Launch Parties — To Party or Not to Party

By Sherry —  I’m happy it’s warmer than last week!

Launch Parties. I wasn’t sure if I should throw one or not. I googled Launch Parties and panic set in. I saw discussions about bartenders, DJs, swag, decorations, themes. That was not for me.

Tagged for Death mech.inddFor a extroverted person I have this introverted part of me around promoting Tagged for Death. Standing up on my own, talking about my book scared the heck out of me. But that’s when I saw Ray Daniel’s post on Facebook talking about his launch party for Terminated. He had Hank Phillippi Ryan interview him. I thought that was a brilliant idea and something that would work well for me. Friends who attended Ray’s launch said it was fabulous.





I asked friend, author, and independent editor Barb Goffman if she would interview me for the launch. Barb is also a journalist, funny, and enthusiastic. She said yes and a weight fell off my shoulders. I could do this. The next step was figuring out the venue. Have it at home? Rent a community center? Or have it at a bookstore? I sought the advice of friends. Some of their answers surprised me: make sure there’s lots of parking, bonus points for free parking, don’t make me drive through rush hour (Washington DC traffic can be a nightmare). Do you want this to be a marketing event or a celebration with family and friends? If you have it at your house or a community center who will handle book sales?

IMG_2400It was a lot to ponder. Fortunately for me my friend Mary Titone pushed me and called venues for me. Barnes and Noble at Fair Lakes Promenade in Fairfax, Virginia said they’d love to host my launch. Having it there fulfilled the lots of free parking and who would sell books suggestion. We set it up for 1:00 pm on a Sunday which avoided rush hour. Having it at the bookstore allowed for both a celebration and a marketing event.



The staff at Barnes and Noble couldn’t have been nicer. Store manager Sarah Emmett arranged for Mary and I to meet with Ann, who’s in charge of the cafe, and John their events guru. Ann provided samples of baked goods and made sure I stayed within my budget. The day of the launch she even made sure we had our own private “butler” Alex to serve. John and Sarah made lots of great suggestions and showed us the space where the party would be. They all seemed so happy about the event and I couldn’t have worked with a nicer team.

IMG_2461The night before the big day my friend Jill Ribler sent me a picture she’d found on Pinterest. An author had taken her own book and had people attending the launch sign it instead of having a guest book. It was a great idea which I incorporated into the launch. Two friends and fellow writers, Susan O’Brien and Robin Templeton, volunteered to take pictures.

The launch itself was perfect. I choked up a bit during the thank you’s when I mentioned my husband and daughter. Barb Goffman was funny and asked great questions. Having her by my side kept me calm (well, calmer). I didn’t do a reading — it’s another thing I’m not crazy about doing.

I was delighted to have people from so many aspects of my life present. Friends we’d met at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts — Tagged for Death is set in a fictional version of the base and the small town of Bedford, Massachusetts, Chessie Chapter Sisters in Crime members, even one friend from the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime, one Wicked Cozy Author, along with friends and neighbors. It surpassed the celebration I hoped for.

Thanks to all of you for making my launch party such a special day!

Book launchCrowd


Web Series vs Mystery Novel Writing — Collaboration and Craft

Sherry Harris in sunny Northern Virginia

Kathryn_O_headshotI met Kathryn O’Sullivan the day I went to my first Chesapeake Chapter meeting of Sisters in Crime. Kathryn’s most recent book, Murder on the Hoof, came out last week. Thanks so much for joining us today, Kathryn!

Thanks, Sherry Harris, for inviting me to do a guest blog! Since I write THURSTON, a Western web series, and the Colleen McCabe mystery series, Sherry thought it might be fun for me to compare writing a web series with writing novels.  I quickly realized that I could write an entire chapter!  However, I finally settled on two areas – collaboration and craft.

Writing a web series (think online television with shorter episodes) and writing a novel both involve collaboration, and this collaboration influences my writing.  The script for a web series is the beginning of the creation of the final product (the episode that airs) – it is not the final product.  My script for an episode is not fully realized until actors, directors,costumers, designers, editors, etc. have brought their unique creative talents to the story.  When I see an actor do something interesting with a character while working with the director, I make a note to incorporate that into future scripts.  In the editing room, lines or scenes are cut because they’re no longer necessary or serve the story.  A score can add tension or lighten the mood.  The story evolves as each person contributes to the process.  When writing a web series, you shouldn’t expect your script to turn out exactly as you wrote it.  You must be willing to give up the idea of controlling everything.  If you’re open to collaboration, you’ll discover that your story often ends up better than you had initially written.

Kathryn with the cast and crew of Thurston.

Kathryn with the cast and crew of Thurston.

Writing a novel also involves collaboration.  For my web series it is script first, collaboration second.  For my novel it is collaboration first, book second.  The book sitting on the shelf is the final product. Whether it’s your writing group, a close friend, your husband or a neighbor you begged to read early drafts, when you invite people to give you feedback on your work they are collaborating.  Add your editor’s, agent’s, and copyeditor’s input and you quickly appreciate how many collaborators you have.  Yes, I’m still the one writing the book; but many people along the way influenced how it turned out.  They may not be collaborators as obvious as actors and directors but they are just as crucial to my final product.

Murder_on_the_Hoof_-_final_coverNow let’s talk about the technical aspects of writing.  Both the web series and books let me tell an ongoing story that allows my characters to evolve and change; both force me to think visually in terms of how I describe the action; and both should have tight dialogue that reveals something about character or moves the plot forward.
So what’s different?  One of the things I can’t do when writing a web series script is write a character’s thoughts – anything “in the head.”  Why?  Because an audience can’t see a thought while watching the show.  If I want an audience to know what a character is thinking or feeling I need to reveal that by describing what the character does (an action/behavior) or says (dialogue).

Another difference is the verb tense.  Screenplays are written in the present tense.  I write the action as if it is happening right now.  Most books, however, are written in past tense. This was a definite adjustment for me.  The length of sentences is also different.  Screenplays tend to have terse sentences.  It helps them “read” faster.  I was so used to writing short sentences that my book editor had to tell me to vary my sentence length and structure!  Also, with the THURSTON scripts, I’m appealing to two senses – sight and sound – since that’s how an audience will experience the show (unless, of course, they have a scratch-n-sniff card).  When writing fiction I can also explore smell, touch, and taste.  The final difference is the consideration of cost.  Most writers don’t have to think about this but, because I’m also a producer of THURSTON, when I’m writing I’m always thinking about the budget.  If I write a horse into a scene, that costs money.  If I write a lot of locations or additional characters or effects, that costs money.  But with a novel, I have incredible freedom.  I can have a house explode, car chases, and as many characters – and horses – as I want, and they’re all free!

The bottom line is whether you’re writing a web series, novel, short story, screenplay or play, storytelling is storytelling.  No matter the form or genre, we’re all interested in stories that have a main character we can root for as she or he struggles to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles in pursuit of a goal.  We writers do this with collaboration, an understanding of the craft, and so much more.  Happy reading and writing!

Kathryn O’Sullivan’s debut FOAL PLAY, a cozy set in North Carolina’s Outer Banks featuring feisty Fire Chief Colleen McCabe, won the 2012 Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition.  MURDER ON THE HOOF is the second book in the series.  She is a playwright, co-executive producer/creator/writer of the Western web series THURSTON, and a theatre professor at Northern Virginia Community College.  Kathryn lives in Virginia with her husband, an award-winning director and cinematographer, and their rescue cat, Oscar.


Be Prepared — My Writing Journey

By Sherry Harris

In northern Virginia where spring has arrived in all of its glory

My writing journey is a long one but I learned some things along the way.

IMG_4390I went to my first writers retreat at Asilomar while we were stationed in Monterey, California. It was sponsored by the Cambria Writer’s Workshop — a small group perfect for a first timer. I signed up to read from my mystery featuring a gemologist. It was something like read the first five pages or for five minutes. I got up, faced fifty some strangers and started to read. I’d like to tell you there was a lot of applause, praise for my creative genius and people begging to represent me.  But as I read, I realized I’d brought pages of description and backstory.

I really can’t believe I’m going to share what is probably the worst opening paragraph ever written but here goes:

On Friday morning, the June sun almost blinded me as I walked downstairs into our shop. It radiated through the faceted glass of our antique front door. The walnut and glass door was one of two French doors from a mansion in Magnolia Bluff that succumbed to a mudslide. The doors were heavily damaged when we found them at the flea market in Fremont but we managed to restore them with a lot of hard work and good luck. The second door leans up against the wall of our office waiting for a chance to be useful.

WAKE UP! You can’t say I didn’t warn you it was awful. (If you ever need a detailed description of french doors, I’m your gal.) When I finished reading I said, “Thank God that’s over.” At least people laughed. Fortunately, they were kind, said I showed some promise. The keynote speaker told me I had talent (she must have nodded off during my reading) and would love to hear more of my rousing story about two sisters. Um, that’s not what the story is about.

IMG_4560After Monterey we were stationed in northern Florida. There I attended Florida International University’s Writers Workshop. It’s a wonderful conference run by the MFA Creative Writing professors and I kept listening, writing, and revising.

This is the opening from the same novel I turned in there:

Most of us go through life without ever being truly, gut-wrenchingly terrified. Usually we experience fear in little jolts cause by near misses on the highway, turbulent airplane rides or phones ringing in the middle of the IMG_4561night.

Not much better, but again just enough encouragement to keep me going.

Next came our assignment to the Pentagon. That led me to Malice Domestic, which is a fan conference, not a craft conference but it was a great opportunity to meet authors and agents. One year I checked in at the same time as literary agent, Meg Ruley. As we commiserated about our reservations being messed up, she asked if I wrote and  told me to send her my manuscript. She loved it and signed me immediately. Not — that was the fantasy version. I received a lovely rejection letter. Back to the drawing board.

IMG_4566Next we were stationed at Hanscom AFB outside of Boston. I’ve talked before about meeting Julie Hennrikus at Malice and how that meeting eventually led to this blog — read all about that at How We Met. I attended New England Sisters in Crime meetings and went to Seascape Writers Retreat. I kept working at the craft and the latest version of that novel goes like this:

I didn’t want to tell Camille her diamond was fake. I studied the necklace for the third time with my loupe, willing the damn thing to change. Maybe one of Seattle’s triple threat natural disasters–earthquake, tsunami, volcano–would occur so I could yell: duck, swim or run instead of what I had to say. I paused a moment, then two, but no luck.

IMG_4558When we moved back to northern Virginia I joined the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Like the New England chapter, their support and friendship has been phenomenal. I haven’t sold the gemology novel. I hope to some day. What I did was continue to work on the craft of writing. I met people. I pitched at every opportunity. I collected rejection letters — I have them filed by year. So when the chance to write the garage sale series dropped into my lap (thank you Barbara Ross) I was prepared.

Paths to Publication Report

Edith here, hoping for a warmer spring than we’ve had so far.

Sisters in Crime New England sponsored an all-day workshop on Saturday about the many paths to publication. Four of the Wickeds were on panels, so we made a pretty good showing. The schedule after meet-and-greet time was as follows:

  • Small Press Authors: Kate George, Marian Lanouette, Kevin Symmons, Ray Daniel, with Arlene Kay moderating. “Small press” meaning independent press that doesn’t charge to publish, does editing, publishes outside the family, and more. (I think that panel had the most fun!)SmallPressPanel
  • Legacy Press Authors: Edith Maxwell, Sheila Connolly, Jessie Crockett, with Julie Hennrikus (far left) moderating. “Legacy” meaning large, NYC, traditional publishing house, which requires an agent to get access.LegacyPressPanel
  • Self-Published Authors: P.M. Steffan, Rosemary Harris, with Sharon Daynard moderating. Authors who either hired someone or did all the work of publishing without the connections of a press.SelfPubPanel
  • Hybrid Authors: Jessie Crockett, Kate George, Edith Maxwell, with Liz LizMugavero moderating. Liz called it the schizophrenic session. “Hybrid” here meaning having your work published by several means: legacy press, small press, self-pubbed.


  • The Author-Editor Connection: Michele Dorsey interviewing Hank Phillippi Ryan and her independent editor, Francesca Coltrera

Lots of information, much networking, and new insights were achieved. The Wickeds (except Sherry, who we missed) are all going to chip in about their impressions.

Jessie: It was delightful after such a long winter to get out and about and to spend time with other writers!  I was so very impressed with the high turnout (around 60) and the animated and enthusiastic interaction of all the attendees. After the introductions it was clear there were many people who never before had attended a Sisters in Crime event. As I looked around the room as the day unfolded no one seemed to be shyly hugging the corners or looking lost and miserable. I think this speaks to the heart of the SinC organization. It is friendly, inclusive and fun. I felt a bright glow of gratitude yesterday for the opportunity to be a part of such a caring and generous group.

Julie: I am the president of Sisters in Crime New England this year, but we started talking about this event over two years ago, when Barb was president. (Or maybe eHankFrancesca_andMicheleven before then?) The idea was that with so many paths to publication, how do you chose? What should you know? And, most importantly, how do you ensure success at every level? I love that the day ended up with Hank Phillippi Ryan and her editor Francesca Coltrera, wonderfully moderated by Michele Dorsey (in this pic, left to right: Francesca, Hank, Michele). No matter what path you are on, your book needs to be really good, otherwise you undermine all of the other work.

And a hat tip to the wonderful Sheila Connolly, who is such a great part of our community. The panel I was moderating had a cancellation, so she jumped in and joined Edith and Jessie to discuss the path to publication with traditional companies. Whew. The three of them made my job easy.

Sisters in Crime, and especially the New England chapter, has made all the difference in my writing life. So glad to see so many friends at the event, and really, really thrilled to see so many new faces. The programming committee (Sharon Daynard, Michele Dorsey, Arlene Kaye and Liz Mugavero) knocked this one out of the park.

 Edith: One lasting point was Hank and her fabulous editor, Francesca. During the interview, Hank said that now, after six books, she writes with Francesca’s voice in her head, incorporating Francesca’s edits over the years into her latest first draft. I find that I, too, now produce new material with edits and critiques I have received over the years guiding my writing. Not that there isn’t always room for improvement: Francesca said she’s now a more severe critic of Hank’s work, but that she also sees it getting better, stronger.

When Liz asked us what we had learned, the first thing that popped out of my mouth was, “There is no one right way.” Big publishing houses get your book out there everywhere. Small houses let you get in without an agent. Self-pubbing gives you total control of the process and the profit. Some of us do all three!

Barb: We’re all hybrid authors on this bus! That’s what struck me. It seemed like everyone on all the panels had been published in multiple ways. Even P. M. Steffan, a highly successful self-published author, had received an offer including a mid-five figure advance from a traditional publisher. She turned it down, mainly for economic reasons, but it just proved the rule. Most authors working today will distribute every which way.

Liz: This was such a valuable event on so many levels. For writers just getting started, Edith’s lesson should be their main takeaway – “There is no one right way.” You have to find the path that works for you. And what works today might not be right tomorrow. Be open to change. Be flexible. Don’t hamper your own career by thinking inside the box. We are all schizophrenic! And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Sherry: I missed this great event but have to add without being a member of Sisters in Crime (both New England and the Chessie Chapters) I wouldn’t have a book contract. I continue to learn from the people in both of these groups and rely on their friendship and support.

Readers: If you were there, what did you think? If you weren’t and have a question, ask away!