Joeseph Finder’s Tips for Writers

I recently had the pleasure of attending a lecture at The Center for Fiction given
by Joseph Finder, The New York Times Best Selling Author. He shared his story
—a fascinating one—of how he went from working for the CIA to writing thrillers.

51e-V7ZwpwL._AA160_He also shared his10 Tips for Writers from which he believes every writer can benefit. Here’s a summary:

1. Rejection can be useful. It can prompt you to do more work and get it to the right      editor.
2.   Be stubborn but be smart about it and be persistent.
3.  Learn to value criticism. It can give you good feedback.
4.  The best fiction is about character, not plot. The plot should arise from the character.
5.   Avoid backstory dump. It takes people out of the story.
6.   Every scene should do some work Ask yourself why is it there.
7.   Reveal. Surprise. Cut out the slow parts.
8.   Never underestimate your readers. Surprise them rather than fool them.
9.   Just write the book. Don’t get hung up in the prose or the words.

10. Get lucky. Hopefully get in front of the right people at the right time.

I’ve read several of Joe’s books and have enjoyed them all very much. His last thriller, THE FIXER, a stand alone, certainly proves he takes his own advice.

How about you? What, if any, rules do you apply to your writing? We’d love to know.

Literary Gifts for the Holidays

If you stepped into any retail stores on November 1, you probably noticed the holiday jpg_pumpkin_vector_image_031citems already available for sale, and holiday decorations adorning said stores as well. We barely blew the candles out in our jack-o-lanterns, or sorted through the Halloween candy, while the stores were busy changing over from Halloween to Christmas and other December holidays. They’re not even waiting ’til after Thanksgiving!

Shopping Choices catalogs 1Also, my letter carrier has been delivering catalogs every day. Most offer free shipping if you place an order of a certain amount by a certain date.

Every year I promise myself I will start preparing for the holidays early, and then be able to enjoy the year-end parties and gatherings instead of shopping and wrapping.

Here’s my chance!

I’ve been perusing some literary gift sites and thought I’d share them with my fellow Women of Mystery and our dear readers.

The Literary Gift CMugompany offers literary gifts, and then specifically, gifts for writers.

Etsy, of course, has unique literary gifts. has 142 items listed on their site when searching “literary gifts.” has over 1,700 items listed as Literary Gifts and Merchandise. posts, “50 best literary gifts for a modern-day book lover.”

Do you plan on ordering holiday gifts online, shopping in stores, or both? has pages of literary gifts!jpg_FHH0208

Do you plan on ordering holiday gifts online, shopping in stores, or both? Happy shopping!


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Writer Readings in Long Island City

Last Saturday was a beautiful day and made even nicer by a trip to Long Island City to listen to the work of writers from Queens, including two of our Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writes or America authors: Terrie Farley Moran, also a Woman of Mystery, and Laura Joh Rowland.

Reading at the LIC bar, both Terrie and Laura gave us an up close look into their writing.
IMG_1709Terrie read her short story, “The Sneaker Tree,” a Queens based tale, published in the Sisters in Crime Anthology, MURDER NEW YORK STYLE: FRESH SLICES, which she also edited. The story about the death of a young woman’s mother just before 911, pointed out how one death can be eclipsed by the death of many and how that one will forever be overshadowed by what followed it, except in the heart of her daughter.

LauraLaura, the author of 18 Sano Ichiro novels set in Feudal Japan, gave us a glimpse into her wip, THE CIRCLE OF SHADOWS. Set in Victorian England, the chapters she read focused on a female photographer who’d taken pictures of a prostitute who later turns up dead. Unwilling to get involved with the police, she keeps silent about the dead woman’s name, knowing the pictures she took are against the law.

There are many other books by these two award-winning writers. All available online or in your favorite bookstore.

Boring Characters? Write Them Secret Spirit Animals!

Cup of Carolina Wren photographed by Suzanne LaPalme

Cup of Carolina Wren photographed by Suzanne LaPalme

If you’re like me, you have writerly tendencies, I mean, irritatingly stubborn habits of style that vex you. When facing these, I really appreciate an icebreaker, like one of those party games that might feel dumb but gets me out of talking to/about the same old people the same old way. This can be especially helpful with necessary secondary characters. They don’t have your heart like your protagonists or your oddball sidekicks, but they’re critical to the action and can’t read like wallpaper. So here’s one idea: If you’re fatigued to distraction and self-loathing by the way you’re characterizing, but can’t seem to think up anything new, try writing a character as an animal.

I do NOT mean writing “She was a wren of a woman.” You’ve written that and you’re done, what else can be said? No, no. Keep the identification of your character’s spirit animal to yourself. But, when you struggle for a description or a reaction beyond the usual (are you typically a tracer of eyebrow heights, an eye-color obsessive, a smile documenter, a recorder of chuckles, a wink-counter, a freezer of glances, or sketcher of fidgets, until you scream at your own monotony?), then take a break from yourself. Think of what’s true for the wren.

In whatever scene this character appears, you can pop in elements of the wren’s coloration, its high activity level, its attribution of humility and industriousness, how it disappears when alarmed, its ground-feeding focus on mundane details, its willingness to chat and chat. “Nosy busybody” gets repetitive, but it can be tough to think of other, richer ways to imply that. If you start dotting in the characteristics of a wren or whatever animal fits, without even saying that’s what you’re doing, the characterization starts to get round and full and to hold together. Moreover, it rings true with us as readers.

Whether country or city folk, we know something about ubiquitous little brown birds, and they are part of our subconscious and collective understanding of the world, as well as part of our conscious education. A la Jung, animals are archetypes, too. So beyond earth-wise mothers and power-mad tyrants, tapping into this kind of animal archetype, without using overtly comparative terminology or labeling, I think you may be surprised how well readers make the intuitive leaps of understanding. They’ll comprehend the characters in subtler ways than simply recalling what you flat-out narrated at them. When bright readers (and all ours are clever, of course!) get to fill these imaginative gaps themselves, it’s an enjoyable process that engages them more deeply with the writing. Most of all, a secret animal identity like this can bring revelations to the writer of what might be in-type and playing against it for a particular character. Then, the writer can thoughtfully employ either side of that axis as the story demands. A character’s spirit animal does all this while giving you a blessedly new range of behaviors, sights, sounds, even smells to get you out of your description-reaction rut.

So, if you have a secondary characters that feel boring or repetitve, try writing them with secret spirit animals!

Image via the lovely Birds and Blooms site.

Summer Reading Contest…

Here’s the deal: purchase a copy of my novella, NICK OF TIME, between now and July 4th, and send me a line from the book along with your name & email info and I will enter your name in a contest to be a character in my next Nick Donahue Adventure.
UnknownNICK OF TIME is a great summer read, an international adventure of a Blackjack player hoodwinked by a beautiful woman. If you want to enter my Summer Reading Contest, the Kindle edition is just $2.51 over at Amazon. Hope you’ll enjoy it!

Local Libraries Support Writers

A great big thanks to local libraries for their support of writers and readers. They bring us together in a must sensitive and dedicated way.

I will be participating in a panel of mystery writers at The Norwalk Public Library, in Norwalk, CT, in August. Cynde Lahey is the special events coordinator there. The library has good participation for author talks, no doubt, due to Cynde.

Twenty-five people were present at my March talk there about Broken Window published March 1st. Broken Low res on line 45_med

At 6:00, June 8th I will be at the Wilton Library, Wilton, CT doing a talk organized by Karen Danvers. The library is at 137 Old Ridgefield Road, 203-762-3950. For Murder at the P&Z, the first book in the Carol Rossi Mystery Series there were a good number of people with many probing questions so I’m looking forward to it. 2940016205199_p0_v1_s300x

Thanks again to the dedicated libraries, their incredible coordinators, and their participants.


Bone to be Wild by Carolyn Haines

HainesBone to be Wild is the fifteenth book in the Sarah Booth Delaney Mysteries. Sarah Booth’s old friend, Scott Hampton, is bringing his special brand of the blues back to Zinnia in the wonderful old club located at the crossroads of Sawmill and Pentecost roads. It was rumored to be “the location where the devil made more than one bargain for a musician’s soul.” Playin’ the Bones would be the happening place—unless someone kept Scott from fulfilling his dream.

See my full review at Criminal Element. Carolyn Haines is a prolific writer from Mississippi, and her heroine Sarah Booth Delaney is a charming private investigator who doesn’t let her Southern politeness keep her from digging up the truth when it’s needed.

Check out!

Writing is a Time Machine

time-machineBy the time you read this, something will have happened to a story I’m working on. Something critical. The horrible, awful first draft will be done, and at the moment I’m writing this post, I have absolutely no clue (ha) how that will have happened. I don’t know how I will have worked through the grinding uncertainty, the problems, the compromises. As I compose this post, it isn’t accomplished. But by the time you read it, everything will be different.

That’s because writing is a time machine.

“Years passed.” Readers and writers alike accept sentences like that without question.

If you’re writing, there’s no limit to how much time you can compress: centuries, eons, the ages of universes. You can freeze a moment as long as you want. Spend days writing pages that will take hours to read describing something that unfolds in mere minutes, even seconds. You can send a character back into any moment, again and again. You could change that past every time or never alter a thing. Zip someone forward into a future that you’ll steal in the next scene. Readers add their own variability of speeds, and they’ll dip in and out of your timeline as their own availability and interest allows. They could finish your story over years or in one night.

Movies have a frame rate. Music has a tempo. Most visual art tends to fix time, its own rebellion against the beastliness, but different. Theatrical events have curtain times and stage cues and planned intermissions.There is kinetic and performance art that’s more flexible, but often it’s so intergrated with the everyday that it doesn’t defy time, but simply runs at the speed of life.

But with writing, above all these other forms, the prosaic, regulated tick-tick of time is meaningless, except as it serves the story. Time becomes elastic and forgiving, the way it seldom feels in reality.

That’s one thing to love especially. I wonder how far along I am in that story now?

A Day at Henry’s Palace

Neely Powell 2014-31-1Jan Powell and I make up the writing team called Neely Powell. We recently were privileged to go to England together and explore the familiar landmarks while visiting with my son and his family, who live in Weybridge.

Not far from Weybridge is the town of Hampton Court, where the famous Hampton Court Palace, a favorite home away from home for Henry VIII. It’s just ten miles from London and rises up beside the River Thames. Stepping through the gates takes you back in time 500 years. You actually feel the enormity of the history. All of Henry VIII’s wives came here. Henry’s heirs were born here.

HCPalaceThe first thing you notice is the immensity of it. There’s no way you can stand in the grounds and fully comprehend how big the palace is. There’s also no way you can see everything in its mighty walls in just one day, so I’m sharing some of the highlights that we really enjoyed. It was one of 50 or 60 palaces Henry owned, but it was by far his favorite.

You can feel the power still hovering in the corridors. Epic decisions and petty jealousies were familiar guests in the royal bedrooms. The amount of food and wine consumed in one day is staggering. The court required 600,000 gallons of bear every year and around 10,000 gallons of wine. FountainThere is actually a replica of a wine fountain in the courtyard used to provide unending red wine during a peace conference, complete with resident drunkards. A temporary palace made to look like Hampton Court was erected just for the conference, which was called “Field of Cloth of Gold” because of the many gold-plated tents used for housing.

Henry’s life was defined by his lavish lifestyle and preponderance of wealth. When he visited Hampton Court Palace, he had a court of 1,000 people. It’s interesting to note that the Great Hall, where Henry and his court dined was the last medieval great hall built for English royalty. Henry was so anxious to have it done, he made the masons work by candlelight at night.

When we walked down The Gallery outside Henry’s chambers, we hoped for a sighting of the ghost of Catherine Howard. Throughout the day a number of events are portrayed by actors in the palace. We happened upon the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, just outside the king’s court. He confided in us that he had found evidence of the queen’s deceit and had informed the king. However, Henry was reluctant to believe him, and he was distressed. Of course, Henry came to believe the Cardinal, and Catherine was beheaded for adultery while married to the king.

CardinalIt was fascinating to speak with the actor who portrayed the Cardinal. He never dropped character. We felt like a part of the tense drama going on in the palace. As we watched the dialogue between Henry and members of his court, the audience weighed in with their opinions on matters. It was great fun.

Unfortunately, we had to leave the grounds when they were closing for the night. We strolled along the river as we made our way back to the busy 21st street with its traffic and familiar noises.

We finished our day enjoying Sticky Toffee Pudding at a pub across the street from the palace called The Mute Swan, where we promptly began plotting a short story. We are now working on this little murder mystery, which will include a visit to one of Henry VIII’s favorite palaces.

Well Heeled An Emily’s Place Mystery

51tKXwGTGSL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_A few weeks ago, Roz Siegel, one of our Sisters In Crime (the group from which this blog arose), gave us a preview of the first chapter of her new novel, Well Heeled. It was so funny and witty it had me  pacing the floor in anticipation of the rest. Now, that I’ve read the entire novel, available on Amazon, I can truly say the pacing was worth it.

If Emily’s Place existed in reality on Manhattan’s Upper East Side instead of in fiction on its Upper West Side, I’d certainly be a customer. Not only for the great deals on Manolo’s, Jimmy Choo’s and Louboutin’s but to chat with Emily herself. Siegel has captured the spirit of her protagonist and her neighborhood and brought it to life. I could easily visualize Emily stocking the shelves, dealing with her customers and walking along its brownstone-lined blocks.

The cast of colorful characters that inhabit the novel are just that—a variety of West Side  characters who patronize her store looking for bargains or just stop by for a cup of coffee. When one of them, Sophia Sarfatti, a long time customer, complains about her shoe being uncomfortable, Emily looks into it and finds a fistful of diamonds secreted in the heel. When Sophia turns up dead and things begin to heat up.

The shoes were a find for Emily who bought them for a good price from a neighborhood kid who got them when they “fell off a truck.” As things progress, Emily scrambles to get back the other pairs she’s sold. As she does, she becomes involved with the Italian mafia, the Russian mob and several neighborhood pals, any one of whom could be a murderer. The only saving grace is that all this running around puts her in the path of Murphy the Cop, who she met when she helped him nab a killer and would definitely like to get to know better.

Well Heeled is the second book in Roz’s Emily’s Place Mystery series following Goodie One Shoe, but can be read as a stand alone. And, I for one, am tapping my foot as I type this, impatient for Emily to step out again.