Category Archives: Louise Ure

The Dreaded Query Letter

By Louise Ure

Since I became a published writer, there are two questions asked of me more often than any others.

•    Readers, friends and family always ask, “Where do you get your ideas?”

•    Beginning writers, however, ask, “How did you get an agent?”

In some ways, I think the agent search is more difficult than actually writing the book. Remember, eighty percent of Americans say they’re going to write a book one day. If even ten percent of them finally sit down to try it and only one percent actually finish it, that still means that 300,000 people are trying to get their first book published. And there are lots more who are trying to stay published. That’s an awful lot of people vying for an agent’s attention.

There are other options than going the traditional get-an-agent-get-a-publisher route. Some small publishers do not require an agent. Some writers choose to use a print-on-demand process and self-publish.

I decided to go the traditional route because I wanted to be published, not just in print, and because I wanted the marketing, editorial and distribution arms of a major publisher behind me.

To do that, you need an agent. And to get an agent you need a query letter.

The query letter is a deceptively simple document, and harder to write than you ever expected. There are several variations on specific formatting. Here’s mine.

A query letter should have four parts to it:

•    The facts

You should include the title of your work, the genre, the approximate word count and the fact that it is completed. (In mystery fiction the book must be completed before you submit your query, you know that, right?)

This paragraph should also include the reason you’re writing to this particular agent. Did you see a blog post they wrote that intrigued you? Have you read every book by one of their clients and thought the agent might also be interested in a similar tone or theme in your work? Did you meet them at a conference? (I will admit that sometimes it’s hard to come up with a believable reason for selecting each agent. I was once tempted to write, “Your middle initial is C and my middle initial is C!”)

•    The hook

The hook is a one-sentence tagline for your book. It’s meant to hook the reader’s (agent’s) interest and keep them reading. It can either go at the beginning of your query letter, or as part of the mini-synopsis.

The hook for The Da Vinci Code might have looked something like this:

“A murder in the silent after-hour halls of the Louvre museum reveals a sinister plot to uncover a secret that has been protected by a clandestine society since the days of Christ.” (From

The hook for my most recent book, The Fault Tree, might be:

“When blind auto mechanic Cadence Moran becomes the only witness to a brutal murder, she sets herself up as the killer’s next target, and she won’t even be able to see the danger approach.”

•    The mini-synopsis

This is an entire summary of your book, in no more than two paragraphs — maybe 150 words – told in the most compelling way possible. You need to lay out the story, and introduce the major characters, the situation, the setting and the era, the motives of the characters and what obstacles they face. And you need to do it in a way that reflects your voice and writing style.


“Steve Hartz, a postal worker in Miami, has a peculiar talent. He’s very good at sketching, but he isn’t an artist. In fact, all of the sketches are done in his sleep. More disturbing, all of the sketches are coming true. First, there was the portrait of Maria Seever – two days before he met her. And then, more sinister, came the sketches of the crimes, all two days before they occurred. The places in the sketches are all familiar haunts of his, and Hartz begins to wonder if he’s involved in the crimes somehow. Fearful of turning to the police, Hartz determines to solve the mystery himself – with the help of Maria, the psychic from his first sketch, who knows far more than she’s telling.” (From Writers Digest.)

Easy? No, but possible. Keep rewriting the hook and mini-synopsis. Ask your family and friends to read it. Cut out all the flowery language and get down to the guts of what makes this story special.

•    Writer’s bio

If you’ve got writing credentials, this is the place to brag. If you don’t, that’s okay, too.

Keep in mind, this is not a resume. Include only that information that gives the agent a reason to believe that you know what you’re writing about and you’re the only person who could have written this book. If you were in the military and your book is a spy thriller, that’s relevant. If you grew up in Boise and that’s where your book is set, that’s relevant. But if you published two computer-training manuals and this book is a private eye novel, that experience should not be included.

One final example. Here’s the actual query letter I sent out for my first novel. You’ll see that it doesn’t strictly follow all the rules I’ve laid out above, but it worked for me. And yep, that’s how I got an agent.


Dear (Specific Agent Name),

I have completed my first novel, FORCING AMARYLLIS (approximately 80,000 words), and am now seeking a literary agent. Your representation of (Specific Author Name) and (Specific Author Name) who also set their works in the desert Southwest made me think that you might be receptive to my work.

For this story, I’ve chosen to write about the world of trial consultants and jury selection specialists, a group not widely known outside of legal corridors and the O.J. Simpson trial. My research suggests there is no series and no protagonist in current crime fiction that focuses on this area. It is a garden ripe with stories to be told.

In FORCING AMARYLLIS, Calla Gentry is a Trial Consultant in Tucson, Arizona. She has been asked to help defend Raymond Cates against a murder charge, but soon realizes that he could be the man who violently raped her sister, Amaryllis (Amy), seven years ago and left her for dead. Calla reluctantly accepts the help of private investigator Anthony Strike, who is also part of the Cates defense team, to discover the truth about her sister’s attack. Through it all, Calla is torn between professionally executing her job – juror selection, strategy planning, witness preparation, mock trials – for the accused man who has put his faith in her, and a growing awareness that he might be her sister’s attacker and must be stopped. When the legal system fails her, she confronts the real villain and he lashes out against her in a battle that ends in a remote desert canyon in the moonlight.

Like my protagonist, I spent years in advertising, marketing and market research. In my case, my experience covers more than two decades and includes work on three continents. I found it fascinating to translate those same communication and research skills to the courtroom through this story. And while I now live in San Francisco, I am a third generation Tucsonan, and have tried to bring the legends, the mystery and the magic of the desert Southwest I love to life in this work.

FORCING AMARYLLIS is finished and available upon request. I’ve enclosed a synopsis, a sample chapter and a self-addressed stamped envelope, as you suggested on your published contact information. Please let me know if you’d like to see the rest. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your reply.




Do’s and Don’ts Checklist:

•    Do make your query letter short, professional and businesslike. That means one page or at most one and a half pages with a 12 point font. No typos. No grammatical errors. No colored paper or glitter.

•    Do address your letter to a specific agent, not just “Dear Agent”

•    Do include all the information on how to reach you, including phone and email

•    Do include a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) with all snail mail submissions

•    Do write your hook and mini-synopsis in the present tense. It gives it more immediacy.

•    Do thank the agent for their time and consideration of your project.

•    Don’t sing the praises of your book like a huckster. (“My friends all say it’s hilarious!”)

•    Don’t compare it to a famous bestselling novel. Let the agent come to that decision on his own.

•    Don’t send anything other than what the agent’s website suggests. If they say “query letter only,” send that. If they say “query letter and first chapter” send that.

•    Don’t include any attachments with email submissions. Include the file in the body of the email, but only if the agent’s guidelines tell you to send something more than the query.

In my next blog post (Tuesday, November 25), I’ll cover the other half of the query question: Who do you send it to?

In the meantime, do any of you have any query letter tips or horror stories? Do tell.


Farewell to a Friend

By Louise Ure

Elaine Flinn, one of the co-creators of the Murderati blog and author of the award-winning Molly Doyle series of mystery novels set in Carmel, California died on Saturday night in Eugene, Oregon.

God, I hate writing obituaries for friends.

Let me try again.

Elaine Flinn, one of the most vibrant and generous authors in crime fiction, died Saturday at her home in Eugene, Oregon.

Or maybe …

Elaine Flinn, one of those larger-than-life characters you seldom meet but never forget, died Saturday after hand-to-hand combat with a virulent form of cancer.

I give up. I have no words today. My heart is broken.

I first met Elaine at an MWA charitable event in Northern California before my first book was published. I was still in my Pollyanna phase; I loved my agent, my editor and my publisher. My book covers were the best ever. No copy editor had ever made a dumb comment on my manuscript. In pure bluff-gruff fashion, Elaine took a long hit off her cigarette and said, “If you’re going to be a real writer you have to learn to whine.”

At the end, even she didn’t take that advice. Riddled with cancer, she booked her reservations for Bouchercon and next spring’s Left Coast Crime in Hawaii. And instead of sharing the news of the cancer diagnosis, she asked her friends to say she had taken a fall and hurt her back. "Are you nuts?" she said. "If you say cancer, no agent or publisher will want anything to do with me!" There was no whining allowed.

I’ll leave the eulogies to others. They say it so much better than I.

From Paul Guyot:

"Elaine was all or nothing. If she loved you, she LOVED you and would do anything for you. If she hated you, look out.

She was loyal, she was generous, she was beautiful, and she was incredibly underrated as a writer. One of my favorite things about her was the fact that she never seemed too interested in monetary success or accolades – what was important to Elaine was respect from other writers. And she had it from those that read her.

There have been some other authors to pass recently, and I’ve read all these blog postings where people are saying what a personal loss they’ve experienced and yet, they never even met the author, or they only shook their hand at a signing or conference. These people have no idea what a personal loss this is. I met Elaine through the writing community and mystery conferences. But I was friends with her because of the person she was, not the writer she was. You could talk with Elaine about writing, or you could talk with her about food or sea lions or Irishmen or barstools or eyebrows or anything else, and she always had an informed opinion, and when you talked with her, she always made you feel like you were the most important person, and your conversation was the most important conversation happening in the world at that moment.

And she loved to laugh. My God, but the two of us got ourselves into so much trouble because of our desire to make each other laugh. Those are the memories I will keep at the front of my mind. Those are the times I will look back on and smile. God, she loved to laugh."

From Lee Child:

"I knew Elaine pretty well for many years – and probably spent more time with her at conventions than I spent with anyone else, because of the hours we spent smoking together outside the hotel doors.  So today I’m missing her and mourning her – but I’m not grieving.  She would have dismissed that idea with a husky laugh and a twinkle in those dark eyes.  She lived fast and careless and had a ball.  We loved a particular line from the movie "The Taking of Pelham 123" … I called her when I found out she was sick and she hit me with it once again: "What do they want for their 35 cents?  To live forever??"  She had more fun in however many years it was than most people get in a longer lifetime, and she knew it.  So I’m not grieving.  And I’m still smoking.  My buddy Elaine would have expected no less."

From Ken Bruen:

Elaine was the original earth mother, the very life force, she gave hugs that enwrapped you in their warmth. Last year, at the Edgars, she sat beside me on the couch in the grand Hyatt, said ‘God, I love being with writers, aren’t they grand.’

Few more majestic, more truly grand than my beloved Elaine, she took my hand in hers, adding, ‘Your hands are cold, I’ll warm them for you.’ As indeed, she warmed my very life.

This is a day that nothing will warm the cold of loss I feel. Rest well my wondrous friend.

From Gayle Lynds:

I loved Elaine.  Funny, brainy, sharp, and endlessly kind, she was a
constant surprise with her earthy advice and twinkling eyes.  She was the kind of force of nature all of us should have in our lives.  A new star is shining above us, in the firmament.  When I look up, I see you, Elaine.

From Laura Lippman:

I met Elaine at Malice Domestic and had what I have to think is the classic first impression. In short: What fun! This lady is a hoot!

Over the five or so years I knew her, she was always kind and supportive, one of the first people to write me a note of congratulations when something nice happened.

I don’t know . . . I tend to be inarticulate in these things. Words have such an easy currency in the life of a writer that I think it’s natural not to be able to find the right ones in this case. I just really liked her and my heart goes out to her family.

From  MWA’s Margery Flax:

“Fendi. I’m always going to remember the Fendi perfume. When I’d give her a hug, I’d say, ‘I’m going to smell like you all day.’ ‘What’s wrong with that?’ she’d reply.”

From Cornelia Read:

The Flinns were the smartest family in Carmel, California, and the coolest. I used to hang out with Elaine’s daughter Kelly and her gang of irregulars eating crepes at a little place in town, under the stairs where I. Magnin used to be, on Ocean Avenue. We would snark and laugh for hours.

The very first time Kelly took me to her house to meet Elaine and Joe, everyone was talking about Dave Brubeck.

As a teenage hippie kid raised on Donovan and Hendrix, I had no idea who this was.

"Dave Brubeck? ‘Take Five’?" asked Elaine and Joe.

I stood there dumbly.

"Are you fucking serious?" asked Elaine, patting me on the shoulder. "Oh, you poor kid."

"Take Five" has been one of my favorite songs ever since.

And I learned early that it was F-L-I-N-N, never with a "Y," because Flinn was the REAL Irish spelling and Flynn was evidence of the lasting taint of British oppression, which is something you do not fuck around about in the presence of this family.

After that I ended up going east to school, and stayed there a good while. Kelly and I kept in touch sporadically, 3000 miles apart.

When I joined MWA NorCal, about six years ago, I noticed one particular name in the membership list. Elaine Flinn. With an "I."

I emailed immediately: "*Kelly’s mom, Elaine Flinn?"

She wrote me back about sixty seconds later: "Cornelia, where the hell have you been? Welcome, kid."

I can picture her really clearly right now, sitting at the Great Conference Bar with Tony Hillerman, a glass of Jack Daniels in her hand. She’s dressed impeccably, as always, and she just said something smart and funny and wicked that cracked him right the hell up.

There’s Brubeck on the jukebox, too.

My heart goes out to Elaine’s husband Joe, to Kelly and Sharon and Patrick. Theirs is a great, great loss.

It is ours as well.

Elaine was damn good people. I am so lucky to have known her."

From our own Alexandra Sokoloff:

"There will never be anyone quite like her – our own Hedda Hopper."

Cara Black remembers laughing at Elaine’s recent emails:

"When she asked me help on the St Martins/MWA judging panel she wrote in full-Elaine style: au contraire (howeverthehellyousayit) you’ll help with the contest? Honest? I adore you. Gonna miss seeing you at the Edgars – but there’s Bcon right?

From Ali:

So how did I first meet Elaine Flinn?
Louise Ure like myself, with fellow critics Dave Montgomery and Larry Gandle were judges for the inaugural ITW Thriller Awards, hence had spent much time emailing each other during the judging process. Though I knew David and Larry well (having met up with them at Bouchercon in 2003), I had never met Elaine Flinn. After a most difficult journey from London; when I arrived at The Arizona Biltmore Hotel I walked into the bar and the first thing I heard as “Ali’s arrived!” and it was Elaine Flinn who sprang up from her chair and gave me a huge hug. My travel stress just evaporated with that embrace. I enjoyed hanging out with Elaine during that weekend. She was so full of energy, fun and her laugh infectious. Just thinking about her today puts a smile on my face. At Thrillerfest, she even insisted on me joining her table at the ITW awards banquet with Larry Gandle and David Montgomery. She saved a seat for me and placed me next to one of my literary heroes F. Paul Wilson [as she knew that ‘The Keep’ was one of my all-time favourite novels]. She was just so thoughtful.
She championed many writers, helped people – but the greatest memory I have was when in New York with Mike Stotter the following year for the second Thrillerfest Conference. I pulled out a copy of “Deadly Vintage” a terrific mystery featuring her alter-ego Molly Doyle. I asked Elaine if she would sign it for me as I absolutely loved the book. In typical Flinn fashion she said “Oh that’s so sweet, but I thought you only read Noir?” I told her that “Deadly Vintage” was just wonderful, and she blushed and beamed replying simply “Thank you Ali, but more importantly thank you for introducing me to Nick Stone, you were right, “Mr. Clarinet” was one of my favourite books.” Again, typically Elaine was always supporting other writers.
She wil be missed by us all.

From Larry Gandle:

I have known and shared a lot of laughs with Elaine since I met her
at the Chicago Bouchercon. We spent a lot of time together at the
bar at the Thrillerfest in Phoenix. There is one photo that was humorous at the time which showed Elaine talking to a few of us with a cigarette held above her head and appeared to show her smoking from the top of her head.

As a radiation oncologist I advised her to quit or cut down but the addiction was set in for decades. I knew she would not live much longer as the cancer spread to her spine and brain. I asked her in September if she would consider going to the Bouchercon in Baltimore primarily to allow us to say goodbye and tell her how much we love her. Her oncologist said it would be too risky due to the chemotherapy.

Personally, I never tell a terminally ill patient they cannot travel to see family and friends for the last time unless it is truly impossible. Ironically, as it turned out she only lasted a few weeks longer.

And from Elaine’s daughter, Kelly:


"I wish you all could have met her and known her – there was only one and there will NEVER be anyone like her on the planet again.

Know that she loved you all – even if she may never have met you face to face – and that your good thoughts and prayers meant more to her than I can say."

A memorial service is being planned for Carmel, California. I’ll let you know the details as they’re finalized. In the meantime, God speed, Elaine.

Please share your own memories and wishes in the comments section.



Moments of Epiphany


By Louise Ure

There are moments of epiphany in otherwise normal, expected days that can take your breath away. Moments when everything seems worth it. When you’re surprised by a sense of bliss like a ray of sunshine on a cloud-dark day.

I had several of those in Baltimore. Tiny things, some of them, that made five days at Bouchercon a time that I will remember forever.

This won’t sound like anybody else’s review of our annual convention for crime fiction aficionados, I’m guessing, although like every other blog poster, I have to commend the organizing committee – and especially Ruth Jordan and Judy Bobalik – for doing such an extraordinary job. They planned well, they handled concerns with ease and grace, and they made it all seem effortless.

But my special moments are different. Not the panels I attended. Not the panels I led. Not the parties. They’re more private than that, and perhaps less obvious.

Like meeting Kaye Barley for the first time. Should I have expected the open, honest gaze in her eyes? Yes, her eyes have the same generosity and candor as her posts. But it’s the caramel-covered Southern accent that stopped me dead in my tracks. When you read Kaye’s posts from now on, listen for the lilt, the measured sweetness that makes you feel like you’ve just been welcomed home.

Like seeing the instant and expert help offered to the writer’s husband who had fallen down the stairs between panel sessions. It was a short flight of stairs, no more than five or six, but when he tumbled he must have hit his head on the metal handrail on the way down. He lay unmoving, with blood gushing from a jagged cut on his chin. Not only did those around him move to help with the speed of trauma team but they did it with expertise. Readers and writers who, in normal life, are doctors and nurses were by his side in a matter of seconds. Isn’t it a joy that our crime fiction community includes these folks with such special skills?

There was also The Sad Moment of The Lost Children on Thursday night. I returned to my room on the fourth floor of the hotel after the awards presentations and drinks and loud, bubbly conversation in the lobby. There, sitting on the floor of the hallway and leaning up against door #408, were two little black girls, one about three years old and one about eight. They were breathtakingly beautiful, dressed all in white in almost African garb, with convoluted turban-like headdresses on.  I asked if they were okay and the elder of the two said fine but they were locked out of their room. I asked where their parents were and she replied, “I don’t know.” I called hotel security and they arrived almost immediately, with crooning, comforting voices, a master passkey and two chocolate chip cookies.

On Saturday night, the whole Murderati crew met for drinks in the bar, and I finally got to meet B.G.Ritts and R.J. and Wilfred. How can I feel that I’ve known them forever? The entire evening felt like a celebration family dinner, diminished only by the absence of JT, Tess, Allison and Toni.

And speaking of missing Murderati folks, nothing could have been finer that seeing the light in Ken Bruen’s eyes as he introduced his fiancée, Lisa, out on the breezeway between the hotels. You know if this woman has captured his heart that she is indeed someone special.

And then there was Nancy. When she showed up in the signing room with a copy of The Fault Tree, she had this beaming expression on her face like a proud parent watching a child’s first school play. I knew the face, but from where? “When I met you in El Paso four years ago,” she said, “you said I was the first person to ever ask you for an autograph.” And so she was. She’d had a just-released ARC of Forcing Amaryllis and it was the first time that anyone had ever considered me an author or ever asked me to sign a book. I remember how I felt that day, like I had champagne running through my veins. She is, and always will be, my first fan.

Others will tell you how fine the panels were, how raucous the parties, how Baltimore showed its good and bad side block by block. I’ll remember Kaye, and Nancy, the soon-to-be Lisa Bruen, helpful nurses, and small trembling children in hotel hallways. You know what they all have in common? Someone caring for and about someone else. That’s not a bad epiphany at all.


Get A Clew

By Louise Ure


For the criminally-minded among you, my friend Jude Greber (Gillian Roberts) wrote me recently that she’d just read “The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher," a nonfiction account of a homicide in England in the 1860’s, which was full of interesting tidbits on the birth of the detective, and of the detective novel.

* The word ‘clue‘ derives from ‘clew’, meaning a ball of thread or yarn. It had come to mean ‘that which points the way’ because of the Greek myth in which Theseus uses a ball of yarn, given to him by Ariadne, to find his way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth.

* The word "detect" comes from the Latin ‘de-tegere’ or "unroof" and the original figure of the detective was the lame devil Asmodeus, ‘the prince of demons’, who took the roofs off houses to spy on the lives inside.

* Because of the Brits aversion to being observed or spied on by the police force, a Bobby (named for Robert Peel and also called “Peels” at first) had to be in uniform all the time – even when off duty – so that the populace would know who he was and he  couldn’t abuse his role.

These examples, of course, sent us on a flurry of research into other mystery-oriented words.

* The immediate ancestor of the word “sleuth” is the compound sleuthhound, "a dog, such as a bloodhound, used for tracking or pursuing." The shortened form sleuth, was being used to mean "detective" as early as 1872.


* There are two schools of thought for the derivation of the word “Shamus.”

One group believes that Shamus, as an American slang term, first meant "policeman", not "private detective" and that it arose as an Anglicized spelling of the Irish name Séamas because so many of the policemen in America’s cities were Irish or of Irish descent.

Others suggest the Hebrew shammes — "a beadle or sexton in a Jewish synagogue" — as a possible origin. But why would a Yiddish word for a synagogue beadle become American slang for a detective?

The answer may lie in the Yiddish saying: “I know the shammes and the shammes knows the whole town.”

The shammes in an Eastern European synagogue indeed had to know everyone in town. To begin with, he had to know where everyone lived, since it was his job to knock on each Jew’s door and rouse him for the service. And it was his job to know each Jew’s name and father’s name so that he might be called up correctly to the Torah; to know who was getting married, had given birth, was ill, or had recovered from an illness or escaped danger, so that the appropriate blessing might be made for him or her; and even to know what each family’s economic situation was so that he might advise the synagogue’s officials, how big an annual contribution to expect.

The shammes was in a sense the “private eye” of the shtetl: If you wanted to know something about somebody, he was the logical person to ask.


* How about Private Eye? Did it come from the Pinkerton Agency’s big eye logo or was it a shortened version of “private investigator”? Given that the Pinkerton operatives were never called “investigators” (they were always “detectives” or “Pinkerton detectives”) it was probably a combination of the two: the “I” taken from “investigator,” and the spelling “eye” taken from the Pinkerton logo.

* Alibi, of course, is the Latin word for "elsewhere." The "al" prefix means "other," and "ibi" means "there." Therefore "alibi" does NOT mean an excuse (the way it’s often misused) but means evidence or proof that someone was somewhere else at the time of a crime.

* Autopsy has also gone through a shift of meaning in its current usage. It comes from the Greek “auto” meaning self and “opsy” meaning eye, reading together as “to see oneself.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the autopsy first meant “seeing with one’s own eyes, eye-witnessing; personal observation or inspection,” and the first uses of the word autopsy were with regards to self-reflection and observation. Anybody know when we first began to use it in its current anatomical and forensic guise?

Word derivation has always been of interest to me, and the argot of our chosen field provides lots of words to explore. Are there any others you guys always wanted to know about? Or any words you just love saying for the way they sound?


With Apologies to Tom Epperson

By Louise Ure

Webcoverfrontbig Finding Tom Epperson’s work was a lesson in humility for me.

It was a Saturday morning in early February. The Fault Tree had been on the shelves for a total of three weeks and I was knee-deep in a book tour and signing events. I’d arrived at Mysteries to Die For in Thousand Oaks, California a bit early for the event. With Southern California traffic, you can never tell whether you’ll be an hour early or an hour late for an event so you build in a little cushion.

The ladies at Mysteries to Die For were, as usual, warm and gracious, setting up chairs and a speaker’s area as I strolled the bookstore. One of them – Heidi? Deanna? – approached me at the front table which held all the new arrivals.

“I enjoyed Forcing Amaryllis,” she said, referencing my first novel, “But this one is a really extraordinary debut.”

I swallowed that lump of misplaced pride and took the book she offered me: Tom Epperson’s The Kind One.

In recognition that this lady usually knows exactly what she’s talking about, I bought the book and tucked it into my shoulder bag. At the end of the tour it got unpacked, along with all the other purchased books, the remaining bookmarks, the hotel receipts, and index card notes from the trip and wound up smack dab in the middle of three dusty shelves that call themselves my “to be read” pile.

And there it stayed. From February through early September.

It didn’t exactly call attention to itself. I’d never heard of Epperson. The title – The Kind One – is not one of those that tells you to rip it off the shelf right now. Even the cover design, a sepia-toned photo of a Joshua tree and a 1930’s car – a Packard? — had all the timidity of a recessive gene.

So it took me this long to read it.

What was I thinking? How could I have let this masterpiece languish there on the shelf among so many lesser gods?

You say you’ve never heard of Tom Epperson or this book? That’s going to change.

While this is Epperson’s debut novel, he is the skilled and successful screenwriter of One False Move, The Gift, A Family Thing and  A Gun, A Car, A Blonde. More importantly, perhaps, he is the longtime neighbor, roommate and partner of Billy Bob Thornton and brings to his work that same raw danger and Malvern, Arkansas-sensibility that Thornton shows on the screen.

You want to see some truth-telling? Check out the author bio he’s written at his website:

And then there’s the book.

The Kind One is the story of Danny Landon, an underling in Bud Seitz’s 1930’s Los Angeles mob. “Two Gun Danny,” they call him, but he has to take their word for it. As the result of some kind of unremembered violence, his memories only stretch back one year.

This is L.A. noir with all the grit, bigotry and misogyny of The Thirties laid bare. Spat-upon Blacks. The butchery of backroom abortion. Unprotected children. Mob boss rule.

And in the middle of it –Candide-like — is Danny Landon, a blank page of a man who doesn’t feel like a killer but doesn’t know why. (By the way, he’s not The Kind One of the title. That’s the mob boss, Seitz.)

The writing is spare and unflinching. The characters, unforgettable.

Robert Crais writes that The Kind One is “a perfect noir novel that is pure and original, with a heavy heart the beats through each page.”

I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t walk away with every debut novel award this year. Maybe even Best Novel.

And now I see that it’s going to be Ridley Scott/Warner Brothers film starring Casey Affleck. I can’t wait. I get to discover it all over again.

So tell me, Rati’, what book was it that stunned you when you finally took it off the shelf? Who would you like to apologize to for not having read it earlier?


Hawaii Dreaming


By Louise Ure

Over the months we’ve had lots of conversations about mystery conferences and conventions. Do you prefer the writer-focused or the reader-focused? Are they worth the money? How many do you attend per year? What’s the best part: the camaraderie in the bar or the insight from the panels?

But one thing we’ve never talked about is organizing the con.

I’m the Co-Chair of Programming, along with Jude Greber (Gillian Roberts) for Left Coast Crime in Kona, Hawaii next March. Hoo boy.

There are five great things about this project:

1.    I LOVE Left Coast Crime cons.

They’re primarily reader-centric and that means a terrific blend of folks to gather to talk about crime fiction. And they’re small enough that you – whether you’re a reader or a writer – don’t feel lost or left out.

Left Coast Crime in Monterey was the very first con I attended, and it was the foundation for many friendships I now hold dear.


2.    It’s in Hawaii.

How cool is that? A vacation and business conference all in one. This is one con I might actually be able to get my husband to attend.


3.    It’s organized by an incredible team of volunteers headed by Bill and Toby Gottfried and Janet Rudolph.

These folks are so well organized and so energized by the Hawaiian location that it’s infectious. You’ve seen the kind of party they can throw — LCC in Monterey was my first taste of it. – but just wait until you see what they’ve put together for Hawaii.

Rhys_2_2  Barry_2


4.    Our Guests of Honor are just too cool.

Rhys Bowen, Barry Eisler, Lee Goldberg: they’re the yin and yang and yowza! of crime fiction writing. And you’ll be seeing a lot of them. Some of it comedic. Some of it serious. Some of it downright silly.


5.    Sharing Programming responsibilities with Jude Greber is just plain fun.

What a great excuse to spend more time with her. The only thing that separates our houses is the Golden Gate Bridge. We call it our clothesline, and we hang out on opposite sides of it and kibbutz like 21st century versions of the characters from the 1930’s radio show The Goldbergs. “Yoo hoo! Anybody home?”

Now for the bad part:


1.    I want to put every author on every panel.
Sure, she writes horror and suspense novels, but she’s also been a screenwriter. Here’s an incredible forensic specialist from Hawaii but he’s also written in the true crime genre. She’s a debut author, but also lives in Hawaii so she’s one of the locals we’d like to feature. He’s an Earl Derr Biggers expert but he also writes an historical series with a female protagonist.

It’s great fun mixing and matching the panelists, finding combinations and topics that haven’t been covered before. But it’s also a logistical nightmare. This one won’t arrive until Sunday. This one likes afternoon presentations. This one we already have scheduled for another topic at the same time.

It’s a five-and-a-half-day game of Concentration for the crime fiction set.


2.    How do you keep it fresh?

Early on in our discussions, Bill and Toby began calling this The Unconventional Convention, and part of that means keeping it fresh and new. But how do you do that? Haven’t all the other cons already done all the panel options?

You do it by not starting with regular panel thinking. There will be small breakout sessions under the banyan trees. A special writer’s track offered to folks who’d like to perfect their skills and learn from the experts. Interactive panels led by readers – imagine that, readers! – instead of writers. Book discussion groups. Contests, trivia, prizes, games.

You can even enjoy an original play, Ghost of Honor Earl Derr Biggers’ Charlie Chan story “A House Without A Key,” directed and produced by Hal Glatzer.

Okay, I guess that with the help and ideas of all the volunteers, keeping it fresh is not so tough.


3.    How do you program against all the incredible outings being offered?

Some of the other cons – Bristol, Denver, Anchorage – have done great jobs of offering side trips and exploration of local attractions.

But this is Hawaii.

I mean, a trip to the summit of Kilauea Volcano for an after dark light show?  Snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay and Puako Reef? Waipi’o Valley on horseback? A gourmet dinner and a night of astronomy atop Mauna Kea?

I might as well give in on this one and admit that some attendees are going to forsake a few of my ever-so-well-thought-out panels and events for some sightseeing.  I would, too.

Overall, the job of Programming would be daunting except for a few factors I haven’t mentioned yet:

•    It’s nothing compared to the attention to detail that Bill and Toby and the other committees are doing. They have the hard part and they make it look easy.

•    The Programming Committee is made up of lots more folks than just Jude and me and they’re terrific. We’ll need to get the basic grid set before we call on many of them for help, but oh boy, will we ever be calling. This group knows how to put on a party.

•    It’s a joy to sit back and say, “If I were designing the perfect convention, here’s what I’d do.”

That’s my question for you today, ‘Rati. If you were King of the World and designing your own ideal mystery convention, what would it look like? What panels and discussions would you like to see? Any other random thoughts on things that should be done?

And do come join us, ‘Rati. We’ll be at the Marriott Waikoloa Beach Resort on the Kona Coast, March 7 -12, 2009. There are still airline deals to be had, convention membership is only $225, and the room rates are really good for this beautiful resort.

We’re doing the program planning right now, folks. If you want to make a real splash at LCC next year, now’s the time to tell us you’ll be there!

It should be fun. Aloha!

Half an Acre of Thanks

By Louise Ure

Maybe you’ve seen those recent TV spots from Liberty Mutual insurance that feature ordinary folks helping those around them by performing small good deeds – picking up a dropped baby rattle, letting someone cut in during gridlocked traffic.

The song in the commercials is “Half an Acre”, sung by Sally Elllyson of the Brooklyn band, Hem.


I am holding half an acre
torn from the map of Michigan
and folded in this scrap of paper
is a land I grew up in

Think of every town you’ve lived in
every room you lay your head
and what is it that you remember?

Do you carry every sadness with you
every hour your heart was broken
every night the fear and darkness
lay down with you?

A man is walking on the highway
A woman stares out at the sea
and light is only now just breaking

So we carry every sadness with us
every hour our hearts were broken
every night the fear and darkness
lay down with us

But I am holding half an acre
torn from the map of Michigan
I am carrying this scrap of paper
that can crack the darkest sky wide open
every burden taken from me
every night my heart unfolding
my home

Both the good deeds-visuals of the commercial and the heart-carried sadness-of-home from the song merged together for me this week.

My heart’s “half acre” lies in Tucson, just south of a dry arroyo that dares to call itself the Rillito River, bordered by tamarisk trees on one side and the fragrance of honeysuckle vines on the other.

It is my mother’s house.

The half acre where all my hopes were born and some died. Where I was both shaped and shriven. Where love still lives in my mother’s gauzy memory. This is soft focus love in a harsh land – as blurred as a Vaseline- coated lens, as ephemeral as the sound of a wind chime.

The half acre where my mother now settles into her soft decline. (You might remember this post I wrote about her advancing Alzheimer’s. Or this one.

Now to the good deeds part of the story.

My brother went over to my mother’s house one afternoon last week and found a strange man in the living room with her, patting her hand and giving her little sips of water from a plastic glass.

He was the garbage man.

He’d been driving his massive truck down the street, stopping at each house to position the steel arms that would lift the big plastic garbage and recycling bins into the appropriate caverns on the truck. The sun was hot. He was in a hurry.  He put the truck into gear and moved on past the house.

That’s when he spotted something out of the corner of his eye. It was an elderly woman’s form, unmoving, perched on the edge of a wooden bench on the front porch.

He idled there for a moment, already behind schedule and closing in on late. Should he disturb her? She had probably just settled there for a moment in the sun – he’d seen her basking there before.

But it was over a hundred degrees out, and the sun was fierce.

And the bathrobe she was wearing had come open and she was naked underneath.

Sweet man — this garbage man whose name I do not know — said to himself, “What if she was my mother?” He stopped, woke her gently from her deep sleep, tied the robe’s sash securely at her waist, and guided her inside.

Thank you, Mr. Garbage Man, not simply for the preservation of her modesty, but for caring. For noticing that someone might need help and then taking action.

He tended my half acre when I wasn’t there, and I’m deeply grateful for that.  I hope that  I can return the favor some day.  In the meantime, I now carry him in my heart, as well.

And Happy Birthday, mom.


Tell me, my ‘Rati friends, have you seen one of those gracious moments of unsolicited caring recently? And where is your half-acre of the heart?

I, the Jury


By Louise Ure

I’ve been on jury duty for the last week and a half and it looks like it’s going to go on for another four or five days to come.

You’d think that at least one of my excuses would have worked to keep me off the panel.

•    I’m self-employed and don’t get paid if I don’t write. (Tough. Even writers take some time off.)

•    I’m on deadline with my next book. (Okay, so that was a lie. The next book is already turned in and we’re at the galley proof stage. But hey, I’ve only got three months to turn those proofed galleys back in. Isn’t that some kind of deadline?)

•    I’m a caregiver and have to stay at home. (Well, my care giving is only for the dog, but that still ought to count for something.)

•    I’m a mystery writer and one of my books is about a jury consultant. (The prosecutor’s eyes lit up at this one.)

•    I’m a mystery writer and in some of my books the police are dorky and don’t get the right guy. (See above parenthetic statement, and substitute the words “defense attorney” for “prosecutor.”)

Now don’t get me wrong. I think that all able-bodied (and able-minded) people should serve on juries. It’s not just a duty; it can be a pleasure. (I get great character and plot ideas when at the courthouse.) So I don’t try to get out of it unless the trial is expected to last an extraordinary amount of time and would dramatically affect my writing schedule.

But I’ve been called for jury duty five years out of the last seven and it’s getting a little old.

That’s probably the excuse I should have used with the judge. Or the more valid:

•    I have a low threshold of tolerance for stupid people.

•    If you waste my time in repetition or pontificating, I will hold it against you.

•    The willing suspension of disbelief should be reserved for fiction. Don’t try that on me in a courtroom.

That’s the truth and it ought to make me unfit to serve. However … none of it worked.

Just call me Juror Number Ten.

Jurors aren’t supposed to talk about a trial, particularly when it’s still ongoing, so I won’t tell you anything about this case except that it is a criminal trial and it has some interesting characters on both sides.

But I will tell you about the jury selection process, in some ways more eye opening than the trial anyway.

About two hundred of us were called from the jury assembly room for this case. That seemed high to me, for a run-of-the-mill felony and a fairly short trial, but J.D. can probably tell us why it’s right.

I wore a pair of Levi’s, a linen jacket and leather-soled shoes. I was not the best dressed person there. That honor went to an octogenarian with a Swedish accent, perfect makeup and pearls. As for the rest of the group, there was a paucity of undergarments among the women (lots of free swinging breasts) and a surfeit of underwear among the men (jeans pulled so low on the hips that they had to walk sprattle-legged to hold them up.) Anyone not wearing denim was a lawyer.

A full third of the group asked to be excused for “hardship” reasons and filled out forms with long, scratchy sentences full of exclamation marks and cross outs to explain their duress. The judge had a nice rhythm going as he stamped “DENIED” across most of the forms.

•    Your employer doesn’t pay you when you’re on jury duty? Sure they do, they’re here on my list.

•    You’re an immigrant and you only understand about a third of what I’m saying? That’s good enough. Listen closely.

•    You’re elderly and can’t sit for long periods of time? Don’t worry, we’ll take a couple of breaks.

Then we got into the “attitudes and comprehension” part of voir dire.

•    Could you follow the law even though you disagreed with it? It’s surprising how many San Franciscans wanted to discuss jury nullification in depth and explain with righteous indignation exactly what laws they would find objectionable.

•    Do you understand that these defendants are presumed innocent? No, your honor! After all, they’ve been arrested. Somebody already thinks they’re guilty, right?

•    Do you understand that the defendants don’t have to take the stand, that the burden of proof is on the prosecution? "But I would always wonder why they didn’t," one woman said. "I mean, if they didn’t do it, why don’t they just say so?"

And of course, the case-specific questions:

•    Could you be fair to these defendants even though,

A) you’re about the same age as the victim,

B) a similar crime happened to you or a family member thirty years ago,

C) the defendant’s name sounds foreign to you and your name is already pretty weird, or

D) you say you don’t trust X racial group and the officers that arrested the defendants are X.

The questions – and the answers – went on and on. Two days of jury selection. Two days of some of the dumbest, least introspective comments from potential jurors I’ve ever heard. But also two days of some of the most damning personal admissions I’ve ever heard aired in public.

Would you admit in a public forum that you were racially biased?

Would you confess that you always take the word of a policeman over a civilian?

Would you dare to say that you couldn’t be trusted to make up your own mind, and would probably side with the rest of the jurors just to get it over with?

My fellow prospective jurors said all that, and more.

I hope and pray that they didn’t mean it. And I hope that the potential juror in the seat behind me who fell asleep for a full hour during the questioning got sent home for that reason alone.

If these people are, in fact, a jury of my peers then I’m screwed if I’m ever accused of a crime. They’ll think I’m guilty, they’ll think my glasses make me look untrustworthy, they’ll think my name is part of a cuss word, and they’ll remember a woman who looks like me who cut them off in traffic six months ago.

On the other hand, maybe they’re not so stupid for making these pronouncements. Maybe they’re just better at getting out of jury duty than I am.

Lagniappe: One little postcard moment in this week’s sea of courtrooms and lines and security measures and waiting. I was outside the courthouse during the lunch break, sitting on a knee-high wall that surrounds the building. A young black man, dressed head to toe in Neuvo Gangbanger Black sat twenty feet down from me, his legs extended and crossed at the ankles. When the sidewalk in front of us was clear, he’d toss a few pennies out then wait to see who picked them up. White guys, every time. Never a minority, never a woman, never a child. Only police officers and others guys in sports coats who looked more like detectives than lawyers. And each of them would say to his companion something like “Must be my lucky day!” or “I’m superstitious; can’t pass up a penny on the street” or “Heads! It’s an omen!”  The black guy looked over at me and winked. “Just like feeding the pigeons.”

Okay ‘Rati. Got any jury stories? Or lucky penny stories?


Trade Winds

By Louise Ure


I wrote a blog post a couple of weeks ago about the length of books, and whether it mattered that a book was especially long or short. I have another size question today folks, and it’s about paperbacks.

Specifically, trade paper editions versus mass market paperbacks.

My editor recently told me that The Fault Tree would be issued as a trade paperback next spring. Imagine my glee! (Please God, let them keep the same cover.)

As both a reader and a writer, I adore trade paperback editions. There’s just something so posh … so sexy … about them. Something that says “Doesn’t this feel good to hold?” and “I’m something special.” And the fact that they only cost $14 or $15 doesn’t go down hard either.

I have a number of them on my shelves. “Ahab’s Wife.” “Empire Falls.” Christina Schwarz’s “Drowning Ruth.” Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” and Wallace Stegner’s “The Big Rock Candy Mountain.”

They’re about as tall as a big, spread hand, but they have the grace of a fine evening bag. The paper stock has depth and character; the typeface is elegant and cool. They whisper: “This is for the shelves; don’t trade me in at the used bookstore.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love being published in hardcover, too, but there’s just something about coming out in trade paper afterwards that makes me feel like I’ve been made love to two times in one night.


But J.B. Dickey of the Seattle Mystery Bookstore has a different take on it:

“Trade paperbacks are expensive paperbacks. The great thing about the mass market paperback is the reason it was created – to reach a mass audience. There is still a need and a demand from that mass audience and, as the middle class and lower class are squeezed further and further and have less disposable income, a book that costs $14.95 takes the place of two mass market books that cost $6.99 or $7.99. Authors, I think have been hoodwinked – to a large extent – by the false allure of the trade paperback.”

Moi? Hoodwinked? Well, it’s happened before, once by a skydiver named Steve …

“It’s far harder,” he goes on, “to introduce a reader to a new author at $14.95 than it is at $6.99 or $7.99, which hurts newer authors. A lot of folks don’t want to take a chance.”

Damn. And here I was just feeling good about the fact that I wasn’t asking them for $24.95.

“And, from a bookseller point of view,” he continued to dampen my spirits, “trade paperbacks means less cash flow because trade paperbacks cost us more money and therefore more money is tied up in stock on the shelves.”

Well, he’s right. Trade paper is more expensive than a mass market book. But doesn’t it just scream “I’m for discriminating buyers” and beg for face-out placement on the shelf?

I guess the answer is both yes and no. We’ve all become more discriminating buyers in this new economy, now weighing how many soft cover books we can buy instead of how many hard covers. And that decision reaches into the trade versus mass market distinction, too.

Lesa Holstine, uber-librarian from Glendale, Arizona adds this:

"For shelving, I definitely prefer the trade. Mass market doesn’t fit on existing [library] shelves well.

For reading, it’s a toss-up. All I really care about, and all my patrons care about, is the size and quality of the print. Some of the trade paperbacks actually have print that is too light. I hate that, and my patrons complain. We want a nice size, legible print. [And the trade paperbacks are] not necessarily a better investment. The mass market paperbacks do hold up just as well. 

I will say, with budget cuts … if we buy anything, it will probably be the most reviewed, most popular materials.  Unfortunately, that means fewer mass market paperbacks in our collection. I, personally, think you’re better off with [your book] coming out in trade. We’re more likely to replace a copy with a trade paperback than mass market."

So, from my wee sampling effort, I’m hearing that:

•    Readers like trade paperbacks, but it may be a price point issue if they’re divvying up a smaller book-buying budget and now have to choose between mass market and trade offerings.

•    Authors like trade books because they make them feel special and loved … unless, of course, they mean fewer sales.

•    Booksellers aren’t crazy about them.

•    Libraries don’t mind them a bit, but it wouldn’t be the first thing they turn to in a budget crunch.

What say you all, as readers, writers, sellers, librarians?

Don’t mind me, I’m just going to keep rolling around in that great, good feeling that a trade paper release gives me. Even if it’s all in my head.



Does Size Matter?

By Louise Ure

My husband came home from CostCo a few days ago and unloaded our usual cache of red wine, paper towels, hamburger and typing paper. I was gracious and grateful. After all, I hadn’t had to go down and brave the hordes with fifty-pound bags of rice and four steel-belted radials in their carts.


I didn’t once mention that the cranberry juice he thought would “come in handy” was the same size container that I’ve hauled gasoline in, and the metal canister of olive oil is big enough to drape with a cloth and use as a side table.

“I asked Brian to come by and help with the rest of it,” he said.

The rest of it?

If it required Brian, our well-muscled, 28-year old, foster son-firefighter, it was gonna be big.

And it was.


A Jolly Green Giant sized flat-screen, high-definition TV.

Did I mention that we have thirty-three stairs up from the street to our house? Brian was doing his best not to break a sweat. It wasn’t working.

And did I also mention that our den is approximately ten foot by ten foot?

The new TV fit nicely onto the existing shelves … if I took out the three rows of books above it and knocked out the west wall.

And it does look good.

Joe Biden’s smile on the Sunday talk show is as wide and bright as the dawning sun. The weather forecast looks like it’s coming from the hand of God. Giada DeLaurentis’ s head is bigger, and yes, Simon, so are her breasts.



My new favorite find is “Sunrise Earth,” on the HDT channel (754 on my cable channel) that shows nothing but pictures of dawn with ambient sound at 7:00 o’clock every morning. Sunrise in Patagonia. In Tahiti. In the Arctic. It’s my new meditation.

But then the Bobbleheadedness set in. I found myself craning from left to right, following the arc of a golf ball’s drive from the tee. Nausea set in when I switched to the Nascar race at Sears Point. I don’t ever want to see Bullitt on this TV.


“I thought it looked so small,” my husband said.

It does. If what you’re comparing it to is the screen at a drive-in.

CostCo sizing had struck again.

Is bigger automatically better? Or is bigger just what you get used to if you only shop at CostCo?

I see the same CostCo sizing in books. James Patterson has long been known for the wide margins in his books in order to increase page count, but we’ve also had a raft of really long mysteries and thrillers hitting the best seller lists of late.

Tom Rob Smith’s debut novel, Child 44, comes in at 448 pages. Katherine Neville, who awed us twenty years ago with The Eight (at 550 pages) has a new book coming out in October called The Fire. She dieted this one down to only 464 pages, but Elizabeth George’s most recent, Careless in Red, is a whopping 640 pages, and weighs two pounds.

These books are the 52” flat screens of crime fiction. They needed all those extra pages to tell the story right. In their case, bigger really does mean better.

But what about the lean, mean shorter books? Books by James Sallis (Drive, 158 pages) and Megan Abbott (Queenpin, 192 pages). Richard Aleas (Little Girl Lost, 221 pages) and Anne Argula (Homicide My Own, 219 pages).

Stripped down to the barest of bare bones words, they might well be the handheld video playback machines of the literary world. But that format fits the story they tell just fine.

I sent the big screen TV back for a smaller one.

It turns out that the big screen wasn’t important at all, it was the High Definition that mattered, and that holds for the world of crime fiction, too.

A six-hundred page thriller or a hundred and fifty page noir novel? In the hands of a great writer, it makes no difference. It’s the sharp character definition and focus on a riveting plot that counts after all.

High Definition, indeed.

Tell me, my friends, have you ever judged a book by the number of pages? (I’ll fess up early and admit that a couple of times I’ve wavered in the face of a $23.95 price tag for a very thin hard cover book. Would it last me for the weekend or the whole airplane flight, or would I be shelling out another $25 by Saturday night?)

And writers, do you have an “ideal screen size” in mind for your own work?