Monday, May 28, 2007

What Would Fifi Say?

Fifi Cutter is a biracial 20 something, living in LA. Her adventures are chronicled by Gwen Freeman, in the "Fifi Cutter Mysteries." Rejected as not black enough by her father's family and not white enough by her mother's, Fifi is prematurely bitter and consequently spends a lot of time on her computer, trying to make virtual friends. This is her blog.

Most dudes and fluffs my age don't read murder mysteries, you know? But I do. Even the cozies with cats and quilts set in quaint little towns in places so different from LA, it's like reading science fiction. Well, I like science fiction, too. I'm just hooked on comfort-lit. If I don't get my fix, I'm all shaky and irritable. More irritable than usual, I mean. What is it? The sense of order restored, I guess. The controlled terror. Like being on a roller coaster. You can scream all you want but you know you're going to end up safely coasting in, and you'll be let off right where you got on, the same snaggle- toothed, greasy haired, tatted up roadie copping a feel as he helps you out of the car. Ahh, what I wouldn't give for Windex blue cotten candy right now.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Between The Lines

Notes From The Road - Sheila Lowe

March 10 – The Mystery Bookstore, Westwood, CA
My first book signing for my new mystery novel, Poison Pen, took place at the Mystery Bookstore, near UCLA, with an audience of maybe a dozen. I was joined by fellow Capital Crime Press author and friend, Gwen Freeman, and we took turns telling our life stories and making each other look good. Several of my colleagues from the handwriting analysis world showed up, so I got an ego boost from that quarter, too. After we signed stock, store owner Bobby McCue invited us to add our entries to his oldtime Jail Register, which was daunting once we’d checked out a few of the famous names that preceded us. My creativity instantly dried up and I know I wrote something completely inane.

March 27 – Book Launch Party, Ventura, CA
So, I’d finally got my first mystery published and this was my official Launch. What could be a bigger high? It was a dazzling evening at the perfect venue–a courtyard café in a haunted inn, a block from the ocean. All those Chamber of Commerce meetings paid off handsomely in friends bringing friends to have books signed and celebrate with me over some extremely yummy cookies. Even Ventura Mayor Carl Morehouse (a Kris Kristofferson lookalike) and his wife came. Best of all, my two sons, Erik and Ben, and some other So Cal Capital Crime authors were there to share the magic with me. It made the seven years of slogging away toward publication worth it!

April 14 – Mysteries to Die For, Thousand Oaks, CA
Another signing with Gwen Freeman at the best known indy mystery store in Ventura County. We followed the big footsteps of some of my personal favorites: Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen, John Sandford, and many others. I think Heidi & Co. at MTDF were pleasantly surprised that we managed to pack the house–SRO...could it have been the cookies we brought?

April 7 – Barnes & Noble, Valencia, CA
No less than four Capital Crime authors shared a table for this event. Bruce Cook, Robert Fate, Gwen Freeman, and I spent a couple of hours chatting with passers-by. Since there was no signage to speak of and our table was stuck in the back of the store next to the café, the guys decided to get out and recruit customers to come and talk to us. I envy their guts–they really know how to sell books. Maybe they’ll blog some of their secrets here.

April 21 – Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, CA
Whaddya know–the one day of the year it rains in California I get to witness a little unwelcome drama to enliven the trip. Driving south on the I-15, I'd burned up about half of the 150 miles to San Diego, when suddenly an eighteen-wheeler about fifty feet ahead reared up like a startled horse and drove right up the concrete barrier separating the freeway lanes. Mercifully, the truck’s cab jackknifed and came to a halt before it could plow into the oncoming traffic. No injuries, except maybe to the driver’s pride, but it sure made my heart beat faster. In San Diego, I met the charming Linda at MG, and got to chat with her before speaking to a small but enthusiastic audience. Jennifer Colt, who wrote a "funny vampire mystery" signed, too. She brought wine and cheese. And hand puppets. I brought pens (poison pens, of course) and more cookies.

April 28 – LA Times Festival of Books
How exciting, to sign at LATFOB at the Book ‘Em booth next to Hailey Lind, and at The Mystery Bookstore booth, where James Ellroy was signing and Joseph Wambaugh dropped in. I even met The Fonz. Okay, I admit it, Henry Winkler wasn’t in my (sadly short) line, he was waiting for Craig Johnson who sold an incredible number of books while I watched in amazement at the enthusiasm his readers showed. Note to self: check out his books.

After the Festival that night, Bill (my dearly beloved) and I had dinner at Claudia Rose’s favorite restaurant, Shanghai Red’s in Marina del Rey, then on to LAX to catch the red eye to the east coast. Don’t you just love the new flight regs? Not! We changed planes in Chicago, where I discovered we weren’t seated together and asked if that could be fixed. Sure, no problem, they said. Ahh, but there was a problem when we tried to return home. Somehow, changing seats got our return flights kicked out of the system and when we tried to check in, were accused (yes, that’s the word) of not having taken the rest of our flight from Chicago to Providence. I showed great restraint in getting this sorted. The threat of arrest if I expressed myself more frankly kept my mouth shut. I’m sure Claudia would have been braver.

April 29 – Borders, Crystal Mall, CT
Can you sleep on a plane? I can’t. Ever. We arrived in Providence at 11:00 a.m. Bill’s brother and his wife picked us up and drove us to the Borders bookstore at the Crystal Mall in Waterford, Connecticut. I marched up to Jason, the young man in charge, and said, "I’m here for my book signing." When I got that deer in the headlights look, I realized something was wrong. He knew nothing about my event, and the person who had arranged the signing had been out for a week. After a hurried search, he found my books and set up a table at the front door of the mall. It’s a good thing my sister-in-law, Judy, was there to keep me company, as the only book I sold was to a little boy Jason had sent over. I thought the kinky sex references might be a little over his head, but it turned out he wanted to give the book to his mom for Mother’s Day. Whew! Jason felt badly that there had been no advertising and the mall was pretty dead, so promised to put my books on a Staff Picks table and promote them, which made the afternoon worthwhile.

April 30 – Barnes & Noble, Smithfield, RI
The next day, Judy drove me sixty miles to this scheduled drop-in signing at B&N, where the CRM informed me, "We don’t have any of your books. I do remember someone calling me about a month ago, but we don’t have them." I asked (very nicely, of course) if maybe she could order some, reminding myself that this is not an uncommon experience, according to many other new authors. I bet it doesn’t happen to Michael Connelly or Sue Grafton. But it probably did, early-on. Right?

May 1 – New York, NY
Tuesday, we took the train from Providence to New York. I have a strong dislike for flying (that’s putting it mildly), so taking the Acela Express train was fun. As we walked out of Penn Station, a young man came running up, frantically flapping his hands. "Where can I find the police? Quick! I need to find the police!" Welcome to New York. Although Bill grew up in Brooklyn and knows the City well, even he was unable to meet the challenge of getting a cab to stop for us, so--thank whoever invented wheeled travel bags--we walked the fifteen blocks to our hotel. Luckily the weather was perfect and we didn’t have to step in too many weird-looking puddles. The two bookstores I’d hoped to visit didn’t have copies my book (the first printing had sold out), so we had lunch with friends. Bill had picked up a head cold on the flight in, and we decided to abandon plans to see a Broadway show, watching House instead in the teeny-tiny, insanely expensive hotel room.

May 2 – Philadelphia, PA
Wednesday morning, Bill flew home and I dragged my bags back to Penn Station, marveling at the number of people crammed onto the streets of Manhattan. On the train to Philadelphia I discovered was in "the Quiet Car." There's a "no cell phones or loud talking" rule, and when someone’s cell phone rang and its owner began to engage in an animated conversation, she was soon reminded of the rule by the guy seated behind her.

My first visit to Philadelphia. Phil Pearlman, a good friend from the local handwriting analysis group, drove me all over the city and took me to a neat little hole-in-the-wall café that served the absolutely best roast beef sandwiches (and I’m not a big fan of meat). When we got to the Borders where I had a drop-in signing scheduled, guess what happened...You got it–"Didn’t your publicist tell you, we’re sold out of both of your books and haven’t had time to order more." Luckily, Phil knew of some other bookstores in the area, so I introduced myself there and they promised to order my books.

That same night, I had a signing at the Bryn Mawr Barnes and Noble, which went as planned–by now, this came as a pleasant surprise. Kathy Siciliano, the CRM there, was fantastic–and all the other CRMs in the area said so, too. Between us, we got several articles in the Philly papers and I had an audience to speak to about forensic handwriting analysis.

May 4-6 – Arlington, VA
Thursday. Another train, another city. Another kind friend picking me up and squiring me around, suitcase and laptop in tow. Jim works in DC and showed me some of the sights, which included some truly stunning foliage. I even got a photo of me in front of the White House. Maybe I should have been holding a protest sign to add a little color.

I was in Arlington to attend my very first Malice Domestic and meet with my new Penguin/NAL editor, Kristen Weber. How exciting is that?! My Malice experiences would take a whole blog in themselves. The first event I attended was Malice Go-Round, the mystery author’s version of speed dating. Twenty tables of readers, two authors at each table, had 90 seconds each in which to pitch their books. When the moderator called Time, the authors moved to the next table to do it all over again. After the first fifteen or so times, I began to wonder whether my voice would hold out, but it did, and Poison Pen was well received. Next came the New Authors Breakfast, where each new author hosted a table and the MC came around for a brief interview.

I had been listed as a Guest Expert, scheduled for a presentation on Sunday at noon. I thought most people would be gone by then. But this was my first Malice, and I hadn’t counted on those wonderful diehard mystery lovers. It was astonishing and honestly humbling to find myself speaking to a room filled with people interested in learning a little about handwriting analysis--a great conclusion to my week on the east coast.

May 18-20 – Tucson, AZ
After one week back home it was time to pack again, and head for the Southwest. Fritz, my nearly-seventeen-year-old cat, was not best pleased, but I promised that his wrangler, Maggie (she doesn’t want to be called "catsitter"), would bring him special hors d’ oevres in bed. Seriously.

First, Tucson, to attend a conference of the National Association of Document Examiners. The minute I left the airport to pick up my rental car (which shall heretofore be referred to as the Big Boat--or alternatively, the Old Lady Car--as that's how the Dodge Charger felt), the skies opened and a violent thunderstorm commenced. I was so grateful that it happened after I landed that getting soaked was no biggie. The conference was in a gorgeous resort in the desert. Lots of old friends in that group, and some new ones. Tricia Clapp, who owns Mostly Books (a great indy store if you’re in Tucson), is herself a handwriting analyst, and was the bookseller at the conference. She sold out of Poison Pen, and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis. I love Trish.

The first night, three other women and I went to dinner in the Big Boat and I got us all lost in the dark desert on the way back. Even worse, by the time we made it to the hotel, I’d missed most of the oh-so-important season ending of Grey’s Anatomy. All I know is, Burke walked out on the wedding and Meredith’s half-sister is a new intern. And what’s up with George failing his test?

Next came my Saturday afternoon signing at Borders, where there was a mix up about the date. They hurriedly put me at a table by the front door, along with a display of my books, and I asked them to set up some chairs so shoppers would know there was going to be a discussion. I was delighted when a woman named Mary showed up and brought her friend. I’d met Mary on the flight in and we immediately became friends. She's a prison psychologist and does she have stories to tell! Mary said that wherever she goes, her energy draws other people, and it was true, we collected a small group together for my talk. Afterward, the manager said she was surprised at how good my sales were, as an author is lucky to have three people come to their table. Truth was, I took a leaf from Bruce and Bob’s book (see above) and cornered people as they walked in the store: "Do you read mysteries? New book–Poison Pen–I’m the author." Sometimes, it worked.

I was scheduled for a signing at Clues Unlimited in Tucson, but on calling the store to check in, a recording said they’d had a death in the family and they were closed for a couple of days. I showed up at the appointed time, and met Christine, who introduced me to her two handsome greyhounds. She explained they'd lost Sophie, the pot-bellied pig they’d rescued two years earlier, after a sudden illness. Having had that awful experience a couple of years ago with a well-loved cat, I empathized with her distress.

May 21 – Phoenix, AZ
On Sunday, after the NADE conference ended, I drove 120 miles to Phoenix and stayed with a friend in Fountain Hills. With a TV show and signing scheduled in Scottsdale for the next day, I realized I’d be driving the thirty-five miles back to her house on a windy road in the desert at night by myself. Since I'd already gotten lost in the desert at night with company, I wasn't anxious to repeat the experience on my own (any spirit of adventure I have belongs to Claudia), so I got a hotel near the Borders where I would be signing. Who knew an Embassy Suites in Phoenix would be as expensive as New York? I discovered when I awoke that the hotel was undergoing renovations. Have you ever tried to be creative with a monster jackhammer tearing up sidewalk outside your window?

Arriving for my appearance on Good Day Arizona, I was placed in an armchair on the set. Like Claudia, I don’t do quickies, so I’d done my best to make sure they didn’t drop last minute handwriting samples on me. You can guess what’s coming next, right? One minute before my segment, the host sat down beside me and said, "I’ve written a couple of paragraphs, can you tell me all about myself?" My instant, "No!" probably sounded a little ungracious, so I offered to take his handwriting with me and send back a few comments. My next gaffe happened on-camera. Flipping through my Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis, the host stopped at a sample of Elvis’ handwriting and asked what it showed about the King. I was horrified to hear myself blurt, "It’s pretty whacked." Real professional, Lowe. Good work. The rest of the segment went okay–how badly can you mess up in three minutes? That afternoon, when I checked into my hotel, the shuttle driver, who looked like Santa, said, "Was that you I saw on TV this morning?" and the manager who checked me in exclaimed, "I was just reading about Poison Pen!" I guess media works. Sometimes.

Phoenix friend and fellow author Judy Starbuck was kind enough to take me to the Poisoned Pen bookstore, certainly a well-known name in this industry, and introduce me to John and Leslie (Barbara Peters was visiting Europe). While it hadn't been possible to schedule a signing there on this trip, I was invited to set one up next time I was in the Southwest.

My Phoenix stay ended with a signing at yet another Borders, where again, there was no signage and I was stuck upstairs in the back of the store, next to the Children’s section. Happily, they put out chairs for my three friends, two daughters of my sister-in-law and family, and one customer who joined us. We all had a good time, everyone bought books for me to sign, and I was ready to move on to the last stop in my Southwest travels–Sedona.

May 22 – Sedona, AZ
What an amazing place, Sedona. I wasn’t there long enough to see much up-close, but the red rock vistas in the distance make it as magical as everything I’ve heard. At The Well Red Coyote bookstore it was a great pleasure to see Kris and Joe Neri. About eight years ago, when I first started writing Poison Pen, I took a mystery writing course from Kris through the Learning Annex, which, for a totally green fiction writer, was a great help. It was so much fun to come full circle and bring the published book to her bookstore.

So, finally, back to Phoenix, drop off the Big Boat aka Old Lady Car at the airport, and white-knuckle it through the 75-minute flight to Burbank. Poor old Fritz looked as if he’d despaired of me ever coming home, but after meowing loudly at me for a few minutes, he seemed to decide that it would take less exertion to purr than to yowl, and we’re now back on good terms. I wonder if I’ll ever be able catch up on everything that got neglected while I was away before it's time to leave again. The Book Passage conference is coming up next month and I’m on a panel...stay tuned.

Sheila Lowe

The Game is Afoot

The purpose of this blog is to give an e-voice to the authors of published mystery novels. Specifically, those eager to help new writers ply their trade.

I'll begin by naming the culprits:

Troy Cook
Robert Fate
Bruce Cook
Lori Lacefield
Gwen Freeman
Sheila Lowe
Jeff Leever

Periodically, you'll hear from each of these writers. What they'll say is anyone's guess, but just like their fiction, the words will be cleverly arranged to capture our interest, and keep us coming back for more.

Me, I'm just here to referee.

Rick Taylor