Friday, June 26, 2009

On the Passing of a Great Man of Mystery, Michael Jackson
by Persia Walker

This was not the entry I planned for today. Never once would I have imagined that I would be writing my entry, while still struggling to accept the death of Michael Jackson, one of our greatest men of mystery.

His death is a stunning blow. Deep in my mind and heart, this man has been a constant companion. His music has accompanied me at every step of my life. I was a child when he was a child. I was a teenager when he was a teenager, and so on. So many of his songs mark specific memories and rites of passages. I feel as though I have lost someone very dear, very precious, and I wonder, oddly enough, if I could have done more to let him know that while he was still with us.

How, you ask?

Well, I was one of those whose faith wavered when Jackson was accused of molestation. I didn't believe the accusers for a minute -- found them totally untrustworthy -- but I allowed their charges to taint my image of him. It was enough to make me narrow my eyes and wonder. And now I feel that the scorn, the embarrassment, the shame and humiliation heaped on him, it all broke his heart. Then there were the years in exile overseas, the financial troubles, and most recently the pressure to make a comeback, to at 50 years old prove himself all over again: it all took its toll.

Why didn't I write him a note to say I believed in him? Not that I believe he would have gotten it, but one never knows. If a significant number of the millions now grieving for him had shown support, would it have eased his stress, his humiliation? I don't know. But in that one small way to show support, I wish I had tried.

(Of course, that thought leads to another, a minor segue, if you will. How many of us stand by those we admire when things go wrong? How many of us look the other way and wait for the verdict before choosing which side to support? Would it be harsh to wonder how many of those lamenting Jackson now wouldn't give him the time of day during his troubles?)

As a crime writer, one probes the psychology of the accused, both the innocent and the guilty. For all of his legendary business acumen, Jackson was naive, very naive. He trusted when he should have been suspicious, as with the reporter who twisted Jackson's televised comments and laid the groundwork for the singer's subsequent arrest and trial. And he was perhaps suspicious toward those he should have trusted. It was this combination of musical wizardry, business smarts, naivete and personal vulnerability that made Jackson so mysterious, so endearing, and so gripping a figure.

For a mystery writer, he is a fascinating character. An innocent man whose career was decimated by false charges. A towering talent who withdrew into seclusion, who faced constant criticism when he intermittently emerged, but who in the end found the courage to launch an Olympian struggle for new recognition. A comeback. Fifty concerts over the course of the next year. It would have been incredible.

Jackson's death of an apparent heart attack was as elegant and precise as his music and dance moves. In death, as in life, he exited the stage with a stunning final act that left us dazzled by what he had given us and hungry for more.

To critics, he was the quicksilver puzzle to whom they never got the key.

To others, he was simply irreplaceable.

God bless you, Michael. We will truly miss you.

My First Time ... Reading an eBook on an iPod Touch
By Persia Walker

[Please note: This was written in the hours before Michael's death, and was set for automatic release. Thus the opening lines ... well, they're a bit ironic, aren't they?]

Surely, there must be something more pressing I could write about, right? Well, yes, I'm sure there is. But bear with me on this one. I mean, I've just undergone a certain enlightenment here and well ... I'd like to share it with you.

It was a small enlightenment to be sure. I was one of those folks who said she always, just always had to read her books in paper. I mean, reading just isn't the same, is it, when it's done on a tiny little screen. I really couldn't imagine ... not until I did it.

A good friend recently gave me an iPod Touch. It was his way of supporting this particular starving artist and it was greatly appreciated. I promptly went to the Apple Apps store, found Stanza, downloaded it and with it about 35 free books, including many of those juicy romance novels that Harlequin is giving away to celebrate its 60th anniversary, and several ebooks from Random House, including one wonderful thriller by mentor and friend Lee Child.

Well, I was shocked to find just how much fun it was to read on the iPod Touch. The screen was more than adequate. I actually finished an entire book while traveling back and forth on the subway. And I enjoyed the smallness of the device. No more books banging around in my bag. It was neat.

Then I took everything one step further. (You know, I'm always pushing the envelope!) I thought, "Wouldn't it be grand if I could read my manuscript on the iPod?" So I took a closer eye at Stanza, and found that with Stanza Desktop, I could do just that -- upload the manuscript to my iPod and read it comfortably.

But then, a little voice of doubt crept in: Why would you want to read your manuscript now, when you know it still needs revisions? And suppose you find typos? You can't even make a note of it, as you would if you were reading it on paper.

So here's where I really went for the gold. I found another delightful little app called Quickoffice. It includes a miniaturized version of Micrsoft Word, Excel and some other program I never use. You can buy them separately, but Quickoffice is offering the bundle at half price (a major deal). So I thought, Why spend $12.99 for just Word when you can spend seven dollars more and get the whole shebang? (I was feeling positively rich that day!)

My, my, my! That Quickoffice worked like a champ. I can now not only use my iPod as an external hard drive, but as a "typewriter," too. I have uploaded my manuscript to my iPod and as I ride the train, rushing back and forth, I not only review my manuscript, but edit it, as well!

I am loving it! Yes!

It's amazing how much detail -- missing words, incomplete thoughts, redundant phrases -- I can catch while reading on the iPod. These are errors that I have not been able to catch while reading on my larger laptop screen. I guess my eyes just skim over the material when reading on the laptop. They can't do that with iPod, which in contrast, acts like a magnifying glass.


Now, do I think that reading on a device will ever really replace reading on paper? Don't know. But I do know it's a very, very viable alternative.

Next thought: To not just edit, but originate a manuscript on my iPod. I know that others have already done it. And soon I'll be ready to rock that baby, too!

Oh, yeah!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

C’est La Vie
By Angela Henry

Every so often, when I find myself feeling incredibly bored and restless, which lately seems to be a lot. I start having fantasies about chucking it all and moving to Paris. After all, I don’t really have anything holding me back but my own fear and reticence. I start researching job opportunities, which are pretty non-existent for foreigners unless you want to teach English. I don’t. And if you start your own business, you get eaten alive by the French tax system. I look at apartment rentals online, which can be pretty damned expensive for a place the size of my living room. But there is just something about living in such a beautiful city so rich in history and grand architecture that seems so appealing. Fortunately, there are Americans living in Paris who share their day-to-day Parisian existence in ezine and blog form who I can live through vicariously.

Prissy Magazine- Founded by American expat Pricilla Lalisse. Prissy touts itself as a unique look into every day Parisian life brought to you by the Anglophones who live it. There’s even a section called Hook Me Up for those looking for love. Lalisse is also the author of the novel Stockdale.

Secrets of Paris-Founded by American Heather Stimmler-Hall. Secrets of Paris offers invaluable insight and info about Paris. Stimmler-Hall also offers customs tours and is the author of Naughty Paris: A Lady’s Guide to the Sexy City. Ooh la la!

La Mom-A blog by an expat American mom who has lived in Paris for over a decade with her French husband (Big Cheese) and her two French fries (Big Fry and Small Fry). If you want to be entertained by the somewhat bitchy and frequently hysterical expat mommy track, this one’s for you.

L’Etrangere Americaine- is a blog by a 30 something American woman who moved to Paris for a short-term English teaching assistantship and ended up staying. I’d recommend starting from the beginning with this blog as it follows the ups and downs of someone moving to a new country, learning the language, and navigating a foreign culture.

Who knows, I may yet move to Paris. Until I do, these blogs fill the void.


Monday, June 22, 2009

The Way Back: Blog # 6
by Gammy L. Singer

The New York/Tri-State Chapter of sisters in Crime--not to be confused with this blogging group-- had their last meeting before the summer recess and installed new officers. We had a lovely time at a friend's restaurant, Cowgirl, in Manhattan. Yee-ha! A good time had by all. Hearty fare and great food, good service and a wonderful private room. Yours truly stepped down as president.

An observation: we only have a few African-American members in our chapter. I can count the number on one hand. This is Manhattan--we should have more. Though I daresay the national organization of Sisters in Crime probably doesn't have many more.

Why do you suppose that is?

The organization exists for the purpose of gaining parity with their male counterparts. Do you suppose there needs to be a movement from within to gain equality not only with males, but with females?

Haven't turned in my synopsis yet, still tweaking, not really satisfied yet.

Have been devouring YA novels. I'm finding many extremely well written, stories that hold my adult interest! Can anyone suggest a YA novelist I should read?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

DIY Author

By Angela Henry

Not many people know this, but I started out as a self-published author. I self-published the book that eventually became The Company You Keep under the title The Pleasure of His Company in 2002, three years before it was picked up and republished by BET Books. When I self-published I had no idea what I was doing and I sold very few copies.

But a lot has changed since I self-published. Namely, self-publishing has become a viable and respected way to get your work to the masses. Though there are still many who view self-publishing as the last resort for the desperate and untalented, that view is rapidly changing.

I think views on self-publishing are changing because authors are realizing that talent alone doesn’t cut it when it comes to getting a book contract. Publishing has adopted the blockbuster mentality of Hollywood and it’s not always about what’s good and well written. It’s about what sells. If you don’t have a platform, or you’re not a brand then it makes it even more difficult to get your foot in the door.

Another reason why I think views on self-publishing are changing is because with all the current technology and software out there it is possible for an author to produce a quality book that can be indistinguishable from books produced by traditional publishers. I can usually spot a self-pubbed book a mile away because of the horrible covers, bad layout, and shoddy editing. I've also seen others that are so well done I never guessed they were self-published. And, yes, my first effort could be counted amongst the former. I like to think that I’ve learned a lot since then. One of those lessons being that readers don’t care who publishes a book. They just want a good book to read.

Maybe you’ve already guessed where I’m going with this post. If not, I’ll just come right out and announce that I’m returning to my self-publishing roots. I’m in the beginning stages of publication for book 4 in my Kendra Clayton series under my own publishing imprint. For the past two years I’ve received numerous emails and constant questions about when the next book is coming out. It killed me every time I had to say the series had been dropped. Thus far, no publishers have been interested in taking it over.

So, I did what all authors are advised to do in my situation. I wrote a different book with different characters. And I’m still very hopeful that this new book will sell to a traditional publisher. But even still, Kendra was still tugging at me whispering in my ear and telling me she still had plenty of stories to tell. I had to get this chick off my back. And admittedly it made no sense to me to have two completed Kendra books burning a hole on my hard drive when people could be reading them. I haven’t at all given up on traditional publishing. But I don’t see any reason whatsoever why I can’t have the best of both worlds.

Look for Kendra book 4 this fall!!!!!


Sunday, June 14, 2009

By Patricia Sargeant

Sorry it's been a while since I've posted. It's taking me longer to recover from my last manuscript deadline than I'd anticipated. I think it's because, in addition to the manuscript deadline, I was dealing with a wicked deadline for my day job.

The duel deadlines my have singed my nerve endings. I'm feeling disinterested and disconnected. While on deadline, I couldn't wait to get back to recreational reading. Now, the last two books I've picked up haven't held my interests, and I'm not motivated to pick up another.

What kinds of things do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

I'm getting back on an exercise schedule, trying to eat healthier and getting more sleep. I've also been going to the movies. Escapism.

What am I missing? What do you do to unwind, recharge your batteries and get back into the game?

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Shopping List Theory of Outlining
By Persia Walker

So last night, I did a bit more fine-tuning of the outline of a new book. This will be the first time I've ever outlined a story so thoroughly. Until now, I've taken a jump-right-in approach. But this time, I've stumbled into a different approach. I'm hoping that the time invested now will result in a more finished first draft later.

I began the outlining somewhat accidentally. Just a few notes about this and that. You know the kind. You jot it down just so you won't forget it. Then came more notes and a need to sort of organize them -- sort of. I emphasize that because I think I'm congenitally allergic to consciously organizing anything. If organizing happens -- and it does -- then I don't want to know about it. (Which makes it really strange that I like to write mysteries, since mysteries are puzzles, and puzzles have to be organized in both theory and implementation to work properly.)

Anyway, so I started jotting down stuff about the plot and about characters and rearranging them and voila! an outline started to form. And the more I jotted down, the more thoughts came to the surface, and I thought, "Wow, I didn't know I knew this much already about this character." It's as though by writing one idea down, I cleared mental space for another idea to surface.

Hmmm... makes sense.

I mean I do it with shopping lists all the time. Write down items so I won't have to worry about remembering them, and so feel freed to promptly start thinking of other things. This idea is so simple ... so brilliant that I think I'll come up with a name for it: "The Shopping List Theory of Outlining."

Wow! I'm feeling brilliant today.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Way Back: Blog # 5
by Gammy L. Singer

I was struck the other day, while perusing Murder Must Advertise, (a yahoo web group I subscribe to where I read a lot of posts, but mostly lurk and rarely post), by a discussion of Pareto’s Principle. Well, okay, it wasn’t actually a discussion. One indignant poster was insulting another poster, (showing off his excellent command of the English language, by the way—impressive) that culminated, however, in a stupid harangue about whether Pareto’s Principle was a principle or a rule. (The offending original poster called it a rule! Tsk.) Sheesh—much ado and poo-poo about nothing!

However, I was interested because I had never heard of said principle—or rule, whatever. So I looked it up and was totally shocked! It is a business principle which says, in effect, that 20% of people in a business, organization et al. wind up doing 80% of the work. Yes, check out that club or church you belong to—see, applicable, ain't it? It’s an observation of the “vital few” and the “trivial many,” according to Dr. Joseph Juran, a Quality Manager pioneer who was the one responsible for taking Pareto’s idea and translating it into a business theory. (Pareto’s name stuck, however, probably because of the alliteration.) Pareto originally used it to describe the idea that 20% of people in the world (a vital few) hold 80% of the wealth.

The theory works other ways too. “In Juran’s initial work he identified 20 percent of the defects causing 80% of the problems. Project [Business] Managers know that 20 % of the work (the first 10% and the last 10%) consume 80% of your time and resources. “

Juran also said you can apply the 80/20 rule to almost anything, from the science of management to the physical world. And that’s what tripped me out! In the novel I’m working on now, I have a best friend female character theorizing to my protagonist about the fact that if you aren’t eighty percent or more happy with your man, then it’s time to let him go. Women hang on to and wait around for that twenty percent of good stuff to show up, (sometimes they stick for a measly ten percent), conveniently forgetting that they’re eighty percent miserable, eighty percent of the time.

Gee, didn’t know there was a principle involved. Or maybe I’ve heard something about this in the past, read it somewhere and my slumbering subconscious coughed it up. You think?
Hmm…so should I call the book, The 80/20 Man? How’s that for a title? If it gets sold, you heard it here first!

I’m awful at titles—better work on it.

80/20 Lover? 80/20 Love? So, Gammy, and where’s the suspense aspect? Where’s that in the title?

Oh hell. Mumble, mumble. I’ll work on it.

Almost done with the synopsis, folks. Tweaking two versions of the first three chapters—black heroine, white heroine. Should I be keeping this info under my hat?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rejection Still Sucks

By Angela Henry

About ten years ago, I wrote a column for an ezine called You Should Write! I happened to be going through some old email correspondence the other day and ran across one of the columns I wrote about writers and rejection. I was surprised at how timely what I wrote was even today as I find myself in a similar situation as I was almost a decade ago. I decided to post the column for anyone who may also be going through the submission process. And although I'm referring to agent submissions in this column, the same advice can be used for publisher submissions as well.

Taking the Sting out of Rejection


Angela Henry

Ah, I remember it well. Everyday when I got home from work I would eagerly approach the mailbox. Why? Well, I wasn’t expecting a love letter nor was I eager to look at what bills had come. I was looking for responses to the dozens of query letters I’d sent out to agents regarding my masterpiece. Did I get responses? Most definitely. Were they what I was expecting? Not at all! Form letter after form letter, some nice and others not so nice, all saying what amounted to the same thing. Thanks, but no thanks.

Rejection sucks! It can also hurt. No writer wants to endure rejection. It can make even the most confident and talented writers doubt themselves. But rejection is a reality that every writer must be prepared for. No matter how well written your work may be, you are going to experience rejection. However, you can take some of the sting out of rejection by remembering the following during your hunt for an agent.

1. Rejection of your work is not a rejection of you. In other words, don’t take it personally, though this may be very hard to do especially when we view our writing as an extension of ourselves.

2. Publishing is a business. Agents are only going represent work they feel they can sell. Just as publishers are only going buy work they feel will sell. Does this mean only the best books are being represented and your manuscript is crap if you can’t get an agent? No! There are a lot of talented authors who had to endure years of rejection before getting an agent.

3. Appearance does count. Anything you send to an agent should look professional and be free of mistakes. You don’t want to ruin your chances before you get a foot in the door by sending mistake filled illegible query letters. Believe me, it’s no fun sitting around wondering if things would have been different if you’d spelled the word tomorrow correctly. Yes, I’m embarrassed to say this actually happened to me.

4. Don’t get your heart set on one particular agent. You should compile a list of agents that appeal to you. That way you’ll avoid feeling like a complete failure if the one you had your heart set on passes on representing you.

5. Do your homework. Several of the rejections I received were from agents who weren’t representing my type of book, didn’t represent unpublished authors, or only acquired new clients through referrals from other clients or agents. In those instances I could have saved myself time, postage, and disappointment by paying more attention to the agency guidelines I had consulted during my search. Most listings will tell what the agent’s interests are. If they don’t represent a certain type of fiction it will say so in the listing and some listings will even tell what types of work the agent is most interested in.

6. Expect rejection, expect lots of it. If you expect to be rejected then any acceptances you get will be pleasant and unexpected surprises.

Copyright ⓒ 2001 Angela Henry


Friday, June 05, 2009

Using Social Media to Bring Your Characters to Life
By Persia Walker

I admit it. I was (probably still am) behind the times. I was always one of those folks who noticed something waaaay after the rest of the world has done so. If you're one of those people who are fast and with it, then you can skip the rest of this entry. But if you're like me, a little slow on the uptake, then read on.

Most of you are aware of how useful it can be for writers to have a presence on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, and Squidoo, among others, to spread news about their books and reach their readers. But do you just how much fun it can be to use these sites to explore and develop your characters -- to, in a sense, bring them to life?

For months, I played with the idea of giving my detective, 1920s society reporter Lanie Price, a blog of her own. I started one, but didn't get very far, simply because of time constraints. I still think it's a good idea to give her an online diary, though, and might resume it one day.

Meanwhile, I plan to set up a Squidoo lens on her. I've already done a lens on Harlem Redux and one on its main character, David McKay. I'm almost finished with the one on Darkness and the Devil Behind Me. As soon as it's done, I'll do a page on Lanie and link them.

It was a lot of fun revisiting Harlem Redux and David. I decided to put up the pages after having a telephone visit with a book club in Atlanta, In the Company of Women -- Atlanta-Style! They had so many questions and I had so much information to give them. Why not put it all down? I started work on the lens and it began to grow. Now, it's as though I have my own Wikipedia page on David and his story. Only it's better than a Wiki because it has graphics, it was fun, and it's my own.

If you visit the lens for Harlem Redux, you'll see that I discuss its themes, characters and plotlines. The lens for David brings together all the information that's spread throughout the book into one place. Eventually, I'll add to that stock, building his character online. People unfamiliar with my work can find the lens and get to know David as I know him. Meanwhile, I'm inwardly aglow. It's as though I spent the afternoon visiting a wonderful and dearly missed friend, one whose story interests me still.

Authors can use sites such as the ones named above to build a scrapbook for their characters, a digital repository of information about a character's history, hopes, fears, appearance, liaisons, etc. Squidoo and Tumblr present marvelous opportunities to organize thoughts about your characters, and create wonderful platforms to introduce them to the world. Sites such as Blogger, Wordpress, etc., provide a chance to have a character muse aloud, or to tell their story in their own words, maybe even as it's unfolding before them. Give your characters a voice. They'll thank you for it.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Black Mystery & Thriller Round-Up
By Angela Henry

With all the recent bad news about black mystery writers being dropped by publishers, it got me to wondering what if any new or recent releases by black mystery/thriller writers were either out or on the horizon. So I put on my librarian hat and did some research. Here’s what I found.

Deadly Charm By Claudia Mair Burney is the third book in her popular Christian mystery series featuring forensic psychologist Amanda Bell Brown. I had the pleasure of interviewing Claudia here on the Crime Sistahs Blog back before the series made it’s leap from NavPress to Simon and Schuster’s Howard Books. I’m so thrilled she and Amanda Bell Brown are still around. Release Date: March 24, 2009.

Jericho’s Fall By Stephen Carter. This new thriller by New York Times bestseller Carter is about an explosive secret harbored by Jericho Ainsley, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency and a Wall Street titan who is dying. He confides the secret—that foreign governments and powerful corporations alike would kill to have—to his former lover. Sounds like a page-turner. Release Date: July 14, 2009.

Lust, Loathing and a Little Lip Gloss By Kyra Davis. After a two year hiatus, Kyra Davis is back with the fourth book in her wildly popular series featuring mystery writer and amateur sleuth, Sophie Katz. If you haven’t checked out Sophie and company, you’re in for a treat. Kyra is also giving away a trip to San Francisco, where the series is set, as well as other cool prizes. Click here for details. Release Date: June 1, 2009

Whiskey Gulf By Clyde Ford is the third nautical thriller featuring Charlie Noble. This outing has him investigating a missing sailboat and the couple aboard it. Visit Ford’s website for a video narrated by Morgan Freeman which accompanied the release of the previous Charlie Noble book, Precious Cargo. I’ve yet to read any of Ford’s books but I’ve added them to my ever-growing list. Release Date: July 14, 2009.

Black Water Rising By Attica Locke. Talk about a name meant for a book cover. Ms. Locke’s debut thriller features down and out lawyer Jay Porter and tells how his life is turned upside down after he saves a drowning white woman. This book is getting lots of buzz from heavy hitters like Georges Pelecanos and James Elroy and received a starred review in Booklist. I can’t wait to read it. Release Date: June 9, 2009

Cornered By Brandon Massey. Massey started out writing horror and has made a successful transition into thrillers. Cornered tells the tale of Cory Webb, a successful business and family man who’s dark past comes calling threatening to destroy everything he holds dear. Sounds like another winner. Release Date: August 4, 2009

The Long Fall By Walter Mosley introduces the bestselling and award-winning author’s new post Easy Rawlins character, private eye and former boxer, Leonid McGill. It’s also set in modern day New York City. It’s gotten rave reviews since its release and is sitting on my TBR pile. Release Date: March 24, 2009.

Black Noir: Mystery, Crime, and Suspense Stories by African-American Writers Edited by Otto Penzler-Features short stories by such talented authors as Paula Woods, Gary Phillips, Chester Himes, Walter Mosley, Edward P. Jones, and many others. This book is on NPR’s Recommended Summer Reading List. Click here for an excerpt. Release Date: March 3, 2009.

If I’ve left anyone out, please let me know. And please support these wonderfully talented authors and their books before black mystery writers become extinct. Enjoy!

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