Thursday, December 28, 2006

Three Cheers for the New Indie!

There has been a lot written lately about independent book stores closing. Gary Phillips commented about the closing of Dutton's in Beverly Hills in the Yahoo Group for the So Cal Chapter of MWA and Keith Raffel has been commenting on various closings, including Murder Ink in New York and Bob and Bob in Palo Alto, in his blog. And these two are not alone in their grief. Among writers the buzz about these closings is a lot like whisperings between family members about who has cancer or who had a stroke, who's expected to live, and who is not.

As professional writers, we certainly cannot overlook the value to our careers of the chains and online booksellers such as Amazon, Borders, and Barnes and Noble, but the independents are "family" in a way these large retailers can never be. As individuals and as professionals, writers should care a great deal about independent book sellers. These are the folks who hand-sell our books to their loyal customers and who welcome us with warmth and genuine interest when we visit. I receive a lot of mystery books for free, but when I purchase one, it is from The Mystery Book Store in Westwood or from Linda Bivens of Crime Time Books. (Linda is semi-retired and closed her store, but continues to sell books at special events and book festivals.)

But take heart, amongst all these closings there is a daffodil pushing up through the snow. Just two weeks ago Metropolis Books, a new independent, opened its doors in downtown Los Angeles. Owned and operated by the delightful Julie Anne Swayze (herself an author) and her husband Steve Bowie, Metropolis Books brings hope that the day of the independent bookseller has not passed.

So, the next time you are in downtown Los Angeles (or why not even go out of your way) visit Julie at Metropolis and give her a good pat of encouragement on the back … and while you're there, buy a book, or two, or three.

Metropolis Books
440 S. Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 612-0174

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Family - The Tie That Binds

The holidays are a time for getting together with family, but if you don’t have family living close to you, as I don’t, you rely on e-mails and the phone to keep in contact. Sunday I spent close to an hour talking to my brother, Thom, who lives in Vermont with his new wife Cheryl. Thom and I haven’t always been good about keeping in touch over the years and most of our communication has been via sporadic e-mails, so it was great to spend time chatting about our lives and catching up.

Thom is also a talented woodcarver and sent me a wonderful woodcarving for Christmas. I have another of his carvings that he did for me years ago of St. Francis of Assisi. I’m trying to find the best place possible for it and may take it to work since I seem to spend more time there these days. I’m thinking it would be lovely to study the smooth texture and fine lines of the carving while surrounded by mounds of files and papers.

Like a good brother, Thom reports to me that every time he goes into his local bookstore he makes sure they have my books. He has always been a big supporter of my writing and has personally turned several people on to the Odelia Grey series. He tells me he also reads my blog. Gotta love a bro like that!

So whether you have family close or far away, the holidays are about family and knowing that even when you don’t hear from them or see them for a long time, you are still connected and remembered and loved.

Thom, let’s not wait so long next time.

Love, Sis

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

It's Finished!

Sound the trumpets … Mother Mayhem is done! Well, almost. I will let it rest for a day or so before attacking it once more for final editing and proofreading. But January 2, 2007, it will be in the hands of Barbara Moore, my editor at Midnight Ink. Yea!

And it was completed just in the nick of time for more than the obvious reason of my publisher’s deadline. At my day job, we were recently hit with a major year-end acquisition which may require some overtime on my part, still hard to say. It’s difficult enough to write when working a full-time job, even more so when that job is requiring some extra effort. Funny how things work out.

Tonight there’s a dual celebration, a combo birthday/book done dinner with friends, though I’m much more excited about the book being done than turning another year older.

Great job, Selma!

13 days and breathing a little easier!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Not So Easy Spirit

This weekend I have three holiday events to attend and I’m all set to go, except that last night I noticed my fancy pumps had seen better days. What’s a gal to do?

Well, this gal knew exactly what to do. So off to the mall I went at 8:00 a.m. this morning. I knew what I wanted and where to get them as I had spotted the shoes last weekend at the East Spirit store at the Westside Pavilion Mall while doing my Christmas shopping. I also have no doubt I was the first customer of the day, so imagine my surprise when the clerk seemed to have better things to do than to wait on me. But undeterred, I managed to try the shoes on, as well as another style, and make my selection.

Here’s the good part …

While paying for my new pumps, I noticed some very cute flats that would be perfect for the office with trousers. I picked up one and showed it to the clerk and asked her if she had ever tried them on. She said… and I quote… “I only wear high-end shoes.”

Uh huh.

Now I’m no fool; I know that a pair of Easy Spirit pumps are not even in the same league as a pair of Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo pumps, but I always thought the purpose of a sales clerk was to sell the products of his/her employer, not to diss them.

Silly me, all those early years spent working a minimum wage second job in retail and I had it all wrong.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Oooooooooo Santa, Baby

I dislike working on laptops. The keyboard is too cramped for my traditionally trained typing skills and they are a pain to lug on trips with airport security the way it is today. So when my old laptop showed signs of keeling over, I decided to replace it with an AlphaSmart. The plan was to purchase the AlphaSmart Neo right after the first of the year and put it to good use while on the road promoting book #2, The Curse of the Holy Pail.

Ten days ago over dinner with my gentleman friend:

Him: For your birthday and Christmas present (they are 4 days apart) you have a choice between jewelry or an AlphaSmart. Which would you prefer?

Me: I'd like them both.

Him (laughing): You can't have both. Make a decision.

Me: The girl in me wants the jewelry; the writer in me wants the AlphaSmart.

Him: You have until the end of dinner tonight to decide. (He was leaving town for the holidays and wanted to get his shopping done.)

Me: Hmmmm (while twitching my nose).

After dinner …

Him: Have you made up your mind about your gift?

Me: Yes, I'd like the AlphaSmart.

Him: Any particular reason why you chose that?

Me: If I have an AlphaSmart I can write faster, probably sell more books, then buy my own jewelry.

Him (laughing very hard): You are never dull.

I just received word from AlphaSmart that my new Neo is shipping Monday.

Thank you Santa, Baby.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Christmas Came Early

Yesterday I received an e-mail from my wonderful agent saying that a well known production company was making inquiries about the film rights to The Curse of the Holy Pail, the second book in the Odelia Grey mystery series which is due out in just a few weeks. Needless to say I am ecstatic about the news. The first book in the series, Too Big To Miss, has already been optioned by another party. But in all the excitement there is always the sense of cautious celebration. Many books are optioned, but few actually make it to TV or the big screen. Still, someone is interested and that someone was not ferreted out by anyone in my camp, they came to us. Even after a good night’s sleep, my toes are still curling in joy at the thought.

November and December have been exciting months for me and my writing career. As I careen towards the finish of Mother Mayhem (18 days and counting), the release of The Curse of the Holy Pail is building buzz. Recently, I received great reviews by both The Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews, and my publisher placed a beautiful ad for my books in a recent issue of Publishers Weekly. In addition, both Deadly Pleasures Magazine and Mystery Scene Magazine should be running favorable reviews in their next issues (my publicist and I have already seen previews). On top of this exciting news, my calendar for 2007 is filling up with speaking invitations and book signings.

Writing is such a solitary endeavor and can be very frustrating, yet still writers write, throwing themselves under the bus of criticism with every word. But just when you think you can't write another word, that you'd be better off sitting on your duff watching TV, things like these happen and renew your sense of purpose and focus your attention back on your goals.

What more could a writing gal want … besides Peace on Earth.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Monday Morning Quarterback

It’s 6:00 a.m. on Monday morning and I’m taking time to reflect on the weekend: what did get done; what didn’t get done; what I wanted to get done. I have a small white board hung next to my desk at home. On it is a list of things that need to be done and each one completed is erased. As I wield the eraser, I look at it with a mix of disappointment and satisfaction.

Done: Holiday Open House at the Mystery Book Store in Westwood. This is one of my favorite book stores and the Open House was so much fun. In addition to visiting with Bobby and Linda and other staff members, I spent time with friends like Patricia Smiley and Eric Stone. During the time I was at the store they had a reading and signing by a new author named Michael Graham. His reading was so compelling I purchased his novel, The Snow Angel (like I need another book for my To Be Read pile!) and look forward to reading it.

Done: Christmas Shopping. In spite of my penchant for online shopping, there were still a few things I needed to get at real stores and much of Saturday was spent driving to specialty stores for these items. My Christmas shopping is done… finito … adios.

Done: Grocery Shopping. Go ahead and laugh but I have discovered the joy of ordering my groceries online, at least temporarily. Actually it was through necessity and not laziness. The elevator in my apartment building has been out-of-order for almost three months (grrrrrrrr) and I live on the third floor. Even with a bit of arthritis in one knee I haven’t minded the trek up and down the stairs, but hauling 30 lb boxes of kitty litter and 8 lb bags of kibble up them has become problematic. Yesterday I ordered 60 lbs of kitty litter and 24 lbs of cat kibble and someone else hauled it up the stairs. I consider it take out for kitties.

Not Done: Housework. The place is a mess, but who cares. Hazel has been banished by Selma the Muse until Mother Mayhem is done. However, I’ve discovered that Selma loves to Christmas Shop and attend open houses at book stores.

Not Done: Mother Mayhem – I want to erase this so bad, but can’t quite. The plan was to finish the manuscript this weekend, but it’s not quite done. I only have another chapter or two to go. The finish line is in the horizon; I can see it and hear the roar of the crowd. 21 Days and Counting!

Weekend Guilty Pleasures (items not on the white board): Watching the finale of The Amazing Race; leisurely Saturday lunch out alone reading a book (Hoodtown by Christa Faust); watching Cheaper By the Dozen 2; playing Scrabble online; and most important, 2 mornings of sleeping late.

It was a very good weekend!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Big Laugh for the Day

A friend at work sent this to several of us today. I laughed till I almost peed.

It's entitled: Who Brought the Cat?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

My Agent - A Necessary Delight

I adore my agent. Her name is Whitney Lee and she is competent, cute, spunky, and is always thinking of ways to further my writing career. Yesterday Whitney and I lunched for 2-1/2 hours at the new French 75 restaurant in Century City. The time flew by and we could have easily spent another 2 hours giggling, gossiping, and discussing plans for my domination of the literary world. However, she had another appointment following lunch and I had to return to my day job with the perfectly nice people in the perfectly nice law firm.

Which brings me to this bit of advice for everyone looking for an agent or anyone unhappy with their present agent: Not all agents are created equal.

Several years ago I was represented by another agent, a very competent woman with a well-known New York agency. But in spite of our being together for nearly three years, it was never a good fit and we parted ways when she called Too Big To Miss crap. Oh yes she did! In fact her exact words to me were: No one wants to read this crap.

Comments like this to an author are about as sensitive as telling a new mother that her baby is ugly. Calling a manuscript crap isn’t constructive criticism, it’s destructive bullshit. There are other ways for literary professionals to tell authors their work is not up to their standards – this ain’t one of them. (By the way, this same Too Big To Miss has received rave reviews and has a TV option. The Best Revenge isn’t living well, it’s getting published to great reviews. Remember that.)

When choosing an agent, make sure that agent fits your personality, your style of work, and your career goals. If you find an agent overbearing and obnoxious, perhaps potential publishers might also. Remember, a good agent will not pigeon-hole you, talk down to you, or berate you. When Whitney doesn’t like something I’ve written, she suggests positive changes. When I don’t hear from her for awhile, I don’t fret that I’ve fallen off her radar. When I explain a project I want to write that is outside of my usual niche, she cheers me on. She is an integral part of my writing career, not a necessary evil.

Whitney has represented me now for three years, the same length of time the other agent represented me. During that time she has sold three of my novels, a TV option, and e-book rights. In addition, she has critiqued a non-mystery novel that I am working on called God’s Apology and is excited about representing it in the next few months, along with another non-mystery novel and future Odelia Grey mysteries.

More importantly, I never feel like I should numb myself with a double scotch before dealing with her.

Three Cheers for all the wonderful Whitneys out there!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Finding Christmas

Like millions of people I do a lot, if not most, of my holiday shopping online; especially this month when I am spending most of my non-day job time speeding towards the finish of Mother Mayhem, the third book in the Odelia Grey series. I love the convenience of pointing and clicking and having the goodies shipped to me instead of fighting crowds at malls and circling parking lots looking for an open space like a birdwatcher stalking a near extinct species. Amazon, QVC, and gift certificates are my friends.

But last night my gentleman friend enticed me out to dinner with the promise of a much needed relaxing evening. By the way, romantic relationships are another casualty of deadlines, but thankfully my guy pal is very understanding and patient … but I digress. We decided to meet at Harpers, an Italian restaurant at the Century City Mall just a block from my day job. I love this restaurant and if you ever go, order the seafood salad, it’s to die for … but again I digress.

Anyway, I arrived about thirty minutes early so I could pick up something at The Container Store, then still with time on my hands, I sat down on a bench and simply watched the people. In all the rush of my life, I had forgotten how much I enjoy people watching. Most writers are natural people watchers. It’s in our blood and part of our daily need as much as the need to write. We sit in parks, restaurants, airports and on benches in malls observing people and listening for tidbits of choice conversation, all the while taking mental notes for later use in character development.

But last night I observed something else: Christmas is here! It’s here in all its brightly colored lights and poinsettias, shoppers scurrying, and timeless musical favorites played over and over. People bustled about the mall, dashing into stores and emerging with packages. They greeted friends in front of restaurants with hugs and smiles, and squeals of delight, and even in Harpers last night there were two holiday parties in progress. For all its convenience, online shopping can’t provide this kind of heart-warming ambience; not even if ginger-scented candles burn in the background while you type in the numbers of your credit card.

My friend thought he was simply treating me to a nice dinner and relaxing evening. Instead, he pulled my head out of my frantic pace and worry over meeting a deadline while juggling seasonal social demands and gave me Christmas Spirit. What a nice gift.

26 days and counting . Last night I didn’t write a single word and I’m happy with that.

Memo to self: must hang wreath and buy eggnog!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Season Kickoff

And they’re off … the holiday festivities that is. Today was the annual Holiday Party and Prepublished Authors Showcase of the Los Angeles Chapter of Sisters In Crime (of which I'm president). For me it kicks off the Christmas season.

It was a wonderful event organized by our VP, Diana James, and executed by the entire board with assistance from many members. I have been in Sisters In Crime for eight years now and this year’s Los Angeles Holiday Party was the best attended yet with about 70 people coming together to eat, drink, socialize, and listen to their fellow members read from unpublished manuscripts. In addition, for the second year, the chapter also collected toys for needy children.

It’s events like this that make me proud to be part of Sisters In Crime, an organization of men and women dedicated to the genre of mystery writing. Writing isn’t just about putting words to paper, deadlines, and sales figures; it’s also about sharing, mentoring, and building steps for others to follow.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Meows and Muses

Word of advice – never try to write in the presence of a sleeping cat. Your might as well be trying to write under the influence of a half bottle of Tylenol PM. Make that two cats and you have a recipe for creative disaster. So goes my writing life this weekend. Since nine this morning I have been struggling with one chapter in Mother Mayhem. I know what happens in the chapter and to whom and it’s a pivotal chapter leading up to the climax of the book, but I just can’t seem to get it from my brain to the computer. Instead, I want to nap the day away just like my two feline companions. And I think Selma, my muse, feels the same because she’s seems a bit logy today herself.

My cats are jealous of my writing, or the time I spend writing. They show it in subtle ways like B, my big fluffy diva, stretching out in the space between the keyboard and the monitor and draping her tail across the keyboard while I work; or Raffi scratching the hell out of the back of my desk chair while I sit in it. Generally, Raffi insists on sleeping in another desk chair pulled up next to mine, but he was banished from that this week when he bit my left elbow while I typed ... for the second time.

Right now they are both out cold. Raffi is on HIS cushion in front of the patio door and B is on HER cushion on the floor near my desk. And me? Me, I’m fighting the urge to follow their example by curling up on MY bed for an hour or two. Something tells me my muse would vote for that as well.

30 days and counting – YIKES!