Category Archives: Toni McGee Causey

girl power

by Toni McGee Causey

There’s a difference between being cocky and being confident, but young girls aren’t often taught that the latter is theirs to have. The messages that abound in our media are often confusing and contradictory; with the advent of the divas all over TV (can there really be that many idiot so-called housewives who think they will ever come out looking good on one of those shows?)… and the wailing toddlers wearing tiaras on reality shows throwing Superbowl sized tantrums, and the bride shows that reward outrageously bad behavior, and the tremendous pressure to be sexy and alluring long before anything like that should even be a part of their conversation–we’re telling girls that they’re still objects, and whiny, bratty ones at that, but as long as they look good, they, too, can be famous/popular/rich. And that nothing else really matters.

These messages carry over so firmly into adulthood, that we rarely, as women, feel good saying, “I did that well,” or “I’m confident that effort I made was great.” If we’re confident? Someone inevitably thinks we’re up on our high horse and that we need to be knocked down, and we get that message so freaking often as girls, that it’s hard to just be quietly confident as an adult woman without second guessing oneself all of the time. (Did I look like a bitch when I said that? Did I sound like I was too full of myself? Did I, in other words, just turn myself into a target? I cannot tell you how many times that has run through my head when I have done something well, and knew it, and mentioned it.). [Deborah Tannen’s YOU JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND underscores this, how girls socialize at a young age to try to make everyone “equal.” Very interesting book.]

I think girls are often taught to feel like misfits in our own bodies–we aren’t celebrated for what we can do (which we might have some control over), but are often celebrated (or berated and ostracized) for how we look (which we have very little superficial control over). [I could rant for hours on this alone. I deleted it. You’re welcome.]

And then sometimes you see a video where you see something you know you wouldn’t have seen even twenty years ago, and you think, it’s very possible girls are getting the message after all: be yourself. Be active. Do. You are impressive. Especially when an entire stadium of men–at the Army/Navy basketball game–end up giving them a standing ovation.

Girl power. It rocks. It gives me hope.

If you’re female, what lessons do you wish you’d learned as a kid? What would you go back and tell yourself, if you had the chance?

If you’re male, what misconceptions do you think women have about what men think about women? What would you say to your daughter to help them deal with the obstacles they may face as they grow up?

a simple story

by Toni McGee Causey

I want to tell you a simple story. It’s short. Easy. Not a lot of razzmatazz.

Yesterday, down in New Orleans, there was a contractor on a fairly big job, trying to do an “extra” for the people at no charge. That’s just his personality. His outlook on life. There was a road an electrician had had to dig a trench across to lay a line, and he wasn’t going to get the road repaired in time for something important next week. The contractor offered to fix it, assuming he’d only be able to pour the concrete on Monday. As luck and several benvolent actions on others’ part happened, he was, in fact, able to pour the concrete on Saturday… but his tools and crews were already off on another location, too far away to call back. He decided to run over to one of the supply stores, buy what he needed. He could have waited ’til Monday, but he knew they needed the road, and what the hell, it was a good deed.

Off he went to the big box supply store to buy the concrete finishing tools, tools he’d normally have most any other day in the back of his own truck, when he happened to see an old man and his assistant on the side of the road, finishing up a piece of concrete, a driveway, I believe, for someone else. Traffic was horrible and at the rate he was moving, he wasn’t going to get to the store and back to the jobsite before the concrete showed up. He stopped to see if the man was about finished, and offered him the little job. It was a tiny thing, and the man said sure… then he realized he wasn’t going to be there in time. So the old man–who had never met the contractor before–said, “Hey, why don’t you just borrow my extra tools? I don’t need ’em right now.” And the contractor thanked him. The old man loaded up the tools in the back of the contractor’s truck and waved goodbye, never having asked the contractor his name or his number or gotten the first piece of information in order to retrieve his tools, should they miss each other later that day. The contractor drove a plain white truck–no company name or anything identifying on it anywhere.

The contractor was able to get back to the job before the concrete arrived, and he finished the concrete with the borrowed tools. Everyone was happy. He returned to find the old man, and when he gave the man back his tools, he gave him money for “rental” for them. The old man’s assistant had been horrified at the old man for loaning his tools to a perfect stranger without getting his information, and the old man had told him, “I wasn’t using them, and I did the right thing. If he doesn’t return them, then I still did the right thing.”

Now, that old man didn’t look like he had much in the world, but he made the contractor’s day much easier. As it so happened, because the contractor had had to return the tools, he was driving home from a different direction, and at a much different time of day than he normally would. He saw a man on a long bridge span walking away from his truck, carrying a container, obviously out of gas. It was twenty-five miles across that long bridge span until the next exit where there was a gas station, so the contractor pulled over and offered the man a ride.

It turned out that the man was desperately out of work, here from North Carolina. When the contractor asked him what he did, the man told him he “cleaned up after rod busters,” and he said it with a shit-eatin’ grin. For those who don’t know, that means he finishes concrete, and was damned proud of his profession. He also happened to be able to run heavy equipment and had a lot of construction experience. What he didn’t know–couldn’t have known–was that the contractor had been advertising for just such an employee for over a month, and was getting in a bind on the big job because applicant after applicant had flaked out. They’d call, claim to want the job, get the offer… and simply never show up. The pay scale was commensurate with the norm, the benefits were above the norm, the location was clear in the ad… but flake they did, even in this economy.

The man had no idea he was in the middle of a job interview for that first 25 miles. They stopped at the gas station, and the contractor filled up three gas containers, and then drove all the way around to bring the man back to his truck. He learned in that process that the man had a sweet mom back in North Carolina who had moved in his home and was paying half his mortgage and he was trying hard not to lose his house. He’d been working day jobs when he could, and had been trying to find something permanent. He was down to his last eleven dollars, had been sleeping in his truck and hadn’t eaten in a while. The contractor had some food in the truck and gave it to him. The man ate rather quickly, but saved the last two bites in case the contractor wanted it. (You can tell the quality of a man when he’s starving, and will still share what little he has, with someone who obviously has more.)

When they got back to the truck, the contractor offered him a job. In the next few minutes, the contractor dug out a spare pre-paid phone he carried around for emergencies (in case his broke), gave it to the man, gave him his phone number, and organized a place for the man to stay for a week, paid, with a little money extra for food and a ride back to the job Monday morning. When he told me the story, he said, “I think he’ll be a good worker. He certainly was grateful. But if he isn’t, or if he doesn’t show up, I still did the right thing.”

Just like the old man. The cost ratio was about the same–both men just reaching out to his neighbor.

No politics. No notion of who the other people were, whether they were “worth” the effort or not. Just looking around their world, and noticing someone in need, and realizing they had a way to help that person.

The old man changed the contractor’s day. The contractor changed the new employee’s life (he said, as he called to thank the contractor, sincerely grateful). Who knows how it’ll all work out.

A long time ago, when that contractor was young and he didn’t have much money, someone had called him to help out a young man who had come in for counseling. That young man had been in the armed forces, had been honorably discharged, but when he got home, he’d had a run of really bad luck: someone he loved left him, his hoped-for job back home dried up, and so on. He had hit a low so low that he’d sought help, and it was that counselor who’d called the young contractor and asked if he could give the young man a job for a day. The young contractor did, and in the process, learned a bit about the man’s bad luck. He had a car he desperately needed to sell. The contractor happened to know someone looking for a car in that price range, so the sale was set up. There was a problem with the title, but the contractor knew a notary who knew how to fix it, so off they went, taking work time, to go fix that issue. With the money in hand, and a couple of other smaller things sold (the contractor talks to a lot of people, and helped the veteran sell his stuff), the veteran was able to get back to his home state, where his family was, and, after doing so, called the contractor a few weeks later to thank him.

He’d been going to kill himself that night, the day the contractor had given him that one job for the day, he said. He’d given up. He’d only taken the job because the counselor had urged him to, and since he had “bothered” the counselor with his problems, he felt he should honor the effort the counselor had made on his behalf, but the veteran knew that wages from one day–maybe $30–wasn’t going to fix his problems. Now, though, he was home, he had a new job, and things were going well.

It didn’t take money–the young contractor, back then, was fairly broke himself. It just took caring enough to look around and notice the people who were trying to help themselves, but having little luck. It took time. It wasn’t convenient, but he did the right thing, never really knowing if it would work. If you were to ask him, he’d be embarrassed that I wrote this story about him. He’d just tell you that people had reached out to help him at times when he’d desperately needed it. It was just the right thing to do. He tries to live up to that.

There was a horrible tragedy, yesterday, in Arizona. Our hearts and prayers are with all of the victims and the families and friends. What is sad, though–in addition to the heartbreak of the event–is that there was an immediate load of vitriol on both sides of the political aisles. I refuse to believe that we’re not capable of really looking around and seeing each other as worthwhile. It doesn’t matter what we all believe. It matters that we’re all in this together. I can’t help but wonder if there had been someone along the way who could have reached out, and noticed that shooter needed help. Or needed to be stopped. Or needed… something.

That counselor didn’t know what would happen, but he reached out. That old man finishing concrete on the side of the road didn’t know what would happen, but he made an offer. The contractor didn’t know what would happen, but he found an employee who could do what he needed done. And a man’s life was changed.

What can you do today? Smile at someone. Offer a hand. Maybe all you have extra is a dollar. Or maybe, all you can do is spend a few minutes, listening to someone. You matter. What you do can change lives. Sure, there are a lot of con artists out there–so we always have to use our good judgment and if we run across a few, chalk it up to their loss and help the next person. There are a lot of people in need, and we all have talents we can share. Sometimes, it may simply be time and effort. Or loaning someone something they need. You just never know how much that one act will ripple out.

I hope we try.



an interview with… our own Allison Brennan

by Toni McGee Causey

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the very best things about being a part of this group is that I occasionally get to interview other authors. Sometimes, it’s a guest interview and sometimes, like today, it’s a chance to get to know one of our own a little better. And even though Allison and I have been close friends for over five years now (wow! five? wow, the time has flown)… I still learn something new from her nearly every day. She’s one of the most giving people I know, and has not only been a terrific friend, but a fabulous mentor… which is why, when I knew she had a new book in a new series which featured one of my favorite characters (Lucy Kincaid), I sort of begged (annoyed, badgered, whined) in order to get a galley. It is, hands down, her best book yet. It’s fantastic–I literally started it when I was swamped and just did not have time to read and I couldn’t put it down, people. I know fans of thrillers will love this book; it comes out this Tuesday, December 28th. So to celebrate–here’s an interview with Allison, a little more about Lucy, and a contest.

…the interview…

Which is more difficult to deal with in life: the apologetic repeat-offender petty criminal or the unrepentant morally ambiguous liar?

Absolutely, hands down, the unrepentant liar. Petty criminals garner pity and sometimes empathy depending on their circumstances. If they’re apologetic, they know that they are doing something wrong, but they can’t seem to “help” themselves, and continue to make bad choices that over time land them in prison or lose them their family.

But unrepentant liars? They are sociopaths. They may or may not know that their actions are wrong, they justify their lies because they are inherently selfish and have no comprehension (or don’t care) whether their lies hurt someone. They may not be criminals, but they destroy lives with their lies. Many of these pathological liars do turn to crime—they may not be killers, but they may become con artists who prey on the elderly, or thieves, or steal the identity of thousands of people.


Which would be the more interesting character to write about, and why?

Both are interesting in their own way. However, the petty criminal would make a better secondary character (perhaps a catalyst of sorts or a character who pops up throughout the book and has a pivotal role in the climax) while the liar would make a better villain that I could explore more fully how he (or she) impacts the lives of others.


What are the sights/sounds/tastes of your earliest memory?

My earliest memory is just after I turned two. I am sitting in the passenger seat of my grandpa’s big truck, in my pajamas, and I turn to look out the drivers window as he walks from the house and waves to me. It’s a snapshot in time that I’ll never forget. I didn’t remember until my mom told me later that on Saturday mornings my grandpa use to take me with him to the barber, then out to breakfast. He died when I was two-and-a-half.


What is the biggest risk you’ve taken in your life?

Quitting my job before my first book came out. I didn’t know whether the book would be successful, and everything I’d heard was don’t quit your day job! So when I got the advance, I put it in my savings account and didn’t buy anything frivolous, I “paid” myself a salary and I pulled the little kids from day care (that’s another story! I couldn’t write with them around! Who said being a stay-at-home-mom was easy? They must have been smoking something.) I cut expenses right and left, and it was still tight. But I knew that I couldn’t work full-time and write, so I took a leap of faith. I knew that if my books didn’t do well, I’d be crawling back to my old boss begging for my job back. I REALLY didn’t want to do that.


What was that one fork in the road you wish you’d taken, just to see what it would have been like (and if you wish, you magically can still end up where you are, if you’re happy)?

I rarely, if ever, dwell on past choices. Once a decision is made (which may take me awhile!) I know that my life is on a different path, and regrets lead to unhappiness and discontentment.

There have been several pivotal choices I’ve made in my life that I know had I made the other choice, I would be in a completely different place. For example, for college I was accepted into the Johnston Program at the University of Redlands. It was a public policy think tank program and only accepted (if I remember correctly!) 40 students a year. You lived in a house on campus and had an independent study type program. I decided instead to go to UC Santa Cruz in order to stay closer to my boyfriend. We broke up a year later and I dropped out of college a year after that and moved to Sacramento.

I don’t know what I would be doing today if I went to Redlands. I doubt I would have dropped out of college. I also doubt I’d be a published fiction author. I have no doubt, however, that in whatever I did I would be a writer of some sort.

But I also wouldn’t have met my husband and had my kids. I can’t possibly comprehend what my life would have been like, or that my different choice would have led to the non-existence of five people. It actually kind of creeps me out to think about it! 


What one trait do you value the most in your friends that you don’t think you have (or have enough of)?

Empathy. When someone close to a friend dies, I never know what to say, and I kind of freak out. Some of my friends ALWAYS know what to say or do. They send flowers or cards and have just the right words. They think of something original and kind to do. Or, when someone has cancer and the school gets together to make meals I never participate, though I want to—I don’t know what to say to the person or the family. Maybe I just don’t do well around death and dying, or maybe I fear that the same thing can happen to me. I’ve lost people close to me, and I just want to hide alone for a couple weeks. I guess I don’t respond well to sadness, even though I’ve experienced it.


What five words (alone, or as a sentence), describe you best?

Procrastination. Lazy. Helpful. Generous. Forgiving.


What makes you cry?

Disney movies.


What makes you feel outraged, wanting to rant?

We’re not allowed to talk politics on this blog, so I’ll remain silent.


What is your favorite curse word?

Shit. I know, boring. I also like “Damn, damn, damn!”


What is the most interesting thing you’ve done in the pursuit of research?

I’ve been so lucky with my research field trips! I’ve been to Quantico, Folsom State Prison, FBI Headquarters, the morgue, and participated in the FBI Citizens Academy. But the most interesting was the FBI training sessions. I’ve done it twice, and I can’t wait until they ask again.

The training sessions are put on by the FBI for local law enforcement. The first one was set up with eight stations, and the cops could pick four to practice. One, for example, was pulling over vehicles. They’d run the exercise multiple ways, to illustrate different levels of danger, but the cops didn’t know what they’d be facing. One exercise was that the driver was wanted but complied; the other that the driver was wanted and didn’t comply; and the other was there was a man hiding in the backseat. Traffic stops are the most dangerous for cops, and they all took these training exercises seriously.

I was part of the warrant exercise. I was married to a known sex offender who was wanted by police. One time I let them in because they had a warrant. The other time they didn’t have a warrant, and were practicing gaining admittance through talking me into letting them in. I was supposed to make them work at it, and they were being judged on how they handled a hesitant spouse. Another time I would be belligerent. It was my first time in cuffs. Then, the officers go in and search the place. They also ran the exercise where they had a warrant to arrest a friend of my husband’s staying with us because he had an underage prostitute. Another time I hid and they had to search and find me. I’d then be debriefed about how and when the officers searched me, etc. They were supposed to take it seriously, but one cop didn’t handcuff or search me (the wife of the offender) and she was taken to task for that.

But the MOST fun and scary was when I was a victim in a school shooting scenario. Fun, because I was carried out by SWAT. Scary, because it seemed damn realistic. After the exercise, the FBI trainers would walk the SWAT team through step by step and ask why they did this, what they did that, etc. This particular exercise was to train SWAT on triage in a live-shooter situation. That SWAT is damn good at their job, but they wanted more training in assessing medical needs and whether it was safe to move victims while there was still a shooter in the building. I learned so much, and have great admiration and respect for SWAT after watching them perform.

What was the worst thing you had to endure in the pursuit of research?

I honestly can’t think of anything! Except, it really is no fun being handcuffed.


Where would you like to travel, and why? What would you like to see there?

Australia, Ireland, Italy. Nothing in particular, just beautiful countries.


What would you change about yourself?

I would be more diligent and procrastinate less. I would also be on time. I’d also like to lose 30 pounds!


What would you keep the same?

Hmm, I can’t think of anything. There’s room for improvement across the board.


And now… LOVE ME TO DEATH — the first in a new series for for Allison.

Here’s a little about the story:

Six years ago, Lucy Kincaid was attacked and nearly killed by an online predator. She survived. Her attacker did not. Now Lucy’s goal is to join the FBI and fight cyber-crime, but in the meantime, she’s volunteering with a victim’s rights group, surfing the Web undercover to lure sex offenders into the hands of the law. But when the predators she hunts start turning up as murder victims, the FBI takes a whole new interest in Lucy.

With her future and possibly even her freedom suddenly in jeopardy, Lucy discovers she’s a pawn in someone’s twisted plot to mete out vigilante justice. She joins forces with security expert and daredevil Sean Rogan, and together they track their elusive quarry from anonymous online chat rooms onto the mean streets of Washington, D.C. But someone else is shadowing them: A merciless stalker has his savage eye on Lucy. The only way for her to escape his brutality may be another fight to the death.


Here’s the Publisher’s Weekly rave review:

Grabbing the reader by the throat from almost the first page, this pulse-ratcheting romantic suspense from Brennan (Original Sin) delivers intense action, multifaceted characters, and a truly creepy bad guy. FBI hopeful Lucy Kincaid is trying to heal from a brutal attack six years earlier. She volunteers at a program dedicated to luring and rearresting repeat sex offenders via the Internet, but then discovers a horrifying connection between her work and the execution-style murders of the parolees. PI Sean Rogan, a friend of Lucy’s brothers, becomes focused on protecting her at any cost, and their mutual passion flares. As Lucy draws closer to the truth, effective red herrings litter the way and throw her deeper into confusion.

And Lee Child said: “World-class nail-biter . . . Brennan is in the groove with this one.”


So here a the end of the year, tell us, ‘Rati, what would you change about yourself? What would you keep the same? And is there a road not taken you sort of wish you’d tried, just out of curiosity?


Meanwhile, while y’all are answering those… here’s the CONTEST

I’m going to be running a contest, starting Tuesday, which will be announced in my newsletter and on my blog, but ‘Rati readers get a headstart. Anyone who does the following between now and Monday night (midnight, CST) will get two chances at the e-reader (see below) instead of just one chance. All you have to do is follow instructions and tweet the sentence below before Tuesday, and you’ll be entered twice. Everyone posting on Tuesday and afterward will still be entered the one time.


…here’s the contest:


Here are the rules:

If you’re on Twitter, this one’s for you. Contest starts on December 28th and continues through midnight, January 3rd, central standard time. All you have to do is tweet this exact tweet:

Can’t wait to read #thenewAllisonBrennanthriller, Love Me To Death: @ToniMcGeeCausey @Allison_Brennan

One entry per twitter name makes you eligible to win either a Kindle or a Nook Color—whichever one you choose (see the links for the specific model) if your name is drawn in the random drawing. Plus, the winner will receive a $50 gift certificate to the ebook store their reader came from in order to help get a jump start on purchasing books for their new ereader!

If there are more than 1,000 entries (remember, one entry per person)—there will be TWO prizes given away, so spread the word, but let them know they have to tweet that exact tweet, okay?

Contest void where prohibited. Any winner who happens to be outside of the US may opt for the cash equivalent (via Paypal) of the Kindle ($189 USD) + the $50 cash (also via Paypal—for a total of $239 USD) if they cannot use the Kindle or the Nook in their country.

Winner(s) will be announced on my Facebook page, as well as on my blog on Monday, January 10th, by 5 p.m. (CST) and on Twitter—so follow me there if you want to see it there. (I’ll post it to Twitter first.)


the totally frivolous goofy time-wasting blog of lists

by Toni McGee Causey

I am writing the finale of my book and there are words with the sense that I should make which are gone, spilled, dripped, bludgeoned onto the page of the manuscript and my brain, when called upon for sense for the blog, said, and I quote, “No.” And then there was much cursing and lots of procrastinating (did you know there is actually a girl who knitted an entire Ferrari? or a guy who builds insanely huge buildings out of decks of cards?) and I even fed the brain chocolate ice cream, and still, there was a “No.”

At first, I was kinda proud of the amount of work I did this week, because it was a good output for ol’ slowpoke here, and then I saw JT’s post where she wrote a quibillion words and then Cornelia’s post, where she raised JT another billion and probably did it while taming a lion with her other hand, and I looked around at the fact that I had written (oh, like I am going to tell you after those numbers) and played nonstop with the 3-year-old for two days (much drooling ensued) (me, not her) and I realized, I cannot even whine about not having the words for a blog.

So then I thought… Lists! everyone loves lists! Yay! Problem solved!

Until I realized this required coming up with something to list.





(And you wonder why I talk about football.)


Okay, I have a list. Things I would never do, no way, no how, not even if you paid me HUGE, as in Bill Gates huge. (Well, possibly Bill Gates huge, if you also gave me valium and a few shots.)

1) jump out of a perfectly good airplane

Now, I know that there are a bunch of people who love to do this, and a whole bunch of people who, for military purposes, are made to do this, whether they love it or not (and really, read the fine print when you sign up for military service, because I have a sneaky suspicion that the “will be forced to jump out of a plane” clause is really well hidden… wedged somewhere between “will get to study to be all you can be” and “may possibly be hazardous work environments”)… and I just want to say to those people who do it voluntarily for kicks: seek help. You are not sane.

Of course, I am the woman who fell off the third-from-the-bottom step this summer and fractured her foot in three places. Imagine the damage that I would do jumping out of an airplane. And don’t give me that nonsense about more people die in a car, etc., because the entire way down, I would be obsessing over just who packed my parachute and were they having a bad day, had their girlfriend broken up with them and did they feel like quitting their job and weren’t really paying attention in between the sobbing and the drunk texting and I would have a complete heart attack before I could even pull the chute.

2) Run with the bulls in Pamploma, Spain. Or anywhere, where bulls may run. Because do you see that? —–>

That, my friends, is a bull. NOTE THE POINTY THINGS. Those pointy things are in front of the bull. If the bull is behind you, then the pointy things are between you and the bull, and I am just slightly above average in intelligence, but even I can see that the bull, who knows how to use the horns to move things out of his way… also has four feet. That would be two more feet than I have. Odds are, he’s going to be faster. And if he’s pissed off (and wouldn’t you be if you’d been herded into a narrow street and poked and yelled at and had to chase a bunch of morons?)… he will probably not be thinking, “Oh, dear, look at that dainty little thing there who can’t run very fast; I shall swoop past her, leaving her untouched, for I am a manly bull, full of honor and compassion.” 

Of course, you don’t really have to outrun the bulls. You just have to outrun the other idiots behind you, who are between you and the bulls.

3) Bomb squad, bomb defuser, red wire or blue wire ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME?  I can’t commit to a favorite ice cream, or a favorite food, much less a life-changing choice of which wire do I cut to keep from blowing up before the timer runs out.

Now, don’t get me wrong… I am extremely grateful that there are military people and police type people who do this sort of thing every day, and I know that the technologies have advanced and there are (somewhat) better levels of protection, but still. I get distracted too easily by whatever is shiny flapping in my peripheral vision, and it doesn’t take much for me to see something, start thinking what if? and run down the rabbit hole for a few minutes or a few hours, when, meanwhile, dinner is burning and the phone has rung repeatedly for twenty minutes and I didn’t hear or see a thing.

And it makes me wonder… what do they do with the guys who test at the lower end of the class? You know, they still have a passing grade to graduate, but they’re not at the very tip top of the class? those guys? I don’t know about you, but I think it’s really okay if my lawyer was tenth or so in his graduating class, but the bomb squad guy? Insane pressure to be the best at what he or she does. And who wants to work next to the bomb guy who graduated last in his class?

So how about you? What are three things you would totally never, ever, no way, no how, not even with a HUGE reward… ever do?

Contest winners from two weeks ago:

Shannon J

Larry Gasper


Mary (mgarrett)

Donna Kuyper

If you would all email me at toni [at] tonimcgeecausey [dot] com and tell me the online bookstore of your choice and which email you’d like the certficate sent to, I’ll them out right away!

Meanwhile, I am going back to my finale (which, honestly, I’m very happy about, even if I didn’t do eleventy billion words on it this week) (grin)… and I am looking forward to hearing about what you all would not ever ever ever do.

books you’d give as gifts…

by Toni McGee Causey

I am just now (as I write this late Saturday evening) back from vacation, and it’s the first vacation we’ve had in… um…. what year is this? Oh, wow. 2010? Okay, let’s just say a while, because I can’t really remember the last one that was an actual vacation where I set aside work the whole time. I’m not really a vacation-y type, because I’m kinda… and I know this will come as a complete shock to all of you… a control freak. I know, hard to imagine, huh? I hide it well. And I’m also maybe a little teeeeeeeeny tiny bit of a workaholic. You just passed out from shock, didn’t you? You poor dear, here’s the smelling salts. I’ll wait.

So, anyway, vacation. Whereupon I have utilized almost every known method of public transportation known to man, I think. Save ferries (although that was an option at one point). I’ve been on airplanes (4), trains (3), monorails (2), busses (1 billion), trams (6), shuttles (2), and, if we’re counting, conveyors (18 1/2)(don’t ask). In amongst all of those things were miles and miles and miles and MILES of walking. Or at least a couple of miles, I maybe exaggerate, but my feet would not agree with that.

My long way of saying: folks, I didn’t know you could fit this much exhaustion into one body. It’s a really great exhaustion, given that I got to see so much of my family at the same time. [Oh, trivia question answer here: the thing I learned from the nice Travelocity guy that sort of scared him when I asked, which I mentioned but did not explain on Facebook: yes, you can actually board a plane with an expired driver’s license but a valid concealed carry permit as a second form of identification. It took twenty minutes to explain that having the permit did not mean anyone was actually going to attempt to carry a weapon on the plane.] [Ironically, no, we were not selected for any pat-downs or scanner experiences, although I sort of figured when we showed our IDs, bells and whistles and “Hoooboys” and “Hot damn, we have live ones” would sort of go off all around us. We actually sailed through without waiting.]


I want to know what five books you would give as gifts, [no, I did not even try for a segue there, did I? EXHAUSTION], but if you would, I’d love it if you’d tell me one from each category below. You can stick with one genre or mix genres–you can list/explain more than one in any category if you’re having trouble narrowing it down. (I did.)

1) Favorite book that changed your perspective about something in your life (and if you can, what that was)

2) Favorite “great escape” book that took you completely away from your problems, worries, or exhaustion, and is probably one that you re-read

3) Most recent favorite absolutely-could-not-stop-reading-it book, the one that you stayed up until you were finished

4) Favorite book that you did not expect to love or enjoy, which ended up grabbing you anyway.

5) Just a favorite, no particular category. :D

Prizes: 5… as you could win one of FIVE $30USD gift certificates to an online bookstore of your choice. If you’re not a US resident, then an online bookstore that I can send you a gift certificate from is important–if you don’t have one, we’ll work out an alternate plan. DEADLINE: next Saturday, noon, US Central time. CHECK BACK NEXT SUNDAY FOR THE WINNERS.

The last time I posed these questions, I answered with [mostly] romance / action choices, because I can’t pick one all time favorite for each question–I can only do it by genre because I have too many favorites. I’m going to post this now and come back here in the morning when I’m slightly more coherent and answer these myself. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your answers!

the crankiness, it lives

by Toni McGee Causey

I have no blog for you today. Well, not a real one.

It’s been a week of watching people (non internet related) be rude and bitchy to one another, as well as watching other stuff sort of implode (not this list or any group you’d all know). Last week, four people I know lost their parents (four different people died), and one of those was a cousin. Every one of them had been older or had suffered from a long, extensive illness, so not one was a surprise, but still, it makes you stop and think. Then this week, watching people dismantle friendships because it’s simply better for them is just… well, crappy.

None of this is directed at me (thankfully), so this is more just me, being in the periphery, aware of the pain raging all around me. Not able to help, not able to fix anything, not able to offer anything wiser than, “Yeah, it sucks.” And it’s affected my writing way more this week than it should have, this intrusion of anger and hurtfulness. What I’m writing is hard enough, really. It’s heartbreaking. I’m nearly at the end, and the book is ripping me to shreds. I have to gird up to get through this next part, and that’s difficult to do while witnessing the harshness I’ve seen this week. It makes me just want to go be a hermit. Sometimes, I think Salinger had the right idea.

I don’t even feel like ranting. I just feel… tired. Tired of the cranky. So, ‘Rati, I am opening this up to you today. What do you do to get through the day, when it seems like the world around you is just determined to stomp on the last little piece of empathy you have left? Links, books, movies, anecdotes, mantras, quotes… what? I’d appreciate it if you could help me rescue this next week.

trick or treat

by Toni McGee Causey

I am firmly convinced that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who love dressing up in Halloween costumes, and those who do not.Some are pros…

You know those people who start planning one Halloween for the very cool costume they’re going to wear the next year, and they’re always awesome and the talk of the party and the one whose kids are so decked out, every kid out there is just sick with envy? That was not me. Some are not pros…I fall pretty squarely into the ‘not’ category, probably because I am what you might diplomatically call “costume challenged.” Apparently, there is a costume gene out there that I did not receive. 



My kids dreaded Halloween, I think. Sure, they loved the candy, but they had to endure their mom’s complete lackadaisical attitude toward the holiday. I’d never remember to get whatever it was they wanted to use to make their costumes, and I think they went as the same costume–karate kids–enough years in a row to be too humiliated to trick-or-treat in the same neighborhoods again. It started early, as I mentioned over here, this ineptitude toward costume design. [And my older son still has not forgiven me for the tin foil.] I cannot tell you how thankful I was when both boys were finally old enough to fend for themselves and come up with whatever they wanted to do. 

But it’s not that I don’t appreciate great costumes. Especially those which, in essence, tell a story. I was at a party up in the hills off Mulholland (L.A.) where a lot of industry people were in attendance… so you know, people who knew how to create cool costumes, and it was impressive. The one that stuck in my memory, though, was a guy who was dressed as Sammy Sosa (who’d just beaten the all-time home-run record), and his girlfriend, who came dressed as a baseball fan with his home-run ball… impaled in her left eye. It really looked impaled, even up close, the make-up was that good, and when she first turned around, I flinched. 

As a writer, I’m constantly in costume… I’m always stepping in the shoes of other people, wearing their skin, their clothes, their mannerisms, getting the feel of how they walk and talk and dress and go about their day. I loved shooting our film (which just sold to its first foreign country, Japan), especially when the lead actor asked me if the main character was left handed or right handed. I could see him putting together the mechanics (and costume) of who the guy was that he’d be portraying, and it was easy to forget, sometimes, that he had a different life outside of what this character lived.

So how about you? Are you a costume person? Or not? And either way, what’s the coolest costume you’ve seen? Or if you love them, what are you going as this year to any parties you might attend?



How to break in to non-fiction / fiction… a basic primer…

by Toni McGee Causey

You know I love you, my beloved ‘Rati, right? I do, more even than frozen chocolate M&Ms, and that’s like a whole freaking Grand Canyon of love, mkay?

But today? Today the words, they are flowing. I had a breakthrough and it’s rocking and as much as I love you, I’m going to post something I posted elsewhere. [I apologize in advance to our non-writer READER commenters… this one is so business related, you will likely be bored. I promise something fun for you next time.] A handful of you have seen it, but it’ll be new to most of you and I’d appreciate your help fleshing it out even farther. Further? Farther? Ugh. I iz a riter.

Anyway, it’s a how-to, as mentioned in the title. It’s not intended to be all-inclusive. There are books written on these subjects which still don’t manage to cover everything, but you can look at this as a sort of check-list of things you can do to get started without shooting yourself in the foot. 

That shooting yourself in the foot? Just happened to a guy who wrote to me this week. I didn’t know him, never met him, didn’t have a clue why he was writing to me because he launched into pitching his non-fiction book and asked me to visit his website and read his excerpts and then I could just call or email him back with an explanation of what he needed to do next. Hello? Did this Speshul Snowflake save my life at some point? Donate a kidney to me when I wasn’t paying attention? No, no he did not. It was the casual “you don’t have anything better to do than to see my genius” attitude that rankled. So… on the off chance that he and I had met somewhere and I, in some state of amnesia volunteered to take him to raise and coddle and read his stuff… asked him if we had met. Or knew each other from online? And he assured me that no, we hadn’t met, because I would know him–he’s the guy who looks like [insert fairly famous TV star here]. And that, apparently, was supposed to be reason enough for me to stop my own work to do his.

I did not haul out the big guns. I want freaking brownie points for that. Because seriously, he didn’t even bother to find out what I wrote, much less read it. I am so not the person to pitch a non-fiction book to. And the more I thought about it, the more annoyed I became because he’s going to keep writing to authors, thinking what he was doing was a great idea, a fabulous way to break in. What he’s really doing is marking himself as someone (I am being polite here) who doesn’t realize how the business works and even though I was actually intrigued by the title and tagline of the book he pitched, you couldn’t put enough chocolate covered strawberries in front of me to get me to read it now. And if someone is obnoxious in the way they ask me to read, I will be cranky.

You really really don’t want me to read your stuff when I’m cranky.

Besides… I’m not an agent. I’m not an editor. I am just a writer, like any other writer, with a secondary business I help run (construction) and family to tend to. I’ve also promised other people reads–some are people I owe huge favors to because they’ve read mine, some are waiting for blurbs and others who are waiting for feedback (the latter being close friends for whom I am willing to leash the cranky). 

The thing is, I was once unpublished and people helped me. I’d like to help. I hope that some of the blogs I’ve posted fall into that category, and I’ve read for contests and taught classes and try to give back at conventions. I try to find those who are standing on the fringes, terrified as I once was, and pull them into the group so they can start meeting people. I’ve read and referred people to agents and I’ve even sent an email to an editor when I knew she was looking for something specific and I had just read that very thing and thought it was wonderful and she might just think so, too. (That has happened maybe twice.) I *do not* do that frequently. For one thing, if you are constantly bombarding people, no one listens and secondly, that’s not my job. My job is to write. I do help, when I can, because I really love seeing people succeed.

There are rare times I will read someone’s unpublished manuscript, but it’s happened occasionally. (a) they win a contest where I’ve given away a read. I read one recently like this for a contest for donations when Nashville flooded… and CP Perkins won and her voice and story were refreshing and smart and delightful and I was very happy to read. (b) a referral from a friend I dearly trust who either has blackmail material on me and who is so fired up over someone else’s manuscript, I am curious and (c) people who comment regularly in the comments section that I’ve come to know and like and… yet, even then, I warn them about the cranky. (Look, I’ve inadvertently made people cry–men and women–and that’s when I thought I was being helpful. You have to understand that I came out of the screenwriting world, where there is no such thing as a gentle critique.) I will never ever ever, did I mention never? read a complete stranger’s stuff just because they sent an email. I have no way to know the crazy on the other side of that email, and honestly, there are legal ramifications involved that are too painful to be worth the risk. 

Okay… wow, for someone who wasn’t going to post much, I ended up ranting.

Still… you’ll see “networking” down below as one of the ways to get feedback and build relationships, which can sometimes help. Sometimes, as in occasionally. Not all of the time. Maybe even rarely. Don’t count on it. Lots of other ways to the end of the rainbow, etc. I believe in networking, but I also believe in respecting the other person’s time and commitments. Better than networking, though, is just being a good reader / blog commenter / convention participant / fun person. That will make you memorable in a good way.

Here’s what I’d ask of you today–and I’m posting this question above the very long blog post that’s about to follow, because many of you won’t need or want to read the whole thing, but it’ll be there for those who do. Many of you published writers will have a lot of other tips, though, and I would greatly appreciate it if you would:

1) tell me other tips on breaking in, fiction or non-fiction (flash-fiction success stories, for example)

2) tell me any books or classes that you’ve taken that were pivotal in your ability to break in

3) online resources? websites? blogs? Please feel free to include your own if you have writers’ resources listed there.


*****If you have a question not covered–and as long as this gigantic post is, I’m sure there’s plenty more–please ask in the comments and I–and hopefully some of the other ‘Rati–will endeavor to answer. Keep in mind this is just my perspective. Your mileage may vary.

(Also, check out at the very bottom the fantastic class Alex is teaching in a couple of weeks.)

And now, I’m off to enjoy the words flowing. Meanwhile, here is a very long piece about how to break in:

How do you get started writing for pay, for both non-fiction and fiction? 

I’ve been asked the above many times it’s a great question. What makes it difficult to answer is that every single person asking is at a different stage/level of writing, so there’s no “one size fits all” answer that will apply. Even so, I think there are a number of things a new writer can do in order to jump into this vocation. I really wish someone had broken some of this down for me, oh-so-many years ago. In honor of those questions and in light of the fact that I just realized I’ve been publishing for 25 years this year (in May), here are a few things (and this is not a complete, definitive list yet) that I think might benefit a new writer to do and/or think about. 

1) Do you absolutely NEED to earn money FAST with writing? If you’re going to spend extra time doing something, MUST it earn money in order to makes ends meet? 

Now, it might surprise you that I ask that question first, but I want to get this concern out in the open and addressed, because I understand the desire more than anyone knows: you have a talent that people have encouraged-whether it was a teacher somewhere along the way, or family or friends… and for reasons all too common, you have to earn extra money, but leaving the house to do it is damned near impossible. Maybe it’s because of having kids at home, or maybe it’s because of where you live or the high unemployment rate, but you’d really like to earn money quickly, and you’d like to do it from home. 

If this describes you, then you need to look at NON FICTION as a potential solution. Back when I started, our local newspaper still took on freelancers for various sections. The pay was not great—$75 per article, and, ironically, $75 per photo. I learned pretty quickly to include photos. It was a very happy day in the household when I had worked my way up to a whopping $150 per article and $100 per photo, because I was writing two or three articles a week by that point, and making a pretty good side income. 


Here’s some how-to tips and things to keep in mind: 

Even though the local newspapers on on the decline (and seriously, they’ve laid off staff right and left, so it’s going to be difficult—but not impossible—to land a freelance assignment there), keep in mind that many many places have their own websites now, and they may benefit from additional local coverage/articles. You have to think outside the box a bit more to find these places and to pitch them, but keeping a site updated with frequent content is very time-consuming for a local business or corporation, and if someone can solve that problem for them, fairly cheaply and with good quality writing, that person can end up creating a niche for themselves. 

Finding the market: Obviously, finding those businesses and sites (even regional and national sites) takes research. It takes looking at every site you cross, every local business web page with an eye to what you could do to make that site more of a “destination” site. Why would they need you? What could you bring to the table that would be interesting to their customers? How frequently would they need the content updated? 

Pitching: There are two general ways to pitch—one is a query letter, and one is to provide a sample, which we call “writing on spec” (speculation). While the former is the generally accepted method of approaching most businesses, I have to say that a simple cold query is almost never going to work for non-fiction. They’re going to want to know what you can do, and this is where you’d include samples of your best writing. If you don’t have any samples because you’re just getting started, then the best thing to do is write the article you’re pitching to them. Show them what you can do by doing it, and doing it so well, they really want to use it. On the upside, if they want it, it’s already done and you’ll get paid a lot faster. On the downside, you could put a lot of research into something and end up not making a sale. Never fear, though—because that article might be able to be slanted toward another market. I made several sales by taking an article that had already been written, looking at the needs of a different publication, slanting a rewrite toward that publication and then selling it there. 

What do you mean, slant? To “slant” something is to be aware of the demographic and/or the attitudes and needs of the publications’ audience. In the approach to a business, you want to be aware of who their target customer is. For example, let’s just say there’s a local Bed & Breakfast near you, and you realize that people who travel to the B&B might want to read about other sites to see and venues to visit near said B&B, and the B&B’s website is pretty static—nothing new there about what’s going on locally or how awesome the area is. Or whatever they have is the same thing they’ve had up for a year. So you want to pitch them a series of articles where you cover local attractions from the point of view of a local—great places to hang out that are off the beaten path, etc. You wouldn’t write this article with a lot of slang and angles on where to go skateboarding, because the audience is likely going to be older—couples—from retirees to newlyweds—not teens. You’re also going to see more middle-class visitors than wealthy, and many of these would be interested in saving money while seeing the sites, so you’d feature the more affordable things to do in the area. However, you could take that same information that you found while researching and pitch it to bigger hotels in the area, or restaurants, or travel guides or the local paper’s travel/fun section, etc. In non-fiction, research only used once is a missed opportunity. You can often rewrite the article to slant it toward different audiences, thus making more money for the same research. 

(I once sold an article about relaxation and endorphins toRedbook, and then turned around and used the same information to create a fun quiz for Madamoiselle.) 

Querying official markets: By “official” I mean the standard markets you’d think of for non-fiction: magazines and newspapers and some of the bigger news/magazine websites. MOST but not all of the requirements of the paying sites are going to be included in a publication called WRITERS MARKET. There’s a print version (usually) available in most libraries. There are other sites as well, such as—but I used WM almost exclusively for my non-fiction forays and I think it’s been around the longest. 

There’s a huge non-fiction section to these sites and specifically in WM, and you can look up the publication to see: 

  1. what they need
  2. what they pay
  3. how to contact them and a contact name


In every case, I would call the front desk of the magazine just to verify that the contact name was still at the publication. People move, get fired, etc., and you don’t want to send in a query for the new person’s predecessor—it’ll be obvious you’re not that great at research, if you do. You also, however, NEVER try to pitch these people over the phone. Ever. EVER. ON PENALTY OF DEATH. Okay? Because you will tick whoever that person is off, right then, and anything you send it later will be thrown away. 

Then you’ll follow their guidelines. Even if they say “snail mail only.” Because they are grumpy and you’re trying to get money out of them, eventually, you want them to think well of you. 

And please note that in order to approach the bigger markets, like national magazines, where the pay is much nicer, they’re going to want to see “clips” (published examples, taken from the source, or a pdf copy thereof) of your work for other paying markets. You can graduate quickly to a larger market, but having these clips is essential, so you’ll need to start either locally or regionally. 

Do not ignore the off-beat magazines which have a very specific following. For example, you may not normally think about writing a golf piece for a travel magazine, but if you live near a world-renowned golf course, there may be an angle there that you could pitch. Or, for the golf magazine, you might pitch a round-up of favorite local eateries for the people who will be traveling in to enjoy a major golf tournament. I dunno-this is where RESEARCH of the market is VITAL. It’s a good rule of thumb to read the last few issues of a magazine to see their TONE and APPROACH to topics, but also to see what they’ve covered in the last couple of years. Yes, two years, minimum. Most editors will not want to repeat a topic (celebrity stuff excluded, obviously) unless you can present a really new slant on that topic. Women’s magazines, for example, might have covered anorexia a year ago and won’t want to cover it again… but if you’ve heard about a new treatment or research or a myth-busting truth has crossed your path, you might be able to sell it. It’s got to be a fresh take, though, for them to be willing to bite. There are all sorts of odd, off-beat places and ways to get started. 

Keep in mind that sometimes, you have to give a little to build a reputation. Here’s a good example. My oldest son, Luke Causey, is an outdoorsman when he’s not working, and he loves camping/hunting/fishing, etc. A while back, he wrote a free review of a knife he’d purchased and posted it on a website where reviews were invited. His review was well received, and he reviewed more and more—to the point that knife makers would send him a knife for review and he was able to keep the knife. He ended up with enough positive reactions from his reviews that he started reviewing other equipment for a website called; his payment was that he could keep the item he reviewed, which, for him, was great. I’m very proud of his articles—he’s professional, easy-to-read, fun, and you can tell he has a sense of humor. He also does great “how-to” articles about how to improvise something you might need. The kid’s a regular MacGyver (along with his dad and brother), so it’s a perfect use of his talents. As a result of his articles, he’s been invited to contribute articles—for pay—to a new magazine that’s starting up called Pathfinder, which is founded by Dave Canterbury, who stars on the Discovery Channel’s Dual Survival Show. In this internet world where so many people blog for free, you may have to write a while and demonstrate that you have a knowledge base or a particular take on a topic that is unique and helpful or entertaining in order to prove to the paying markets that you deserve to be paid. 

Non-fiction books: Also, keep in mind that non-fiction is the lion’s share of books sold, so if you have an expertise in an area… or you know someone who does have an expertise… you may be able to break in with a non-fiction book. There are a lot of websites and information out there about how to do this, but the bottom line is, you have to do a tremendous about of market research to show why your book is needed. If you’re following a trend, you’re probably already too late—by the time the trend happens and “hits” big in the public conscious, there’s already a glut of those books sitting on editors’ desks, because everyone else has noticed the trend, too. You’ll need to find an angle about the subject that hasn’t been done, and a reason why the audience would need that information. How is it going to make their lives better? How is going to help anyone? Why does it fill a void the other books out there haven’t filled? How big is that demand? (Meaning, how big is that void? Is there a big enough audience to warrant the cost of publishing the book?) If you want to go this route, don’t start writing the book until you’ve really researched the how-tos. 

The writing itself: You might be thinking, “Well, I’d like to do this, but how do I know if I have what it takes?” And my answer is going to sound snarky, but it’s not meant that way:you can read. If you’re going to be a writer, it’s your job to read read READ read READ READ READ and DISSECT dissect dissect DISSECT the hell out of what you read. Look at a website you love and see how they do it. Ask yourself stuff like, “how do all of the articles start… with an anecdote? with a hook? with a fact? with a bold statement?” and then ask, “what is the style of this publication? is it breezy? snarky? factual? dry? sardonic?” etc. Write a few sample articles and get friends/peers to read and tell you if they remained interested throughout. Find out if you have confused them anywhere along the way. Did you make a point? Did the person care about it once they were done? Did you impart information that the person wouldn’t have known already? Did you give them a glimpse into something they couldn’t have ordinarily seen just surfing factual sites on the web? And so on. If you want to go this route, there are several writing books on the subject out there which will help you with the kinds of questions you should be asking yourself.Writer’s Digest almost always puts out excellent books on the subject, and their magazine had great articles on how to approach non-fiction markets. (I’m assuming they still do, though I haven’t read in a while.) 

The pay: Is almost always on publication now except for some of the really big markets, but if they’re a local business and/or are not going broke, then you might be able to negotiate payment upon acceptance. Check out markets of similar size in the Writer’s Marketplace to get a fair idea of what you should charge, if you’re pitching to someone “outside the box.” And it’s always a smart thing to present the “outside the box” types with an invoice once they’ve accepted the article for publication. That way, should they forget, you can remind them without looking like a fluffy bunny who’s just doing this for free. 

(There are good reasons to do something fo
r free—blogs, for example, have obviously taken over the world and they’re free and they offer a zillion viewpoints and bits of information, but if you’re going to write for someone else, they need to pay you, or be able to give you some sort of in-kind-trade, where you benefit financially.) 


2) “No no,” you say, “I don’t want to write non-fiction. I want to write my own stories. My own worlds. I just don’t have a clue how to go about getting started.” 

For what it’s worth, I said this sentence at some point in my non-fiction writing career, when I really wanted a change and I wasn’t sure how to go about doing it. The fiction world is SO BIG and SO AMORPHOUS and holy cow, there are about a billion ways to Oz, and I kept hopping from one path to another because I didn’t even really realize I was on a path, until about four or five paths later. So in order to help you keep from meandering in the wilderness for forty years, here are a few of the general things I’d suggest you think about and/or do to get started. 

The genre you love to read: Here is the very best place for you to start. Why? Because whether you realize it or not, you know a lot about it already. You know what the reader expectations are for that genre, because all you have to do is ask yourself, “What am I looking for when I pick up this type of book? What is it that I’m craving? What type of experience? What works for me? (Make a list.) What doesn’t work for me? (Again, make a list.) Ignore stuff that the author had no control over, like the back cover copy and the cover… focus on the story: do you like dark thrillers? do you like them to have romance in them, or not? if not, why not? (There are no wrong answers. In fact, you MUST be really honest with yourself here if you want to be successful.) Do you like light romances? Do you like a lot of angst or stories with more twists in the plots? Pull out your top ten or twenty favorite books in the world… the ones you’d read over and over again. What is it about these books that you love? Look for genre, but also look for commonalities: what is it about them that’s calling to you? Is it subject matter? Theme? Tone? Or a type of experience? Setting? Type of plot? 

When people give the advice to “write what you know”—it doesn’t necessarily mean for you to write about your experiences in your life… it means, write the kinds of stories you know how to tell, that you’d love to read and watch. Write something that you grasp the meaning to, the nuances and the lifestyle of, because you’re going to need that understanding to get you through the long slog. However, be aware that what you understand can apply to many other life situations. You may never be a spy, but you might have a grasp on cut-throat tactics and livelihoods at stake, and you might have access to a bunch of people in the spy business who would be willing to talk to you and you might have an understanding of what it is to be immersed in a world where you have no one you can trust, and if you put those things together, you could write a spy thriller. Especially if you love the spy thriller genre and you’ve read just about everything classic that everyone references as well as the new turks taking over the genre—then you’ll know if what you’re doing is good and original. 

The writing itself: There are a billion choices for you to go through to create that work of fiction-and each one of those can be overwhelming when you’re new. Things like “should I tell this in first person? or third?” have ramifications far beyond just using the word “I” a lot. Suffice it to say, those choices are too huge for this one blog. I have a few pieces of advice about how to write: 

  • read. READ READ READ. And then, READ. 
  • DISSECT. If you can’t figure out what they’re doing, and how they’re doing it, then you can’t utilize the technique. Now, you may dissect subconsciously, or you may be the type who pulls out highlighters and makes copious notes or you may fall somewhere in between, but good writers read with an eye to how the author accomplished what they accomplished. And the rare times I’ve read a book where I’ve gotten completely immersed and have forgotten to read with that eye, I go back and figure out where the author drew me in, and how. 
  • write write write write write. PRACTICE. Do not whine to anyone about how you don’t want to abandon your first book, that you think it’s got what it takes to make it and “those people” just wouldn’t know great writing if it hit them in the face, because I—and all the other professional writers around you—will want to bop you on the head. Unless you are a very speshul snowflake, you’re probably not going to sell the very first book you write. Or the first full-length fiction (if, as it was in my case, a screenplay). You may, however, show enough promise to get encouragement from peers and other writers, or place in some contests. You may even get some encouragement from some agents. But you need to be aware that just because you can type, or just because you’ve read all your life, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to automatically spew out a perfect novel that everyone clamors to read, one which will—if not make you wealthy—will at least solve your financial problems. It’s unrealistic. I don’t care how talented you are, it’s unrealistic. The one-in-a-million that it happens to is a fluke, and if you get so lucky? Well, good, I’m glad. But don’t go into this thinking that’s how it works, because it doesn’t. Plus, you will annoy the writers around you who could have offered you useful advice on how to improve, except if you’re all whiny about how great you already are, nobody’s going to want to help you. (Um, yeah, pet peeve. Moving on.) 
  • Peer review/critiques/feedback/beta reads… You will need these, in the beginning, at least. Again, there are rare people out there who are so talented, they may not need any feedback, and if you’re one of those people, congratulations, we all hate you. However, most of those people find out they are those people because they’ve already written stuff and submitted it and wowed everyone, or peers read and were blown away, etc. If you’re writing something and you hand it in to your critique group/peers, etc., and they are dying DYING dying to know what happens next, then you may well not need the critique group’s input. 
  • Finding a peer review group is a blog unto itself, but my caveat here is to find people who love the same genre in which you’re writing, or you’re going to get a whole lot of advice that sounds great and is logical and makes sense and may even resonate with you… but which could derail the story you’re trying to tell because it negates the very conventions of the genre of your story. And this derailing won’t even be intentional… but I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times. 
  • Classes. I actually think taking classes is a beneficial thing—if it’s being taught by a really strong teacher. Please note that sometimes, really strong teachers aren’t always bestsellers themselves, which may have a helluva lot more to do with the vagrancies of the marketplace or something beyond their control. Conversely, there are also a lot of bestselling authors who don’t really teach well. And some who do both. Ask around, get suggestions from others who benefitted from the class. 
  • Don’t just take every class you hear about. Target your weaknesses and focus on classes for those things. Read how-to books, also. But mostly, and I cannot emphasize this enough, READ BOOKS that do well whatever it is you feel is your weakness and analyze how they accomplish what they do.

Polishing: Before you send out your book, please take the time to go back through it and polish it. Not just spelling and grammar, but look for logic holes, look for inconstancies, look to make sure your characters stay in character and aren’t just doing something you need them to do for the purpose of the plot, etc. Look at how you’ve told the story and ways to improve that. You only get one shot per agent to prove that you have the chops, and that agent is not going to care if you were writing this on the weekends and in the mornings and you have a really big mortgage and you’ve fallen behind and you need a quick sale. If that were the case, thousands of books would be bought instantly without being read, because the economy sucks and people are hurting everywhere, and there are all sorts of medical/family/work problems that a little extra income would solve. Agents can’t take that into consideration. They need to be wowed by your book, in order to pick it over all the other books on their desks or in their emails, and they have to be wowed enough to take you on as a client. If you’re lazy about polishing, they’re going to notice, and frankly, there are a lot of other people out there willing to put in the work to polish, so why should they choose you? 

Submitting: There are entire books and blogs devoted to this topic. Read them. As many as you can. Look up agents on QUERY TRACKER or ABSOLUTE WRITE and always check to see who the scam artists are from PREDITORS AND EDITORS (that is how they spell predators; I don’t know why). P&E has a very good database of the scum to avoid. You can find out all about who’s sold what lately, and who represents what you’re writing through various other sites, include

  • Do your homework. Look up the agent’s website and look at their submission guidelines. FOLLOW THEM. If they don’t want an attachment, and you try to be the exception, they’re going to be annoyed. Do you really want to annoy the person you’re trying to land as an agent? If they want 50 pages, don’t send them 100, or the whole manuscript. (Now, if your chapter ends on page 51, send that, too—find a logical place to stop.) Pay attention. This probably means keeping records, making yourself some sort of file/spreadsheet, so you can keep their requirements straight as to who wants what. It’s just part of the business end of the vocation. 
  • Do your homework. Figure out who would be right for your book based on what they’ve sold and who they represent, as well as what they state their preferences are in the various places where those things are posted. If they don’t represent S/F/F and that’s what you’ve written, don’t clog their in box and waste both your time and theirs. 
  • Do your homework. Write an amazing query letter. Don’t know how? Welcome to the club. There are about a zillion of us, but everyone’s got to do it at some point and there are some great resources (on the first two links in the “submitting” graph above) which has examples or threads discussing how-to, and there are books and there are agent blogs (quite a few now) which express how to and while it’s overwhelming, basically, it’s your job to learn it. Your goal here is to entice them to read your book. It’s the hook that they very well may turn around and use with the editors they submit to. If it’s well done, that same hook will be used by the editor to pitch it to her publisher to get the deal, and some variation will be used to pitch it to marketing and sales. So think of it like the back cover copy, or think of it in the way you’d tell a friend about the book, when you want to hook them into reading it. What is it that makes it different than other books out there. Mostly, why should we care?


Landing the agent: Once you’ve got things out on submission, you’ll either start getting form rejections, rejections with personal notes (those are great) or requests for the full book. (This is why you have the full ready, by the way, which wasn’t mentioned above, but I’m emphasizing it now. Unless you have a lot of credits elsewhere that proves you can write a novel, and write it well, they’re going to want to read the whole thing before signing you.) 

It is not only okay, but necessary, to query more than one agent at a time. Do not send form letters-personalize each query. (Again, that’s your job.) 

Once you get an offer of representation in, it’s customary to give all of the other agents who have requested partials or fulls a heads up that you’ve gotten an offer and you’d like to know if they’re still interested. Some will automatically say no (there’s too much on their plate at the moment). Some will read quickly and still decline (a zillion different reasons, but it’s often just not their thing or they have a client writing something too similar, etc.). One or two may say, heck yeah, we want it, too, and then you are in the enviable position of getting multiple offers and you get to decide who to go to prom with. Congratulations. 

Agent submission/sales, etc.: This blog is long enough, but suffice it to say that not everything that gets agented sells. (Oh, if only.) So don’t go spend your savings yet, don’t quit your day job, and don’t assume. Anything. There’s a lot that goes into the selling and the publishing aspect—that’s a whole other blog for maybe next time, but for now, I want to end this by address money, for the same reasons I started it. 

The money: People often want to write a book because they think it’s a quick, easy way to make a lot of money from home or out on their deck. (I will pause here while writers everywhere finish laughing… and crying….) 

Money is paid out as an advance. They are assuming they’ll sell your book, and they know you need to make somethingwhile the publication process grinds forward, and they’ll pay you about what they think you’ll book will earn. They’ll base that figure off what other books like yours have earned, whether or not you’re well known, or whether or not you have a huge commercial hook, or whether or not your second cousin is Oprah and she’ll endorse it, or whether or not they had great sex that morning. In other words, it’s a mystery as to why some books get bigger advances than others, and while it’s a business, it’s also a guessing game because the publisher is trying to predict the future as to what you might earn. 

They will then take that advance and divide it into three. Sometimes, they will divide it into four, but three is more common, I think, still. They will then give you 1/3rd of that money on signing of the contract, 1/3rd on what they call D&A (delivery and acceptance), which is the point where you’ve done whatever rewrites/polish the editor wanted and they have accepted it and you’re then moving on to the copy edit phase. And then they’ll pay the last third on publication. 

If your book sells more copies than they anticipated, they will eventually owe you royalties—but it’ll be more than a year, very likely, from the point of publication, before you see those royalties. (Again, that’s a whole other blog entry.) 

So, keeping the above in mind, the average advance is said (by those who gather that type of statistic) to be between $5K and $10K. That’s not a typo. That’s five thousand to ten thousand. Divide that into thirds, and subtract the standard agent fee of 15%, and keep in mind that it takes about a year from acceptance to publication, and you’re looking at maybe making between $3500 and $8500 for the year. Not including the time it took you to write the actual book, which, let’s be real, for a first book is probably about a year to two years (actual writing time, not calendar time.) 

Now, you may get lucky and be above average, but most of the sales I see on Publishers Marketplace are for what they call “nice” deals, which is about $25K, but that’s often for two books, or three. It’s not completely uncommon for a new writer to get an advance of $25 to $50K, but it’s not the norm. 

I tell you this because (a) it’s a fact of the business and therefore, that information is out there and (b) if you’re going into writing because you need the money, you’re shooting yourself in the foot, financially. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had people tell me they’re going to supplement their income—and this, when they’re already up against terrible stress—by writing. It’s not fast and it’s not easy. 

If you’re not doing this for the love of it, if you’re doing this for the money, then you might want to consider another field. 

Because those of us who write, can’t not write. So if that fits your take on the world, welcome to the nuthouse. The crackers and cheese and wine are on the bar. Please don’t run with scissors, except on Thursdays, when it’s scissor day, and by all means, feel free to bring cupcakes or brownies. 

Now, a very brief comment about e-publishing… especiallyif you read Konrath’s blog. I know of several established writers who are now starting to put their new works up themselves, and are making some money off it. “Some” though, is “not very much–a few hundred” to a couple of thousand. Others? Hardly any. So far, from all of the reports I’ve heard, not many people have made anywhere near what Konrath is making, and I think that’s partially because Joe’s got a great following on his blog—and has had that for years—and that following has helped him get the word out about his ebooks. In other words, he spent a tremendous number of years promoting the hell out of his books, and that put him in (what I believe to be a rather) unique position to reap the benefits of the ebook market… because the same problem that faces authors with editors and publishing houses is multiplied exponentially when you go straight to ebook, and that is, “How will the customer find you? How will they know you’re there? How will they know who you are?” 

That said, Joe has a very solid point and the publishing paradigm is shifting, and we’re going to see a lot of the stuff I wrote above become obsolete in the next five years. There’s a new business called FastPencil which just announced some initiatives in the press, which may very well change the game. Still, even with that in mind, I don’t think a brand new writer is going to get the attention from the public like Joe has managed, and that’s when a traditional publisher’s distribution system is a real plus. 


So that’s it — those are some basics. If you post a link in the comments, I’m going to come back and add a website list on the tail end of this (and I’ll also include it on my site.)

Meanwhile, for those of you who may not know, our own Alex is teaching a fantastic class about structuring your novel, titled “Screenwriting Structure for Novelists” — it’s for any genre, and you can read about it HERE.

Never give up, never surrender…

by Toni McGee Causey


I sat here gobsmacked while watching the LSU win over Tennessee and for those of you who don’t know me, I’ll give you the short version: I bleed purple and gold. And even so, even as rabid a fan as I am (I, the one in the family who wanted the big screen TV in time for football season), am here to tell you, LSU should have never won that game. We played horribly. We made so many mental errors, it was nearly textbook in how to shoot yourself in the foot. We actually lost the game at one point, when the final buzzer sounded, and it was one of the most embarrassing Keystone Cops endings I’ve ever seen: 32 seconds left on the clock, men on the field, calling a dumb play, then failing to cross the line by a foot… and without any more time outs and without a plan, a bunch of the team ran around like chickens with their heads cut off, the ball was snapped and the quarterback missed it. He missed it. It went bouncing down the field behind him as the clock ran out and Tennessee, who’d been the underdogs going into the game, won. They erupted with joy, ran out onto the field while the entire LSU stadium looked on in stunned grief. Not unexpected, seeing how badly we’d played the entire game, but still. 

The only thing that made it palpable was that Tennessee had freaking played their hearts out. They excelled, several times. They deserved the win.

And then… the absolutely unbelievable happened. As everyone was on the field, and the coaches were already shaking hands, the ref got word from the booth that there was a mistake. The kind that happen only in the movies: there were too many defensive linemen on the field. Tennessee had put too many men out there, and because of that, they earned a penalty. And because of that penalty, LSU would have another shot at a final play.

They did. And they made a touchdown. And won the game.

I cannot tell you who was more shocked — the coaches, the players, or the audience. 

Look, right now, there are a lot of people in this business feeling pretty beaten up. I know Tennessee had to have been pretty bitter about that loss when they went back into their locker room, but I will tell you one thing: they proved they had the heart and the talent to win. They had nothing to be ashamed of, and I’m not going to be surprised if they don’t use that close call to spur themselves on to do even better the next game and start handing other teams their asses. They may have lost one game, but they haven’t lost the season.

It’s the same in this business. Losses don’t define you. It’s what you do with them that defines you. Everyone needs to lose something, every now and then, because you learn, when you lose. You learn from your mistakes, you learn from the mistakes of others. One of the things you learn is that one loss does not a career define. Unless you let it. You pick yourself up, you keep moving on. You lose again? You pick yourself up again, you keep moving on. [The corollary is, if you’ve won everything you’ve aimed for, then you haven’t challenged yourself enough.]

My husband and I’ve been in the construction business for 28 years, and I’ve fought more battles than I care to remember. Sometimes, and there were many, when it looked like we were going to lose a battle, we’d get this image in our heads:


And we’d dig in and fight to survive another day. You can’t let the punches keep you on the ground, when you’re in business for yourself, and make no mistake about it, when you’re a writer, you’re in business for yourself. You have to have an almost impossible mix of ego (people want to read what I wrote) with humility (I have so much to learn, I’m never going to learn everything), but perhaps, most important, is tenacity: never give up, never surrender.

If you can quit? Then you’re in the wrong industry. If you’re not driven to keep going, driven to keep writing, driven to keep telling your stories, then there’s absolutely no shame in finding that thing that you are driven to do. Really, and truly, as honorable as I think it is to be the person who entertains others, I think it’s just as honorable to be a thousand other professions, because we all need each other. So if you can walk away, then run. Flee. Save yourself the grief.

Because there will be grief. There will be days when you do everything right, just about everything, and the other team wins the game because of one singular mistake. Or sometimes, you might finally be on the side where the dumb luck falls your direction. Tennessee did just about everything right and LSU didn’t, and still won on dumb luck. But there’s one truth about both of those teams: they’ve done their homework, they’ve practiced hard, over and over, even in the face of other defeats. They didn’t stop, either of them, and give up. 

But they’ve both learned. It’ll be interesting to watch what happens next. 

People will give you another chance, when you show them you’re tenacious enough to keep showing up for the game, that you’ve improved, that you’ve done the work, that you’ve learned from your losses.

I don’t know about you, but that’s all I need, is that shot. I’m not going to stop – trying, or learning — so no matter how luck falls with this try, or the next, or the next, I’ll be in it for the long haul.

So tell me, ‘Rati, who are some heroes in your life or in fiction that have exemplified the “never give up, never surrender” attitude that you admire?

A Place of One’s Own

by Toni McGee Causey

If we’ve proven anything at all here this week, it’s that there are as many different ways to write as there are people–and no one way is going to work for everyone. In fact, other than using a computer (mostly), we didn’t have that much other stuff in common, across the group. 

When we first set out to do this, we invited all of you ‘Rati to participate, and I have loved receiving the photos. We’d stressed “work spaces” all week, and I’m really delighted that we had a couple of people game enough to send us their photos of their job’s work space. 

But how to organize them? Finally, they sort of arranged themselves into a sliding scale of “untethered” to “tethered” (more traditional ‘office’). I hope you enjoy these as much as I have.


Laura Lippman, author of several novels I know you all know from the fabulous interview Alafair did with her a couple of weeks back. Check out her latest, I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE. Laura’s mid-remodel on her home office and has been spending time in many other places – everything from the beach to Starbucks to her kitchen table. Proof that brilliance can occur in any location. Just bring brain.


M.J. Rose, author of the acclaimed and inventive wonderful novels, which includes her latest, THE HYPNOTIST. As she explains, “A few too many years of having to write on the run – in cars, planes and hospital rooms – forced me to learn to write wherever I was. My workspace became my laptop and the journal that belonged to my main character. So rather than show you any of the multiple places where I write – my office or living room or the local Starbucks – which are all pretty ordinary – here’s my new main character’s journal. I start a new journal for every new book – or in the case of a series – for the lead character in the series. I write  in the first person from her point of view and create collages of the images and words that define her and her world.  Turn the journal upside down and from the back to the front are research notes not kept on the computer, lists of scenes, calendars, plot charts. While I often yearn to be the kind of writer who has a wonderful office with white boards and has cork walls filled with outlines, I seem to be more productive confined to intimate spaces.”




Anne Stuart, aka, Krissie, is one of the most fun authors to be anywhere in the proximity of if you’re ever at an RWA conference. Prolific and fabulous, you’ll want to check out her latest historical romance trilogy, edgy with mystery woven through, starting with RUTHLESS. (Oh, and one of the most captivating websites I’ve seen for an author.) That’s Krissie in the front in the red chair and her friend, Sally, writing in the background.  


James O. “Jim” Born… and I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it seems like he’s cheating here, somehow. He writes well-loved mysteries, including BURN ZONE. I think we should take a vote in the comments as to whether Jim’s writing or not out there. And then I think he has to invite us all over anyway. 


Lucy March, author of fabulous magical romantic fiction. (I can say that, since I was an early beta.) [You may know Lucy as Lani Diane Rich.] I absolutely love that she gave us a “reader’s guide” to her workspace:


  1. My MacBook, otherwise known as The Precious.
  2. Quilt. In case my toes get cold.
  3. Headset, so I can listen to my soundtrack without making others in the vicinity insane because they’ve been forced to endure OKGo’s “Here I Go Again” for the thousandth time. Although, that’s a truly excellent song, so what are they whining about?
  4. Knitting bag. When the writer’s block gets bad, I knit.
  5. Zoey. Cat. Unimpressed.
  6. Daisy. Cat. Unimpressed and sleeping.
  7. Gym bag. To remind me that if I don’t on occasion leave the house, my muscles will atrophy and I will have to hire a Swedish masseuse to carry me around. Which wouldn’t be so bad, if I made that kind of money. But I don’t, so… to the gym.
  8. Shopping bag, full of the stuff I won’t be able to afford anymore if I don’t hit my deadline. Fear isn’t a great motivator, but it’s effective.
  9. That orange blur? That’s the tape measure I’ve been missing for the last three weeks. Thanks, Toni!
  10. Cat bed. Unused. $10.


(Her blog has generated a huge following–such a great community over there. And you’ll see her latest, A LITTLE NIGHT MAGIC coming soon from St. Martin’s Press.)



CJ Lyons, who’s not only a terrific author, but is also a physician. It’s not quite right that someone has that much brains, is it? I think, no. Her latest seat-of-the-pants, take-no-prisoner’s medical thriller is CRITICAL CONDITION, out in November. CJ’s visited us here before at Murderati — check out her interview here. I think everyone knows CJ and I have been close friends and beta read each other’s works, but you know you’ve got a good friend when you can email her at some point in the middle of the night and say, “Okay, so I have this body here, and I need to know how to disguise the time of death,” and that’s all you say… and she writes back and tells you how. No questions asked. I’m pretty sure she’d help me hide the body, if she lived closer. You know, if I were a psychopath or something. Which I am not. Yet. (But may be, if Squarespace doesn’t upload these photos faster.)


Okay, I have to say, I love the gnomes. And I never thought I’d write that in a sentence. But author / columnist and regular ‘Rati commenter Gayle Carline says:

1. The gnomes, Booker and Hatch. Booker carries a book with him and encourages me to write well. Hatch carries a hatchet and threatens to chop fingers if I don’t finish that f*&#@ing book.

2. Two phones, a cell and the landline, because I’d hate to miss that call from the agent who discovered me on the Internet and wants to introduce my fabulousness to the rest of the world.

3. The LA Times Crossword puzzle. Shut up, it helps me think.

4. The coin purse with my credit card in it, when I have to order stuff to help me. Like software, or books. Or shoes.

5. My little notebook, filled with crap I scribbled while I was waiting at the car wash/doctors office/son’s guitar lesson.


J.M. Kelley (who just had her first sale–JM, tell us about it in the comments and I’ll add the title here)… who is also one of our much loved commenters, says of her space, “My workspace is tiny, to say the least. I have about a six foot area I can call my own. My desk is there to store my computer, or to be used when I don’t end up slumping on the bed in the background to write. When I’m not writing, I’m worshiping Joss Whedon, and as you can tell from the photo, blatantly ignoring the fact that my laptop’s screen is long overdue for a cleaning. I’m a bad, bad writer, and rarely construct any outlines to reference, so that little whiteboard in the picture is my sole source of all info I need to keep continuity. The dry erase penguin does not endorse this behavior. Since I’m a raging insomniac, I do my best writing at night and into the wee hours of the morning. You know it’s a bad night when you see an Australian pop up in your buddy list and they message to ask what the *bleep* you’re doing up so late. Eventually I crash and burn for a couple hours, then I drag myself out of bed again, tired and haggard, to do my daily (fruitless) job searching and resume sending. And then I rush back to the desk when the next plot bunny hops into my head and start the whole process over again.”


Catherin Shipton, another of the beloved ‘Rati commenters has both an untethered writing location (I love this deck!) and a tethered one, her office, of which she says, “my desk and my office were used a lot throughout my degree. Almost every bit of work produced came from there.  A hideously long project I did at a business incubator was completed there. This place has seen some major sweat hours.

Then my trusty pc died the week after I graduated. So far nothing fiction based has come from the laptop in this space.  I think I might need to get a bit of sage and burn off the old vibes. Or maybe I’m just a bit too in love with being able to switch to places that aren’t quite so tight now I have a laptop.”


(Catherine, I want that fan. Brand name?)



And our wonderful friend, Laura from Victoria, Australia, “run the service desk at Robinsons Bookshop in Frankston.” Have we mentioned how much we love booksellers? Love. Love. LOVE. [Which reminds me… Fran? You should send me something on Seattle Mystery Bookshop to include here. :)… me? pushy? nah.) 


This is from PK the Bookeemonster, who’s another one of our much loved ‘Rati’s. She explains, “This is a photo of my workplace at the job (Dept of Labor – Unemployment Insurance Division).  I’m in a room full of cubicles, set up in three groups of quads. Luckily, right behind me is a wall of windows which looks out onto the neighborhood (yes, little houses) and the Rims. (ah, let’s see, the Rims are a sandstone bluff that runs along the northern border of Billings — picture attached). I’m on the second floor so I like to swing around and see what’s happening in the world outside.  In my cubicle, I try to have “book-ish” things around me: a clock in the shape of three books standing together (to the right), four posters of books in front of me right above the monitors, and I always have my Kindle in between my monitors and if I”m currently reading a book book I place it on the right-hand desk.  In my little clique of co-workers, we’ve named our cubicles and someone made little signs to put up on the outside wall; mine is appropriately “The Library”, as my love of reading is well known.”



Gayle Lynds, author of taut, razor sharp thrillers such as THE LAST SPYMASTER has her latest out, titled: THE BOOK OF SPIES  Gayle’s in transition herself, so it seemed fitting that her work space sits sort of between the untethered and the tethered, and as she explains, “I’m in the process of moving from California to Maine to be with my fab boyfriend, John.  This has been an adventure in culture shock.  For instance, I’ve given up my red Jaguar for a red pickup truck, planted flowers and veggies, and made moose burgundy.  (What else can one do with moose?)  I’m in Maine now, having brought with me just exactly the research I needed for the book I’m writing.  My cockpit office is on the second floor, a corner of our bedroom, and looks out on beautiful white birch.  It’s tranquil but conducive to work.  I like it a lot.”


Fellow ‘Rati friend Jude Hardin says of his space, “I’m somewhat of a minimalist, and I like to keep my space clutter-free. I compose all my fiction here, listen to music, blog hop and so forth. I spend a good portion of the day in this chair when I’m not at my “real” job, and I even eat my lunch here most of the time.” I think he’s got such a perfect office that would work for so many people, especially in busy households. I just wish I could be as minimalist. Of course, Jude could be hiding bodies behind those walls. (grin) Jude’s book, POCKET 47 has a fabulous blurb by our own Tess Gerritsen and is coming out in May, 2011.


We’re continuing the minimalist theme for a moment here with Spencer Seidel‘s workspace. Spencer, a regular beloved contributor in the comments section says of his place, “As if you can’t tell, I’m a minimalist. The only unique aspect of it is that I have a framed saying on my wall (“Just write the damn book”), which I turn to whenever I start coming up with silly reasons NOT to finish a current draft. I wrote Dead of Wynter right here, which is going to be published next May.” 
[Oh, go check out his blog–the front page has these fabulous photos of huge desks at libraries made from books.]

Now this is Karin Slaughter‘s office. It’s bright and cheerful (I love the green) and just doesn’t seem like the office of someone who writes such twisted thrillers about brutal, cold-blooded murder, now, does it? Check out her latest riveting novel, BROKEN

And this Karen is one of our favorite ‘Rati commenters, Karen from Ohio, who explains, “Here’s my lovely little Arts & Crafts desk that I rescued from an elderly aunt’s ancient and creaky furniture she left us. It was in very bad shape, but cleaned up well, and makes a graceful addition to my day. It’s right in front of a big picture window overlooking our very private front yard (that’s why there are binoculars on the desk, in case a hawk lands in a tree). As long as it isn’t too cold it’s a great spot.”
I want this room. (sigh)

This, as many of you will recognize, is T. Jefferson Parker, beloved by the ‘Rati and cited often on lists of “favorite authors,” especially with such works like IRON RIVER

Now, this very zen-like office belongs to Lisa Unger, who writes dark dark thrillers, like her latest one out, titled FRAGILE. I love the lighting, the wall color, and I think that glass treatment on the door is a brilliant solution to bringing light into a room without bringing in unwanted views. I may adapt that here. [Um, because this is all about me.] 

Jeff Abbott, fellow SAINTS fan (and therefore, a perfect human being, thank you), (hey, this is my blog, get’cher own pulpit)… anyway, Jeff’s latest out is TRUST ME. Here’s what he says about his office, “The first one is looking at my desk from the front door of the studio. Desk is a little messy right now, mostly because I have been writing downstairs since wife went back to work (she works at elementary school and goes back earlier than the kids do). I have had to write downstairs watching my sons. My studio is above our garage and only accessible through a outside stairway. Normally my blinds are up but I’ve had them down because they’re so pretty and it’s hot as hell.

Second is looking at my desk. Note to self on purple post it note read “Take pic for Toni”. Since I have been downstairs most of the week that was not a helpful self-reminder. 🙂 I get asked all the time about the carpet: they are tiles, multicolored, so we could create our own flooring pattern. My amazing wife found them, they are often used in design studios, schools, offices.”

Jeff (remember, perfect human) is joined by fellow perfect human (read: SAINTS FAN) Erica Spindler — author of BLOOD VINES — in loving those unusual shaped desks. I think I looked at this photo three times before I saw the skull. Here’s Erica’s:

If I had had all of the photos included here emailed to me anonymously and someone told me that one of them belonged to our regular and much loved commenter billie, I would have picked this one as hers. And not just because of the horses outside, watching over her, but for the serenity in this image. She says, “pony is saying ‘stop writing about magical ponies and get out here and get this blasted grazing muzzle off me before I starve to death!’ He has to wear one this time of year.” 

I love the efficiency of Dudley Forster’s desk here–Dudley’s one of our beloved (yes, I’m using that word frequently, but really, you guys don’t realize how much we appreciate you being here)… regulars. I especially love Dudley’s cat, McDuff. Isn’t that just the perfect name?


Now this one surprised me, mostly because my eye wandered over to the left and I saw that other box and screen. Regular sweetheart Debbie explains, “My den is 8×8 and I share it with two children, their computer and books, a piano, and the family cats who think that my tower case is theirs.  Pictured is Brontё and yes, there are chocolates in that Godiva bag thanks to hubby!  The machine beside my computer is for enlarging print (I’m blind) but when writing, I mostly depend on adaptive software that produces speech in an amazingly human voice.”

Debbie’s got tenacity and talent–I know we’ll be seeing her books on the shelves one day!




Sandy Toepel, one of our fabulous regular commenters sent these photos, and I love the light and the bookshelves and the neat antiques she’s got around the room. She says, “This is my room of accomplishments and challenges. Once, this was where I corrected tens of thousands of papers and created tens of thousands of lesson plans.  Now, it is where I am attempting composition of a different sort.” And I see that “tens of thousands” in that description and nearly plotz. You know, we don’t really think about all of the extra work our teachers go through during their hours at home in addition to all of the hours in front of those classrooms. Thank God for teachers. I know I couldn’t do it–I don’t have the patience or the temperament or the stamina for that kind of constant interaction with people who can actually talk back. (Unlike my imaginary people. Who can talk back, but can’t throw spitwads, so there’s a plus.)



Lisa Gardner is sweet, funny, smart, sharp, and an amazing writer. I’m not sure if it was her great laugh or warm personality, but I had a hard time reconciling myself that this was the same woman who wrote books so scary, blood-tingling that I wanted to read with my hands mostly covering my eyes. Just goes to show you, looks deceive. Check out her latest, LIVE TO TELL.


I have to tell this story. I first met Cindy Gerard at my first St. Martin’s Press cocktail party. I was terrified. I knew no one and my agent had had to leave, and I was on my own. Now I’m better in crowds at conferences, but if you’ve never been to an RWA conference, it’s hard to explain the magnitude. And the cocktail parties are usually on Friday nights, so you’ve had a good three days to be completely overwhelmed. Cindy must’ve seen the dear-in-the-headlights look, as she came over, struck up a conversation, and impressed me as one of the nicest and funniest people. I had to confess I didn’t know her books yet, but I took a bookmark and when I got home, I bought one. You know, hoping she’d be a decent writer. 

And I was blown away. Here was someone who was writing terrific sexy action / romance with great characters and witty, smart dialog and I devoured her whole backlist. I’m lucky to count her as a friend today, and she exemplifies the class and pay-it-forward attitude I hope to live up to. 

Go get her latest: RISK NO SECRETS





You know, I think Jonathan Maberry wins, hands down, for coolest set of collectibles. How can you not love a guy who has everything from dragons to dinosaurs to demented rubber ducks? You know, really? You want to go read his books, right now, just looking at that office. And his laugh. 😉 So go check out his latest, WANTED: UNDEAD OR ALIVE






When I first saw these photos of David Morrell‘s office, I thought, “oooh, retreat!” and it has that peaceful vibe to it, doesn’t it? Which just does not explain the mind that can come up with the twisted, hypnotic, heart-stopping thriller stories that he does, but like Lisa Gardner, looks can be deceiving. Check out his latest, THE SHIMMER and I encourage writers to poke around his website (linked to his name above) — it’s got some great perspective on the industry and the changes we’re seeing.




And finally, last, but not least, is Lee Child‘s beautiful office in New York. Lee’s the author of the famous Jack Reacher novels, and he explains his space thusly: “My office is a separate apartment, in the same building, but 18 floors below where I live, in NYC.  Major productivity tip: a separate desk and computer for the internet.  Major luxury: a separate desk for handwriting and page-proof reading, without a keyboard or monitor to get in the way.” 


When I got a glimpse there to the left of his view, I commented that I didn’t know how he focused. He then sent me this photo, and explained that he focused with “rigorous self-discipline.” 



And what a perfect way to end this round-up. Rigorous self-discipline–no matter where you are, no matter what your workspace is. Dedication to excellence and rigorous self-discipline is what gets us from page one to THE END, one word at a time.