What To Bring With

Edith, writing furiously north of Boston on the Equinox 

Ya can’t take it with you, isn’t that what they say? Well, I have learned that if I don’t take it with me, I’m in trouble. Specifically, what I bring along when I go sell books in public. So this post (by request from none other than Hank Phillippi Ryan) is all about being prepared to go sell books.

IMG_4020I sell books at libraries. I sell them at farmers’ markets. I sell them out of the trunk of my car, quite literally. At author expos, at historical societies, at road races. And I’ve assembled a kit of what to bring. I might not use it all, but I’m ready.

  1. Books. Yes, books. Once I was astonished to see that I’d brought only two copies of my latest release. Yikes! I was all ready to take people’s money upon a promise to send them a signed book the next day, but I didn’t need to. Just. So now I always keep a full box of all my books in my car.
  2. Signage. I finally got a table-sized banner made. It wasn’t expensive, and my Banner 2014local party store made it up to my specs. My publisher also prints up my cover every year into a self-standing poster, so I bring the latest one. And I have several home-printed signs in a clear stand with a graphic, my name, Mystery Author, and a few other details. Clear large print and uncluttered display, so people can read it as they drift by.
  3. Tablecloth. I write a farm-based series, so I found this gorgeous vegetable cloth (see first picture) and hemmed it up. But even a clean plain white cloth dresses up a market table.
  4. Table. Ah, yes, the table. I found a four-foot table at Staples. It’s easy to assemble, folds in a snap, and isn’t too heavy or too long to hoist in and out of my small car.
  5. Chair. I bring a folding chair, unless the facility provides it (also see Table). But I rarely sit. It’s a lot easier to draw customers in if I stand. And yes, my feet hurt at the end of the two- or three- or five-hour period.
  6. Book stands. Right now I have a mish-mash. I like the black wire one best for not tipping over, but it wire book standdoesn’t collapse. Still experimenting. I hear the Container Store has a great selection. I got mine at Joann’s Fabrics in their craft section.
  7. Bookmarks. Some print up postcards. I prefer bookmarks, one per series.I also bring business cards, because they have my email address on them, but I give them out less often. Even when someone stops by my table who is interested but clearly not going to buy, I hand them a bookmark. They’re a big hit with kids, and who knows? Maybe their grandmother, who loves mysteries, will see the bookmark and check out who that nice author was.
  8. Email signup sheet. I print out a signup sheet, securing it on a clipboard, and IMG_0634invite anybody – everybody! – to sign up for my quarterly (or so) newsletter, making sure they know I never sell, loan, or rent my address list.
  9. Suitcase. I use a small suitcase I already had. I know Jessie found a cool piece of luggage (designed for a salesperson, I believe) that has all kinds of cool pockets and slots, and is the perfect size for mass-market paperbacks. My suitcase fits the books, the table cloth, most of the signage, and the tool kit.
  10. Tool kit.This cute metal carrot lunchbox, which someone gave me a birthday present in, holds many useful items, including all of the toolkitclosedfollowing: Square reader so I can take credit ToolkitOpencards. Spare cash for change. Bookmarks. Business cards. Tape. Pens. Ribbon to tie my banner on with. Extra pens. Clips. Other clips. Paper clips. A tiny flashlight. Camera. Little scissors. I think it’s infinitely expandable. And it’s not crushable.

So that’s my go-to-market/library/wherever list. Which only works when I’m driving to an event, of course. I find it refreshing to sell at a bookstore, because then they have the books, the table, the signage, sometimes even the tablecloth. I only bring the tool kit and maybe a sign. But extra books? Always in the back of the car. When I fly, I still bring the tool kit and a few extra books, and ship books ahead if I have to.

Readers: What do you take to author events? Or to a craft show, trade show, or other kind of event? Any additions to my list? Any good stories about when you forgot that once crucial thing? What kind of displays attract your eye?

Guest Arlene Kay

Edith, north of Boston

We’re pleased to welcome Arlene Kay, our fellow New England Sister in Crime, to the blog Arlene_Current_Largertoday. Listen to what this author who does NOT write cozies has to say.

Sister Act

At first blush, cozy mysteries and romantic suspense resemble sparring siblings rather than members of the same genre. The proper cozy eschews depictions of sex while arching a disdainful brow at her uninhibited sister. Romance lovers often dismiss cozies as inhibited relics of a Puritan past. As a writer (and fan) of both sub-genres, I submit that while the antics and locales may vary, the underlying themes of cozy mysteries and romantic suspense are remarkably similar.

Swann Dive - 600x900x300My Swann series is a case in point. Three of the novels take place in Boston; one is based on Cape Cod. Although the vibe is big-city snarky with a dollop of sex, the focus is clearly on friendship, family loyalty, betrayal and the tug of war between law and justice. These same issues permeate cozy mysteries from Christie to contemporary authors. Their timelessness provides enjoyment and a sense of satisfaction to a wide swath of readers.

One final observation: Character and plot, not technical mumbo jumbo, are core components of both cozy and romantic suspense novels and indeed of all good writing. If a book lacks compelling characters or a logical plot it is a husk, an empty shell that pleases no one. Both sub-genres typically serve up a cast of sidekicks who supplement the skills of the heroine or fill in the gaps. These reflection characters also serve an important function: they are free to Man Trap - 600x900x300express the emotions of the reader. How many times have you yearned to throttle the hero who plunges into a situation fraught with danger or makes a serious blunder? Sidekicks have no problem stating the obvious question. “Are you crazy?

Even Malice Domestic, that bastion of cozy mysteries has adopted the big tent approach to the crime genre. A recent panel discussion at Malice 2014 tiptoed around the sex issue (Shot Through the Heart: The Role of Romance in Mysteries) and, in an asterisk to the Cozy Mystery Definition, noted that “adult situations” were now becoming common even in traditional mysteries.

Bottom line: romantic suspense and cozy mysteries share the same classic bloodlines and often appeal to the same audiences. No need for a family squabble.

Arlene Kay’s most recent books include the Boston Uncommons Mysteries Swann combologo150x150DiveMantrap, Gilt Trip, and Swann Song, published by Belle Books. Arlene is a former federal executive with one of those alphabet agencies, who traded the trappings of bureaucracy for the delights of murder most foul. She wisely confines her crimes to fiction. An artful combination of humor, sex, and savagery make Arlene Kay’s mysteries unique.

Readers: Do you read romantic suspense? For you, what’s the same and what’s different between romantic suspense and cozy mystery?Or pop Arlene a question – she’ll be stopping by throughout the day to answer.

It’s All A Plot

By Julie, putting away her summer clothes in Somerville

We’ve talked about being a pantser versus a plotter a few times on the blog. (Here, here, and here, for example.) Sherry Harris still talks about the expression on my face when she told me she wrote the end of her book before she wrote the middle. The Clock Shop Mystery series, which I am writing as Julianne Holmes, came with a book bible, which suited me fine. I not only enjoy a roadmap, I require one.

Because, dear friends, I am a plotter. And I’ve got a new toy, er…tool, to help me. Here it is.

dramatic structure

Poster Board with dramatic structure guidelines.

I just submitted my first Clock Shop manuscript. I had broken it into scenes, and used Scrivener, but I didn’t pay enough attention to the dramatic structure. This affected the pacing, and the story telling, and got fixed in editing, but still. Yeesh. There had to be a better way for a plotter like me. I read Jessie’s post last week about her process, and was inspired by her use of post-its. I decided to steal the idea, but since I don’t have a blank wall, I bought some poster board, and created a visual image to help me put the scenes in the right places.

This is a combination of the structure The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery and the three act dramatic structure narrative I know from theater. A beginning, a middle, more of the middle, and an end. Rising action, climax, falling action. The timing of the inciting incident–the problem that starts the story. Plot points or act turns–moments in the novel that complicate the problem, or reverse the reader’s expectations. The end, when it all comes to a head. And the denouement, where the reader (or audience) can relax a bit, and loose threads are tied up.

I am currently writing scene descriptions on post-its. I am also writing other scene descriptions that probably won’t be in the book (they take place in the past), but they inform the story. And finally, I am describing a few scenes from a subplot I am starting in the first book, want to continue in this book, and conclude in the third book. Once I have finished writing out the scene descriptions, I am going to put them on the board. And I am going to make sure the act breaks (plot points) fall in the right place, and have scenes that turn the action.

Confused? Hour long dramas are a great way to think about dramatic structure. (Law and Order, for example.) What was the hook that drew you into watching? What happens at the fifteen minute mark? What keeps you watching? Were you surprised while watching it? If the story fell apart, when and why?

Any other dramatic structure fans (nerds?) out there? Any fellow plotters?

Wicked Wednesday: SINC-Up

Sisters in Crime is sponsoring a September SINC-Up, to spread the good word about good books and their authors. They suggested a few questions, so we’ve selected one for this one and one for the following week. Part of it is also to link to another author’s or authors’ blog, so each of us is doing that, too. The guidelines are here, if you’d like to take part. Just be sure to tweet your link using the hashtag #SinC-up or #SinCBlogHop and include @SINCnational.

The question for today is:

Which male authors write great women characters? Which female authors write great AndGrantYouPeace-final-4male characters?

Edith: I love Kate Flora‘s Joe Burgess. Also Susan Oleksiw‘s Joe Silva. Both of these police officers are human, fully drawn, conflicted men I could like (a lot) in real life, and they don’t spend much (if any) time commenting on women’s legs and boobs. And I’m holding off on answering the first part, because my stupid brain is refusing to cooperate! Or more likely, it’s that I don’t read male authors much because they don’t write great female characters. But I’m glad to be proven wrong by the rest of you, readers included.

For those of you who love to eat, my SINC-Up this week is the  Mystery Lover’s Kitchen blog – new recipes by mystery authors (including regular Wickeds contributor Sheila Connolly) every day!

Jessie: While not a mystery author, I believe Wally Lamb writes women incredibly well. In fact, while I was reading She’s Come Undone I kept turning to the author photo to try to convince myself the author was not a woman. In the mystery world I think Alan Bradley of Flavia de Luce fame does a wonderful job crafting an authentic voice for a young girl.

As to women writing men well, I feel unqualified to answer. I’d like to think the protagonist in Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants rings true for men. The men in that book with smaller roles felt vivid and believable to me too.

For a blog recommendation I’d like to mention Dru’s Book Musing. She has regular guests, giveaways and reviews. Check it out for yourself!

AlexanderMcCallSmithBarb: For a man who writes women well, I’m going with Alexander McCall Smith. From Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, to Isabel Dalhousie to the horrid little girl Olive from the 44 Scotland Street series, they all ring, in some cases hilariously, true. Smith is generous toward all his characters, no matter what their foibles, which is an inspiration to me.

longwayhomeOf course, women have written male detectives from the beginning, from Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot to Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey to P.D. James’ Dalgliesh to Ruth Rendell’s Wexford. Continuing in that tradition, I have to give my shout out to Louise Penny. Her Gamache has that larger than life edge that makes him a great protagonist, but I often find her portrayal of Jean-Guy Beauvoir most affecting.

Great blog recommendations, Edith and Jessie–two of my faves. I can’t let this first round go by without mentioning the Jungle Red Writers, who have, in one way or another, inspired all the Wicked Cozys.

Edith: Agree about Alexander McCall Smith! Love the Ladies Number One Detective Agency books.

Liz: Harlan Coben does a great job writing women. He’s spot on every time. I just listened to the audiobook of Hold Tight and while he does a great job in all the characters’ heads, the female protagonist is amazingly well done, as are the secondary women characters he writes in this standalone.

As far as women writing men, there are so many to choose from! I do love Julia Spencer-Fleming‘s Russ Van Alstyne in her long-standing series. These books are hauntingly captivating, and while the plots are terrific, it’s the characters that drive the books.

Along with the three blogs above, I also love Killer Characters, a fun blog spanning a wide range of authors including our own Jessie Crockett with a regular gig. All posts are written from a character’s perspective. Check it out!

Sherry: I love J.A. Jance’s J.P. Beaumont series set in Seattle. He’s flawed and authentic. Craig Johnson does a great job portraying Victoria Moretti and other women in his Longmire series. I’m so excited he will be at Crime Bake this year. Barbara Ross also blogs on the great Maine Crime Writers blog. It is about so much more than Maine and crime writing!

Julie: Late to the party, but jumping in. I always liked Robert B. Parker’s women, especially Susan. In thinking about it, it may be seeing her through Spenser’s eyes, but she had such an impact on the series. As for a blog to hop to, the Cozy Chicks are a very fun group!

Readers: add your response!

The Detective’s Daughter — This Girl for Hire

kimspolicehatThe Boardwalk7e51ce531053db6efBy Kim Gray in Baltimore

Well, it’s happened. My first short story, Boardwalk Bound, will appear in the anthology The Boardwalk by Cat and Mouse Press. I will be enjoying myself at Crime Bake the day it comes out. My dad would be impressed (but not too much) that I’d actually completed a project I’d started. He always told me I made things harder than they had to be. I deciphered this to mean if I would only do what he told me to do, it would be much better for me.

kimdadpatrolWhen I graduated from high school, my dad helped me out by getting me a job in his building. I was very excited to be going to work with him at police headquarters. I pictured myself helping to solve cases, answering phones, or filing reports…until he dropped me off at the morgue. The Morgue!!!! He couldn’t understand what my problem was, after all, I had the entire place to myself, well, not counting the dead people. I could read books all day and drink coffee. (He knew how much I loved to read.) My only job was to fingerprint the deceased. Easy peasy — according to my dad. More like easy-queasy! I lasted three days (someday I’ll tell you what happened on that third day).  Years later he never failed to remind me of the pension I could have had if only I’d done as he said. And how I always made things harder than they needed to be.

By the next year he’d lined up another job for me. This time as a court stenographer. When I informed him I couldn’t type, he rolled his eyes and loudly proclaimed my tuition had been a waste of money. If only I had taken these jobs seriously, think of the material I’d have for my stories. He may not have found me the perfect job, but he certainly put me on the path to a career I love. Thanks Dad.

The Evolution of a Title

By Sherry Harris, enjoying lovely fall weather in northern Virginia

Jessie recently talked about What’s in a Name and her joy in naming characters. Some of my characters seem to show up with names. With others I have a much harder time finding the right name. I just finished the second Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery. I had one character named Blank and one named Place until the month before I turned in the manuscript. They became Olivia and Gennie. It isn’t only naming characters that gives me trouble but also titles.

I love all the cleverly named books that are plays on words. Edith’s book A Tine to Live A Tine to Die was named as one of the punniest cozy mystery titles of the year by RT Book Reviews. You can read their picks of clever titles here: The Punniest Cozy Mystery Titles. Liz has Kneading to Die, Barb, Clammed Up and Jessie, Drizzled with Death. Julie — we’ll find hers out soon enough. It seems like there are plenty of clever things Julie will be able do with a theme of time.

Tagged for Death mech.inddThe title for the first book in the series, Tagged for Death, came to me easily. It references tag sales (a New England term for garage sales), the tags on yard sale items, and the person who is targeted to die. In my proposal the second book was titled “Marred Sale Madness”. I thought marred was a decent rhyme with yard. As I started talking about the book and telling people the title they always said, “What?” Some people thought I was saying “March,” others just didn’t understand. Then I’d have to carefully enunciate the word, M-a-r-r-ed. I don’t know if it’s my Midwest nasal tones or it’s just that hard to say, but I decided a new title was in order.

At the Wicked Cozy retreat last April I told the Wickeds that I needed a new title but was drawing a blank. Barb came up with Deal or Die. I liked it and wrote my editor asking if that was okay. He agreed it was. But as time approached to turn the second book in my editor decided to go another direction and titled the book “The Longest Yard Sale”. It’s cute and fun. I double checked on Amazon to see if there were any other books with a similar names. I found: The Longest Yard Sale by Sherry Harris available for pre-order! It comes out June 30, 2015.

The third book’s working title is: Murder As Is. I have a feeling that might change too.

Readers: Does the name of a book influence your decision to read it? How do you come up with titles? Do you have a favorite?


Ask The Expert — Private Investigator John Nardizzi

We met John last year at Crime Bake. Thanks so much for joining us today, John.

johnnauthName: John Nardizzi

Area of Expertise: I’m a private investigator who handles criminal defense and civil cases. Interviewing witnesses and background research are the main tasks I undertake.

How did you become a private investigator?

I didn’t know the profession really existed. I was in law school and went to a seminar on different careers for law school graduates. There was a private investigator on the panel and he described a career that offered a mixture of investigative reporting and legal work. For a small group of us, the discussion was enthralling. He bashed the legal profession over and over, poking fun at the narrow intelligence of many lawyers. For a year, I called the agency every few weeks, talking to the receptionist, asking to meet with him. I never got a single response. But I just kept calling. One afternoon I got a call from the receptionist who told me the boss was talking about me: I was either too dumb or too stubborn to take a hint, but he liked my persistence. Eventually they needed an Italian guy to talk to another Italian guy. I fit the profile.

What are 3 things we should know about your area of expertise?

When people hear you work as a private investigator, they always say, “I would be a great PI, I can talk to anyone!” They are mistaken: they would make a great witness. The PI in the room is the guy–or woman–who is quietly getting everyone else to talk.

Witness is a word with both religious and legal connotations, which gives you a sense of the importance of witness testimony in our legal system. This is true in criminal cases especially. Forensics impacts so many cases we handle now. But witnesses make the case.

PI work is a strange little corner of the legal world and attracts some very smart people—but also some of the wackiest. I know PIs who were investigative reporters, college professors. But the middle class is very small. One of the preeminent PIs on the West Coast, Hal Lipset, said, “In the detective business, you’re either a hero or a bum.” That’s why a creative amateur can do quite well. If you get results, no one asks where you went to college.

What do people usually get wrong when writing about private investigators?

At the Left Coast Crime conference, someone raised a topic: is the private detective novel being replaced by lawyers/legal thrillers? One writer said the detective novel is passe because because modern PIs just sit behind a desk doing research. Dead wrong. PIs are out there interviewing witnesses on major cases all over the world—fraud, civil rights cases, criminal defense. Many lawyers outside the courtroom come off as very stiff with witnesses, and they are not usually the most creative personalities. So all these bestsellers where the lawyer is doing the investigation? Might be a secret dream, but in real life, it doesn’t happen that way.

Is there a great idea you’d love to share?

A good investigator, whether professional or amateur, can watch and listen to you speak and get a sense about whether you are lying. But there is no one foolproof method to do this. So while the art of reading people is a real skill, most crime novels oversimplify the process.

What are you working on?

My second crime novel is based on a case I worked on in Boston involving a man who spent decades in prison for a crime he did not commit. My detective, Ray Infantino lowers the boom on police informants and corrupt cops. He also roams into some cafes and restaurants too, of course. This is true of both real and fictional sleuths: we eat out a lot.

john-nardizzi-book-cover-640x1024Do you use your expert knowledge in your writing?

Yes, I try to use insights gleaned from years of interviewing people to craft scenes that have some psychological layers. The PI and witness verbally jabbing and feinting. Things that are said, things that are left out. I’ve worked in 26 states and met people I would never have had a chance to meet otherwise—men who were wrongfully convicted, Native Americans on reservations, con men, women who fall in love with con men. During the interviews, you learn what you need for the case. But as a writer, you always see something–a phrase, a gesture, a little story–that is just for you.

Readers: John will be stopping in to answer questions as his schedule allows. What did you always want to know about being a private investigator?

John Nardizzi is an investigator, lawyer, and writer. His writings have appeared in numerous professional and literary journals, including San Diego Writers Monthly, Oxygen, Liberty Hill Poetry Review, Lawyers Weekly USA, and PI Magazine. His fictional detective, Ray Infantino, first appeared in print in the spring 2007 edition of Austin Layman’s Crimestalker Casebook. Telegraph Hill is the first crime novel featuring Infantino.

In May 2003, John founded Nardizzi & Associates, Inc., an investigations firm that has garnered a national reputation for excellence in investigating business fraud and trial work. His investigations on behalf of people wrongfully convicted of crimes led to several million dollar settlements for clients like Dennis Maher, Scott Hornoff and Kenneth Waters, whose story was featured in the 2010 film Conviction.