contact, every person you meet. They might be able to help you — if you can find the common ground of mutual self-interest. 

Roberta:  Tip #4 — I’m going to piggyback on that one and call it something bigger — "networking." I didn’t know anyone in the business when I started, nor did I know about the mystery organizations. Once I did start to join, I began to volunteer. I’m naturally a little shy (I can hear John laughing), so it works better for me to have a "job" rather than to try to work the room. (Maybe I’ve gotten a little carried away, serving this year as prez of SinC.) It sounds corny, but the more you offer to other writers, the more you get back.

John:  Tip #5 — Choose your marketing weapons carefully. At first Roberta bombarded me with marketing ideas for her series — advertising in magazines, renting email lists, taking directory listings, paying for a spot at conventions, going to far away conferences to speak at her own expense, West Coast tours with other authors, etc. Sure, you can justify any marketing expense if you think in terms of selling a certain number of books (but realistically, if you count only her mass market paperback royalties, that means selling a LOT of books). A better approach is to try to get free exposure, either in the mass market or a targeted niche. If you can get on a local TV news show with a local angle, you will reach thousands and thousands of people who will be delighted to learn about you. A favorable mention in an influential mystery blog might not reach as many people, but the folks who learn about you tend to be mystery buyers. So in conclusion — save your promotion money. Instead, try to hit some doubles and triples with free media that you have cultivated. Here’s an example from this weekend (please ignore 10" commercial).

Roberta:  That was loads of fun — one last tip. Send the radio or TV show host talking points, and then make sure you know how to answer your own questions!

John:  I’m proud of Roberta’s marketing transformation. As I say to a lot of people, if she weren’t such a good mystery writer, she could be the marketing director of Penguin.

Roberta:  Ha ha ha ha. And thanks again to the folks at Murderati for having us over.

Read more about ASKING FOR MURDER (Berkley 2008) here. 

Benefit of the Doubt

note from Toni McGee Causey – please give a hearty Murderai welcome to guest blogger Allison Brennan today — Allison’s a NYT and USA Today bestselling author and phenomenal friend to Murderati.

by Guest Blogger Allison Brennan

Conference season is winding down for 2008. There’s a few left, like Bouchercon this fall, but for the most part all the biggies are done. It’s a time to reflect on what we’ve learned, what we loved, what didn’t work for us, and remember that in the end, conferences are primarily for networking, learning about craft and business (even us published authors still have a lot to learn), meeting with agents and editors, and even a bit of promotion. It doesn’t hurt to have new bookmarks printed or a few books to give away!

I wanted to take this time to reflect on a larger problem that was only highlighted at the RWA conference, but really is not just a conference issue. It’s a blog issue, a local meeting issue, an industry issue. In fact, it extends to all facets of life–family, friends, work, church, school. That is, giving people the benefit of the doubt.

In this era where celebrities are caught with their pants down, without make-up, looking too fat or too skinny or seen whispering intimately with another woman’s husband, we often make snap judgments about their lifestyle or what is going on. The cliché a picture says a thousand words” is true–but in the era of photoshop or carefully framed shots, we might not be seeing the whole picture and thus basing our judgment on misinformation.

This reality of the modern information era was really highlighted during my years working in the State Legislature. The obvious example–reporters misquoting someone–happens more than I had ever thought. I could sit in an interview and know exactly what was said, and dropping a couple words can make the subject either seem more brilliant than he really is, or a total idiot. In committee hearings, I could listen to hours of testimony and be moved beyond words, but when you read about it in the paper, you get the one idiot who said something stupid and that’s the “quote” and result of the hearing.

In the writing world, there are authors who never participate in conferences. Perhaps they’ve never been, or used to go but don’t find them valuable, or are so introverted they don’t want to be around 2,500 other writers. In RWA, we have career professionals outside of writing–lawyers, doctors, teachers, scientists, cops–the list goes on and on. We have career authors, new authors, midlist authors, unpublished authors. We have people at every level of their writing career. There are agents, editors, publicists, bloggers, reporters, family, the list goes on. There are women with young kids, grown kids, no kids. Grandmothers and daughters. Black, white, Asian, and every other race. Christian, Jewish and Atheists. Married, divorced, single. Republicans, Democrats and Independents. Americans, British, Australians, Canadians, and more. We are diverse in ways few organizations are. We’re united by one thing: writing romance.

But because we are so diverse, and we don’t know each other well–outside of a few close friends or an annual sitdown at the conference bar–we can build up an image and then that image is distorted, we balk.

A favorite author who you picked up at the airport at your last RWA meeting only three months ago doesn’t remember your name; worse, ignores you completely when she sees you.

A friend doesn’t wave back when you see them across the lobby.

Your chapter member–who you see every month–doesn’t remember you’re in the same local chapter.

Your agent ignores you and goes off with who you believe is her favorite client.

Your editor takes you to lunch, but Jane Smith to dinner. Worse, your editor doesn’t remember you by sight.

Our reaction is to be sad, angry, flustered, slighted. We were wronged, but maybe we can’t articulate why we feel wronged. Or we articulate it, giving voice to our frustration, seeking justification that we were slighted in some manner. Often, the slight gets spun out of control as the rumor mill starts churn.

The rumor weed–for those who’ve watched Veggie Tales can attest!–can grow under the poisoned water of perceived slights, wrongs, or repeated rumors. It grows and can tear apart a person, a group, an organization.

But what really is happening is that we aren’t giving someone the benefit of the doubt.

Yes, an author you picked up from JFK and drove two hours to your chapter conference should absolutely remember your name.

But what if she had just gotten off the phone with her daughter who had a miscarriage the night before?

Yes, a writing buddy should acknowledge your greeting–it’s only polite.

But what if she had just discovered her suitcase–with not only her Rita dress but her laptop with the book due Monday–had been lost by the airlines?

Your editor should know you by sight–she has your author photo, doesn’t she?

But what if she didn’t recognize you with the new blonde ‘do and glasses? Or you’ve never met her, but you’ve talked on the phone for three years and she knows you are Jane Smith . . . but maybe she left her glasses in the hotel room and your badge is blurry?

Every day, people have small and large problems that they have to deal with and sometimes, being “on” constantly at a conference is hard, especially when the problems seem overwhelming. What if your husband dropped your daughter off at one place, and there’s a small family emergency and you try to reach your daughter, but she’s not there, she’s not answering her cell phone, and none of her friends know where she is? Would you be making small talk with a friend?

At this last conference, I know people who had to deal with some pretty tough stuff while trying to fulfilling their obligations at the conference.

. . . A bestselling author whose mother had a heart attack the night before, but she wasn’t told until she arrived at the conference.

. . . An editor whose long-time, elderly cat went missing.

. . . An author who learned via email that a close friend had cancer.

. . . A writer who was woken up late nearly every night of the conference by her husband because his sleep was interrupted taking care of their child and he wanted her help.

These aren’t things that someone is going to just offer up. We’re mostly women so we tend to want to know everything and we want to help fix it. It’s hardwired into us, we think that talking about the problems and commiserating is a solution. And I believe it is–just not with everyone in the world.

People get jet-lagged and aren’t at their best and brightest. People can be preoccupied, with good news or bad news or maybe even no news. People are nervous meeting their agent or editor for the first time. When I first went to the Reno conference, six months before my first book came out, with my JD Robb book in hand, waiting in line . . . I put the book in front of Nora to sign and inserted my foot in my mouth. Something about her inspiring me to keep my ass in the chair. Oh, yes, I said the “A” word. I’d wanted to say something more about her setting a good example, yada yada, but instead I blurted out the first thing I thought of. (Fortunately, I figured, Nora Roberts meets so many people at every conference she couldn’t possibly have remembered my name even if she did read it on my badge.)

This goes beyond personal connections and into email, but this post is already getting too long! I respond to all my email, usually within a week, but sometimes I get backlogged. Or, when I was moving, I was without Internet access for a couple days, moving, and on deadline . . . and was hugely backlogged. Sometimes cyberspace can eat a message and the intended recipient didn’t receive it. No one should assume that just because someone didn’t respond in a day, week, or month that they even received the message. And sarcasm? Sarcasm often falls flat in written form, especially in email. But I could do a whole blog about misunderstanding the intent of information emails.

I’m not saying anything new or noteworthy. But a few mutterings I heard at conference about this author or that editor or such-and-such a writer upset me. How do we know that the person we’re criticizing didn’t just have bad news? How do we know the person actually saw us? Or maybe she was late to her editor meeting–and she’d never met her editor before?

Things happen, and we’re not always at 100% all the time. We all know this, but sometimes we think that at conference everyone should be completely with it whenever they are out of their hotel room.

This is why I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I rarely know the whole story. Maybe the author really is a complete bitch, but most of the time, I really do believe something is going on and my perception of what is or isn’t happening is skewed.

I’m sure there are plenty of stories out there where you made an assumption that was wrong, or where someone assumed the worst about you based on part of the picture. Maybe if you all share your stories, everyone, including me, will take perceived slights in stride next time around.


Allison’s latest:


Tempting Evil, is out right now and her next, Playing Dead:


will be out September 30th. Check out her website for her own great blog and additional details.

Welcome Guest Blogger Marc Lecard!

He’s irrepressible, funny, clever, and a brilliant writer. He’s also someone I’ve been honored to work with this past year. His first book, Vinnie’s Head, was a huge hit, and I have no doubt that Tiny Little Troubles will follow suit. Please extend a warm and gracious Murderati welcome to my friend Marc Lecard!



Hello, Marc Lecard here. I’m the author of Vinnie’s Head, and the just-published Tiny Little Troubles.
The mighty JT Ellison asked me to blogsit for her while she does some
heavy deadline-wrestling, so I’m taking over this Friday slot. But just
for today, so don’t worry.

My second novel, Tiny Little Troubles,
came out from St. Martin’s Minotaur this week.  It’s a caper novel, my
own take on the classic subgenre wherein a group of criminals gets
together to knock over some improbable target–a casino, a racetrack,
an impregnable bank.

I love these novels. I love the guy with
the big idea, the criminal who thinks up the heist. He’s got an angle
no one else has thought of, unique, personal, something that’s been
done a hundred times before but never exactly his way.

love the assembling of the "team"–each member with his or her own
specialties, and of course unique flaws and eccentricities.

started out wanting to do a respectful homage to the subgenre, a
reprise of all the things that I love about it. I began, like a master
criminal, to assemble my "team"–a nasty collection of thugs and
bruisers, some with unique specialties, all with deep flaws, hidden and
not so hidden.

I was especially proud of the main bad guy, a
real piece of work who was a gift from my subconscious. I mean that
most often I construct my characters by Dr. Frankenstein’s method, a
part here, a part there, quirks and qualities stolen from people I’ve
observed (often from friends, but they’ll never know). I’m fairly
deliberate and conscious in this process, but look for that moment when
the construction begins to walk and talk by itself.

But Pablo Clench, the main bad guy, cut to the chase and just stepped
on stage fully formed. I don’t know where he came from. I only know I
never want to go there.

Then I looked around for something for these guys to do, a target worthy of the team. And that’s where I hit the wall.

Because it looked like it had all been done before–and better–and I
had no new idea, no new angle of approach. My caper was a bust before
it started.

The problem, I thought, was in the McGuffin, the
prize, the thing “all the fuss is about.” A bag of pearls? Come on. A
gym bag full of currency? Nah. Even I had already used that one, as
satisfying as it is.

Stymied, I tried to come up with
something different. I believed that the best place for new ideas is
always near at hand, in your local circumstances (I learned this from
reading William Carlos Williams). Where was I? Sitting in the back of a
garage in South San Francisco that I had made over into a writing
studio with some spare pieces of plywood , a cheap rug or two, and a
semi-antique computer. What was unique to South City? Well, it was the
biotech capital of the country–the chamber of commerce sign by the
freeway exit said so. Genetic engineering, that had to be interesting.
The possibilities for screw-up seemed limitless.

But I wanted to write a comedy, a comic crime novel. And I found myself
unable to get around to the light side of global pandemics. Infection
is just not funny.

The idea of thugs taking over a start-up seemed workable, though. But what kind of start-up?

In my notebook of possible book ideas I had scribbled down a scene that
occurred to me without context or explanation in which a gangster is
suddenly turned into a pile of underwear. I didn’t know why. This is a
book that will never be written, I thought as I closed the notebook.
Maybe a crime novel for very sick little kids. But I’ll never be able
to use it in a novel for adults.

Now the weird vision came back to me. Maybe the bad guy turned into
lingerie from some kind of genetically engineered plague that got out
of hand?

No. I had it. Nanotechnology. Little robots,
made to manufacture things. A common trope in science fiction novels.
Not so common in crime fiction (I hadn’t read Swierczynski’s The Blonde yet).

I didn’t want to write a science fiction novel, a book that would
explore the ramifications of this technology on society, or deeply
imagine how that technology might work. I just wanted a bag of pearls
for my guys to fight over.

But swapping in a nanotechnology
start-up for the casino or heavily guarded bank, and having an idea be
the prize rather than a stack of bills seemed subversive enough to be
worth doing.

The science-fiction-y McGuffin pushed the book out of shape, though,
required some reworking of the original idea, and generated some
characters I hadn’t counted on. The book changed to the point where the
original conception was buried. It was still a crime novel, though. And
it was still funny, or at least I thought so.

I mean, I had my doubts. Little robots that you can’t even see? Underwear?  WTF?

But it’s too late now. The book came out last Tuesday.

This is answer 3, 487,992 to the question "Where do your ideas come from?"


MARC LECARD lives in Oakland now. His next novel features crooked
appliance salesmen, the resurrection of the dead, and Kyrgyzstani
wrestler/gangsters, among other things.

P.S. Friend of Murderati Kaye Barley (AKA Kaye from Boone) is guest blogging at The Stiletto Gang today. Be sure to check her out!

Guns & Ammo (continued)…

(Toni here… I have been wanting to have Nancie guest for a long time, and this weekend turned into a fantastic opportunity for our Murderati readers. Huge thanks to Nancie, who is doing her dead level best to keep me from making mistakes in the current work-in-progress.)

by Nancie Hays

Guns & Ammo continued:

Are you asking yourself the following questions–what do you
mean "continued" and who are you anyway?

Allow me to clear up the small bit
o’ confusion I’ve already created before I get into the meaty mystification
portion of this blog. This is a continuation from yesterday’s blog I wrote for
The Lipstick Chronicles
, so you can pop on there for the back-story on today’s
blog. Go head, we’ll wait for you to return and while we’re waiting for you to
come back, we’ll hum a jaunty tune. [note from Toni — that is an extremely informative blog and this one picks up and adds to it — you’ll be glad you read both!]

I am a gun nut, but I make no claims to being an expert on
everything gun related. I do have quite a bit of knowledge about those things
that go bang, as my job requires me to know this info. I do work for a
government agency, as noted in the previous blog, and I’ll leave it at that. My
job is not considered top-secret and my level of security clearance won’t even
get me access to public Government documents.

One common thing I’ve discovered about the numerous writer’s
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting is getting the facts right is a real big deal
to them and their stories. As a reader, I greatly appreciate the effort for my
benefit when it comes to guns. I have no idea what happens to that extensive
research done for other sections of the story, but sometimes, gun information
still gets mangled. While there is a lot to learn, the gun world isn’t a secret
society with complicated handshakes, code words for access or a special tattoo
revealing your membership status. The information is out there and in most
cases easily accessible, so I’m very flummoxed by the basic errors I
continually run across.

The following sentence makes my brain seize and implode
every time I read it:

detective drew his 39 millimeter Desert Eagle automatic revolver, pulled back
the clicker and looked in the nozzle to make sure there were nine deadly
bullets in the wheel.”

If this line were entered into a contest for the most
outrageous inaccuracies crammed into one sentence, we would have our winner.

I’m going to attempt to break this down and decipher the
bizarre code without the special ring:

  • Drew it from where? He couldn’t hide a gun this big on his person anywhere unless he
      was surgically altered with a kangaroo pouch that hung down to his ankles. (Or had a holster. Give your audience some visual help here.)
  • I’m not even sure what the heck the clicker is supposed to be in this scenario.
  • A 39 millimeter round will break the detective’s arm upon firing it once, if not tear it from the socket, leaving him with a useless dangling limb—keep in mind that a small light weight mortar round is 37 millimeters. You could blow the bad guy threw the wall with this round, well, if you didn’t blow him into numerous piles of sticky paste. Oh wait; maybe that’s what the clicker is for, to detonate this atrocity from minimum safe distance and keep that dry-cleaning bill within budget.
  • Desert Eagle automatic revolver… egad. Which one is it? This hybrid goes against all rules of man and nature. The Desert Eagle is a semi automatic, not a revolver. Plus, this is a very large handgun and not easily concealed, so not a good choice for any detective to carry unless the secret hidey spot was installed-see pouch reference above.
  • Nozzle. Uh huh. I’m going to say they meant chamber, but at this point I’m completely speculating cuz I don’t speak this language.
  • Thankfully, they clarified they were using deadly bullets, otherwise I could’ve assumed they loaded the mini howitzer with those life giving bullets and I really would’ve been confused.
  • The bullets are in the wheel and this is a good thing?!? Wait! Eureka, I think I finally figured this out. This is one of those new fangled science fiction guns, right? If the bullets are loaded into the wheel, then you press the clicker and it starts rolling and firing from the wheel at the same time. Never mind, I was wrong. This is a brilliant design!

And here are a few other tasty morsels for ya:

A spent casing and
a spent bullet are two completely
different pieces of the cartridge and mixing them up is bad. Spent means it was
fired, so the casing is empty of powder, the primer is dead and the bullet was
discharged out of the business end of the gun, or muzzle.

A spent casing will
remain in a revolver, unless the shooter manually ejects it, but the casings
will automatically ejected by a semi-automatic for each shot, unless it jams.
(And that’s a whole different set of problems.) The spent casing from a
semi-auto isn’t going very far from the point of ejection and can usually be
found within a yard radius of where the shooter was standing when the shots
were fired. You blew the top of the cartridge’s head off so it doesn’t have any
brains to even think about wandering off.

A spent bullet is that wondrous thing dug out of whatever
jumped in the flight path used to solve many crimes by matching it to the gun
barrel it was intimate with for a fraction of a second.

Loose ammunition and fire (flames): combining these two for
a scene has the potential of excitement and danger, when the detonation of
thousands of rounds has everyone within a hundred yards running for cover as
bullets whiz everywhere threatening to take out all the good guys…in the movies. Come over to that place I
try not to visit very often, called reality, and see what really happens when
we play with fire and ammunition. Loose ammunition left in a car, building or
even tossed into a fire will not explode or shoot and/or kill everyone in the
area. The barrel–which is the containment factor necessary for the buildup of
pressure when the powder burns—is missing from this picture, so the bullet
can’t get propelled anywhere. The
bullet pops off the cartridge and rolls a few inches; or maybe it’s one of
those overachiever bullets and manages to tumble and hop a couple feet before
it is forced to stop due to lack of momentum and its energy is drained. The
bullet can’t even wander about aimlessly; it has been severed it from its body
and fuel supply so it dies quickly, and in an extremely confused state.

Another place for potential mistakes: If you have two people
in a fight over a semi-auto handgun and one party releases the magazine from
the gun, odds are there is still a round in the chamber, or at least I would
hope so, but that’s not the point. Depending on the specific model of gun
you’re using in your scene the gun may or may not fire without the magazine.
You need to know how each specific gun operates to avoid shooting the
protagonist unintentionally.

Is everything as clear as the Federal Tax Codes?

The best piece of advice I can offer is get yourself a gun
nut or two to decipher the terminology and help with scenarios you want to put
in your story. We’re friendly people, really we are. The biggest challenge
you’ll have is getting us to shut up once we get going on the gun thing.



Gun questions? From readers / writers? Nancie will be here to comment. Or share the mistakes you’ve seen (without humiliating the writers, some of us are delicate flowers).

(Again, big thank you to Nancie for taking her time this weekend!)

My Future Victims

Back in my sorority days, you could be sure that someone would introduce a new pledge sister with the damning faint praise of "she’s really sweet and she makes her own clothes." None of that here, folks. Our guest blogger today is gorgeous … she’s smart … she’s great to party with … and she writes some of the most exciting thrillers around today. Please welcome guest blogger, Michelle Gagnon.      

Louise Ure


     I had a startling realization as I began writing my fourth crime novel last week. Part of the process (and one of my favorite parts, to be honest) is naming the cast of characters who will be subjected to all sorts of terrible trials and tribulations. And I was suddenly struck by a startling fact: I was fresh out of victim names. Yes, just four books into my career, I’ve already managed to disembowel, strangle, stab, shoot, and otherwise maim (in effigy, of course) every single one of the people who tormented me in junior high school, in addition to a number of poorly-behaved former boyfriends. Hard to believe, I know. And trust me, it speaks volumes about the body count in those first three books. Not a short list.

So I’m on the hunt for fresh victims. Fortunately, I seem to encounter a variety of people over the course of my everyday life whose crimes, though generally minor, certainly merit punishment.

Here they are, in no particular order:

•    Mandy, the cute twenty-something Kiehl’s store clerk who last week responded to my request for help finding a particular moisturizer with the following gem: “You know, you should really switch to the Abyssine one. It’ll work wonders on those forehead lines.” Oh, Mandy, I have a special punishment reserved for you…I’m thinking flesh-eating virus, but it’s still up in the air.

•    Gina, the mother from my baby group who for some reason feels compelled to forward articles with titles like, “Don’t Have a Time Out, Have a Time In!!!” (note the extensive exclamation points, a trademark of Gina’s missives), and “Television, or why allowing your child to watch a single minute of it makes you a bad parent.” This is a petty one, but trust me, the inherently judgmental tone of those emails combined with their frequency have driven me to this point. Mind you, as I write this my daughter is gazing blankly at the “Happy Feet” penguins for hours on end. Kidding. A little. And rest assured, Gina will meet a mercifully quick and relatively painless demise.

•    Officer Dunwitty (I’m not making that up,) the meter maid who, although I ran outside to move it AS SHE WAS PULLING UP BEHIND MY CAR, still gave me a $60 ticket. Just doing her job, I know. And I don’t care. This one will be grisly.

•    The guy who stole my gym parking spot last week after I waited ten minutes for the previous occupant to make a cell phone call and apply a layer of makeup in her rearview-mirror. I don’t have a name, but the physical description of said forty-something balding male will be scathingly accurate. For him I’m thinking choked, drowned, and stabbed for good measure.

•    Martha, the loans collection representative who persists in calling our house at all hours demanding payment for a medical visit to a doctor I’ve never heard of, despite the fact that I’ve offered to take a blood oath swearing that my name is not, and never has been, Foula Vasiligiorus (a made-up name if ever there was one; get a clue, Martha.) While I admire Martha’s dedication to her job, she really needs to work on her interpersonal skills. For that, she will be drawn and quartered. Martha, if you had only listened to me, we could have avoided all this ugliness.

So here’s your chance. Who would you like to kill off? (Fictionally, of course. Please do not name me as an instigator for any real life nefarious doings.) Bonus points (and a signed first edition of Boneyard) for the most innovative manner of death…

And as always, go to to enter drawings for an Amazon Kindle, iPod Shuffle, Amazon & Starbucks gift cards, copies of my thrillers, and other fabulous prizes.


is a former modern dancer, bartender, dog walker, model, personal
trainer, and Russian supper club performer. Her debut thriller THE
TUNNELS involves a series of ritualized murders in the abandoned tunnel
system beneath a university. Published in the United States and
Australia, it was an IMBA bestseller. Her next book, BONEYARD, depicts
a cat and mouse game between dueling serial killers. In her spare time
she fights Komodo dragons and broods.

Why Comedy is Important

by Jeffrey Cohen

My thanks to all at Murderati for allowing me to visit my blogging alma mater, as I moved out and took up residence at Hey, There’s A Dead Guy In The Living Room about a year and a half ago. But I still check in here, and I’m still awed by all that happens in this space. It’s very special.

22hBy now, you might be sick and tired of hearing about George Carlin, who died suddenly last week and was subsequently eulogized by everyone except members of the FCC, who were probably annoyed that everyone started remembering The Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television again.

You might be so tired of Carlin at this point that you’re glad he’s dead. Well, too bad for you.

Add my voice to those who thought George Carlin was brilliant and brave. Well, until he got so angry the past few years that he came out and told the audience that it would be better if we all died and let the planet regenerate itself. He might have been right, but I’m not willing to test the theory.

Carlin’s death was a shock to those of us who follow comedy seriously. He was 71 years old, not exactly ancient but not at an age where he’ll be classified as "Gone too soon" in ads featuring T-shirts with pictures of Elvis, Marilyn, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and others who didn’t wait for Death to come along and find them, but helped the process along a good deal. His was merely a matter of bad health; Carlin had already suffered more than one heart attack, dating back decades.

But it’s relevant to note that like another great comedian, Groucho Marx, Carlin thought of himself more as a writer than a performer. He adored words, played with them, found the hypocrisies in the way we use them, and pointed them out. Carlin wrote three books (the third is scheduled for publication).

His riffs on the concept of "jumbo shrimp" and "military intelligence" just skimmed the surface. In his later years, he could go on long, perfectly precise tears that explored every aspect of a word or added words to thoughts where they’d never belonged before. And as in all forms of genius, he made you think that his idea was a perfectly sensible one that you’d never considered before.

Why is comedy important? Because it is the escape hatch, the steam valve of life. We are attracted to great comedy because it includes not only the obvious, but also the truthful that we never considered before. When Groucho Marx turns to his brother in Horse Feathers and admonishes him that "you can’t burn the candle at both ends." Harpo merely reaches into that voluminous trench coat of his and pulls out a candle burning at both ends. And we say to ourselves, "You know, I guess you can, after all."

Knifecover_150 People make the mistake of thinking that because comedy is performed quickly and casually, that it is effortless. It’s anything but. I appreciated it when Publishers Weekly used the word ("effortless") in a review of my last book, SOME LIKE IT HOT-BUTTERED (the new one, IT HAPPENED ONE KNIFE, comes out tomorrow), because that meant I’d done my job right, and the jokes seemed like they flowed naturally. They didn’t — in some cases, I was pacing the floor in my office for hours trying to come up with the right comeback for Elliot Freed to use the second after someone insulted him.

I began worshipping comedy at a very young age, probably starting with Bugs Bunny (before I got all the jokes, and thought these were serious fims about a man trying to shoot a rabbit) and Rocky and Bullwinkle (see previous comment, but substitute "moose and squirrel" for "rabbit.") But I quickly graduated to Bill Cosby, Get Smart (the beginning of a lifelong affection for Mel Brooks), then Woody Allen, the Marx Brothers (especially the Marx Brothers!), W.C. Fields, Larry Gelbart, Dick Van Dyke (which led to Carl Reiner), Robert Klein, David Brenner, John Belushi, Dan Ayckroyd, and . . . well, suffice it to say I could go on.

It gets us through the tough times. The problem is that now, there’s no George Carlin to get us through the death of George Carlin. But there is Jon Stewart, and there is Craig Ferguson, and Lewis Black, and Stephen Wright, and Tina Fey and many, many others.

In my own writing, I’m going for the laugh first. I’ll admit that. I feel like I write comedies that have a mystery in them, and not the other way around. If you send me an email that says, "You know, the plot really doesn’t hold water, but I laughed all the way through." I’m a happy man. Comedy is essential to our collective sanity, and that commodity appears to be in short supply htese days.

Respect those who provide it.

Rest in peace, George. Or better, rest cranky. Your work here is far from done, but it was advanced enormously because of your tireless work. We will miss you a good deal more than you’ll miss us.

Jeffrey Cohen is the author of IT HAPPENED ONE KNIFE: A DOUBLE FEATURE MYSTERY, which you might have heard will be published tomorrow. He is also the author of the Aaron Tucker series, unproduced screenplays, newspaper and magazine articles, nonfiction books about raising a child with autism-spectrum disorder, and a grocery list that is attracting a good deal of attention in Hollywood. 

(Thanks, Jeff, for visiting today. We’re glad to have you.

Welcome Guest Blogger Dave White!!!

Mystery Writer Awesome

by Dave White

Back in
March, Sarah Weinman and I were strolling through New York City on our way to a
Laura Lippman signing. Another Thing to Fall had just been
released and Sarah and I were talking about how much Laura’s career had changed
in the past year. It was the first time
I’d seen her since she’d hit “The List” and I was excited to see if anything
had changed. (For the record, it hadn’t…
in a good way.)

As Sarah and
I talked, we became more and more aware of a certain level of celebrity in the
Mystery writer world. Let’s call it
reaching the level of “Mystery Writer Awesome.” What that is, specifically, is being a writer that your mystery writer colleagues’
love, but you haven’t broken out, haven’t hit the list. You haven’t become a household name.

It kind of
became a fun game to name names. Duane
Swierczynski, my mentor and favorite writer is Mystery Writer Awesome. My agent Al Guthrie is Mystery Writer
Awesome. I think Ken Bruen is Mystery
Writer Awesome. Jason Pinter is Mystery
Writer Awesome. Sarah said… and I quote,
William Kent Krueger is a fan favorite, multiple
winner and nominee of Anthony Awards (including this year) but is almost
totally unknown outside of the Midwest mystery community.”

guys are fantastic writers. Their
stories are compelling as hell, page turners, and a ton of fun to read. And they’re willing to help out the mystery
community. They answer emails, are
willing to read your own work, and do anything they can to get you to be a
better writer as well. And if you’re a
fan, you have a secret. You’ve found a
fantastic writer and no one else knows about them. They’re yours. And yeah, you’ll tell your friends and family
about them, but you know you were a fan
of them first.

are, however, Mystery Writer Awesome Alumni like Laura. Writers who’ve since backed out of the
internet Mystery Community a bit. (Laura
still blogs, but her blog mentions her break-up with the internet.) Robert Crais, Harlan Coben, great writers
who’ve also hit it big. They’re not as
accessible, not always there to answer emails and serve up advice. Their books are great, but they are not there
for the reader anymore.

Writer Awesome writers are writers who most of us who follow the blogs love and
love to push on the blogs. But, let’s
face it, the blogs only push writers to other writers (and the few die hard
fans who actually follow the blogs). They don’t reach as much of a mainstream community of readers. And I think we as bloggers know this. By blogging, we’re only talking to a small
community. It’s almost incestuous.

So what
happens when one of our Mystery Writer Awesome writers does break out? Do we get happy for them? (Of course, you say.) Or do we somehow become jealous and

Kind of like
when Metallica hit it big with the black album. The writers we love are no longer ours. They’ve sold out, they’re not as accessible anymore. They’re not ours. They’re everyone’s.

I hope Al,
Duane, Jason, Kent, and Ken break out and hit the Times list. Each one of them
have had some huge successes already, from other bestseller lists, to award
nominations, to comic book writing, and movie options. But they’re still accessible. They still blog and are still out there. They still feel accessible.

What happens
if they go away? All of a sudden, they
break out. What happens if your favorite
author becomes just a book and no longer a real person?

I, for one,
think I’ll still follow them. I’ll
probably still email and get less responses. And I won’t know all the cool writer details that are going on in their
lives as their careers go. But I’ll
still read them and anxiously and enjoy every word.

But will
there be that little tinge of “I found them first.” And, part of me for sure, will still wish
they were Mystery Writer Awesome.

Come on,
admit it. You will too.

So, what do
you think? Can you name anyone else who
is “Mystery Writer Awesome?” Or any



WHITE, born in 1979, is among the youngest winners of the Derringer Award. He
has contributed to many anthologies and collections, including The Adventure of the Missing Detective
and Damn Near Dead. His first novel, When One Man Dies, was published in
2007. His second, The Evil That Men Do will be released on June 17. Dave lives in New Jersey, where he teaches
middle-school English.



couldn’t be with us today, but asked that we mention that Max was the winner of
last week’s contest. Max, Toni will be in touch.

Guest blogger – Megan Abbott

While Alex is teaching at the Pen to Press Writers’ Retreat in New Orleans and then racing back to BEA today, Murderati is proud and thrilled to host the amazing Megan Abbott.

Megan Abbott has taught literature, writing and film at New York University and the State University of New York at Oswego. Born in the Detroit area, she graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English Literature. She received her Ph.D. in English and American literature from New York University in 2000, and in 2002 Palgrave Macmillan published her nonfiction study, The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir. She lives in New York City. Die a Little is her first novel and has been nominated for a 2006 Edgar Award for Best First Novel by the Mystery Writers of America and a 2006 Barry Award and Anthony Award for Best First Novel.

Her second novel, The Song Is You, arrived in bookstores in January 2007 and centers around a true-life missing persons case in 1940s Hollywood. Her third novel, Queenpin, came out in June 2007 and won the 2008 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.


Megan Abbott

I’m a weekend writer. Well, that’s not entirely true. I write all week at my day job as a grantwriter at Union Settlement, a 113-year-old nonprofit agency in East Harlem. But the writing I do there is so different. It’s about constructing an argument. It’s about rationality, logic, supporting one’s argument. It comes from a completely different part of my brain than the fevery stuff that sometimes stutters onto the page during my weekend writing. I write in an entirely different voice and a different part of my head gets activated at work. All week I write about the need for more after-school programs or senior nutrition services in Spanish Harlem. And on the weekend, I write about 1950s Hollywood, or after-hours gambling clubs or b-girls in trouble. Mostly, it’s a split life, the life of so many novelists I know who, in the daylight hours, write as lawyers, journalists, professors, etc. and, vampire-like, transform when they turn on their home computer every evening.

The common ground, I guess, is that most kinds of writing are about persuasion. Trying to stir up the reader. Follow me down this dark alley. Give our agency money. Kind of the same thing. This week, I had a moment when I realized how fundamental that connection is, the foundation of maybe all writing, even the writing we only write for our own eyes (don’t we, in our diaries, try to persuade ourselves of things?).

Each year, our Adult Education Program holds a student reading at the 92nd Street Y. In a beautifully restored auditorium, our literacy, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), GED and Citizenship students fill the space and take turns at the microphone. Students from Mexico, Colombia, Yemen, Morocco, Senegal. There’s the 52-year-old New York native with five daughters who decided to finally get that GED. There’s the group of women who speak three languages but can read or write in none of them, having never been permitted to go to school in their native country. The cabbie who writes lovely poems about his childhood home in Chile. It’s a little bit of memoir, a little personal essay, a lot of warm gratitude between teachers and students. It’s always a poignant experience for everyone involved.

This year, it just hit me more. Among the many students who took his turn at the microphone was an older man, very dignified, from Uruguay. He read a short piece of his own, in tones so delicate, about his family coming together for his beloved sister’s funeral in his hometown. “She was so beautiful,” he read (and I paraphrase), “hair so black and eyes deepest blue. The most beautiful of all my sisters. And I loved her. We all looked at her, we looked together. Looked at the black hair and those bluest of all eyes. The most beloved of all of us.”

His pronunciation was so unusual, the way the words moved in his mouth, the way he cradled them, speaking so movingly. It felt like he was tucking the whole audience under long robes. I guess I was only half-surprised when the Program Director leaned across and whispered to me excitedly, “He’s an undercover priest!” She went on to tell me he was a priest in Uruguay and speaks several languages and of course knows Latin but had never before written in English. “He’s been waiting for this,” she said. “In class, everyone always wants him to read.” He carried the whole audience with him, and it was not just the content or the melodic quality of his voice. The writing itself was so delicate, musical, with artful repetitions that, like a good sermon or a perfect poem, engage you in the writing, make you feel a part of it, make you feel connected. I was envious and mesmerized.

It all reminded me of another work event, a year ago. Novelist Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections) visited our students. He read a piece about his own awkward adolescence, about the way he used to escape into books and into his own first attempts at writing. During the Q&A, the eight- or nine-year-old son of a student rose to ask, “When you write, do you feel powerful?” Franzen laughed admiringly, paused, then said, with all gravity, “Sometimes.”

Thanks so much for having me!