Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Pink What?

Two new restaurants opened up recently in Century City. One I am boycotting and the other I can’t wait to go to as soon as I get my next royalty check.

I was coming out of The Container Store awhile back and saw the sign: “Coming soon, The Pink Taco.” Immediately, I knew I would never step foot inside the establishment. Now, I’m no prude and people who know me will back that up, but I draw the line at things that are humiliating or hurtful to women, and I place a restaurant that is named after a slang word for the vagina in that category. (BTW, I don’t patronize Hooters, either.)

Twice now, colleagues from my office have invited me to go with them to The Pink Taco for lunch and twice I have turned them down accompanied, of course, with a verbal account of my boycott manifesto. In a nutshell, I have told them that when a restaurant opens up locally named Big Dick Beer ‘n Brauts or The Chocolate Cock, I will break down and go to The Pink Taco.

I read where Harry Morton, head of The Pink Taco, claims the name comes from a menu item. Yeah, right, Harry. You may have a menu item called pink taco, but I doubt you pulled the name for that out of your butt like magic. Bottom line, the corporate bigwigs thought the vulgar name would make it trendy, and they were right. It is a trendy place and I’m sure a lot of folks go there for the sheer titillation of saying the name, something they would never do in polite company otherwise. It’s a cheap thrill.

By the way, per my colleagues at the law firm: some say the food is good; some say it’s just so so; no one has said it’s great.

The other restaurant which opened just this past week at the new entertainment office complex on the corner of Constellation and Avenue of the Stars is a whole different ball game. It’s Top Chef’s Tom Collichio’s Craft. It’s on my must dine-at list. Classy Tom Collichio and his top-of-the-line restaurants don’t need cheap tricks to bring in diners. They do it the old-fashioned way with quality and elegance. I’m gonna pack my knives and make a reservation.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Interview with Barbara Moore, Editor

Barbara Moore is an acquiring editor at Llewellyn Worldwide/Midnight Ink. She's also my editor and a woman of many insights and interests. Enjoy my chat with Barbara.

1. How did you start out in the publishing business? How long have you been an editor?

While in college I worked for the campus literary magazine. Later, I worked for the university press’s state historical journal. So most of my experience was academic publishing. When I came to Minnesota, there were no academic publishing jobs available, so I came to Llewellyn to see what trade publishing was like. I’ve been editing or working in publishing for almost 15 years.

2. As an acquiring editor at Midnight Ink, what exactly are your duties?

Acquiring includes such a variety of tasks. First and foremost is to acquire manuscripts. I read proposals and manuscripts with an eye toward publishable and profitable work. If something strikes me as a good choice, I present it to our editorial board. As a committee, we make publishing decisions. If a manuscript needs developmental editing, I work with the author on that. In addition to that primary duty, I negotiate contracts and give input regarding cover design, back cover copy, and catalog copy. I am part of the committee that reviews book performance, so analyzing data and drawing conclusions is an important function.

3. Once you acquire a book, how involved or hands-on are you with the individual projects/authors?

That a good question. Technically, it is the same involvement for all books, but there is a lot more involvement with some authors. That is clear as mud, isn’t it? For all books, I am the author’s primary contact from contracting, through any developmental editing, and cover design. After that, authors work with their production editor. Production editors do the hard work of polishing and strengthening an authors voice and story. They not only make sure every word is perfect but also make sure everything is consistent and timelines make sense. Once the book is produced, authors work mostly with their publicist. Most of my authors write series, so I am constantly working with them on their next book.

4. I know you have written a couple of books on Tarot cards, including the recently released Mystic Faeries Tarot. How did you get involved in Tarot? What made you want to write books about it?

In college, my roommate had a deck that she brought out at a party. I started playing with it, doing readings even though I’d never done it before, and got intrigued. I was a history major, so the historical aspect appealed to me. Also, at that time interdisciplinary studies, chaos theory, and Jungian psychology were all the rage, and Tarot really pulled all those areas together in one really neat deck of cards.

I never intended to write about Tarot until working at Llewellyn. I was the acquiring editor for Tarot before working on Midnight Ink. A discussion about a marketing piece somehow evolved into the committee asking me to write What Tarot Can Do for You. Later, we needed a companion book for The Gilded Tarot, so I agreed to do that. Finally, with The Mystic Faerie Tarot, I found this great artist and suggested pairing her up with some of our excellent Tarot authors, but a few people on the committee thought I’d be better suited. I wasn’t so sure, but now I’m glad it happened because it was such a cool experience.

It’s not so much that I’m compelled to write about Tarot. I don’t think I’m really writer in the sense of being called to write. I think I’m a competent writer. The reason I care about writing Tarot books is because I want them to be simple, clear, easy, non-threatening, and useful for beginners. If I have a strength, I think that’s it.

5. The artwork on Mystic Faeries Tarot cards is very beautiful and I’ve noticed that artwork on many Tarot sets is quite detailed. Do you provide the words first and the artist follows with artwork or do you collaborate on each card, or work entirely separate and then come together? Do you as the text author ever ask for the artwork to be revised?

Partnerships between authors and artists take many forms. In this case, I thought I was going to be directing Linda (Linda Ravenscroft) . After I gave her some initial information, she actually went off on her own and learned about Tarot. She interpreted the cards in her fashion. In The Gilded Tarot, I did ask for a revision or two. In The Mystic Faerie Tarot, I asked for only one minor change.

Going back to the previous question, I don’t think I’m creative in that way, like a writer or an artist. But I can take a deck of cards, find its particular voice, and express it in a way that the most people possible can understand.

Some of my friends and colleagues are far more creative and write out very detailed descriptions and work very closely with the artist. For example, if I may plug one of my very favorite people in the world, Mark McElroy has done that with The Bright Idea Deck and the recently released
Tarot of the Elves.

6. Have you ever considered writing a mystery novel involving Tarot? It seems it might be a natural theme for a mystery series.

Nope. Not me. My big adventure in fiction was the faerie tales for the Minor Arcana in The Mystic Faerie Tarot. Someone should, though.

7. As an acquiring editor, what do you look for in submissions? What pushes your buttons to champion a particular work?

There are lots of great writers out there. There are tons of fabulous submissions. There are so many books that should be published. So how do I pick? Well, first, let’s just assume the basics…weed out all the crazy, sloppy, inappropriate, and just plain bad stuff. I think most writers today know all the basics about query letters and proposals. So let’s pretend we’re faced with a big pile of great stuff that follows all the normal industry protocols. How do I decide what to read? I can read one page and know if I definitely don’t want to read more. Generally, this doesn’t mean something is “wrong” with it. It just means the writing and I aren’t clicking.

It is sort of like dating. You know pretty quickly whether you want to get to know someone or not. If I were single I would totally do the speed dating thing. Going through my slush pile is like speed dating.

After establishing the initial click but before investing too much time, I try to get a big picture of the whole package. Are there any interesting hooks? How does the book stand out from the competition? What does the author bring to the party in terms of platform, networking, promotional opportunities?

So, if there is some great chemistry and a good foundation for success, I keep reading. That’s a good sign. Usually (but not always), if I get through the first 100 pages, I know I’ll at least be presenting it.

8. Are there times when the writing is not up to par but the plot and characters so compelling that you are willing to work with an author to bring the book to publication?

Nope. There is so much great writing available, that trying to coach an author in style wouldn’t be worth it for us. Now, if an author has great style and a pretty solid manuscript, I will work on character development or plot issues. In my experience, those have been a lot easier to polish than general writing style.

9. What are the biggest mistakes an author makes when submitting a manuscript?

Not submitting appropriate materials. I get a fair number of romance novels and literary novels.

Not having a sparkling query letter. A really dull query letter is a very bad thing.

When asked “what is this manuscript like” there are two very wrong answers:
1. There are no other books like this on the market. To an editor that means “there are no other books like this on the market for a reason.”
2. It’s the next _______________ (Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code, The Secret, etc.)

10. Once published, how much publicity/marketing does Midnight Ink expect its authors to do on their own?

A lot. We see a strong connection between author promotion and success. This isn’t a written in stone equation for success. If it were, everyone would do it. There are some books that have lots of promotion but don’t do well. But the percentage of success is higher with authors who promote.

11. What, if any, are the current trends in mysteries? How much do you and Midnight follow trends when deciding upon novels? How much do you look for originality or a new voice?

Ah, trends. That is so hard to determine. I’m trying to guess two years in advance what will be popular. But yes, we follow trends. We know what other publishers are doing. We analyze what is working for us. We see trends in the slush pile. When we see trends in what is working for us, we work from that success. When we see industry wide trends, we look more closely and determine if it something we need to react to.

I tend to be attracted to new voices more than anything. I love writing with personality and style. I love it when I can see or hear a sentence and say, “oh, that sounds like __________.”

12. It seems that Midnight Ink is growing very fast and receiving recognition for the quality of its books. Do you expect it to expand eventually to become a major voice in the publishing/mystery community?

Of course! But before we do that, I’d like to see us take a little break, stabilize, and get a really clear sense of who we are before taking on another big growth spurt. I’ve just spent the last three years launching this line; I need a break!

Thank you, Barbara!

You can learn more about Barbara and Mystic Faerie Tarot at these two websites:

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Celebrating the Birth of a New Series!

Wow, what a week, and it's only Thursday! A fabulous new cover and now this!

I received word around lunchtime today that my publisher, Midnight Ink, is buying my new Granny Apples mystery series. The first book in the series, which will be entitled The Ghost of Granny Apples, is currently scheduled to make its debut September 2009.

And what timing! Tonight I had dinner plans with several writer friends. It was nice to show up at El Coyote on Beverly Blvd., announce the great news, and lift a margarita (okay, more than one) to my new series. Joining me in the celebration was recent Macavity nominee Brett Ellen Block, recent Shamus nominee Brian Wiprud, Jennifer Colt, and media escort and publicist Ken Wilson.

We had a grand time celebrating all our good news.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bush Bashing -- Just Because It's Tuesday

Below comes from my friend Patti, who really knows how to win my heart:


1. Open a new file in your computer.
2. Name it "George W Bush"
3. Send it to the trash.
4. Empty the trash.
5. Your PC will ask you, "Do you really want to get rid of "George W. Bush?"
6. Firmly Click "Yes."
7. Feel better.

PS: Next week we'll do Dick Cheney

Monday, July 16, 2007

Thugs and Kisses

Here it is, the long-awaited book cover for Thugs and Kisses, the 3rd book in the Odelia Grey mystery series, which will be released February 2008. Isn't it a hoot?! All the covers for the Odelia Grey books have been created by the very talented Ellen Dahl at Midnight Ink.

You can read an excerpt from Thugs and Kisses on my website:

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Hodge Podge

I just received a draft cover for Thugs and Kisses, the third book in my Odelia Grey mystery series. It rocks! As soon as my publisher finalizes it, I’ll post it on my blog and website.

Just so you know I haven't been twiddling my thumbs -- in addition to writing the Odelia Grey mystery series, I’ve been working on a few other projects.

I contributed a chapter entitled No One Wants to Read This Crap to the soon-to-be-released How I Got Published: Famous Authors Tell You In Their Own Words. This book is available now for pre-order on Amazon.

Also, I just completed a short story that is scheduled to be included in a still untitled holiday anthology this year. The short story is called Ho Ho Homicide and features Odelia Grey. The cool thing is all profits from this anthology will be donated to Toys for Tots. Stay tuned for more information on this.

And finally, I have submitted a proposal to my publisher for a new series. I should find out in the next week or so if they are interested in buying it. I'll keep you updated.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Concrete Under My Feet

I started walking in the morning again. I used to walk a lot but it fell off my agenda as my days became busier and busier. Odelia Grey, my protagonist in the Odelia Grey mystery series, walks everyday, so it’s rather like life imitating art. But while Odelia walks the lovely Back Bay area of Newport Beach with friends, I pound the concrete streets of the west side of Los Angeles, dodging errant dog poop and drivers running red lights, and keeping my eyes and nose away from the donut shop on the corner.

But like Odelia, I do not walk alone. Unlike many walkers, I leave music behind. Instead, I walk to the beat of the scenes and dialogue of the books I am currently writing. Each step is filled with characters and plot points and proposed conflict. It replays in my head in various scenarios until I realize I am just a few steps from my apartment.

Exercise is a great tool for writers. Not only does it get your body moving between long sedentary hours in front of the computer, but it’s a great way to loosen the rocks in the head and free the ideas. There is nothing like a physical rush to pump up creativity. In fact, I’ve found I have to leave for my walks earlier now because as soon as I get home I want to jump on the computer, even before my shower.

So, if you’re in my neighborhood between 6 and 7 in the morning and see me pounding the pavement, wave hello to me … and to Odelia and Granny Apples and Barbara Frost (a new character on the Jaffarian writing agenda). Oh, and don’t forget to say hello to my muse, Selma Diamond. You can’t miss her. She’s the one holding my hand and whispering sweet ideas in my ear.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Who Gives a Rodent's Hiney?

Two of my favorite words are "rat's" and "ass," preferably used together. So just for the hell of it, I imaged Googled "rat's ass." (At this point I could lie and say it was for research, but the truth of it is, I was just wasting time. And, frankly, who gives a rat's ass? Outside of my publisher, agent, and manager, that is.) Anyway, much to my surprise, several images popped up, including the one to the left.

This, friends, is a Rat's Ass as interpreted by teddy bear designer Martha DeRaimo-Burch. What's more, Martha makes and sells these cute little patooties in three different forms: pins, paperweights and magnets. I'm gonna buy a few as soon as I figure out how many people are on my shopping list.

Martha, you are a true kindred spirit!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Travels to Julian

Looking for a weekend get-a-way? I can't recommend visiting the little town of Julian, Ca enough. Julian, an historical town in the mountains north of San Diego, plays a large part in my proposed new series and especially in the first book in the series, The Ghost of Granny Apples. So last weekend, off to Julian I went to do some research.

One thing I've noticed as an author is that most people LOVE to help you with research. I've tapped former and present police officers, doctors, experts and even mall managers in my quest to make my stories believable in their details. And most folks are very accommodating with both their knowledge and their time. The people of Julian were no exception. Right after breakfast on Saturday morning I walked from our B&B down the length of main street, taking photos and weaving in and out of shops to get a feel for the place. I talked to shop keepers, asking them about living in Julian, and spent some fun time in the Old Julian Drug Store talking to the owner, Jim, who had sent me books on Julian a month or so earlier. In due time I made my way to the Julian Pioneer Museum where I spent a great deal of time reading old letters and talking to Susan Fowler (who operates the Julian Fun website) and museum curator, Edwina Silbernagel. Edwina couldn't have been more friendly and forthcoming with juicy details about Julian's history, especially about the people who built the town over a hundred years ago, and the town's present-day challenges. Soon my companion came by to take me to lunch and after lunch accompanied me back to the museum where we viewed the museum's artifacts and I continued to ask Edwina several more questions. From there, it was on to the quilt show. After, we piled into the car and hit the road to see the back country, including wineries, apple orchards and even Lake Cuyamaca. When our travels were done, we adjourned to our private hot tub before getting ready for a lovely dinner at the Julian Grille (highly recommended). The night before we dined at Romano's Dodge House, where the people, especially our waitress Barbara, were above and beyond in friendliness and service and the atmosphere charming.

The next day, we hung out at our digs, the Eaglenest B&B, until it was time to head back to Los Angeles. The Eaglenest has this fantastic deck with spectacular views and each morning I would take my AlphaSmart and sit on the deck before breakfast and work on Epitaph Envy, the 4th Odelia Grey novel. It was a great place to write. Innkeeper, Jim, couldn't have been nicer and puts on a pretty impressive breakfast. At breakfast both days, we met lovely people, including Ruth and Juan, honeymooners from Spain.

All in all, it was a very successful trip. I returned full of information and very relaxed and rested and wondering when I could squeeze in another weekend in Julian ... for research purposes, of course. :)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy 4th of July!

Today I am blogging at Inkspot. Drop on by.

Have a safe and fun holiday!