Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Drinking with Novels

This very long post was inspired by this article I read a few months ago. It seems that John Cheever said, “The excitement of alcohol and the excitement of fantasy are very similar.” I don’t know that I buy into that, but I think mixing alcohol and books sounds like fun.

Here are my selections for my own work.

Imogene Duckworthy mysteries

Since the guy died with a sausage stuffed down his throat, a good German brew should go nicely. Berliner Weisse might do nicely. It’s supposed to be tart and tangy, somewhat as I picture Imogene Duckworthy.


Smoked pork is prominent in this book. This Italian wine should do nicely—Tenuta Delle Terre Nere, “Etna Rosso” 2014. The reference to Etna fits nicely with the book’s theme, too.

A Halloween story with a ghost, so naturally, you’d have to sip some form of cider, right? The ABGB in Austin serves Texas Keeper and Argus hard ciders. It would be best to visit them for this. If you do, say HI to my son, night manager and barkeep. (Or try any of the beers they make there.)

On to my next series, Cressa Carraway Musical Mysteries

How about mixing up some Gluehwein? It’s appropriately from Austria, Mozart’s country, since my title is taken from a Mozart piece I’ve played about a thousand times and still love.
Here’s the recipe adapted the site below:

2 bottles red wine, possibly Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, 750 ml. each
2 cups water
2 lemons sliced
2 cinnamon sticks
3 cloves
2 oranges peeled and diced (cut peels into thin strips and save)

Combine all but orange pieces in a large pan and bring to a simmer.
Add the orange pieces and simmer until everything smells good, 10-15 minutes.
Remove cloves and cinnamon sticks before serving.
Add a thin slice of orange peel to each glass before serving.

This calls for some memorable. Since the Irish know how to do wakes, I’ll go with an Irish shooter. Recipe included in the link.

Next series! This one is a bit more difficult, the People of the Wind series, featuring Neanderthals and set 30,000 years ago. I’m not sure that they had fermented drinks, but let’s pretend they did.

Something to keep you warm while you read this. I nearly froze to death writing it. An ancient Indian rice drink, sura, may warm the cockles of your heart. I don’t think you can get this anymore, but you can’t get Neanderthals any more either. Maybe mead would be a better choice. It was drunk in ancient Greece.


This calls for a portable drink, since the tribe is trekking for the whole novel. The article below suggests bringing along two, a mixture of herbal gin and chartreuse for lighter passages, and whisky with vermouth for heavier chapters. A good flask is, of course, important.

My cozy Fat Cat series calls for lighter fare. Chase Oliver likes plain wine, but let’s get more imaginative here.
A white wine spritzer is my choice for finding the bodies in this book.


Quincy gets into all kinds of trouble at the fair in this book. You can’t S’mores beer by Giggles from the Minnesota State Fair.

What should you have with cake? Punch! It should be a red one to match the cover.

There! I’ve covered all my novels so far.

What will you drink with your reads?

photo from

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Adventures with Covers

I’ll give the ending first. All of my covers have turned out great. I consider my covers as one of my main tools for selling my books. My publishers hire people to do my covers, mostly with my input, and sometimes I get to approve the finished product—sometimes not.

There are funny stories behind my two of my covers. They might amuse you, so I’ll put them out there.

First, my first Imogene Duckworthy mystery, CHOKE. It was not the first novel I wrote, but it was the first one I got published. I was in such a tizzy about actually getting a novel published, that I fluffed a bit. I said I needed an orange truck on the cover. I thought that would be colorful and, I was thinking, it’s a big part of the plot. It would tie in to the story without giving anything away.

Keep in mind that, while the first one was getting situated to come out, I was writing the second one, SMOKE. Embarrassing discovery: there is an orange truck in the second novel. There is none in the first one. It’s easy to be confusing when you’re finalizing publication of one novel while you’re writing another one.

It wasn’t until the dang thing came out that I realized what I’d done. One of my friends, I think it was Janet Bolin, said maybe it could be a device—using an element of one book on the cover of the last one, staying one book ahead.

CHOKE eventually was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel, so everything turned out fine!

I MUST give credit to Karen Phillips for the covers of all three of the Imogene Duckworthy mysteries. I can’t recommend her highly enough if you’re self-publishing.

My second story also has a happy ending, but there was panic for a short time. I had finished the third Fat Cat book, FAT CAT TAKES THE CAKE, for Berkley Prime Crime, handed it in, and was busy sketching out plots for the next three books. (That’s a sad story that’s been told elsewhere)

My agent sent me a preliminary copy of the cover. I was shocked at the title AND the cover. I asked her if it matters that there is no cake in the book. She thought it would be okay, but I didn’t. I quickly rewrote some passages and was, fortunately, able to make cake a major part of the plot by changing just a few things. I like all three of the Fat Cat covers, but I think this one gets the most notice.

Do you have any interesting cover stories? No, not that kind, just stories about your covers? (You’re safe with me, I’ll never blow your cover.)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Word Search

This week I'm posting a word search from the book coming out later this year from Lyrical Press, Revenge Is Sweet. Have fun!
Revenge Is Sweet



Wednesday, February 21, 2018


First off, I’ll say that the new tax bill does NOT affect anything for this year’s filing. And, for writers, there shouldn’t be much change next year. See the link near the end of this for an article on that.

As for this year, here’s my best non-legal annual posting of tax information. If you’re new to this, the first decision you have to make is whether or not you’re serious about writing. If you’re truly striving for publication and want to make money at it, you can file without abiding by the hobby rules, which prevent you from taking all of your deductions if you don’t make a profit 3 out of the last 5 years.

Here are some IRS pages to help you decide:

The factors the IRS uses to determine whether or not you are treating your writing as a hobby or not.

  • Whether you carry on the activity in a businesslike manner and maintain complete and accurate books and records.
  • Whether the time and effort you put into the activity indicate you intend to make it profitable.
  • Whether you depend on income from the activity for your livelihood.
  • Whether your losses are due to circumstances beyond your control (or are normal in the startup phase of your type of business).
  • Whether you change your methods of operation in an attempt to improve profitability.
  • Whether you or your advisors have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business.
  • Whether you were successful in making a profit in similar activities in the past.
  • Whether the activity makes a profit in some years and how much profit it makes.
  • Whether you can expect to make a future profit from the appreciation of the assets used in the activity.

Pay close attention to the first two bullet points on that last page and repeated above. Keeping records is essential. Keep track of the time you spend writing and submitting, and all of your expenses, including mileage, office supplies, advertising, instruction, conferences, etc. Meals at conferences can only be expensed at 50% of the cost, since you would be eating even if you weren’t there. Write down your mileage every year on January 1st!

I recently found this site with good articles for authors. This one lays out the IRS points in the above publication and explains them in details.

This article from the same people, written October of 2017, give tax deduction tips for authors.

The IRS gives you a break as a writer, knowing that it can take years before you make money. You can report losses on a Schedule C for quite some time before the IRS will take a look at you because of Section 263(a)(h). See this article, which elaborates on the above:
Page down to (h) to see the section on authors, photographers, and artists.

Here’s another detailed article on authors and the IRS:
This one includes some forms to help you keep track if you don’t already have some that you like:

The company that posted the forms also has an article on what’s coming up next year for us:
They see no significant changes for writers next year—good news!

AND, finally, changes for this year from two different sources: 
Mileage will be 53.5 cents a mile, down from last year, and your standard deduction may go up slightly.

I can’t find a nice neat summary on the IRS site of 2017 changes, such as they had last year.

I hope this helps. Don’t lose out on loss deductions that you’re entitled to. And may you someday be declaring a profit! I made my first profit after filing as a writer for 12 years. A whole 3 figures.

tax forms from Dreamstime
woman writing from Good Free Photos
fireworks from morguefile

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


I hope you’re celebrating with someone you love today. If so, you don’t have time to read a blog, so I’ll simply wish you a Happy Heart Day!

I do love all my readers and online friends. Thank you for being here.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Some Research for People of the Wind

 My most research-intensive series is the People of the Wind mystery series. Those are the books featuring a Neanderthal tribe and set 30,000 years ago. I took the artistic license of putting the tribe in North America. Aside from that, I try to make everything about them and the surroundings as true to life as possible. We don’t know everything about them, of course, but we’re learning more all the time.

I had to research every single step of the way, beginning with the climate and the appearance of the land at that time. I learned that much of the present day Midwest was an open spruce parkland with balsam poplar and quaking aspen, also mires, lakes, and ponds. The landscape looked much as Minnesota, Wisconsin, northern Michigan and parts of Canada look today. The trees growing then are those that grow now in the Rocky Mountains.  The summers were cooler then and the winters a bit colder. I was astounded to learn that the Mississippi River didn’t exist yet! This was the time before the advance of the last glacier to cover much of the Midwest. The Mississippi was created on its retreat. (1)

The animals that were around were very different. What are called mega-fauna, very large animals, mostly became extinct on this continent at around 10,000 years ago. Some of these were giant sloths, mammoths, mastodons, muskox (which are not extinct), stag-moose, dire wolves, short-faced bears, giant beavers, peccaries, sabertooth and scimitar cats, American cave lion, tapirs, and camelops (ancestor to modern camels), eve an giant version of bison, just to name a few. There were also very tiny horses that migrated to Asia and disappeared here until modern horses were brought here by the Spaniards.  (2)

Then there was the task of creating the characters. I had to know what they might have looked like, what they ate, what they wore. I learned that they largely ate meat and only ate other things when it was unavailable. They would have had to have foot coverings and more than an animal skin draped across a shoulder to survive the climates they lived through. (They existed from 250,000 years ago to about 28,000 years ago—a long, long time.) It is likely they dried meat from one hunt until they got more. It takes more than a bit of ingenuity to bring down a mammoth when you’re about 5 1/2 feet tall.

I researched if they could speak or not and, from there, what their language might have sounded like. That involved studying how babies learn to speak, how people with impediments speak, what early languages were like, and great stuff like that.

That’s not the extent of my research, just a bit of it, to give you an idea. Hope you enjoyed the post!

(2) Ice Age Mammals of North America: A Guide to the Big, the Hairy, and the Bizarre Ian M. Lange
(3) Journal of Archeological Science 6/3/2009 “Energy Use by Eem Neanderthals” by Bent Sørensen.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Book by Any Other Name?

People sometimes ask me how I pick my book titles. (They never ask how I pick short story titles, but those are just as hard.) The answer, for the books, is that sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. For the short stories, I’m guilty in all cases. All those titles are mine.

For instance, EINE KLEINE MURDER started out life as SONG OF DEATH. After it was picked up by Barking Rain Press, the title was changed to suit the publishing house. If you look at their mystery/crime publications, you’ll see that there are no titles that contain the word “death.” Several do contain “murder,” so that was more acceptable to them. REQUIEM IN RED started out as REQUIEM FOR RED. I wanted the reader to have to guess which redhead would get murdered as they started into the book, but the publisher didn’t think it worked, so it was changed. I have picked out the third title, SWAN SONG, so we’ll see if that flied—after I finish the book.

My Imogene Duckworthy series has one word titles, CHOKE, SMOKE, and BROKE. I chose these titles myself and was working under the theory that long works should have short titles and short works should have long titles. This is also the reason I named my Agatha-nominated short story HANDBASKETS, DRAWERS, AND A KILLER COLD. I wish I could remember where I read that, about long and short titles, but I remember I liked the idea and try to use it, although I don’t always succeed. (Fourth one will be STROKE.)

My People of the Wind Neanderthal titles are also mine and were liked by Untreed Reads, the publisher: DEATH IN THE TIME OF ICE and DEATH ON THE TREK. (Third one will be DEATH IN THE NEW LAND.)

The Fat Cat books were titled by the publisher. I suggested many titles for the first one, all of which were rejected in favor of FAT CAT AT LARGE. I had a title I loved for the second one, but they had to have a shorter one because of the fat, puffy font they’d gone with. For book two, I liked FAT CAT GETS HIS LICKS, but it is now FAT CAT SPREADS OUT. The title of the third book FAT CAT TAKES THE CAKE (changed from FAT CAT IN A PINCH), gave me pause. The cover was given to me and there was cake on it! However, there was no cake in the novel. I asked them if that was a problem and they didn’t think so. I did, though, so I stuck in some cake and (spoiler alert) managed to make it part of a vital clue.

One thing that I try very hard to do for a series is to have titles that go together, ones that reader can tell are part of the series. One series has titles that rhyme (--OKE). In another, they all begin with the word DEATH; another, they all start out FAT CAT; the classical music series titles all invoke music. None of mine are as clever and Sue Grafton’s alphabet books or Janet Evanovitch’s number titles. But they’re mine and I like them all!