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What is Success?

by Pari Noskin Taichert

Living in the here and now is fine and dandy, but I’ll save that for another incarnation.

In this here and now, I work toward goals rather than "going with the flow."

But when will I know I’ve succeeded as an author?

Will it be when I can buy two Hummers that run on bio-diesel? Or, when millions of fans buy my books? Does it have to do with quality? Quantity? Ego inflation?

Is there a hierarchy of success?

I decided to make a list of benchmarks, actual measurements, against which I could gauge growth or slippage. The items fell into three nifty categories.

1. Deciding to call myself a "writer"
2. Finishing my first story
3. Letting other people (beyond friends & family) read it
4. Starting a novel
5. Finishing the novel
6. Finding an agent
7. Getting published

Sherri Burr, an author of five law books, has this to say, "Initially, I thought it was great when I read stories to my critique group and they said it was ‘great.’ Whoopie doo! It doesn’t matter how many people think you’re great until the work sees the light of day by being published."

I tend to agree with her. To me, the validation comes when a piece is vetted by others and they invest in my work as well.

Even more though, success means that I can make a living at my chosen profession. This might be too important to me, an obsession. With what I’ve learned since thinking about success these last few days, I wonder if I’m styming myself by putting too much weight on #16.

Here’s the second area on my list.

8. Cashing that first advance
9. Seeing my books in stores
10. Being recognized by store clerks
11. Getting the first royalty check
12. Receiving positive reader feedback (fan mail, happy comments at signings and bookclubs)
13. Meeting a stranger in the airport who is reading my book
14. Receiving award nominations
15. Finding an agent who is truly a good fit
16. Earning more money than I’ve spent on marketing (i.e. earning a living)

In her response to my query, multipublished novelist Jane Lindskold refers to most of the above successes but cautions that the pleasure they elicit "doesn’t linger too long."

I trust her perspective and experience. Hence the final section on my ladder of success.

17. Creating exactly the reader reaction I desire
18. Changing people’s perspectives
19. Positively affecting people through my writing
20. Always having new projects, new areas to explore

Gerald M. Weinberg, an internationally recognized software and organizational effectiveness expert, author of a book on writing and, now, a novelist, says, "I feel successful if my writing has made a positive difference in someone’s life."

Jane Lindskold also chimes in at this level. "There have been two areas in which, for me, the sense of success never dims. One is when someone reads one of my stories and responds just as I had hoped . . . .

"The other success is when someone tells me my story or novel has made them see some aspect of the world, personal or otherwise, a bit differently, that reading what I wrote expanded his or her horizons. Again, that sense that my story was successful in showing a new world to someone is heady and wonderful."

In reflecting on the success question this weekend, I’ve realized that a ladder is a good metaphor for looking at this aspect in our professional life. We climb up and down the rungs, sometimes getting stuck at a particular place for a moment, sometimes getting blisters . . .

No rung of this ladder is inherently better, more worthwhile or noble, than the other.

Still, the exercise of defining professional success fulfilled a need. I don’t feel quite so bound by that second level as I had before venturing into this thought-process.

I’d love to hear your perspectives, too. Perhaps we can come up with something that will be instructive, even useful, for writers at all stages of their careers.

May all of you be blessed with rest and heath this Labor Day.

cheers . . .

I’m a Yankee Doodle… Something

Jeffrey Cohen

It doesn’t make sense that I’m a fan of the New York Yankees.

Really, it doesn’t. The Yankees are, in baseball, a symbol of corporate excess, a team with a budget whose allowance for sanitary stockings probably dwarfs the entire operating outlay of, say, the Kansas City Royals. They win so consistently, it was once observed that rooting for them was “like rooting for U.S. Steel.”

The Yankees, to the casual observer, represent all that is bloodless and cold in America. They concentrate strictly on the bottom line. They allow no facial hair below the upper lip, no long hair. They play “God Bless America” (the KATE SMITH version, for the love of Dog!) during the seventh inning stretch. They solve all their problems by signing high-priced free agents with money taken from tickets sold to the Little Guy. Their fans are well known for being less than hospitable to visiting players.

All that is not what I am. I generally try to root for the underdog. I believe in the Little Guy (there aren’t that many littler than me). I think money is the root of all arrogance, although I wouldn’t mind the opportunity to try it out for myself. I can’t stand Kate Smith.

So, why am I a Yankee fan?

Well, let’s begin by debunking some of the myths I so cunningly espoused a few paragraphs ago. Yes, the Yankees sport the highest payroll in baseball, by a very large margin, but among other reasons, that is because they run their business intelligently. Yes, they spend (sometimes overspend) on free agent players, but they also sport a current line-up that includes, on most nights, five position players and sometimes a pitcher or three, all of whom are “home grown,” or came from the team’s farm system.

And the fans? Well, we’re tough, but classy. When a former hero like Tino Martinez, Wade Boggs or Andy Pettitte comes back in an opposing uniform, we cheer them warmly. I’ve been in opposing ballparks where chants about the Yankees, in language most parents would prefer to avoid with their children present, were voiced loudly by entire stadium sections. I can’t say I’ve heard that by the crowd–individuals, yes, but not the whole crowd–in the Bronx. The one time I did hear Yankee fans berate someone in an off-color fashion (the whole Stadium, that time), it was directed at the owner of the New York Yankees, who had traded away Reggie Jackson.

Stephen King is a Red Sox fan. Lee Child is a Yankee fan. Boston gets Ben Affleck, the Bombers get Billy Crystal and Spike Lee.

But none of that is why I’m a Yankee fan. Here’s why I’m a Yankee fan:

In 1965, when I was seven years old, my father got tickets with some friends of his to a game at Yankee Stadium. I don’t recall ever exhibiting an interest in baseball before that, and my father, certainly, was not much of a sports fan. He claimed to root for the New York Giants, eight years after they’d moved to San Francisco, and was unable to name one player on the team. You’d have to have known my father to understand, but it made perfect sense from his point of view.

All sports fans–and make no mistake, I am a RABID Yankee fan with sports tunnel vision; I follow absolutely no other athletes, and take my family out to dinner every Super Bowl Sunday–remember their first in-person game. They wax poetic about the color of the grass on the field, the smell of the hot dogs in the stadium, the way the facade across the upper deck lent a bizarre touch of gentility to the building.

For me, it was the sound.

I remember the way the loudspeakers boomed with organ music (this is WAY before the DiamondVision era, and the players of that era wouldn’t have dreamed of pumping in a special song when they came to bat) before the game. I remember the sound of thousands of people–far fewer than the crowds who come to watch a game today–milling around, waiting for something to get started. I remember the hot dog and soda vendors yelling as they walked up the aisle (my favorite was the beer man, who in the seventh inning started to announce, “last call for the alcohol!”). And I especially remember the voice of the classiest guy on the planet, public address announcer Bob Sheppard, who taught speech at Columbia University, for crying out loud, beginning, “good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Yankee Stadium.” The man’s voice belonged on someone who was regularly addressed as “sire.” And while that voice has gotten a little thinner over the years, it is still there today. Then, it truly sounded like the voice of God.

That was pretty cool.

But that’s not why I’m a Yankee fan. Here’s why I’m a Yankee fan:

My father’s friend had two sons, one of whom sat next to me at the game. He was a serious adult, probably about 16 years old at the time, and I took my cue from him. I might have known that it was supposed to be good when a Yankee hit the ball, but that was about it. I knew nothing about the rules, and this teenager took time to help the littler kid, who was so little he could barely see the game over the man sitting in the row in front of him.

It intrigued me that people in the crowd stood up whenever a Yankees player got a base hit. I had figured, I guess, that they would just applaud, and that a standing ovation was withheld until somebody hit a home run. But again, the sound of the crowd was what I found so fascinating.

At one point, while I was paying attention to the game, the crowd noise suddenly swelled. I was confused, because nothing special had happened. Nobody had gotten a hit; in fact, the batter hadn’t even taken his place at home plate. He was just walking toward it, casually, but I could barely see. The man in the next row up had stood again, and nothing was happening. It just didn’t make sense!

Instinctively, I turned to the young man sitting next to me, who had been explaining the game. He nodded, and pointed at the man approaching the plate.

“That’s Mickey Mantle,” he said. “He’s very good.”

And THAT’S why I’m a Yankee fan.

As a footnote, I feel obligated to point out that in 1965, when there were 10 teams in each league, the Yankees came in 10th in the American League. So maybe I started out rooting for the underdog, after all.


Dream Jobs

In addition to trying to build a writing career, I do have dream writing jobs.  These are the kinds of gigs that I would sell a kidney for.  I have two real biggies.

First, I’d kill to write for Doctor Who.  I’ve been watching the show since I was two.  The show has spurred my imagination so many times.  The great thing about the Doctor, beyond being a great character, is the scope for the stories.  The canvas is limitless.  The Doctor can travel to any place, any time, and any when.  That’s writing heaven!

Now that the show is in its 43rd year, like Star Trek and Star Wars, it’s a multi-media industry, not just a show.  There are official books, audio stories, radio plays, short story anthologies and Marvel used to have comic book version.  I’ll write for the Doctor.  I don’t care in which venue–books, TV, plays, on the thin end of a grain of rice as long as I’m involved.  It really would be a dream come true.  Just the idea of it makes me fizz. 

I was watching a behind the scenes DVD from the last season.  They were interviewing one of the writers, comedian, Mark Gatiss, about writing for the show.  He expressed the same feelings as me about being given the opportunity.  He admitted that he shed a couple of tears when he saw his show being made.  I know I’d be blubbling like a little girl if I was in his shoes. 

Batman is my other dream gig.  I still love comic books and I’d love to be given a crack at writing one, but a Batman comic strip would be the dream ticket.  I’d get to be the Dark Knight.  No longer would I have to be content with running around the house with my underpants on the outside of my clothes and a bath towel tied around my neck, screaming out at Julie, “I’m Batman.  Stay away from me, Poison Ivy!”  Finally, I’d get to make Batman do what I’d always wanted him to do.  Gotham City would sleep pretty well under my watch.  Again, like Doctor Who, Batman is an industry.  Only recently, I came across a new Batman novel by John Shirley and moaned that no one had sought out this Boy Wonder to write one.

While it would be super, mega, cool to write an original Doctor Who or Batman tale in whatever format someone cared to throw at me, it would be frightening.  This wouldn’t be a light-hearted undertaking.  With great power comes great responsibility and I would be very responsible.  Both assignments come with a bucket load of pressure.  Doctor Who comes with over forty years of mythology and Batman with over sixty.  Fans have expectations.  I owe respect to Doctor Who’s creator Terry Nation and Batman’s creator, Bob Kane.  Not to mention all the legions of writers commissioned to take over from them down the years.  A wrong step from me would be sacrilege!  So I know the agony and ecstasy of the situation and I’m prepared to take it on.

All I’m waiting for is the BBC and DC Comics to give me a call.

Operators are standing by…

Yours waiting for the Bat sign,
Simon Wood


Denise Dietz

My goal in life is to be as good a person as my dog thinks I am.

RECAP of last week’s blog:

While waiting tables at Eastside Mario’s in Colorado Springs, I met two well-behaved Canine Companions ladies and dogs. The ladies said there were too many "cat mysteries" and not enough "dog mysteries," and I promised to write a dog mystery. And donate a portion of my profits to Canine Companions, an organization that trains dogs to help the handicapped. My lovable Great Dane-Irish Setter-Lab mix, Cherokee, volunteered to be the model for "Hitchcock the Dog." I decided to expand one of my short stories, Spilt Milk, and make the killer obvious…

Except, I then added a twist at the end 🙂

Here’s a brief description of Hitchcock the Dog: In his own mind, Hitchcock, is the quintessential well-trained pooch, even though he only knows eight commands and responds best to gooddog, baddog, and getdownoffthecouchyousonofabitch!

I began writing FOOTPRINTS IN THE BUTTER – an Ingrid Beaumont Mystery co-starring Hitchcock the Dog – a week after meeting the Canine Companion ladies. I wrote a Prologue: At a high school reunion dance, Ingrid’s childhood chum, Wylie Jamestone, pisses everybody off, then gives Ingrid a riddle: "How do you make a statue of an elephant?" Ingrid doesn’t know the answer, but before Wylie can tell her, he leaves the dance. End of Prologue.

Chapter One finds Ingrid at a Broncos vs. Cowboys football game. Approx 70 miles away, Wylie Jamestone [who for some reason looks exactly like my ex-husband, James Wiley] is fatally clunked over the head with a small but heavy reproduction of The Thinker.

In Chapter Two, Ingrid meets her friend [and Canine Companions volunteer] Cee-Cee for breakfast. The two women talk about the reunion dance, the murder, various suspects and…

Something didn’t "feel right."

So I emailed the prologue and first two chapters to my agent, who had only one question: "Does Cee-Cee know these people?"

"She does if she read my prologue," I replied.

I killed the Prologue and made it Chapter Two. I rewrote the "breakfast dialogue" and finished writing the rest of the book and, to make a long story short, pun intended, no one wanted FOOTPRINTS IN THE BUTTER. My rejections ranged from "My list of amateur detectives is full" to [and I swear I’m not making this up] "The heroine is engaging, the mystery works well, and I love the dog, but I didn’t find anything special about the book." For the record, I’ve hated the word "engaging" ever since. Then I received the following: "Thank you for submitting ‘Footprints in the Butter.’ I like Dietz’s writing, but it’s not doggy enough."

In the back of my mind, I heard my promise to the Canine Companions ladies. I simply HAD to get this book published. I sent it to Hard Shell Word Factory. The publisher liked it. A lot. It was published as an e-book and I put an excerpt on my website. Which was seen by a print publisher (Delphi), who published the book in hardcover. A rave Library Journal review contributed to
phenomenal library sales. The novel hit a few bestseller lists and was reprinted by Harlequin/Worldwide in mass market paperback.


This year it came out in large-print — in both the US (Thorndike) and the UK (BBC Library).

Not bad for a book that wasn’t "doggy enough," and I’ve been able to send several generous checks to Canine Companions.

"You can say any foolish thing to a dog, and the dog will give you a look that says, ‘My God, you’re right! I never would’ve thought of that!’" ~ Dave Barry

Many people have asked me if I’m writing a "Hitchcock the Dog" sequel. The answer is yes. It’s working title is "The Lollipop Guild." And…

BETTE MIDLER, if you’re reading my blog, I wrote "Footprints" with you in mind. You could even sing at the reunion dance. Which reminds me. I’ve been meaning to get in touch with Barry Manilow, ask him to write me a couple of songs that make the whole world sing [for "Lollipop Guild"].

Quote of the week: Since it’s apropos, I’m  quoting a rejection letter. The following was sent to one of the world’s top-ranked medical thriller authors: "Peter has a strong commercial voice and a plot that grips the reader from the very first chapter. Unfortunately, it will not fit in with our line of books."

[Makes "not doggy enough" sound a tad less insane, eh?]

This week’s "household hint" comes from Eye of Newt‘s Aunt Lillian:

Cure for headaches: Cut a lime in half and rub it on your forehead. The
throbbing will go away.

Over and Out,

PS- Anybody else have a weird rejection letter to share?

Surrendering the Baby

by Pari Noskin Taichert

There’s this quote I want to use, but I can’t find it . . . something like, "Authors never finish their books. They abandon them."

Ever the optimist, I wanted to write about that moment when a novelist knows her or his book is finished. I have this Pollyanna image of that blessed instant. It’s euphoric. Angels blow their celestial horns. A shaft of golden sunlight cleaves the clouds and lights the author in the warm knowledge of a job well done.

But the truth is, usually, when I finally submit a manuscript, I’m bone-tired and slump-shouldered. I relinquish the work to the editor with the enthusiasm of an insomniac mother thrusting her heavy bundle of dirty-diapered baby into an unhelpful father’s hands.

No euphoria here. No relief.

For the first day after, I can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to be done. The plot needs fixing. The writing needs to be snappier. What about all the typos?

Oh, hell.

For those of you who don’t know the saga of my struggle with the new book, here it is in a nutshell:
I wrote the first draft of THE SOCORRO BLAST last year. It was impossible to edit. I threw it away and wrote an entirely new draft. Then I edited that; sent it to my agent the first time; did another hard edit; sent it to my agent again and edited it again. By this time, it actually began to be a decent story. Then I hired Deni Dietz to edit it–that’s the first time I’ve ever used a freelance editor btw–and she came up with some suggestions and corrections. Then I cleaned it up again, made changes, did this and that.

Last Friday, I submitted it to the University of New Mexico Press.

This is the first and, I hope, last time I fight so hard with my fiction.

While trawling for that elusive quote above, I stumbled on others that spoke to me. These amplified my mindset just moments after handing off the manuscript.

A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. — Thomas Mann
No kidding. We get so critical of our own work we become creatively constipated.

Substitute "damn" every time you’re inclined to write "very"; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. — Mark Twain
This is very, um, damn sage advice. For me, it’s getting rid of my em-dashes. Just ask Deni.

With sixty staring me in the face, I have developed inflammation of the sentence structure and a definite hardening of the paragraphs. — James Thurber
Of course, I could have taken longer with this book. I could have tried to delete many more of those pesky sentences that start with "I." I <g> could have done yet another sweep for adverbs.

My hope is that UNMP will buy SOCORRO and that I’ll have another chance to clean it up . . . . under deadline.

It is easy to finish things. Nothing is simpler. Never does one lie so cleverly as then. — Toulouse Lautrec
This goes directly to how I felt when I gave the manuscript up, even though I think it’s my best book so far.

I always do the first line well, but I have trouble doing the others. — Moliere
If Moliere had these problems, what hope is there for the rest of us? Tony Hillerman often talks about all those pages between the beginning and the end and how much trouble they give him.

Yep. I can empathize.

Homer: "Marge, is this a happy ending or a sad ending?"
Marge: "It’s an ending. That’s enough." — The Simpsons

That’s what I came to, too. I had to give this book up. Objectively it’s a good, strong work.

I need to move on.

Author’s Acknowledgments

Jeffrey Cohen

It takes a village to raise a child, and it took a team to help me create this book. Honestly, for something that’s supposed to be a solitary effort, I don’t know how I could have gotten through it without the help of a good number of people whose names don’t appear on the cover, but who contributed in vital, undeniable ways. So I’d like to thank just a few individuals:

First, I’d like to thank the Apple Computer company for creating the iMac on which I wrote this book. And to Bill Gates, for founding Microsoft, the company that made the software with which I wrote it. And then making gazillions of dollars by crushing anyone who got in his way, and then for taking some of his gazillions of dollars and giving it to people who might cure diseases, which I’m hoping not to get because of his efforts. Thanks, Bill.

Major props out there to Johann Gutenberg, who invented the movable type press in 1447. Couldn’t have done it without you, Johann.

And folks, let’s put our hands together for Edgar Allan Poe, who some say invented the detective story all by himself. Of course the book of Genesis contains the first known depiction of a murder (Cain v. Abel), but that one gave away the killer pretty early on (which I suppose places it in the “thriller” category). So we’ll give it to Poe. Nice job, there, Ed.

A shoutout to Charles Dickens, who didn’t get to finish The Mystery of Edwin Drood, but wrote enough of it that Rupert Holmes could give up singing about Pina Coladas and make a nice musical. Too bad you didn’t get to let us know whodunnit, Chuck, but you know, best of times, worst of times, and all that.

As a personal aside, I’d like to thank George M. Steinbrenner III, for spending $200-million a year on his payroll and then having to knock down the most famous sports arena since the Colosseum to build an $800-million stadium right next door with fewer seats in it because he’s losing money on the deal. That’s the way to run a baseball team, George. Seriously, I appreciate your dedication to putting the best players on the field. You didn’t have anything to do with writing this book, but that kind of looney logic deserves some recognition. Enjoy your extra luxury boxes.

While I’m on the subject, good work Abner Doubleday for getting the whole baseball thing started, or at least taking credit for it. And nice publishing house, as well, Ab.

But back to the book: there are so many others to whom I’m indebted, like the inventor of ink, the guy who first cut down a tree and made paper out of it (I say “guy” because a woman would never get an idea that dizzy), the first person to write down stuff that wasn’t true and say, “I’m not lying; I’m a novelist,” and naturally, the first person to give him money for that, then charge the public three times that much and call himself a publisher. If the liar who started it had thought of that himself, what a different world this would be, no?

For no particular reason, thanks to John Lennon, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Harpo Marx, Mickey Mantle, Abigail Adams, Jon Stewart, Robert B. Parker, Gene Roddenberry, Ernest Lehman, Cicero, Groucho Marx, Harriet Tubman, Alfred Hitchcock and of course, Mel Gibson, just for being himself.

And of course, thank you to my lovely wife and children, whom I’ll be able to name once they get out of the Author’s Protection Program. You’re my inspiration.

Thanks to every other author I cajoled, coerced and otherwise tricked into blurbing this tome. I’d like to say you can count on me to reciprocate, but you probably can’t. On the plus side, though, my name on your book probably would drive sales down, so you’re actually ahead of the game on this one.

But mostly, I’d like to express my appreciation to my brilliant agent, who sold this turkey when I had no idea what it was about, and my supremely talented editor, who turned it into something coherent.

And last, I’d like to thank each and every one who bought my last book. I have the list of names right here…

Aiming Low

Recently, a discussion about short story markets broke out on a writers’ message board.  One poster said they were tired of seeing new writers submitting their stories to the New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly.  The poster felt they should aim their sights lower.

I disagree with this statement wholeheartedly.  Writers, new and old, should aim as high as they can.  While I agree, a new writer stands little chance of having their story accepted by the New Yorker first time around, there still exists a chance and because there is that chance, they should send it.  What’s the worst that can happen?  A rejection slip.  So what?  Give it a go, I say. 

A writer does him or herself no favors by aiming low.  I speak from experience here.  I lacked my faith in my own work at the beginning.  I found the name magazines intimidating, so I didn’t send my stories there.  But one incident became my wakeup call.  I sold a story to a small press magazine and I received a small paycheck for my trouble–for which I was grateful.  To my surprise, the story picked up an honorable mention in Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror that year.  Then, at a convention, I was giving a reading of the story and a very renowned editor was in the crowd.  She’d worked with a number of big name writers, such as Stephen King and Peter Straub.  She’d been told to listen to me.  After I finished the story, the editor came up to me, introduced herself and asked for the story for their next anthology.  I had to admit that the story had already been printed, but mention that she could buy reprint rights.  She wanted first rights and the offer was withdrawn.  That reading and that story put me on their radar for next time, but it lost me a big opportunity.  I kicked myself for weeks for not sending the story to the best markets, but it taught me a lesson.  I submit to the top and work my way down, not the other way around. 

The tricky thing about writing is that it’s subjective.  There isn’t a right or wrong answer.  A story doesn’t work that way.  A story one person loves can leave another person cold.  I’m always amazed by the stories I sell immediately because I could have sworn the editors would like some other one more.  This makes it hard to judge which stories should go where, so the writer might as well start at the top.

If there’s a moral to this essay, it’s that aiming high shouldn’t just end at the magazine markets.  Aiming high should be every writer’s watchword for everything they do–whether it be searching for an agent, a publisher, a publicist or other facet of their writing career.  Writers shouldn’t settle for second best.  They may not hit the heights they’ve always aimed for, but they should at least try.  Because in the writing world, you just never know. 

Flying high (or at least trying to)
Simon Wood



For the millions…okay, thousands…okay, hundreds…okay, dozen or so people who have asked me what Hitchcock the Dog looks like, here’s a photo.

                                        QUIBBLES & BITS

Once upon a long time ago, I was waiting tables at Eastside Mario’s, a Canadian restaurant chain that has franchises in the US. "My" restaurant was located on Academy Blvd. in Colorado Springs.

On a night very much like tonight, maybe not as many stars, I served two very nice women who worked for Canine Companions, an organization that trains dogs to help the handicapped. The two women had two very well-behaved dogs with them. After I told them [the women, not the dogs] that I was a mystery author, they wanted to know why so many mysteries boasted—hell, practically lionized—cats. Why not dogs?

I told the nice ladies [and nice dogs] that I’d try and write a mystery with a dog it it.

Upon arriving home, I recapped the evening for my husband-at-the-time. He yawned and went to bed. As soon as he left the room, my 3 dogs clustered around my feet: Cherokee, a Great Dane-Setter-Lab, and Sydney, an Australian Shepherd, and Pandora, a mostly-Norwegian Elkhound. Pandora, not quite a year old, was just learning human-speak.

Cherokee, the spokesdog, said, "Your diet club mysteries, Throw Darts at a Cheesecake and Beat Up a Cookie, have a cat, Jackie Robinson, and your short story, Spilt Milk, has a cat, Sinead O’Connor. What are we, chopped liver?"

Cherokee and the other two dogs had obviously heard my tale about the Canine Companion ladies, so I said, "I’ve been thinking about writing a dog mystery all evening, but I want to name the dog ‘Hitchcock.’ Any takers?"

Sydney didn’t mind if I put her in a book, but she preferred that I use her real name, not a pseudonym, thank you very much.

Pandora thought a book might be fun to chew.

Cherokee said I could use him for Hitchcock, if I promised to donate a portion of my profits to Canine Companions. "Deal," I said.

All I had to do was expand my [unsold] short story, Spilt Milk — which didn’t have a dog in it — by, oh, say 70,000 words, and call it FOOTPRINTS IN THE BUTTER: An Ingrid Beaumont Mystery co-starring Hitchcock the Dog.

My friend Lynn Whitacre, who at the time was reading Beat Up a Cookie, said, "I think I know who the M*A*S*Her is, Deni. But he would be too obvious. But then it would be just like you to make the killer too obvious."

So I decided I’d make my "Footprints" killer too obvious.

End of Part One.

Next Tuesday I’ll talk about the trials and tribulations of finding a publisher for a novel that wasn’t "doggy enough." Stay tuned…

Quote of the week:

"When I was first starting and sent Lethal Practice blind to Penguin, the editor who reviewed the manuscript gave me her ‘one piece of advice.’ And that was: ‘Never work for an agent, an editor or a publisher who doesn’t totally believe in your work or it will break your heart.’" Peter Clement, bestselling author of Mortal Remains.

EYE OF NEWT’s Sydney St. Charles offers you this week’s spell: LOVE OIL

On a Friday evening when the moon is waxing, gather a little ground orris root, an earthen bowl, and a quantity of pure olive oil. If you are a woman, also have a vial of essential Jasmine oil; patchouly will do for men. Lay a pink cloth on the altar. Light pink candles. Pour the orris root into the earthen bowl, then add half a cup of olive oil. Stir with the forefinger of your strong hand 7 times clockwise. Add the essential oil: no less than 3 drops, no more than 7. Place the bowl on the altar. Gaze into it. Enchant it by saying, "Love, love, love, love, love, love, love." Pour the oil into a jar and cork it tightly. Leave it in a dark space, surrounded by the pink altar cloth, for 7 days. Upon the next Friday night, uncork the bottle, strain and store in the same bottle until needed. Love Oil should only be worn by its creator.

Over and Out,

How to interview an author

by Pari Noskin Taichert

A few months ago, radio interviewer Pam Atherton was heading to Book Expo to give a presentation on how to work with authors. She asked some of her past interviewees for what we’d recommend. The tongue-in-cheek piece below — written directly to interviewers in radio and television — is the result, though I’ve updated some of the anecdotes.

While the original audience was very specific, it still shows some of the more amusing gaffs that happen when authors meet media folks.


1. Read the book.
I’m serious here. Sure, you’ve got a lot to do. Who has time to read every book by every author you interview? Well, at least give the text enough of a glance that the author thinks you’ve read the work.

Anecdote:  In Boise recently, I had a 5:30 a.m. interview on television. The chisel-chinned male interviewer had no idea why I was there, or why I had a can of whipped cream (Sasha Solomon, my heroine in series #1, eats whipped cream straight from the can).

When I picked up the container to make a point, the man’s eyes widened and jaw tensed as if he thought I might spray the goop all over him.

Later, when I commented about being called a "witty" writer and how that always make me want to break into the song from West Side Story about being "Pretty, witty, and gaaaaaaaaay," I thought the guy was going to have a heart attack.

There I was — looking fun, relaxed and witty.  There he was — looking as if I were Beezlebub himself. I’d love to use the tape for future television pitches, but don’t dare because it’s funny for all the wrong reasons.

2. Ask questions.
Yep. I’m serious again.

It’s often an odd enough experience to be in a radio studio. You sit there talking to a big microphone, and, sometimes, barely able to see the interviewer. This can stifle — or intimidate — even the most creative soul.

Anecdote: Once I was in a studio with a "radio personality" who hadn’t even bothered to greet me before the show — no handshake, no how-do-you-do. (That, in itself, made me fee a bit unworthy.)

The way the room was set up, it was impossible to see the man whilst the interview took place. This was an hour-long show, btw. The guy started by introducing me. Next, he read a few sentences from my book. Then there was silence.

I peered around my giant microphone — and the other obstacles — and saw him, eyes expectant, waiting for me to respond. But, he hadn’t asked a question. The entire interview was like that . . . well, until I hijacked it and spoke about whatever I wanted. It would have been better for me — and for the listeners — if the man had expended a bit of energy to provide direction.

Now, that particular interviewing technique might have resulted in his fame — and it worked with me once I understood it — but think of all the dead air if the interviewee wasn’t a ham.

3. Be interested. (a.k.a. Be flexible.)
If you have to, fake it.

Some of the best interviews I’ve had have turned into conversations. I know the interviewer has all kinds of questions prepared, but if a certain subject is worth exploring, these fine pros go with it. That, to me, is one of the biggest highs of being interviewed; it makes for exciting listening too.

Anecdote: There’s a popular interviewer on a public radio station in Santa Fe, NM. She’s got a morning show with a devoted audience (she does the show live from a bakery/coffee house). I had my time with her during the station’s annual fund drive. (If you’re like me, you hate these pushy drives where people blather on and on about how you should give them money.)

Because of Mary-Charlotte Domandi’s stellar preparation, her avid interest, and her great ability to foster conversation, the hour flew by . . . and listeners responded. It was a thing of beauty.

4. Give the interviewee a clue about what to expect.
An author who prepares for a 30-minute spot will look mighty bad if she only gets 2 minutes. An author who has prepared three soundbites can crash and burn in a 5-minute interview. I know this sounds obvious — but you’d be surprised how many media folk forget this basic. courtesy.

5. If you bring whipped cream for the interviewee to consume during the spot — please, check the expiration date.


What about you? As a listener, have you heard or seen an interview that worked — or didn’t? As an author, do you have an anecdote to share? As an interviewer, do you have advice for your peers?

I am curious . . . yellow. (No, I never saw the movie.)


May I Quote You?

Jeffrey Cohen

I’m looking for sweet inspiration every morning, noon and night/
But these days, it just keeps on passing me by.
–Gerry Rafferty, “A Dangerous Age”

I come from a journalistic background (I know, previously I’ve said I come from a screenwriting background, but you’re just going to have to take my word for it–I was a reporter before I ever tried to write screenplays, just to prove I couldn’t make a living in many disciplines at once), and there isn’t anything a reporter likes better than a good juicy quote.

In spite of the cost of living, it’s still popular.
–Kathleen Norris

A quote is nutrition to a journalist: not only is it something that bolsters your article, but someone else already wrote it for you! There are now that many fewer words you have to come up with on your own. And sometimes, even though we don’t like to admit it, other people articulate a point better than we do. It’s a home run (I’m watching the Yankees/Red Sox series this weekend, so be prepared for inadvertent baseball cliches).

Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional baseball player. It’s staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in.
–Casey Stengel

For a novelist, a quote is something else entirely. We use them as epigrams: they start a book, a chapter, or a section to illustrate some point we’re too lazy or untalented to express on our own. They work like crazy, and we have a good time showing off how erudite and/or hip we are by quoting people who are cool.

I hadn’t used them up until now, but in the upcoming Some Like It Hot Buttered, which begins the Comedy Tonight series, I did sneak in a few epigrams, from people like Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and other authorities on comedy. I didn’t do it to bolster my word count–although it doesn’t hurt–but to set up things that are going to happen in the coming section of the book. Hopefully, readers will get the connection, and if they don’t, I chose the wrong quotes.

I quote others only the better to express myself.
-Michel de Montaigne

The point is: I definitely believe choosing those quotes was the most enjoyable part of the whole writing enterprise.

I probably spent more time looking for the right thing to set up a section than I did writing the section itself, and that’s saying something. It’s not that I couldn’t find a proper quotation to illustrate my point–it’s more that I had to narrow down the field. And even though I knew I’d probably use the first one that popped into my head before I touched my keyboard, I made sure to look through every possible source on comedy (and I have a few) I could get my grubby little hands on.

It was just too damn much fun to stop.

Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity.
–Louis Pasteur

In the end, I hope these were the proper quotations, and as I’m staring Book #2 in the series dead in the face, I have that to keep me going. Yeah, I have to come up with 80,000 words on my own, but in the midst of it, I’ll be able to thumb through every resource and comb my own mind for pithy quotes that might make the next part of the book come through a little better. It’ll be a long, tedious, time-consuming process that will undoubtedly tax my troubled brain for hours on end.

Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.
–Mae West

I can’t wait.