Wicked Wednesday–Thankful for the New England Crime Bake

Biscuits and Slashed Browns

Thankful for Our Readers Giveaway:  For a chance to win an advance copy of Edith/Maddie’s Biscuits and Slashed Browns, leave a comment below.

The 2017 New England Crime Bake was last weekend. As New England based authors, all the Wickeds have written about how grateful we are to the Crime Bake for what it’s added to our careers and our lives.

Wickeds, tell us a story about something that happened at Crime Bake this year that taught you something about craft, the writing community or yourself! Photos are a bonus.

Edith: I went to a great master class on Research given by author and professor of criminal justice, Frankie Bailey. I picked up some excellent tips on new sources I hadn’t thought of.


I also held a Sisters in Crime New England board meeting over breakfast, and am so grateful for these authors from six states who make our chapter the best one around. SINC National president Kendel Lynn joined us, too, and offered perspectives on what the umbrella organization is up to.


I had so many other stellar moments, including hanging out with the Wickeds, visiting with friends like Ramona DeFelice Long, Kim Gray, and Dru Ann love, drinks with some of the Guppies, a Seascape reunion photo, and being asked to sit at the “head” table at the banquet along with Guest of Honor Lisa Gardner. Here she is holding one of the centerpiece vases of paper flowers, all made by hand by Crime Bake co-chair Sharon Daynard!


Barb: I took an excellent master class, too, A Map in the Wilderness, Unsticking Your Plot with Cinematic Structure with Ray Daniel. I did three manuscript reviews for unpublished authors–the best manuscripts I’ve ever seen while doing this. For two of them, I was worried I wouldn’t have anything to say.

From left: Kim Gray, Karen Cleveland, Edith Maxwell, Liz Mugavero, one of our revered instructors, Hallie Ephron, Sherry Harris, Dianne Herlihy, Barbara Ross, Ramona DeFelice Long

A group of us who had all attended Seascape in ’09 had a mini-reunion.

The banquet was a lot of fun. Great food!

I moderated a panel called Conflict! Conflict! Conflict! (Fortunately, nobody got hurt.) And I taught a Sunday class called, “Four Lies People Will Tell You about Marketing Your Novel.” The best part of Crime Bake is always the people. It’s like old home week.

From Left: Barbara Ross, Paula Munier, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Karen E. Olsen

Jessie: I learned the most from a stellar presentation by our own Barb Ross on Marketing. It was just like Barb to take a topic that is routinely overwhelming and typically dry and to turn it into a comprehensive, accessible and very funny seminar. I was so grateful for her expertise and her willingness to share it. Thanks, Barb!

Sherry: Ditto, what Jessie said. It was a wonderful class. I learned a lot at the master class on suspense by Lisa Gardner. I love all of those little moments of grabbing some time with an old friend and making new friends. It was also fun to discover one of my daughter’s high school friends was working at the hotel.

Liz: Triple ditto! I thought Barb’s presentation was fabulous and there were many terrific points that everyone could take away. She’s great at breaking things down into pieces that everyone can understand. And overall, it was a great conference. This is always my favorite mystery con and this year didn’t disappoint!

Julie: I moderated two panels, both with EXCELLENT panelists which made my job easier. I was on the committee, so I have a slightly different perspective, but my favorite moments were solo acts by three fabulous women. Lisa Gardner, the GoH, gave a wonderful pep talk at lunch about why it is so great being a writer. Susan Reynolds did a Friday night talk about firing up your writer’s brain (she wrote a book on the topic) that I started taking notes during (which tells me how great it is). And Barb’s talk on Sunday really was wonderful. We all know how wonderful she is, but she really blew me away.

Readers: Tell us about a particular experience at a meeting or conference, or simply say hello.Save

Weird Hotel Stories from Crime Bake

by Barb, who is soooo tired after attending the New England Crime Bake

Thankful for Our Readers Giveaway: I’ll give an advance reader copy to one lucky commenter on today’s blog.

I’ve just returned from a weekend with my mystery community friends at the New England Crime Bake, my hometown conference. It’s learning experience, a reunion of old friends and a chance to meet new ones.

I was reflecting that I’ve had a couple of weird experiences at the hotel when I’ve been at Crime Bake. (You’ll see why in a minute.)

The first one was in the hotel when Crime Bake was in Dedham, MA. The conference occupied pretty much the entire hotel on Saturday, but on Sunday other groups would come in as we were leaving.

One Sunday mid-morning when I got on the hotel elevator there was a single woman already on it. She was exotically beautiful and dressed in a bright pink bridesmaid gown, which looked fabulous on her.

In her hands she held a dyed-to-match pair of strappy high-heeled sandals, a dyed-to-match clutch purse…and a big red brick.

We’d ridden up two floors before I could hold back no more. I asked her what the brick was for.

“The bottoms of the bridesmaid shoes are slippery,” she said. “The brick is to rough them up.”

Perfectly logical, right? But somehow that image of the beautiful woman, in an elevator, dressed in a gown, carrying a heavy brick, has stuck in my head. Who is she? Who is she going to meet? And what is going to happen?

This year when I left Crime Bake, I was greeted by this sight.

A huge pile of gym bags on a luggage rack with doll arms and legs and skulls sticking out.

It’s creepy, amirite? It reminded me of the doll parts in Hallie Ephron’s You’ll Never Know, Dear.

Of course, a little Googling tells me these are Baby Annes, dolls used to teach CPR for infants and babies. Note: Not to infants and babies.

Obviously this guy wasn’t into packing them up neatly. But even when they are packed neatly, they’re still kind of creepy.

It’s a perfectly logical explanation, but my writer brain can’t help but imagine…

Readers: Tell us about something funny or creepy you saw in a hotel. Or just say hello to be entered for a chance to win the ARC of Stowed Under.


Writing advice from Hallie Ephron: Enjoy the mess

Today we want to give a Wicked Welcome to Hallie Ephron. When I first joined Sisters in Crime New England, Hallie was the President. Over the years she has been a cheerleader, a mentor, and a friend. She is also a very gifted teacher, and has just released an update for her book WRITING & SELLING YOUR MYSTERY NOVEL. My well worn copy of the original will soon share space with this updated version. We’re thrilled that she agreed to visit the blog today. Welcome Hallie!

oldnewwritingsellingWhen I started writing what would be the first edition of WRITING & SELLING YOUR MYSTERY NOVEL back in 2003, I had four mystery novels under my belt and spoken on panels with enough of my fellow writers to know that there are almost as many ways to plan a mystery novel as there are writers.

Just for example, listen to what these uber-successful writers have to say about planning:

“An outline is crucial. It saves so much time. When you write suspense, you have to know where you’re going because you have to drop little hints along the way. With the outline, I always know where the story is going.” —John Grisham

“I do a very minimal synopsis before I start, and I know where I end up, I know sort of stations along the way, but I give myself freedom to kind of just discover things as I go along.” —Louis Bayard

“I just dive in and hope the book comes out at the other end. And as I get to the character, slowly the plot develops like a Polaroid.” —Tana French

Hmmm. It’s not very helpful to someone writing their first crime novel to be told there is no one way. But, having worked with many published and unpublished writers, what comes through over and over is that each of us has our own talents and deficits, and it’s wise to start by accepting that as a given – it’s both your greatest weakness and your greatest strength.

Do you outline? It’s a question you hear over and over at author panels. I’d be rich if I had a dollar for every time I heard a writer answer quoting E. L. Doctorow, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” The truth is, you may like writing as if you’re driving at night in fog, but it doesn’t work for everyone.

Some of us are naturally planners (okay, we’re anal) and need to write a detailed outline or synopsis before committing ourselves to an opening scene. Others are pantsers (delusional free spirits?) who’d rather fly by the seat of their pants. If I’m not surprised, they like to say, then how can I expect the reader to be surprised? Most of us do a little of both, and in different proportions according to the demands of of the project underway.

I, for one, can pants along, groping and hoping for a while. But at some point, within the first 100 pages, I need to pick my head up out of the weeds and take the long view. That might involve attempting an outline or synopsis, or maybe just a pack of 3×5 cards with the main plot points. If I don’t, inevitably I write myself into one cul de sac after another and end up with an “out” file that’s longer than my manuscript. So I write a little, plan a little, write a some more, plan some more…

My plan becomes my rock as I work my way toward THE END. Usually it works, as long as I’m not afraid to blow up the rock if need be.

My sage advice is: Do whatever works for you. To that end, the “Planning” section of the REVISED AND EXPANDED edition of WRITING AND SELLING YOUR MYSTERY NOVEL is packed with planning exercises to try on, like so many hats. They’ve worked for other writers and might work for you. There are exercises for planning the premise, the crime, the protagonist, the villain, the web of characters, the setting, the dramatic (it had better be!) opening, and of course, the three acts that comprise the plot. The planning section culminates with a MYSTERY NOVEL BLUEPRINT summarizing every aspect in a handy dandy chart that you can complete, and goes on to take an equally hands-on approach to writing, revising, and selling your novel.

Fortunately, in this new edition, the blueprint (and all of the other exercises in the book) can be printed out and completed. Got to love technology.

For more about WRITING & SELLING YOUR MYSTERY NOVEL: REVISED EXPANDED: http://www.writersdigestshop.com/writing-and-selling-your-mystery-novel-revised-and-expanded

An excerpt on developing a premise for your mystery novel. http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/develop-premise-mystery-novel

What’s your planning process? Brainstorm? Outline? Synopsis? Grope and hope? And does it change from one project to the next?


hallieephron1photobylynnwayne062014HALLIE EPHRON is the New York Times bestselling author of ten crime novels, including YOU’LL NEVER KNOW, DEAR (Wm Morrow 6/17)). She is a four-time finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. A revised and expanded edition of her Edgar-nominated WRITING AND SELLING YOUR MYSTERY NOVEL(Writers Digest Books) is just out from Writers Digest Books. For twelve years she was the crime fiction book reviewer for the Boston Globe and won the Ellen Nehr Award for Excellence in Mystery Reviewing.

In The Middle

By Sherry — another rainy day in Northern Virginia

Marci Konecny is the winner of the Sarah Winston books! Thanks to all of you who stopped by! I used Random.org to draw the winner.

Usually no one wants to be in the middle, but I am and here is why I’m so happy to be.

Tagged for Death mech.inddThe second anniversary of the release of Tagged For Death was last Friday, December 2nd (look for the celebratory giveaway at the bottom of the post). And this anniversary made me reflect on where I’ve been, where am, and where I’m going. I started thinking about all of the people who helped me along the way – too many to list here but I do want to mention some pivotal moments.

My first writers conference run by the Cambria Writers Workshop was in Monterey, California where I received gentle criticism and lots of encouragement.

I also attended the now defunct Seaside Writers Conference run by the faculty of the Florida International University’s creative writing department. I learned so much about structure and passion for writing. Plus I met some wonderful local writers.


You meet the nicest people at Malice. Here I’m with Dru Ann Love, Aimee Hix, Shari Randall, and Kathryn O’Sullivan

Malice Domestic in Bethesda, Maryland was life changing in so many ways. (I gave them a shout out in the acknowledgements of Tagged For Death.) I also made a lot of friends there and met Julie Hennrikus who told me about the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime and Crime Bake and of course became my dear, dear friend.

When I joined the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crimes Hallie Ephron, Roberta Isleib (aka Lucy Burdette), and Hank Phillippi Ryan were the head honchos of the chapter. They are all amazingly generous to me and so many other writers.

Crime Bake gave me a chance to meet authors, agents (lots of rejections), and pre-published friends.

seascapeSeacape run by Hallie Ephron, Roberta Isleib, and S.W. Hubbard (the year I attended). Never has so much learning and opportunity been packed into less than forty-eight hours. But even more important were the friendships that were formed. I met Edith Maxwell, Liz Mugavero, Barbara Ross, and Kim Gray that weekend – Wicked Cozy Authors wasn’t even a twinkle in our eye then. I also met Ramona DeFelice Long, and Christine Hillman who is from Australia – both are amazing women and writers.

Then of course there’s Barbara Ross who thought of me when agent John Talbot asked her if she knew anyone who could write a series about garage sales.


Photo by Meg Manion Silliker

And there are my dear Wickeds. What would I do without all of you?!

When I moved back to Virginia I joined the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime and found another group of people who encourage and support me in so many ways.

I’m also very grateful to so many friends, readers, bloggers, and reviewers who are with me on this journey.

So with all this talk of the past why did I title the post “In The Middle”? I realized I get to help other writers now. It is so much fun! And I have had such gracious examples of how to do that from people who have helped me in the past and continue to help me now.

There are so many ways to help other writers. Sometimes it’s reading a manuscript and making suggestions. Or it’s saying to someone my agent is looking for someone to write a series. It could be an introduction, just an encouraging word, writing a blurb for someone, or telling people to join Sisters in Crime.

A few weeks ago I did a panel on getting published with Maya Corrigan and Kathryn O’Sullivan at the Barnes and Noble in Fairfax, VA. We had a small but enthusiastic crowd. We ended up talking to a man for quite a while after the panel and encouraged him to join Sisters in Crime.

Photo by Eleanor Carwood Jones who took the selfie!

Photo by Eleanor Carwood Jones who took the selfie!

Last weekend was the Chesapeake Chapter Mystery Extravaganza where chapter members who’ve published a book or short story during the year get a couple of minutes to talk about their work. While I was up at the podium talking I spotted someone in the crowd and thought that guy looks familiar. I started racking my brain to figure out why (I think I kept talking while that was going on).

Then I realized it was the man from the Barnes and Noble panel. I had a chance to speak with him after the event was over. His eyes lit up and he said he’d written eight chapters since the panel. That he’d put off grading papers (he’s a high school psychology teacher) and doing things around the house to write. Seeing his enthusiasm warmed my heart.

Being in the middle is a wonderful place to be.

threebooksReaders: Who have you given a hand up to?

I’m giving away a set of all three Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries to one reader. Leave a comment for a chance to win.




Crime Bake On A Stick 2016

thankful-for-our-readers-giveaway-3img_1749Today we are giving away goodies from Crime Bake! It includes a Crime Bake tote bag, a filled out bingo ice breaker card (with author and attendee signatures), a folder with tablet and pen, a copy of The Writer magazine, a Crime Bake survival kit, and a moose tea candle holder (our table won it in the limerick contest — William Kent Krueger picked the winner!) Here’s our winning limerick:

At Crime Bake having a ball
We met a strange moose named Saul
We thought he was dead
From the hole in his head
But 🎹 he’s going to make it after all🎹  (we sang the last line to the tune of the Mary Tyler Moore show theme song). Leave a comment for a chance to win.

Ginger Smith was the winner of our Fan On A Stick contest and here are some of her adventures:

img_1738Ginger arrives at Crime Bake!

The first person Ginger meets is author Donna Andrews!

The first person Ginger meets is author Donna Andrews!

Ginger runs into Liz and Jessie at her first panel.

Ginger runs into Liz and Jessie at her first panel.

First panel -- Our Big Guns and How They Got There with Joseph Finder, William Kent Krueger, Leslie Meier, B.A. Shapiro and moderator Sharon Daynard

First panel — Our Big Guns and How They Got There with Joseph Finder, William Kent Krueger, Leslie Meier, B.A. Shapiro and moderator Sharon Daynard











Ginger happens by the bar and meets Barb, Lea Wait, Edith, and Kate Cone. Then she spots Julie and Sheila. But wait there’s more — there’s Toni L.P. Kelner and Sid!


Ginger meets Susan Oleksiw.

Ginger takes a break and goes up to her room. What a view!



Back downstairs Ginger runs into the Wickeds again and author Ray Daniel.

Then it’s time for the banquet Let Loose With The Moose at the Pinewood Broiler  — a salute to William Kent Krueger’s books and Minnesota.

There’s even a dinosaur (Rhonda Lane)! img_1694

Ginger finds Sherry and author Shari Randall wearing their plaid. But who is that? It’s Rocky and Bullwinkle aka Hank Phillippi Ryan and her husband Jonathan!


Ginger out on the dance floor with Hallie Ephron and Lucy Burdette. She bumps in to author Marian Stanley and agent Paula Munier. Then finds authors Eleanor Carwood Jones and Diane Vallere. And oh my there is William Kent Krueger and his lovely wife!


After a wonderful day and evening Ginger is all tuckered out!


Thanks for joining us, Ginger!

Readers: Do you have a favorite event that you attend? Leave a comment for a chance to win the Crime Bake swag!


Wicked Wednesday — Grateful For Our Mentors

thankful-for-our-readers-giveaway-3Julie here! Today is my day to do a giveaway! Reader’s choice–either Just Killing Time or Clock and Dagger! Or, I can give you a Level Best anthology with one of my short stories. Comment to enter, I’ll announce the winner this weekend.

Continuing the our November theme of being grateful, Wickeds tell us about a mentor that helped you along your path to publication. Since I know we all have had a lot of help from a lot of different sources, think waaaaaayyyyy back to someone who helped you early on. What did they do? How did they help?

Edith: My mother said, about my early short stories, “Edie, you’re a good writer,” and I believed her for the rest of my life.

But as an adult, when I started writing fiction again, I’d have to say Kate Flora. She was one of the original Level Best Books editors and has more published crime novels, fiction and non fiction, than I can even dream of. The first story I’d submitted to a Level Best anthology was accepted, but I had a number of rejections after that. More than once Kate wrote a handwritten note on the form letter. “Don’t let this discourage you. You’re a good writer. Keep writing.” And I believed her. Thank you, dear Kate. Hallie Ephron and Hank Phillippi Ryan have also been huge boosters of mine – and continue to be. A big thank you to these talented, gracious, generous authors.

Liz: I was blessed to be able to attend two Seascape writers retreats with Hallie Ephron, Roberta Isleib, and Susan Hubbard. Those ladies were the best teachers ever. They pushed me to put more of myself on the page, hone my craft and become better. I remember Hallie saying to me once, “You’ll do it [get published]. You have the talent, but you also have the drive.” It was the best feeling in the world to tell her about my first contract. Thank you Hallie, Roberta and Susan – you definitely changed my life.

Barb: It’s amazing how certain people have such a strong through-line in so many New Englander’s writing careers. I, too, can never repay Roberta Isleib (Lucy Burdette), Hallie Ephron, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Kate Flora, so I try to pay it forward. I’ve been so lucky in both my work and writing lives to have so many strong women provide such powerful support and advice. Let me recognize another–B. A. Shapiro, author of The Art Forger and The Muralist, and my first mystery writing teacher.

Sherry: Eons ago I attended my very first writers conference — the Cambria Writers Workshop conference held at Asilomar in Monterey, California. As part of the conference we were able to read part of our manuscript. As I was reading I realized my manuscript was all backstory — terribly written backstory. I managed to get through it and thank heavens they were a kind and supportive group. They pointed out the good things and gently critiqued what was wrong. I remember going up to the keynote speaker later and asking if she thought I should continue writing. She said, “You’re talented.” It might have been a lie but it kept me going. I’ve always thought under different circumstances, with different people, it would have been easy to throw in the towel. The writing community is a generous one and I’ve been helped along the way by many, many people.

Julie: I am going to give Hallie Ephron another shout out. At one of my first Crime Bakes, when I was barely admitting aloud I dreamed of getting published, she took the news that my manuscript was being requested with a “that’s really wonderful–they don’t say that to everyone. Be proud of yourself.” Even this last weekend, she went out of her way to tell my how funny one of my Facebook posts was. Also, shouting out to Hank Phillippi Ryan, one of the most gracious women I know. She’s been a huge booster, and continues with that.

Dear fellow writers, who are your mentors? Readers, who has encouraged you along the way in one particular area of your life?Save


Oops I Did It Again

By Sherry where winter is rattling at the door once again

I did it again. I do it every time. I hit 50,000 words and I feel like I’m done even though I know I’m not. This time it’s book four, A Good Day To Buy. Now, I know this book is an empty shell in some ways, there’s not much description and I haven’t grounded my characters in a place that the reader can see. I know there is still a lot of work ahead of me (at least 20,000 words!).

IMG_7796I knew I’d blogged about 50,000 words once before so I looked up that blog post and re-read it. There’s some excellent advice in the comments section. In that blog I mention another one I wrote called Making A Scene. There I found another whole great comment section full of advice. One bit I’d completely forgotten. Hallie Ephron had mentioned the book Story by Robert McKee. So I went to the library and checked it out. I’ll be reading it this week.

As I started revising I kept thinking about something Barbara Ross had said in another post. I searched past posts of the blog until I finally found it. Barb in a post called, I Write Therefore I Think, said this: Lately I’ve been wondering if I could approach a novel by asking, “What do I want my readers to feel?” and “What do they need to know (or suspect, or fear) in order to feel it?” I know I haven’t pulled that off yet and I’ll keep it in mind as I revise.

Then there are three things I try to include in each book. The first is incorporating the theme of garage sales and trying to make sure it’s part of the story not something that’s wedged in because it has to be there. Second is a bit of military life. I was astonished to see a figure the other day that said only one percent of people serve in the military. One percent. The third is to share a little bit of the history of Massachusetts that I love so much. It’s a delicate balance with all three to make them important to the story and a natural part of it at the same time. I feel like I’ve done a good job with the first one this time but not much with the second and third.

Another thing I still need to make sure to include is the story arc. When I turned in book three, All Murders Final!, last June I didn’t know if there would be any more books in the series. So there is some fancy footwork in that one to make sure things are tied up but to also leave the door open if the series continued.

Then there’s the end to A Good Day To Buy. Yes, Wickeds I know last time we talked I had two endings, well now I have three. I really think I’m going to have to write the beginning of book five, I Know What You Bid Last Summer, before I can figure out which ending to use. For better or worse, I’m sending it off to Barb Goffman this week. She’ll find the weak points and plot holes so come May, book four will be off to my Kensington editor.

Readers: What do you do when a project isn’t going quite the way you planned?