Saturday, January 30, 2010

THRILLERFEST 2009 Video Clips

I just got links to some video clips filmed at Thrillerfest 2009. Check out some of the great authors talking about their work. Let me know what you think about them. Did you decide to read any of these authors based on the videos?

What is your most GRUESOME Death Scene:

Who is the Baddest "Bad Guy":

The Difference between a Mystery and a Thriller

Hannibal Lecter:

Protagonist/Alter Ego:

Book in 12 words:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Guest Blogger Denise Swanson

Some people wish for glamour in their lives; others create it. Denise Swanson is a natural diva—from her lovely blonde coif to her feathered boa. She's also a good sport about taking life as it comes. I asked her to be a guest blogger. She sent her copy immediately. Then I got the dates confused and didn't post it immediately. She was very understanding and agreed that I should post it now.

I'm delighted to (finally) welcome Denise to Meritorious Mysteries. You'll see why her Scumble River fans wait eagerly for the next installment. Her clever wit is obvious in her mysteries as well as in a blog post.

A Day in the Life of a Deadly Diva

This morning I woke up and my toy boy André was waiting at my bedside with my breakfast tray. After finishing a mocha half-caf soy latte, croissant, and the NYT crossword puzzle in ink, I entered my sumptuous bathroom where the maid had drawn my bath. I had to reprimand her because she had used the jasmine bath salts when I had clearly instructed her to use the gardenia on Tuesdays. Good help is so hard to find.

It took me quite a while to select an outfit from my extensive wardrobe, and then none of my three hundred pairs of shoes were exactly right, so I had Ferragamo send over a selection. Never one to waste time, I permitted my makeup artist and hairdresser to work their magic while I waited for the new stilettos to arrive.

I couldn’t believe that my agent was annoyed at me for being a measly hour late for our lunch date. A few tears, and he fell back in line, so I allowed him to buy me a bauble from Harry Winston to make up for upsetting me.

The afternoon was grueling. The limo that was supposed to take me to my book signing had generic bottled water instead of the Perrier that is in my contract. To top it off, the book store didn’t have the right pen—as if I’d use anything but a Monte Blanc.

Oh, wait a minute. You wanted reality not fantasy? Okay, here’s the real scoop.

I woke up to some acid rock music (my fault I forgot to check the radio station when I set the alarm) at the Holiday Inn Express. After fighting the shower curtain, which was overly fond of my behind, I managed to dry my hair into an approximate style, slap on some makeup, and find a pair of pants and top that weren’t too wrinkled from their time in my suitcase.

Then I staggered down to the breakfast buffet. Though the cinnamon buns were yummy, I really should have stuck to the Raisin Bran because the sweet rolls were certainly going to stick to me.

At 9:30 I grabbed my umbrella, bookmarks, raffle tickets, and the baskets we were giving away, and joined Heather Webber for the drive to our first event, Coffee with the Deadly Divas. Marcia Talley, Sara Rosett, Elizabeth Lynn Casey, and, fabulous author escort, Molly Weston were already there when we arrived. We spoke for an hour, signed books, and were on our way to the second event of the day by noon. Tea with the Deadly Divas was a repeat of the above, and after answering lots of questions we took a brief break at Molly’s house.

Soon we were off to have an amazing "Q and stew" supper, before hurrying to our evening event. A sea of chairs and five faces (six if you count the crazy guy in the back) greeted us. We put on our program for the third time that day, signed some books, then headed back to the hotel. It was ten o’clock when I collapsed on the bed, knowing I had to repeat this schedule the next day. And as I drifted off to sleep, I thanked God that that was the case. I wouldn’t trade the actual life of a Deadly Diva for anything.

Friday, January 22, 2010

WINNERS! We've Got Winners!!!

The drawing auditors have spoken! The winners of the two copies of The Bone Chamber are [drum roll, please!]
Donnell and Kathy

If you'll send your snail mail addresses to me at mysteryheel @, I'll get the copies in the mail.

Thanks to all of you who posted. I hope to have a new contest up soon.

Next week's guest blogger is Denise Swanson, author of the Scumble River Mysteries. Denise will talk about her life as a (Deady) Diva. Please join us!

Monday, January 18, 2010


My guest blogger today is Robin Burcell. Robin, an FBI-trained forensic artist, has worn many law enforcement hats—police officer, detective, and hostage negotiator. She's won the Anthony Award for her San Francisco Homicide Inspector Kate Gillespie novels, but her newest ventures, are about a forensic artist for the FBI. The Bone Chamber is her latest international thriller about an FBI forensic artist. Face of a Killer received a starred review from Library Journal. She is the author of four previous novels. View The Bone Chamber book video trailer here. She hopes you'll visit her website.

THE BONE CHAMBER is still hot on the shelves, but I've got two copies to give away to posters at this site. Check back on Friday to see the winners. I'll ask for snail mail addresses then. And now, here's Robin…

Danger Will Robinson! Dinner invitation with Jessica Fletcher is fatal!

For those of you not old enough to recall Lost in Space, or the robot who was there to warn young Will of the many dangers while traveling from planet to planet, you are no doubt old enough to at least have heard of the great TV series Murder She Wrote and what happened if one was unlucky enough to be invited anywhere that mystery writer Mrs. Jessica Fletcher was invited. This became known as the Jessica Fletcher Syndrome (JFS), which earned its place among other popular death-is-imminent terms like Red Shirters from Star Trek (anyone wearing a red shirt on an episode of Star Trek and not a main character was doomed to die in that episode).

There are worse fates in my opinion than the JFS. There is… (drum roll…) Too-Stupid-To-Live syndrome, better known as TSTL. Far too many characters in both books and TV suffer from TSTL. We see it all the time. In some cases, however, it is far worse than others. Especially in cases dealing with professionals who should know better. I’m talking about cops and FBI agents and spies even. Sending a girl alone down into the basement lit by one shaky bulb to investigate a noise when she knows the bad guy (whether a monster, serial killer or murdering ex-husband) is in the area is a prime example of TSTL. But when it’s a cop, it really ticks me off. I nearly threw a book across the room when a female officer went running after a bad guy without calling it in to dispatch, and without informing her partner who was a mere few feet away (albeit in a coffee shop at the time). And while I’d like to say that you’d rarely see something like this happen in a book written by a cop, I doubt that would be true. I’ve been guilty of it myself (in early drafts) for the sake of a good story. We often take liberties in fiction for this very reason, which is why I have taken this moment to stop you before you allow your own character to suffer from TSTL.

Let me offer an example of one of my own characters from an earlier series who suffered from TSTL. Kate Gillespie in EVERY MOVE SHE MAKES is a highly trained homicide detective. In a pivotal climactic scene, I have her and her partner enter a warehouse to search for the suspect. My friend read the first draft and said she felt Kate was being stupid entering that warehouse. (After all, Kate and partner get taken at gunpoint. This is the big moment.) She accused me of placing Kate in a TSTL moment. I argued that Kate had a partner. What more could anyone want? She said, “Would you enter that warehouse with only one back up if you knew a killer was in there?” And then she added the kicker, “Especially if you had the entire police force at your beck and call with one press of the radio key?” Well, no. Of course not. But this is fiction. She didn’t buy that. She was right. If I, as a real officer, wouldn’t enter that warehouse with only one other officer, then why on earth would I force poor Kate to do the same? I changed the scene so that there was a very, very valid reason for Kate and her partner to walk in there without additional back up. I turned a TSTL moment into a heroic-save-the-day-against-all-odds moment.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in your story, and, for the sake of exciting, tense moments, allow your character to become involved in TSTL situations without meaning to.

In my current book, THE BONE CHAMBER, FBI forensic artist and special agent Sydney Fitzpatrick avoids TSTL when she hops a plane to Rome to investigate her friend’s death. Even though she isn’t assigned to this case, and technically shouldn’t be investigating—in fact is ordered off it—and there are some very dangerous people after her, she knows ahead of time that an agent is on that plane, so that gives her a built-in back up. And since she is conducting her investigation in an unofficial capacity, she doesn’t have the entire FBI Bureau at her beck and call. So it really makes her smart to make sure she has another agent to assist her on the case.

Ah, the lessons we learn from robots and space shows. How about you? Anyone care to relate your favorite TSTL moments from TV or the movies?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Guest Blogger Lori Armstrong

Today's guest blogger is Lori Armstrong, winner of the 2009 Shamus Award for Best Paperback Original, Snow Blind. Her most recent novel is No Mercy. Lori left the firearms industry in 2000. Her mass market mystery series has been nominated for many awards. She lives with her family in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Research? Of Course!
by Lori Armstrong

Over the course of my writing career, I've been asked how much of what I write is based on personal experience. My response? Almost zero. Write what you know doesn’t hold true for me, because sadly, my life is terribly tame. My female character, Mercy Gunderson, heroine of my latest mystery, No Mercy, gets to have all the fun; she’s proficient in firearms, she wins bar fights, she knocks back whiskey like water and she has the chops to figure out "whodunit" and to see that justice is served.

Since I’m not the all-around badass, tough chick I created, I have to do research. Lots of research. Some research is not so bad—I’ve gotten to shoot a sniper rifle, tour a distillery, ride along with cops, receive personal, detailed martial arts demonstrations, and participate in a spring branding. Hands on research? Love it. But the flipside is it isn’t all hands on. Yesterday I wasted three hours looking up two pieces of information I doubt anyone will even notice in the finished book...unless I get it wrong—then everyone notices.

That means I’m always looking for accurate sources. I’ve been fortunate to find experts who are willing to talk to me, and expect my off-the-wall questions. A while back I called my local FBI office to clear up a question I had on jurisdictional land issues. In western South Dakota, we have a jigsaw puzzle of land management divisions. There’s the National Forest and National Grasslands (under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior), Indian Reservations (governed by the individual tribal councils as sovereign nations) and that doesn’t take into consideration the dividing lines that separate the city from the county and in some cases, from what falls into the state’s jurisdiction—all within a mile or two of each other.

It’s probably no surprise the FBI agent balked at my question: “If I want to dump a body outside of town...which law enforcement agency has authority?” She informed me she had to speak with her supervisor and call me back. I’m pretty sure she ran a check on me in the hour I waited. Since that incident, I’ve learned to clarify up front that I’m a writer working on research.

I'm near the end of my latest contracted book where I have to go back and plug in research. This will probably make research lovers shudder, but I leave all but the most pertinent/plot relevant facts swimming in the sea of, “Yeah, that'll probably work” until I'm completely done with the first rough draft. Why? Chalk it up to yet another hard lesson I had to learn about my own writing style. So much changes from draft to draft that I frequently end up ripping out entire sections of the manuscript. I’m not a pleasant person if I’ve spent hours or sometimes days on specific research that I don’t use because it doesn’t fit the revised story line.

There’s a reason why my mysteries don’t detail a race against the clock to clear civilians out of the building before a terrorist blows it up with a new type of chemical warfare, or explain the technology used to crack DNA codes for tracking down serial killers, or rely on the social and political mores of a specific historical time period to validate the plot. The idea of researching those ideas…really frightens me.

Do you notice an author’s research when you’re reading their book? Or do you only notice it if you know firsthand that it’s wrong?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

TOP PRODUCER by Norb Vonnegut (Minotaur Books)

Nothing beats the pace of Wall Street—the adrenaline rush—the unbelievable highs or the depths of the lows—not even murder? Grover O’Rourke is a top producer of wealth at the firm of Sachs, Kidder & Carnegie or SKC as it is known on the street. Grove works for the division that manages client’s money. He was flying high until 18 months ago when his wife and daughter were killed in a horrific automobile accident. The driver of an 18 wheeler fell asleep at the wheel and crushed their car.

Now Grover is attending his second funeral in 18 months. His best friend, mentor and head of the Kelemen Group, Charlie Kelemen, has been murdered. Charlie was throwing a birthday bash for his wife, Sam, at the Boston Aquarium for a small gathering of 500. When Grove and some of Charlie’s friends go looking for him, they find him weighed down in the shark tank. Before anyone can do anything, Charlie is killed and mangled by the sharks. It isn’t too long after the funeral that Sam comes to Grover and asks for his help. She has no money—all of Charlie’s assets are either well hidden or missing.

And so starts Norb Vonnegut’s initial novel. Yes, Vonnegut is Kurt Vonnegut’s nephew, but this book squarely stands on its own. Please do not let the vernacular of Wall Street throw you a curve. Knowing a little of the arcane language of Wall Street helps but isn’t essential to enjoying a good murder mystery. You do not have to know exactly what derivatives are or puts and calls or hedge funds or junk bonds to enjoy this first endeavor by Norb Vonnegut.

--Stephen Bank works at the Cary Public Library

FTC full disclosure - book provided by the publisher

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

DEAD AIR by Mary Kennedy (Signet)

Carolyn Hart sent me an email about this one.

I'd like to recommend Dead Air, first in a new mystery series. Mary Kennedy's marvelous debut mystery is sure to dispel January gloom.

Readers will delight in talk radio psychologist Maggie Walsh, the fetching protagonist created by real-life psychologist Mary Kennedy. Imagine Frasier meeting Murder She Wrote with a dash of Dr. Phil.

I believe Dead Air launches a fabulous new series.

A new writer can't get better praise! (I enjoyed the book, too, but I know folks pay 'way more attention to Carolyn than to me!)

Monday, January 04, 2010

Guest Blogger Toni L.P. Kelner

Please join me in welcoming today's guest blogger, Toni L. P. Kelner. I met Toni at my very first mystery contest, way back in…well, who cares what year it was. Toni hails from North Carolina, but like the protagonist in her first series, Laura Fleming, she moved to the Boston area where she still lives. Toni has a long backlist of great mysteries in that series; numerous short stories; two anthologies, edited with Charlaine Harris; and a new "where are they now?" series featuring Tilda Harper. In her blog today, we learn that Toni has a thing for old TV Westerns.

Cowboy Up!
by Toni L. P. Kelner

The Golden Age of Cowboys was a glorious time.  No, I'm not talking about the real Old West, back in the 1800s. I'm talking about the 1950s and 60s, when you could hardly turn on the television set without seeing a ten-gallon hat, a horse, and a tumbleweed a-tumbling. All told, there well over a hundred different TV Westerns aired. If you'd taken all those TV cowboys and laid them end to end, you'd have...  Well, you'd have a whole passel of cowboys laid hat to boot.  

Now those TV Westerns were not strictly accurate depictions of frontier life. But then again, they weren't meant to be. Real-life cowboys were people—TV cowboys were heroes. Cowboys and the Wild West were idealized almost before the era ended, with all the mostly fictional accounts of the exploits of Wyatt Earp and others being published, Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show touring the world, and "real" cowboys displaying their talents at dime museums. Some of the earliest movies were Westerns, so it's no surprise that they rode onto the television screen at the first opportunity.

And there was such variety! There were Westerns aimed at kids (Hopalong Cassidy and The Roy Rogers Show), adults (Gunsmoke), and families (Bonanza). There were lawmen in Tales of the Texas Rangers and Steve Donovan, Western Marshal, ranchers in The Big Valley, gamblers in Maverick, a reporter in Man Without a Gun, a doctor in Frontier Doctor, and even a frontier circus in (naturally) Frontier Circus.  

So what do TV cowboys have to do with mysteries, particularly my latest "Where are they now?" novel, Who Killed the Pinup Queen?

The fact is that there are actually two threads running through this book, despite the title. One is the story of the murdered pinup queen, but the  other is about TV cowboys. TIlda Harper, my protagonist, is a freelance entertainment reporter. Her current assignment is to track down former guest stars from the fictional Western Cowtown, and she has to wrangle those interviews at the same time that she's trying to find out who killed the pinup queen. Not surprisingly, the stories intersect.

You might think that these two trails go in opposite directions, but cowboys and pinup queens make for a wonderful juxtaposition. For one, both are American idealizations. Pinups are hyper-feminine, whether they're portraying the girl next door or the bad girl you wish were next door. Cowboys are hyper-masculine—strong, rough and ready, independent— yet kind to women, small children, and animals. For another, both pinups and cowboys are the stuff of illusion. Pinup queens are airbrushed and made up and posed and anything but real, while authentic cowboys probably didn't bathe nearly as much as their TV counterparts.  And nothing makes a mystery writer happier than having illusions to play with.  

Then there's the fact that Tilda specializes in "where are they now?" stories about the formerly famous, which is frequently stars from old TV shows. And as I mentioned before, there were lots and lots of TV Westerns. I could create a fictional one and slip it into the herd without raising even a tiny cloud of dust.  

There's also the fun of having cowboys in Boston, which is not really known for them. Boston isn't exactly known for Hollywood types either. So my characters Tucker and Hoyt Ambrose, known as the Cowboy Kings because they produced a posse of TV Westerns, stand out from the herd two times over.

But here's the real reason I wrote about TV cowboys: I like them. I like famous Westerns like Gunsmoke and The Big Valley, funny shows like Maverick and The Wild,Wild West, and obscure ones like The Quest and The Guns of Will Sonnett. I like knowing pretty quickly who's the good guy and who's the bad, I like the good guys winning, I like the kindness to women and small children and animals, and I absolutely love cowboy hats and shirts. I even enjoy how Westerns sound: horses nickering and galloping, all that stuff on the saddle rustling and rattling, those fake desert animal noises. Even the gun shots sound less threatening than in the average cop show. That's why I created the Cowboy Kings and the show Cowtown.

You see, my character Tilda only has to live with a story for a month or two, but when I set out to write a book, I know I'm going to have to live with that topic for upwards of a year. That means it better be something I enjoy. Like TV Westerns. And I had a wonderful time researching the genre, and then setting up plots and characters for my fictional show. And just as the Lone Ranger and other TV cowboys had creeds, oaths, and prayers, I came up with The Cowtown Code, the rules by which the inhabitants of Cowtown live.  

Now I don't think you have to like TV Westerns to enjoy Who Killed the Pinup Queen? Most of the book involves the mystery, not the background, and of course, there are those pinup queens if that's more to your taste. But if you do like 'em, then saddle up and ride along. We can talk about our favorite Westerns while we go—I bet you have a favorite TV cowboy, don't you?