A Character by Any Other Name

I don’t know what your process is in naming character, but I put a lot of thought and research into it. I want to be sure my character’s name suits the personality, the family and background, and the growth process during the book. There are some great names from famous mystery writers that I tend to think will always be around.

ThinManNick and Nora Charles were the sophisticated investigators created by Dashill Hammett for his novel, The Thin Man. Who could forget this engaging couple and their adventures? They still show up regularly in crossword puzzles and on the old movie channels. I love their elegance and sharp wit when pursuing mysteries.


Agatha Christie has perhaps the most famous amateur sleuths with Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. These mysteries were complicated and often filled with a large cast of characters who were all suspect.

An editor recently asked us to stop giving everyone in our small town names. She said there were too many people who readers needed to identify so we began saying thing like “the man who owned the hardware store” and “the librarian, who had been working in the school system for too many years.” This became a painful process for us because we’d gotten to know the people in the town, and we felt it took away a layer of the story that gave it more warmth.

OrientExpressI think I can safely say that Murder on the Orient Express is my favorite Christie book. It was a compelling story with a lot of double entendres and secrets. Going through the investigative process with Poirot while having everyone trapped on the train was fascinating. I do love that story and am equally fascinated with the movie. The cast was brilliant and gave excellent performances. There were so many characters it’s difficult to name them all here, but they had a connection with the American who was stabbed many, many times during the night on the train. The story unravels slowly and feels you with a strong sense of justice being done.

DeadlineOther characters I’ve appreciated through the years include Hieronymus Bosch, the dedicated LA cop created by Michael Connelly. I also enjoy J.A. Jance’s Joanna Brady and J.P. Beaumont, two very different people who solve crimes in their own way. As I mentioned before, Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers, characters created by John Sandford are two of my absolute favorites. and who can forget Eve Dallas and Roark. I enjoy the futuristic element in these police procedurals.

I could probably go on for hours about great characters names like Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March will always be with me. I also enjoy The Five Little Peppers, and felt their names fit perfectly.

Mysteries will always be popular, and I always think about the name I’m using just in case it ends up being in crossword puzzles and movie references. I want to be sure it will look and sound good.

Share some of your favorite character names! I’d love to hear from you.



The Age of Loneliness?

Are you lonely?

In an opinion piece in The Guardian, George Monbiot tells us why many people are lonely. Hundreds of comments followed some saying in not too friendly words that Monbiot was full of horse manure (another four letter word was used,) more seemed to agree with Monbiot and thought the piece brilliant.

Monbiot points to recent studies that reveal that loneliness is an epidemic among the young and others.

A study by Independent Age shows that severe loneliness in England blights the lives of 700,000 men and 1.1m women over 50, and is rising with astonishing speed.adults and points to social media, plus other current habits. Also, loneliness attacks the elderly. In part, he points to television which is often used to substitute for friendship or missing family members. But it falls short of the job.

He points to broad changes: “Yes, factories have closed, people travel by car instead of buses, use YouTube rather than the cinema. But these shifts alone fail to explain the speed of our social collapse. These structural changes have been accompanied by a life-denying ideology, which enforces and celebrates our social isolation. The war of every man against every man – competition and individualism, in other words – is the religion of our time, justified by a mythology of lone rangers, sole traders, self-starters, self-made men and women, going it alone.”

Families are parted these days for job opportunities. I confess to a deep loneliness for the company of my children and grandchildren who live in other parts of the country. Life just seems to make more sense when I’m around them. We are close, I feel them right now as I’m writing about them. We’re usually in the process of planning when we’ll get together again.

But the days go by, the everyday happenings of life, and it all passes without them and without my sharing their everyday.

This  is relatively new. My paternal grandmother lived in the one house all her married life and most of her six children lived nearby. She cooked a macaroni dinner every Sunday at 12:30, served with a big salad, often from her garden, and fresh, crispy Italian bread. Everyone who wanted to, came over.

Our whole family will be together for Thanksgiving Day. We’re traveling from all corners of the US to do it. Three days of togetherness. Then it’s back home.

In a recent PBS television program, it was found that the happiest of people were those surrounded by their family and friends, and those who belonged to groups whether it was an exercise group or one from church, or whatever.

So I’m grateful for the love of my family, and church family, the choir I sing in, the writing and tai chi buddies, and my incredible husband who understands that I miss my kids.

To me, a mother, who isn’t within traveling distance by car to her children, is living in an unnatural state.

Do you think Monbiot is right, that this is the Age of Loneliness?

Major Crimes at Bouchercon

Here I am paying strict attention to head writer James Duff and writer and technical adviser Mick Berchem of  the fabulous tv show Major Crimes at a special meet-and-greet before their presentation at Bouchercon.


If you have wondered what is like to write as a group, you must read Linda Landrigan’s post on the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine blog, Trace Evidence. She covers the presentation in vivid detail. Click here.


BJ Bourg: Righting Crime Fiction

BJ Bourg, crime fiction writer and publisher of Mouth Full of Bullets, a webzine that ran from 2006-2008 and published over 120 writers (including this one), has worked in law enforcement for twenty-four years. He recently announced the inception of Righting Crime Fiction, a blog designed to provide crime fiction writers with accurate information regarding aspects of police procedure.

The current issue, the third in a series on guns and ammunition, focuses on spent casings, how they’re deposited at a crime scene and what they reveal to the investigating detective. As you’ll see when you check out the blog, the information is detailed, clearly presented and illustrated with photographs as well as video clips.

In addition, BJ generously invites writers to contact him (rcf@bjbourg.com)  if they need information on a specific topic.

Righting Crime Fiction promises to be a great resource.

How to Moderate an Author Panel (well, one way)

How-To-Moderate-An-Author-PanelThere is, actually, NO single, right way to moderate an author panel, so I’m offering my own thoughts only. Many outstanding moderators and panelists view it differently, but here’s my take on both roles. By the time you read this, I may be already moderating my first panel of three at this year’s Bouchercon *gulp*

Like many people, I do get nervous in advance of public appearances. I still get jitters–not cripplingly, but notably–even after doing a lot of them and even though I enjoy doing them. That’s because I want things also to go well this time, and you can’t know whether it worked until it’s all done, like a manuscript. Part of my insuring things go well is that I have a clear idea of my own rationale for such appearances. It’s served me well enough so far, and I stick to it. Whether you think my tips have merit, finding any approach you like for such situations (since like public readings, author panels are something fiction writers are encouraged to do) and being consistent will help provide a buffer against anxiety.


Alfred Hitchcock interviewed by Dick Cavett

AS A MODERATOR: When I’m asked to moderate, I approach it like the authors are showing up to do the Dick Cavett show. I pick Cavett as an example, though I wasn’t alive for his whole run. But in interviews I’ve seen (and there are a bazillion worth watching online–just search), he comes across as upbeat and well-versed, confident, but with a light touch that keeps the focus on the guests. That is a smooth quality, IMO, so that’s what I try to be: an engaged, friendly person who’s done enough homework to offer the authors a positive and interesting way to showcase their work.

Now, I don’t have a team of research assistants or junior production staff, but I’m blessed by the times. For bios and book info, I’ll search. If there’s a featured interview online or guest post, I’ll find it. So, the only info I ask from authors is to let me know if there’s a specific question I should or should not ask, and whether their online materials are correct. I’ll always mention their latest publications or endeavors–that’s what will most likely be available in the book room after all–but occasionally, there’s something specific to an audience’s interest or something late-breaking that ought also to be part of their intro. There are also occasionally landmines (could be contractual or related to partnerships or series) or sensitivities (a recent online contretemps or blow-up) that an author wishes to dodge in panel conversation. I can’t control the audience Q&A, but I can and will steer clear of such things myself if notified. Yes, the latest tempest may be the most recent topic of interest, but I’m there for the work first.

I do read a lot a material for panels, but probably not an author’s entire bibliography and maybe not even to The End of the latest novel. My goal is to get enough of a feel for anything I don’t know yet (since I’ve already got some major genre mileage on my eyeballs) that I can harvest it for questions. I frequently use an author’s words, quoted in brevity, as a launch pad for my questions. If I want to ask questions about characters, I’ll read a sentence of the novel’s description about the protagonist. Humor? I’ll quote from a a funny interview the author gave. I make these quotes brief, and I mean brief, because the mod should never be the focus for too long. But when I’m spring-boarding from the author’s own work or words, I’m always confident of being on-topic. Talk To Me About Your Work is my mantra. It’s the source, the wellspring, the safe harbor to which I will return for questions again and again.

Attention-Please-Hurry-UpNow, backing up some, even if supplied the text by authors or their websites, I may need to cut panel introductions down. If you recall my How to Read Fiction Aloud post, when reading material for an audience, I’m at the pace of about 150 words/minute. Therefore, I like an author intro that’s no longer than 30 seconds, about half that time, or about 75 words at max. Why? 30 seconds can seem like a plenty loooong time to simply be reading from your notes, but audiences aren’t there to hear me, and they won’t recall all the fine details anyway. In fact, because of this, rather than introduce everybody all in a row at once, blab, blab, blab… I like to give the intro at the time when I ask each author the first question. To me, this links their bio more memorably to the question and response. Think of it like a cinematic establishing shot. (Yes, I may ask general questions for the whole panel’s response later, but I always start with an intro and question for each individual. ) To some people, this approach seems weirder than rattling all the intros off at once, but I think it gives each author’s intro pride of place, attention right at the time they can respond to it, like a natural conversation. YMMV. To condense bios, I may summarize a list of by-name awards down to “three lifetime achievement awards from international organizations.” It’s easier to recall, still sounds impressive, and lets us swiftly get onto the conversation.

I do try to retain anything unusual from the bio that will help the author stick in the mind, however, especially for those building series and careers. So sue me, I’d rather mention your parents’s ostrich ranch than each of the titles of your past four books. If I mention the series name or protagonist, interested readers can and will look up the book list themselves, but they’ll be more likely to remember they wanted to if they can mentally link your name, series, and the interesting detail of a growing up on an ostrich ranch. And since I got all that from your online materials (right?), a general search of “cozy mystery bike shop ostrich ranch” will bring your site right to the top of the list. Ta-da, your prospective reader has found you, even if the convention program and schedule get lost.

Let’s suppose your sadly impoverished bio has no ostrich ranch, no, don’t bother making one up. I’m most focused, as the audience will be, on having the conversation. Without doubt, it’s the conversation that audiences remember most of all! Casual, pithy, relevant remarks are the ones that get recalled and retold. As moderator, I’m trying to give the maximum opportunity for a conversation that feels unique to the time and place and crowd, something candid, not canned. This becomes increasingly important with authors and audiences that have a lot of panels in their pasts. I’ve heard about every crime fiction topic ever invented, I’d guess, but I still leave grinning after terrific panels. While at the dais, IMO, the moderator and panelists should work together to cultivate a spontaneous, genuine feeling and to promote generous participation (and that’s whether the topics are funny or deadly serious, or even feel at the outset to be threadbare or misconceived). That authenticity and goodwill happen in the moment. It’s not necessarily related to any advance cramming, it’s about enjoying the experience in real-time, about making the most of sharing with like-minded fans. For an audience, that creates a positive emotional impression of the experience that will outlast the details.

talk-micAS A PANELIST: Please speak right into the mic (but don’t yell) with genuine enthusiasm about your own work. If you don’t seem to care, who else will? Yes, yes, many authors are introverted and shy by nature. But, if you can sit in the dentist’s chair for an hour and resist the urge to fight back, you can overcome your other natural instincts long enough to smile for people who may actually want to invite your work into their imaginations and pay you for it!  That said, here are some of my Pet Peeves for Panelists:

1) If there’s a great story you like to tell, please don’t use the same verbiage or punch line unless it’s popular enough to be a t-shirt and people expect it. Do feel free to allude to the fact you’re aware the audience may have heard it before. In stuffy conference rooms, and especially after lunch, eyes glaze over with lusterless repetition. Make sure it’s really worth the risk to jam in that old chestnut. Didn’t something silly happen with your neighbor’s dog and the laundry last week? Survey your family’s Facebook stories, and find a way to work them in–you’re a creative liar, remember? You can always ask your friendly mod (yes, ask me!) to bring up the subject The question might be a set-up, like in a late-night talk show, but your having fresh material to share and discuss is more important.

2) If your work is a really bad fit for the panel you’re on (which definitely happens), grousing about that or other conference logistics during the panel will only make you look like a sourpuss. Your gripes may be well-founded, but is the impression you want to leave with prospective readers that you’re person who’s a drag to spend time with? Or instead, if you’re inviting readers into your written adventures of life-and-death and injustice, is there a chance you could, for the short-term, embrace a bold and adventurous can-do attitude yourself?


Even if nerves make you chatty, don’t get labeled as a glory hog.

3) Don’t steal all the airtime. As an audience member, you already know how much you hate when this happens, but be especially aware if you’re a habitual blatherer when nervous. *my hand is raised* No one, not your mother or your literary agent, wants to hear all the details of the dream in three acts you had the night before you started writing your novel. “I got the idea during a nightmare” is perfectly interesting (and Tweetable) and leaves the audience wanting to know more, not wishing you’d wrap it up. Don’t get so caught in your own head that you fail to look at anyone else–they’ll give you cues to their interest. Also, if I’m doing my mod job right, after you open an interesting topic, I can invite your follow-up or check if another panelist has had a similar experience, leading to an expanded discussion. We’re with you then, captivated, not simply held captive.

4) Your opinions are yours. Yes, you should share them (re: that authenticity I keep harping on about), but as your personal convictions and from your perspective, always leaving respectful room for disparate views–there are plenty, which is what makes life and fiction entertaining.

So many panels fail in just these simple aspects, that I can guarantee if a panel session feels genuine and collegial (of whatever style the moderation or topic or authors), people will tell you it was a great panel. Really! Take my word for it, and see you at the next panel!

Talk to me mic image via ShizzleDizzleMagic‘s 9 tips for public speaking.

Bouchercon Book Bags

At every mystery conference there are always some free books for the attendees and there is usually a snazzy book bag. Here are the bags for Bouchercon 2014.



And here is a nice pile of books waiting to be stuffed in the bags. Oh wait. Can it be? Is that Well Read, Then Dead hanging out with the other books? Why, yes, yes it is.



First National Readathon Day


The First National Readathon Day is set for January 24, 2015, from noon – 4 pm. The campaign (Twitter #timetoread) was launched yesterday by Penguin Random House. In addition to encouraging folks to make time to read, the program will support the National Book Foundation (whose function is to expand the audience for literature in America) using first giving.com. Participants can read on their own or form teams which can pool their fundraising efforts.


Mashable will dedicate one session of its book club to the project. Goodreads is also on board. Schools, Libraries, and bookstores are encouraged to participate.

The first 100 venues to sign up as hosts will get a free Readathon poster.


Are you going to participate in the First National Readathon on January 24, 2015 ~ in a cozy chair in your own home, your local library, your favorite bookstore, or elsewhere? Let us know ~ and what you are planning to read, if you already know!

Follow me on Twitter @katcop13 ~ along with @PenguinRandom @nationalbook @mashable @goodreads

Thank You Veterans

Please accept our thanks for your decision to serve and serve honorably.


It is our responsibility to help provide adaptive housing for those troops severely wounded in combat since 9/11. You can find out how to help by visiting Homes for Our Troops an organization that specializes in adaptive housing. Take a look and help if you can.


Amazon– Verified Purchase

In doing an Amazon review for a fellow writer, I was encouraged to purchase the ebook copy of the book and then write a review so that the “verified purchase” label could be attached to my review.

Now, I’m not savvy enough regarding Amazon reviews to know the significance of this compared to a review without a verified purchase label. So I got the following from amazon.com.

If a review is not marked Amazon Verified Purchase, it doesn’t mean that the reviewer has no experience with the product – it just means we couldn’t verify that it had been purchased at Amazon. They may have purchased the item elsewhere or had some other interaction with it. If we could somehow validate their experience with the product, we certainly would. The Amazon Verified Review label offers one more way to help gauge the quality and relevance of a product review.

So as my fellow writer implied, the Amazon Verified Purchase review seems to hold more weight than one without that label.

I also understand that the number of Amazon reviews will dictate the logarithm that your book will be placed, which will dictate its exposure on the site. And an interesting fact I’ve recently read is that ebooks published by Amazon, which are numerous, average about 35 sales each, a minuscule number for sure if it’s correct.

Does anybody know more about the Amazon Verified Purchase label, logarithms and the sales of Amazon published ebooks?




Serialized Crime Fiction: Seven Deaths, One Corpse

The Year I Died Seven Times, serial fiction in 7 installments by Eric BeetnerWriters and publishers have tried to make contemporary fiction serials work, like they did when Conan Doyle and Dickens were writing them, back when people would yell from the dock to ships arriving with new editions of the magazines to get the early word if Little Dorrit was going to be okay. It would seem like modern, short attention spans and episodic TV would make serials a natural (again) for fiction, quick installments delivered in a flash to electronic devices. But in my experience, sometimes they work, and too often, they don’t delight.

I’ve seen e-serials that take too long between installments, aren’t written with hooks in the right places, aren’t priced correctly (for example, ones where all the pieces together cost much more than a comparably-sized novel), and otherwise aren’t really designed to compete or succeed.

However, I just read a crime serial I think worked well: The Year I Died Seven Times, Books #1- #7 by Eric Beetner. (Of course, my disclaimer is that I only began reading at a point when I knew I could read all the pieces. Maybe we should think about releasing serials in more binge-friendly quantities? Is it a serial if they’re released all at once?) Anyway, follow the link above for the entire Fresh Meat post I wrote for Criminal Element:

For the last several years, [Ridley’s] been on disability he doesn’t really need, renting out his medical marijuana card to a stoner pal and dealer, CJ, also selling off his Vicodin so he can couch-surf and exist on takeout…

But that’s Ridley’s existence before Miho Tsukiji, a Japanese girl working on a visa, who he comes to love quickly and dangerously deeply. Maybe the void of any other purpose in his life makes her presence that much more important, and when she suddenly says goodbye and disappears from L.A. without preamble, a terrible need to understand haunts him. In fact, it will kill him. Again and again.

For our purposes here, let’s talk more about the notion of fiction serials. I always advise clients to make dang sure their novel chapters have decent hooks, especially if we’re going to leave that character or situation for a bit. A good hook doesn’t have to be a true cliffhanger, a swinging vine over a chasm, just an intriguing-enough promise of something coming that encourages a reader to keep turning pages and forget the alarm clock. Hooks are the connective tissue that hold a plot-based narrative together, and they’re essential to a serial worth following.

When Eric Beetner‘s not writing fiction, he gigs in TV, so it’s not that surprising that he knows how to craft lots of little episodic arcs inside a bigger, series-long one. Happily, this story’s device of the hero continuing to die in some unfortunate new way in each installment kept getting better for me as it went, like a repeated gag that actually gets funnier with each variation, rather than worn out or dull.

To appreciate this story most, I think you have to be able to enjoy the comeuppances and fatal mistakes of lowlifes, of the desperate and foolish. This IS noirish fiction, but with an edgy sense of humor. Imagine some of the gross, un-fixable, but perversely hilarious events in films like Fargo or In Bruges or in an Elmore Leonard novel. If that stuff makes you grin, you’ll get a kick out of this.

But even if you’d just like to see what you think of the pacing and format, because perhaps you’ve considered working on something in a serialized structure, it’s well worth your time to Grab the whole series Now. The publisher, BEAT to a PULP,  is offering All 7 e-installments FREE (40 to 50 pages apiece) on Amazon for a week as of today! Yes, the F-word. Do snatch them up and see what you think!

(And if you enjoy it, you know the score… leave a review! I’ll have mine up in the next day or two.)

What do you think of serial fiction? Are there recent serials you’ve read that you’d recommend?