Monday, April 07, 2014

LA Times Festival of Books Time Again!

This weekend, April 12-13, is one of my favorite events of the year: The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books!!!  And I particularly like its theme this year: INSPIRE YOUR FIRE!

This is the largest book festival in the country and a fantastic celebration of the written word.  There are panels, special signings, and activities for kids of all ages. It's a place where people who love knowledge and reading can come together for two days of fun and sunshine on the lovely USC campus in Los Angeles.  Admission is FREE and there are even public transportation options on the Info page of the FOB website.  

I will be at the Festival only on Saturday, April 12th, this year.  Below is my booth signing schedule:

10- 11 am Mystery Ink Booth #376
12-2 pm Sisters In Crime Booth (right next to Mystery Ink)
3-4 pm Mysterious Galaxy Booth #368

Come on down and bring the family for some good wholesome fun! And if you're there on Saturday, don't forget to stop by one of the above booths and say "hi!"

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

A Root Canal On Christmas Day!

Today may be April Fool's Day, but more importantly, it's launch day for GHOST OF A GAMBLE, the 4th novel in my popular Ghost of Granny Apples mystery series!!!

Every time one of my books, novellas or short stories is sent out into the arms of the public, it feels like a root canal falling on Christmas Day.  There's the excitement of the launch and sending the next baby out into the world, followed by the worry and pain of wondering if the public will embrace or spurn my child.

If you add up all the work I've launch to date, that comes to 6 short stories, 2 novellas and 14 novels, with 2 other novels to be launched in the next 12 months.  Still, I worry. I worry that my publishers will decide not to publish my work. I worry that I will run out of new ideas for future books. But worst of all, I worry that my faithful readers will grow tired of my characters and their adventures.  That's a whole lot of worry while trying to remain creative on the work currently in progress, which, incidentally, is GHOST IN THE GUACAMOLE, the 5th Granny Apples novel.

But until those fears manifest themselves, it's business as usual. I write, I research, I publish and I promote.

Speaking of promotion, I have a whole lot of events coming up in 2014. In the next 6 weeks, I'll be pairing up with my good friend and Edgar-winning author Naomi Hirahara, who is launching the first book in her new Ellie Rush series, MURDER ON BAMBOO LANE. (I'm currently reading it and it's great!)

Here are the bookstores where you can catch up with Naomi and me. If you can't make a signing and would like a signed book, I'm sure most of these bookstores will be happy to assist you in that:

Thursday, April 3, 2014, 7:00 pm
695 E. Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91101
(626) 449-5320

Saturday, April 5, 2014, 1:00 pm
Book Carnival
348 S. Tustin Street
Orange, CA 92866
(714) 538-3210

Sunday, April 6, 2014, 2:00 pm
Book ‘em
1118 Mission St.
South Pasadena, CA 91030
626-799-9600; 1-800-4BOOKEM

Saturday, April 26, 2014, 12 noon
Mysterious Galaxy – San Diego
7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.,
Suite 302
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 268-4747

Saturday, April 26, 2014, 3 pm
Mysterious Galaxy – Redondo Beach
2810 Artesia Blvd.
Redondo Beach, CA 90278 (310) 542-6000
Sunday, April 27, 2014, Noon
Mystery Ink Book Store
8907 Warner Avenue, #135
Huntington Beach, CA 92647

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pencils Down

Pencils down!  We've all heard the phrase, especially in school at the end of a timed test.

When one of my bosses at the law firm announces either verbally or in an e-mail pencils down, it means that all work on a deal is to stop immediately until further notice. It means the deal hit a snag and until the parties work it out there is to be no further activity from the team working on it. Sometimes the deal dies completely and sometimes it's a temporary bump.

This last week when I received a pencils down e-mail about a project I was working on, it struck me that often authors hear the same command.

It's not uncommon for an author to be writing the next manuscript in a series and get the news that the publisher has decided to kill the series. Usually a publisher will honor the books under contract but announce they will not pick up any more after that. It doesn't matter if the next book is partially written or completed. That publisher has decided not to publish any more.

Sometimes an author will have a two or three book deal, but if the sales numbers on those already out aren't good, the remaining contracts may be killed.  That's what happened to me with my Madison Rose Vampire Mysteries.  After the second book came out and before I could deliver the manuscript for the contracted third book, I got the hook and everything came to a halt.

It's part of the business.

Business - that's the key word here. Writing is a business. We authors might be bleeding on the page, but in the end it's just so many widgets being sold.  Publishers are in business to make money, and part of that is making tough decisions when an author's sales numbers aren't where they want them to be. Even if an author doesn't write a series, he or she is in danger of pencils down on future book contracts.

Hmmm, I guess that would be more like keyboard down these days.

Being cut can be very tough on an author. For one, it's rejection. It's like being on a date and having your date go home with someone else because he has a fancier car. Two, it can throw a strip of nails in front of the creative process. All of a sudden you have to put on the brakes and switch the creative juices to something else, all the while dealing with the emotions that come with rejection. It can also be damaging to an author's career.

I was very fortunate to already have one established and successful series (Odelia Grey) and a second one (Granny Apples) well on its way to a solid footing when the Madison Rose series bit the dust. My writing career could take the hit and survive just fine. In fact, it has been thriving in the few years since then.  But if an author has not yet built a foundation of successful hits, then getting a series yanked for performance can be quite damaging going forward. 

Publishing is like an elephant - it never forgets.  Bad sales numbers can follow an author like a rotting stench. When pitching a new book or series, authors are also combatting their history, often making it difficult to get back into the game once they have been cut from it. It's one of the reasons some authors change pen names. A publisher might be willing to give a new book or series a chance, but with a different name on the cover. And it's not hopeless. Many authors recover nicely and even go on to be very successful with a different publisher. Even that cut series might get picked up by a different publisher and thrive. You just have to stay your course and keep plugging away.

And that's the secret to staying published - plugging away no matter what is thrown at you.

If you hear pencils down from a publisher, break the pencil in half, stomp, swear, cry, and get it out of your system. Then pick up a fresh pencil and keep writing.

Butt in the chair.
Word after word.
Keystroke after keystroke.
That's the key to success in this nutty business.
It's not for wussies.
It's for Ninjas!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sunshine, Movie Stars and Lynchings

LA in 1870
One of the things I love most about writing the Granny Apples series is incorporating history into the stories. I love doing the research needed to infuse the books with a sense of historical timing for the ghosts encountered. Today, while doing a bit more research into the area around Olvera Street (known as the birthplace of Los Angeles), I learned something about that part of Los Angeles that I never knew, even though I was schooled in the LA area from 3rd grade up.

TV shows and the movies have always focused on the period in Los Angeles history when the mob ran the streets, most notably Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel and their pals, in the late 1930s thru the 1950s. It's a very unsavory piece of fairly modern history of my beloved city but one that attracts a lot of attention.

But there were many other violent eras in LA history and today I learned about the 1871 Chinese Massacre that took place near downtown in the area where the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument is now located.

On October 26, 1871, a mob of hundreds of white men rioted in the old Chinatown area (near but not where Chinatown is now). They ransacked and brutalized the area's Chinese inhabitants, ending with the lynching of 18 Chinese. It has the dubious distinction of being the largest incident of a mass lynching in American history. (Bet that surprised you, didn't it?)

This information isn't needed for Ghost in the Guacamole, the 5th Granny Apples novel which I'm finishing right now and which will be out in early 2015. It was something I stumbled upon while researching another tidbit. Still, I think I'm going to mention it in the book. Horrific or not, it's part of the history of the area and I'll bet I'm not the only one who never knew about this.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Progress For All

Today, March 8th, is International Women's Day. 

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations had this to say:

"Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all."
Progress for all ... hmmmm ... for ALL ...

But wait!

Did you know that the entire month of March is National Women's Month?  It's true! An entire month in which we honor women who have contributed to our world and encourage all women to continue making strides to enhance life at all levels, locally and on the world stage.

Every year a theme is chosen. This year the theme is:  Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment. Here are the honorees:

Please take a few minutes and read the bios of these amazing trailblazers on the National Women's History Project website.

But you're just an ordinary woman, you say? 
What can you do, you ask?

Although none are famous in the traditional sense, I have the honor and privilege of working with an amazing group of talented and intelligent women at Hooper, Lundy & Bookman, the law firm where I work as a paralegal. Downright amazing, I tell ya!  Some are mothers, some are mentors, many do pro bono work. Each are contributing to progress and I'm so proud to work with them.

I hope in a small way I contribute to progress through my novels.  Are they or will they ever be Pulitzer Prize nominees?  No.  But each time someone writes and tells me that I've brought fun and joy into their life by entertaining them for a few hours, I know that I'm doing my job and making the world a little bit better place for some people.

When I look at the paintings on the walls of my apartment or read books, those people are bringing me joy and knowledge. I give. They give. We all benefit. It's the circle of progress on a small scale but it's still progress and contribution.

We all know the saying:  Bloom where you're planted.  Well, no matter where you are or what you are doing, whether it be running a company, raising children, assisting the ill or elderly, or even serving food through a drive-thru window, bloom, dammit! Because each one of us is an important piece of the Progress Puzzle.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Book Give-A-Ways to Celebrate!

Today is release day for DUMMY OF A GHOST, the 2nd digital novella in my Ghost of Granny Apples series.  I am so excited about this novella. I loved doing the research. I loved the story idea. And I loved every minute of putting it on the page.  I hope you all enjoy it too.

Here is a great review of Dummy of a Ghost.

To kick off this novella, during the month of March several blogs will either be posting a review of the novella or posting a guest post I've written called Gobsmacked by a Ghost.  All will be doing book give-a-ways.

Here's the lineup:

03/04/14              The Qwillery

03/06/14              HEAs Are Us

03/17/14              Socrates’ Book Reviews

03/30/14              Lori’s Reading Corner

Sunday, March 02, 2014

A Tale of Two Chin Hos

First off, I should NOT be writing this blog. Really, I shouldn't.  I have laundry to do and a cat box to clean and a vacuum to push around.  More importantly, I have a book to finish in the next 4-5 weeks.

Secondly, despite the tile of this blog post, it isn't about aging hookers with double chins. Really, it's not.
The original Chin Ho

Today while having lunch I watched Hawaii Five-0 and, not for the first time, was struck by how much I enjoy the remake of this popular show from the 1960s and 1970s.  That's not usually the case. Usually, I deplore remakes of iconic shows and films. But I like the modern Hawaii Five-0 as much as I did the original when I was young.

I really enjoy the modern cast and how they have added a female cop, the tough and lovely Kono played by Grace Park. And I've enjoyed how they've brought in notable guest stars.  I've especially enjoyed Carol Burnett as McGarrett's aunt, Ed Asner as August March, and most recently Melanie Griffith who played Danno's mother fresh from a split with her husband.

The new Chin Ho
But I have to tell ya, as much as I enjoyed Kam Fong's portrayal of Chin Ho on the original Hawaii Five-O, he never made my heart pitter-pat the way the new and improved Chin Ho played by Daniel Dae Kim does.  Kim has to be one of the most beautiful men on TV - hands down!  And least in this old lady's opinion.  YUM!

It's raining right now here in Los Angeles and it's rather gray and dreary out.  I still have chores to do and a book to finish, but for a brief moment today I was transported to the warm and sunny shores of the islands and got to soak in some Hawaii 5-0 beefcake.

That said, I really do have to get moving on my manuscript. I don't think my editor is going to buy mooning over Chin Ho as an excuse if it isn't done on time.  Or will she????

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dummies For Dummies

Coming March 4, 2014!
Available NOW for pre-order!

I have never been a big puppet or ventriloquist fan, then I encountered Dan Payes, a ventriloquist puppet designer and maker, and immediately thought:
There's an idea here for a book!

Last year I wrote Dummy of a Ghost, a digital novella which is part of my popular Ghost of Granny Apples series and which has a story line about puppets.  Dummy of a Ghost will be released by Penguin/Berkley on March 4, 2014, just a few days from now, and I am so excited!  I love this story about a couple of ghosts who haunt the puppets of their ventriloquist grandson and become alarmed when dangerous things begin to happen to him. To find help, they turn to Kelly Whitecastle who enlists the assistance of her mother, medium Emma Whitecastle, and the ghost of Granny Apples.

The crazy story of how Dan and I crossed paths several years ago can be found at the beginning of Dummy of a Ghost and, believe it or not, it involved Sea-Monkeys.

In preparation for this book, I visited Dan at his workshop at Dan Payes Puppetry to learn how dummies work and are made.  I also watched a couple of ventriloquist tapes. My favorite was the A&E Biography Special Jeff Dunham: Birth of a Dummy. You can download it from Amazon if you're interested. It is extremely entertaining and informative.
With one of Dan's creations

Now I'm hooked!  That doesn't mean I want to be a ventriloquist but I certainly have a greater appreciation for the art and the talent that goes into performing and the creativity behind the puppets and their personalities.

This past Friday night I went to see Puppet Up!, the extremely funny show from the Jim Henson Company. Puppet Up! is a mix of improv comedy, puppetry and a quick look into how the puppeteers do what they do. I highly recommend catching it if it comes to a theatre near you.

A look at Puppet Up!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I Luge

Erin Hamlin
Writing is like the luge. You know, that insane Olympic sport where a single person gets on a tiny sled made of fiberglass and steel and hurls themselves feet first down an icy track at speeds around 80-90 miles an hour with nothing between them and the cutting ice but a colorful spandex suit.

Yeah, that luge...

By the way, I realize there are also two-person luges and writing teams, but for today's discussion we're talking singles. Because that's what writing primarily is, an insane endeavor by a single individual.

Like the luger, I have a support team made up of my friends and family, my agent (coach) and all the people at my publisher (sponsors). Then there are my readers aka fans cheering me on from the stands. All hoping I don't wipe out before I get to the finish line of completing the next book.  But in the end, whether it's me or an Olympic luger, we're the ones alone on the sled controlling the run and hoping we don't crash.

See, writing is like the luge. Except that I perform sitting at a desk, usually in comfy clothing with my cats nearby. Oh, and if done right, writing shouldn't have the added risk of broken bones or injury.

An Olympic luge run is about 60 seconds long.  It obviously takes much longer than that to complete a book, but when deadlines are breathing down your neck, it can feel like the stop watch is running in thousands of a second increments.

A few days ago Erin Hamlin, a 27 year old woman from New York, took home the first ever Olympic individual luge medal for the U.S. It was bronze and in a sport based on speed the difference between Hamlin's time and that of the gold medal winner was about 1.5 seconds.

1.5 seconds ...

I have around 45 days before my next deadline.  In luge time, that's the blink of a frosty eye. The current WIP is going slow, too slow for me to be in medal contention, but like the last place luger, I will finish.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

I Want What Ringo's Having

Tonight I watched The Grammy salute to the 50th anniversary of The Beatles appearing on Ed Sullivan.  The program was ambitiously titled: The Beatles: The Night That Changed America — A GRAMMY Salute.  And at the ripe old age of 61 years old, I stayed up way past my usual bedtime to watch it. 

I loved every minute of the program, but especially the old footage and Paul and Ringo's performances at the end.  It was well worth the late bedtime. I even recorded it just in case I dozed off.

I remember with great clarity watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan that night 50 years ago.  We were clustered around the big black and white TV in our den in Whittier, California. My mom and dad were still together, though things were rocky.  I was 11  a student at Evergreen Elementary School.  The last time I drove by the corner where our house stood, the house and many around it were gone and a car dealership had popped up in its place.

But the thing that struck me the most tonight was not how many years have gone by, but the durability of the music and the remaining men who created it.

Paul McCartney is 71 years old. Ringo Starr is 73. Yet both seemed pretty spry on stage, especially Ringo.  He hopped around singing, dancing and drumming like a bunny with a hotfoot while I groaned as I got up from the sofa when it was over.
I don't know what Ringo's on, but I want some!

Recently I've had the privilege of going to the theatre to see several iconic actors of a certain age:

Brian Dennehy - age 75
Christopher Plummer - age 84
Judd Hirsch - age 78 (in two plays in one year!)
John Hurt - 74

At an age when most people are long retired and looking forward to quiet evenings and relaxation, these notable actors were memorizing hours and hours of dialogue and delivering it without a hitch, night after night.

There's a lesson to be learned there. A big lesson about keeping active and staying focused, busy and productive. Maybe that's the fountain of youth.

Elmore Leonard was 88 when he passed away last year and he was still writing.  Mary Higgins Clark is 84 and going strong; Sue Grafton is 73 and still plowing her way through the alphabet.  Like the rock stars I watched tonight, these literary giants were and are still working well into their golden years.

I currently have open contracts to deliver 4 more books. It will take me until I'm 65 years old to fulfill those contracts. When those books are done, will I sit back and breath deeply with relief that they are done? Hell no!  My editor has already received proposals for 3 more Granny Apples novels and I'm developing a new series to spin out after the Odelia Grey series comes to an end in four years.

It's my plan to keep writing as long as I can pound the keys and put sentences together and as long as people want to read what I put on the page.

Whenever I get tired, I'm going to remember Ringo Starr bouncing up and down on stage tonight.

When I turned 60 years old, people told me 60 was the new 40.  From what I saw tonight, I think 70 is the new 35.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Making My Stand

"The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play." –Olympic Charter

The current Google doodle is beautiful and understated yet no less powerful in its message. But what about me personally? How should I handle a beloved event when I don't agree with the politics of the country in which it is being held?

Do I watch the Olympics from Sochi or do I boycott them because of the Russian government's severe anti-gay and lesbian laws?

I love the Winter Olympics, even more than the Summer Olympics. There is something so exhilarating about men and women throwing themselves down icy ramps and steep hills, going airborne with nothing more than a few feet of thin board under them, spinning and jumping gracefully over ice, or working for hours to maintain a pace over miles of packed snow. Every four years for weeks, I become one with the athletes who have sacrificed so much to push and challenge themselves toward greatness. I cheer from my sofa with gusto.

So here's the thing:
  • If I boycott the telecast, am I hurting the athletes more than standing my ground? After all, they aren't the ones bullying and trampling on people and their human rights.
  • Will my lone single voice matter? I am an older straight woman who supports gay rights. Does anyone care? Or is it not my fight?
  • In the end, will any of it matter?  Hmmm, tell that to Rosa Parks or the Suffragettes, or more recently to Malala Yousafzai.
Then my friend and writing colleague, Jeri Westerson, posted something on her Facebook wall that made it all come together for me: 

If you think it's still okay to watch the games, just swap the word "black" or "Jew" for "gay." Now how does it sound?

I would never support any organization, country or event that would exclude people for their religion, race or gender, so how is this different?  Frankly, it's not. 

So to all the Olympians out there, please know that I am still behind you 110% and when you win your medals or take your falls, I will have to learn about it second hand but will feel no less excitement or sadness.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

I've Nailed It ... So Far

Okay, January 2014 is officially over. 1 month down, 11 to go in this new year. And it's going to be a busy year.

In 2014 I have 2 novels due:  GHOST IN THE GUACAMOLE is due to Berkley in April and Odelia #10 (working title JUNK IN THE TRUNK) is due to Midnight Ink in October.

In between, I'll be producing two more Odelia Grey audio books with the talented Lynne Darlington, who did a bang-up job on TOO BIG TO MISS.  If you love audio books, check it out. It's available at Amazon, iTunes and

I'll also be noodling around with finishing up the novel based on my Holidays from Hell short stories, and developing a new mystery series for my agent to peddle late this year or early next year.  More on that later.  And I'll be publishing at least one more short story this year.

2014 is also going to see me making more public appearances.  I took the last year or so off from the grind but check out my calendar to the right of this post and you'll see I'm hitting the trail a lot more this year. I'll also be in Massachusetts in August for a week-long combined research, reader meet and greet, and family visit trip. 

But I digress, as I tend to do.

The real reason for this post is to announce that I have pretty much nailed my 2014 New Year's Resolutions ... so far.  Yep, IT CAN BE DONE!

My 2014 New Year's Resolutions are:

1) Make my bed every day
2) Balance my check book every month
3) Stick to a workout and eating program
4) Read at least 30 books this year.

And the progress report:

1) I've made my bed all but 3 times in January and 2 of those days was over a weekend when I wasn't feeling great and kept crawling back into it;
2) Yes! Balanced!  No additional money, but at least it adds up.
3) Yes! Thanks to George (see post on My New Man), I've met this goal AND have lost 8 lbs this month.
4) I just finished reading my 4th book for the new year.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Synopsis of My Weekend

Faith, my editor at Berkley, dropped me an e-mail this week asking for a short synopsis on Ghost in the Guacamole, the 5th novel in my Ghost of Granny Apples mystery series. She needs the synopsis by Monday. Sure, I tell her. No problem!

Um, actually there's a problem. You see, I don't have a synopsis yet. Which means over the weekend I'll be madly dashing to put together a fairly cohesive synopsis on a book that is far far far from being done.  Oh, by the way, the manuscript for Ghost in the Guacamole is due the first week in April. (Yeah, I know. Trust me, I know.) 

It's no secret to those who know me well, or to my editors and faithful agent, that I write by the seat of my pants. I don't outline AT ALL.  It's not out of laziness, I assure you.  I've tried outlining and I fail miserably at it in spite of getting great grades on the exercise in high school and college. I find it stilts my creativity instead of helping it. I also find my characters fight against an outline like an unbroken horse against an irritating bit. 

That's not to say I don't know the underlying story of Ghost in the Guacamole. I do, and I have several loose paragraphs describing it, and bullet points and characters jotted down on a huge white board next to my desk, which I could show you but it would give away too much of the book. I just don't have enough of the book done to know the bigger details and events.  And I won't know that until the book is much further along.  (Yeah, you heard right, the manuscript deadline is April.)

So this weekend, in between writing and an all day book event and a birthday dinner for one of my BFFs, I'll have my nose to the grindstone fleshing out a usable synopsis by Monday.

Piece o'cake, says this author trying to sound convincing

BTW!  There's lots of Granny action coming up. 

In March Dummy of a Ghost, the 2nd e-book novella will be released.

April will bring the release of Ghost of a Gamble, the 4th full-length Granny Apples novel for both print and e-readers.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Meet George, My New Man!

I have a new man in my life. His name is George. He's demanding but encouraging and always has my best interests at heart - literally, my heart.

He's the strong silent type and I'm smitten.

My man George

George is a FitBit One, an exercise tracker I bought with gift cards I received over the holidays.  Don't ask me why I named him George. It's not very sexy, I know.  I tried out Sven, Paolo, Dirk and Rock and nothing felt right. Only George. So George it is. Maybe it's a throwback to George Harrison being my favorite Beatle.


George has been my constant companion for 5 days now and it's shaping up to be a solid relationship. He's quite the task master. It's like having a personal trainer clipped to you 24/7. Near the end of the day he'll announce via the unit or via a flash on my cell phone that I still have ### steps to take to complete my goal for the day. So far I've listened, gotten off my fat ass and marched in place until my daily steps have been completed. I march at home in front of the TV, in place while brushing my teeth and while cooking. At work I march in my office before and after lunch. Pleasing George is my main objective. Seeing the steps add up and calories burned has become my obsession. I'm also putting in time exercising other than stepping, adding to the calories burned. I haven't moved this much since I did the Disney 5K last January, and the stepping doesn't seem to be bothering my bum knee.  It's a win-win.

When I meet my daily goal of exercise and calories burned vs. calories eaten, George sends me an encouraging note across his marquee.  In five days I've lost 5.6 lbs, although I know that rate will slow down once my body gets used to the program. I do allow myself to cheat on George once a week just to keep the relationship interesting. Yesterday was my "cheat day" and I had brunch with friends with no thought to George's calorie tally.  He didn't seem to mind, although I didn't get my cheer at the end of the day.

I wish all men were this easy to live with ...