Category Archives: Uncategorized

Mean Bone is Coming

ice-pondI’m pleased to announce that the target publication date for my next book, THE MEAN BONE IN HER BODY, is the end of December, and if all goes well, print books will be shipping several days before the official release. MEAN BONE is the first book in my New Royal Mysteries series, my most ambitious project to date, and I’m incredibly grateful to Pandamoon Publishing for believing in it.

I think I can safely say that MEAN BONE is a departure for me in that it is very dark. VERY dark.  It is a murder mystery in the fictional town of New Royal, Ohio—a mash-up of Athens (a college town) and Chillicothe (a prison town). The broad premise for the New Royal series is that the institutions of Higher Education and Corrections have joined forces to offer a unique Crime Writing program.

In MEAN BONE, Professor Elizabeth Murgatroyd finds herself saddled with the task of dragging an unstable research assistant, Jeaneane Lewis, through the steps of graduation. Jeaneane is something of a celebrity in the program for having written a provocative essay about finding the bodies of a military widow and her two young children in an icy garden pond—murders that, for better or worse, put both New Royal and the Crime writing program on the map, especially when Lewis dubs the uncaught killer as the “Beast of New Royal.”

However, when Murgatroyd has a one night stand with a man claiming to be the so-called Beast, she realizes that Jeaneane’s version of events is tainted by her ever-changing grasp on the truth. Rather than going to authorities, Murgatroyd seizes on the opportunity to mount her own investigation, following the Beast’s trail as it leads all the way back into Jeaneane’s terrible past.

In the coming weeks and months I’ll post more details about the series, but for now, I want to say that I I’m writing about three subjects I’ve avoided in sustained fiction: academia, mental illness, and Ohio.

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My First Bouchercon: Notes From a Newbie

Okay, I cannot promise this report will be riveting, but I want to get everything down before my addled brain starts resorting my memories of Bouchercon 47, a massive mystery convention that took place in New Orleans this year, Sept 14-18.

Weds: We hate flying, so we drove down. Insane, I know, but we were giddy at the prospect of a genuine road trip. America and all. We got a late start, circling Fairfax a few times because of last minute errands, gassing up, etc. At one point I remarked to my husband that it felt like we were in a bad twilight zone episode. This is us at a fricking Cracker Barrel, we were so happy to get just a little bit down I-81.

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We made it to Athens, TN before we stopped for the night. We were vibrating.

Thurs: Mostly on I-59, which is wonderful. I remembered that when I was a kid, I hated highways that were long, green, and sign-free. Now it’s a rare treat. Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and then this hopeful sight:

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We missed the opening ceremonies parade but made it to the conference hotel on Canal Street just before dinner time. At the center of the hotel lobby was the bar, which was insanely noisy and crawling with writers. The bell men were even joking about it.

Dean collapsed in the room while I checked into the con. Basic conference swag included 6 free books of my choosing, a BIG program, a little program, a cool bag that puts your AWP tote to shame, a brilliant T-Shirt, an awesome coffee travel cup, and probably some other stuff that I forgot or gave away.

That night, after catching some of the awards ceremonies, we went down to the lobby bar where I found myself face to face with Joe. R. Lansdale. Mr. Lansdale is my hero, and I read all of his books, eventually. I’m usually 3 behind. Anyway, there he was and I said, “Wha!” To which he politely said, “Wha?” I proceeded to gush about how great he is, how great the Hap & Leonard  TV adaptation is, and then I introduced him to my husband. Mr. Lansdale was super gracious but had to get the hell away from me, pronto. After he left I realized I’d failed to introduce myself.

I saw him a couple of other times at the conference, but I made sure to hide. I saw Walter Mosley, too. Another of my heroes. I hid from him too, just to be on the safe side.

Fri: Panels, the Aquarium, eating little meat pies, hanging around the book room, and otherwise poking around the hotel. This from the 41st floor:

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That evening, the Bouchercon 2nd line. It was raining on and off, so we watched and encouraged rather than marched.

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I think we started the journey thinking we’d have wild nights on Frenchmen Street, as we usually do, but we were beat. Friday was the day Dean said, “Let this trip be this trip.”

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We did not go to the Anthony Awards that night, but we were hugely happy to hear that Art Taylor won for his editorial work on Murder Under the Oaks. And I think he was happy that we’d driven down, so we could carry back his trophy, which was this wheel sized wooden plaque. Not Airplane friendly.

Sat: The day of our panel, “On the Other Side of The World.” We had nothing more to go on, so moderator Rochelle Staab decided that we would discuss the most unusual features of our works and characters, and with expert wit she guided the conversation beautifully. The panelists, left to right: Rochelle, Steph Post (who hooked me up with Pandamoon Publishing in the first place!!), Lisa Preston, Me, and Sarah Smith.

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Rochelle ended the session with a little game whereby she read out a quote from each of our books and asked the audience to guess which author had written it. I was guessed twice before my quote came around:

Did you know that every piece of jewelry is an apology, and that every apology is really a boast?

This is a line from a letter that a jeweler writes to a corrupt lawyer, whom he vaguely accuses of murder before advising him to grab the cursed emerald and disappear into history. I was realy pleased that she chose this line—it’s one that I’m proud to have written—but I was even more thrilled later when, at the signing table, Rochelle introduced me to Hank Phillippi Ryan by repeating the quote to her.

Another fun moment on the panel was when we started riffing on a mystery based on the hotel’s overly confusing elevator system.

I met one other interesting person—though I did not realize it at the time. A very glamorous writer was seated next to me at the signing table, and she drew all kinds of fans who LOVED her books, which were Hollywood mysteries. Turns out, she knows a lot about Hollywood mysteries. She was Kathryn Leigh Scott, who has been in TONS of things you’ve seen, but is best known for her role as—wait for it—Maggie Evans in the original Dark Shadows series. She was in 319 episodes, dammit.

Dark Shadows was very important to me growing up, but I’m so glad I didn’t know who she was while we were chatting, given my previous behavior with Lansdale and Mosley.

That afternoon I made one more pass through the book room, which was slow because everyone was at the Blood on the Bayou signing. That’s when I picked up even more swag, including these:

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Some writer was swanning through with a purse full of Jack, and the proprietor of Scene of the Crime Books proclaimed her his new best friend. I really wish I knew who she was. I want to buy her books.

We hit the road after that, so we could get home by late Sunday. The drive back was significantly more challenging as we were met with bouts of heavy rain and fog. And after spending so much time with mystery writers, we were definitely in a mood, as evidenced by the creeping terror we felt when we stopped at an Alabama rest station at dusk. It was still misting with rain, and there were no other cars in the parking lot. As we walked up to the building, we saw a man in a khaki work uniform standing outside, staring into the tree line as if he was very concerned. I tried to say hello, but it was as if he couldn’t see me.

The building was deserted, with sickly yellow light bouncing off the tiles. Also, it was already decorated for Halloween, with straw bundles and “cheerful” scarecrow and ghost cutouts taped to the walls, like the beginning to every slasher flick ever filmed. Our steps echoed, and we nervously giggled about how the decorations really cheered the place up. When we left, the sentinel caretaker had moved to a different spot but was still staring into the trees. Another couple had arrived, and when they passed us they seemed ridiculously relieved to see us.

In the car, I asked Dean, “Did you see the attendant? What’s up with him?”

And Dean said, “You mean the Confederate ghost?”

Sunday: Looong day of hard driving, bad weather, and truck traffic. The hours stretched, as they say. Our last stop before the final push for home was at a truck stop. I haven’t been to one in years, but it struck me that it was a lot like a university campus, with its same intimacy and lost island feel, except that the inhabitants were older, stranger, and possibly trapped in time.

Like I said, we were in a mood. Pulling out, we saw this:

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All in all, a very rewarding but sometimes weird trip. I’m definitely planning on Toronto. Here’s the book haul, with puppies, who were happy to have us back home:

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Half Way to #Bouchercon2016: Athens, Tennessee

Hey there! We’re road-tripping it to Bouchercon 2016, which takes place in New Orleans this year. Tonight we’re taking a rest in a Comfort Inn in Athens, Tennessee.  We got a late start this morning and unwisely stopped for lunch at a popular chain restaurant that specializes in country decor, but we’ll probably travel a lot more efficiently tomorrow.

I’ll be on a panel entitled “On the Other Side of the World” on Saturday at noon. The panel will be moderated  by Rochelle Staab, and it will feature  Sarah Smith,  Lisa Preston, and STEPH POST DAMMIT. Steph just happened to be the person who put The Juliet under the nose of my publisher, so I’m really looking forward to meeting her in person.

Speaking of The Juliet, Pandamoon Publishing will be offering it as a free download on Saturday, as a Bouchercon Special.

I’m a little too tire to be interesting right now, so I’ll just let Tennessee do the entertaining:

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Pass the Crudities: Blood Yes, Cursing No

shield-1286293_640Well here it is Labor Day Weekend and I’m still in the first 20k words for the second book in the New Royal Mysteries series, THE ORPHANS COURT. I had hoped to be through the first draft by now, but the summer and my gallbladder had other plans. That said, I’m picking up speed, and I’m starting to have a lot of fun with the voice of my sleuth.

In the first book of the series, THE MEAN BONE IN HER BODY, which may be out from Pandamoon Publishing in time for holiday shopping, my sleuth is an icy, arch Professor, Liz Murgatroyd, who puts her own interests ahead of the law. I loved her voice because it was formal, sly, and sometimes wicked. The sleuth in ORPHANS is Liz’s ex-con, punky assistant, Crocus, whose impatience generates a diction that is a lot more casual and earthy, often to the point of being crude. Together they make a great team, and it’s terrific fun going from one to the other—sort of like spending a week in Martha’s vineyard, followed by a week in Atlantic City. And of course, the series takes place in a fictional college/prison town in Ohio.

Working with Crocus while trying to develop short stories from the draft as I go along, does generate certain challenges. Many mystery fiction magazines ask writers to keep the language in in their short stories on the cleaner side, which is understandable given that the demographic of their readership can be conservative. Crocus, however, is an ex-con who served time for chopping off a man’s fingers with a hatchet. It feels odd to clean up her language in some cases (“mind game” for “mind fuck,” for example), but I do have the college setting and Murgatroyd’s mentorship to justify more self-consciousness in Crocus.

To get a taste of the series and how Crocus and Murgatroyd work together, I hope you will buy the September issue of MYSTERY WEEKLY, which will feature my short story “A Good Girl With A Hatchet.” Or, you can sign up to receive FREE weekly stories by email. “Good Girl” will be the free story September 6th.

Cheers!

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Day 3 of The Juliet Blog Tour

There’s just so much going on, it’s hard to keep up! Yesterday’s post at Lectito was all about my evolving process for writing my novels, and how each one has a different mission–and therefore a different method.

Then today there were two more posts.

At Alternating Current, there’s an exclusive audio clip of me reading from fairly deep into The Juliet—it’s a section set in the 1920s when Becky Skinner, a former prostitute who is now the wife of the mayor of a ghost town, meets a young stunt actress named Moll Grease. Making this clip was especially challenging, as I’ve never done one before, and firing up the software ended up killing my old MacBook Pro. No worries, though. Next day I got a snazzy 2 lb MacBook (rose gold), that came with a free set of Beats headphones.

Then over at Rainbow of Books, I talk about timelines and character sets in The Juliet.In particular, I stress how strong characterization generates organically developing paths. An excerpt:

Having characters return and change makes it easier to pull the universe together, especially if they intersect with multiple plotlines. Intersections are fun, and when plausibly built and interestingly revealed, they’re like miniature mysteries unto themselves. Imagine the mail carrier who knows everyone on his route. Now imagine that he has several unmarked graves in his back yard. He doesn’t just have good information about his community; he’s interesting on his own, as well.

So ends the middle of the journey. I hope you are enjoying these posts as much as I enjoyed writing them. Two more days, four more posts to go!

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I’m baaaaack

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Long time, no post. I have an excuse. Just before I was due to attend the Eat Local/Read Local festival at Loudoun, I was overcome with gut pain that turned out to be pancreatitis plus gallstones, culminating in an MRI, ECRP, and gallbladder removal, which you can read about here if you’re so inclined.

I’m feeling MUCH better, and I even went back to work last week. I’ve also been grinding away at posts for my upcoming blog tour, which starts July 11. I even managed to launch my Facebook Author page today, so please cruise by there and give it a like.

Stay healthy everyone–

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Staycation 2016: Day Two

The subject is outlines. I love the idea of a novel outline,and I swear I try–I really try–to develop a long range plan for my novels, but what happened to me is what always happens. I put four or five scene ideas down, and then I get too excited. Right now I’m in the weeds with an opening scene that should be simple but refuses to obey. Plus I did a little work on my guy-in-the-refrigerator story and started a weird little flash about a woman who finds a pumpkin in the street that she likes wayyy too much.

The rain has returned, so that works in the writing’s favor, though it depresses the dogs and the husband. I’ll need to make it up to them somehow.

Other items on my to-do list this week:

Write a blurb for Jesse Bradley’s stunner, The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective Seriously, this is a really unexpected and exciting piece of literature–very sharp, very surprising, very rewarding.

Moderate a panel of She Writes authors on their Spring Book Tour at One More Page Books & More. That should be fascinating, as She writes is being very creative in how they develop writers and their books.

Introduce Tara Laskowski at the Santa Fe Writers Project Book Launch Party where she will be reading from Bystanders. I’m really looking forward to this launch–it will be a catered event at a gallery, where they are expecting possibly 100 attendees. Andrew Gifford said I could plop some copies of The Juliet on the sales table, too. I wonder if there’s any way I can sneak some of the Laskowski/Taylor stuff from the novel into my intro, lol. Those are the names of two Hollywood cops from the 50s who turn into cat burglars under the influence of The Juliet’s curse.

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Pet Grief

It’s been a rocky couple of weeks for my friends who have pets. My publishers just lost their beloved pup in an accident, my friend’s 16 year old JRT finally let go after years of non-stop action, and my 8 year-old gosh-daughter’s hamster went “missing” in a house full of cats. After many hours of searching, the hamster was found, alive and exhausted in the back of a closet, thereby staving off an agonizing choice for her parents. The hamster passion/obsession is nearly all consuming for the girl (as is Minecraft), and even though the whole family is moving to Tajikistan in August, a hamster-less summer is almost unthinkable.

Which brings me to a tough subject. When you lose a pet, how soon do you take on a new one? I know a few people who lost a pet and decided that was it for them, that life with a companion animal was too heartbreaking. I know that when our first cats were gone, we cleared all the cat stuff out—event the tower—and went cat-free for more than a year. But as the years go by, the interval shrinks for my husband and me. Perhaps we are more efficient at grief than we used to be, or perhaps we are just more selfish. Either way, as soon as one of our slots open, (we have 2 dogs and 2 cats), we tend to fill it. I still cry when Facebook tosses up a picture of my beloved Newton—a mutant Chihuahua who soaked our house in urine for years but was our #1 Party Boy—but then I grab up Penelope, the cranky terrier who smells like a turtle and generally runs things these days, and I feel that pain of loss drain away.

Right now Penelope is harassing me to go on a walk, and her breath smells like cat poop. She hates it when I blog. Charli cat loves it when I blog because I light the candles and she’s into fire. I give it one minute before Penny and Charli start beating the crap out of each other, so I have to wrap this up. My friend who lost the elderly JRT is already looking at rescue sites and manipulating her family to agree to a quick re-up of dog energy in the house. She can’t imagine living without it, and that makes a ton of sense to me. Jackie Brown cannot be duplicated—she was a crafty dame who played hard, slept hard, and sometimes snuck into other people’s houses to sleep in their beds—but she leaves a void that yearns to be filled by another Big Personality. And if you are the sort of person who has committed some portion of your life to making the lives of animals a little better, then why delay? I feel like there should be no shame in “replacing” a pet, and that we can grieve and love at the same time. In fact, those emotions go damned well together.

RIP Jackie. You were all heart. I have more pictures of you than I do of my own dogs, dammit.

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A list of things that happened over the last few days plus tomorrow

  1. Conversations & Connections. The panels were packed, people were sitting on the floor. When Art Taylor read as part of the keynote, the conference ran out of copies of On the Road with Del and LouiseThey had to start a waitlist.
  2. Spring came. (see above. The view from my cabin’s back window. Taken with an iPad, no filter)
  3. Anthony Ballots were due.
  4. Edgar Awards.
  5. Malice Domestic. Congratulations to Barb Goffman for winning the best short story prize. Congratulations to Art Taylor for winning the best first novel prize. His West Virginia fan club  was tracking twitter and drinking a little too much.
  6. My mother, who is 87 and has the flu, casually came up with a brilliant idea for a short story epilogue to The Juliet. Involves finding a skull in the desert 20 years later. Emerald inside. Mom says, “I should write these things down.” Um, yeah you should.
  7. Panda-bro Todd Tavalozzi’s Looking Into The Sun reached number 1 in War novels during his free day on Kindle.
  8. Matt Magelssen-Green’s delightful essay, “Roleplaying as Live-Action Fan Fiction” is available on the Alternating Current Press blog, marking the last of my choices as guest editor to go live. Woo hoo! Plus Matt is one of the BEST EGGS.
  9. My Father-in-law just read my book and doesn’t know why it isn’t a bestseller.
  10. Tomorrow is the LAST DAY of my Goodreads Giveaway for a signed copy of The Juliet. Get on that, ya?
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Course Description: Confession Writing

CRWT 499/701 Confession Writing 

Credits: 3 (NR)

Workshop. Practice in writing confessions and confessional literature in genre other than student’s declared track (POE/FIC/NFIC/DRA). Presentation and peer critique required. Readings in confession and recantation history. Satisfies alt genre requirement for the MACR as well as Capstone Synthesis for BA CRWT. 

This section is HYBRID: Cross-listed undergraduate/graduate, meets New Royal campus and online, appropriate to residential status. Additional Technology and Security fees apply. (See Registrar’s page for scale)

Prerequisites: Open to CRWT students classified as C, EC, or G. L with POI only.

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