Saturday, February 21, 2015

Time to Put Up or Shut Up

Scott D. Parker

More nuts and bolts stuff in the offices of Quadrant Fiction Studio this week. Two major things I got to cross off the list this week was the DBA and the bank account.

I had jury duty on Thursday. My report time was 12:30. Imagine my happiness when I learned that the very building for jury duty was the exact same building the county clerk's office was in. I could get my DBA and then just hang around until the appointed jury time because, you know, there's gonna be a line. Not really. I was in and out in under thirty minutes.

Holy cow, I thought, I might have time to head on over to the bank. It had been years since I opened a checking account and I'd never opened a business account. I figured I could do that and still get back to the county annex building. Just about an hour later, I walked out of the bank with a brand new checking account registered in my business name. I was grinning ear to ear and let out a little cheer of happiness.

Then it hit me: I was really doing this. I was a small business owner! All these months of talking and writing about becoming an independent publisher was at an end. It was time to put up or shut up.

I'm putting up.

More news next week.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Conversation with Laura Lippman

As you begin to get rolling as a writer, I think your influences become clearer - beyond the very basic “I like this person’s work” to a more fine-tuned sense of where certain things come from and why. 

When the germ of Pete Fernandez popped into my head, I figured it had something to do with the books I was burning through at the time - the Nick Stefanos trilogy by Pelecanos, the Pat and Angie books by Lehane and Laura Lippman’s excellent Tess Monaghan series. It was only over time, as I wrote more (and hopefully got better) that I started to see the influence come into focus. That process gave me a deeper appreciation for Lippman’s work specifically - her smooth prose, flawed characters and a deep-seated sense of place. These are just a few of the great things in store for you when you read a Lippman book, whether it’s a Tess adventure or one of her many acclaimed standalone novels.

I’ll admit, I get antsy when series characters go away for a while and come back. And, it’d been a little while since Tess was around. But I needn’t have worried. Hush Hush is arguably Lippman’s best Tess novel, and not only pulls the accidental detective through her most challenging and dangerous case, but also asks important and unexpected questions about who we are and just what it means to be a parent and individual. In short, it does what the best crime fiction should do: make you think while telling a great story.

I had the chance to speak to Laura about her new novel, her work in general and what’s next. It was a pleasure and I’m thankful she took the time.

Hush Hush is a great crime novel - and like the best crime fiction, takes a look at bigger issues, specifically parenthood and the day-to-day challenges of having a child. I imagine a lot of the experiences were drawn from your own life and people you know. When you first put pen to paper, did you have that in mind as part of what you wanted to accomplish with this book?

I definitely wanted to write a book about how judged we feel as parents. Until I had a kid, I didn't feel as if I were constantly being evaluated all the time. Maybe I was, but I didn't feel that way. As a mom, I hear the things people say under their breaths when I get on a plane with my kid -- quite unfairly, she's a pretty good traveler -- I have to endure really personal questions and unsolicited advice from strangers.

One of my favorite things about Tess is that she's supremely human - she doesn't feel like someone's idea of a PI or an idealized version, she evolves and changes and is flawed in believable ways. Each book has consequences and situations that affect her beyond the pages of that installment. Did she spring into your head fully formed? What do you think has kept her around this long?

Tess did, in fact, spring into my head fully formed. There are some details I regret in the earlier books -- I think the tension with her parents in the first book is a little overblown. But, luckily, she was a young woman, so I had the advantage of letting her mature. I guess we both learned from my mistakes.

What are some of the challenges of keeping a series like this going? I don't think it's a stretch to say that a lot of people were probably wondering if you'd finished up your run of Tess books before The Girl in the Green Raincoat - and on the flipside, I think the last two Tess books are two of the strongest entries in the series.

It's an interesting question. The pleasures of a series tend to be static. We return to them because we don't want things to change too much. And yet if Tess hadn't changed, she would have been a terribly callow person. I do think, however, that it's nice for series to have fixed endpoints and I'd like to think I'm going to design a graceful, organic way for the Tess series to end.

I'm a huge fan of Edward Eager, an American children's writer who was very much influenced by E. Nesbit. In Eager's books, children discover some source of magic -- a coin, a book, a thyme garden. But it's always understood that the magic is finite. Tess, to me, is like one of those magic talismans in an Eager book. She can't go on forever.

Hush Hush doesn't feel like a "reunion record" book, if that makes sense. Or, an author returning to a series to try to recapture something lost. It feels like we're picking up with an old friend facing a new and polarizing challenge - in HH's case, it's Melisandre and the questions she raises. Was that more a byproduct of the story coming to you as opposed to you deciding to write another Tess book?

I honestly don't remember why I decided to write Hush Hush when I did. I have zero memory of how it came about. I know that I figured out at some point that I needed to run straight at the challenge of Tess being a mother. And I read a lot about infanticide, an interesting thing to do when one is the mother of a young child.

My favorite detective series feature place in a meaningful way. The way you portray Baltimore in the Tess books (in all your books, really) seems hugely informative but effortless at the same time. How important is it to you to show how your city is and evolves?

It's very important and it occurs to me from time to time -- I need to get out more! Because Baltimore is changing, all the time. The other day I was running errands and I stopped at this new-ish butcher store/restaurant in Remington and there were all these young men with interesting facial hair and artisanal pickles. I kept expecting to see Crow and Carla Scout, eating boudin and German potato salad.

What are you working on next?

I'm working on a novel set in Columbia, Maryland, the so-called New Town that was created in 1967. I went to high school there and it always seemed like a very rich setting to me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Better Watch Saul

by Holly West

This post will be a mish-mash of topics but I named it Better Watch Saul because if you're not watching it, you should be.

Better Call Saul
Saul Goodman wasn't my favorite character on Breaking Bad. Not even close. I've never been much of a Bob Odenkirk fan and Saul wasn't all that interesting to me--I mean, the character worked for Breaking Bad but I really didn't have any need to explore him further. So when I learned they were making a spin-off series based on Saul, I wasn't all that excited, even if, as a big Breaking Bad fan, there was never any question whether I'd give Better Call a Saul a chance. Three episodes in and I'm pretty much hooked.

Thus far, the series stands completely on its own. If Breaking Bad had never existed, I'd still love the show. In Breaking Bad, Saul Goodman was mostly an annoying stereotype of an ambulance chasing lawyer who provided much needed comic relief, but in this prequel, Vince Gilligan's skillful writing and Odenkirk's nuanced performance take this previously shallow-ish man and make him sympathetic and compelling to watch. I'm eager to learn more of his story. Of course, I can't help but keep Breaking Bad in mind while I'm watching Better Call Saul, but it's just somewhere there in the background.

Ten Authors Walk Through the Door
Author Travis Richardson documents ten great entrances in crime fiction.

Recently, an anthology I was really looking forward to contributing to was cancelled. Or, as the editors put it, it was placed on "indefinite hold." I suppose I should count myself as lucky because it's the first time this has ever happened to me. Aside from my long experience with querying agents, I really haven't suffered much rejection as a writer, though I think this is because I don't submit material very often, not because I'm just that talented. I'm just not a very prolific writer.

But this particular project was important to me for a few reasons. One of the editors is a fellow author who I respect a great deal. The fact that he'd asked me to contribute to the collection was an ego boost, for sure. The subject of the anthology was a challenge for me and I'd already put in quite a few hours of research. As a result, I was excited to write my story--I was just on the verge of outlining it when I got the dreaded email. And finally, it was to be published by a comic book publisher and being a big fan, this appealed to me.

In the realm of publishing disappointments this isn't the biggest I'm likely to suffer. The lesson I learned from this one is not to count on potential projects until the damned thing is printed and in stores (or wherever it'll be sold).

Tess Gerritsen's Gravity Lawsuit
This post is a few weeks old, but if you haven't read it yet, you might find it interesting.

Freelance Editors
More and more of my friends are turning to freelance editors to help them polish their work for querying and/or self-publishing. I hired one myself for Diary of Bedlam (the book that eventually became Mistress of Fortune). Her name is Jennifer Fisher and I met her at Left Coast Crime in Sacramento a few years ago.

Jennifer did a developmental edit and some very light copy editing for me. It took about four weeks and I received a detailed edit letter. About a week after receiving it, I scheduled an hour-long phone call so that we could discuss it. If I'm not mistaken, the call was included in the price of editing, which was a bit less than $1000 for an 80,000 word manuscript.

I was completely satisfied with the experience and I'm curious to hear about your own experience with freelance editors. So, if you've hired a freelance editor and would like to recommend one, please do so in the comments.

Have a great week!

Monday, February 16, 2015

How many Edgar best novel winners have you read?

If it didn't become clear in my ode to Goodwill I am an avid thrift store book buyer. Two recent purchases got me thinking. I picked up a copy of Dangerous Ways by Jack Vance and California Girl by T Jefferson Parker. Dangerous Ways is a collection of three of Vance's mysteries and includes the novel The Man in the Cage which won the Edgar Award for Best First Mystery Novel by an American Author (ain't that a mouthful) in 1961. California Girl won the Edgar for Best Novel in 2005. I started to wonder how many Edgar winning books I've read, even if I just looked at one category, Best Novel.

Here is the list of Edgar Best Novel winners:

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

Gone by Mo Hayder

The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

The Last Child by John Hart

Blue Heaven by C. J. Box

Down River by John Hart

The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin

Citizen Vince by Jess Walter

California Girl by T. Jefferson Parker

Resurrection Men by Ian Rankin

Winter and Night by S. J. Rozan


Silent Joe by T. Jefferson Parker

The Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale

Bones by Jan Burke

Mr. White's Confession by Robert Clark

Cimarron Rose by James Lee Burke

The Chatham School Affair by Thomas H. Cook

Come to Grief by Dick Francis

The Red Scream by Mary Willis Walker

The Sculptress by Minette Walters

Bootlegger's Daughter by Margaret Maron

A Dance at the Slaughterhouse by Lawrence Block

New Orleans Mourning by Julie Smith

Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke

A Cold Red Sunrise by Stuart M. Kaminsky

Old Bones by Aaron Elkins

A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine

The Suspect by L.R. Wright

Briar Patch by Ross Thomas

La Brava by Elmore Leonard

Billingsgate Shoal by Rick Boyer

Peregrine by William Bayer

Whip Hand by Dick Francis

The Rheingold Route by Arthur Maling

The Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

Catch Me: Kill Me by William H. Hallahan

Promised Land by Robert B. Parker

Hopscotch by Brian Garfield

Peter's Pence by Jon Cleary

Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman

The Lingala Code by Warren Kiefer

The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall, Per Wahloo (Pantheon)

Forfeit by Dick Francis

A Case of Need by Jeffery Hudson

God Save the Mark by Donald E. Westlake

The King of the Rainy Country

The Quiller Memorandum by Adam Hall

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre

The Light of Day by Eric Ambler

Death and the Joyful Woman by Ellis Peters

Gideon's Fire by J. J. Marric

The Progress of a Crime by Julian Symons

The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin

The Eighth Circle by Stanley Ellin

Room to Swing by Ed Lacy

A Dram of Poison by Charlotte Armstrong

Beast in View by Margaret Millar

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

Beat Not the Bones by Charlotte Jay
How many of these have you read? Is it a good representation of the genre for the last few decades?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Writers and Write Offs!

By Kristi Belcamino

I am not an accountant, merely someone who changed their major to journalism when the math became too difficult so view this post as an insight into how I'm bumbling through my taxes this year!

Keep in mind this is for my business as a traditionally published author. If you self-publish, a whole other world of deductions are available to you for all the expenses incurred getting your book published.

If you are a writer who considers writing your business, here are some things to keep in mind as we approach tax season.

The first thing I did when I wrote a book was set up a bank account strictly for my writing business. The account is used for writing expenses only. (Confession: I fouled it up off the get go. Because I'm a writer, my wardrobe consists of jeans. When I began appearing at author events, I wanted to look nicer and bought some dresses. I used my business account to pay for them, but have since learned that is *most likely* not a viable business expense.)

In addition, I also copy and print out receipts from items I buy online and save all other receipts in a big messy pile in a folder.

Here is a list of some of the items that writers can write off!

Keep in mind, you can't always write off 100 percent of the cost of the following, but most likely a percentage is fair. Many of these fall under the category of research. Although I wouldn't write off every single book you buy all year long. Or maybe you can, I just don't want to tempt fate.

*Pay-per-view movies
*Amazon Prime Membership
*Mp3 players
*Subscriptions to services such as Spotify
*Internet access
*Business cards
*Agent fees or commissions
*Tax preparation fees
*Professional fees (memberships in MWA, SINC, etc)

Did you go to Boucheron? Or any other writing conference?
Here is what you can write off:
*dry cleaning
*calls home
*meals (50 percent or  use the IRS meal allowance if you don't want to hassle with receipts. Here is how to determine the allowance for the area you are visiting. Click on per diem rates and enter your city.) I looked at rates for hotel and meals for my trip to the 2015 Bouchercon in Raleigh, N.C. The per diem for that trip will be $98 a night for lodging and $66 a day for meals.
Note: I'm just going to assume that alcohol is considered a food in this case since we are talking B'con.

Keep records of EVERYTHING. And notes. For instance, keep notes of your meals while you travel. Who did you eat with and what did you talk about. For instance, one day at the Long Beach Bouchercon, I had lunch with Joelle Charbonneau, Brad Parks, and Lou Berney and we talked about writing and writing retreats. 

Here is a great list from Jane Friedman's blog ( on what records to keep to prove that your writing is a business. She says keep these records for seven years.

"What records to keep:
  • receipts
  • royalty statements
  • sales slips for direct sales (the ones you make at conferences and readings)
  • appointment books
  • brochures, business cards and handouts from conferences
  • manuscript critiques
  • thank-you notes from libraries or schools after readings
  • fan email
  • contest entries and notifications
  • correspondence with freelancers, whether or not you hire them
  • letters from agents and publishers, including rejections
  • bank and credit card records
  • printouts of PayPal summaries
  • W-9s and 1099s
  • sales tax returns"
My more experienced writer friends, did I miss anything? Here are a few questions?
Have you found any way to get around the uniform expense and deduct duds?
What about getting our hair "done" out of town? Are you SOL?
Where do you plug in the registration fee for a writing conference? Is that just under commissions and fees? Professional services? Other expenses?