Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Remembering Scout

 by Barb Goffman

Thank you for coming to this memorial service in honor of my dog, Scout. You may have only known him online, but whether Scout licked your face in person or virtually, I’m sure you felt his love from the stories I shared of him. All the stories. All the time. I probably drove some of you to boredom at times from all my posts, but whenever I looked at him, I always felt a surge of love to him and from him that I wanted to share. And even now, though he isn’t physically with me any longer, I still feel that surge of love. I’m so happy to be able to share it with you one more time.

Scout was a Labrador/shepherd/malamute mix. He weighed about eighty pounds. His fur was like an Oriental carpet. From one angle he’d look blond. From another, he’d look light brown. He had white fur on his tummy, big brown eyes, blond eyelashes. In his puppy pictures, you could see a black mask on his face. He had a long fluffy tail that he wagged when he was happy; in his last few weeks, he used that tail as a rudder to try to keep his balance. 

He was the sweetest boy you could ever meet—as long as you didn’t ring the doorbell. If you did that, Scout assumed you were an invader here to kill us, and he would charge to the door, barking and jumping so he could bare his teeth through the window. In his final year, he couldn’t climb the stairs to the front door anymore, but he still maintained his job as the head of home security, standing at the foot of the stairs barking away.

Scout was a rescue dog. According to the records I received from the SPCA, he was found when he was eight weeks old, trying to climb into a lady’s car in a bank parking lot. (He always loved the car, both riding in it and smelling the wheels of any car around.) That bank was next door to a veterinary office, so the lady assumed he’d escaped from there. He hadn’t. My best guess is someone dumped him there, thinking the vet would find him and get him a good home. They called the SPCA, which took Scout in for a few months, raised him, and trained him, until he went to a family. He lived with that family for five years until they gave him back because he didn’t fit in anymore. Fools. But it was my gain, because my beautiful boy was waiting for me.

In case you didn’t know, Scout was a very smart dog. When I would sit on the floor and pet him, he’d sometimes sense I was about to get up. He’d place one of his front legs over my arm, trying to hold me down, forcing me to keep petting him. He understood a lot of words and commands, but most telling is he understood “Show Mama what you want.” Sometimes he wanted a treat and would walk to the treat closet. Sometimes he wanted to go outside and would walk to the door to the yard. His answer varied depending on what his desire at that moment was. That’s a smart boy.

Scout loved Dad's visits
Scout loved presents. He especially loved them if they came in a plastic bag. Whenever I came home with shopping bags, he’d meet me at the door to smell them, hoping there would be something in one for him. He somehow always knew when there was a bag with a new squeaky toy in it. He’d ram his head in the bag, pull the toy out, and try to make it squeak by pushing on it with his nose. If that didn’t work, he’d squeeze it in his mouth. He was gentle with his toys, so I probably didn’t need to buy him many, but I usually couldn’t resist the joy that overcame him when he realized I’d brought home a new baby for him. Sometimes I’d wash his old toys and give him one from the closet, but he could always tell if it didn’t have that brand-new store-bought smell, and he’d lose interest much faster.

Scout also liked store-bought treats. Processed treats, my friend Kim recently said, and she was right. When we’d visit his old friends with the SPCA, they’d offer him high-end treats, and he’d turn his head away. No highfalutin stuff for Scout. He adored Beggin Strips and T-Bonz and Milk Bones. In his final days, he stopped eating anything but the T-Bonz. They were especially soft. I’m grateful he could get them down.

Scout loved our backyard, which backs up to woods. He would run to the fence over and over, barking at the foxes and deer that live back there, as well as at the neighbor’s cat that sometimes roams the woods. When he was younger, before he got arthritis, Scout often lay on the grass in the fall and spring, keeping an eye on the woods. In the autumn, I’d sweep leaves off the deck, and he’d run around underneath, joyfully trying to catch them in his mouth. Scout especially loved chasing sticks. A stick on the ground was irrelevant to him, but a stick I’d throw was heavenly. (He rarely brought the sticks back, just chased them.) On his last morning, we were in the yard, and I picked up a stick. For a moment his eyes shined, and he looked so excited, like a puppy. I threw the stick, but he didn’t run after it. He wasn’t up to it anymore, but I loved seeing that light in his eyes once again as he contemplated it, even for a second.

Scout wasn’t afraid of much. He loved the car. He loved the vet. He loved going anyplace and meeting anyone new. We once went to the vet for a walk-in nail trimming, and when our turn came, one of the vet techs opened the exam door, saw him, and said, “Scout, I didn’t know it was you.” And, I’m not exaggerating, he strutted into that room as if he were saying, “Yeah, baby, it’s me. I’m here.”

One thing Scout didn’t enjoy was having his picture taken. It might be hard to believe, given the number of photos I’ve posted, but those pictures were hard earned. He didn’t like the Halloween costumes I made him wear or the elf hat I put on him each Christmas. He especially didn’t like his birthday crown. Most years, he wore the costumes just long enough for me to get a picture and off they came. But when it came time for his bark mitzvah last fall, he wore his yarmulke and tallit (prayer shawl) happily all night long.

I’ve probably gone on way too long, but I have so many memories to share. Scout was the best part of my life, and I pray that the people who say we’ll be together again one day are right. 

In the meanwhile, every autumn I will continue to have six weeks of celebration. That’s what Scout and I used to do every year, beginning on September 30th. That was the date in 2006 that I met him in person (I’d already fallen in love with him from his photo online) and filled out my adoption application. Two weeks later, on October 14th, he came home to live with me. Two weeks after that, on October 28th, when our required trial period had ended, I finalized things with the SPCA. And then two weeks after that, Veterans Day, November 11th, was his birthday (at least, that was the original vet’s best guess, so it’s the date I’ve always used). That’s six weeks, from September 30th until November 11th, with a milestone exactly every two weeks during that period. Every year, we celebrated each milestone and our joy of being with one another during those six weeks, and I will continue that tradition.

Scout may not be with me in person anymore, I may not be able to rub the fur behind his ears (so soft), I may not be able to tell him that he’s the best boy ever, but he knows that he’ll always be in my heart. Somewhere, somehow, he knows. I wish we could have been together forever. For the time we had, I’ll be forever grateful.

 Rest in peace, my dear sweet boy. Mama loves you.

Tribute to a Beloved Dog

Scout at his "bark mitzvah"

by Sandra Parshall

At 8 p.m. eastern time tonight, Poe’s Deadly Daughters will host Barb Goffman’s online memorial service for her beloved dog, Scout, who died recently. 

Why a memorial service for a dog? Barb, a mystery writer and program chair for Malice Domestic, has a multitude of friends in the mystery community, and through her we all got to know the often funny and always endearing Scout. Abandoned by his first owners, Scout spent time in foster care before Barb found him and gave him a life that made up for those early bumps in the road. When he died, many of us felt the loss keenly, not only because he was a wonderful boy but because we knew how much Barb loved him and what a huge part of her life he was.

It’s impossible to exaggerate the importance of pets in our lives, or to overstate the joy and comfort and love they give us. Anyone who has lost a companion animal — and most of us have — knows the grief can be every bit as intense as that for a human friend. Please join us tonight to help Barb say goodbye to Scout.

In the meantime, I’d like to reprise something I posted a couple of years ago about the unique relationship between humans and dogs.

We give a lot of attention to the similarities between humans and chimpanzees – look-alike brains and all that DNA in common, plus a human-like family structure – but the animal that understands us best may be lying at your feet right now. Pure brain power is one thing, but when it comes to succeeding in a human-dominated world, no species can match the domesticated canine.

About 15,000 years ago, humans began to see the benefits of settling down in one place and growing their food instead of roaming endlessly in hunt-and-gather mode. Agriculture was born. And, inevitably, garbage resulted. Enter the dog. Human settlements provided a reliable supply of food. Making nice with the humans allowed easy access, and even some bonus tidbits. Dogs were undoubtedly happy to act as guards – after all, protecting the humans that supplied the food was in the dogs’ own best interests. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship that has evolved and deepened into something unique.

Now it’s difficult to imagine a world without dogs. Those few human societies in which dogs are not kept as companions seem odd to the rest of us. We have learned that affection and rewards will buy us anything where dogs are  concerned. They lead the blind and assist people with other handicaps, sniff out contraband in luggage and shipping crates, chase down criminals and go into battle alongside soldiers, rescue us from burning buildings, locate both living and dead people buried under rubble after natural disasters, guard our houses and businesses and stand between us and anyone who tries to hurt us.

I can’t imagine a chimpanzee doing any of those things. In addition to intelligence, chimps share a prominent trait with us: they are self-centered. (And as much I adore my cats, our relationship is mostly give on my part and take on theirs.) Dogs, however, build their lives around humans. As long as we treat them right, they will do anything for us. And the amount of money spent annually on veterinary care, dog food, treats, toys, doggie apparel, beds, etc., indicates that we will just as readily do anything for them.

Research indicates that brain size and innate intelligence are less important to a dog’s success with people than an ability to focus on human behavior. In a testing situation, pet dogs demonstrate that what matters most to them is what the humans around them do and what they appear to expect from the dog. Dogs that can’t pick up cues from humans or refuse to do what people expect of them tend to be “selected out” – and that can mean anything from being removed from a breeding program to being dumped at a shelter. Paying attention to people reaps big rewards for a dog.

Far too often, humans abuse that devotion and force dogs to do things that go against their nature and best interests. The post-rescue stories of Michael Vick’s fighting dogs prove that viciousness is not an inborn trait of all pit bulls but a response to brutal training, an effort by the dogs to do what humans expect of them. The dogs rescued from Vick’s operation showed the same psychological trauma evidenced by abused children. In the hands of rehabbers at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary (see and, these scarred and terrified animals have learned to trust people and to show their true personalities. Some are now living as contented pets in homes with small children, other dogs, and/or cats.

The modern domesticated dog was, in a very real sense, created by people to serve our purposes. We have a powerful influence on the behavior of individual dogs. Humans can ruin a dog. But we can also save it.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Fatigue Factor

Sharon Wildwind

From last Wednesday to Sunday, I was on Prince’s Island, enjoying the Calgary Folk Music Festival. We started with a volunteer walk-through of the site Wednesday evening. I worked volunteer shifts Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and two on Sunday. Because Creedence Clearwater Revisited, whose music I love, were the closing act on Sunday night’s main stage, there was no way I was leaving until after the final encore.

Fortunately, I’ve learned to pace myself and emerged from the weekend energized; healthily fed; well hydrated; and tired, but not exhausted. Not so some folks around me. It was fascinating to watch how fatigue crept up on people and how otherwise sensible individuals didn’t realize how tired they had gotten.

One of my gripes about mysteries is how fast the hard-boiled types recover from beatings, blood loss, and bullets. Yes, I know the story has to keep moving, so the cop taking two weeks off isn’t on, but super-human recovery times still destroy the similitude of real life. It’s the same with what I call the Non-stop Bunny Detective. Like the famous pink rabbit with the base drum, this gal keeps going and going and going.

She rarely gets a full night’s sleep. She drinks too much black coffee and too much wine. Her diet is abysmal, and her stress level taller than the Calgary Tower. She rarely exercises, except when the author needs her to do a 10-mile run, first thing in the morning. At that point she throws on her exercise clothes — which we never knew she had — and runs her favorite route — which also had never been mentioned before — clearing her head so she recognizes a vital clue she missed before.

Things I’d love to see both amateur and professional detectives do in books

Have a regular fitness program. I’m willing to believe the 10-mile run as the vital-clue-head-clearer if she runs more often than once in the book.

Carry water bottles and healthy snacks. Even a small amount of dehydration and/or low blood sugar can confuse thinking and increase decision-making errors. I would really prefer that people sifting through clues are fed and hydrated.

Sleep on a regular basis. Real cops have down time. Some police forces have rules about how long detectives can work without going off-duty. That’s why detectives work in teams.

Have a cop put his head down on his desk and fall asleep in the middle of a shift.

Use fatigue as humor. Imagine if the cop is using eye drops to cover eye redness from fatigue, only he sneaks away to put them in, and his buddies are concerned that he is developing secret a drinking problem because he keeps disappearing for a few minutes several times during the shift. Or what kind of grief will the detective take when she converts to working at a stand-up desk?

Now, as part of my Folk Festival recovery program, I’m going to take a nap.

Quote for the week

There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence, and that is activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of this innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace, because it kills the root of the inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
~ Thosmas Merton, (1915 – 1968), Anglo-American Catholic writer, Trappist monk, priest, poet, social activist and student of comparative religion

Monday, July 29, 2013

In Defense of Cursive Writing

by Julia Buckley

Cursive writing was once a given in school curriculums; a student learned printing, and then she graduated up to cursive (in my case, around the fourth grade).  Cursive, when I was young, was seen as sophisticated: the "adult" writing to which most young people aspired.  Little children would judge the maturity of an older child by determining whether or not he or she could write in cursive.

But the value of cursive writing goes well beyond its seeming sophistication. Cursive writing IS more complex than printed writing, which is perhaps why signatures have to be written in cursive.  Historical documents (including family letters) are written in cursive--perhaps most famously the one above. And yet, many school curriculums are dropping cursive writing, viewing it as an antediluvian skill that will have no place in the modern world of computers. The focus now is on keyboarding, reflecting, I think, the general short-sightedness of people in the computer-enhanced world.

According to an article William Klemm wrote for Psychology Today, Klemm says that scientists are learning that cursive writing is important for cognitive development. According to Klemm's research, when students write in cursive, "there is spill-over benefit for thinking skills used in reading and writing. To write legible cursive, fine motor control is needed over the fingers. Students have to pay attention and think about what and how they are doing it . . . brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding."

In fact, Klemm later reveals that cursive has a similar effect on the brain as does learning to play a musical instrument. In a science called "haptics," which includes the interactions of touch, hand movement, and brain function, it is clear that cursive helps a child with key skills including visual, tacticle, and motor dexterity (Klemm).

I could not agree with Klemm more when he concludes that "school systems, driven by ill-informed ideologues and federal mandate, are becoming obsessed with testing knowledge at the expense of training kids to develop better capacity for acquiring knowledge."

Cursive is not an outdated skill.  Some forms of learning should be left alone in the great sweep toward modernization, especially when those techniques have clear and lasting effects on growth and ability.

Has a child in your family already entered the non-cursive generation?  What are your thoughts about it?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Guest Author Simon Wood

Simon Wood is a California transplant from England who’s been a competitive race car driver, is a licensed pilot, and an occasional PI. He shares his world with his wife, Julie, and their longhaired dachshund and five cats. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines anthologies, such as Seattle Noir, Thriller 2 and Woman’s World. He’s a frequent contributor to Writer’s Digest. He’s the Anthony Award winning author of Working Stiffs, Accidents Waiting to Happen, Paying the Piper and We All Fall Down. As Simon Janus, he’s the author of The Scrubs and Road Rash. His latest novel, No Show, is out now. To learn more about Simon, visit his website.

Too Small To Be Big
By Simon Wood
I’ll never be a bestselling author. It was never my intention. Seriously, it wasn’t. I just wanted to be published and published well (and hopefully earn a few shekels along the way to keep me stocked in Walnut Whips). But I can dream. One day it would be cool to think that my name will be a household word and to have sycophants hang on my every utterance—but that won’t happen, because I’ll never reach bestsellerdom. And it has nothing to do with talent or lucky breaks. It’s because I’m just not big enough to be a bestseller. Physically, I’m mean. At 5’ 4” (actually I’m 5’ 4 1/2”, but my wife, Julie, laughs because I toss in the 1/2”), I’m not a tall guy and short guys don’t make it to the NY Times bestseller list.
Simon...and his snowblower
You’re probably laughing at me (that’s if you can see me down here amongst the grass blades), but you can’t ignore the facts. Stephen King floats around six-three. Harlan Coben is in that realm, as is Steve Hamilton. Two of the biggest selling authors are two of the biggest people in publishing. Michael Crichton is six-seven or something and they have to divert air traffic around John Grisham wherever he goes. That’s why you don’t see him out promoting his books too much these days. The FAA hates when he leaves a fixed position.

Having attended a number of mystery conventions, I’ve gotten to see these literary and physical giants wandering around the convention halls banging into ceiling lights with their heads while I had to have someone lift me up to reach the elevator button. I used to cast a glance their way and think, wouldn’t it great to be like them. Then I realized, I can’t. I’m not a member of the big guy club. I’m just not big enough to get on their ride. No wonder I’m in the small press. It’s for little people only.

Personally, I think it’s a conspiracy of big people. First they get their own “big and tall” stores, now they all want to be bestselling authors. How long will it be before agents start asking for previous publishing credits and height details? Not long, my short-legged friends.

Personally, I think it has to stop. A short guy needs to make it to the NY Times bestseller list to bust open this discrimination—and I think that short guy should be me. What I need you all to do is buy at least five copies of each of my brand new book, NO SHOW and tell friends and family to do the same. It’s available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all good independent bookstores. Together, we can make a short guy stand on the shoulders of giants.

Just in case you’re wondering if this is a shallow attempt to get you to buy my book, I’d like to quote House of Cards’ Francis Urquhart, “You might think so. I couldn't possibly comment.”

Friday, July 26, 2013


by Sheila Connolly

Since the Zimmerman verdict was handed down, issues of race and profiling have bubbled to our cultural surface again.  That fact implies that they have never gone away, despite the election of a president of African-American (and Irish!) descent.

I'm not going to debate the politics or whether the legal decision was fair.  What I do want to talk about is my own unusual history with people of color—something I rarely mention to others, as though it was a shameful secret.  I grew up with black servants. Live-in help, plus a few who came in weekly to do laundry and cleaning.

No, I was not a rich kid, and that era of my life lasted less than a decade.  It was a reflection of my mother's pretensions (my father was an Irish kid from Syracuse—heck, his mother and aunts had been hired servants—so it wasn't his idea).  Yes, both my parents worked; the fact that my mother had a job (professional designer for Lipton Tea in New York and its satellite offices) that took her out of the house overnight periodically necessitated some kind of in-house care for my sister and me, and for a few glorious years in the 1950s my parents could afford to pay other people to do the things they couldn't or didn't want to do.

But this isn't about money, it's about race relations.  For the first ten years of my life I grew up with housekeepers, cooks, laundresses, and cleaners who were all African-American (or Negro, back in those days).  My mother dealt with them fairly and paid them a competitive salary (I probably have the records in the attic somewhere), plus making Social Security payments for them.  She provided them with living quarters, and took the housekeeper along for a month at the Jersey shore each year. She talked to them over shared lunches, if not precisely as friends, then at least as people, not "the help."

And I just accepted it as the way things were.  But bear in mind, I lived in a succession of lily-white mid-Atlantic suburbs. There wasn't a black kid in my class until I reached eighth grade.  At that point we lived in a town that had a black "ghetto"—all of one block long.  And once our town made national news because a boy a couple of years older than I was dared to go to a local barber shop for a haircut, and was not happy with the results, probably because none of the barbers had ever tried to cut black hair.  I walked home past ABC news trucks recording his protest.

But I had to learn about racism from the outside in, because I had never seen it when I was growing up.

Fast forward a couple of decades.  When I moved from California to Pennsylvania in 1987, I went to work for a small municipal financial advisory firm in Philadelphia.  When I say "small" I mean fewer than ten employees—yet we were ranked among the top ten firms nationally. Why? Because the company was run by a black woman, which made us eligible for minority set-asides (for both color and gender), starting with Philadelphia, where the first black mayor, Wilson Goode, was in office.  New York had a black mayor:  another client.  So did Baltimore: yet another client.

In that company I was the minority, the only white face on the staff.  I was there because I was a good number cruncher. I wasn't always included for presentations to potential clients (often minorities), but I almost always went along for presentations to institutions like the national rating agencies (Standard & Poor's, for example) where the staff was mostly white. Discrimination?  Or just a business reality?

Now I live in a small town in New England where a quarter of the population has Irish roots—but there are next to no black people.  Few enough so that it's a shock to meet one on the street.

And as President Obama said this past week:

There are very few African-American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors or cars…. There are very few African-Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.

I've become that woman, in spite of my background. Is that profiling? Does that make me prejudiced?

My husband grew up in the Midwest, where there were few minorities, so his childhood experiences have to be different from mine.  Still, we've had black friends, and we've welcomed them into our home (along with Asians, Indians, gays, lesbians and at least one transgendered person).  But I won't deny that racism exists in this country, and that we're conditioned to make assumptions and snap judgments, all too often based on skin color.

The majority of the fictional characters I have created are white.  That's because most of my readers are white.  Does that make it right?  I have to keep in the back of my mind that my Irish family would have been met with contempt and even violence when they emigrated to the United States from Ireland.  And I also remember that at least one of my early New England ancestors owned slaves, and passed them on to his heirs in his will.

How much have things changed? Will they continue to change?

Remember this?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Erie Canal

Elizabeth Zelvin

On a recent visit to relatives in Syracuse, I took a walk down the towpath of the Erie Canal. I don’t think I’d ever seen the canal before, though I’ve been singing about it most of my life and read about it in historical novels. The first song I learned was in the classic Fireside Book of Folk Songs:
I’ve got a mule, her name is Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
She’s a good old worker and a good old pal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
We’ve hauled some barges in our day
Filled with lumber, coal, and hay
And we know every inch of the way
From Albany to Buffalo.

Low bridge! everybody down
Low bridge! for we’re coming to a town
And you’ll always know your neighbor
And you’ll always know your pal
If you’ve ever navigated on the Erie Canal.

I was probably in my early teens when I learned the other song, which was relatively raunchy for the 1950s.

We were forty miles from Albany
Forget it I never shall
What a terrible time we had that night
On the E-ri-e Canal.

Oh, the E-ri-e was a-risin’
And the gin was a-gettin’ low
And I scarcely think we’ll get a drink
Till we get to Buffalo-o-o
Till we get to Buffalo.

The cook she was a grand old gal
And she wore a ragged dress
We hoisted her upon the pole
As a signal of distress.

Et cetera.

The funny thing about the songs is that they’re in the collective unconscious of people over a certain age. When I posted a couple of the photos on Facebook with the tag “Oh, the E-ri-e was a-risin’” people chimed right in, quoting lines from both songs, in the comments.

We visited Lock 50 in Camillus, New York, twenty minutes by car from downtown Syracuse. There’s a small museum that the docent opened especially for us. There you can see photographs of life on the canal in the 19th century, huge coils of hemp towline, and giant containers for kerosene and whale oil, as well as clothing and other memorabilia of the families that lived on the barges.

At this time of year (though not in mid-May, when we visited), you can take a cruise down the canal. There are even dinner cruises with live music. The boats are powered by engines, although apparently you can see mules pulling barges at a couple of points on the canal. There’s no active lock at Camillus, but we were told that for supporters of the restoration, it’s a dream they hope will come true some day.

We walked about half a mile in fine misty rain. When the rain got heavier, we turned back instead of going on another half mile to the aqueduct. The towpath is lined with woods where wildflowers were growing, and the area around the museum and lock house were beautifully planted. There are even benches—some donated for the canal’s further restoration in memory of loved ones—where you can sit, contemplate the tranquility, and think yourself back to an earlier time.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What do hybrid authors want?

by Sandra Parshall

Hybrid seems the way for writers to go these days, and I’ll admit I feel like a dinosaur because I haven’t made the jump yet.

A hybrid author is one who publishes traditionally  but has also self-published original work. Some, like Amanda Hocking, became successful by self-publishing after traditional publishing houses rejected their work, then used their solo success to secure lucrative traditional book deals. Others, like the phenomenal Sylvia Day, started in traditional publishing, moved to self-publishing, and now does both.

Hybrid authors are savvy about both types of publishing, and many have negative opinions of print publishers. They know what their choices are, and the most successful among them are skilled at marketing. They tend to make more money — often far more — from self-publishing than from their traditionally produced and marketed books.

So why are they still willing to take the print route with some of their work, and what does a traditional publisher have to do to hold onto them?

A new Digital Book World/Writer’s Digest report offers insights that might make traditional publishers more than a little nervous. The report, for sale through the DBW website, is the result of a 20-question survey of 121 successful hybrid authors, followed up by 17 in-depth interviews. Although I can’t quote from it directly, I’ll summarize it, and you can decide whether you want to pay to read it in full.

The major complaints about print publishers won’t surprise anybody:
*Writers are not respected as partners in the process.
*The author has virtually no creative control. The person who spent a year or more pouring her/his heart and soul into writing the book loses control of it when a publisher takes over.
*Communication between publisher and writer is poor.
*Getting a book to market takes too long (a year, 18 months, or more is typical).
*Royalties for the writer, including digital edition royalties, are too low.
*Few books receive marketing support and promotion.
*Publishers are afraid to take chances on new writers and fresh ideas.
*Publishers claim all rights and hold onto them for many years, cutting off the possibility of additional income for the author. (Writers cheered when Hugh Howey, author of the e-book phenomenon known as Wool, sold Simon & Schuster the U.S. print rights only and held onto everything else.)

Writers recognize that traditional publishing has some benefits. A printed book from a reputable publisher remains a more prestigious product and is easier to get into bookstores and libraries. Major publishers can distribute a book widely (although many small publishers can’t get their books into stores and rely mainly on library and internet sales). Traditionally published books are reviewed in industry periodicals. All the tedium of production is handled by the publisher.

However, the lack of adequate marketing support from their print publishers is a major sore point for authors. The books that are expected to become bestsellers are heavily promoted, but beyond the mailing of review copies, promotion for the great majority of books is left entirely to the authors. If a book doesn’t sell, the writer is held responsible and may be dropped by the publisher.

Creative control was by far the biggest factor cited when the surveyed authors were asked why they want to self-publish their next books. Ease and speed of the process was second, and money came in a distant third.

A side note: Established writers I know personally or online through writers’ groups are enthusiastic about reclaiming the rights to their out-of-print novels and self-publishing them. Some have had to fight to wrest their rights from publishers that want to hold onto them and put out their own e-book editions. Writers love the freedom of being able to redesign a book and give it a fresh and often more attractive cover. (Covers are usually designed by people who have not read the books, and authors have little or no input. Sometimes a great cover results, sometimes not. Ask any group of writers if they’ve ever had a cover so bad that it embarrassed them, and the floodgates will open.)

Many excellent, inexpensive services now exist for preparing e-books for publication and designing covers. The DBW/WD survey also delved into the reasons why writers choose one service over another and what additions  they would like to see, such as distribution of printed copies, establishment of major awards for self-published books, and marketing services.

The surveyed authors were also asked about the role, if any, agents play in their careers. Many say they no longer use agents, or have never used them. Some agents have created side businesses for handling the e-book publication of clients’ works, and some have set up their own e-publishing companies (violating the bylaws of the Association of Author’s Representatives). The overwhelming majority of authors, though, feel an agent is no longer necessary. If they need someone to negotiate a print contract for them, they would rather pay a lawyer a one-time fee than commit to paying an agency’s commission forever.

One part of the report, an enlightening interview with Romance Writers of America president Sylvia Day, is available free on the Digital Book World website. Day says she started self-publishing because she was dissatisfied with the way traditional publishing works — the slowness of it, the low royalties, the paychecks that arrived only twice a year. She says she can live comfortably on her self-publishing income. When traditional publishing companies in the U.S. and abroad wanted her sensational Crossfire e-book series, she hired a new agent to make sure she got the advance and royalty she wanted from Penguin, plus some control of the packaging and pricing. She says it took a month for Penguin’s representatives to “wrap their heads around the notion” that they weren’t competing with another publisher but with Day’s self-publishing experience. In the end, agreement was reached on a print deal.

Day believes the world needs the publishing industry, but she still loves self-publishing. The main reason: Readers are entirely in control, choosing the books that will be successful, without publishers telling them what they should be reading. A lot of successful self-published books, she points out, were rejected by numerous publishers who believed they would never find an audience.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Shading Isn't Just for Drawing

Sharon Wildwind

I am a library-taught artist. I’ve brought home hundreds of art and craft books, read them, and practiced making messes in the privacy of my own home, which is a good thing. I get to choose which successes go public and which messes stay private.

Some techniques take a while to learn. I know why shading is important. It adds interest and depth. It engages the eye. It helps the eye flow through the drawing. It add perspective. Good reasons, which don’t change that I find it so incredibly boring that I usually skip shading my drawings. I’ve resolved to do better. Those black-and-white squares don’t look half bad.

Shading applies to writing as well. It’s those microscopic word choices that add punch and clarity to sentences. Think of it like spice, a pinch here and there improves the end results.

When should writing be shaded? If a writer can catch certain words as she writes, and change them on the fly, bonus. Most of the time shading works best just before the final grammar and spell check.

Here are five ways to use shading to add interest and depth, engage the reader, help the reader flow through the writing, and add perspective.

Revise placeholders

A placeholder is a good-enough-for-now word or phrase that keeps us from getting bogged down in minutiae that would stop the flow of writing. Very often I use cliches for place holders. Sometimes I also mark details that I need to confirm later, notes to myself like [Did she get Mildred’s first phone call on Monday or Tuesday morning?] Using bookmarks or enclosing text in brackets [these little square marks] makes it a lot easier to find what needs to be revised because we can do a global Find for [.

Remove pseudo actions

Common pseudo-action movements include turning, running a hand through the hair, tapping a pen on a table, taking deep breaths, and smiling. Smiling is particularly bad. If characters are involved in the aftermath of a murder, they should not smile all the time. It makes them too happy for the story.

Common pseudo-actions settings include eating or having a drink, taking a walk, driving from one place to another, or doing a background activity—picking up dry cleaning, going to the library—that people do in real life, but which has no relationship to the story.

Remove filter words

Filter words place a character between the detail  and the reader. Examples: see, hear, think, touch, wonder, realize, watch, look, seem, feel, feel like, can, decide, sound, sound like, know.

Emma wondered where Jack lived. She considered if she should turn left or right. Left went to the beach; right to a newly-gentrified neighborhood. She decided Jack was more a beach person, and realized that she should turn left.

Left or right? Left was the beach; right, a gentrified neighboorhood. Jack adored the beach. Emma turned left.

Make sure sentences—especially those that turn the story— are powerful

Just like powerful sentences are good chapter endings, powerful words are the best sentence enders. Don't put powerful words in the middle of a sentence.

“Mary-Beth was Tommy’s daughter, but he insisted that be kept secret.”

“Tommy insisted no one should know that Mary-Beth was his daughter.”

Make every dialog a power struggle
No two (or more people) in a conversation should ever completely agree with one another. People having conversations may be 45-, 90-, or 180-degree in opposition to one another.

  • 45-degree conversations: One person is trying to make a point or impart information; the other person isn't paying attention, or is in mild disagreement with the point being made.
  • 90-degree conversations: one person is trying to make a point or impart information; the other person is also trying to make a point, but about a completely different topic. Think of it as one person talking horizontally and one person talking vertically.
  • 180-degree conversations: one person is trying to make a strong point or impart important information; the other person completely disagrees with what is being said, and in fact, may be so angry or upset that they choose to leave.

Quote for the week:
The Southern way of talking is a language of nuance. What we can do in the South is we can take a word and change it just a little bit and make it mean something altogether different.
~Lewis Grizzard, (1946 – 1994), American writer, humorist, and newspaper columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

(Around our house, remarks I make are often greeted by my husband’s puzzled expression, and the question, “Were you just speaking Southern?”)

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Joy of Random Connections

by Julia Buckley

About six months ago a woman contacted me through the e-mail on my website. She had a best friend in grade school named Julia Buckley and she'd been searching for her for a long time, looking to reconnect. Was I, she wondered, the same Julia Buckley?

I wrote back to her and said that, not only had I not gone to grade school in the South, but Julia Buckley was my married name.  However, I told her that I was impressed by her quest, and I hoped she would find the other Julia.  Had she tried Facebook? I asked.

She wrote back to me. She had tried Facebook, to no avail.  But then she asked me about my books and my website; she too was a writer, and often gave seminars at universities.  She was curious about my book, THE GHOSTS OF LOVELY WOMEN, because she had an amazing ghost story that she had considered turning into a book.  (I won't share it here, because she might still do it!)

The gist of this story is that, through sheer serendipity, the two of us began to correspond regularly. In fact, the reason that I thought of this as a blog topic was that she just contacted me today, asking how things were going, and sharing some more of her amazing anecdotes (she's one of those people who has had a life full of fascinating experiences, partly, I think, because she is an interesting person and she tends to attract other interesting people).  We made a pact to check in with each other more regularly, because we both view an e-mail from the other as a day-brightener.

Inspired by her quest for the first Julia Buckley, I tried to find an old friend of my own--a pen pal I'd gotten in grade school (perhaps around 1975), long before Facebook made contacting someone in another land an easy thing.  I had been so excited to get my Swedish pen pal, whose name was Gunilla Christiansson, and we wrote back and forth for a year or more.  We shared pictures, post cards, cultural tidbits.  I loved getting her letters, with the amazing foreign stamps and the thin airmail paper.  After a while we stopped writing, but I always remembered her.  Facebook, I thought, would be a great place to re-connect.

Except for this: guess how many Gunilla Christianssons there are on Facebook?  And guess how many of them are blonde?  And that doesn't even include all the many Gunillas who might not be on Facebook at all.
So I started to realize the problem of my friend seeking Julia Buckley. It's not that easy to find an old acquaintance, even with the magic of the Internet.

And yet, out of a quest for one Julia Buckley out there, I received a little gift in the form of a new friendship. That's the sort of thing that life provides for free, and it is so very rewarding.

Can you share a serendipity story?  I love to hear them.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Writer’s Block or How to Jumpstart Your Imagination

Polly Iyer (Guest Blogger)

I exchanged Facebook posts the other day with an author lamenting about writer’s block. I commiserated because I’m having the same problem with my work in progress (WIP).
The difficulties prompted me to reach for something on top of my computer desk that I haven’t looked at in quite a while. It’s a book by Jason Rekulak called The Writer’s Block, which I purchased years ago in a gift store. The title is a play on words because the book’s dimensions are 3” x 3” x 3”. Get it? Block. Inside are 786 ideas to jumpstart your imagination. On the first page is a quote by Joseph Heller: “Every writer I know has trouble writing.” This from the author of the bestselling Catch-22. I felt better already.

As I thumbed through its stiff pages, I saw ideas for writers to unclog their brains and stir their imagination, many geared to short stories. But short stories can and do evolve into novels. For mystery writers, one idea was to research an unsolved murder that happened in your town or to write something from the point of view of a murderer…without mentioning the murder.

Throughout the “block” were single word triggers: Waiting. Lust. Prophecy. Tattoo. Discipline. Loser. Superstition. Homeless. Flirting. Cloning. Panic. Deadline. Outcast. Hangover. Any one of those words could create the concept for a short story or a novel if a writer allows her imagination to flow. (I shall allude to the writer as feminine.)

I’m a visual writer―I see stories as movies―so the last word, Hangover, reminded me of the film The Lost Weekend. Did the screenplay come from a book? I wondered. Yes, by a writer I’d never heard of, Charles R. Jackson. He wrote the dark, terrifying story from personal experience. As I read more about him, I thought he’d be a fascinating character worthy of protagonist status. And another idea was born, maybe to be resurrected at a later date when I searched for an idea for a new book.

One idea from the Block suggested tracing the journey of a five-dollar bill through five owners. How much or how little did the transaction mean to the different people involved? This suggestion reminded me of another old movie with Shirley MacLaine and an all-star cast, The Yellow Rolls Royce, which tracked three owners of, what else? a yellow Rolls Royce. I remember thinking what a clever premise, and now more ideas sparked to life.

How are different writers inspired when they have writer’s block? Tom Wolfe, journalist and novelist, claims most writers first search for a theme or a character, who more times than not turns out to be themselves. He’s inspired by a milieu or setting he knows nothing about. He chose Atlanta for A Man in Full in much the same way John Berendt chose Savannah for his “nonfiction novel,” Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I picked New Orleans for my only series, and though I’ve been there a number of times, my research took me to dark places in my mind that stimulated subplots I would never have thought about if my city had been elsewhere.

Annie Proulx claims yard sales and estate sales can serve as a treasure trove of inspiration. Think about that silver comb and brush set. Who owned it? Does it conjure a story? Barbara Kingsolver gets the interesting names for her characters from a baby book. John Irving always writes his last sentence first. That seems to open the floodgates for him. That would be putting the cart before the horse for me.

Amy Tan revives stories told to her by her parents. David Sedaris’s dozens of odd jobs―think Santa elf at Macy’s during Christmas and selling marijuana―are fertile material for his writing. J.K. Rowling took an ordinary kid, Harry Potter, and put him into extraordinary circumstances when he learns he can perform magic.

Elmore Leonard, one of my personal favorites, says, “Criminals are so much more interesting than people up at the country club talking about their golf game or their stocks.” Couldn’t agree more. Anne Lamott stresses fantasy in her assignment to students to write their acceptance speeches for the Pulitzer or their interviews with Charlie Rose or Oprah. If only. Anne Tyler keeps hundreds of index cards filled with lines she overhears, then pulls them out for inspiration. Isabelle Allende always starts a new book on January 8th, the day her grandfather died. She goes to her office early in the morning, lights candles for the spirits and the muses, and meditates. Fresh flowers and incense fill the room. Then she opens herself completely to the moment.

Personally, I like Nora Roberts’s philosophy. Writing is her job. She goes to work in the morning, parks her butt in a chair, and writes. That certainly works for her.

My story ideas always develop from a character and a “what if” situation. One page in The Writer’s Block suggests writing about your greatest fear. Mine has always been losing my sight, so I wrote a character who became blind in mid-life. It wasn’t difficult to project my fears into my heroine as I put her into frightening positions. I felt her. I was her.

Being hindered by writer’s block is a new experience. Something has always generated an idea when I least expected it, mostly at night when the lights are out. Thumbing through The Writer’s Block has stimulated some story plots, and now I want to chuck my bogged-down WIP and start a new book. I have a great idea.

What spurs your imagination when you’re in the throes of writer’s block? How do you break free?

Polly Iyer grew up on the Massachusetts coast, north of Boston. She’s a Daphne finalist and the author of six published works of suspense, all with a touch of romance and characters who tread ethical lines: Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games and Goddess of the Moon.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Mean Girls

by Sheila Connolly

I'm in the midst of first-round edits for the next Irish book (Scandal in Skibbereen), and I've noticed that my editor has commented more than once that she thinks that my protagonist, and a newfound friend, are being mean to a newcomer.

I've been working with my editor for quite a few books now, and I think she's good at what she does, particularly at finding plot holes and balancing pacing and character development within the book.  But on this issue I don't see what she's seeing.

In the book, an American stranger from New York arrives in the small Irish town and meets my protagonist Maura Donovan in the pub she's managing there.  The stranger starts wheedling Maura to help her on a quest, and Maura, trying to be supportive of an American visitor, agrees.  But the newcomer is pushy and aggressive and rude, and she's never satisfied: there's always one more thing she wants.  She's not very likeable—and that's the way I wanted her.

So she tests Maura's patience. Maura keeps trying to explain to her that her New York strategy is not the way to get what you want in Ireland (based on Maura's observations after three months in the country!), but the message is not getting across.  The result is that Maura and her friend Gillian keep trying to rein in the pushy American—and my editor thinks that makes them look mean.

Cozy mysteries have a loosely defined set of internal rules.  There is a protagonist, most often a young woman, who usually ends up solving the crime that occurs in the beginning of the book.  She must be likable and appear sympathetic to readers, so they will root for her to succeed. This protagonist surrounds herself with friends, who help her solve the crimes, and they can display a range of personalities, but they're usually likeable too.  We want them to find the killer, working together.

But that does not mean that everyone who appears in the book must be "nice." Sometimes there are characters who nobody likes, for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes they're a suspect in the murder, or even the killer, but sometimes they're not necessarily guilty of anything other than being "not nice."

In Scandal, Maura and Gillian are trying to be helpful, but they're not getting any credit for it.  They're trying to smooth the visitor's way so she can get what she wants, but she keeps trampling right over them and making things worse.  Is it any wonder they don't like her very much?

I'll admit Maura is kind of rough around the edges.  She grew up in a blue-collar part of Boston and she's never had much education.  She's socially unpolished.  She's also kind of bewildered about the turn her life has taken in the last few months, but she's getting used to it. 

Now she has a foot in both worlds, Boston and small-town Ireland; her past and her future.  Whether she's admitted it or not, to herself or to anyone else, her heart now lies in Ireland.  The pushy newcomer represents the worst side of what she's left behind, and she feels protective of her new friends and new home.

There are plenty of available examples of female protagonists who don't play by the rules.  Think of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, or Kathy Reich's Temperance Brennan (at least as portrayed on the Fox show Bones).  Or the protagonist on The Bridge, a new cable series that debuted recently, who has Asperger's and manages to annoy a lot of people.  Being "difficult" is all right—as long as the writer makes the character more than one-dimensional.  You have to show enough of the character's softer side to make the reader want to like her.  And that's the tricky part.

I's challenging to create obnoxious characters and make them more than one-dimensional. Ideally, over the course of the book they begin to change and grow.  Besides, it's a lot more fun to write them!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

My Favorite Books

Elizabeth Zelvin

Fair warning: this is not a list of mysteries. In a recent post on SleuthSayers, my blog brother Brian Thornton posed a question about “a book that helped you through a rough patch,” claiming that a certain book had “saved [his] writing career.” When he gets blocked, he said, “reading a timeless work...inspires me and helps break the log-jam across the stream of invention.”

I don’t have a comparable story about a book breaking writer’s block. The closest I come is the book that unexpectedly unlocked the gates of poetry to me. There’s my mystery conversion book, the read that introduced me to the joys of genre fiction. And I’ve spoken and written many times about the childhood reading that made me a writer. In addition, I can list a handful of consecutive favorites, books I returned to over and over and gave copies of to fellow readers at different periods in my life.

Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery (1923). My childhood favorite, which I first read in 1952 at the age of 8. Like Anne of Green Gables, Emily was a little orphan girl on Prince Edward Island. Driven to write, she was beleaguered by those who didn’t understand or approve. Still in print and the basis for a Canadian TV series.  

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868). The beloved classic, in my opinion not considered the Great American Novel only because its author, protagonists, and readers are female. Several movies and editions of the book are available. I read it first at age 11 and can still be moved to tears when I reread it. A work that influenced not only my dream of being a writer but also my vision of sisterhood among women.

The Sotweed Factor by John Barth (1960). A brilliant literary novel that I call my prefeminist favorite book. I read it many times in the Sixties, before I had a context for thinking critically about “guy books.” The publisher called it “a hilarious, bawdy tribute to all the most insidious human vices with lasting relevance for readers of all times.” An irreverent historical novel set in colonial Maryland, it’s notable for an intense delight in language.


Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers (1933). I would not be a mystery writer today if a coworker at the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson, where I worked briefly in 1964, right after graduating college, hadn’t recommended this book. I became a mystery reader on the spot and consider the character-driven traditionals I write and still delight in reading in a direct line of descent from the great Dorothy L.

The Book of Folly by Anne Sexton (1973). This is the collection of poems that turned me on to poetry and led to my thirty years as a published poet. Its accessibility and interest in human emotions were a revelation to me. Sexton is often dismissed as a “confessional” poet. I consider this an anti-feminist jibe belittling the importance of women’s relational strengths.


The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin (1974). This novel was my favorite during my belated political period (a Sixties sensibility in the Seventies). The author is one of the giants of speculative fiction. One edition gives it a subtitle, “an ambiguous utopia.” The story brings to life an idealistic vision of an anarchism that’s about voluntary individual social cooperation, not about bomb-throwing and social chaos. (On our planet, it’s never worked on a national level, but you can find something like it in an AA meeting.)

A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold (1999). Again, one edition offers a subtitle, “a comedy of biology and manners.” Part of the beloved Vorkosigan saga, this cross-genre work of genius has it all. Part space opera, part novel of ideas, part outrageously quirky romance, filled with complex and lovable characters, and laugh-aloud funny, it’s dedicated to “Jane, Charlotte, Georgette, and Dorothy”—that is, Austen, Bronte, Heyer, and Sayers. Some of Bujold’s Vorkosigan books are mysteries and/or galactic political thrillers. This one is not, and I don’t care.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Peaceful or Provoked?

By Patricia Hale, guest blogger
Author of In the Shadow of Revenge

At a conference I once attended, the speaker said,  “In writing mystery/suspense, you should always kill your most vulnerable character.” Even though I’ve forgotten who said it, I’ve never forgotten the words. They’re in my head, like knuckles tapping at my brain as I plot a story.

In my recent release from Carina Press, In the Shadow of Revenge, I used the speaker’s advice. And in my second book of the series, currently in the editing phase, another vulnerable character doesn’t see the end of the novel.  Even now, as I begin the third installment, I’m already wondering who it will be this time.

And yet, there’s another perspective niggling at me as I contemplate who will take their last breath and when.  It’s the reader. How does a reader feel when the weakest of the characters is killed? And does it matter when it happens? Should it be mid-way, so the reader has time to grieve with the rest of the characters? Or in the final pages, so the story goes out with a bang and the reader is left emotionally charged, good or bad?

The question calls to mind the old television show, "The Weakest Link." I remember truly loathing the ruthless M.C., every time I watched her cast off another player. So do readers see me in the same light when a character they love takes a final breath? Are they resentful? Angry? Sad? Will they read me again or see me as the story’s ultimate villain, a ruthless M.C.? For the most part, I think readers of mystery/suspense and/or crime novels expect bodies to pile up. But when it comes down to the final pages, do they want a Hollywood ending or a realistic finish, even when it isn’t pretty?

 To answer this, I have to consider myself, not only as a writer, but a reader. What are my own preferences? I was furious for days after watching the movie, The Departed, where Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon are riddled with bullets when the elevator doors open on the very last scene. I felt cheated, even duped, that I’d followed them for two hours only to see them squashed in seconds and the screen go black. But, and this is a big but, years later, I still hold the image of DiCaprio and Damon in the elevator clearly in my head and I’ve never forgotten the name of that movie.  If their lives had been taken halfway through, would it have had the same impact and stayed with me for this long? The answer is a definite no. So for a suspense novel to stay with the reader beyond the last page, the question becomes as much when to kill as who to kill. 
Is there a “best moment” so to speak, to off the most vulnerable (and probably well-loved) character? Of course the story has to ring true, that’s a given. It has to convey an event or series of events that the reader can believe in their entirety. If I were to kill for the sake of an outline, I would be in the same league as my psychopathic serial killer. So while the speaker at the conference was on the right track, there does have to be some angst for the reader in order for the characters to linger beyond the last page. Do I want to devastate the reader halfway through the story or in the book’s last moment? Should they put the book down softly with a smile and forget about it soon after, or hurl it at the wall with a curse and remember it for a good long time?

As writers, no matter how much we love a character (And we do. After all, we gave them birth.), we know a good story mirrors life. And in life, there’s good and bad, joy and heartbreak. So if a beloved character needs to go, we have to let them take a last breath. The decision of who it will be depends on what’s necessary for the sake of the story. Deciding when it will be means taking the reader into consideration and how we want them to feel when they turn the last page. 

As a “Criminal Minds” junkie and a mystery/suspense addict, I’m okay with death, even multiple deaths throughout a story, but I like an ending that leaves me optimistic. I want the last scene to wash away any gelatinous blood, not create it. If it’s the final image that I’ll be left with and the character can be saved then by all means throw out the life jacket, let the gun misfire, let the rope break. As a reader, I want to put down the book with a smile.

As a writer, I can’t make any promises.

What’s your preference?
Patricia Hale is a graduate of the MFA program at Goddard College in Vermont. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, NH Writer’s Project and Maine Writer’s and Publisher’s Alliance. Her essays and articles have appeared in New England literary magazines and the anthology, My Heart’s First Steps. When not writing, she enjoys hiking with her dogs and kayaking on the lakes near her home. Patricia lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two German shepherds.

Contact her at: and

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Change for the Better?

Sharon Wildwind

The Stampede ended last night. The Folk Festival doesn’t kick off until July 25th. Oh, my, oh, my whatever shall I do for the next ten days? I mean, besides find my go-to-Folk-Festival pack; buy more sunscreen; and pre-listen to artists on the Internet so I can pick which ones I want to see in person?

Maybe I should check in to see if anything new happened in the writing world while I was enjoying corn dogs on the midway.

Oh, yeah, something happened. The cuckoo called. Have you been following this? Here it is in a nutshell: a detective novel was published in London. It got great reviews, and a ho-hum reception as far as a commercial success. It was so good that Richard Brooks, the Sunday Times’ art editor got suspicious that the author could not possibly be, as claimed on the book jacket, an ex-military police officer turned writer. How he went about finding the author’s real identity is described here.

The search involved a secretive tipster who disappeared afterwards from the Internet; computer analysis of text; and and about 24-hours of Internet sleuthing. On Thursday he had an idea and got a tip; on Friday he sent an e-mail to the suspected author asking her to fess up; on Saturday he had an affirmative answer; and on Sunday he published a piece in the Sunday Times.

The answer? Robert Galbraith is in fact J. K. Rowling. Sorry for the spoiler, but you were bound to find out sooner or later.

Thursday the book was doing ho-hum in the bookstores. Sunday, bookstores in London were sold out and The Cuckoo’s Calling had shot to #1 on the Amazon best-seller list in both the US and UK.

Why in the world is it almost required that, at some point, writers publish under pseudonyms?

It doesn’t happen to sports figures. Yes, both Cassius Clay and Wilt Chamberlain changed their names, but that was a matter of personal beliefs, not a requirement in the boxing or basketball worlds.

It doesn’t happen to musicians. Simon and Garfunkel are still Paul Simon and/or Art Garfunkle, even though their musical styles have taken several turns of the years.

It doesn’t happen to artists. Jackson Pollock’s first name was Paul, but his middle name really was Jackson, so I guess he was entitled to use it.

Okay, so maybe movie stars pick a new name—years ago the studios picked it for them— but once they make the change, they stick with it. John Wayne never went back to Marion Morrison; Cary Grant abandoned Archibald Leach; and Tallulah Bankhead stuck with her real name, one I’ve always thought was one of the sexiest names going.

Over the years here’s advice I’ve heard from other writers about not writing under your own name

  • Change your last name so that your books will be shelved in book stores and libraries next to a best-selling author.
  • Do an Internet search. If your real name is identical or very similar to another author, change it.
  • The reason that many writers don’t become successes is that they don’t take advantage of name numerology. Pick a name that guarantees success because of it’s numerical qualities. Do not ask me what these are. I’d already concluded the author and I weren’t on the same planet, so I wasn’t paying attention.
  • If you write children’s books and adult books you absolutely must write under pseudonyms, so that children won’t pick up one of your adult books by mistake.
  • If you write in two genres, say science fiction and mystery, you must write each genre under a different name.
  • If you write more than one series in the same genre, you must write each series under a different name.
  • A woman writer has two choices: at least, write under initials only; at best, write under a man’s name. (Thank goodness this attitude has died out in some quarters.)

The two most irritating (and frequent) comments from my friends are, “You’re self-published, of course.” (No, I’m not.) and “What name are you writing under?” (My own, thank you very much.)

So here’s the question. What makes writers different? Why do people want us to write under fictitious names?
Quote for the week:
The author of the Iliad is either Homer or, if not Homer, somebody else of the same name.
Aldous Huxley, (1894 – 1963), English writer, editor, and pacifist