Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Happy Habit

Bad habits always seem much easier to establish than good ones, and much harder to break. Why is that?

Reading is a good habit. I have a habit of reading for a few minutes before bed and a habit of carrying around a book with me everywhere I go. I have a habit of reading two books at once. I have a habit of telling people about the books I read. Like the habit of having coffee every morning, I get cranky if I don’t get my reading fix. It’s not only important to my career as a writer, but to my development as a human being. And it makes me happy.

There’s now a new web site for people like me … and you if you suffer the same affliction. It’s called The Habitual Reader. The Habitual Reader is a web site geared for both readers and authors. There you can see what other folks are reading, have read, would never read again, would read over and over. Readers post reviews of their reads (a review of my novel Too Big To Miss recently appeared there).

For authors, the site offers an opportunity to post information, including the cover of your book and description, and it’s available to all genres of fiction.

Check out The Habitual Reader and make it a happy habit.

Monday, January 29, 2007


The launch party for The Curse of the Holy Pail took place on Saturday and, I’m happy to say, it was huge success! Besides a lot of books being sold by The Mystery Book Store (mine and many others), it was simply a fun cocktail party. People from all segments of my life showed up and co-workers, writers, and long-time personal friends mingled easily and the banter was lively. And of course, Diana James and Whitney Lee, my very supportive manager and agent were there, as well as mystery authors like Bill Fitzhugh and his wife Kendall, Jeff Sherratt, Christa Faust, and Kathryn Cheng (Kathryn wrote several Nancy Drew books and recently landed a 3-book deal with Penguin!)

The special guest of the evening was Ish, the grandmother of my co-worker, Stacy Mutrynowski. Ish is a loyal Odelia Grey fan and lives in Oakland. She was also determined to be at my book launch. In her 80’s and toting her walker, Ish flew down to Los Angeles and hoisted her champagne along with the rest of us. Every writer should have fans like Ish!

My baby has been birthed, christened, and debuted. Now it’s time for it to be pushed from the nest to stand on its own two feet in the book world.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Bits and Pieces

Yesterday I received an e-mail from Barbara Moore, my editor at Midnight Ink, telling me how much their editorial committee loved Mother Mayhem. Of course, she also provided me with a list of items they would like me to consider changing, revising, and/or rethinking, but overall I agreed with most of their suggestions. There is nothing like a good editorial committee to elevate your writing to a higher level. These are the folks who push me to raise the bar. More good news is that they don’t need the revisions until June 1st. Whew! Piece ‘o cake. (Note to self: must add June 1st to my list of goals!)

Received my new AlphaSmart. They had to send me a new one because a couple of the keys on the one they originally sent were broken. I must say the customer service at AlphaSmart is very good. Started playing around with the Neo and so far love it. In fact, I started tapping in the first chapter of the 4th Odelia book, Epitaph Envy, to check it out. The keyboard is very comfortable and the display, which I have set for 4 lines of text, is easy for me to read. I still have to learn about all the features. The real test for it will be my upcoming trip to Atlanta and Birmingham.

Updated my website, including my calendar page. Lot of events coming up in the first half of 2007. Have also been putting in a lot of long hours at the good 'ole day job this month.

I’m almost through my month of vacation from writing. Not that I haven’t written anything since the beginning of January. I’ve blogged, tested the AlphaSmart, written articles for discussion groups, jotted down notes for new books, etc. It has felt good to give my creative side a bit of a breather, but I’m starting to bite at the bit to immerse myself back into a novel. I miss it. There are still a few things I need to catch up on in my life in the next few days before I hit the keyboard running again, but on February 1st it’s back to my usual writing schedule.

Besides, once a gal has organized her sock and underwear drawers and watched Deal or No Deal three or four times, what's left to do?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Good Bye to One Great Broad

This morning via my cell phone I received the sad but not shocking news that Barbara Seranella had died. It was not unexpected. Barbara had suffered a long time from liver disease and had already received two transplants. But even knowing that one day soon the call would come, it did not diminish one whit the grief of losing a colleague, a friend, and a favorite author.

Barbara was the mega-watt talent behind the Munch Mancini mystery series and many short stories and she had won awards and received praise for both. Last year she received the 2006 Anthony for best short story (“Misdirection”), and most recently was honored by the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America by being named the first recipient of the Dennis Lynds Award for Social Consciousness in Crime Fiction.

But the thing I will remember most (and miss most) about Barbara is not her writing, but who she was as a person. Simply put, Barbara Seranella was an original. Funny, forthright, giving, gusty, warm, earthy … yes, even ballsy … were all words used to describe Barbara at one time or another, and all fit her perfectly.

Here’s to you, Barbara. You always were and always will be one great broad!

A Night At The Theatre

Last night I went to see a play entitled Love & Sex Over Dinner and Drinks with pals Diana and Darrell James. We started off the evening having our own dinner at the historical El Cholo on Western Avenue, then proceeded to the Hayworth Theatre. Love & Sex Over Dinner and Drinks was written and produced by Joe Bays. Joe and his wife, Sharon Goldstein, are friends of mine. In fact, look for Joe’s name in the newly released The Curse of the Holy Pail. Including his name in the book was his 50th birthday present.

The play was fun and very interesting in the way it was presented. On one third of the stage a couple is meeting for dinner and drinks on a blind date. To get around the awkwardness of the moment they start telling stories about past experiences. These stories are acted out on the remaining two-thirds of the stage in little vignettes by other actors. The stories range from very funny and silly to poignant and sad, but each is interesting and very well written and discloses important slices of the teller’s life.

There is only one more performance of Love & Sex Over Dinner and Drinks. It’s this Sunday, January 28th, at 7:00 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online for only $15 (what a bargain for an evening’s worth of good entertainment!). The Theatre is tiny and there is no reserved seating, so purchase tickets in advance. Inexpensive parking is just steps away.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

All Aboard The Midnight Ink Express

One of the best perks of being a published author is meeting and hobnobbing with other writers. For 2007 I have decided to interview writing colleagues and bring a little bit of them to the readers of this blog. Some of the featured writers will be from my publisher, Midnight Ink.

I am very pleased to introduce Keith Raffel, author of Dot Dead, as my first author interview and the first passenger aboard the Midnight Ink Express.

Keith, You have described yourself as having career ADD because you’ve had so many careers. So why did you decide to try your hand at being a novelist?

Hmm. I somehow found myself in a University of California Extension class on mystery writing. A classroom exercise brought unexpected praise and that planted the idea of publishing a book. I was a little bored with my day job and was looking for a new challenge. The game was afoot!

Tell us what is your absolute favorite thing about writing? Least favorite thing? Most difficult thing? Easiest thing?

Friends are always trying to equate the hero of Dot Dead with me. “You’re Ian,” they say. I think this is exactly backwards. Dot Dead was written in the first person and that gave me a chance to become Ian, to live a life that wasn’t my own. Losing myself in the writing, looking at the clock at eight in the morning and not raising my head till noon – that’s my favorite thing. It’s sublime. And it happened about three times in writing Dot Dead, but made the whole endeavor worthwhile.

Least favorite? Becoming a caffeine addict again. I gave up caffeine years ago, but now I’m doing my writing in a café. I can’t just sit there without buying something, can I? And quaffing a few beers might not be too good for the quality of my prose. So I’m drinking pot after pot of green tea. If I try to go a day without tea now, I get the sensation of two weightlifters pulling a belt tight around my head. So I’m a caffeine addict again. But it’s worth it.

Most difficult? Plot! For dialogue I can carry on conversations in my head and just transcribe. Characters it must be the quest for the divine that makes me enjoy creating humans with distinctive personalities out of thin air. But figuring out how to keep the reader turning the pages, how to drive the story forward – that’s hard work.

Easiest? Years ago there was a billboard on 101, the main Silicon Valley freeway, that read, “Someone will win the lottery, it just won’t be you.” When aspiring entrepreneurs ask me for a piece of advice, I tell them, “everything is hard.” Finding an agent was not easy nor was finding a publisher. Getting the book done with a plot that worked – oh, my goodness. The only thing that was easy was going to the launch party. No, wait. That weekend we were moving back into our house after it was renovated, we had no hot water, and we weren’t unpacked. That was hard, too.

I enjoyed your novel Dot Dead a great deal. Since it is called a Silicon Valley Mystery, can we expect a whole series based in that part of California?

Right now I’m working on a book tentatively called Coup that features Sam Rockman, a Stanford professor, who is called back to Washington to work on anti-terrorism. I spent four years as counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee and couldn’t resist drawing on some of what I saw and experienced in D.C. But I certainly plan on getting back to Ian and Rowena and doing a sequel to Dot Dead. [Yea!] There’s so much for a crime novel to draw on in Silicon Valley. Mix together the ambition, greed, and money that are found in such large quantities here, and you have the perfect recipe for a crime novel. Just read the papers. A feud among board members of a Palo Alto computer giant begets corporate espionage. Soaring stock prices engender financial shenanigans like the backdating of stock options. The high value attached to small devices leads to warehouse robberies by armed gangs. What material!

Is there a specific reason why you named the two sisters in Dot Dead Gwendolyn and Rowena? These do not sound like traditional Jewish names, yet the young women are from a Jewish home.

I have four children and naming them was no picnic. So my wife and I accumulated the largest collection of baby-naming books west of the Library of Congress. I found Gwendolyn’s name first and just liked the way Gwendolyn Goldberg sounded. It’s an ethnic mix-and-match, like Bernardo O’Higgins, the Chilean hero. Anyway, once the elder sister had a Welsh name, I looked for another and found Rowena, the name of Ivanhoe’s lady fair. Ian, the name of the protagonist, is certainly not a Jewish name – it’s Scottish. I guess I was going Celtic.

I know from reading your blog that you are currently working on book #2 and that you have given yourself a deadline of February 14th to complete the first draft. Are you on schedule to meet your deadline?

There are two kinds of writers: those who write from an outline and those who go where the story takes them. I fall into the second camp. Now that I’ve found the perfect café to write in -- featuring delicious tea, efficient help, and clean bathrooms -- I am on pace to have 80,000 words written by Valentine’s Day. The question is whether the story will be done by the eighty-thousandth word.

According to your website, your second book is called Coup and centers around our country’s terrorist threat. Can you give us a thumb nail synopsis?

Nope. Lots of surprises in the book (I hope) and I sure don’t want to give anything away. Also I’ll be facing a lot of rewriting after February 14 which is bound to change the plot. Suffice it to say, it’s a mystery/thriller set amidst the corridors of power in D.C.

Has Coup been picked up by Midnight Ink or another publisher yet? Is there a scheduled release date?

Midnight Ink did ask to see what I’ve written, but I think I’m going to wait till it’s ready for a second set of human eyes. So no publisher, no release date so far.

I thoroughly enjoy your blog, especially when you talk about your family. Are there any budding authors among #1, #2, #3 or #4?

Thanks. My wife is a closet Luddite. She does not read my blog. I’m amused when friends of hers who do read the blog get to tell her what I’m up to on the writing front. #4, my eight-year old son, has asked to come to the café with me so he can write his book. I think he’s figuring a couple of hours, and he’s done. It just may be a little harder than he imagines. #1 is editor of her high school paper so maybe she does have the writing gene. Poor thing. Condemned by genetics, I guess.

Stephen King says in his book On Writing: “If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write.” I know you are a book LOVER in the extreme, but of all the books you have ever read, which is the one you wish YOU had written and why?

Besides Too Big to Miss? [Nice kiss-up.] God help me, I do love books. Does anyone know of some kind of 10 step program for bibliophiles? Hmm. What do I wish I’d written? I know I wish I could write as prolifically at a high level as Stuart Kaminsky. Just looking at the page inside one of his books that says “Also by Stuart Kaminsky,” throws me into paroxysms of envy. But one book? The Maltese Falcon might be my all-time favorite mystery, but that’s because it was the first of a kind. There are so many riffs on Sam Spade that if written today, it would not be so special. I’d like to have written some book that changes lots of lives for the better, but I can’t think of one to choose. Now Dr. Johnson said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” I don’t want to be a blockhead. Okay then, I’ll pick The Da Vinci Code just because it made so much moolah.

Thank you so much, Keith, for being my first guest author. I wish you continued success with Dot Dead and future success with Coup.

Learn more about Keith by visiting his Website and blog.

The next author interview on Babble ‘n Blog will be the fascinating Christa Faust. Stay tuned!

Friday, January 19, 2007

It's An Honor Just To Be Nominated

The Edgar nominations were posted today. No, I wasn't nominated, but two fellow members of Sisters In Crime/Los Angeles were, and that's reason to celebrate, especially when one of them is my friend Naomi Hirahara.

The two SinC/LA nominees were both in the category of best original paperpack. Naomi Hirahara was nominated for Snakeskin Shamisen and Paul Levine was nominated for The Deep Blue Alibi.

The Edgar is the Oscar of the mystery writing field. It's an annual award given each spring by Mystery Writers of America in honor of Edgar Allan Poe. Complete list of nominees.

A hearty congratulations to all the nominees!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Setting Goals

Every year I like to set goals for myself, especially in my writing. Not huge, pie-in-the-sky types of things, but manageable goals with concrete and attainable ends. These aren’t resolutions, which for most of us are made on January 1st and broken by January 6th, but actual goals with deadlines, which can be measured and met within the year. Last year I was negligent in focusing on my goals and consequently it led to chaos the last part of the year. Fortunately, everything turned out fine, but this year, I want a better handle on things.

This year my personal goals are:

*Complete God’s Apology, the non-mystery novel I’ve been working on for a few years and which is near completion. Deadline: March 31st.

*Complete first three chapters of 4th Odelia Grey mystery, Epitaph Envy. Deadline February 28th.

*Complete Epitaph Envy. Deadline September 1st.

*Research on 5th Odelia Grey mystery. Start date: September 7th; end date: September 30th.

*Healthier lifestyle (eating better and getting more exercise). I do have a weight loss goal for the year but will not share that here because my focus is not on weight loss but better health as middle-age assaults me. My family and I are doing this together, so there is accountability.

*Write at least one short story and submit it for publication. I have written short stories and have one that is published, but this is a craft that I generally neglect. Deadline November 1st.

*Post one author interview a month on my blog. Every now and then the author featured will be one published by Midnight Ink, my publisher. I will call this feature The Midnight Ink Express. The first Midnight Ink Express passenger will be Keith Raffel. February’s guest will be Christa Faust, a non-Midnight Ink author. Deadline: Post Keith's interview by January 21st.

In between all this there are deadlines and goals for my writing that are discussed and set between me and my manager regarding publicity and marketing of my work, as well as those set by my employment as a paralegal.

This is going to be a busy year. I’d better get hopping!

What are your goals for 2007?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

It's a Launch!

The Curse of the Holy Pail, the 2nd book in the Odelia Grey series, has officially been released. In the past few days it has gone live on Amazon and has already been sighted in a few brick and mortar stores. My brother Thom was the first to report a sighting at his local bookstore in Vermont.

Writing a novel is like birthing a baby, reviews are like a christening, and the release is its official coming out. I guess that makes the book’s launch party its debutante ball.

If you are in the Los Angeles area on January 27th, please join me for the official launch party for The Curse of the Holy Pail. It will be held 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. at the Mystery Book Store, 1036-C Broxton Ave., Los Angeles, CA (Westwood area). The event is very casual but should be fun, fun, fun.

You can get further information or RSVP by e-mailing djlitmgmt@sbcglobal.net.

Monday, January 15, 2007

I Have a Dream, Too.

Today is the first day in many years that I have had Martin Luther King Day off with pay from a day job. Recent past employers have always tagged the day as an optional personal day rather than an office holiday. Although it’s great to have a day off, I want to take a moment to reflect on what this day really means – for ALL of us.

I was living in Arizona in 1986 when the day was made an official holiday. About a year later the newly elected Arizona governor, Evan Mecham, canceled that state’s observance of the day, causing great uproar. Mr. Mecham served as Arizona’s governor just over one year and was removed from office following an impeachment trial involving obstruction of justice and misuse of government funds. One of the most bizarre things I remember was his public attempt to justify the use of the word “pickaninny. "

Dr. King is not the face of freedom for just African-Americans, he is the face of freedom for all of us. Because of his work, courage and refusal to accept things as they were, we all enjoy a richer life – a life of dreams and possibilities. We still have a long way to go in our quest for tolerance and acceptance, but it is up to you and me now to carry on The Dream.

* * * * * * * * *
Is it just me, or do George W. Bush and Evan Mecham have a lot of physicial similarities?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Words Worth Repeating

I am an actor on paper, a prism through which the light may be bent.
- Kate Thornton

Kate Thornton is my friend and a fellow writer. She writes a great blog entitled It Doesn't Take a Genius. The past couple of her blog entries have been about writing with an emphasis on characters. Both are well worth a read, especially the blog entry entitled Are You A Monster? about whether or not writing about monsters, such as serial killers and sociopaths, is harmful to the writer.

Break Out the Cigars!

It's official! A bouncing baby book has been born!

The Curse of the Holy Pail, the 2nd book in the Odelia Grey series has arrived. Yesterday I received a box containing my author copies from my publisher and today I noticed that Holy Pail has gone live on Amazon.

Writing is a funny business for many reasons, but one of the oddest things about it is the time line for the business itself. If you write a series, as I do, it seems you are always juggling books like plates on sticks, or maybe it's more like flaming swords.

While I am still promoting the first book, Too Big To Miss, I must now focus on promoting Holy Pail, all while communicating with my publisher about the edits to the newly finished Mother Mayhem, and while embarking on the writing of book 4, which commences in a couple of weeks. (By the way, I recently changed the working title of book 4 to Epitaph Envy.) Fortunately, the promotion of Too Big To Miss will now be folded into the promotion of Holy Pail. And just to keep things interesting, in September I'll be doing research for book 5.
The good news is my editor loved Mother Mayhem, but that doesn't mean she and others at Midnight Ink won't have lots of tweaks and suggestions in the next year.

It's enough to make a gal go cross-eyed ... with joy!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A Couch With A View

2007 is off with a bang, or at least with the flu.

Talk about timing – I finished Mother Mayhem on January 1st, worked tons of hours at ye ole day job the next nine days and spent the last 3-1/2 days down with the flu. I’m thankful for the long weekend. With any luck, this bug will be gone by Tuesday when I go back to work.

In the past 4 days I have watched enough movies to keep Ebert and Roper busy. I think of watching movies as one, if not the only, upside of being sick. Among them:

The Upside of Anger – Joan Allen is brilliant to watch as a woman who takes anger to new heights after the disappearance of her husband.

Nanny McPhee – I loved this family fantasy film with Emma Thompson playing the scary but wise Nanny McPhee. It’s absolutely delightful, but be warned – Nanny McPhee is no spoonful of sugar.

The Lake House – Sandra Bullock is one of my favorites and I’m a sucker for time travel or parallel universe themes. This movie is definitely a chick flick and can be rather confusing going back and forth between characters that are living two years apart in the same general location.

The 40 Year Old Virgin – I never had any desire to see this, but turned it on anyway. I loved it! It’s goofy and fun and very touching. Steve Carell is great in this. And don’t miss him in Little Miss Sunshine, one of my favorite movies of 2006.

Pride and Prejudice – Keira Knightley is absolutely charming as Elizabeth Bennet in this adaptation of Jane Austin’s novel.

Cars – Great animated fun. Worth seeing.

Alfie – I enjoyed Jude Law’s Alfie as much as I did Michael Caine’s years ago.

Pollyanna – The original with Haley Mills, of course. I remember seeing this when I was a young girl and it hasn’t lost its magic.

Samantha: An American Girl Holiday – What can I say, it came on right after Pollyanna and I enjoyed every cutesy precious minute of it. (Hey, I had a fever, cut me some slack.)

As you can see, when I’m sick I don’t go in for hard hitting drama or blood and gore action films. On tonight’s agenda, and starting in 30 minutes on HBO, is The Wedding Crashers.

Gotta grab some Tylenol, some hot tea, and an afghan. See you on the couch.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

What I've Been Reading

With my own latest manuscript safely in the hands of my publisher, I sat down last night and finished Hoodtown, a novel by Christa Faust, who Quentin Tarantino calls "a Veronica in a world of Betties." That statement alone should catch a reader's attention. I know Christa, having met her and talked to her both in person and online several times, and she is as fascinating a person as her books are gripping (and her tatoos are stunning). Check out her blog sometime, it's as fun and entertaining as her books.

So here is my personal opinion of Hoodtown:

I loved this book – every dark, well-turned, beautifully plotted word. Although its byline is “a Lucha-Noir Novel” you don’t have to be a fan of Latin American pro wrestling to enjoy this pulp wonder. Hoodtown is a ghetto where “Hoods” (a society where everyone from birth to death wear the lucha libre hoods as their identity) try to live their everyday lives among gangsters, drugs, and crime, just minutes from Angel City where “Skins” live a life of order and plenty. The heart of this book is “X” a retired, 40ish, luchadora (lady wrestler) who is thrown into the investigation of the murders of Hoodtown prostitutes. The women are not only brutalized but their mascaras (masks) are stolen, a crime as heinous as the murders themselves. Although this novel is allegorical, the character of X is beautifully realistic from her frustration that her life isn’t how she planned it, to her inability to commit to the passionate trumpet player who adores her. This book is dark, sensuous, and wicked at every turn, and I take my hood off to Christa Faust who is in a league all her own.

Christa's next book is Money Shot, which is scheduled for release by Hard Case Crime in February 2008, the same time as my 3rd book, Mother Mayhem. She and I will definitely have to have a dual celebration.

Monday, January 01, 2007

This Fat Lady Has Sung

About 15 minutes ago I hit the send button, delivering Mother Mayhem, the 3rd book in the Odelia Grey mystery series, to my editor at Midnight Ink. I can’t tell you how good it feels to not only be done with this book, but to feel that it’s well done.

Now to pick up the pieces of my daily life, clean the house, play more with the cats, catch up on laundry and correspondence, and every thing else that has been put on hold for the past few months.

I’m taking this week off from writing to play catch up. I will simply be Sue Ann Jaffarian, paralegal; a woman with just a day job and evenings free to read and watch TV. I like to think of it as cleansing my palate. I might even take two weeks to do this.

Next on my writing agenda: to rework God’s Apology, my non-mystery novel, and to start on Fifty Can Be Fatal, the 4th book in the Odelia Grey series.