Why I’m a Standalone Writer — Guest Lori Rader-Day

I am happy to welcome back Lori Rader-Day. We met at Left Coast Crime in 2014 when we were both debut authors. Our first books weren’t even out yet. Lori’s third book, The Day I Diedreleased on April 11th!


[Movie trailer voice] IN A WORLD where the mystery genre is built upon series characters, Lori Rader-Day is a serial author of—standalones.

Hi, I’m Lori, and I write… standalones.

[Everyone chines in.] Hi, Lori.

[A voice from the back of the room] You’re safe here, Lori.

Am I? Am I really? I’m looking around and everyone else—wow, this is hard. Everyone else has a series. Some of them have two or three series. It’s easy to feel as though I’m not doing something right, you know? Like I am not a real mystery author, because I haven’t written a series yet.

Face it. Mystery readers love series. They are always going on about Miss Fisher and Vera and Dexter and Sookie and Longmire. I get it. There’s something great about knowing that the thing you like and have read or, since series books are sometimes turned into television, watched—there’s more! There’s more of this thing I really enjoyed! It’s all good news!

Publishers also love series titles. You know why? Because the marketing does its dang self when it comes to series books. Launch once, write into infinity, and your happy readers from the first book are likely to keep picking up later titles, as long as you let them know they are available. If new readers discover you later into the series, that’s also good news for your backlist sales. Again: all good news.

Wow, you guys are really turning me around on this—

[Voice from the back of the room] Stay strong, Lori.

[Deep breath] OK, right. There’s a reason I write standalones, even so. And the reason is—me. I like standalones. I like to read them. I like knowing that the book I’m picking up is the whole story, that I’m not missing three books prior to this one and hence a lot of backstory. I’m a little OCD on this. If I find a series book that I want to read, I can’t just pick up that new book. I have to go back into the backlist and find the first book. Why? Because I want the origin story. How did this character become an amateur sleuth? Why did they become a bounty hunter instead of a lingerie salesperson (Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum) or a private investigator instead of a lady of leisure (Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Gilver)? I’m not going to skip THAT story of all stories they have to tell. That’s the best one!

So there’s my own reading practices to blame. I will take a good standalone over anything, any day of the week. A fully realized story and character, where everything is left on the page and nothing “saved” for a future book is my kind of book.

Though I do like series books. When I find a character who has the potential to carry an ongoing story of growth and change, of course I’ll read that—

[Voice from the second row] She’s wavering. Do something.

But the real reason that I write standalones has nothing to do with my reading habits and everything to do with my own attention span.

When I was writing my first two published novels, I was working a day job. A demanding one. To get my writing done, I had to use my lunch hour almost every day of the week. I was turning down lunch invitations with real friends to go spend time with these fake friends I was making up. I had to make myself want to be at the blank page, or I wouldn’t show up there. There were just so many other things to do. Life easily gets in the way.

So I had to keep things interesting in what I was writing—giving myself fun assignments like two first-person narrators or a really fun character with bad behavior—but I also had to keep myself engaged with the next thing. As in, when I finish THIS manuscript, I get to write something completely different. I get to write The Brand New Shiny Idea!

The Brand New Shiny Idea cannot be a second book with the same character, you see. That’s not Brand New or Shiny enough.

I guess you can say I use the next book, the next standalone by definition, as the carrot at the end of the stick of writing my current project.

[Mumble from somewhere in row four] Heavy-handed metaphor alert.

There are just so many story ideas out there to be written, and the ones that occur to me have me hopping from one character to another, from one setting to another. For now. Someday I hope one of the characters I write gives me another idea—and then another one—for what she wants to do. I will welcome that turn of events. But until then…

[Murmurs from among the group.]

[Voice from the back] You can do it!

I am a standalone writer. Thank you for your support.

Readers: Do you read standalones? Have you thought about writing one?

Lori Rader-Day, author of The Day I Died, The Black Hour, and Little Pretty Things, is the recipient of the 2016 Mary Higgins Clark Award and the 2015 Anthony Award for Best First Novel. Lori’s short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Time Out Chicago, Good Housekeeping, and others. She lives in Chicago, where she teaches mystery writing at StoryStudio Chicago and is the president of the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter.

Westward Ho — Julie and Sherry go to Left Coast Crime



The view from our room!

Julie and Sherry were so excited to attend Left Coast Crime not only to spend some time with each other but it’s a fabulous conference. The weather was perfect and February is a great time to leave the northern tier and visit the West!

It didn’t take long to start running into friends!

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Sherry reunited with the women from her very first panel at LCC in 2014. It was a panel for debut authors and what an amazing bunch of women and writers.

Holly West, Sherry Harris Carlene O'Neil, Lori Rader Day and Martha Cooley

Holly West, Sherry Harris Carlene O’Neil, Lori Rader Day and Martha Cooley

Guppy Karragh Arndt left a message on the Guppy list serve that she wanted some pitch advice. We met her at the bar. Julie and Dru Ann Love gave her some great advice.





Julie and Sherry were both on panels, and enjoyed others!

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What to do between panels? Run outside and enjoy the warm weather!

So many fun things to do!

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What a fun night! We sat at the table sponsored by Lori Rader Day and nominee Jim Ziskin.



Writing the Wicked Job — Guest Lori Rader-Day

I am delighted that Lori Rader-Day was able to join us today to talk about jobs, writing, and her latest book Little Pretty Things. I met Lori on a panel at Left Coast Crime in March of 2014 a few months before her first book, The Black Hour, was published. Lori is smart, funny, and always interesting. Take it away, Lori.

Writing my second novel, Little Pretty Things, I had a lot of time to think about work. Not writing—work work.

In the book, Juliet Townsend works at a “roadside dive” of a motel, cleaning up after people who have no compunction about not keeping the rooms neat.

LittlePrettyTHingsAs Juliet puts it, “I’d encountered bloody towels left behind the door, sheets covered in terrible things. I’d had to clean up spilled beer, used condoms, dirty diapers, and more. People came to motels like the Mid-Night to be someone else for a night, and their new identities rarely wanted to pick up after themselves. Sometimes their new selves wanted to smear things on the walls.”

I’ve worked in nice, clean offices for twenty years, but the reason I started writing about Juliet was because I wanted to write about the kinds of jobs I might have had to live with, if I’d chosen a different path.

My first bad job was as a busboy in a family-owned restaurant in my hometown. I was too young to drive, so my patient parents dropped me off and then picked me up a few hours later. In the mean time I would have picked up a … scent. I was 14. I hardly made any money at all, but I managed to get a lot of baked potato under my fingernails.

Jobs were hard to get. My family lived far out in the country and until I could drive myself, I couldn’t get the kinds of jobs my friends in town did. The half-hour commute into town was a long commute for someone with a brand new license and three hours of homework every night. At the same time I was highly involved in school activities like the yearbook staff, which dragged into the summer and took crucial time away from work.

In the ensuing high school-to-college years, I worked a series of crappy jobs. At the family fun park where all my friends worked midway games or rollercoasters, I sat alone in a hot little camper shilling all things deep-fat fried. Because I learned to use a cash register there, I was saddled with cashier jobs for a while. At Wal-Mart the next summer, I stayed on into the fall before I realized I couldn’t seem to get my homework done anymore. I had to quit. I felt as though I’d worked a lifetime there. It was four months.

metallic_purple_tinsel_garland_1One summer I worked in a factory that made shiny tree garland. I ran a special machine that turned rolls of thin, glossy plastic into ropes of shiny, fluffy tree décor. In the history of garland-making, no one was ever worse at it. I worked at another factory later, where I was asked to break apart giant wooden wire spools with a sledgehammer. I started out tentative but by the end of the day picked up a real Paul Bunyan’s ax mentality.

The summer before I went to college, I wore a tight, brown polyester uniform dress, like a punishment, at the cash register of a Ponderosa franchise. Once in a while, I was asked to dump a bag of powder into the top of the ice cream machine. Voilà, ice cream. I couldn’t wait to go to college.

popmovieAnd then in college, I worked at a movie theatre, slinging popcorn. One time, a kid stumbled out of a theatre into the deserted lobby, made a beeline for my counter, and puked all over it.


So I’ve been in the trenches, is what I’m saying.

I’ve never worked in a motel—or la-di-da, a hotel—but I found that I could finally put some of this life experience to good use, giving Juliet the right mix of shame and pride in her work.

Black_Hour_cover_webThat’s the amazing thing about writing, isn’t it? You’re not writing about yourself exactly, but when you dig for the right detail or the right emotion, you find that you are inserting a little bit of the real you—the you who remembers and stores away information—into these fictional characters.

And readers who feel you’ve nailed something just right want to know: How? Unless you’re writing directly from experience, “getting it right” can seem like a little bit of magic. The conjuring of sense memory, of emotion, of anything transferable to the themes of your project, of feeling the words start to lift off the page and take flight beyond your own abilities, when the work work of writing fades away and the joy of creating takes over.

It’s not always like that, I think we can all agree. But having someone with chronic pain tell me the pain my protagonist describes is exactly right, or having a friend who’s a runner tell me I got Juliet’s former track team life right, that I “must have been a runner in a past life”—that’s the real payday for this job we love to do.

Readers: What was your worst job?

Rader_Day_Lori_2Lori Rader-Day’s debut mystery, The Black Hour (Seventh Street Books, 2014), received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal and was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her second mystery, Little Pretty Things, is out in July. Her short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Time Out Chicago, Good Housekeeping, and others. She lives in Chicago with her husband and spoiled dog and is active in the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter and a member of Sisters in Crime and International Thriller Writers.

Where Are They Now?

By Sherry from Hotsville aka Northern Virginia

IMG_3472In March 2014 I was on my first panel as an author, Deadly New Voices, at Left Coast Crime with four fabulous debut authors: Martha (M.P. Cooley), Carlene O’Neil, Lori Rader-Day, and Holly West. At the time only Holly had a book out so I thought it would be fun to catch up with everyone and see what had happened since the panel. Each of us (except for Carlene whose book just came out May 2015) have been nominated for a best first novel award and some for multiple awards!

Martha_Cooley-31-retouched_web_(2)Martha Cooley: Our debut panel at Left Coast kicked off what was an amazing year!  Well, not quite a year–Ice Shear came out last July.  Everything between May and September  was a hazy blur of promotion, but when I emerged on the other side I found myself with a BEAUTIFUL book in my hand and part of a fantastic community of writers. Ice Shear had a nice reception when it came out–Oprah had it on her list of best thrillers of summer 2014, it received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, and was named one of the best books of FlameOut0x420the year by the Sun Sentinel.  The book has picked up some awards nominations, including the Barry Award, The Left Coast Crime Rosebud Award, the Anthony, and the Strand Magazine Critics Award.

In the last few months, I’ve published a prequel and sequel to Ice Shear. FAINT TRACE is an e-book novella that shows what June lost before Ice Shear began–a home, her husband, a career, California.  FLAME OUT is a sequel that investigates past crimes. June is working to solve an attempted murder in abandoned factory that had been set on fire and digs up secrets that hit close to home for June and her family.  Currently, I’m hard at work on Savage Gods, my next book with William Morrow.

Carlene O’Neil: Thank you Sherry for inviting us to spend time with the Wickeds. All of you are such fantastic writers and I feel like an honorary Wicked; I was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts, so, although I grew up in California, I come from “good Yankee stock,” as my grandmother was fond of saying.

It’s been such an amazing year since Left Coast Crime. My first book, One Foot in the Grape, was published by Berkley and came out on May 5th. This was the culmination of a life-long dream, and I’ve been having a lot of fun, even when standing in the middle of a Barnes and Noble crying my eyes out.  It’s there (sob), on the shelves (hiccup.) Since Left Coast Crime, I’ve also been on panels at Bouchercon and the San Diego Writers Conference. I’m kind of a ham. Who knew.

OneFoot2_s260x420In addition to writing and the Dreaded Day Job, I’ve managed to clear some free time to devote to research. I need to make sure the wine tasting, growing, tasting, bottling, and tasting details in the book are accurate. In fact, I’m so excited to be in Paris as you read this, getting a combined vacation/research trip in. Also, last month I had a chance to spend the weekend in Temecula, California, a wine growing region a short drive from San Diego, and I’m hoping to revisit Monterey and Carmel, a beautiful part of the state. If you are familiar with the town of Carmel, my fictional town of Cypress Cove may sound familiar.  Just saying.

What’s next? I just got word from my editor that the next book in the series, Ripe for Murder, will be out March 2016. This time my protagonist, Penny Lively, gets to travel to the Napa Valley where she manages to get involved in a murder on the Wine Train.

Rader_Day_Lori_2Lori Rader-Day:
What l remember from our panel was laughing. We had so much fun — so much has happened since that day! The Black Hour launched on July 8, 2014, and I spent the rest of the year going wherever my Google Calendar said to go. I had a launch party in Chicago with about 80 of my nearest and dearest friends, and then another launch party in my hometown, at the library where I first learned to be a voracious reader. In all, I did about 30 events.

The Black Hour had an embarrassingly good year, getting some good reviews and earning nominations for the Mary Higgins Clark Award (I got LittlePretty2_s260x420to go to the Edgars! Stephen King was there!), the Left Coast Crime Rosebud Award for Best First Novel, the Barry Award for Best Paperback Original, and the Anthony Award for Best First Novel. The Black Hour even managed a couple of wins: the Lovey Award for Best First Novel and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association Mate E. Palmer Award in Communications for Fiction.

The biggest news is that The Black Hour has a little sister! Little Pretty Things will be released on July 7. I’ve also already sold my third book, still in progress, for next July. So here we go. I’m just really glad to have had that deadly first panel with you ladies. We had so much fun—and we’re just getting started.

Holly West: It’s been a great year and a half since our panel at Left Coast Crime in 2014. The second book in my Mistress of Fortune series, Mistress of Lies, came out in September 2014 and in 2015, the first in the series, Mistress of Fortune, was nominated for a Left Coast Crime Rosebud Award for Best First Novel. Now, after a whirlwind debut year, I’m back at my writing desk, working on a new Mistressv8_s260x420book set in modern day Venice, California, featuring amateur sleuth Mia Bartlett, a bartender who works at the oldest bar in Los Angeles. It turns out that walls can talk when a renovation turns up a mysterious case of champagne set aside by the bar’s gangster owner during Prohibition. It’s a discovery someone will die for. In the meantime, look for short stories from me in a few upcoming anthologies–publishing dates to TBD.

longestyardsaleSherry: Thanks for stopping by ladies. It was so great to hear about all of your achievements. I think you all must be good luck! My first book Tagged for Death came out in December 2014 and was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. The Longest Yard Sale comes out June 30th. And I’ve turned in All Murders Final which comes out in May 2016.

Readers: I hope you add these books to your summer reading piles! What else are you looking forward to reading this summer?


A Book’s Exact Right Moment with Lori Rader-Day

Black_Hour_cover_webSherry: Lori thanks so much for joining us today. I meet Lori at Left Coast Crime last March. We were co-panelist on Deadly New Voices. Her book The Black Hour debuted last week to great reviews.

Lori: Let me get this part out of the way: I hated Anne of Green Gables.

Oh, and A Wrinkle in Time.

Are you still here? What if I say that I only got up to the front door of Mr. Rochester’s house in Jane Eyre before I fell asleep, dropped the book, and never picked it up again.

Don’t get me wrong. I love kid books. I side with #teamYA in the recent kerfuffle over whether adults should be ashamed to read books written for young people. (Ashamed? Really?)

The problem with these books is that I didn’t try to read any of them until far into my adulthood—and it was too late. I’ve found that if I didn’t come to love a book at the proper time of my life, it might not be possible to go back and right the wrong.

There’s no time limit on these books. They’re classics. But they are classics meant for girls of a certain age, a certain age I haven’t been in a long (long) time.

By the time I read Anne of Green Gables, Anne struck me as a hyperactive goody-goody. I didn’t even understand A Wrinkle in Time. It was about…time? It just ended abruptly, I noticed. Leaving room for the sequels, thought my jaded, adult self. As for Jane Eyre: Oh, Jane. He has a crazy wife in the attic. Girlfriend, you can do better.

On the other hand, books that I read and loved as a kid still hold sway over me. I’ve re-read some of them as an adult and you know what? They’re just as awesome as they always were. These are books like A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories, on which my childhood was built and in which as an adult I found some sage writing advice. Or E.L. Konigsberg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Sure, the kids running away from home gave me more pause than it once did, but I still rooted for them to get away with it. Scott O’Dell’s The Island of the Blue Dolphin—check, except now I kind of want a summer house on that cove instead of being rescued from it. Alice in Wonderland? This book was probably never for children anyway, but that’s beside the point—I read it as a kid, loved it, and have read it as an adult. It holds up.

Except it’s not the book holding up to some standard. It’s the reader. It’s us. It’s me. I’m the one who comes to the pages different than I was last time. I’m the variable that changes over time. The words on the page say what they’ve said my entire life and either they resonate with me or they don’t.  The difference is me—did I read this book long ago and leave a piece of myself in the text? For the books I never read when I was supposed to, the question is different. Can I find something in the text to latch onto now?

Now that I’m a writer with deadlines, I get less reading done. Combine that with the vast number of great mysteries I encounter at every conference I attend, where I’m meeting great new authors I want to support, and we have a problem of supply and demand. Supply, supply, and demand. I’ll never read everything I want to. (Thanks a lot, mortality.) I have to be more selective with my reading time.

More than that—I hope I have left something of myself on the pages I’ve written for someone else to find at the exact right time. And, someday, they can tear my Winnie-the-Pooh out of my cold, dead hands. I’m not ashamed to say it.

Readers: Did you read any books that just weren’t “in the moment”?

Rader_Day_Lori_2Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery The Black Hour (Seventh Street Books, 2014). Born and raised in central Indiana, she now lives in Chicago with her husband and dog. Her fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Time Out Chicago, and others. Visit her at LoriRaderDay.com.


Wicked Good Summer Reads

Here’s what the Wickeds are reading as we get into beach season. What are you reading?

Liz: I have a whole list going! Next up is Edith’s ‘Til Dirt Do Us Part. Also in the pile is maplemayhemAlafair Burke’s All Day and a Night, and of course Jessie’s Maple Mayhem upon its release date!

Edith: Thanks, Liz! I’m just finishing Tempa Pagel‘s They Danced by the Light of the Moon, a mystery set in northeastern Massachusetts (where she and I both live) and southern New Hamphire, and in 1901 and the present (she’ll be guest posting here at the end of the month). And it’s beach_plumfabulous.

Next up is Holly Robinson‘s Beach Plum Island, also a kind of mystery. She’s a local author, too. Lots  and lots of talent up here north of Boston.




Jessie: I can’t recommend 18293427The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin enough. If I could have possibly found a large enough chunk of time it would have been a one sitting read for me.


And for a very summery read I am going to dive into Sea Glass Summer by Dorothy Cannell

Know the NightBarb: Right now I’m reading a not-quite-yet  published cozy for a blurb and dozens of crime short stories for Level Best Books next anthology. The book anxiously awaiting me on my nightstand is Maria Mutch’s memoir, Know the Night: A Story of Survival in the Small Hours about the two years Maria’s son, who is autistic and has Down Syndrome, couldn’t sleep, and how staying up all night with him affected Maria and her family. Drawing on her son’s love of jazz and her own affinity with explorer Richard Byrd who stayed alone through the long polar night, this book is both elegiac and emotional. I can’t wait to get to it.

Sherry: There are stacks of books all over my house — it’s getting a little desperate here — some are beginning to teeter. Next up for me is Buried in the Bog and Scandal in Skiberdeen. I’ve heard such great things about this series by Sheila Connolly so I can’t wait to dig in. I’m also anxiously awaiting the release of The Black Hour on July 8th by Lori Rader Day.

Craig JohnsonJulie: Aside from my Wicked Cozy Sistahs books, I am going to be reading the Longmire series by Craig Johnson. Craig is going to be the Guest of Honor at the New England Crime Bake this year, and I have the honor of doing an interview with him on Saturday afternoon. I am a fan of the TV series, and looking forward to reading the books. You will all be hearing more about this as we get closer to November. A Crime Bake note: Barb, Edith, and I are all on the committee. All six of us will be there. It is a great conference, already more that 50% sold out. So if you are interested, do not delay.

So, dear readers, what is on your summer reading list?

You Know You’re a Mystery Writer When…

[Missi Svoboda won the paperback copy of A TINE TO LIVE, A TINE TO DIE from Edith’s A Second Life post last week. Missi, contact Edith, and congratulations!]

By Sherry Harris

You know you’re a mystery writer…


Half of your friends have aliases but they haven’t committed a crime.

You have perfectly normal conversations about the best way to kill someone in a crowded restaurant.

Your husband is nervous when you say the Poison Lady is going to be at a conference you’re attending.

Julie with Patrick Towle right before our police ride along.

Julie with Sgt. Patrick Towle right before our police ride along.

You know how to sink a body and make sure it stays that way.

You have an anonymous source.

You’ve been on a police ride along.

Your friend’s husband, who’s a police officer, answers your questions after he decides you aren’t really planning to commit a crime.

You hear an interesting crime story and you start analyzing to see if it would work in your manuscript.

You can’t wait to:

See your cover.

Hold an arc.

Hold the book.

Sign your first book.

Make the first sale that isn’t to your mother or some other close relative.

You try to:


My first panel at Left Coast Crime with Martha Cooley, Lori Rader-Day, Carlene O’Neil and Holly West.

Be funny and interesting when you’re on a panel at a conference.

Be witty and ask insightful questions when you moderate a panel.

Figure out how many appearances you should make and if you should have a launch party.

Promote but not over promote your book on social media sites.

You force yourself out of bed in the middle of the night because something has come to you and you want to remember it in the morning.

You wake up in the morning wondering what the heck you thought of in the middle of the night that you were sure was brilliant and you’d remember it without forcing yourself out of bed in the middle of the night.

You have to cover the word count on your computer so you don’t check every few minutes to see if you’ve reached your goal.

Liz in book jail on our recent retreat.

Liz in book jail on our recent retreat.

Your friends put you in book jail and yell at you if they see you’re online when you should be writing.

Your friends give you word counts, deadlines, and encourage you.

Anyone have something to add to the list?