Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Every Last Secret Launch Party

Photos from my book launch for Every Last Secret on Tuesday, April 24.

After the book launch, I headed for Malice Domestic 2012 in Bethesda, MD.

People were very patient about having to wait in a long line to have their books signed.

I'm looking forward to seeing tons of old friends and new ones at Malice Domestic! Won't probably do another post until I'm back home. Have a great week!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Final Poem for National Poetry Month

My final poem for National Poetry Month with a photo of the animal at the crux of the poem.


A mother possum crawled down the chimney
the spring Donny came to us
because both sets of his parents had kicked him out,
the same April after your dad and I divorced
when you kicked a hole in the dining room wall.
The possum was swollen with young
she would later carry, half-grown, on her back
or hanging from her thick, hairless tail.
“An oversized rat with maternal instincts,”
your dad once said.

Instead of one angry son, I now had two—
fifteen and seventeen—
two forged signatures on absence excuses,
two discipline committee meetings,
two conferences with the principal.
While I worked,
you shared contraband beer,
as well as the basement apartment
with its fieldstone fireplace
in which you found the possum one cool evening.

Laughing and cheering, you teamed up
to cage her with a trash can,
carry her to the alley out back and dump her.
The possum squeezed back
down the chimney twice more. The third time
you threw her out on Troost, screaming
for a car to smash her beneath its tires.
She must have been near her time,
desperate for a nest,
to crawl back down after that.

The noise woke me after midnight.
Donny had clubbed her with his nunchuks.
You both kicked and stomped
her head as she lurched, stumbled
between your feet.
Halfway down
the basement steps I stopped,
seeing your faces. The possum fell
limp. I backed slowly up the stairs.
In the morning, you couldn’t meet my eyes.
I just made you clean up the mess.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Tomorrow is the launch for Every Last Secret!! It's already shown up in some bookstores. I can't wait for my new baby to see the light of day. A huge thank-you to everyone who has helped, encouraged, and supported me during this process!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Countdown to Malice Domestic 2012--Greg Lilly

This is my final post counting down to Malice Domestic 2012 in Bethesda, MD, April 27-29, and Greg Lilly is the last of my panelists for Have Gun Will Travel: Mysteries Set Out West. This panel will take place at 10:40 am in the Diplomat/Ambassador room of the Hyatt Bethesda, and as you've seen in the posts of the last several weeks, it features a set of remarkable panelists--led by me as moderator. So it should be lots of fun!

Greg Lilly is the author of four mystery novels. Scalping the Red Rocks, his most recent, is a fascinating novel about urban growth and runaway development full of colorful characters, but the locale of Sedona, AZ, is practically another character in the book and absolutely integral to the story. Lilly has a deft comic touch, at the same time offering plenty of drama and complex plotting.

Here is the link for Scalping the Red Rocks.

Greg Lilly Bio

Growing up in Bristol, Virginia and then living in Charlotte, North Carolina, the rich storytelling tradition of the South pulled Greg Lilly into writing.

He first turned to writing short stories after plot lines and characters emerged from the technical manuals he wrote for a large family-owned corporation.

Greg Lilly is the author of the Derek Mason Mystery series Fingering the Family Jewels and Scalping the Red Rocks, plus the novels Devil's Bridge, and Under a Copper Moon. He is a short story writer, novelist, freelance writer, and former magazine editor. He writes and lives in the tidewater area of Virginia.

For those new to your series, can you describe the Derek Mason Mysteries?
What was your inspiration for this series?
How would you describe Derek Mason to someone who has not read any of your previous novels?

Derek Mason is the gay outcast son of the powerful and conservative Harris family of North Carolina.  He rebels against the seemingly straight-laced family while his digging into the family history unravels hidden secrets and lies.

For 18 years, I worked for a large family business. The legends and tales about the real life family inspired me to create a fictional one and add an outsider to the mix who felt he was ostracized – but not for the reason he thought.

Derek is brash, funny, smart, and a bit of a southern bad boy. He usually speaks before his mind has had time to edit his thoughts.

What's your writing process? What is a typical writing day like for you? Do you keep to a set schedule? What are your writing habits?

I start with the characters. I know is odd for a plot-based genre like mystery. Once I know the characters, which is nice to have the sleuth established now, I put Derek in a setting and a situation.  I know where the story starts and where I want it to end, and then I let Derek and the characters fill in the middle.

I write for a living – the “paid-for” work is writing and editing for monthly magazines, so I have deadlines throughout the month. I try to set aside an hour mid-day to work on my fiction.  This started when I worked for that family-owned business in their Information Technology division. I spent my lunch hour each day working on my first novels.

Writer’s block – I don’t believe in it.  I don’t really have time because I have to produce for the magazines.  The books of Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott, and Julia Cameron taught me early on that the mantra was “Just Write.” Good or bad, I get something on the computer screen. I can edit later – and I do, a lot.

What projects, literary or otherwise, are occupying you at the moment?

The monthly magazines keep me busy. On the fiction side, I’m working on a stand-alone novel that intertwines a storyline from the early 1700s with contemporary plots: an ancestor’s story that parallels the storylines of her descendents. 

Who were your literary influences growing up? Are there any authors (living or dead) that you would name as influences?

At a young age, I loved "The Three Investigators" series by Robert Arthur (and others). I read all the ones our elementary school library had. Then I started reading the Newbery winners like My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. I wanted a llama.

Actually, in school, I didn't like to write because we had to. Also, the teachers told us what to write. Not until college did I start to write for fun.

In my first job, I wrote technical manuals and guides. Characters and plots started showing up, so I found a fiction writers group and joined.

Writers who inspired me include Tony Hillerman, Anne Rice, Anne Tyler, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, Adriana Trigiana, David Sedaris, Edgar Allen Poe.  I seem to have an amalgamation of Southern literature’s focus on family and land, gothic relationships, literary themes, with a splash of off-beat humor and popular serial fiction plotting.

What inspired you to write your first novel? Had you always wanted to be a writer?

After college, my first job was with that large family-owned company.  I turned to writing short stories after plot lines and characters emerged from the technical manuals I wrote for computer systems. 

I don’t think of myself as a writer, but really more of a story teller.  I remember making up stories and dialogues for robins and crows hopping around the backyard before I ever learned to write.

Do you belong to a critique group of other authors. Do you find it helpful? In what ways?

Currently, I am not part of a critique group. I would love to find one that fits. That’s difficult to do.  While living in Charlotte, North Carolina, I was part of a critique group that met every two weeks for years.  A few of the original five members held a 20th anniversary reunion a couple of years ago, and it felt like we had never been away from each other. 

The support and the honest critiques are what helped me the most. Those two-week intervals and meeting deadlines were key to getting me to finish my first novels.  If I didn’t bring in a chapter after a few meetings, I was asked: What’s happening? Why aren’t you working on the novel?

We were all around the same experience level, all learning together and sharing ideas.  There was mutual respect for each person’s work. That is how a successful group stays together.

What is your advice to aspiring writers? How important is it for a young writer to be a reader? What would you recommend they read?

Writers need to write.  Learn the craft of writing.  The art of storytelling comes later.  Read books on plot, character, pacing, style, editing.  Deconstruct favorite novels to see how the story was plotted, how the characters changed, what their arc was from beginning to end.

Some of my favorite writing and creativity books include: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron; Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg; Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogel; Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King; Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss; Woe is I by Patricia O’Connor.

Read good novels, not necessarily popular ones.  Find books where the story sticks with you long after you have moved on to other books – analyze those.  Read what you want to write.

I thought I wanted to be a “gay writer,” but the genre really didn’t interest me – stereotypical plots and one-dimensional characters – at least of the ones I read.  I decided that I was more than that and my characters had more to offer than that.  Don’t be afraid to change direction, to broaden your definition of yourself.

What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned in your writing career? What has been the hardest part about being a writer?

The hardest: The process of marketing and selling books.  That is a completely different set of skills from writing a book. The days of handing a book to a publisher and starting the next one are long gone.  Each of us needs to be a businessperson – producing and selling stories. 

Most surprising: Writers are helpful and supportive to each other.  They may not have the time to read and recommend revisions to new writers’ work, but that’s because they have their own deadlines to meet. I think most writers would love to be in a community to discuss writing and offer encouragement to each other if the financial obligations of making a living didn’t get in the way.

For people who love to tell stories, to record them (on paper or electronically) so they can be shared with others, being a writer is the best occupation – paid or not.  Published or aspiring author, we are all writers who write because we love it.

And next Tuesday, April 24, my novel, Every Last Secret, launches at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th Street, Kansas City, MO, at 6:30 pm (reception at 6:00 pm). Very, very exciting! Right after this launch, I'll be heading out  to Malice Domestic. Hope I'll see you at one or the other of these two events!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Updates & a Poem for National Poetry Month

Now, a poem for National Poetry Month--"Fire Is the Oldest Wild Thing"


But watch the candles burn,

tamed and housebroken,
blossom-yellow flames shading into 

autumn’s orange and the open sky’s 
blue like festive streamers above the birthday cake.

In silence and solitude, however, 

you can see that the bright flickering 
colors surround and enclose a dark core 
at the point of burn, igniting 
the twisted wick’s transformation 
from fiber to fire. 
At the heart of every dancing flame, 
a piece of cold midnight.

Most people never see. 

They pass through accepting 
what flickers on the surface. 
You must observe intently 
to see and know 
the black seed of holocaust
in each gay dance of domesticated flame

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

And updates on Every Last Secret, as it's about to launch into the world. 

An interview for a weekly public radio show on KCUR-FM. 

A podcast of an interview for an online magazine, Author Magazine.  

Kirkus reviews Every Last Secret. 

Interview with British dark crime writer, Richard Godwin.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Countdown to Malice Domestic 2012--Robert Kresge

As we continue the countdown to Malice Domestic 2012 in Bethesda, MD, we have ten days left before the conference begins. Another of the panelists on the Saturday morning panel I'm moderating, Have Gun Will Travel: Mysteries Set Out West,is
Robert Kresge, author of a series of historical mysteries set in 1870s Wyoming. Kresge says he writes about the Old West because "history matters." He settled on Wyoming because of its pivotal nature during those years, leading the way with women's rights, in natural history with dinosaurs and the country's first national park, and visits from presidents, Russian grand dukes, and Buffalo Bill.

Kresge's two protagonists, male and female, are both newcomers to Wyoming but from very different backgrounds, Texas and Buffalo, New York. The use of protagonists of both genders works well in helping to demonstrate the different treatment of women in the Wyoming Territory. Their different backgrounds lead to misunderstandings but also allow them to bring different strengths to the investigating they must do.

Here is a link to buy Kresge's books.

Robert Kresge Bio

As a boy, I camped with my family across the West, soaking up the grandeur of our most scenic national parks, learned to ride in the Grand Tetons, and saw first-hand the plight of modern Indians on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. As an avid reader, I decided early on I wanted to be a writer, so I got a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri.  One course that stuck with me was “The Twilight of the Sioux,” taught by Dr. John Neihardt, transcriber of the famed memoir Black Elk Speaks

In 2000, I founded a still active writers group at CIA that grew to 180 members. I took two courses in 2001 and 2002 -- “The American West in Fiction and Film” and “The Worlds of Mysteries” under Judy Riggin at Northern Virginia Community College— that got me started writing Murder for Greenhorns. I studied writing under mystery author Noreen Wald (aka "Nora Charles") in 2002.

I helped found the Albuquerque chapter of Sisters in Crime in 2004 and was 2008 president. While writing and revising Greenhorns, I spoke on a panel on spy novels at MWA’s Edgars symposium in 2002, a panel on settings at Left Coast Crime Seattle in 2007, and a panel on research and realism at LCC Denver in 2008.

For those new to your series, can you describe your series?  How would you describe the Warbonnet mysteries to someone who has not read any of your previous novels?

The Warbonnet mysteries are set in a small (130) Wyoming town on the Oregon Trail in the (so far) early 1870s.  In the first novel, Murder for Greenhorns, 19-year-old newly minted Eastern schoolteacher and 22-year-old former Texas cowboy Monday Malone witness the ambush shooting of their traveling companion, Warbonnet’s marshal-to-be Sam Taggart.  Since Monday finds the shooter’s tracks lead toward Warbonnet, their destination, he reasons the killer must have come from there.  Kate is upset at the callous crime and doesn’t want to be living in the same town as a murderer.  Since she and Taggart were both hired sight unseen on the basis of letters, she convinces a reluctant but smitten Monday to take the letters and the dead man’s place, reasoning that only the killer might know the real Taggart but would be reluctant to admit that.  After a successful solution to the crime, at great danger to themselves, Kate convinces Monday not to ride on to Montana as he intended, but to stay in Warbonnet and become the new marshal in his own name. 

In a nutshell, the Warbonnet mysteries are like Dr. Quinn meets Murder She Wrote.  My Civil War spy novel is like Cold Mountain meets The Day of the Jackal.

I was inspired to write this series by John McPhee’s geology book Rising From the Plains, in which the geologist’s mother came to Wyoming to teach school in 1905 and had to endure a three-day stagecoach ride to get from the nearest railroad station to her school.  I coupled that with a character from a 1957 Western called Ten Against Caesar, in which a young Texas cowboy identified only by the first name Monday was a major character.

Painted Women, the first of many sequels to Greenhorns, takes place a year later, in the summer of 1871.  Monday, now marshal of Warbonnet and a deputy sheriff of Albany county, learns that the last member of his foster family, his brother Tom, has been framed for murder in Laramie, the county seat.  Kate Shaw longs for home back East and considers leaving Wyoming.  As a budding artist, she concocts a scheme to experience the glories of the West by joining the Hayden expedition to Yellowstone.  Separated by fate, Monday and Kate struggle to clear Tom and survive threats to their own lives.  Torn by conflicted feelings for each other, Kate and Monday are reunited in Laramie at the eleventh hour.  Can they sift clues and eliminate suspects to unmask the real killer before Tom hangs?

What's your writing process? What is a typical writing day like for you? Do you keep to a set schedule? What are your writing habits?

Since I have three sequels to Greenhorns written and a standalone Civil War spy novel, I have no current writing process except to revise my manuscripts and continue to outline Warbonnet #5, set in 1874.  However, when I was writing first drafts, I developed habits which I passed along to the 180 members of the writers group I founded at CIA in 2000:
a.       Start writing early.  If you find you’re good at it, you’ll be glad you didn’t wait until your 50’s like I did.  If you have to struggle, then you’ll still have plenty of time to read books on writing, take classes, network at conferences, and join a critique group.
b.      Develop good writing habits/schedule commensurate with your career and family situations.  Your family expects to see you on weekends.  I used to write two hours each evening, Monday thru Thursday.  I have an understanding wife, and we did family things Friday nights and weekends.
c.      As soon as you’ve started writing, you’re a writer already (see point 7 below).  Work into your introductions or conversations “I’m a writer.”  You never know who the person sitting next to you may be—an agent, an editor, an author, or related to one.
d.      Oh, and it stands to reason that the best advice is finish the book or story.  Leave revising to the time after you finish the first draft.  And note when you finished that first draft on your calendar.  No matter how many things you write and how successful you become, you can only finish the first draft of your first work once.

What projects, literary or otherwise, are occupying you at the moment?

Revising the manuscript of the third Warbonnet mystery and trying to decide whether to publish the Civil War spy novel as an original e-book.

Who were your literary influences growing up? Are there any authors (living or dead) that you would name as influences?

My literary influences growing up were Edgar Rice Burroughs and the sci-fi trio of Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein.  Starting in the 1990s, the authors who most inspired and influenced me were Tony Hillerman, Margaret Coel, and Ellis Peters.

When I said my two biggest influences were Tony Hillerman and Margaret Coel, it was because they alternated chapters from the POVs of two co-equal protagonists.  Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, starting with Skinwalkers, worked the same case from different angles, usually getting to the solution at about the same time by different routes.  They often did not confide their progress in each other or did not have time to do so, in the press of sudden insight.

Margaret Coel did the same thing with Father John O’Malley and Vickie Holden, never so at odds as when they pursued different suspects in her most recent work, The Spider’s Web.   There could be no romance between the two, but I wanted to add romantic/sexual tension between my coequals.  I’ve introduced romantic rivals, misassumptions, and widely different backgrounds to complicate solving mysteries for my two sleuths.  And I’m not done throwing obstacles in their paths yet.  I do get email asking when they’re going to hook up, but as J.K. Rowling famously said of writing anguished situations for Harry, Ron, and Hermione:  “These are my characters.  I invented them.  I own them.  And I’ll twist and torture them any way I please.”

I couldn’t have started my series without Tony and Margaret’s books, which sustained me during years of auto commuting through their books on CD.

What inspired you to write your first novel? Had you always wanted to be a writer?

As an avid reader in high school (600 paperbacks in my personal library), I always wanted to be a writer.  I got a Bachelor of Journalism degree in 1968 from the world’s oldest, largest, and best school of journalism, and, after Vietnam, joined the CIA and became an intelligence analyst.  After retiring in 2002, I was already finished with the first draft of Murder for Greenhorns

I worked with two critique groups on the manuscripts of Greenhorns and Painted Women.   We knew how effective critique groups operate and I took between 50 and 90 percent of the advice I received. 

What is your advice to aspiring writers? How important is it for a young writer to be a reader? What would you recommend they read?

For aspiring writers?  Everybody who begins to write is a writer.  You mean aspiring authors, those whose names appear on covers or magazine or short story bylines.  The best advice I can give are points 2 a-d above It is absolutely critical for a writer of any age to read a lot, especially in a genre or nonfiction subject you’d like to be published in.  Get to know the conventions of the field that is your goal.  Don’t be like Stephanie Meyers or Sarah Palin; no one should try to write a book without having read one first.  If they’re hoping to write mysteries, read Write Now! Mysteries that was just published and features exercises by 86 published authors.  After that the three most useful books are Writing and Selling Your Mystery by Hallie Ephron, Don’t Murder Your Mystery by Chris Reardon, and Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing by David Morrell (Rambo).

What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned in your writing career? What has been the hardest part about being a writer?

The most surprising thing I learned is that in general agents don’t want to talk to you unless you have a publisher and publishers don’t want to talk to you unless you have an agent.  However, the changing nature of the publishing business is that virtually anyone can get published now if you’re not in it for fame or fortune, but just for the satisfaction of getting the stories inside you out there.  The hardest part was spending eight years accumulating hundreds of rejection slips from agents and publishers who couldn’t get their heads around the concept that the Old West is just as valid a setting for historical mysteries as ancient Rome, ancient Egypt, the Middle Ages, Victorian Europe, or even 1920s Melbourne, Australia.

There.  Inside all that excess verbiage are some nuggets aspiring authors might use.  Have faith in yourself.  Keep writing.  And as Tim Allen said in Galaxy Quest:  “Never give up.  Never surrender.”