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!


A Writer’s Reference Books

Edith on retreat in Vermont, on a glorious summer morning.


Daddy, aka Allan Maxwell, JR, at the dinner table. 1923-1985. I still miss his gentle humor, keen sense of justice, and his devotion to finding the facts even during dinner.

We all know Mr. Google is our friend, much of the time. But for reference books, nothing beats sitting down and leafing through some real pages made out of paper. My dear departed father was famous for leaping up from the family dinner table when one of his four children asked a question. He’d let his food cool while he brought back the appropriate reference book from our extensive shelves laden with multiple encyclopedias and dictionaries. He’d find the answer and read it out loud.

I have a shelf full of writing reference volumes, not counting my American Heritage Dictionary. I need to get back to my WIP this morning, so I’m not going to list them all out, but I think you can see them pretty clearly. I have books on poison. On revision and manuscript submission. On what police officers know and do.


I have books on the craft of writing mysteries (including Hallie Ephron‘s Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel), general fiction, and memoir. Books on forensic linguistics. More about police procedure.


And I have the Emotion Thesaurus, the Dictionary of Idioms, and several valuable sources of historical information for the late 1800s.


That’s not all the reference books, of course, but it’s the core. I couldn’t write without them! If there are any you can read the title or author for, just ask.

Readers: Your favorite reference books for whatever you do?

The Wickeds Retreat to Maine – Again!

IMG_20150614_110459_990The Wickeds adjourned to Old Orchard Beach again for three days of powow – schmoozing, discussing the publishing industry and the blog, and ignoring each other to churn out word count. This is the fourth Wicked Cozy retreat for some of us, the third for others. Here’s how the weekend shaped up!

Edith: I didn’t have a super productive word count weekend, but I made steady progress on the book and mapped out a number of future scenes. I loved hanging with the other Wickeds, though. And our wide-ranging discussions of how to  manage our blog, where to take our careers, and OOBeachnew trends in the industry were really valuable. Liz and I squeezed in a long walk on the beach, too, and used part of it to talk through our plots. So many thanks to Jessie for hosting us year after year.

IMG_4076IMG_4043Barb: Excuse the gushing, but our annual retreat has become one of the highlights of my year. Jessie pointed out how much things have changed since that first one. There were only four of us, for one thing, and the big problem on all our minds was–can I complete a commercial-quality, novel-length piece of fiction on a deadline? Since then we’ve all learned so much about writing and about this crazy business. It never ceases to amaze me how we’re all writing in the same genre and the same length, but our processes are so different, and yet we all support one another. I was proofing, not writing, but got plenty of that done, plus help with the plot for my forthcoming holiday novella, the next writing task on my plate.

IMG_4065Julie: I do not take these five women for granted, at all. They are my cheerleaders, my teachers, my shoulders to cry on, and my kicks in the ass when needed. I had a good word count weekend–book #2 is due July 15, so I am in the home stretch. But I also had naps, talked through launch strategies, and helped brainstorm a few ideas. I also ate well, drank a lot of coffee, and laughed. A lot. We are all in different places in our careers, but all there for one another. Plus, the location is great, and the host could write a book.

IMG_4071Sherry: The weekend started on Thursday night doing a panel with the Wickeds (we missed you Jessie) and Ray Daniel at the New England Mobile Book Fair, dinner after (we have a funny story about following the wrong car — thankfully they didn’t call the police on us), a night at Barb’s house, and then on to Jessie’s lovely home in Old Orchard Beach. I got help with plot ideas for my proposal. I started reading Plot Perfect by Paula Munier. But the best part was staying up until 2 am two nights in a row, talking about everything. And the food — it was delicious! I always cry when it’s over — maybe I’m overly emotional from lack of sleep or maybe it’s the large number of carbohydrates that I consumed — no it’s just that I love these women and live too far away.


Edith’s fish enchiladas – yum!

IMG_4091Jessie: The weather was utterly delightful which meant we spent a great deal of time gathered around the patio table talking. I’m not entirely sure the neighbors will ever recover if they overheard any of our conversations, especially those concerning plotting.  Most people within IMG_4066earshot would have thought us completely nuts.  But that’s one of the benefits the retreat bestows, the gift of complete understanding. I hope all of our blog  readers have places and groups where they feel as connected and as understood.


Is Liz showing us her latest dance moves?

Liz: Just for the record, I don’t dance! But I did, like everyone else, have a fabulous time. This retreat really rejuvenates me every year – the food, the writing, but especially, the friendship. Love all of these ladies so much.

Readers, do you have people with whom you like to close the door on the world and just get away for awhile? Do you have creative work you find a way to carve out time to pursue?

Ask the Expert–Paula Munier and Plot Perfect

Welcome Paula Munier to Ask the Expert this Friday. Paula is the author of Plot Perfect: How to Build Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene.

plotperfectHere’s the description.

Think of your favorite story–the one that kept you turning pages late into the night, the one with a plot so compelling, so multilayered, so perfect that you couldn’t put it down. How can you make your own plots–in your novels, short stories, memoirs, or screenplays–just as irresistible?

Plot Perfect provides the answer. This one-of-a-kind plotting primer reveals the secrets of creating a story structure that works–no matter what your genre. It gives you the strategies you need to build a scene-by-scene blueprint that will help elevate your fiction and earn the attention of agents and editors.

By coincidence, this winter, all the Wickeds happened to be working on first drafts at the same time. E-mails flew back and forth. “Using Plot Perfect to help me outline,” Julie wrote. “Using Plot Perfect to figure out a subplot,” Liz said. Here in Key West, my husband Bill, also a writer, and I were passing the book back and forth as we worked on our drafts.

Whoa, I thought. Something is up. So the Wickeds asked Paula here today to answer some questions for us and our readers.

Paula2Barb: You’ve been an editor, an agent and an author. Of all the writing elements, why did you feel a book on plot was needed?

Paula: As an agent, I’m always looking for good writers telling good stories. I’m not going to rewrite your stories for you if you’re not a good writer, but if you are a good writer I can help you tell a better story.

As an editor, I spent many years helping writers structure their books. Structure is often where good writers go wrong—especially those new to long-form storytelling. Writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. And producing a series is one marathon after another. This can be a challenge for new novelists, who may have only written short stories or essays or news articles before trying their hand at the novel. Those writing crime fiction, where plot is so important, really need to master structure before they shop their work.

I represent—and have sold—many debut authors. I love helping novelists get into print!

Barb: Your book is about plot, but you spend a lot of time on the idea of theme in novels. Why is theme so important, and how does understanding your theme support plotting?

Paula: The book is based on my Plot Perfect boot camps. When Writers Digest first asked me to do a plot-related boot camp, I wanted to come up with a different approach to plot. And I chose the theme-related approach to plot, because I’ve seen too many manuscripts that read like video games—all action but no theme. Plot is what happens; theme is what it means. Theme is what your story is really about. I see too many stories that aren’t really about anything—they’re just one action after another. There’s no there there.

For crime fiction, theme is paramount. The themes in this category are big: good vs. evil, kill or be killed, the search for the truth, the nature of justice, society vs. the individual, chaos vs. order, etc. Readers expect crime fiction writers to tackle these big themes—and weave them right into the plot.

Barb: One of the things the Wickeds loved about your book is that while the concepts used in writing a novel can be quite abstract, you make them concrete by providing many, many examples. How long did it take you to write Plot Perfect, how did you find the examples and what criteria did you use to select them?

Paula: I had six months to write the book, but I’d been running the Plot Perfect boot camps for a couple of years already, so I knew the material fairly well. (I also teach at the Algonkian New York Pitch conferences, as well as other venues.)

I use a lot of examples because, as you say, it helps writers extrapolate, and apply what I’m talking about to their own work. I tend to use examples from the writers I love—from Shakespeare and Jane Austen to Dashiell Hammett and Alice Hoffman and Robert B. Parker—as well as the blockbusters that struck a chord with readers—Gone Girl, Eat Pray Love, etc.

Also, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that my editor at Writers Digest, Rachel Randall, is an even bigger believer in examples then I am—she had me add even more!

Barb: You look at so many books. As an agent, what do you think is the make-or-break? What single element most frequently causes you to take on a book? What single element most frequently causes you to reject it?

Paula: In today’s marketplace, your work really needs a USP: unique selling proposition. That’s marketing speak for being able to set your work apart from the competition. That often boils down to high-concept. Even in cozies, it’s often the cozies with well-defined premises/settings/USPs—the organic farming mystery, the cake decorating mystery, the Pennsylvania Dutch mystery, etc.—that win the contracts.

I always advise writers to read widely in their category—you’d be surprised how many writers don’t! You should pay particular attention to those debut authors who have broken out in the past three years. This is the competition that you’ll need to position your work against.

In terms of clients: I’m looking for a great writer with a story with a strong USP that I think I can sell. If I can’t boil it down to a 50-word pitch, I can’t sell it. That said, I’m a sucker for any writer with a strong voice. I try to stick to the categories I know well and have a soft spot for as a reader: women’s fiction, mainstream fiction, high-concept Sf/fantasy, YA fiction, any kind of crime fiction, as well as nonfiction.

Mostly I pass on projects because 1) the writer’s level of craft is not high enough for prime time yet; 2) the story idea isn’t strong enough; and/or 3) it’s just not my kind of project. Also, I won’t work with any writer who resists revision or refuses to take marketing and promoting her work seriously.

Barb: You’re a writer, too. What are you working on now?

Paula: Thanks for asking! I just finished a new book for Writers Digest called Writing with Quiet Hands: Notes on a Writer’s Craft, in which I talk about what it means to create good stories for today’s changing publishing landscape, and the finer points of craft that can make the difference between getting publishing and not getting published.

I’m also working on a new novel.

Barb: Thanks Paula. Readers, if you have questions or comments for Paula, fire away!

About Paula Munier: Writers are my tribe. I began as a journalist, and over the years I’ve penned countless new stories, articles, essays, collateral, and blogs, as well as authored/co-authored more than a dozen books, most recently Fixing Freddie, 5-Minute Mindfulness, and A Miscellany of Murder. Along the way, I’ve added editor, acquisitions specialist, digital content manager, and publishing executive to my repertoire—the common denominator being my commitment to writers and writing, no matter what my title. From Gannett, Greenspun, and Prima Games to Disney, Quayside, and F+W Media, I’ve fought the good fight for good writing and good writers. And I’ve loved every minute of it.

But now, as an agent, I have the opportunity to support talented writers in the most direct manner possible, helping my clients do good work, land great publishing deals, and build successful writing careers. So if you’re a writer as obsessed with words and stories as I am, and you’re in it for the long haul, consider working with me. My specialties include mystery/thriller, SF/fantasy, romance, YA, memoir, humor, pop culture, health & wellness, cooking, self-help, pop psych, New Age, inspirational, technology, science, and writing.

Never Stop Learning

By Julie, freezing in Boston

This week we held a social media workshop at StageSource. My job for the evening was to welcome the attendees, thank the presenter,  lock up afterwards. I mean, I know how to use social media. What could I possibly have left to learn? I sat in the back, and brought my knitting.

I took five pages of notes.

Mary Liz Murray of Streamix Consulting reinforced what I knew. But she also updated me on some new tips and tricks, had an excellent list of best practices, and introduced me to a few new products. (Hello Feedly, I suspect we are going to be great friends.)

51CEI9FeruL._AA160_At Crime Bake, I bought Paula Munier’s new book, Plot Perfect. I plan on reading it after my edits are done on this book. It’s not that I don’t know how to plot, it’s that I can always use some new insights on what to think about.

Just this week I started a series of sessions at AGM’s Nonprofit Learning Institute. I teach the subject at Emerson, but this time I’m a student. I’m already inspired by the conversations, and can’t wait to have more conversations. And I know I’ll learn a ton.

I’ve been thinking about how fortunate I am to have opportunities to learn what I already know, or at least thought I did. I had a professor once who referred to it as adding to your toolbox. She talked about how critical that was, since the same set of tools didn’t always work for every situation, and often they stopped working all together after a while.

So what does that mean? I have three tips to share:

If you are a writer, you have to keep learning. It is part of the job. And not just research learning. Craft learning. So go to that workshop, or stream the lecture.

Be open to learning new things. That may make you uncomfortable, since it may mean you need to unlearn old habits or ideas. But how great is that?

At some point, your knowledge base will be obsolete unless you keep adding to it. This is easy to understand thinking about the computer industry, where programs are outdated all the time. But the same is true for you. For a long time you can live with internal upgrades, but once in a while you have to reboot.

This doesn’t only hold true for writing. No, indeed. What recent workshops or classes have helped you rethink old lessons long ago learned?