Category Archives: Louise Ure

Dead Lines


By Louise Ure

I’m one of those writers who work best under deadlines. And I do so with the plan of not having to sprint to the finish. No editor is ever going to see the mad woman’s breakfast that is my rough draft, or even my first revision.

So, ideally I build in the time I need and back into a schedule like this:

Final check, last minute typos:       One week

Revision 3:                                     Three weeks

Revision 2:                                     Five weeks

Revision 1:                                     Six Weeks

Let it sit and simmer                      One week

First Draft:                                    Twelve weeks

Research/                                      Four weeks

                    stewing in my own juices

That would give me a finished book in about eight months, writing 1200 words a day seven days a week, with lots of time built in for revision and rethinking.

(I can hear several Murderati pals laughing right now. Writing-holic J.T. would stop her 1000 words a minute typing to giggle just a little before she returned to the 19th book she was contracted for this year. Simon Wood would pause in the middle of one of the twelve series he’s writing to grin.)

I’ve told you before, I’m not a fast writer. Hell, I’m not even a fast thinker. I get one good idea a year and that’s what I write.

You’d think it would be easy. I’ve even got an extra four months of the year to do things like dental appointments and Christmas shopping.

But it doesn’t always work out that way.

Those 1200-words-a-day don’t always come. Those seven-day-writing-weeks get truncated when the dog needs surgery or you’re on tour for this year’s book. And then, with the insouciance of a tornado – you make a commitment to the Obama campaign, or you get the news of your mother’s accident and death – those lost writing-weeks become whole lost-months.

That’s the bad news.

What’s the good news? I have no deadline.

The book I’m working on now is not under contract (yet) and that means that I’m my own task master. And I’m a lousy boss.

What happens when that Twelve Week First Draft stretches to Seventeen? When that Total Revision #1 becomes “I’ll think about it?” I yawn and reset the calendar.

Dead Lines instead of deadlines.

After wasting two hours checking email and the blogs, I stare at that blank screen and then hie myself off to watch Tyler Florence make fish tacos. Twenty minutes of gazing out the window at the Golden Gate Bridge sends me right back to see if Huffington Post has been updated in the last half hour. Dear God, I’ve actually resorted to organizing the linen closet for the first time in my life.

I’ve always looked forward to writing until now, even with that first book that had no deadline attached to it at all. But not this time. Now I can’t even make myself open the  Work-In-Progress document on my desktop.

I can be dispassionate enough about this to recognize some of the causes.

•    I’m still reeling from the loss of my mother.

•    I’ve been in a non-creative mode with LCC Programming, politics and family stuff for so long that it’s hard to edge back into that space.

•    I’m tackling a new book that’s based on a real character and plot and I’m still too wedded to the “facts” to create my own story.

•    There’s no jeopardy with a self-imposed deadline, except that you hate yourself morning, noon and night.

But recognizing the cause doesn’t always solve the problem.

I have nothing but Dead Lines.

I came across this quote by Ian McEwan that gave me momentary hope:

"You spend the morning, and suddenly there are seven or eight words in a row. They've got that twist, a little trip, that delights you. And you hope they will delight someone else. And you could not have foreseen it, that little row. They often come when you're fiddling around with something that's already there. You see that by reversing a word order or taking something out, suddenly it tightens into what it was always meant to be."

Words. He’s only talking about words, Louise. Not pages or chapters or a whole book, for God’s sake. I can do words. Please God, let me fall in love with words again.

I am pea-green with envy of writers with discipline. They commit to 2,000 words a day and live up to it. They write short stories or start a new series in their spare time.

Every time I answer one of those interview questions about my writing day – “I just sit my butt in that chair until my 1,200 words are done”  — I lie. I feel like a fraud.

Can I be the only writer lying about “treating writing like a job,” or “just sit down and do it everyday,” or “I know I can fix a bad page but not a blank page?” I'm talking the talk, but that's about all.

I have nothing but Dead Lines.

And then Jude Greber stops by with a present for my chemo-addled pup and reminds me that I say this about every book. She even has my emails full of last year’s angst about Liars Anonymous (due out in two weeks).

So I sit back down again. I’m going to open that document today and try to string seven or eight words together in a way they haven’t been done before.

But oh, God, what I’d give for a deadline.




The Truth About Left Coast Crime

By Louise Ure


The blogs are all full of sun-kissed memories of Left Coast Crime in Hawaii. Hibiscus as big as a plate. Whales that cavort around your outrigger canoe. Panelists that left you breathless with their insight and good humor. Those things are all true, but they weren't the truth for me on Hawaii's Big Island last week.

You see, I was co-chair of Programming for the con with Judy Greber. And that means that we'd been working for almost two years to attract and assign interesting writers and readers to interesting panels.

We weren't responsible for any of the "event" kind of functions – the luau, the Desserts to Die For, the Awards Brunch – just everything else that happened between nine and five for a five and a half day period.

You ever try planning a bunch of activities for kids at a birthday party? Stretch that party over six days and invite another 320 kids with ADD and you've got some idea of what I'm talking about.

First you've got to come up with the panel ideas. Bill and Toby Gottfried, our uber-committee chairpersons, had billed this as "the Unconventional Convention" but, hey! No pressure! Really! Just make every panel discussion something no one has ever done before.

You've got to include the basics, of course, like Bad Guys in Crime Fiction and Debut Novels. But maybe there's a way to discuss those differently than has been done at other cons. Take "Setting" as an example: maybe we ask, "Does Geography Determine the Genre?" and get the fur flying that way.

Naturally, everyone wants to be on the Research Panel. Why is that? I think that would be the most boring part of any presentation I gave. Maybe these folks do more interesting research than I do.

And you also want to try some new stuff, like Kate Stine's look back at "The History of the Mystery." And the six Aussie readers recommending Australian crime fiction writers. And the panel "Things That Make Me Stop Reading" with fans and reviewers chiming in about their pet peeves and dislikes.

The panels I like best are the ones where authors are not talking about their own books, so we created a panel just like that: authors recommending other authors' books.

So you've finally got a list of potential panels and you begin to see the confirmations come in. Then the real work starts – reading reviews and author websites, combing through "panel preferences" and travel schedules, emails flying back and forth like an army of dull-tipped arrows – to find the right mix of names for each topic.

And you email the attendees to let them know when and where they'll speak.

And they reply.

* One author said he didn't want to do any panels because he'd be there with his girlfriend and didn't want to participate. But could we put his name and picture in the brochure all the same?

* One reader wanted to be on panels, but was planning to go birding and see the volcano and go whale watching so would Wednesday afternoon between two and four be okay for all panel assignments?

* One writer said she couldn't do anything public until after noon each day. We didn't ask why.

* One woman complained that the author who had been assigned to the panel she wanted was nowhere near as competent as she to speak on the subject. Please move her into that slot.

* One was only available on Sunday.  Another only on Tuesday. One was leaving before the Awards Brunch (could we reschedule it please?).

Get the picture?

I tried to calculate the number of hours Judy and I spent on Programming over the last two years but as the hundreds morphed into multiple thousands, I gave up.

Programming doesn't end there. Then you've got the last minute cancellations – a couple because of family emergencies, several more when the reality of their financial picture met them in the mirror. (It was not an auspicious year to be asking folks to fly to Hawaii. All told, the economy did impact us, but not to as great a degree as I would have predicted. Hats off to the organizing committee and the reputation of LCC in general for attracting as many folks as we did.)

And there were a couple of folks who paid their money, got panel assignments and planned on coming but just never showed up. Phooey on you guys. You made other folks pick up the pieces at the last minute and that's not nice.

I didn't get to the pool, the volcano, the beach or the whale watching boat.

So, my memories of LCC Hawaii?

Panels that were interesting enough and well enough distributed that there was a good crowd at each one. Spending time with Simon Wood who is the funniest man on the planet. Drinks with a female soldier named Brandy who showed me a whole new side of the American Armed Forces. Meeting Dr. Thomas Holland, the smartest (and sexiest) Indiana Jones clone I'll ever get close to. Lunches and dinners and last minute-piece-picking-up with Judy Greber, who is the funniest woman on the planet but doesn't know it.


And, oh yeah, that massage I treated myself to when the conference was over. I think it was worth all those thousands of hours.

P.S. Left Coast Crime in Sacramento in 2011? I'm not volunteering to do Programming.

A question for you, my 'Rati troops: what's the best panel you've ever seen or been on at a convention? And Happy St. Patrick's Day! 

Things I learned from my mother (because she is so smart)

By Louise Ure


I buried my mother last Friday.

It went about as well as those kind of things can go. In his eulogy, the priest said that he had another funeral to do in two hours, and that one was for a three-month-old baby so how bad could we feel about burying a 93-year old?

Pretty bad, I could have told him.

Holy Hope Cemetery is one of Tucson’s oldest, first populated back before Arizona was a State or a Territory. Before the Gadsden Purchase and during the time Tucson was part of Mexico. That probably doesn’t sound very old to my European or East Coast friends, but by Arizona standards, it’s Paleolithic.

When I was growing up, we’d go visit the family graves once a year on Memorial Day. I never saw a Memorial Day that was cooler than 110 degrees. We’d cut bunches of oleander – the only flowering plant we had – and stuff the stems into Sanborn coffee can/vases. A bucket of water would be braced between a child’s legs to keep it steady in the car.

There were no trees or grass at Holy Hope in those days so the marble angels and squared off grave markers sat flat on hard-packed desert dirt. We’d kneel as long as we could on the stone curbs that marked our area, bony knees burning and arms itching from our poisonous floral offerings. Our family names were at first the more foreign sounding Slaviero or Cosamini. Later family deaths had more American sounding names. Counter. Sellers. Ure. 

There’s grass there now, but not the picture perfect kind you’d hope for in a cemetery named Hope. Stubbly, yellow brown and choked with stickers and small stones for moral support.

It was ninety degrees when we buried her. Better than my remembered Memorial Days, and she always did love the heat. They’d laid out a swatch of bright green Astroturf  where the casket was and set up a small white tent and two rows of folding chairs. The rest of the attendees stood in the sun. But the tent wasn’t big enough to offer any shade and the Astroturf looked like a cheap toupee purchased long ago for a man who now has gray hair.

My 94-year old aunt sat alone in the first row, saying goodbye to her little sister and last original family member. I sat behind her so that I could wrap my arms around her. I didn’t want to tell her that they’d set up the chairs and the Astroturf so that my feet were resting on my father’s grave and I was sitting on my brother’s.

Never willing to recognize her own native insights and intelligence, my mother often told us, “It’s a good thing you got your father’s brains.” We always disagreed. Finally, fifteen years ago I sent her a list called “Things I learned from my mother (because she is so smart).”

I read part of that list as I stood behind the casket.

“Things I learned from my mother (because she is so smart).”

1.    Whistle. My mother had a whistle that could carry harmony in a song or mimic a bird or call children from three blocks away. And I learned that, to a child, a Mother’s whistle is the loudest sound in the world.

2.    Happiness is having everything you want. And you can have everything you want, if you don’t want anything you can’t have.

3.    Don’t sweat the small stuff. You’re only as big as the things you let bother you, and letting something bother gives someone else control over you.

4.    Turn the utensils around in your kitchen drawer so that you can see what they are. Handles all look alike.

5.    It is possible to love all your children and grandchildren equally. There are no favorites when it’s unconditional love.

6.    Save a little every week. You’ll be surprised at how quickly it adds up. And having a passbook at a bank is more fun than using an ATM.

7.    Appreciate other cultures. Speak Spanish with the right pronunciation. It is a part of our heritage not to be forgotten.

8.    Write it down. If it’s not on a list it won’t happen.

9.    Love words. Not just the crossword puzzle kind but all those that make the mouth sizzle and shiver. Appreciate where they came from and the joy of how they sound.

10.    Assume the best of everyone. You’ll be disappointed less than half the time.


Native Americans from Arizona (the Hopis? the Papagos?) believe that the arrival of a hummingbird signals a departed soul returning to say goodbye. On the day I left, a small hummingbird hovered at eye level near a mesquite tree to my left. I swear it had a shock of white feathers just at the crown of its head.


Rest in peace, Little Bird. You taught us well.




Jeanne Ure

Thank you all for such kind words two weeks ago when JT offered to share my sad news on her blog day. It means a great deal to me.

Today we think happier thoughts. Tell me, my ‘Rati friends, what’s the thing you’re most proud of your mother teaching you?


Tribute Pains

By Louise Ure

I woke this morning with cramps up the length of my left leg, culminating in a white hot vortex of pain at the hip, just where my mother broke her leg a couple of weeks ago. And there was a scaly patch of skin about the size of a cigarette pack on my spine, just above where the bra line would have been if a 93-year old woman wore a bra in a hospital bed and asked to have her back scratched.

"Sympathy pains," I said to Deeply Supportive Spouse.

I've just returned from two and a half weeks at my mother's bedside, trying to remind a woman with dementia about why her hip hurt and calm her when she woke confused and frightened in a strange room.

"Tribute pains," Strong Silent Spouse replied.

I like that better. Tribute Pains, like Tribute Bands playing covers of their idols' hit singles.

So here are some of the hit singles from my Tucson sojourn. Not all are songs that you can sing without crying.

* A sure sign of changing times, it snowed in Tucson. White stuff covered the Catalina Mountains and the saguaros were frost-rimed in the morning air.

* The woman in the next bed had a more aggressive Tourette's-like version of dementia than my mother's. She started with a single sound … sh … sh … then worked it into shirt … skirt … short … shit … ending with the shouted refrain of "My shit. Eat Shit. Shit me!" I learned to duck when the repetition of "eff" worked its way into "fish." "Here's one fish," she'd call as she threw her top denture at me. "Here's a second fish!" was the lower denture. She had a good arm.

* William in Physical Therapy had been an army sergeant in Desert Storm. When asked to re-up, he declined. "They wanted me to treat my troops as numbers – as tasks – not as men. I couldn't do it. I'm doing what I want now."  He promised to wear his Stetson, tight jeans and cowboy boots the next day if my mother would try to stand. I'd seen him in those jeans. I encouraged her to make the effort.

* Dementia is a selective thing. Why does her mind refuse to recognize her daughter-in-law but also carve a deeply etched memory of the pain of breaking her leg? She wakes from restive sleep crying, "Don't hurt me!"

* Having a Strong Silent Deeply Supportive Spouse who takes his mother-in-law's soiled bedclothes back to the hotel each night and washes them is a pearl beyond price.

* She clings to her faith in her pain, but at the end, she's a realist. The muttered prayer I overheard as she drifted off to sleep was, "Dear Heavenly Father, if this is my time, take me now." A pause. "But if it's not, then cut this shit out."

* They've rigged up a hookah-like pipe for Rose, a young Asian woman with cerebral palsy, so she can have a puff of cigarette out on the patio without flinging embers all over herself. We high five when we see each other in the hall, but that may be just her regular flailing. I'm not sure that she means to connect with my flat palm at all.

* CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants) should be paid more. They changed diapers, spoon-fed and put lotion on my mother, all the time crooning "mamacita" or "mi hijita" to calm a frazzled mind. Steff, a raging gay Mexican man in hot pink scrubs, strewed rose petals over a patient's bed when he heard that she was returning from a doctor's visit with bad news.

* A moment in the winter sun on the patio can make it seem as if the world hasn't shifted on its axis and everything might be right once again.

* My brothers deal with the crisis of her injury the same way they face every other obstacle in their lives. Jim adds it to the already formidable list of things to be done. Robert, unable to watch the pain, runs from it, sure that somehow it is a failing on his part not to have made things right.

* My mother will return home today. Not because she's improved to that point, but because the insurance money will run out. A sweet Mexican woman named Socorro will be there to help clean her and feed her and my sister is flying in. We found thirteen gold coins in mom's safety deposit box to pay for the help for a few months.

* There were moments of semi-lucidity that I will treasure forever. As I left her that final night I leaned down to kiss my mother and tell her I loved her.

"I know it's been a tough few weeks for you but I loved our time together."

"Take it with you," she replied. "You can keep it."

I take it with me. It is my Tribute Pain.


Cover Girl

By Louise Ure

I’m down in Arizona this week to take care of my little bird of a 93-year old mother who fell and broke her femur at the hip. Her dementia, of course, makes recovery more difficult as she doesn’t remember that she fell and doesn’t know where she is when she wakes in the hospital.

In the meantime, let me leave you with one of my favorite topics: cover design in crime fiction. (I’ll be checking in from my iPhone. I guarantee typos all over the place in my replies.)

You’ll remember how giddy I was when I first saw the cover to Forcing Amaryllis. They nailed it on the first try.

 Forcing comp 5MB

I loved everything about it – the colors, the mood it evoked, the mystery it suggested. I built my website around the design, printed postcards and bookmarks, and only bought clothes that would look good when I was standing next to a display in a bookstore.

I didn’t realize then how lucky I was.

When The Fault Tree went into production, St. Martin’s Press took a different tack with the design. (I’d been with Mysterious Press for the first book, so this was their first outing with me, and their chance to brand my books the way they wanted to.)

The first effort caught me by surprise.


Yes, it’s a story about a blind woman, so the Braille images were appropriate. But ye Gods! It looked like a ransom note written by Helen Keller. And the Braille message stuck across the title didn’t read “The Fault Tree.” It said something like “East Chihuahua Tacos.” They even got the name of Laura Lippman's book wrong in the quote.

They went back to work. The second effort let me breathe a little easier, although I now envisioned buying only black clothes to wear on tour. “Not bad,” my editor said, “but we think it looks too much like a paperback.”


What exactly makes a cover “look like a paperback?” The only design element I’ve noticed in paperback covers is a tendency to put the title or title and author name higher on the page so that it can be read if it’s displayed in a rack.

I could have lived with it. I would have sat quietly next to that stack of black books at the signing table like a forty-year old on a less than satisfying blind date, offering it at arm’s length to interested readers, but not holding it close and whispering sweet nothings in its ear.

Bless their little mystery-loving hearts, St. Martin’s wasn’t content with that second design either. And happily, they asked David Rotstein to take a shot at it.


He got it. All of it. The ephemeral quality I wanted, the wistfulness, the danger. And he gave it a family look with the first book, even though this publisher hadn’t had anything to do with that first one.

So when cover design started for the new book, Liars Anonymous (April 2009), I knew I was in good hands.

Here was their first effort.

 Liars Anonymous:First Cover

Interesting. A sense of mystery. A bit of play with the title. A color palette that would stand out on the shelf. “It looks like a romance novel,” my agent said. Uh oh.

St. Martin’s went back for another try.


More interesting. But aren’t two hands with fingers crossed a sign of wishing rather than lying? “It looks like a YA novel,” my agent said.

St. Martin’s, ever undaunted, asked David Rotstein for another try.

 Liars Anonymous Final

Isn’t that one fabulous? I, of course, have now redesigned my website around it (thank you Maddee!), made bookmarks and postcards, and bought only clothes in shades of turquoise and salmon that would look good when I was standing next to a display in a bookstore.

If it were I blind date, I think I would propose.

I’m very much behind schedule in preparing for this book launch. Left Coast Crime, little-bird mothers and life have taken their toll. But the early reviews are now coming in, and I’m breathing a sigh of relief. Not only did I get a great cover, but it looks like the reaction to the book is positive, too.

Here are some of the highlights:

“A powerful, masterfully constructed, action-packed novel with fiercely moral underpinnings and strong protagonist, this cements Ure’s position alongside such psychological thriller masters as Ruth Rendell and Minette Walters."
              – Michele Leber, Booklist, starred review

“Ure provides a meaty, twisty puzzle. But the real prize here is Jessie, a tough, conflicted heroine you won’t soon forget."

              – Kirkus, starred review

“Shamus Award–winning Ure’s third mystery (after Forcing Amaryllis and The Fault Tree) is perhaps her finest effort to date.”

             – Library Journal, starred review

"As Ure slowly peels back the layers of scar tissue … readers come to realize just how damaged the feisty heroine truly is."
     – Publishers Weekly, starred review

Please think some fine positive thoughts for my mother, my ‘Rati friends. And then tell me your horror stories or  happy endings with cover design.


16 Random Things About Me

By Louise Ure

I got tagged with this Facebook-originated meme by Janet Rudolph over at Mystery Readers International. Now, I like Janet. A lot. But I hate memes. They always seem to crop up when I’ve got a deadline looming or a day that’s already so filled with crap and to-do’s that one more will truly drive me to drink and cuss and kick the dog.

But this one looks easy and hey, I was going to be blogging today anyway, right?

Okay, 16 random things about me.

1.    I love puns. I love them more if they work in more than one language. “To beech or not to beech” may be Hamlet’s arborist’s question, but it works equally well in French. (être/hêtre ou ne pas être/hêtre)


2.    Growing up, the sport I was most proficient at was fencing. I don’t think my knees could take it any more but I’d sure love to find out.

3.    I’ve seen Dolly Parton without a bra on.

4.    I like mariachi music. I know, that’s like admitting to a fondness for polkas, but there you are. I’ll eat bad Mexican food just to have a chance to request all the old rancheras from the 40’s and 50’s. Cielito Linda. La Paloma Negra. El Niño Perdido.

5.    I once served a man a piece of banana cream pie with a cockroach in it. When asked about it, I told him it was a pecan.

6.    My confirmation name is Bernadette. If I were choosing a name today, it would not be.

7.    I got my first haircut when I was fourteen. At that point my hair was down past my butt and it would take a half a day on Saturdays (with my mother’s help) to wash it and comb out the snarls. Never again.

8.    I was once sued for Loss of Consortium. That’s right. After a car accident, the other guy’s wife sued me because he wouldn’t make love to her anymore.

9.    I prefer listening to a baseball game on the radio rather than going to the ballpark or watching it on TV.

10.    I’m the middle child of five. That means that when we all went out to the store, my sister held my mother’s hand and I held hers.


11.    Someday I want to own a house with an infinity pool.

12.    I was nineteen when I first saw snow. That’s what the desert will do to you.

13.    I can’t stand chocolate. If I eat any desserts at all, they’re fruit based.

14.    An old boyfriend once told me I was prettier when I cried.

15.    The sound I hate most is dripping water, and I’ve been known to decamp the house or the hotel if I can’t make it stop.


16.    I saved this one for #16. You'll see why.

My last book, The Fault Tree, was just nominated for a Mary Higgins Clark Award. The submissions are limited to those books that have “no strong four-letter words or explicit sex scenes.” Well, I’m okay on the sex scene front, but I use the word “fuck” sixteen times in the novel. Sixteen (16) times. So I guess fuck is no longer considered a strong four-letter word. Too cool.

I’m cutting my fellow authors and bloggers some slack and not passing this meme on. I know you’re all already busy enough with writing and real life. But I’d love to hear some random thoughts in the comments section! What say you, ‘Rati? Tell me something good.

And Happy Inauguration Day! Barack Obama is President. Arizona is going to the Superbowl. All is right with the world.

The Spoken Word


By Louise Ure

"Just because you ran over him doesn't make you guilty."

– Man to man, overheard at Starbucks in Belmont by Harry Smith

There's something special about the spoken word that sets my heart a-thumping. That's true for dialogue in crime fiction, but also for the casual eavesdropping I do in coffee shops, at cocktail parties and in line at the bank.

Take the example above. It's part of a daily offering in our San Francisco paper, where hapless bystanders phone in the most bizarre conversation they've overheard that day.

Is that a story starter or what?

Maybe they're talking about running over a dog. Maybe a little kid darted out from between two cars. Or maybe the second man used his car as a battering ram in self-defense when some guy was attacking him.

Whatever the case, if I opened a book to find those words on the first page, I wouldn't be able to put it down.

It's a hook, certainly, as well as a glimpse into a character and a life. And it's all fodder for our work. Maybe that line will define a character I create (someone with the morals of a weasel, methinks).

Maybe it will become the basis for a plotline (a father telling his adopted teenage daughter that it was okay to leave the scene of the accident because he knew he couldn't afford to have the cops get her name, photo and fingerprints. Hmmm.).

Here are a few more "Public Eavesdropping" mentions from the paper that made their way into the Ideas Folder on my desk:

"Check it out, dude. those are isotopes."
                                                     -Young men overheard at the BART station by Robin Sutherland

"I am really attracted to people with hyphenated names. It shows extra effort."
-Uncredited Public Eavesdropping, SF Chronicle
"My parents' biggest disappointment in me is that I'm not a lesbian."

– Woman in clothing shop in San Francisco, overheard by Mike Pincus

"A marshmallow saved my dad's life."

– Man to woman, overheard at Longs in Oakland by Elyanna Snyder

We all do it. Pretend to be consulting your iPhone, but your ears are trained on the conversation of the two people in front of you in line at the grocery store. Stop to dig around in your purse, but you're just killing time so you can listen in on the fight in the car parked next to you in the lot.

A friend of mine proudly wears a sweatshirt that reads "Be nice or I'll put you in my next novel." I'd never announce my intentions  that way. It's too much fun to sit back unobtrusively and jot down the random craziness I hear in the next booth at the coffee shop.

Here are a few more from my own eavesdropping efforts:

"Unidentified transient odors are not enough cause for a warrant."
– Man in a suit to a cop, overheard at coffee shop in San Francisco
"She treats him like a flying carpet. Walks all over him and still expects him to take her places."
– Young woman to young woman, San Francisco Galeria
"If he touched my leg one more time I thought I'd have an organism."
– Preteen girl to preteen girl in Nordstrom's, Seattle
"I used to be your mother once."
-Middle-aged woman to teenage daughter wearing headphones in MacDonalds on I-5
"How would you know it was a real hot flash and not just July?"
– Woman to woman at Fry's grocery story in Tucson, Arizona in July
"Why don't you buy a slipcover for it?"
"Because then it would look like a couch wearing a condom."
– Well-dressed woman and man in line at Wells Fargo
"I think she was a Weather Girl in another life."
– Said with a sneer by a middle-aged woman in line for a movie
"I thought Greenwich Mean Time was the hour I was allowed to be obnoxious."
– Teenage girl to father in food court

And my current favorite:

"No, no. If you're famous before the trial, you get acquitted.
If you're famous because of the trial, you get convicted."
-Lawyer to gangbanger at a lunch counter next to the Hall of Justice, San Francisco

We couldn't make this shit up. And isn't that grand?

Sorry for the short post today, 'Rati, but I'm knee deep (along with Co-Chair Judy Greber) in the final programming for Left Coast Crime in Hawaii. Who to moderate this panel? Can we shift the time so that folks can get to see the lava flow? Is she arriving Saturday or Sunday? If you haven't signed up yet, please do so soon, or you'll miss out on the very best panel placement opportunities. This is going to be a blast.

And in the meantime, what's your very best "overheard" conversation?


Double Timing

By Louise Ure

We've all done it, sometimes on purpose and sometimes when we were forced to. And the results can be the stuff good dreams are made of or the basis for a really scary horror story.

I'm talking about double (or multiple) author signing events.

You know how it goes. Maybe you and a friend have books coming out about the same time. Maybe your publisher asked you if you'd share a book tour event with one of their new authors. More often than not, it's the bookseller who requests it if they have two authors in town the same day.

For the most part double signings are a good thing. Having more than one author there can increase the audience attendance for an event. It can introduce readers and fans of one author to another writer's work. And it can be a hell of a lot more fun to have somebody else to share that signing desk with if nobody shows up at all.

But then there's the flip side.

  • The egomaniacal fellow-signer who takes up fifty-five minutes of a one-hour event.
  • The cozy writer who goes all bug-eyed every time you use the word "damn."
  • The thrill-seeker who uses all the m*****f***** words over the microphone, right next to the childrens section.
  • The insecure writer who asks how much of an advance you got for the book and then, when you don't answer, tells that audience that his book is better than yours because he probably got paid more. 
  • The scantily-clad romantic suspense writer whose bra looks like a flying buttress, and whose reading includes acting out a particularly acrobatic sex scene.
  • The otherwise-perfectly-nice writer who, while answering an audience question, says he enjoyed your first book a great deal more than the new one.
  • Or, my particular horror, the self-published writer who spends the entire time telling the audience that any book published by one of the big New York houses is "derivative and uncreative."

With friends like these, who needs enemies? It's enough to make you want to go on a blog tour.

But there are some folks who do it right. One in particular, who did it more than right. And this is a love letter to him.

It's just that I'm a year too late in telling him.

Early last January when The Fault Tree was released, I was checking the booksellers' websites in preparation for my tour and saw that Chris Acevedo at Tucson's Clues Unlimited, had booked me with a debut author named Leighton Gage.

I checked him out online. Blood of the Wicked. An interesting sounding book, set in Brazil. Good blurbs and reviews. And we shared a common background of a life in international advertising. Okay. I can help build an audience for a new kid on tour.

Now you've got to understand. Tucson is home territory for me. My family there is almost four hundred strong. Everybody I ever went to school with still lives within the city limits. I've got my initials etched in sidewalks from the Catalina Mountains to the Rincons.

And Clues Unlimited is a teeny tiny place. Enough room for thirty to stand shoulder to shoulder, if they've all showered recently and nobody's wearing anything thicker than a t-shirt.

I wrote to Leighton and warned him what he'd be up against.

"We'll have a good crowd, but there's not a lot of room to sit so we don't want to keep them standing there waiting too long. After all, my mom's ninety-four. Maybe we each do a five to ten minute talk and then take questions?"

He agreed and said he'd go first.

On the night, the bookstore filled quickly. Maybe 75 people or so. All of them my family and high school graduating class. Leighton and I sat at two separate presentation tables like undermanned debate teams.

He stood and said, "None of you came here to see me this evening. You're here to see Louise. I've read her book and it's fabulous. Let's just hear what she has to say."

And he sat down.

I hadn't asked this of him. I hadn't expected this from him. I hadn't wanted this from him.

But rather than demur, I went on with my planned five-to-ten minute presentation, and then when the questions started, I made sure that we both answered them.

If one of my high school friends asked "How can you write about Tucson when you don't live here anymore?" I would give a short answer and then ask Leighton, "What about the Brazil you describe. Is it drawn from today's headlines or a memory of all the time you spent there?'

It turned into a real discussion instead of a presentation, and I think was a much better evening than any other way we could have done it.

And when it came time to sign books? My whole family lined up to buy Leighton's book instead of mine. (Naturally.)

Since then, Leighton and I have become closer friends. Close enough to keep in touch, and for me to offer an author comment (I hate the word blurb) for his next book, Buried Strangers .

"Leighton Gage is a breathtaking storyteller whose richly drawn characters
will haunt you long after you've finished his books.
Buried Strangers, his second novel, is pitch perfect in its description
of the poverty, corruption and violence of Brazil and the evil that men can do.
It's a book you can't afford to miss.
Don't be surprised if you find yourself dreaming in Portuguese."

Buried Strangers comes out next week. See? I'm only a year behind in thanking Leighton for his graciousness and generosity last January. But now I get the chance to recommend an absolutely terrific book for those of you who don't yet know Leighton Gage's work.

So, all you writers out there who want to know how to pull off the perfect double signing, just ask Leighton Gage. Share the limelight. Be kind to each other. Respect the other writer's skills and background and time allocation. Have fun. Their success will redound to you.

Especially if it comes from the heart.

So, Rati', as we get ready to tuck in for the holiday, want to share any horror stories (or successes) from double signings? You don't have to name names if you really don't want to.

Whips and Chains

By Louise Ure

I spoke at a book club gathering in San Francisco a few days ago. It was a small affair – only three attendees plus the hostess – but it was an evening I will never forget.

It was Monday, the first day back at work after the Thanksgiving holiday. Who could possibly remember that they'd scheduled an author visit to discuss The Fault Tree? Surely that's the reason the other people who were expected that evening did not show up. I probably wouldn't have either if I hadn't been the speaker.

So there were five of us in the room. Three black women and two white. All of us between forty-five and sixty. Two of us childless, three who were mothers with adult children.

As usual, I was stunned by the notion that these women discussed the characters from my book as if they were alive. As if they'd just left a conversation with them.

"She's got to get more of a backbone. She can't go around feeling so guilty
all the time. It'll wear her out."

"I'd like to go out with him. He knows how to treat a woman."

Then somebody mentioned the punishment I had conjured up for the protagonist in her youth: her mother would send her to put her face against the Fault Tree, a giant eucalyptus in the backyard, and stand there until she was ready to say she was sorry.

"You know her mother beat her when she was a kid," one woman said. Two others nodded knowingly.

They were reading into the character more than I had intended. I'd never seen the mother as physically abusive, but as someone who scarred with her language, her scorn, and her neglect. That's certainly bad enough, but I hadn't imagined a physically as well as emotionally-battered child in the story.

Then the real conversation started.

Each of the women in the room, except for me, said that she had been beaten as a child. And two of them said they beat their own children.

There was no apology. No pity. It was a statement of fact and how things had to be done. There was even laughter as the shared stories struck home.

"My mother would say, 'Go get a switch and it better not be a small one.'"

"My mother would wait until I'd forgotten all about my transgression,
until I was in the bath and naked and wet, because it would hurt more then."

"My mother would plait the switches together."

"My mother had a leather strip she cut from a conveyor belt.
She called it Mr. Do Right. When we grew up, she cut each of us kids
a piece of it to keep as a souvenir."

I remember how horrified I was at the punishment concocted for the young girl in Sue Monk Kidd's "The Secret Life of Bees." She was forced to kneel barelegged for hours on a hard floor that had been strewn with grains of rice. Imagine the pain. The impossibility of finding a moment of release. (UPDATE: Sara J graciously added a comment to correct me: "Not rice on the floor in THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES – grits.")

But this – this casual discussion of the disgrace of child abuse, treated almost with an "I can top that" storytelling technique? And the greater sin … that two of them felt perfectly justified in beating their own children?

"I only hit him on his butt and the back of his legs,
where it won't be seen."

One black woman described it as protection.

"Whatever I do to my son is nothing compared to what
The Man would do if they caught him and thought he was a criminal.
I've got to scare him straight before they get to him."

I don't mean this to suggest that child abuse is a black issue versus a white one. Nor that mothers are the beaters and fathers are not. These are just the stories I heard that night.

In a subsequent conversation with another friend this week, I learned of a white family back East where the father would start counting in a loud voice as he sat in his easy chair. Whatever number he reached by the time the children heard him and got to his side was the number of strokes they would receive. Prior bad behavior on their part was not even required.

Then we hear about the 17-year old boy who finally escaped his captors in Tracy, California this week, just forty miles from my home, with the chain and padlock still attached to his ankle.

Or the father who imprisoned his daughter for twenty-four years and fathered seven children with her.

Could we even make up anything as evil, unstable and vicious as the real stories out there?

It makes my Fault Tree horror seem angelic.

I'm not sure what response I'm asking of you today, 'Rati. I'm still shaken by the proximity and common face of such pain. It's everywhere. It's passed down from generation to generation. And sometimes it's even taken as the status quo.

We should be ashamed.


Who To Query?

By Louise Ure

This month I’m all about query letters here at Murderati. For the first installment, check out this post from two weeks ago about how to craft a query letter. The question for today is: Now what do I do with it?

First of all, take a deep breath. You’re about to embark on perhaps the most fraught-filled leg of the journey to publication. You’re opening yourself up to criticism far beyond any of the yammerings of your writer’s group and you need to steel yourself.

Start here: The simple answer to the question is, you send your query letter to agents who are most likely to be responsive to your work.

That means they’re agents who deal in your genre, who are looking for new clients to add to their roster, who are passionate about your work, and who you believe have the clout and the contacts to make you an advantageous sale.

But how do you find them?

If you’re like me, you had no education or grounding in the publishing business before you started to write. I’d never met a living author (was there even such a thing?) until I started writing my own books. I had certainly never met an agent.

The good news is that the information is out there and easily available – online, in libraries and bookstores, and in person.

– Try Agent Query  for the addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses of reputable literary agents, plus additional information, including an agent’s previous publishing experience, education, former agency affiliations, former agency address, titles sold, past and present clients, genres and special interests.

– Or Query Tracker which includes a neat program to track all your queries then pool the results to provide aggregate information on an agent’s genre-specific acceptance/rejection history and response time.

– Try Preditors & Editors, Writer Beware and Absolute Write for the “Worst 20” lists and alerts to agent scams.

– Most literary agents have their own websites now, including information about recent sales, client lists and policies.

– You can also check them out with the national organization, The Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc.

– A couple of good print versions of the information are: Chuck Sambuchino’s, 2009 Guide to Literary Agents or Jeff Herman’s (brand new as of November 11, 2008) Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents 2009. I particularly love the Jeff Herman book.

– You could subscribe to Publisher’s Marketplace, an industry newsletter which announces deals, sales, reviews, and which agents are selling work. Online subscription is $20.00 a month, but it’s a month-by-month contract so you shouldn’t have to fork out much to get enough information to get you started. And pay special attention to the page where they talk about which agent has moved to a new house or started their own agency. Those are the ones most interesting in building new client lists.

– Check out the acknowledgements page in published novels. Most authors include thanks to their agents and editors.

– Join Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, or International Thriller Writers. Even if you don’t live in a big city, you can participate in Internet Chapters of the organizations or build relationships with member-authors by email. Ask them who their agents are and how they like working with them.

– Go to conferences. Even the fan-based cons like Bouchercon have lots of agents in attendance and lots of authors you can talk to about their agents. And the smaller, writer-oriented conferences can be superb opportunities not just to hear about an agent but to spend time with one.

Some miscellaneous but equally important advice:

  • Start with a list of 50 potential agents and send out ten at a time, starting with your “All Star” favorites.
  • There’s no magic number of agents to query and no assumption of how long it should take. Plan on sending out 1-100 letters over the course of a month to a year.
  • If you haven’t heard from an agent you’ve queried in a month, go on to the next on your list.
  • Do include some agents on your list who say they are not accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Believe me, they’re still reading all query letters and yours might just meet something they’re looking for.
  • Don’t bother with Fedex or overnight delivery of your query or sample pages. It makes no impression on the agent, other than to think you waste money.
  • If an agent asks for exclusivity – personally, I’m against giving it, but it’s up to you – limit the time for the exclusive review. Four to six weeks at most.
  • Avoid literary agents who charge a reading fee. The professional ones would never ask you for it and the unprofessional are not the ones you want representing your book.
  • Don’t pay for a “customized list of agents” based on reading your work. I know there are lots of internet offers out there for services like this, but honest to God, aren’t you the best person to know what your work is like? It’s like asking someone with an online Baby Book to name your child.
  • Save all your rejection letters. First of all, they’re nice to look back on when you’re happily published. In the meantime, they might teach you something. Is there an overriding theme in the rejections? If their criticism rings true to your ears, you may want to take another look at your novel. Are they all form letters? Maybe your query letter needs a tune up to more clearly demonstrate your style or the uniqueness of your story.
  • Remind yourself that rejection is not personal; that if an agent didn’t love the sound of your book then she probably wouldn’t have been a passionate advocate for it.
  • Reward yourself at every step along the way. For having the guts to send out a query in the first place. For sending out ten more. For getting a request for a partial. For getting a request for the full manuscript. Hell, reward yourself for reaching the milestone of 21 rejections. Or 50. Or 100.
  • Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.

I know that several of our ‘Rati members got their agents through other, less traditional, means, so there are undoubtedly other sources, tricks and tips that I’m not thinking of here. What say you, ‘Rati? Any other good advice? Or do you want to share the worst rejection letter you ever got?