Sunday, September 30, 2007

Back in business

Hi, kids! Thanks for all your kind congrats about the Macavity. I did not win the Anthony--Laura Lippman, a very fine writer, did--but It Was an Honor to Be Nominated. Well, hey, it was! The convention in Manhattan, Ks. was really fun, and the best part was getting to chatter for hours with Diane on our drives to and fro.

I hope y'all had a lovely weekend, with plenty of slacker time.

For the next month, you will probably get no substance from me. I not only have a lot of traveling to do, but I'm digging in DEEP into my book and a short story that's due soon. (At least I finally got an idea for it.) At first I thought maybe I'll just close down the blog for a few weeks, but I don't really want to do that, and I'd miss you guys. So I decided not to disappear--except for the weekends when I'm gone. I'm just not going to to try to write any posts that say much more than "Hi. See you in the comments." I figure the real blessing of doing this blog is visiting with you guys in the comments, anyway.

So I hope you'll put up with stupid posts for a while!

Oh, and see you in the comments. :)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

On the road again

I'm picking up mystery writer Diane Mott Davidson at the airport today and driving her to The Little Apple--Manhattan, Kansas--where she will be the Guest of Honor at the 4th Annual Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave. I wish I were seeing you guys there! I'll be back in time to post on Monday.

I hope you have a delightful weekend around the blog village and beyond. Don't forget to read a good book--like Cybermancy by Kelly McCullough.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Virgin of Pizza

That funny pink masterpiece above is a "dessert pizza" inspired by something my heroine and her friends ate in my last novel, The Virgin of Small Plains. It was created by Robyn Knox for a bookclub meeting at High Crimes mystery bookstore in Boulder, Colorado.

The ingredients:

Crust - sugar cookie dough

Tomato Sauce - red colored cream cheese frosting

Pepperonis - rolled out Starburst candies

Tomato Slices - raspberry jellied fruit slices

Black Olives - black jelly bean slices

Green Olives - green jelly bean slices

Anchovies - Swedish gummy fish

Green Pepper Slices - green colored sugar cookie doughCheese - grated white chocolate

Red Pepper Flakes - crushed red hots

Thank you, Robyn!

Bit o' blog business to announce here:

I'll be in Manhattan, Ks. this weekend, in Wichita, Ks. the next weekend, and in New England the weekend after that. Sooo, I'll be closing up shop for a few days now and then until this traveling is over.

But we're definitely open for business today, so I'll meet you in the comments for coffee, tea, and whatever else is on your menu today.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Dreams, 2

As you know, now and then I love to talk about dreams and the unconscious, at least partly because of their mysterious relationship to creativity. I've started keeping track of my dreams again, as I do rather formally now and then, and I use the techniques in this post.

For the theologically inclined, there's a nice little book called Dreams: A Way to Listen to God, written by the late Episcopal priest and Jungian, Morton Kelsey. Even for the non-theologically-inclined, I think his advice is basic and accurate:

From his section called, "How to Interpret Dreams":

1. The cardinal rule for those who wish to understand their dreams is to write them down.

If you don't write it down within five minutes of awakening, you'll probably forget it. According to Kelsey, the dream laboratory of the US Navy in San Diego did research that indicated that 95% of dreams are forgotten after five minutes if not told or written down.

2. Take your dreams seriously.

Kelsey says, "If you seriously believe that a power lives in the realm of the unconscious that wants to speak to you, then you will begin to give serious attention to your dreams and they will begin to speak to you."

3. Pay attention to images.

He says, "It is important to familiarize ourselves with our inner images. The dream brings us into contact with problems in our unconscious that need to be explained and worked out."

4. Make associations.

Kelsey: "Pay attention to the associations you have with particular dream contents. I once had a very short dream, much like a vision. I saw a pink peach pit. Now what could a pink peach pit mean for me? I associate peaches with the state of Georgia. The memory touched a sore spot in my unconscious, and it became clear that I had repressed a certain problem because I shied away from a situation that had taken place in that state."

5. Pay attention to repetitions.

Kelsey: "When a dream repeats itself, it is usually important. It is as if a friend is poking us in the ribs advising us to pay better attention this time."

6. Listen to the dream as if it were a play or a movie.

"The dream can be regarded as a play with various actors representing different parts of ourselves. When we see a play, we usually do not need another person to go along and explain it. We see the beginning, we follow the situation, and the development of the action, and we usually understand the solution or conclusion. We can follow the action of a long dream in the same manner. Most dreams appear to be enacted on the stage of our soul to teach us something." Kelsey suggests that when they're not easy to understand, telling them to a friend who knows us well may help. " Note from Nan: It would have to be a VERY honest friend. :)

7. Learn to understand archetypal symbols. "(They) appear in the dreams of almost all people and carry a universal meaning in addition to a personal one."

Book Launch Party!

His last novel, WebMage, earned a starred review from Publisher's Weekly. They said, "this is the kind of title that could inspire an army of rabid fans; it's a good thing a sequel is planned for 2007. " And here it is! I am proud to present the new novel from our very own blog buddy, Kelly McCullough. We know him as a tea-drinking, hard-working writer and blogger. But to a growing legion of fans, Kelly is the incredibly inventive creator of a whole new world. As Publisher's Weekly also said, it's a "delightfully skewed and fully formed world—much like our own, but with magic, paranormally advanced technology and Greek gods. . .McCullough handles his plot with unfailing invention, orchestrating a mixture of humor, philosophy and programming insights that give new meaning to terms as commonplace as "spell checker" and esoteric as "programming in hex." Booklist called it fast-paced and action-packed: "McCullough has done an excellent job of weaving myth, magic, IT jargon, and the English language into a bang-up story."

And now here's the new one, just out this week, and sure to receive an equally glowing reception from critics and fans!

And speaking of a reception, Kelly will drop in and out all day to answer your questions and pass the champagne!

Kelly's books are available at DreamHaven (signed copies available) and Amazon.

The Valley of Elah

For today, just a movie recommendation: "The Valley of Elah" starring Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon, and a couple of real Iraqi War vets who do an amazing job. I suspect this movie will be a litmus test: hate the war, love this movie; love the war, hate this movie.

I didn't see "Crash," the previous movie by Paul Haggis, the director of this one, but I know that for everybody who admired it, there were others who criticized it for making ham-handed social commentary. Some viewers may think this one does that, too, but it wasn't ham-handed to me, it was moving and powerful. I can't think of the last time I sat at the end of a movie with tears leaking uncontrollably from my eyes.

I hope you'll see it, too.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Writing Porch

If it's Saturday, it must be time to go to Sally's house to Parallel Write with her. But how did one of Margaret Maron's pink plastic flamingos get in the picture?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I Heart Book Clubs

This is the 420 Blazers Book Club of Liberty, Mo., pictured with the Woman With the World's Biggest Forehead. From left: Kimberly Pukay, Sandy Dungan, Rachel Monger, Cathy Carrillo, Todd Tyler, me, Eric Morey, Dustin Greer.

Some book authors won't do book club appearances, because they think there will be too few people to make it worth their while. I couldn't disagree more. See those nice people above? They are book club members. It's true I drove about half an hour on a Saturday to find them. It's true there are only seven of them. But it was so worth it to me. They were so much fun. They had all read my latest book and talked about it with an enthusiasm and intelligence that warmed this author's heart. And they put out wonderful food, too. Book clubs always have the best food! After we talked about my book, some of them bought copies to give to other people, or copies of other books I've written. In strictly business terms, their word-of-mouth will be the best friend I have in Liberty, Mo. And see the woman on the far left? Kimberly arranged all this, and she gave me a crystal necklace and earrings she had designed and made, and they're lovely! I wear them a lot.

When you first "do" book clubs, it's a little scary, really, because, I mean, they've read it. They may have questions the author can't answer. They may want to know why a character did this, or didn't do that. They have opinions. Fortunately for me, the opinions of this group of readers were generous and kind to me and my book.

I've appeared at or talked (via speaker phone) to a lot more book clubs with this book than with any other book I've ever written, mainly because the trade paperback is a book club edition with discussion questions at the back of it. The phone conversations are more challenging for me, because I'm so phone phobic. Worse than that, though, is the fact that I can't eat any of the desserts! Last night, I spoke to a group at High Crimes mystery book store in Boulder Colorado, where one of the women had made a dessert pizza inspired by the pizza some of the characters eat in my book.

I love book clubs, but I don't actually belong to one. That would be too much like a busman's holiday, I think. I just like to visit them, in hopes of nice people, good conversation and lemon tart.

Book Quiz

Update: I've added a POLL to the right! Ooo, fun. And I opened the comments to "Anonymous," just to experiment.

If you feel like answering any of these questions, I'd love to see your answers.

* Do you pay any attention to best seller lists?

* When you're in a bookstore trying to decide whether to buy a book, do you read the "blurbs" on the covers? Do they ever influence your buying decision?

* When you're deciding on that book, do you read any of the book while you're standing there in the store? The first page? A few pages in the middle? Bits here and there? No part of it?

* When you take the book home, do you ever read the ending first?

* Do you have a book review section in your local paper? Do you ever buy or not buy books based on reviews?

* Do you like smooth or crunchy peanut butter?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Show versus tell

Wednesday update: G'day, mates. I'm going to leave this up, unless I get a better idea. :)

Yesterday, I put up a photo of a tornado, and in the comments Beth reported there had been one only half an hour away from her. Maybe I'll be more careful what I put up today. :)

Quick post, cause I have to take my car in for repairs.

In writing, we're told to "show," not "tell." Show through action. Show through dialogue. Don't just tell readers what happened, put them on the scene as it happens.

Today I'll have a birthday lunch (mine is tomorrow, hers the next day) with my oldest friend. In our lives, we exemplify Show versus Tell. I am, sigh, Tell. I only write, while she actually does. She has walked the Appalachian Trail, alone. She has bicycled from the West Coast to the East Coast, almost entirely alone. She has camped out in the mountains of Mexico, alone. She has rafted the Grand Canyon, definitely not alone. She's not anti-social, not at all; she's just brave and adventurous. She's incredible. She awes me.

But there is one thing that does scare her to death. Public speaking. Isn't that funny? I know it's the most common fear, but really, it is funny when you put it in the context of a life like hers.

Okay, now I'm off to the adventure of car repair.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

It feels like a book

It's so satisfying when writing that hasn't come easily finally falls into place, ka-chink ka-chink ka-chink. That's what happened yesterday. Over about 12 hours, I rewrote the 26 pages of part one, turning them into 36, so I guess I added some stuff, and polished the rest of it. (It has a tornado that, in my mind, looks like the one to the right.) When you're not even aware of how many pages you're adding, that's when the work's going smoothly. The whole week's going to be like this if I'm lucky, and the week after this, and the week after that, and probably the one after that. I'm not disappearing from the blog, though. I need this contact with actual humans who, I'm pretty sure, exist in real life. You do, don't you? :)

I'll drop in and out today, but mostly I have to be gone into the land of make-believe. I'm wearing my red shoes, though, so I can always click them and get back here.

May your writing blow you away.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Friday, September 14, 2007

Writers on Writing

Photo: George Orwell
'Outside of a dog, a man's best friend is a book. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.'
Groucho Marx

'The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.'
John Steinbeck

'Most people won't realise that writing is a craft. You have to take your apprenticeship in it like anything else.'
Katherine Ann Porter

'Writers don't need love; all they require is money.'
John Osborne

'Reading groups, readings, breakdowns of book sales all tell the same story: when women stop reading, the novel will be dead.'
Ian McEwan

'All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.'
George Orwell

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Mystery of the New Flamingos

Several years ago, a writer friend of mine woke up on the morning of her birthday, stepped outside with a cup of coffee. . .and found a flock of plastic flamingos surrounding her home. Friends had arranged for her son to plant them. Since then the birds have lived in a clearing in the woods nearby. Recently, new ones have mysteriously appeared, including the guy in the top photo. So far, no one has claimed responsibility. If you have any clues, call our tips hotline: 913-555-PINK.

Fresh post

Our first chat of the day is already pretty full and it's not even noon yet, so I'm opening up a fresh pasture. Frolic and gambol to your heart's content, or snooze in the midday sun. Don't let a cow step on you. And, okay, so it's not exactly a "fresh post." That's very old post rock limestone, plentiful in western Kansas. Man, that must have been hard work to cut and lug those heavy suckers in order to build a fence. Makes a nice sight to see, though, when you're driving through.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I'm writing this on Wednesday night, after hours of moving furniture and bringing plants inside and cleaning house. Pooped puppy. I'm even too pooped to whimperative. But ohh, doesn't it feel good when your space is clean and neat? Now I have no excuse not to write. Damn, what was I thinking?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

New words!

Oh, goodie, new words.

I grew up with a person for whom the word "tact" was the past tense of what you do when you affix a note to a bulletin board. I'm sure she thought she was being straightforward and honest. Frankly, I could have done with a few lies and a touch of circuitousness. And now the psychologist Steven Pinker has stepped forward to explain why, in his new book The Stuff of Thought.

This is from a write-up about it, in the current Time Magazine:

"Why don't people just say what they mean? The reason is that conversational partners are not modems downloading information into each other's brains. . .

"The clearest example is ordinary politeness. When you are at a dinner party and want the salt, you don't blurt out, 'Gimme the salt.' Rather, you use what linguists call a whimperative, as in 'Do you think you could pass the salt?' or 'If you could pass the salt that would be awesome.'

"Taken literally, these sentences are inane. The second is an overstatement, and the answer to the first is obvious. Fortunately, the hearer assumes that the speaker is rational and listens between the lines. Yes, your point is to request the salt, but you're doing it in such a way that first takes care to establish what linguists call 'felicity conditions,' or the prerequisites to making a sensible request. Your goal is to have your need satisfied without treating the listener as a flunky who can be bossed around at will."

Whimperatives! Felicity conditions! Don't you just love those?

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everybody here for your damned fine whimperatives, and to say that I deeply appreciate our felicity conditions.

(Photo: The king of the un-whimperative, Basil Fawlty, himself, as played by the incomparable John Cleese.)

Never too late

Phyllis A. Whitney, the doyenne of romantic suspense writing, turned 104 this past Sunday. If you're a fan, and you'd like to leave her a birthday greeting, you may do so at this web page. She is a Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster who has written 76 books and published approximately 100 short stories. She was instrumental in starting the international organization devoted to women mystery writers, Sisters In Crime. The last I heard, she was working on her autobiography.

From what I read on the website devoted to her, she started writing fiction early, right out of high school. Most of us mystery writers come later to the field, though nobody really knows why. Most of us seem to enter the fold in our thirties, or forties. I was 37 when my first short story was published, 38 when my first book came out. Maybe it takes a little living to make a crime writer? That's my best and only guess. But a fair number of mystery authors start even later than that, and sometimes a lot later, and her birthday makes me think of them. . .

* Virginia Rich, creator of the culinary mystery sub-genre, started writing her first novel when she was 63. It was published when she was 67. She had three books in print at the time of her death when she was in her early 70's.

* Barbara Comfort published her first mystery when she was 80. She has 5 books out now.

* I have a good friend who started her first mystery series after she was 60. Now she's starting her second series. And, yes, she has a contract. With a major publisher. For three books.

In addition to all the ones who are just starting out, there are scores of writers who just keep going. . .

* A mystery-writing friend of mine just turned seventy-one. The first book in her new series will be out in 2008.

* Barbara Michaels (aka Elizabeth Peters) turns 80 this month. Still writing bestsellers.

* A friend who is seventy just got onto the New York Times extended bestseller list for the first time in her long career.

And I can't even count all the writers I know in their fifties and up who are re-inventing themselves by writing kinds of fiction they have never written before.

I meet people at writers' conferences who fear their time has come and gone and that they missed it. Because of writers like the ones I mentioned above, I can honestly tell them, "It's not too late." And then I might say, "Look, you're going to be eighty (or forty, or seventy, or one hundred and four) in ten years. Do you want to have written your book ten years from now? Or do you want to be having this same conversation about how it's too late?" Tough love. :)

Best wishes to all you senior writers out there, the ones who are just starting and the ones who are still going strong. You bring the wisdom of age, the humor of experience, and the inspiration of your example.

Happy birthday, Ms. Whitney.

Sunday, September 9, 2007


I'm back from St. Louis with trains on my mind, partly because I'm still writing like crazy and I only have room up there for one other "train" of thought. Sorry. :)

Do you love trains as much as I love trains?

No getting to the station an hour or more ahead of time, no damned security, no wands and x-rays and dirty looks. Just motorvate downtown to the station, saunter in and pick up my ticket, hear my train called (on time) and ease on down to Amtrak. I walked into a clean, attractive car, and chose a single seat by a window. I easily stowed my bag overhead and then plugged in my laptop. By the time I sat down, here came the snack bar attendant to wish me a good morning and to hand me complimentary coffee and The New York Times! I stretched out my appendages in the oodles of leg room and sipped and read my way out of Kansas City. By the time we got to Jefferson City I had already written for two hours on my book.

The trees are lush and green. The Missouri River is high. From where I sat, Hermann and Washington look like charming towns. Kirkwood has an adorable restored old station. (See photo above.) And the whole thing cost less than flying.

A good time was had by me.

I'm glad to be home, though, and very happy to say goodmorning to my blog buddies. How are things in the village?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Gone Writin'

And talkin'.

I'm plunging into some binge writing days, part of which will include taking a train to St. Louis on Friday, back on Sunday. The talkin' part will be the writing seminar I'll do for a Sisters In Crime seminar Saturday.

I know most of you guys have your own blogs, not to mention the rest of our village to hang around in, so I won't even feel guilty about closing up Nancy's Coffee Shoppe for a bit. I'll leave the self-refreshing pot out front, with lots o' clean mugs, though.

I'll miss you! Have a great week and w/e, and I'll see you early Monday!

World's Best Writing Exercise

Again and again, I've heard journalists-who-would-be-novelists complain that the hardest thing for them is to kick-start their imaginations. They're used to telling the truth, and not making up things. (A few reporters excepted there!) They're accustomed to writing concisely, not meandering on for 400 pages. I had the same problem, and it was a BIG problem when I wanted to write fiction.

So, for them and for other beginners, here's the World's Best Writing Exercise to get around the crusty old editor in your brain and let your imagination flow.

Set a timer for 10 minutes.

Sit down with paper and pen and put the tip of your pen on the page.

Turn the timer on.

Look up. What's the first thing you see? Use THAT.

Start writing on that "theme," whether it's "doorknob" or "dog." Do not stop for anything. Don't edit, erase, or mark out. Forget punctuation, grammar, spelling. No judging, criticising, or anything but writing down everything that comes out of your pen. Write, write, write as fast as you can, before the judge on one side of your brain can browbeat the artist who lives on the other side of the duplex.

When the timer goes off, STOP.


Read what you wrote. Now tear it up and throw it away. DO NOT REWRITE IT.

Do the same thing tomorrow, and every day for a month.

I'll be very surprised if that doesn't free up something inside your imagination.

Happy Tuesday, everybody!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Labor Day Quiz

In your life. . .

Worst job?

Best job?

Worst boss?

Best boss?

Worst vacation?

Best vacation?

Don't work too hard
answering any of these. :)

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Saturday, September 1, 2007

One Joke

This is the only joke I have ever been able to remember in my whole life:

Bob and his buddies Jim, Ted, and Fred, lived to play golf. Rain or shine, hot or cold, every Saturday they teed off at the country club.

One Saturday, however, Bob came home a little late.

"How was golf today, dear?" his wife asked him.

"Oh, it was okay," he said, "only, Jim died on the 5th hole."

"Oh, no, that's terrible!"

"Yeah, it was. We had to hit the ball, drag Jim, hit the ball, drag Jim. . ."