Category Archives: Uncategorized

Location, Location, Bloody Location

People see a hill and think, “What a lovely place to built a home.”  I see a hill and think, “What a great place to bury a body.”  People see a quiet stretch of shoreline and think, “What a great place for a romantic walk.”  I see a quiet stretch of shoreline and think, “What a great place to execute a snitch.”  That’s the problem I have with traveling these days.  I love visiting new places.  I want to see the world.  If I didn’t have an explorer’s heart, I never would have discovered my Julie in Costa Rica.  Now when I travel, I don’t see locations, I see crime scenes.

I’m always on the hunt for a great locale.  I say to friends, “You live in a great neighborhood.  Where would the best place be to stash a body without anyone seeing me?”  My friends are cool with it.  They roll their eyes and entertain my fantasies.  I’ve stopped asking strangers these questions.  For some reason, it scares people.  Who knew?

I’m not a keen researcher as things go.  I like to lie in my stories, but I do like to go location hunting.  Accidents Waiting to Happen is set in Sacramento.  I’d only been there a couple of months when I got to writing it, so I needed some killing grounds.  I rode around the city and its suburbs on my bicycle in search of locations.  I didn’t have a car at the time, so I didn’t have much choice there, but having the bike meant I could stop anywhere I wanted to check out. 

I live in the Bay Area now.  San Francisco isn’t so much of a cyclist’s city, so I do a lot of scouting on foot.  For one of the stories in Working Stiffs, I wanted to kill someone on the Embarcadero.  So I started at one end and walked to the other poking about.  Sadly, I didn’t find anywhere useful but did find a site at Fort Mason.  I can’t recommend Fort Mason enough to kill someone (Fictionally speaking that is.  I don’t want anyone getting ideas and pointing fingers when it goes pear-shaped.  Alright?) 

The thing is that I don’t want to talk about the same old locations that everyone else uses in their books.  This is especially a problem with the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area.  There are plenty of us scribblers around fighting for a fresh perspective on the town, so I really need to get my hands dirty.  Just like with methods of killing, writers want to keep it fresh and new for themselves and their readers.  Well, I know I do.

So I’m always on the hunt for a good location with plenty of originality.  It’s another reason I like to write about places outside of my usual stomping grounds.  Little known places provide a wealth of killer locales.  I have a tendency to go on road trips with Julie and the dog just so that we might check out somewhere I came across in a travel magazine or on TV.  I just have to have my hands on a killer location.

Don’t be surprised if one day, you sit down next to small yet affable stranger who’ll lean in close and whisper, “Do you know any good places where I can dump a body?”  Don’t panic.  It’s probably me.  Then again, it probably isn’t.

Simon Wood
PS: The new cover for Accident Waiting to Happen was unveiled to me.  Please take a peek here.
PPS: If you’re in the Bay Area on Sunday night, I’m involved in a Sisters in Crime Ghost Walk.  If you’re interested in attending, please click the hot link.


Denise Dietz

I wonder how much it would cost to rent a billboard on Sunset Boulevard?

That thought occurred on a golden-hued day in September, 1992. Colorado in the fall. There’s nothing on earth like it. Aspen leaves were shimmering, John Elway was leading the Broncos to early-season victories, the mountaintops outside my window looked like the whipped cream on a Dairy Queen sundae, and my first published novel, THROW DARTS AT A CHEESECAKE, was due to come out in a few short weeks. I was on my knees but I wasn’t praying — in retrospect, maybe I should have been.

Instead, I was cutting out the paper bookmarks I’d had printed at Kinkos, 10 to a page, 100 pages. The bookmarks showed a picture of my cover [in black and white; I couldn’t afford color], a one paragraph synopsis, an author quote from Diane Mott Davidson, my book’s ISBN (at the time I wasn’t even sure what an ISBN was!), and the name of the restaurant where I waited tables (I kid you not). My tongue cleaved the corner of my mouth. If the scissors slipped, I’d lose a precious bookmark. I had spent all the money in my promo fund and I couldn’t afford more bookmarks…

Flash forward to September 30, 2006. I sat behind a long wooden table, thinking that the name of my panel, THE EVER-CHANGING MARKETPLACE:  WITH A HUGE AND GROWING NUMBER OF NEW BOOKS EVERY YEAR, HOW DO YOU GET YOUR WORK NOTICED?, was almost as long as some of my book titles 🙂

Sipping from an opaque plastic cup filled with ice water, I wished it was filled with one of Joe Konrath’s Bloody Marys. I stared at the expectant faces of Bouchercon attendees. Outside Madison’s Concourse Hotel, a Farmers Market was in full swing. On almost every block, up and down State Street, motionless, decorative cows uttered silent moos.

The mic was only inches away and I was tempted to sing "Old McDonald had a farm…with a moo-moo here and a moo-moo there…"

Or, as a University of Wisconsin grad, class of mumble-mumble, I could sing:

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Plunge right through that line!
Run the ball clear down the field,
A touchdown sure this time. [U-rah-rah]
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Fight on for her fame
Fight! Fellows! – fight, fight, fight!
We’ll win this game.

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Stand up, Badgers, sing…

Funny how I can remember the U of Wisconsin fight song when I can’t remember what happened two months ago. If a cop ever said, "And where were you at 7 pm on the night of August 25th, Ms. Dietz?", unlike most TV show scripts, I wouldn’t respond: "That was two months ago, right? I believe I was eating steamed clams at Boondocks."

I’d probably say, "I dunno," but if I had the nerve, I’d say, "Bloody oath, Officer, do YOU remember where you were at 7 p.m. on the night of August 25th?"

Returning to the subject at hand…I sat on that Bouchercon "Promotion Panel" and felt time accelerate faster than the hands of a black and white clock in a film noir movie. And although the audience was SRO, no one left the room. My fellow panelists – J A Konrath (Joe), Rob Walker, KJA Wishnia (Ken), and Dirk Wyle – had a lot to say.

I had planted a friend in the audience – Rick Mofina – so he could ask a specific question during the Q & A [it was his idea, I swear]. Unfortunately, time ran out before Rick could say, "I heard you wrote a poem for this panel, Deni. Would you recite it for us?"

So I’ll "recite" it for you now:

I was walking along a beach one day,
And thinking thoughts of woe,
When I tripped on a tarnished oil lamp
And stubbed my damnfool toe.

I rubbed the lamp with the heel of my palm,
And chuffed like Stephen Booth.
I waited but nothing happened,
And I scowled at my lack of couth.

Then all of a sudden a genie appeared,
And I couldn’t believe my luck.
He asked why I looked so awfully sad,
And I said my career was…stalled.

He said I had three wishes,
But he added a caveat.
I couldn’t wish for wealth, or eternal youth,
Or the murder of a cat.

Career-related my wishes must be,
He said with an evil grin.
World peace and a clean environment
Was up to political whim.

I’d like billboards on every highway, I said,
Like the good ol’ Brill Cream days,
‘A little dab of Dietz will do ya’
Might make a catchy phrase.

And I’d like to sing on Idol,
With my latest book to flog,
I really don’t care what the judges say,
As long as they mention my blog.

Third, I’d like to guest on Oprah,
I’d say something to make the news.
But I wouldn’t play monkey or kangaroo,
Like that idiot, Tom Cruise.

"Granted!" the genial genie said,
As he pruned his lips in a smirk.
I wondered if I had done the right thing,
But — like chicken soup for the dead person – I figured it couldn’t hurt.

The genie lit a cigarette,
And sang a few lines of Bob Dylan’s,
Then he vanished in a puff of smoke,
Looking just like Robin Williams.

I thought I’d accomplished much that day:
Billboards, Oprah, a song.
The only thing is, when the billboards appeared…
The artist had spelled my name wrong.

Just like my Bouchercon panel, my blog time has run out, or maybe my internal clock has run down, but I’ll be writing a "Further Adventures of Promotion" blog in November. By then I hope to have some [more] Bouchercon photos.

Here I’m giving a signed, first-edition EYE OF NEWT to audience participant Lee Green, immediately following my Bouchercon Promotion Panel. My lovely,Deni_lee_green talented moderator, M. Diane Vogt, announced at the very beginning — 9:01 a.m. — that panelists would give books and/or other goodies to members of the audience who participated in the Q&A. Most Q&As occur toward the end of a panel, and ours was no exception.

As I said before, no one left the room.

A free book for a question? How cool is that?

As you wish,

Why I Love New Mexico in the Fall

by Pari Noskin Taichert

Pardon my enthusiasm, but . . .

I’ve experienced fall in the gorgeous Midwest, drank just-pressed cider, and admired the red-gold leaves. I’ve played in the snow of the East Coast and admired the trees in DC. But my heart and love for the season find full blossom in New Mexico.

I’m sharing these pictures with you today because they make me happy. I’m hoping that they’ll remind you to breathe this week, to take time to witness beauty in your own corner of the world.

For years, I’ve fought being called a "regional" writer. My response to that moniker is beginning to chance. How many other people in the world are fortunate enough to be born somewhere as glorious as my home state?

So, I’ll write about NM and share it with the world. Eventually, enough readers will come to see it as I do . . .

P1010242 This summer has seen more rain than we’ve had in decades. This is my front patio. Basil has taken over. This crop came up from two small potted plants from last year.

I didn’t even realize they’d germinated.

P1010244 When I was a child, I used to go to the park near our home and spread out under a tree and look at the sky. It always seemed bluer through the leaves. A few days ago, I was writing and decided to take a break. I went into our front yard and looked up. The sky’s color took my breath away for a moment and I remembered that childhood joy. Then and there I swore I’d look up more often.

P1010246 Isn’t this tall grass cool? In NM, many people are now opting to get rid of their water-sucking bluegrass and replace it with xeriscape plants. Though some may claim that this new landscaping should be named "zeroscaping," when done right, it’s stunning.

P1010249 The roses have been quite lovely this year. I learned about pruning them because of our Labrador puppy. He ate them all down to nubbins a few years ago — and they thrived. Now, I chop them down to size each spring and revel in their color all season long.


This purple aster, and the photos that follow for the rest of this post, are from a recent walk our family took in the mountains near our house. In Albuquerque, if you drive east, you end up in the mountains. From our house, which is in the city proper, it takes about ten minutes to get to the foothills.  When we went a week ago, we were astounded at how lush our mountains had become. Wild grasses, flowers — even the cacti — looked healthy and abundant. Animals will have a good winter this year — with enough food to survive. 

The mountains you’ll see in these photos are really the foothills to the Sandias. Notice the sky and the quality of the light on a late Sunday afternoon. P1010259_1 P1010260

P1010260_1 Notice the cacti in the photo on the left. P1010269

On the right, a little to the left of center, is a healthy yucca. That’s the state plant/flower. People around here can’t pick it or destroy it. However, the Indians can use its roots for shampoo and food.

The following photos are wild grasses. My family and I couldn’t believe how many varieties had grown this summer. We’d never seen some of them before.

P1010263 P1010265

P1010267 My daughters and I dubbed the grass on the left, "Fairy Grass."P1010268

The grass on the right is so wacko and curlycue-y. It makes me feel good just to look at it.

P1010264 There’s something about walking these foothills that consoles me. I think the fact that nature is so much bigger than we are, well, it gives me hope.

Thanks so much for indulging my little celebration of a New Mexico fall. Even though I didn’t include pictures of yellow-leaved aspens, I think you can understand why this landscape speaks so profoundly to my heart.



You Don’t Mess Around With Jim

Jeffrey Cohen

People ask writers what music they’re listening to while writing. To me, it’s kind of a silly question, equivalent to asking Picasso what he had for lunch before painting Guernica, but it seems to be a popular question. Personally, I prefer the Sound of Silence, and I don’t mean the Simon and Garfunkel song. I don’t play music while writing, most of the time. I find it distracting, much as my dog finds a shoe distracting.

I think the more interesting question is: What music do you think you are while you’re writing?

Some authors aspire to be Beethoven or Mozart; their every note is calculated and perfect. Some writers are more aiming for the Sex Pistols or The Ramones–they try to upend the conventions by which writers have been plying their trade for decades (or in some cases, centuries, even millennia). But that’s not what I mean when I ask the question, What music do you think you are? I’d love to be the Beatles, but I’m not the Beatles. I don’t push the envelope of the form; I don’t innovate so much as I take what came before and put my own personal spin on it.

What music do you think you are? That requires a sober, unsentimental vision of your place in the literary pantheon, a clear-eyed view of your own strengths and weaknesses and where they fall in with the rest of the authors out there. I’m not talking about the artist, or the artist’s life; writers who think they’re Jimi Hendrix need not string themselves out on heroin or learn to write left-handed; Dylan Schaeffer is a devotee of Barry Manilow (I don’t know if he thinks his writing is Manilow-esque), but he doesn’t have to get a hip replaced after winning an Emmy Award.

No, it’s more a question of style, attitude and perceived status (not real status, which is not easily quantified while you’re alive; perceived status, which is best manifested in the fact that everyone agrees the Rolling Stones are a bigger deal than The Who, even though both are highly respected). When you’re writing–or more to the point, when you’ve written–have you been Rachmaninoff or Dr. John? Carlos Santana (incomparable technique, needs others to do the singing) or Eric Clapton (can do both)? Phoebe Snow (amazing talent that never really found a wide audience) or Paris Hilton (no discernible talent, very large audience)?

Me? I’ve given this minutes of thought, and I have to say, when I’m writing, I think I’m Jim Croce.

Croce, who unfortunately is best known for having been killed in a 1973 plane crash at the age of 30, was an entertainer with a little edge. He wrote short songs, often with a strong sense of humor, that told stories (“Rapid Roy the Stock Car Boy,” “Roller Derby Queen,” “Five Short Minutes”), and did not aspire to be Important, so therefore was not terribly well respected until after he died.

He was a master of the three-minute pop song, having absorbed folk music, blues, rock and umpteen musical genres over an eventful but short life. He had worked with emotionally disturbed children, driven a truck, worked construction, been in the Army National Guard and toured the Middle East and Africa at the behest of the State Department. He could play over a thousand songs, from sex-obsessed ballads with lyrics by Robert Burns to “Okie From Muskogee.”

In the year that he finally became well known, he recorded and released three albums, and included some gems on each. The two major Croce hits were more or less variations on a theme: “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” followed after his death by “I Got A Name,” a song he did not write. But on those albums are such treasures as “Operator,” “These Dreams,” “Photographs and Memories,” “I’ll Have to Say I Love You In a Song” and “Time in a Bottle.”

Do I think I’m that accomplished? Of course not. Jim Croce should have long ago been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (a major injustice), and I’ve written three nice little books (four, if you count the one on its way next year). But his attitude and his mission are things I can emulate. I write things meant to entertain people. They don’t try to unlock the Secret of Life, nor to complain about how terrible life is, particularly when compared with its alternative. I’m here to give you a smile and a ride, and then move on to the next thing.

I’ve had some difficulty–not a lot, but some–writing more than 70,000 words in a novel. Croce once said in an interview that he wrote three-minute songs because “that’s all I have to say.” Which wasn’t entirely true; by one account, “Don’t Mess Around With Jim” once had upwards of 30 verses, but he knew how to make his point and wasn’t interested in embellishment.

I tend to write in a quick style–I write short chapters, a good deal of dialogue, and almost no description when I can get away with it. Croce knew how to encapsulate a person into a quick phrase: “ooh, that girl looked nice,” “a dancin’, prancin’, hard-romancin’ divorcee” or, in one case, “a refrigerator with a head.” That’s something I try to do. I have the advantage of not needing to make my descriptions rhyme.

Croce had a very strong sense of humor, writing about the people he met along the way. In describing the “Roller Derby Queen,” Croce wrote, “She might be nasty; she might be fat. But I never met a person who would tell her that.” And Rapid Roy, who drove stock cars on the weekend, could “do 130 miles an hour, smilin’ at the camera with a toothpick in his mouth.” In my own writing, I tend to think humor is the point, and don’t expect to be considered a Major Novelist, even by myself.

I have already outlived Jim Croce by 19 years, and hope to continue to do so for a good number more. But I admire his work greatly, and even though I don’t think about it when I’m writing, I think we have a good deal in common.

When I said before that I don’t listen to music while writing, I was being technically accurate. But sometimes, when I’m stuck on a phrase or a plot point, I’ll clear my mind by picking up the 12-string Yamaha I’ve had for upwards of 30 years now and I will, quite often, play a Jim Croce song not terribly well. So maybe I do think I’m Jim Croce, or at least, someone who continues in spirit what he did in song.

So… who do you think YOU are?

The Reader I Fear

I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t want millions and millions of loyal readers—and dare I say it—fans.  I don’t think any scribbler can expect that.  Luck and timing are too big a factor.  If it happens, great, and if it doesn’t, that’s great too.  However, while I hope to garner as many readers as McDonald’s sells burgers, there is one person I hope doesn’t read my stuff—and that’s my dear old mum.

The problem is that I don’t want my mum to think less of me.  The rest of you out there, I really don’t mind what you think of me.  You don’t know me like my mum knows me.  You’ll take the book at face value because you don’t know any better, but mum, well, she’s going to be judging everything based on her parenting skills.  My stories are exposing parts of myself to my mum that she doesn’t normally get to see.

It would be different if I were writing kids books or something, but I write about nasty crimes or dangerous dilemmas, so “could contain adult themes” applies.  I don’t want my mum thinking that I know about “adult themes” well enough to write about them.  I’m her little boy.  I still believe in Santa and the Easter bunny. 

This takes me back to when I was teenager and the family would sit in front of the telly and a low and behold, a nudey scene would crop up.  My reflex was to shout out, “Nice!  Boobies on TV.”  But I couldn’t say that or mum would say, “And what do you know about boobies, Simon?”  So instead there’d be a deafening silence until I said, “Tut, boobies on TV.  How crass.  Shame on you BBC.” 

I’m not like this with my sister or my dad.  The difference being that my sister is my comrade in the trenches.  We’ve grown up together.  She has to walk the same minefield as I do when it comes to mum.  My sister will read something of mine and say, “Has mum read page 167?”  I’m more relaxed around my dad because he surprised me.  He was blown away that I wrote something that got published.  After he read my first book, I don’t think he put it down for a month.  I’m sure he wandered the streets stopping everyone he saw, saying, “My lad wrote this.  It’s really good.  Stunning for someone who fell on his head as much as him.  I didn’t think he’d ever learn to tie his shoes without assistance.”  He took the book to the local radio station, newspaper, library and anybody else who couldn’t outrun him.

I suppose I should back up.  I’m a little self-conscious about my writing, mainly due to esteem issues tracking back to my dyslexia.  I have this I-can’t-read-so-what-makes-me-think-I-can-write mentality.  Because of this, I procrastinated on telling my family about my writing.  Julie helped with this.  One day she just called my mum and dad, got them on the line, told them, “Simon’s got a book coming out next month,” and threw me the phone to explain.  Julie likes to solve problems through extreme measures.

I’m sort of making my mum out to be a bit of a monster, but she’s not.  A lot of my self-consciousness is self-inflicted.  I’m fearing ghosts that don’t really exist.  My mum has been supportive.  She does read my stuff, but I don’t go looking for a critique from her.  But mum, being a mum, isn’t scared of tossing in a few choice remarks.  Things like:

“I liked that one.  I thought it was the better than the others in the magazine.”

But I’ve also gotten ones like:

“That was twisted.  Why can’t you write something like that Michael Connelly or Harlan Coben?”

“I do.  I’m in the same league.”

She laughs.  “Of course you are, dear.”

Oh, mum.

Mum can say all the nice things in the world, but I know she’s thinking, “Where does dream up this stuff from?  I didn’t bring him up like that.”  Essentially, I don’t want to disappoint her.  She’s my mum and she deserves the best, number one son she can have.  So that means I have to write better.  I won’t duck a subject in a story—I’ll write the heck out of it.  I might be a demented little idiot, but the best endorsement my mum can give is—he’s best little demented idiot a mum could have.

Of course, admitting this is going to get me into trouble with mummy.  As long as she doesn’t read this, I’m fine.  She won’t have time to read this.  She’s busy.  Hmm, sounds like the phone is ringing.  It’s an international call.  She’s gotten to page 167.  I know she’s going to want to talk about that…

Simon Wood


Deni Dietz


Today I’m focusing on BITS rather than Quibbles.


Thanksgiving is celebrated in Canada on the second Monday in October, while in the US, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.

Why the difference?

Having researched the Pilgrims for the historical portions of my mystery, EYE OF NEWT, I know that the Pilgrims didn’t view their first harvest, held in 1621, as a thanksgiving act or feast. That custom began two years later as a religious observance of thanks, rather than a feast. The Pilgrims, as most everybody knows, were a group led by separatists from the Church of England, who arrived at Massachusetts rather than their intended destination: Virginia.

In truth, they sound like me, navigating a drive from one state [or province] to another. While traveling, you don’t want me reading a map. Trust me on that.

Anyway . . . While the Pilgrims were shucking corn, starching their white caps and aprons, hanging witches, and making those cute turkey place cards, a wee bit further north, settlers were already giving thanks. In 1578 explorer Martin Frobisher held a formal ceremony that followed the traditions of European harvest festivals, in what is now known as the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Frobisher was thankful for surviving a daring voyage, risking his life and crew in a fruitless search for a gateway to the Orient.

Thus, Canadian Thanksgiving.

Sometimes, when I think too much about the book biz, I feel like Martin Frobisher. While I haven’t risked my life, or – god forbid – the life of others, I’ve survived a daring voyage to publication. I am, however, still searching for a gateway to bestsellerdom.


Genetic Savings and Clone of California shut down it’s pet-cloning operation because few humans were willing to pay $50,000 to have cats cloned.

While I deplore that rather unsympathetic attitude [are you listening DorothyL?], I have to admit that there are enough strays in the world already.

Speaking of strays, if you haven’t read Gordon Aalborg’s novel CAT TRACKS — a Story of Survival — you’re missing out on a gem of a book that addresses the issue of "dumping" cats into the Australian wild. The feral protagonist of CAT TRACKS is called "Cat," and he’s the narrator as well.


British inventor Simon Rhymes invented a device that "boils" an egg with lightbulbs and then cuts the top off.

I know I’ll be first in line to buy it [she said sarcastically].

Have you ever invented, or had an idea for an invention, in real life? Or written about one in a book?

FOURTH BIT [hey, I’m finding this fun, in a weird sort of way]:

Following Bouchercon, I spent a heavenly week in Granger, Indiana, with my daughter, Sandi, my grandchicklet, Marley, 5, and my grandkidlet, Will, 2 1/2. Yes, I know, I look too young to be a Granny — if you don’t say it, at least think it  🙂

Sandi is in the process of "potty training" Will, so  we visited B&N and bought two Children’s books with that theme [Sandi had one book left over from Marley, but the illustrations showed a girl rather than a boy].

Since my daughter works part-time as a bartender at a sports bar/restaurant called "Between the Buns," I was, er, stuck reading the books to the kids before they went to sleep. The euphemisms were . . . interesting.

One book used the words pee-pee and poo-poo, but didn’t mention a penis [or vagina]. One book, specifically for boys, called the penis a "pee-pee" and — so it wouldn’t get too confusing, I guess — used wee wee and poo poo.

I tried to remember back to my youth, but all I could come up with was Number 1 and Number 2. In fact, my third grade teacher insisted we raise our hands with one finger or two . . . how embarrassing! This was the same teacher who gave me a failing grade on my short story – THE PENCIL WHO GREW UP TO BE A STUB – because I screwed up the assignment and broke the "rules" by writing 4 pages rather than one and using a pencil [the first-person narrator] rather than an "ink pen" . . . but I digress.

[Except I really must add that the above teacher looked exactly like Miss Grundy in the Archie comics!]

Until the day she died – in her 80s – my lovely, intelligent mother-in-law used the euphemism "tinkle." She’d think nothing of sitting amidst a dozen party guests and announcing, "Excuse me, I have to tinkle."

I used that for one of my characters in EYE OF NEWT.

Marley, Will and I also watched the DVD Curious George. Twice. To my mind, that was a terrific transition from book to screen, but I couldn’t help thinking about the last scene in Forest Gump.

And the feather. [Sniff.]

As you wish,
Deni, who has decided that, rather than spending 50k to clone a cat, she’ll re-read Stephen King’s Pet Semetery. And congrats to Mr. King, recipient of MWA’s Grand Master Award.

A Short Meditation on Respect

by Pari Noskin Taichert

One morning last week, I was treated like a peon.

I’d tracked down a corporate spokesperson for Wal-Mart to give me a couple of quotes for an article I was writing. Rather than respond to my questions verbally, the woman sent me an email that parroted what I could have easily picked up from the website. To me, that’s not an interview . . . that’s an insult.

Later that same day I had a wonderful book signing.

The two experiences, so closely timed, provided a poignant life-lesson about human interaction. They reminded me how often self-importance can trump respect.

At my first Left Coast Crime convention, I met the kind, wise and generous author Deborah Donnelly. She took me under her wing then and has since become a friend. One thing she told me that weekend was that books sell one at a time.

I’ve thought often about that comment.

In devising marketing strategies, public relations campaigns and making budget decisions, I’ve intuitively emphasized meeting readers and booksellers face-to-face. This approach has cost a tremendous amount of time, energy and dollars. Still, I remain convinced that one-on-one conversations, and connections, influence my career far more than television appearances, book reviews, or articles in the paper.

Obviously, I don’t ignore all of those other ways to get my name out. If I did, I wouldn’t be writing this blog.

It just seems to me that, as our world speeds up, the personal becomes increasingly important and meaningful. It’s just more, well, respectful.

If I do my job right, my books will always get better. Readers and booksellers will care about helping my career. They’ll want me to succeed, to keep writing and selling books. They’ll tell others about my work.

However, there’s a danger in this way of thinking. It’s easy to lose perspective, to view readers and booksellers as people there to do something for us . . . or that we can use in one way or another. Authors I’ve met who fall into this trap appear jaded or manipulative — whether they mean to or not.

It’s also easy for authors to fall in love with their own marketing myths and to become full of self-admiration.

Arrogance only goes so far. It can certainly attract for a few breaths, but during the marathon of most of our careers, it acts like a sick lung.

Respect, to me, means viewing others as our equals and treating them with the same courtesy we expect them to demonstrate toward us. Whether it’s a reader at a tiny book signing or a reviewer for a major newspaper, respect involves sincerity, effort and, usually, a dash of kindness. It involves listening as well as talking.

I’m glad I had both of those experiences last week. The Wal-Mart "interview" reminded me to be more aware of how I come across to others. The book signing buoyed my ego and gave me many chances to thank and be thankful for the people who spend time reading and selling my works.

Thank you for stopping by today.



What I’d Say to Mel Gibson

Jeffrey Cohen

Shut up and go away.

Now. Moving along to more important matters:

Yesterday, my wife and I attended a birthday party for her cousin (once removed, and please explain that one to me, because I never got the whole “removed” thing), who turned 100 years old last week. He looked great, by the way, and enjoyed his party immensely, from all outward signals.

It got me to thinking about how different things are now than they were in 1906. Obviously, there have been enormous technological advances, although humans have evolved at a much slower rate. As Will Rogers once said, “you can’t say civilization don’t advance, however, for in every war they kill you in a new way.”

Has there been advancement in mystery novels? I don’t know. We don’t really kill our fictional victims in that many new ways. Guns, knives, poisons, the usual blunt implements. But that leads to a question that I think is central to writing a mystery novel:

Does it matter how the victim dies?

Many mystery writers spend a tremendous amount of energy figuring out exotic ways to off the hapless sap whose demise sets the plot in motion. They come up with poisons found only in the deepest regions of Zambia, knives made from the tusks of African elephants, but only female African elephants, guns that fire bullets made of ice, so that they’ll melt after use (I just thought that one up) or being hit over the head with the tire iron that was only made to fit in the trunk of a 1965 Karmann Ghia.

Are there really people out there saying, “I’ve got to buy that one! They kill the guy off with a frappaccino machine!”?

I’ve always contended (“always” being a relative term: I wasn’t born yelling this) that character is more important than plot details. I’ve gotten myself some really disgusted looks from mystery fans by saying that I’m more interested in characters and, in my case, jokes than in whether the plot always makes 100% sense. People get downright hostile about timelines in my novels that don’t add up, but they almost never say my characters are cardboard figures, or that my dialogue sounds like it belongs in a fourth grade pageant on Our Friends The Trees.

Now, I’m as concerned about telling a tight, interesting story as the next guy. Probably more, if the next guy is a supermarket manager or a house painter. But to me, character is the essential element of any story, mystery or not. You can write an amazing story in which the victim is done in through some intricate, exotic, shocking method I’d never dream of in decades of wracking my brain, but if the characters aren’t interesting, three-dimensional people, I’m probably not going to care.

I read series books less because I must see what crazy plot the author has dreamed up and more because I’ve been fascinated by the characters in the past and want to see how they’ll react to what’s going on in this book. Mystery fans will debate endlessly whether Stephanie Plum should end up with Joe Morelli or with Ranger, but ask them in which book the guy in the bunny suit was stalking our heroine, and they’ll be less likely to give you the title. I always read Robert B. Parker’s series to see whether Spenser is going to reveal more about himself, whether his core principles will be tested, and whether Susan Silverman is going to be less annoying than usual. I check in to get more of Hawk or Paul Giacomin, not to find out whodunnit. I’d have a hard time telling you the plot of any of the last six novels in the series, but I’ll keep coming back for more.

Edmund Wilson once very famously asked in print, “Who cares who killed Roger Ackroyd?” by way of putting mystery novels in the place of cheap, generic (in the worst definition of the word) fiction with disposable characters who did nothing but serve the plot and weren’t interesting on their own merits. Sure, that’s what happens in badly written mysteries, but it’s not endemic to the genre as a whole. Characters can be fascinating, fully living individuals who would carry a story in which nobody meets an unfortunate end, and still function in a high-concept mystery. It can be done, and it often is, if you’re looking in the right place.

Of course, actually doing that, and doing it well, is a talent that can take a long time to develop. But when one has just come back from wishing a sharp, spry gentleman a happy second century, it doesn’t seem impossible.


A little knowledge is said to be a dangerous thing, but what about too much knowledge?  If you’re unsure, just pull up a chair next to a Star Wars geek and ask, “So, Tie-fighter or X-wing fighter—which is better in a dogfight?”

This is the tricky thing about realism.  Readers today are sophisticated.  They won’t take things at face value anymore.  You need to be pretty sure of your facts before you commit them to paper, so being an expert can have a lot of advantages.  If you’re an oncologist, who’s going to fault you on cancer treatments?  If you’re a cop, who’s going to pick holes in your investigation techniques?

That’s the upside.  What about the down?

As an expert, it’s easy to wax lyrical about your specialist subject and fill page after page with detail that only an expert would know.  This makes you sound like an authority on the fictional and factual matters at hand, but God, are you dull.  Suddenly, you’ve turned an exciting novel into a textbook (are you taking note, Tom Clancy?).

Sometimes it’s good to be an outsider to a subject.  You can rationally decide what is relevant and what isn’t.  When you’re an expert, it’s not always easy to remain objective and you have to walk a fine line.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a nuclear physicist, a cop, a pathologist or even a seamstress.  Give us insight, not a lecture.

Simon Wood


Deni Dietz

I have lots to say about Bouchercon, and cons in general, but I’ll shelve it for a couple of weeks, or until my Bouchercon photos are developed and scanned – whichever comes first 🙂

Meanwhile, I read the following in the Peninsula News Review, a local paper. I immediately contacted the author, MICHAEL CULLEN — his email addy is — and he graciously gave me permission to "cull" his article and run it on Kibbles & Bits. So, without further ado, I give you:

BLENDING REALITY: Buttercup and the Salem witch hunts

William Goldman’s The Princess Bride has become the benchmark for the classic fantasy romance. What started out as a skillful parody of the faraway story of swashbuckling "twoo wuv" has set itself as the best "romance" fiction ever.

One of the marvelous things about The Princess Bride is the simple manner in which a complete fantasy romance is created. We willingly suspend disbelief and allow people who die to return from the dead, we allow "true love" to flourish without concerns, we allow illogical logic to fall logically, we allow "Cliffs of Insanity" and R.O.U.S. (Rodents of Unusual Size) to become antagonists. And all the while, a prince named Humperdinck, a princess named Buttercup, a rumoured pirate named "Dread Pirate Roberts" and even a horse named "Horse" propel us simply through a world that only exists if we wish it to. And if we have to wish upon a star, or escape once on a special vehicle called "upon a time," well, we touch our noses with our magic dust and our own very special magic finger and go for it.

It makes us happy as we imagine the landscapes of Guilder and Florin. It makes us happy as we follow the escapades of Inigo Montoya as he hunts for the six-fingered man (Count Rugen) who killed his father. We thrill when the battle between the two men plays itself out and Inigo repeats the famous phrase, "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

And we nod, yes, when Westley and Buttercup are finally reunited at the castle, jump on white horses and ride off into the "sunset." True love ends "happily ever after."

I guess that’s the dramatic irony for the audience, though. It’s more like "dreamatic." Dramatic irony, as you know, occurs when the audience or reader knows more than the speaker or a situation in a play or a text. The audience knows that Florin and Guilder are not actually city-states; they know that Miracle Max cannot bring Westley back to life; they know that Inigo Montoya should die from the sword wounds inflicted by Count Tyrone Rugen; they know that nothing they are watching or reading "actually" exists. The fantasy romance is in a place called "faraway", just like "Never-Never Land" and witches on the "yellow brick road." We all know that. It’s OK, though, cause that’s the way it is. Or that’s the way it isn’t.

This could raise a problem or two.

One of the concerns, however, happens when a text that’s imaginary gets "actualized." In this way, the metaphor of the story — the figures of speech and the similes, the things that are imagined, and all that stuff — get taken seriously. Whenever that happens, all hell breaks loose.

William Blake, or one of his friends, noted that whenever a metaphor (an "imaginary") actualizes itself, it becomes a monster. The French Revolution is, historically, a perfect example. The Salem witch hunts are another.

Women (characters who are real) were charged with being witches (characters who are not real). The imaginary witches were hanged or burned at  the stake. The whole metaphor of a "witch" was taken as an actual. The result was that a lot of horrible deaths happened in Massachusetts. If the witch hunts had been played out a little later, and in Kansas, the Good Witch of the South and the Wicked Witch of the North would both be piles of carbon.

And Dorothy would have been charged as an accessory.

So when we read The Princess Bride, or watch the movie, we fulfill our expectations of the fantasy. But we don’t go on a quest to find the awful Prince Humperdinck so that we can make his life (which is already "to the pain") more painful. We don’t actualize the metaphor. We don’t impose any of the characters or any of the story to the laws of physics and gravity. If we did, we would create monsters. And we would become monsters.

In some spaces we become incapable of distinguishing between the realm of the fantastical and the realm of the actual. Both are valid arenas, but one is a metaphor and one is a "reasonable."

The world of metaphor, like The Princess Bride, is intended to soothe and to comfort and to suspend time and disbelief. It is not intended to inspire hate, loathing and the nasties. William Goldman’s fantasy is probably on the shelf of those who aspire to impose their will through power, but it should not be referred to and quoted as an excuse to do anything that smacks. It’s supposed to make "twoo luv" an article of faith and "I love you" as easy as a song to say.

Which brings us to Eye of Newt, which is MY world of metaphor. Salem Village, of course, did exist. My three "witches" — Anne, Chastity and Mercy — did not. Furthermore, my readers are free to suspend disbelief and accept that my witch-spells really work. Only two were used to bring other humans "to the pain," and both were uttered at despicable characters.

Of course, that’s no excuse for inflicting pain. Except, without it, I wouldn’t have "conflict" or a plot or a mystery novel.

And that’s what Eye of Newt is — a novel. Salem witches don’t really "reincarnate" to the 21st-Century as cats, dogs and parrots.

Not unless we want them to.

Not unless, as Michael Cullen so aptly put it, we touch our noses with our magic dust and our very special magic finger and go for it.

As you wish,
Deni, who believes that "twoo luv" really exists and that war and violence and all things nasty should come from the realm of the "reasonable." Who also believes that we should never allow a metaphor to become a reason … or an excuse for anything violent and harsh that we do.