Category Archives: Pari Noskin Taichert

What do you want?


by Pari

Actually, let me start with a couple of other questions before we get to the one in the title of this particular blog.

Here’s an easy one:  Am I insane?

Short answer: YES.

Hello. My name is Pari Noskin Taichert and I’m a volunteer slut. I just don’t know when to stop! Where is the twelve-step program for THAT?

You see, I’ve just agreed to chair Left Coast Crime 2011. It’s going to be in Santa Fe and will be the weekend of March 24-27-ish (Make your plans now. Start saving and register early.). Although we haven’t quite committed in writing, I can tell you that the hotel where this LCC will be held is absolutely marvelous – pure New Mexican, historic, magnificent location, utterly charming.

It’s also small – perfect but small (as are most things in Santa Fe with any true SF history) – and that means that many, many of the attendees will have to stay in other hotels close by. I can feel the headaches before we’ve even signed any agreements.

Yeah, I know.

What the hell was I thinking?

The funny thing is that I accepted because I think it’ll be a wonderful and interesting challenge to come up with a venue, program, Guest of Honor, etc. all of which will truly show off the New Mexico I know and love.

When I was first approached for this responsibility/opportunity, a close friend said to me, “Are you stark raving mad?” And after she calmed down: “Think of the PR opportunities.”

In truth that’s not why I’m doing this.

I’ve now been in the writing business long enough to have healthy skepticism about PR & networking resulting in more than PR & networking.

We writers need sales. I doubt anyone is going off to buy my books today because I’ve chosen to take on this task.

And I have to live with a certain cognitive dissonance about all of this too. Hypocrisy even. Because I’ve blathered passionately right in this blog about trying to cut out distractions in my life.

Great job, Pari. Wonderful way to bring peace and quiet to your life.

Okay. Enough about me . . .

I have a few important questions for you.


For people who’ve attended a mystery convention:

  1. Does the Guest of Honor, Toastmaster etc. really matter? (Are they deal makers or breakers when you’re deciding about conventions?)
  2. What kinds of panels or other programming do you adore – or abhor?
  3. What subjects would you most like to see explored in programming at a con?
  4. Would you prefer an awards dinner (if we could make it fast and fun) or a Sunday brunch?

For those of you who’ve never been to a convention:

     1. What might entice you to come?
     2. Do you understand the why of mystery conventions, that they’re for fans and authors to get together?
     3. Do you have any questions about them right now? (Maybe some of us can offer a good perspective.)

To all of you:


. . . and wish me luck.



by Pari

This is the second in my series about occupational hazards for writers.

Lately I’ve become aware of a chronic condition that has dire consequences for my future relationships with copyeditors, my agent and others.

I can trace it back to when I was eleven. That late 1960s’ summer, my mother decided I needed a skill of some sort. While I thought my guitar playing had money-making potential, she insisted on something more mundane. Beginning on the second day of my vacation, I had to walk four miles every day to my pediatrician’s house.

No. I wasn’t sick yet . . .

It was his wife I had to see. Mrs. Levin was a retired typing teacher. She’d spent decades at a “business college” teaching future secretaries how to hit those keys—quickly and accurately.

So for three months while other kids splashed at pools and played in the sun, I sat in a small pantry that had been converted into an office and typed juj juj juj juj ftf ftf ftf fuf fuf fuc fuc . . .uck uck uck . . .

It was hell.

I hated it.

I’m pretty sure that’s when my condition began, though it had a long incubation period.

After 90 days – yes, I had to practice on weekends too – I could type faster than I could think. (It was a more amazing feat back then than it is now). Since that time, my hands have flitted easily on any keyboard, my fingers tap-tapping words without inhibition. With few dexterity issues to block me, I could write whatever wild images came to mind.

However, I’ve noticed that my fingers don’t cooperate as much as they used to. This isn’t the beginning of arthritis . . . or dementia. It’s motor stubbornness, autodigititis – the odd accumulation of habits that I never realized I had acquired.

The worst offender is any word that starts with “par.” I am simply incapable of typing it without adding that damn “i” at the end.



Let’s parity.

Not up to pari.

There are other words that stump me too — not because I don’t know how to spell them, but because my fingers want to go somewhere else:

New Mexican always ends up as New Mexico

Michael is always, always Micheal

Does is always doesn’t first.

Apple is Appel (That’s my grandmother’s maiden name. I could use that as an excuse but I didn’t know her much and thought of her even less frequently. Perhaps it’s genetically encoded?)

Familiar and familial become family.

And forget words that end in “on” instead of “ion.” I’ve mistyped Allison more times than I’m willing to admit.

On it goes . . .

I don’t know why my fingers work this way, but they do.

Am I the only person with this affliction? Should I hie me to a yoga retreat to slow both mind and body?

Or . . .

Do you suffer from this too?

If so, what are your symptoms?

Perhaps . . .  together we can beat this insidious disease before it bates . . . oops . . . beats us.

The fingernail

by Pari


It’s strange what’ll break down a person’s defenses.

The fingernail got me. That scrap of keratin, the bright pink acrylic polish in two half moons that — to my eyes — formed the top of a heart. The nail, magnified several times, flecked with specs of dirt from a young identified woman’s last resting place.

The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) released the picture last Friday with the hope that someone, somewhere, will recognize the artwork and help them put a name to the victim. Last Friday was also the day that APD announced it’d no longer be digging at what is now known as the country’s largest crime scene area. Close to one hundred acres, eleven bodies and a fetus, dirt and dust and rocks all on the west side of our city — a burial ground of horrific magnitude — a barren monument to the kind of sorrow parents should never, ever have to know.

The “West Mesa Mystery,” as it has now been packaged by the media, began to unfold in mid Feburary this year when a jogger found human bones in the middle of a large tract of land surrounded by newer subdivisions. There’s a lot of this kind of unused space in Albuquerque, a fast-growing city with a marvelous climate and an amazingly steady/low unemployment rate (compared with the rest of the country).

Soon the bones of one person became two, three, four . . .

Of the seven young women identified so far, all had had difficult lives, had taken bad turns into drug use and prostitution. In the early days of the investigation, debates raged. People were angry that the victims’ lives had been negatively characterized and profiled. The police countered with the fact that they needed to find common links between the dead, a way to understand why all of them had been dumped in those crude graves around 2004-2005.

And the police needed to identify the remaining four victims.

Hundreds of parents from around the country had contacted APD, desperate to know if those bones could be one of their missing children — gone around the same time period, maybe sending a postcard from Albuquerque . . .

Though I’m a writer and a mother, I cannot and don’t want to imagine their pain, the emptiness of not knowing.

I don’t want to and cannot imagine the utter life-shattering moment when someone calls to say that it’s your daughter’s bones crime scene workers have uncovered under the hot New Mexico sun.

So I did what most people do. I let myself watch the news about the women — there’s been something almost every night since the discovery — without permitting myself to think too much of the suffering and misery that went along with the stories.

It was easy to do in a way. Though the interviews with parents were sad, they were other people’s pain. All the pictures of the identified victims showed the women when they’d been happy and alive. It was easy . . . convenient  . . . to be detached.

It was the same thing that happens with other mindboggling tragedies: Darfur, the Holocaust . . .

Then came the fingernail.
That small piece of decorated protein.

And all my rationalizations and comfortable distancing crashed down.

I look at my children differently now, at the promise of their youth and want to scream, “None of those West Mesa victims deserved their heartbreaking brevity! None!”

To think that an entire life, a young woman’s whole identity, comes down to one fingernail.

It saddens me to my very core.


If you want to know more about the West Mesa Mystery, America’s Most Wanted did a good job last Saturday night (April 25).

And, for heaven’s sake, if you — or anyone you know — has any information, please call the APD hotline at 1-877-765-8273; the line is staffed 24/7.

Cultivate your writing style

by Chester Campbell

(Welcome to my wonderful guest blogger for today Chester Campbell. His book, The Surest Poison, has just been released. Chester is a well known and well-respected mystery writer in the Nashville area. He’s currently Secretary of the Southeast Chapter of MWA and President of the Middle Tennessee Chapter of SinC. Perhaps we should ask him when he finds time to write?)

In her book How To Write Killer Fiction, Carolyn Wheat wrote: “Sentences are composed of words; the choice of the right words in the best arrangement is what we call style.” Barbara Norville said in Writing the Modern Mystery, “Style may be consciously contrived or may flow out of you from who knows what nether regions of your mind.”

I’m not sure what nether region it came from, but I think the process of writing Private Eye novels caused me to develop the style I’ve become comfortable with. I started my career as a novelist after retiring from 42 years of writing in various fields, from newspaper reporter to non-fiction freelancer to political speechwriter to magazine editor to creator of advertising and public relations copy. I began with spy stories just as the Cold War ended. It was the genre I had loved to read for years.

I won’t go into my agent horror stories. It’s enough to say the manuscripts remain stacked in a corner of my office. The message I got from one agent was that my greatest sin was overwriting. I’d never heard the term. The dictionary defined it: “To write about in an artificial or an excessively elaborate, wordy style.” You need to trim the 600-page manuscript by a third, the agent wrote. I slashed and cut and trimmed until I got it to a manageable size and the agency took it.

I finished a few more books before realizing I tended to write descriptions that were excessively elaborate and wordy. Meanwhile, the post-Cold War spy story market had about dried up, and I turned to reading more conventional mysteries. I particularly enjoyed Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series. It was also the heyday of James Patterson’s Alex Cross stories. Parker’s snappy dialogue and Patterson’s short chapters resonated with me.

After a trip to the Holy Land in 1998, I came up with the idea for a book about the discovery of an ancient scroll. It involved a retired Air Force investigator whose wife became a hostage to the return of the scroll. As I worked on the book, I found myself toning down the descriptions and using short, snappy dialogue for the most part. It quickened the pace of the story, enhanced movement of the plot.

When the book found a publisher and garnered reviews with comments like “a classic page-turner,” I knew I had found my style. I continued to hone it, using the characters to develop a series. I followed the pattern of shorter chapters and cultivated the spare writing style that is now my hallmark. Too much detail will slow the pace. When describing a scene, I give only enough to let the reader see where she is and stir her imagination to create the rest of the picture.

And I’m wary of explaining things too deeply. “Don’t underestimate your readers,” my first editor told me. “They know a lot more than you think they do.”

The bookshelves are filled with lots of different writing styles. Which do you prefer?


Welcome to our new Murderati!!

by Pari

Welcome to our newly designed Murderati website. We hope you like the look.

Before I go any further, let’s all give a huge shout-out to J.T. Ellison and her husband Randy! The two of them designed this entire new site and migrated all the info from our former host. They did so with aplomb, grace and nary a word of complaint.

It was a monstrous task and I think they did a magnificent job.

Thank you so much!

As for today’s topic, I thought I’d keep it simple since everyone is returning from a brief holiday and I’m still recovering from my Passover Seder . . .


As most of you know, I’m working on a new project. It’s not like anything I’ve written so far. One of the biggest challenges is that the protags are all in their mid-late twenties. In my own life, I don’t have access to many people that age – especially ones that are single and childless – so I’m looking for television programs (on mainstream TV), books, internet sites, YouTube references, etc. – where I can get a good current feel for this age group.

Any suggestions?


A note: I have a guest post up at Kaye Barley’s blog today and hope some of you stop by to say hello.




Let my creativity go!

by Pari

Wednesday evening this week marks the beginning of Passover. It's my favorite holiday. I prepare for days for the seder — a traditional meal and home-based spiritual service — and usually invite more than a dozen guests for the first evening.

While I cook and clean house, I have plenty of time to think about many of the biggest themes of Pesach including: the Exodus, religious persecution, the shedding of unnecessary items in one's life, slavery — present and past, and what freedom truly means.

This year my thoughts also turn to my own creativity and professional life. I found out recently that my publisher, The University of New Mexico Press, is making some major personnel cuts that will impact its ability to market, promote books, and serve its various customers. I won't go into the specifics of what's happening there, but you can read more here.

Alex wrote a wonderful piece on Saturday about finishing what you start and I commented that I agreed with her almost completely. However, given what I know about the Press, I've decided not to finish my new Sasha book.

And, boy, does it hurt.

The truth is that writing takes time for me. I can slam out a rough draft in a matter of months and end up with a nice blob of text that will someday be a good book. The bulk of my work comes during the editing and rewriting. Though I adore Sasha, I'm not willing to go through the tremendous effort to hone a novel when I don't have the confidence it'll be introduced and supported effectively in the national market by the publisher.

Which brings me back to freedom . . .

Slavery is a fascinating subject and the source of much conversation during the seders at my home. We talk about its tangible manifestations in horrid businesses such as the international child trade as well as its mental/emotional ones. This year, I'm interested to know what my guests think of the new laws vis a vis women in Afghanistan. 

I've been thinking about my own creative fetters. This topic has been stewing, bubbling uncomfortably, for months now. It may sound strange given that I'm a two-time Agatha Award nominee, but I've always fought the traditional mystery "formula" because I've been more interested in character development than the placing of clues and the puzzle of solved crimes. It's not that I dislike these components of the novels; I just don't naturally write them.

Have I been imprisoning myself?

With all the talk of conforming to genre, have I forced myself into writing things that I'm not as passionate about because I have to meet some amorphous expectation of how it's supposed to be done?

I don't know.

What I do know is that I'm feeling uneasy and adrift.
And at the same time, I'm excited.

I love my new series (and hope my agent feels the same way). It's a cross between mystery and fantasy and has the kind of female character I love to write. I've just started a new book that I don't know how to categorize yet — comedy? suspense? It's a project I've deferred in favor of others for years and now, because of my decision vis a vis Sasha, I'm going to finally pursue. I also have ideas for a women's fiction/mainstream novel AND a YA.

So . . .

This week while I prepare the matzo balls and chicken soup; poach the salmon; cook the pot roast; whip up the chopped liver and mock chopped liver; and wait for those meringues to warm to perfection, I'll be examining my self-imposed shackles. Where are they in my creative life? How can I free myself from the ones that most limit me?

Today I'd like to know:
What's one of your own creative manacles?

And I'll ask you to think about this for your private consideration: Is there a way for you to free yourself from that restraint's insidious hold?


Of note: Will Bereswill, a frequent commenter here at Murderati and a new novelist, asked me to mention that he has a guest author and a really embarrassing video up at today. I, for one, am in the mood to be amused.

On the subject of freedom, Murderati will be migrating to a new blog host starting next Monday, April 13. We're doing this for a variety of reasons. Most of all we hope the new site will be more convenient for you — and for us.

In order to get up and running, we'll need to close down Murderati for two days — April 11 and 12 — during Easter weekend. We hope you'll join us on the 13th and that you'll like the new look.

Thank you,

Five things I’ve learned

by Pari

When I first hit the book scene as an author, I developed a talk called, "Ten things I've learned since becoming a published writer."

Some of the things were funny: There's a man in Texas who doesn't like to laugh . . . and is proud of it.

Others focused on what surprised me: No one is going to recognize you or stop you on the street to tell you she loves your book.

This weekend, I was in Roswell, NM as a guest of the Friends of the Public Library. I updated my Ten Things talk and wanted to share five items with you. They're personal — not dictums for everyone — but they're tidbits that are important to me and might help others on this particular road.

#1  The first job of a writer is to write.
Yes, I know that sounds obvious, but it took me a few years to figure out. I got so distracted in the marketing game that I kept losing focus of what's important. You have to write to be a writer. If you're not writing, you'll be a has-been before you ever become a does-have.

#2  Creativity must be nurtured.
There are several ways to do this. I've found unplugging — turning off the computer (especially the internet/email, no phone) is a big one. Taking walks and staring blankly into space works well too. And writing, writing, writing — without personal censorship — propels me into different and interesting directions . The more I do it and produce, the more ideas I have.

#3  "Edit" is the most essential word for any writer.
I don't care who you are, editing will make you better. It's part of writing the best book you can. The longer I'm in this career, the more I realize how words can be misinterpreted. Writing what I mean to write takes effort and a critical eye. Actually, it takes many critical eyes.

#4  There's no such thing as "writer's block" — at least for me — BUT there is such a thing as paralysis due to fear of failure/of not living up to expectations.
Most writers I know are great actors. We pretend to have faith in our work. Dig deeper and you'll find our fragile faith in ourselves, in our ability to effectively tell the stories we want to tell. We can be knocked to the floor with a bad review or a nasty email. When we're in that scary place of self doubt, it's difficult to continue creating. And it's easy to get stuck, to blame an absent muse, when what has really left us is our own self confidence. 

#5  Word of mouth remains the most powerful way to make/break a career.
It doesn't matter if we Twitter or FaceBook, if we email or do public appearances, if we buddy up to bookstore employees or attach magnetic signs about our books to our cars, if we send out monthly newsletters or have contests — nothing will get us further than the real buzz of readers who love our work and want us to succeed. I know that many people believe that we can manufacture that buzz, and maybe we can through some of the methods mentioned above, but the bottom line is that person-to-person communication remains the single most effective tool to persuade others to buy books.

I don't want this to be a long post, so I'll stop here and throw it out to YOU.

Writers: What's something you've learned since publication?
Readers: What has surprised you about writers or their professional lives since you've become part of the literary community (You are, you know; you prove it daily by reading and hanging out in the blogosphere.)?

Intellectual propertyless

by Pari

Can anyone tell me what happened to copyright?

Ever since I became aware of the Google Books Settlement, I've been wondering about this. For those who don't know the ins and outs of the settlement, welcome to the club. It's a cumbersome and strange world of legalese that I don't understand. The long and short of it is that Google decided to scan more than seven million books. The assertion is that most of these tomes were in-copyright but out of print –though my first book is still in print and definitely was when it was scanned — and that Google, through the goodness of its corporate heart, was doing this as a public service. Authors Guild didn't buy the altruism angle and there was a big lawsuit. 

From what I gather, authors/publishers are now required to opt-in or out of this settlement by May 5, 2009. If someone opts in, he or she gets a one-time payment of $60-$300 and everything will be hunky dory. But Google will still have the complete book scanned and what's going to happen to that work over time?

Am I the only one who thinks this isn't such a spiffy deal?

Sure I want people to read my writing. But there's something that irks me about businesses profiting off of my writing when they didn't have squat to do with its creation or production — and that I won't receive any kind of continued payment for it.

Of course, the fact that Google is paying anything at all is, I guess, a victory of sorts.  After all, there are fans (especially in the science fiction and romance worlds) and organizations that are posting complete books online without even paying a nomimal fee.

Still this Google settlement feels like a Pyhrric victory at best. I can't help wonder when Google is going to start selling subscriptions to its library of scanned books and how many millions or billions of dollars it'll make from our work (and what impact it'll have on brick and mortar libraries).

And what about organizations like This nonprofit makes books available to people with vision impairments. As you know, one of my children could benefit from such a service. I found out that BookShare has The Clovis Incident in its database now. According to an email from Robin Seaman, "Publisher Liaison for, a Benetech Initiative," I should really feel that this is an honor.

The scanning without permission is legal under something called the Chafee Amendment to the copyright law (1996).

Don't get me wrong. I'm happy that at least one of my books is available to people with vision impairments. I just want to be paid for my work.

Right now I'm feeling nickeled and dimed, like chunks of me are being chipped away, for no good reason other than businesses greed and people's miserliness.

Where in the world does this stop?

Why aren't readers outraged that their favorite writers aren't being paid? What other profession (except music) has this expectation that creativity doesn't deserve to be reasonably compensated?

How the hell are we storytellers going to make a living?

What say you, readers? Do you think writers should be paid? If so, who should pay them? Do you have any responsibility in the mix?

What say you, writers? Are you opting in or out of the Google Books Settlement? How do you plan to sustain your writing livelihood in an age when copyright for everyone, except maybe Disney (insert registration mark here), is coming to mean nothing?

A story for everyone

by Pari (and everyone else!)

(Hi all. I've had a rough few days; the rescue dog we adopted bit one of our children and we had to take him back. It was heartbreaking, like losing a friend all over again. So, I decided to do something different for the post today. I trolled through the beginnings of my short stories and found this one. It's a good start. How about we write the rest of it?

Here's how I see this working:
Everyone who comments adds a sentence, a paragraph or two to the already existing prose from other writers. Toward the end of the day, anyone who wants to take a stab at the ending can do it — just let us readers know that's what you're up to. Anyone can contribute more text at any time; heck, I might do that, too.

I'm not sure this is going to fly, but thought it'd be an interesting experiment.

Let's see what happens.

One . . . two .  . . three . . . HERE GOES:)

The janitor found the kid back by the dumpters before morning announcements. The child's face had already grayed, his body arched in a weird rigor mortis. No need to feel for a pulse. Eyes that glassy no longer held a soul.

"We can't just leave him there," said the principal, her breakfast returning from its first voyage down her throat.

"Can't move him either," said the janitor. "It'd mess up the police investigation."

"How do you know that?" she said too quickly, suspicious.

The janitor just shook his head and pulled a dingy handkerchief out of one of his many pockets. He dabbed at his eyes.

"You're telling me I don't want to know?" she said.

He closed his eyes and shook his head again.

The principal stepped back a little, her high heels making a clicking sound on the asphalt at the desolate edge of the parking lot. Cell phone at the ready but not yet open, she addressed the man who'd discovered the child. "Juan, would you go get Mr. Valdez? I'll need him to keep things calm while I deal with the police."

"Yes, Mrs. Henry." He started to leave, but she reached for his arm.

"And please don't tell anyone else about this. Not yet."

"Yes, Ma'am."

Her hand remained in place a minute after he left, the heat of their connection turning cold in the winter wind. It was times like these she hated her job, hated that there were parents who neglected their children or, worse yet, who paid the wrong kind of attention to them.

She took a deep breath, letting the tears fall from her cheeks onto her wool coat, and dialed 911. When that was done, she called the superintendent at his home and explained the situation.

"I wish you'd waited to call the police," he said. "You know the media will be all over this. Four kids in four weeks." His cough was phlegmy. "I'll get someone from communications out there to handle them right away. You just hold tight."

That was just like him to worry more about image than anything else. He hadn't even asked if she knew the boy. Horror of horrors, she did . . .

(So, what happens next?)

No Comment

by Pari

Recently, I spoke with a friend of mine who has been a journalist for decades. Due to health issues, she made the jump from print to blogging part time for a news website. Even though the site ended up laying off all of its part-time staff, my friend thanked me for commenting on her past articles because she received a financial bonus each time someone did.

A lot of things bothered me about that conversation. Am I the only person on earth who thinks that the "NEWS" should be news and NOT entertainment? Why should there be a reward system based on comments? Even worse, why is commenting used as a criterion for judging that blog's quality?

Is frequency of public response synonymous with worth?

The contemporary feedback phenomenon fascinates me. I am convinced that today's writers are becoming more dangerously cognizant and dependent on automatic/quick public input than our predecessors ever were.


Communication is easy, that's why. It's a slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am kind of world. Instead of taking the time to write a letter, address the envelope and mail it, people can knock out a quick fan email or damning criticism within seconds.

Everything — except, maybe, the submission process to agents and editors — is fast today.

This new reality has created strange expectations.

It isn't just news outlets that gauge the quality of blog posts based on the comments they evoke. We bloggers do it all the time to ourselves! We know that the vast majority of our readers don't bother to comment– for whatever reason — but we torture ourselves when our posts get minimal response. I don't know about you, but I try to comment on friends' blogs as often as possible. However, if I'm required to register on a site to comment  . . . forget it! No way. That knee-jerk rule of mine has nothing to do with content; I just get annoyed at having to jump through hoops.

It's the same with our books and short stories. Nowadays, if our prose doesn't yield fan emails, online reviews at booksellers, or discussion on fan sites/listservs — we wonder what's wrong with our writing.

(Let's leave the discussion about sales figures as an accurate read of worth to another post, please.)

Bottom line: I doubt that Poe or Christie considered direct reader input nearly as much as we do.

And I think it's because we all know how very easy it is to take that little step of offering feedback. When we don't get it, we can't help but wonder why.

Do these expectations affect our work?

Do we seek out particularly incendiary topics in order to prove to ourselves that someone out there cares? Do we censor our stories and novels because people Twitter negatively about prefaces or books with serial killers or talking cats?

I don't know.

I do think that the paradigm has shifted. We writers need to be aware of what we're really responding to and the messages we're feeding ourselves, as a result of that feedback, about our own worth in our chosen field.

What say you?