Monday, October 31, 2011

Book Giveaway Winners--Happy Halloween!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!! HERE ARE THE RESULTS of our book give-away contest:

From Julia Buckley:
Thanks to all who requested a MADELINE MANN or TEDDY THURBER book! Dru, Katreader, Janel, and AvidReader, if you'll send your e-mail addresses to, I'll send links to the free books on to you!! Thanks for playing our giveaway game.

From Jeri Westerson:
Candace from Maine, get ready to claim your prize! You can e-mail Jeri with your address.

From Liz Zelvin
Look for a private email asking for your mailing address.

From Sheila Connolly:

And the winners are (drumroll, please) Kaye for BITTER HARVEST, and Deb Desk for LETS PLAY DEAD.

Since you both provided emails, I'll send an email to you offlist for your mailing address.

From Sandra Parshall:

The winner of UNDER THE DOG STAR is Kay.

The winner of THE HEAT OF THE MOON is Bobbie

Please send your full names and addresses to me at and I'll get your books in the mail.  

From Sharon Wildwind: 

The winner of  MISSING, PRESUMED DEAD is Prentiss Gardner.

Thanks to everyone who participated!

More winners to follow! Stay tuned today.


by Julia Buckley

My son got a guitar as an 8th grade graduation present. In the three years since, he has become a very good guitarist, and he has bestowed affectionate and creative names on all the guitars in his growing (and arguably obsessive) collection of instruments.

His first guitar, an acoustic, was initially dubbed "Acousty Joe," but is now fondly known as "Paco."

The second in his collection, a black electric Ibanez RG120, became "The Obsidian Avenger," and, more recently, "The Black Knight." My son also sometimes calls it Joviana, a name he made up just for his guitar.

My husband's cherry-red Epiphone Dot guitar is called "The Red Devil," "The Crimson Dynamo," "The War Horse," and, for reasons unclear, "Pleasure Randy." My husband enjoys saying, "I'm going to go saddle up the warhorse and ride into battle." This means, of course, that he wants to play the guitar for a while.

Then there is the Epiphone Custom Les Paul electric guitar, shared by my husband and son. This one has been dubbed "The Fire Lance," and "The Righteous Inferno."

And last, my husband's birthday gift of a jewel-blue Ibanez GSR200 bass guitar. This guitar is so new that they are still trying out nicknames to see what sticks. My son is lobbying for "The Cobalt Centurion," while I fancy "The Naval Commander," (since it is navy blue).

Feel free to add your suggestions.

I shared this with you only to emphasize how important words are to us--as forms of expression, as messages of affection, as outlets for creativity, as ambassadors which bond us to other people and, in this case, things.

Perhaps in a future post I'll share my son's musical talent as he strums away on Paco, or exorcises his aggression with The Obsidian Avenger. :)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Deadly Daughters book giveaway

Poe's Deadly Daughters are getting an early start on the gift-giving season by offering our readers a chance to win free copies of our books. Leave a comment with your first and second choices, and you'll be entered in a drawing for a free book. Come back tomorrow to see a list of winners. Good luck -- and we hope you enjoy the books!

I'm giving away one signed copy of Troubled Bones, my hot-off-the-press newest release in the Crispin Guest Medieval Noir series.

The retelling of the unfinished Canterbury Tales as it might have happened…Disgraced knight Crispin Guest gets himself into some serious trouble in London and as a result is forced to accept an assignment far out of town. The archbishop of Canterbury has specifically requested Crispin to investigate a threat against the bones of saint and martyr Thomas a Becket, which are housed in a shrine in Canterbury Cathedral. The archbishop has received letters threatening the safety of the artifacts, and he wants Crispin to protect them and uncover whoever is after them. But when he arrives at Canterbury, Crispin is accosted by an old acquaintance from court—one Geoffrey Chaucer—who has arrived with a group of pilgrims. Trapped in Canterbury, looking for a murderer, a hidden heretic, and a solution to the riddle that will allow him to go back home, Crispin Guest finds his considerable wit and intellect taxed to its very limit.

I had been wanting to tell this story for a while. I've had a longtime association with Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales (see that here) and so to be able to include some of the Pilgrims in my story as well as Geoffrey Chaucer has been a joy. I hope you'll feel the same way.

I'm giving away Kindle versions of Madeline Mann (the first in the Madeline Mann trilogy, which Kirkus called "a bright debut" and Library Journal dubbed "a welcome addition to the cozy scene") and of my newest title, The Ghosts of Lovely Women, which is the first in the Teddy Thurber series.

Madeline is a small-town reporter who decides to investigate the disappearance of an old friend; this leads her into some humorous scrapes, but also into some very serious crime and corruption. Truly, to paraphrase Hamlet, something is rotten in the town of Webley.

Teddy is an English teacher who is horrified to learn of the death of a former student. The dead girl, Jessica Halliday, has left Teddy some cryptic messages that relate to the literature they read in class. Only Teddy, who has immersed herself in the truths of the great classics, can see the patterns in the words that Jessica has left behind.

Both books have spunky and literary heroines!


I'm giving away a signed hardcover first edition of Death Will Get You Sober, the first novel in my series featuring recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler and his friends, Barbara the world-class codependent and Jimmy the computer genius. One reviewer, bless her heart, praised my "ability to bring us both tragedy and humor, sometimes in the same sentence."

Death Will Get You Sober tackles a subject that is not only serious but emotionally charged for many readers, with a combination of lighthearted fun, authenticity, and heart. As it opens, Bruce's denial is cracking as he wakes up in detox on the Bowery on Christmas Day. A couple of murders and an unexpected burst of genuine feeling set him off on a quest to find the murderer, stay off the booze for good, and get his life back.

I'm giving away one copy (signed) each of the most recent book in my two current series.

Let's Play Dead (Museum Mystery #2): Nell Pratt, president of the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society in Philadelphia, is jolted into action when someone is electrocuted at the beloved Philadelphia children's museum, Let's Play. When Nell is invited to a sneak preview of a newly installed exhibit, she's in for quite a shock: while she's there, one of the installers gets a severe jolt while working on an animated creature.

He recovers, but when a second man gets zapped, this time fatally, it sparks a homicide investigation, and it's up to Nell to channel her energy into finding the killer—before she gets burned herself.

Bitter Harvest (Orchard Mystery #5):  Now that Meg Corey's first apple crop has been harvested and sold, she's enjoying some free time, and cleaning out her 1760 house.

In a dusty corner Meg finds an early 19th century silk sampler, but she doesn't recognize the names on it as any of the earlier owners of her house. Then she starts being plagued by a series of small but annoying mishaps. If she doesn't figure out how the sampler she found is connected to the motive of her modern day tormentor, her first harvest could be her last.

Take your pick--city or country, electronic animals or apples!

I’m offering a copy of my latest book, Under the Dog Star, and a copy of my first Rachel Goddard novel, The Heat of the Moon – to two different readers.

Veterinarian Rachel Goddard can’t stand by while animals suffer -- and she feels equally driven to act if she believes a child is mistreated. In Under the Dog Star, she makes deadly enemies when she scrambles to save feral dogs wrongly accused of killing a prominent doctor, and at the same time becomes entangled in the sad lives of the doctor’s adopted children. This fast-paced mystery, praised by Kirkus Reviews for  “spine-chilling tension from cover to cover,” is also a story about the meaning of family, the power of compassion, and the duty we have to the animals that share our lives. Award-winning author Deborah Crombie calls it a  “tense and compelling entry in one of my favorite series” and adds, “Believable, sympathetic protagonists; a beautifully evoked setting; a haunting crime -- Under the Dog Star is one of the un-put-down-able reads of the year.”

If you haven’t read any of my books and would like to start with the one that introduces Rachel, you can enter the drawing for a copy of The Heat of the Moon. When Rachel begins having strange dreams and experiencing flashes of long-buried memories that make her question her family’s background, she must fight a devastating battle of wills with her controlling psychologist mother to get at the truth. Publishers Weekly called The Heat of the Moon a “frightening psychological mystery” with a “mesmerizing plot.” The book won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

From Sharon Wildwind:
I'm giving away a copy of Missing, Presumed Wed, fourth in the Elizabeth Pepperhawk/Avivah Rosen Viet Nam veterans mystery series.

Ex-Special Forces Sergeant Benny Kirkpatrick is one week away from marrying Lorraine Fulford and, as he puts it, “I’’ve seen courts martial that required less preparation than this wedding.” Then Benny’s mother is abducted. When her abductor’s body is discovered, Benny, Avivah and Pepper put their own romantic entanglements aside to help Benny find the killer. The price of justice may tear Benny’’s family apart forever.

Friday, October 28, 2011


by Sheila Connolly

I love crossword puzzles—even those elaborate punny ones—and I treat myself to the New York Times Sunday one, which usually takes me the better part of a week to finish, since I work on it only during commercials while I watch television, or during the parts of shows that are really boring, like sports reports.

Will Shortz, the all-knowing
editor of the NYT puzzles
But I hate to run out of puzzles, so the last time I was in a big bookstore I bought a compilation of 100 Sunday-size puzzles, just to keep it on hand. When I bought it I did not realize that the first few puzzles were historic: the first four date from World War Two, and then they proceed chronologically up to 1990. I guess anything after that is considered "current."

Trying to complete the early puzzles (I'm working them in order) has been challenging and interesting—and shows how much popular culture has changed over the intervening years. This is my seat-of-the-pants analysis, but so far I've made a number of observations:

--the puzzles from the war years are filled with references to geography in the Pacific and military terms, as well as some associated clues: for example, Native Hindu in the British Army, (I got that one), or Nazi submarine base in Belgium.

--there is a pervading assumption that the puzzle-doer (puzzler?) is well educated, since the clues include many references to plays from various countries, foreign languages, science, geography and history. Take spirit worshipped in Thailand, or pertaining to the armpit (huh? There's a word for that?).

--then there are the clues that completely mystify me—and there are lots of them—like arrogators (no, it's not a Japanese alligator—shame on you), or the gadids of the title.* Or hakenkreuz.

Sure, there are answers in the back of the book, and on one page the editor admits that the puzzle "may require a visit or two to an unabridged dictionary to complete." Gee, thanks. I for one believe that using a dictionary is cheating. I'm going to fill in only those words that I know or can tease out based on what other letters I've filled in. But I'll admit that gadids stumped me, so I turned to my trusty dictionary (one not much younger than the puzzle)—and it wasn't there. I had to look for it (gasp) on the Internet to find the answer, and I'm still left wondering how on earth I could have known that unless I was an ichthyologist. I ask you, is that fair?

But looking at these puzzles raised for me a bigger question: have our education and our cultural standards changed so much in the fifty-plus years since the early puzzles appeared? Or were the puzzles targeted at a rarified few who could have a hope of finishing any one of them? It appears that the creators assumed a breadth of knowledge that is, by current standards, staggering. (I feel the same way when confronted with British puzzles, where every other clue seems to be an inside joke that you will understand only if you attended Oxford or Cambridge in the 1920s.)

Or are we just getting dumber and/or more impatient? Over the past few years we have watched mobile devices proliferate—and now our communications have to be condensed into 140 words. Gone are the elegant quotations of yesteryear; language is reduced to a codes (IMO).

I wish I had statistics on who does the more complex crossword puzzles these days. They still appear in newspapers (where newspapers survive—can you do a puzzle in an on-screen version?), so someone must want them there. But even so, the clues that challenge one's mind and memory seem to be dwindling down; there are more references to television characters than to Greek gods. I know, I know—these are intended as entertainment, not a cultural pop quiz. But it still makes me sad. What we've gained in speed, we've lost in subtlety and nuance and richness in our language.

Do you enjoy crossword puzzles?

*In case you really, really want to know, according to, a gadid is "A fish of the family Gadidae, which includes the cods and the hakes." And Hakenkreuz is the German word for a swastika.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Speaking of Halloween

Elizabeth Zelvin

I remember trying to coax my son, who was three at the time, into going trick or treating, an outing we’d planned with a little boy from his playgroup. Rather than going house to house, Manhattan kids ride the elevator and ring doorbells in their apartment buildings.

My son, who was easily scared, was dubious. “It’ll be fun!” I said. “You ring the doorbell and say ‘Trick or treat!’ and they give you candy.” “That’s not it,” the other mom said. Believe it or not, she was a psychiatrist. She put her face down close to my son’s and said, “You scare them with your costume, and that’s why they give you the candy.”
My son immediately started bawling (“Wa-a-ah!”), and that was the end of trick or treating for that year.

I remember going house to house in Queens as a kid. We always went in a group, and it’s possible, though I don’t remember it, that my mother came with me. I wasn’t scared of ghosts or witches, but I was scared of ringing the neighbors’ doorbells.

(Why does everybody who knows me ROFL when I tell them I was shy?) Costumes were homemade: a sheet with eyeholes for a ghost, scarves and bangles and your mother’s skirt and makeup for a pirate queen.

My granddaughters live in an enclave of McMansions where giant pumpkins abound and whole houses may be festooned with cobwebs and hung with skeletons. Their costumes are always store-bought, expensive, and designed to make them beautiful: Cinderella, the Queen of Hearts, the Little Mermaid. No little girl would dream of covering herself up with a sheet or putting a pointed black hat on her head or a wart on her nose. I know they considered a Medusa costume one year. I saw it in the catalog: a gorgeous green ball gown with glittery snakes so stylized that I doubt my granddaughters had the faintest idea what Medusa was actually meant to be.

In a guest blog here a couple of weeks ago, Krista Davis pointed out that Halloween is no longer strictly for kids, since “the bewitching holiday overcomes normally sensible adults, suddenly possessing them to wear costumes to work and to transform the fronts of their homes into graveyards.” That’s particularly true in New York City, where pedestrians start stumbling over gaggles of pint-size fairy princesses and ballerinas a week before the holiday, and their adult counterparts—cats and vampires and over-the-top hookers—for as much as a three- or four-day stretch, depending on when the 31st falls in relation to the weekend. And the Christopher Street parade in Greenwich Village, which the gay community strives to make more outrageous every year, has become a New York institution. According to Wikipedia: “Stretching more than a mile, this cultural event draws two million spectators, fifty thousand costumed participants, dancers, artists and circus performers, dozens of floats bearing live bands and other musical and performing acts, and a world-wide television audience of one hundred million.”

The truth is that Halloween was not intended for kids at all. The playful holiday it’s morphed into was originally the pagan Samhain, then the Christian All Hallow’s Eve, the moment when the veil between the everyday world and the unseen is at its thinnest. (I apologize for being imprecise, but before there was Wikipedia, I got most of my factual information from novels.) Contact between the living and the dead (or the undead, as the case may be) might be terrifying or comforting. Paranormal and horror fiction writers have had a grand time ringing all the changes on this concept. Even though in the 21st century, midnight is not all that late at night and graveyards not that dark (even bedrooms are not that dark nowadays, thanks to all those digital clocks and blinking cable boxes), Halloween is still an occasion, for those who wish to, not only to dress up and eat candy corn and miniature Snickers bars, but to feel pleasantly creepy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sleep on it!

Sandra Parshall

Chapter 12 was giving me fits. Something was wrong with it, but what? I couldn’t figure it out while sitting at my computer, staring at the stubborn words on the screen. I knew the answer lay hidden in my head somewhere, if only I could persuade my subconscious to cough it up. So I did what I’ve often done: I asked my brain to solve the problem while the rest of me slept.

The next morning I woke up knowing how to fix the chapter.

I’m a great believer in the power of both dreams and the unconscious. My first published novel, The Heat of the Moon, originated with a dream in which I saw, as if I were standing nearby and watching, two little girls clinging to each other during a storm. (I gave the same dream to my protagonist, Rachel Goddard, to help her find the truth about her family.)

Most of the time, though, my unconscious mind cuts a clear path through the tangled thicket of plot I’ve created. Before I fall asleep, I think about what I need to figure out, and when I wake the answer is usually waiting. Sometimes I will remember a fragment of a dream involving my characters. If nothing helpful comes to me, I start asking whether that chapter or scene should be removed from the book altogether. The answer is usually yes.

Because I’ve done this successfully for so long, I was especially intrigued by an article in Scientific American Mind about how to train your brain to solve problems through dreams. The author, psychologist Dierdre Barrett, describes decades of research proving that our brains are hard at work while our bodies sleep. Scans of the brain areas that are active during dreaming (or REM–rapid eye movement–sleep) show we have many more dreams than we will ever remember. Parts of the brain associated with visual imagery and emotion become more active in REM sleep than when we’re awake, while the part of the cortex that censors our thoughts and actions takes a rest. We consolidate new learning and memories during REM sleep. And we can solve problems and come up with new ideas while asleep.

In her research, Barrett found that many professionals, including artists and writers, credit dreams with improving their work. Nobel Prizes in science have resulted from dreams. Friedrich August Kekule discovered the structure of benzene through a dream. Dmitry Mendeleyev’s layout of the periodic table of the elements was inspired by a dream. Architect Solange Fabiao’s design for the Museum of Ocean and Surf in Biarritz came from a dream. So don’t scoff at the idea that your mind might solve problems and generate creative new ideas while you’re asleep.

Barrett suggests taking these steps to train your brain to work on specific problems at night:

1. Write down the problem, briefly and concisely.

2. Think about the problem for a few minutes before going to bed.

3. In bed, visualize the problem as a concrete image if you can (not always possible, but this often yields the best results).

4. Tell yourself to dream about the problem.

5. When you wake, lie in bed quietly and allow your dreams to come back to you.

Soon the phrase “sleep on it” will have a whole new meaning for you.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Give Me Room . . .

Sharon Wildwind

Lots of room. Maybe that should be rooms. I’m fascinated by interior spaces. I’m addicted to Studios, a magazine that shows off places where artists create.

Artists are so fortunate. They can turn a hundred hanks of dyed yarn into a rainbow curtain, fill glass jars with adorable collectables, and convert a closet door into a design wall.

Writers are not so fortunate. The Guardian has tried to make writers’ spaces interesting. They have a series called Writers’ Rooms, where over a hundred writers have shared a photo and a brief write-up about the places where they create. I hate to admit it, but stacks of books and papers does not produce the same frisson in me as drawers of an old wooden map case filled with rubber stamps or beads.

Two of my favorite things in the Harry Potter movies were the Weasley’s house, and the dormitory room where Harry and Ron slept. Twilight: Carlisle and Esme ultra-cool house. Lord of the Rings: Elrond’s home in Rivendell.

It’s not that I’m that interested in interior design. Couches and drapes are drapes. What I love is the internal arrangement, things like how rooms connect. Can you see into the kitchen from the living room? What special place has been tucked somewhere special, like under the eaves? What makes each house special? I visited a fascinating house once that had a green house connected to the kitchen. I love little architectural devices like niches and odd-shaped rooms. Wouldn’t it be nice if all houses had turrets, conservatories, breakfast nooks, and box rooms?

The neat thing about being a writer is I get to construct my character’s houses. Yes, I love authors who include family trees and maps, but what really endears me to a writer is a house floor plan, especially one with special architectural features. You can’t go wrong with secret passages, either.

So here’s the question for you: if you were designing a house for one of your characters, or designing one for yourself, what would be your must-have room?

Architecture can't fully represent the chaos and turmoil that are part of the human personality, but you need to put some of that turmoil into the architecture, or it isn't real.
~Frank Stella, American painter, printmaker, sculpture, and architect

Monday, October 24, 2011

In Defense of Clytemnestra and the "Lovely Women" of THE ODYSSEY

by Julia Buckley
Way back in 2007 I blogged about the mythical Clytemnestra, because I had recently read the Orestia--three short plays by Aeschylus. Clytemnestra, in Greek legend and in the play Agamemnon, is depicted as a monstrous woman, a woman who would dare to plot the murder of her husband and then carry it out in bloody triumph, even as her husband returns, victorious, from The Trojan War. Therefore, Clytemnestra is painted as an aberration, an unnatural woman.

There’s more to the story, of course: Agamemnon killed his own daughter, sacrificed her to the gods so that his ships, which were stalled, would have fair winds to speed them to the Trojan War. This entire detail is given short shrift in the play; after all, this is ancient Greece, and women are second-class citizens. If a man has to kill a female for the sake of his own glory, then he will have to make that sacrifice.

Ironic, though, that Agamemnon is not depicted as a monster, but a hero, and his wife, who exacts premeditated and bloody revenge for the loss of her child, becomes the only “evil” character. Granted, murder is horrible. But isn’t the Trojan conflict full of murder—men savagely slaughtered on battlefields, ostensibly, in debate over the ownership of a beautiful woman? Still, there doesn’t seem to be much literary defense of Clytemnestra’s motives.

Sure, I don’t suppose I would murder my husband if he killed my child, but then again, who knows? Grief itself is monstrous, and can twist a person in different ways. Certainly I did not see in Clytemnestra the horrifying creature that the men in my class did. In general, the women looked at her and saw someone consumed by loss.

It’s not fair, I suppose, to impose a modern sensibility on an ancient story. Clytemnestra is meant to be seen as a monster, and so I am supposed to look for the things that make her horrifying. I find that I just can’t do it, though, especially when I read The Odyssey, and even in Hades Agamemnon, that great egotist, can’t get over what his wife has done to him, and rails about it to every shade who floats his way, and to Odysseus, the visiting human.

What I am looking for is an Agamemnon who seeks out the dead Iphigenia, his murdered daughter, to ask for her forgiveness. That doesn’t happen, of course, nor does Clytemnestra find solace in anyone’s understanding of her deed. Her son condemns her and kills her himself to avenge his father’s death. That son, Orestes, never mentions his dead sister.

Around the time that I wrote about this I was also starting to write a mystery novel that referenced the themes raised in this ancient myth and in more modern literature. Teddy Thurber, an English teacher, must look to the truths of literature in order to solve a crime of the present--the murder of her former student, a nineteen-year-old girl.

The title of the book, THE GHOSTS OF LOVELY WOMEN, comes from a scene in THE ODYSSEY in which the shades in the Underworld want to speak to Odysseus, but only the men are given a chance, and Persephone scatters the "ghosts of lovely women" away, not allowing them a voice.

Teddy feels that her student, Jessica Halliday, was also deprived of a voice, a life, a future--and she pledges to be an advocate for Jessica by seeking her murderer.

That book is now available on Nook and Kindle! If you love the classics, you might enjoy the way that Teddy uses the truths of great fiction to solve a crime in the real world.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Book Movie Book

What do you do when they make a movie of your book...but it's not your book?

Let me explain. Have you seen those movie trailers for the new movie Anonymous, the one where Shakespeare didn't write the plays? Well, I wrote that book way back in 1994. It's called The Playsmen, and it's done in an epistolary style. In other words, the story is told through journal entries, letters, documents, and play fragments. It's about a restless young William Shakespeare who wants to make a name for himself as a poet but who isn't very good at it. Enter the earl of Oxford who wants to write, but that is no profession for a nobleman. They make a deal and to young Will it becomes a deal with the devil.

When I first researched for this book, I wasn't quite sure what I was going to write about Shakespeare, only I was quite the groupie back then. I had been in Shakespeare plays in high school and college and I was rather enamored of the bard. So once I sunk into the research I was convinced that Edward de Vere, the earl of Oxford, really was the author of the plays. But how to make it make sense? Way led on to way and I got my story written. At the time, it was the best thing I had ever done. And my agent thought so, too. In the early ninties, you couldn't get arrested for writing historical fiction let alone publish it. Although, she did manage to sell this--my first sold novel--to a small press for the humungous advance of $3,000. I was happy just to sell something! But I kept my excitement in check, because things seemed somewhat subdued. And then I discovered why. Though I was issued the check for half the advance (and it didn't bounce!) the publisher had to call it quits and went out of business before my opus went to press. It languishes here and there on the internet with its ghostly ISBN but it does little more than that. It hasn't seen the light of day since.

But I had plans. Now that my medieval mysteries were selling, it was the first one I took out of mothballs and was reworking to send along to my agent. And then I'm sitting in a theatre and see this movie trailer. My heart plummeted. Yes, I know, as soon as you breathe "Oxfordian" you have your story, though I think my take probably makes the most sense. Who knows where this current movie plot came from? It is disheartening.

What do you do when you see a movie made from your book but it's not your book? You cry a little, sigh a little, and then, I guess, wait again.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Welcome, Intermix

by Sheila Connolly

Writers, can you feel the earth shifting under your feet? Yesterday Publishers Marketplace reported that Berkley/New American Library (the mass market paperback division of Penguin) will launch a new e-book imprint in January, to be called InterMix. (No, they didn't tell me, even though they publish my books.) The imprint will focus on the traditional mass market genres, and will release both reprints and titles from new authors.

What I found most interesting was not the formation of this new imprint—we all knew something like this was coming, right?—but the fact that they're starting out with eleven of Nora Roberts's titles, which have not been released as e-books until now. (Note that they didn't mention any "new" authors for release.) Through the next year they will also release Regency romances and seven more of Roberts's books, among other things.

Uh-huh. I think it's safe to say that Nora Roberts does not need B/NAL. Recent reports say that she has published over 200 romance novels; there are over 400 million copies of her books in print. Maybe more, for all I know—it's hard to keep this information up to date. She's won every award in her genre, many times over. Several years ago it was said that she was earning close to $70 million dollars—per year.

I admire the woman, no question. She's paid her dues, worked hard, and gives back to the writers community. I've heard her say that she writes four books a year (and apparently doesn't need to edit any more, but after 200 books I'd guess she doesn't have to).

But I'm not writing here to praise Nora Roberts; I'm trying to figure out what thinking lies behind B/NAL's strategy. As noted, Nora does not need them, but they seem to believe that they need her star power and her army of faithful readers to succeed in their new venture.
I'm sure most of us who write have watched the Big Six publishers struggle to respond to the wildfire spread of e-publishing in the past year or two. I have a mental image of these companies as hulking creatures, cobbled together from the bones and bits of smaller companies, and it's not easy for them to change course. Think of the Titanic trying to make its way through the icebergs: you can't change course quickly, but if you can't, you slam into an iceberg and down you go (even when you're supposedly sink-proof). Are e-books like icebergs? Maybe. They've been growing for a while, but now they've broken off the glacier and are bobbing around in the bigger ocean—and creating problems for the slow ships.

Or maybe I should offer another analogy: the king, with his bloated court and his wealth and armies and long traditions, is now on the battle field facing a new enemy (think King John and Robin Hood), who may be small with scattered forces, but who is agile and creative—and who may bring down the kingdom.

Maybe books as we have know them are going the way of the dinosaurs. That does not mean that writers and readers will disappear, only that writers will find new ways to reach readers, and readers may hope to find easier (and cheaper) ways to read.

But to come back to Ms. Roberts, she brings her readership to the table in this deal, and I'd guess that her readers will buy anything available from her. But historically the schedule for books has been driving to some extent by the physical process of printing and distribution (and the writer's speed). Now it is possible to make a book available in a day, electronically.

My question is, is there a reader saturation point? If a writer can produce three or four books a year, will readers—even the most faithful followers—snap them all up instantly? Gone will be that interval of aching anticipation of the next book, a year or more in the future. Is that good or bad?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Who wants to write a mystery?

Elizabeth Zelvin

Who wants to write a mystery? Just about everyone, judging by the occupations listed in the newsletter of Mystery Writers of America for new affiliate, ie, unpublished members. I get a kick out of reading these monthly lists. In July 2011, for example, a forensic scientist, a chef, a mental health professional, a photo journalist, an executive assistant, a physician, an entrepreneur, a retired teacher, a bond trader, two college professors, and three lawyers signed up (among others). The newbie roster in April 2011 included a veterinarian, a retired police officer, an environmental scientist, three teachers, and two more lawyers. In February 2010 we got a clinical psychologist, a retired travel agent, an interpreter, a Chief of Police, and a forensic accountant. In October 2010, one woman listed “mining.” Could she possibly be a miner? Accompanying her were a mortgage banker, another attorney, and several retirees. In January 2010, we got a film editor/composer, a writer/producer of on-air promotions, an ob/gyn physician, a journalist, an artist, a physicist, a forensic psychologist, and a historian at a famous cemetery.

I could go on. I find the sheer variety as well as the intriguing possibilities fascinating. The funny thing is that every one of these occupations suggests a fresh slant that, assuming competent plotting and writing, could make each of these aspiring writers’ work unique. At a recent MWA chapter meeting, I met a guy whose first book is just coming out. He was a bit hesitant about naming his publisher, a small press he rightly assumed I wouldn’t have heard of. But when he said that both he and his protagonist are forensic dentists, I was immediately open to reading his work. There’s nothing like expert knowledge—as long as it’s processed into entertaining form and intertwined with character, action, and plot, and not merely dumped—to make fiction believable. As our guest blogger Leslie Budewitz said recently, the magic is in the details.

I just went back to the archives of the MWA newsletter to see if I could find how I listed myself when I first joined. The records fall short by a couple of years, but I would have said “psychotherapist” or “online therapist,” maybe even “alcoholism treatment specialist.” I certainly used my expert knowledge to “write what you know.” In fact, I spent years running around the treatment program on the Bowery that I directed saying, “One of these days, I’m gonna write a mystery called Death Will Get You Sober!” I said it so often that it’s a miracle I actually did it—and it took giving up the day job to make it happen.

I did find some more good ones. December 2004: psychologist, web design, wildlife biologist, fine artist/art therapist, acting/unit publicist (an actor? not clear, but I know MWA has got some), retired military officer/state investigator, software developer. September 2005: CEO of a state medical society, real estate salesperson, architectural draftsman, student/bail bondsman, school principal, math teacher, retired journalist, accountant, social worker, scientist, video producer, and—my favorite—chocolatier.

I say they’re all delicious.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mystery vs thriller vs suspense vs...

Sandra Parshall

 Many of us who write about murder and mayhem aren’t eager to put neat little labels on our books, and we use the all-inclusive term “crime fiction” more often than any other.

Labels are important to publishers, though, and to readers who want to know in advance what they’re getting, so the debate about the difference between mysteries and thrillers continues. Last week at the Virginia Literary Festival, I was part of a panel that tossed out some old definitions and debated new ones.

We were a diverse group: Katherine Neville (our panel moderator) and Irene Ziegler write what’s called literary thrillers; Brad Parks writes books that combine comedy and mystery with suspense elements; David Robbins writes novels with lots of action and global stakes; and I write books that have been called mysteries, suspense, and thrillers.

A lot of people cling to the old definitions: a mystery is about discovering who committed the crime; a thriller is about trying to prevent something terrible from happening; a mystery has a limited setting and cast and smaller, personal stakes, while a thriller is set on a broad stage and the stakes are national or global. But those simplistic definitions apply to very few books being published now. Yes, cozies are pure mysteries. Some books, such as David Robbins’s war-and-action novels, are pure thrillers. Most of today’s crime fiction, though, blends elements of several subgenres into a new sort of hybrid.

The term “thriller” is widely misused by the marketing people at publishing houses in the hope that it will increase the sales of any book carrying the label. (Not too long ago“A Novel of Suspense” was the favored label for any book that had a crime in it.) I’ve grown used to reading “thrillers” that turn out to be plodding, decidedly unthrilling courtroom dramas in which the story is told not through action but through endless pages of Q&A between witnesses and lawyers. I don’t think publishers are helping themselves or their authors with this kind of mislabeling. 

Readers of crime fiction are more sophisticated and demanding than ever, and if they’re choosing books from the broad selection that lies between cozies and pure action thrillers, they expect enough suspense to hold their attention, and they want fully developed characters they can love and worry about. “Tension on every page” has become a mantra among crime fiction authors, whether they’re writing about police investigations or a woman trying to escape a stalker. Forget about long passages of witty dialogue or beautiful description. Keep the plot moving or you’ll lose readers who have been trained to be impatient by the brief, punchy scenes on TV shows.

My personal reading preferences don’t run to stories in which the fate of the world is at stake. I’m more readily engaged by a single compelling character whose survival – physical or psychological – is threatened. The most engrossing book I’ve read in recent memory was Before I Go to Sleep, a stunning first novel by S.J. Watson, which is told entirely through the viewpoint of a woman who has lost her memory and gradually comes to suspect that her whole life is a lie. The book is called a thriller. It’s also a mystery. It is “literary” in the sense that’s it’s beautifully written and  insightful. And it’s loaded with almost unbearable suspense. Yet I’m sure readers who prefer a lot of action would find it slow and dull and would feel misled by the thriller label.

The labels won’t go away, because publishers think they need them, but I believe they’ve become useless to many readers. If you’re familiar with an author’s work, you know what to expect and will disregard the label in any case. If the writer is new to you, look at the story summary and read a few pages to get a sense of the book’s tone. Don’t avoid a book because it’s labeled a thriller and you “never read thrillers” – meaning you don’t like books about vast conspiracies or government intrigue. Chances are the jacket copy and a quick read of a few pages will reveal the novel to be a hybrid, a mystery/suspense/thriller story. In other words, crime fiction.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Valleys, Mountains, and Safe Landings - Part 3

Sharon Wildwind

“–30–. Slug it.”

I love old black-and-white movies about newspaper reporters, the guy with a hat tipped back on his head and a cigarette dangling from his mouth who grabs a candlestick phone and says, “Give me copy.”

–30– means the end of a story and a slug was a line of hot metal linotype. To slug a story was to send it to the linotyper to be set. [As an aside, if you ever have a chance to watch Farewell Etaoin Shrdlu, don’t miss it. This documentary tells the story of the last day the New York Times printed on hot type and the first day it printed with computer-generated type. Farewell was on YouTube in the past, but it seems to have been removed. There is a new documentary, Linotype, about efforts to recover the remaining linotype machines and the skills of hot type operators. As you can tell, I’m a big linotype fan, too.]

In any case, you’re done. Deadline met. Story/article/book winging its way, probably electronically, to its destination. Now what? In this third blog about the kinds of time a writer needs, I’m writing about the time a writer needs after finishing a huge project.

You are in shock. Not “shock” neatly enclosed in quotation marks as in sort of like shock. You are in real shock. Run through this list: anxiety or agitation/restlessness; confusion; disorientation; dizziness, lightheadedness, or faintness; pale, cool, clammy skin; sweating, moist skin; rapid pulse, and shallow breathing. Yep, that pretty much the way I feel on Deadline Day +1.

While you’re not leaking blood—at least I hope you’re not. I assume you already poured all you could spare into those final pages—other shock biochemical reactions such as not enough oxygen in the cells, lactic acid accumulation, changes in blood pH, electrolyte imbalance, catecholamine depletion, and disturbances in blood circulation actually exist after several days/weeks of intense periods of sitting, creating at a computer. If you’ve been consuming prodigious amounts of caffeinated drinks and less than the recommended quota of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, add caffein overload and constipation to the list.

Way back in nursing school [Florence Nightingale was in the class just ahead of me] the watchwords for treating shock were quiet and warm. Maintain a quiet environment and keep the patient, er writer, warm. Recent research coming out of Texas is now indicating that if someone is in shock in a hot environment, it’s more beneficial to cool them rather than warm them. See, nothing stays the same.

So, Deadline Day +1(the ideal): breathe, sip water, take a walk, stay quiet, and cool down if it’s hot, stay warm if it’s cold.

Deadline Day +1 (the actual): attend an all-morning meeting for your day job, bake 3 dozen cupcakes for the class Halloween party, wash seven loads of laundry, grocery shop, cook a real meal instead of ordering pizza again, clear the e-mail backlog (home and day-job), take the dog to the vet, and take the kids to soccer practice.


Guilt. My boss has been so understanding about me needing to meet this deadline. Ditto my significant other. Ditto my kids. Ditto my friends. They have ALLOWED me to be a writer. I OWE them. I can’t BE PERMITTED to take one minute more than that needed to meet the deadline because if I do I will be A BAD PERSON. After all, it’s not like writing is a REAL THING, or a writer is a person with REAL NEEDS.

Can we rethink that?

Remember last week when I suggested lying on your voice mail about when your real deadline was. It’s really October 22, but you say it’s the 31st. We need to realize that Deadline Day isn’t the day we hit send or frantically rush to catch the last Purolator pick-up. Real Deadline Day is that day plus at least three, if we can swing it, plus seven.

If you’ve got a day job, don’t rush back to work. Use vacation time, or flex days, or mental health days. In the grand scheme of things it will not matter if you miss an important presentation, no matter what your boss says to the contrary. If you’re not fortunate enough to have any vacation, flex, or mental health days, call in sick, because if you aren’t now, and you race back to work, you will be sick within a week. “Life isn’t fair. I finished this horrendous deadline last week, and now I have a terrible cold.” Duh!

Deadline Day +1: breathe, sip water, take a walk (maybe take two walks), and stay quiet. Cool down if it’s hot, stay warm if it’s cold.
Deadline Day +2: take another walk, pick one undone task you really like to do. Since I love playing in warm, soapy water, my thing is usually to do the dishes. Also, pick one thing that’s fun. This might be a good day to take the kids to something you all enjoy, or cook supper for the sig. other.
Deadline Day +3: start easing back into a regular schedule. If three days are all you can manage, regretfully so be it, but at least you’ve had three days.
Deadline Day +4 to +7: if you’re fortunate to have this kind of time, go for it. Build yourself a recuperate and recover ramp back into real life. You've worked hard. You deserve it.


Quote for the week:

A big piece of writing is a little like a big storm. It leaves you shaken and disoriented and things need time to settle down. You don’t want to talk with your friends and sound like you just went through an alien abductions. … You don’t want to reenter the world until the world has more in it than you and your capital-A Art. I like [a few days transition] to let the dust settle.
~Julia Cameron, Walking in This World

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Introvert, The Extrovert, and The Ambivert (and The Writer)

The traits of introversion and extraversion, made popular in the writings of Carl Jung, are not clear labels of personality. Different people fall into different places on this continuum, but in general the extrovert seeks her stimulation outside of herself and finds energy in contact with others. The introvert, conversely, is drained by too much social interaction and finds energy in quiet contemplation. The introvert is focused more on the mind.

Jung suggested that introversion and extroversion are determined by the direction of the flow of one's psychic energy: the introvert's energy flows inward, the extrovert's outward. Hans Eysenck, on the other hand, hypothesized that introversion and extroversion represent the degree to which one is interactive with other people.

The ambivert is the person with tendencies toward both sides of the continuum (in some ways they are extroverted, and in some they are introverted). The ambivert enjoys social interaction, but also highly values time spent alone or in silence. According to Wikipedia, about 68% of the population (or most people) are considered to be ambiverts, while extroverts and introverts are even distributed at both extremes.

So where does the average writer fall on the continuum? Again, I quote from Wikipedia:

"Introverts are people whose energy tends to expand through reflection and dwindle during interaction.[5] Introverts tend to be more reserved and less outspoken in groups. They often take pleasure in solitary activities such as reading, writing, using computers, hiking and fishing. The archetypal artist, writer, sculptor, engineer, composer, and inventor are all highly introverted. An introvert is likely to enjoy time spent alone and find less reward in time spent with large groups of people, though he or she may enjoy interactions with close friends."

Having heard tales of exuberant writers' conferences and all of the connections made in the Bouchercon Bar, I am confident that not all writers are introverts. Speaking only for myself, however, I find conferences particularly draining. I love meeting new people, but I would never seek them out without the organized opportunity of the con. Once I am there, I tend to get headaches almost immediately, (maybe it's the fluorescent lights?) and when I return home, it takes a full three days to get over my exhaustion. Therefore I would put myself firmly toward the introverted side of the scale.

Introversion and extroversion are potentially inherited traits, since extroverted and introverted behaviors have a link to brain function (introverts have more cortical arousal than extroverts). I would call my own family and background an introverted one, despite the fact that all of us enjoy being the center of attention now and then; ultimately we were satisfied with internal interaction rather than needing to seek the external.

This is still true of me; I never crave clubs or concerts. In fact, the older I get, the more I am averse to the thought of any large crowd of people. I might wish for a higher level of extroversion, since extroverts report a higher rate of happiness than do introverts.

Where do you fall on the continuum? Are you, like most of the population, an ambivert?

image: (

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Canada Calling: End Game

Calgary has always been a city of confluences. The original description of the city is that it was founded at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers. This weekend, on those same rivers, there is a whole lot of confluence happening.

The Occupy movement has reached Calgary (and other Canadian cities). The demonstration tomorrow is scheduled for 1:00 PM local time, outside of Banker’s Hall. I have no opinion on this movement, as I’ve not devoted enough time studying it to have an informed idea of what’s going on here.

According to the local news, in typically polite Canadian fashion, the protesters spent this afternoon practicing how to be courteous during the demonstration. Unlike the movement in the States, goal of our occupation seem a little nebulous. One man was quoted as saying, “I’m not sure what my end game will be here, only that I want to be a part of this.”

The downtown demonstration coincides with the second-to-last day of Wordfest, an annual six-day festival that brings together over 70 writers and thousands of readers whose end game is simple. To bring together people who revel in a love of reading and writing. And to include a strong Book Buddies program that targets at-risk youth in the hope of getting them hooked on reading. Wordfest is on Facebook and @wordfesttweets if you’re interested in taking a look. From the location where I’ll be attending three workshops tomorrow, I should be able to see the demonstrators. It should be a busy day downtown.

Just south of downtown, the Ujamaa Grandma's, a group of local women, are sponsoring a wonderful two-day craft sale of handmade clothing and toys. These women have no doubt what their end game is: to provide financial support to African grandmothers who are raising children orphaned by the AIDS/HIV epidemic. The money is used to pay for food, shelter, school fees, income-generating projects, grief counseling, HIV/AIDS education and, sadly, coffins.

As both a writer and a fiber artist, there are times that I am firmly convinced that the knitting needle and the sewing machine are more powerful change agents than either the picket sign or the pen. This weekend is one of them.

Sunday update

300 protesters at a peaceful demonstration.

Way more than 300 attendants at each of the workshops I was at.

No word posted from the grandmothers yet. I imagine they are having a well-derserved sleep in. But if the crowd on Friday was any indication, they did well.

Friday, October 14, 2011


by Sheila Connolly

Recently I've been taking another look at a manuscript that I wrote over five years ago, to see if it's worth salvaging for publication in some form. I've always liked it, and it still makes me laugh. Plus I hate to waste anything I've written.

I reread it, and I still like it. But I've learned some things since I wrote it, and the biggest change I'm making is to axe about 20,000 words from the end. As I reread it, I was caught up in the pacing of the story, which reached a resolution about 80,000 words in—and then I realized the book as written didn't end there, but meandered on for another five chapters. Well, it ends there now.

I've usually called this a romantic suspense. It's suspense because there's a lot of running away from something and trying to get to something else to save something important, while being pursued by a variety of people. And the action takes place within a week's time, which is much faster than most of my books. It's romantic only because the protagonists hate each other until the last chapter when they fall into each other's arms--they spend a lot of time sniping at each other up until then.

I've probably said before that I'm a "pantser"—I don't plan ahead in meticulous (that is, boring) detail, I just follow my characters and see where they go. I make an outline, but only as I write. That allows me to see where the pacing isn't right: chapters are either too long or too short, or sometimes too much happens in one fictional day. That's easy to fix.

But this time in looking critically at it, I'm taking a different approach: I'm asking "why?"

In writing suspense, I think some writers (or at least me) have a tendency to assume that the fast pace will conceal the fact that the logic doesn't always work. The characters are racing around like crazy, reacting without thinking—why shouldn't the reader do that too?

But then I hear my editor's soft voice in my head: "why would he (or she) do that?" And I realize that I need to answer that question, whether or not the reader notices, at least consciously. I like to assume my subconscious is taking care of pesky details like that, but it's not always true. And sometimes saying "it's good enough" is really not enough.

So I sat down and made a list of all the "whys" I thought needed to be answered within the story. Why is he there? Why would the FBI be at the house? Why did the protagonists leave town in a hurry rather than going to the authorities? Why did the bad guy do what he did?

I ended up with four pages of whys. Now I have to figure out how many of those I answered in the story.

Sometimes we as writers get so caught up in the plot that we lose sight of the characters. Action is all well and good, but we can't ask our characters to do things that are, well, out of character, just because it makes the plot work. At the same time, if we're writing suspense, we can't have the characters sit down and calmly discuss what has happened so far and what the next step should be—not when they're running from gunmen or trying to reach another city in time to save the world. There's no time to think and reflect, because it would kill the tension we’ve been trying to build.

But we can't have them do things that aren't true to their nature—the nature we created for them. Either their actions have to make sense given what we know about them, or we need to change the person. I don't know that readers reach a point where they say, "no, he would never do that!" and then stop reading. But once that little seed of doubt is planted, the reader may find the rest of the book less enjoyable.

The funny thing is, it's relatively easy to fix those pesky "whys." Sometimes all it takes is a sentence or two. For example,

She: "Why can't we just go to a hotel?"

He: "Because that's the first place anyone with half a brain would look for us. And we can't use our credit cards and we have no cash."

She: "Oh."

See? Fixed. (I promise to avoid the "darn, I forgot to charge my cell phone," or at least use it only once per book.)

Reader may never notice that the fix is there—but I bet they would notice if it wasn't.  Wouldn't you?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What makes drunks act the way they do?

Elizabeth Zelvin

As in life, there is a lot of heavy drinking in mystery fiction, so much that readers as well as agents and editors sometimes claim they don’t want to hear about one more alcoholic cop or private eye. They may even complain that they’ve seen too many recovering alcoholic characters, despite the limited number of protagonists with plausible sobriety. (I’d like to call a halt to the endless parade of serial killers and violent psychopathic sidekicks with hearts of gold, but that’s another story.) Nowadays, there’s a lot less excuse for ignorance or misinformation about alcoholism than there was when I became an alcoholism treatment professional more than twenty-five years ago. Yet I still hear the same old questions—about drunks in real life—from people who still don’t get it, even if they think they do.

Don’t they know how inconsiderate they’re being?
Don’t they realize how inappropriate their behavior is?
How can they think that being drunk is cute?

I’ve heard all these questions or variants many times, and they’re the wrong questions. Alcoholism is an addiction, a compulsive disorder that defies common sense and self-preservation and sends the alcoholic on an increasingly self-absorbed journey in which everything but gratifying the craving for alcohol and the desire to blot out pain, discomfort, and awareness is blotted out. Consideration is irrelevant to addiction, so don’t expect it when you get between a drunk and his or her drink, a smoker and his or her cigarettes, or a compulsive eater and his or her pint of ice cream.

Appropriate behavior is a matter of knowing what society or other people expect and having both the will and the self-control to apply this knowledge. What does appropriateness have to do with addiction? Nothing. What other people expect? Who cares? A desire to behave in socially acceptable ways? Such desires come from awareness of how others see us and the capacity to control our behavior. On the level of brain chemistry, judgment and inhibitions are among the first faculties to go when humans, not only alcoholics, start drinking. As for embarrassment, shame, and guilt, all of those get blotted out too. And don’t forget that once alcoholics start drinking, they can’t control either the amount consumed or the behavior, whether it’s dancing with a lampshade on their head, assaulting their loved ones, or driving down the wrong side of the road. The damage they can do is immeasurable, and if they want to avoid remorse, guilt, and shame, they’ve got to keep on drinking.

The hallmark symptom of alcoholism is denial, which consists of rationalization, minimization, and outright lying to oneself and others. Alcoholics don’t drink because it’s cute—though a host of enablers may perceive them as funny and charming. The alcoholics themselves may fear that not only their charm but any ability they have to please and relate to others will vanish if they stop drinking. This belief isn’t necessarily on a conscious level, and it can’t be reasoned with. But never doubt that there is shame and terror underneath the bravado and grandiosity of alcoholics. We know this thanks to the courage and honesty of recovering alcoholics, who tell us all about it when they stop drinking.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Imagine a world without bookstores...

Sandra Parshall

Do you still have a bookstore within quick driving (or walking) distance of your house? Or is the closest one so far away that it’s easier to go online and order what you want? Do you have a store nearby but still find shopping online easier (and often cheaper)?

 It’s a vicious cycle: online sales (including, now, e-books) eat into the profits of brick-and-mortar stores; the stores start closing and whole chains collapse; the disappearance of stores sends more people online to shop for books.

I live in the Washington, DC, area, where Crown Books was born in 1977, and I remember the TV ads in which a handsome young Robert Haft sat atop a stack of books, looked into the camera, and declared, “Books cost too much. That’s why I opened Crown Books.” In a sense, he was announcing the end of bookselling as we knew it. Not that Crown was the first bookseller to discount new books – Barnes and Noble led the way in 1975 by offering N.Y. Times bestsellers at 40% off cover price. But Crown discounted everything, and that policy threatened stores that charged full price. 

Twenty years ago, Crown had 257 stores in large markets around the U.S. It no longer exists – the company was torn apart by acrimonious legal wrangling within the Haft family – but discounting has become the norm in bookselling and “Books cost too much” is an article of faith for many readers. Even small independent stores offer frequent-buyer cards that allow regular customers to buy at a discount. No bookseller, though, can consistently match Amazon’s prices.

Whatever the root cause, or causes, brick-and-mortar bookstore chains have declined dramatically in the past 20 years, with only Barnes & Noble holding steady. According to a report in Publisher’s Weekly, B&N had 1,343 outlets (counting college stores) in 1991, and today has 1,341. The number has been higher, and the chain has closed some stores in recent years, but so far it doesn’t appear in danger of collapsing under pressure from online retailers and the rise of e-books. The company’s popular Nook and its own e-book business are helping B&N stay alive.

Smaller chains haven’t fared as well. Waldenbooks, a subsidiary of Borders with 1,268 outlets in 1991, died along with the parent company. Bookland Stores, with 101 outlets in 1991, no longer exists. Others that have disappeared include Lauriat’s (48 stores in 1991), Encore Books (65 outlets in 1991; merged with Lauriat’s in 1994), Kroch’s & Brentano’s (19 stores in 1991), and Tower Books (13 outlets). B. Dalton, purchased by B&N in the late 1980s, closed its last stores in 2010.

"Books cost too much!"
Some smaller chains have survived. The southern company Books-A-Million, which has been around since 1917, has 232 stores and is expanding into some of the spots vacated by Borders. Zondervan, a subsidiary of HarperCollins that had 126 stores 20 years ago, was sold and renamed Family Christian Stores and now has 283 outlets. Hastings Entertainment has 146 and Half Price Books has 113. Cokesbury, which had 40 stores in 1991 and increased that number to 76 before scaling back, now operates 57 outlets.

The U.S. had 3,293 chain bookstores in 1991 and now has 2,206, by PW’s count.  A few new independents have sprung up recently, but many long-established indies stores have gone bankrupt.

Where will it end? Will we become a nation where only residents of large cities can walk into a real bookstore, hold new books in their hands and flip through the pages before deciding whether to buy? If we are headed in that direction, does it matter? Can a sparse scattering of tiny independents with limited stock take the place of sprawling superstores with aisle after aisle of printed books available for browsing?

What does access to a brick-and-mortar bookstore mean to you? Will you miss the chains if they all disappear? Do you think children who will never step inside a bookstore and choose books for themselves will have missed out on anything?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Valleys, Mountains, and Safe Landings - Part 2

Sharon Wildwind

I am so grateful to my husband/wife/spouse/partner/kids for learning to survive on cold pizza/respecting my closed office door/being able to amuse themselves when I was on a deadline.

Strike whichever is inapplicable. In one form or another, I’ve seen this sentence in the acknowledgment of dozens of books.

If you’re a writer, you’ve either been there or soon will be. Deadline. That word has a wonderful way of concentrating the attention. In this second blog on the kinds of time a writer needs, let’s talk about the time we need when we are climbing that mountain called a deadline.

Just like last week, the first thing we need is time to sleep. Those of you who have face deadlines are now rolling on the floor laughing because you know that sleep is the first casualty of deadlines. I’ll catch up later, you think. Just let me exist on three hours of sleep a night for the next couple of weeks and then I’ll go to bed and sleep for a week.

Um, the body doesn’t work like that. Research has shown that you can’t recover lost sleep, but you can put deposits into a sleep bank by pre-sleeping. So if you know or even have an inkling that a deadline will zoom down the road at you in a couple of weeks, go to bed an hour early or get up an hour later, or take a nap during the day. Every extra hour of sleep that you rack up goes into the sleep bank for withdrawal at deadline time.

Deadline preparation includes pre-everything. Take time to pre-shop for all those personal items you don’t want to run out of at ten o’clock at night. Make time to pre-cook (and freeze). Pre-make a list of no-cook/little cook meals and post it on the refrigerator door. Most of all make time to pre-pare your friends.

Good people, in healthy relationships, love to help. Good people in healthy relationships may have no clue how to really be helpful, so you might have to prime their pumps.

First of all, take time for a little private soul searching. Who do you know who meets both criteria: “good people” and “healthy relationship”? Be honest. If you love your sister dearly, but there are issues, deadline time is not the time to rely on her for support. If you have a friend who resembles a remora (a sharksucker fish with an appendage to take a firm hold against the skin of larger marine animals), a voicemail message a la Jim Rockford, may be in your best interests.

“Hi, it’s Sharon. The Wicked Witch of the West and I are on a horrendous deadline until the end of October. Call the witch’s castle after Halloween and we’ll do coffee.” Tip: set your available date a week later than you think it will be. Maybe my deadline is really October 22, but I don’t have to tell anyone that. And I know I will be able to use the extra time to decompress.

When you’ve whittled the list down to a few good, healthy people, ask each of them for something specific. “I’m heading for this horrendous deadline. Could you …
… bake me one of your wonderful apple pies?
… call me once a day for the next two weeks and leave an encouraging message on my voice mail?
… go to the library for me once a week and leave the trashiest romance novels you can find in my mailbox?
… come to my house Tuesday at 12:30 and force me to go with you for a quick lunch at Gobbles?
… go walking with me for a half-hour every afternoon at five?

Excuse me for a minute, while I take off my writer’s hat and put on my nursing cap. Yes, I still have one. It makes me look like a sailor on shore leave. Here’s the straight gen on five healthy deadline habits:
-- For every cup of coffee or tea you drink, drink one cup of water, too. At the very least, this will force you to take bathroom breaks more often.
-- Every hour, work for 50 minutes, and then get up and move for 10. Set a timer if you have to, to remind you to do this.
-- Nibble on raw vegetables, fruit, and nuts. Unless, of course, you have an allergy.
-- Some people can write with music in the background, some people can’t. But listen to music every day.
-- Turn the television off. Really off. Leave it off. “Background TV is an ever-changing audiovisual distractor that disrupts a child’s ability to sustain various types of play. [It] is potentially a chronic environmental risk factor affecting most American children.” ~Marie Evans Schmidt, research associate, Center on Media and Child Health. Boston’s Children’s Hospital, July 2008. If television is bad for children, it’s gotta be bad for the creative child in all of us.

Above all, remember that deadlines are temporary phenomena, like tornadoes and strobe lighting. You will get by, with a little help from your friends.

Quote for the week:

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
~Douglas Adams, English humorist & science fiction novelist (1952 - 2001)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Why Nancy Meant So Much

by Julia Buckley
Nancy Drew books provided an important transition in my reading life. By the time my sister introduced me to my first Nancy story, I was ready to graduate from flimsy paperback children's books to the "adult" world of hardbacks and the intrigue of mystery.

There have been several eras of Nancy Drew, and mine was the early to mid 1970s. In this era, Nancy Drew books had bright yellow spines and gorgeous full-color covers with alluring, alliterative titles like PASSWORD TO LARKSPUR LANE.

Nancy Drew books were, through the eyes of my childhood, sophisticated and gorgeous. Sometimes I would sit and stare at one of the beautiful covers, daydreaming about the poetic titles and imagining beyond the story within to what else might be happening in those pictures.

I loved to imagine anyway, and I think that the poetry and visual style of Nancy Drew mysteries fed that fancy.

Nancy gave me a template for story writing, as well. Although I've been told that the Nancy of an earlier era was a bit more spunky and independent than 1970s Nancy, I still enjoyed Nancy's autonomy, her ability to hop in her coupe and pursue her ideas, her willingness to share her secrets with her best friends, and her skill for maintaining a romance while valuing her independence and her full-time job: solving mysteries.

My sister and I asked for Nancy Drew books for every birthday and every Christmas for a few years. By the end we had a couple dozen books--a whole beautiful yellow-spined collection. But when we finally started to lose interest in the Nancy formula and started reading truly adult authors like Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney, my mother donated our Nancy Drew collection to the public library. We had agreed to this, but since then I've missed our lovely collection and wished that I could still look over the covers and smell that special scent of the pages and the ink.
What's your favorite Nancy Drew memory? Did these books play a part in your adolescence or your love of mysteries?