Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Visit to an Amazon Bookstore

 After Malice Domestic, I stayed on with my daughter’s family for a few more days and we made a trip to Georgetown to see the Amazon bookstore there. When I wondered WHY one of the few brick-and-mortar stores, as the say, is there, they told me that Jeff Bezos lives in the DC area. Sure enough, I fund an article on his mansion and the $12 million redo.

Anyway, I was curious to see what Amazon thought a real bookstore should look like. Here’s the entrance to the rather small shop. There is a basement and a first floor. Here are a couple of shots of the upper floor.

Overview 1
Overview 2

I was amused at the marketing. They’re marketing to bookstore patrons in just about exactly the way they market to online shoppers. Here are the “fast reads” and the “if you liked this” sections.
3 days or less
If you liked this...

There is an attempt to appeal to the locals.  

If you scan a book, you can find out the Prime price, as opposed to the regular price.  

Now, let’s see how they do with mysteries. Here’s the total mystery section, in the basement section. 
Total mysteries and thrillers

The shelves are shallow, no more than 4-5 books of each title. 
Shallow shelves

I was pleased to see Miranda James on the shelf AND on the end cap. 
James 12 Angry Librarians

James on Bestseller endcap!

I was also pleased to see Jenny Milchman on a featured table at the front of the store. 
Jenny Milchmans' Wild River!

My daughter noted that she’s read every single book in the store that she wants to read. There was nothing there for her to buy. In other words, the store carried only what was the most popular on the Amazon site. There’s little or no chance to browse and discover a new, fresh title or author. I think Amazon has missed the point of bookstores. You get exactly what you get online in the store, so why go to the hassle of traveling and parking? Anyway, it was interesting and I’m glad I went. I DID buy a couple of things. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

This is supposed to be a flaky thing.

Number 14 on William Safire’s Rules for Writers (tongue in cheek):
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

That’s probably a good idea in a dissertation, a medical journal write up, or anything called a treatise (whatever that is).

But I write fiction! I can do all the forbidden stuff. Violate all the rules. Give a character the task of being trendy, flaky, and saying “like” way too much.

I greatly enjoy writing dialog for Hortense Duckworthy. She’s a retired librarian in the Imogene Duckworthy series and likes to show off her erudite vocabulary (big words). Of course, she would be great at crossword puzzle solving or Scrabble, but she likes to stick in her words to obfuscate the discourse, so to speak. Picture me writing her speech with a thesaurus in hand—sort of. I actually know a lot of her words, but do look up a few.

Here’s a sample.

When Hortense sees Immy heading for the fridge in BROKE, she asks, "Are you ravenous, dear?"

To a guest: "Would you care for a libation?"

Immy whispers a translations, “Would you like something to drink?"

Then Hortense asks, "Or perhaps a malted brew?"

Immy mouthed the word "beer" to Theo.

I think that qualifies as flaky, if not trendy. I am trying to make my young characters begin sentences with “so,” but that may be out of fashion by the time my next novel is published. All we can do is try to keep up!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Malice Recap

Here’s one more post on Malice, if you can stand another one. I stayed with my daughter’s family for a week afterward, so this is the soonest I can get this up. I had a delightful time with my 5 and 7 year old grandsons. We play a game we invented called “Birdies.” It can only be played on the blow up bed when Grandma is there. I’m the Mommy Robin and they’re the baby birds. We hunt for worms in the covers and sometimes a storm comes and shakes the whole tree violently. This time, though, the younger one wanted to start out as an egg and he had a TV in his egg. Nice variation.

OK, Malice! I survived, despite 3 breakfasts in a row at 7:45, 7:30, and 7:00. These are all AM, BTW.

Here’s my table at the Guppy breakfast: Nancy West, Annette Dashovy, me, Marilyn Levinson, Teresa Inge, and Teresa Heart.

This photo is from Marilyn Levinson at the Guppy dinner, later the same day. We’ve been accused to wearing matching tops, but mine is blue and hers is black.

Here’s a whole bunch of Guppies at the Sisters in Crime breakfast. Some of them took off their boas, but not me!

My last picture is of Ramona DeFelice Long’s Sprint Group. I’m not a morning writer, but I do weigh in sometimes in the afternoon when I’m slaving away. These are me, Joyce Tremel, Cheryl Marceau, Edith Maxwell, Kimberly Hon Kirth-Gray, Cheryl Hollon, Dru Ann Love (blogger/reviewer and friend to all mystery writers), Mary Feliz, Annette Dashovy, Mary Sutton, and Ramona herself. This was my first time to meet Ramona in person!

All in all, the change of hotels for this conference was a good thing. We don’t have to meet beneath the Metro and don’t have to wait forEVer for elevators. The restaurant was overwhelmed for the weekend, but maybe they’ll be better prepared next year.

(If I got anyone's name wrong, let me know!)

My garden morphed from mostly azaleas into peonies and iris and roses while I was gone. The flowers don’t seem to need me at all.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Use a singular pronoun with singular nouns

Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing, William Safire says in his 15th rule for writers.

If he were writing this today, though, his statement might not get any attention. Using third plural pronouns as gender neutral solutions is becoming more and more accepted. A couple of factors come into play. One is discrimination by always using the male pronoun, another is that not everyone is comfortable with their gender.

For a while, there was a movement advocating using new, made-up words, such as ze, ne, ve, and some others. I haven’t heard anyone mention them for at least two years now, though.

Another solution might be to call everyone “it” instead of “he” or “she.” That doesn’t seem right, though, does it?

Whoever invented the English language (all those millions of people over hundreds of years) just plain forgot to put in a neutral third person singular pronoun, and that makes it hard! Okay, that’s inaccurate. English used to have them, but they’ve fallen by the wayside. “Ou” and “a” are mentioned in this article.

So, since we DO have a neutral third person plural pronoun, it’s getting used more and more when we want to leave the pronoun non-gender-specific. I’m a fan of English language evolution so it doesn’t bother me. In fact, I like it!

 photo from

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Always pick on the correct idiom

This is the 16th of William Safire’s 18 rules for writers. I want to think of some funny, maybe even hilarious, ways to illustrate this one. The best person for this was Yogi Berra. Here are some of his gems.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.
The future ain’t what it used to be.
You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.
It gets late early out here.

Another couple of masters of this are Batiuk and Ayers, the creators of the comic strip Crankshaft.

Speaking of Italian cucumbers, Crankshaft says: I really like to ciao down on those.
About a bad football team: …they’re just a bunch of overpaid quarterbucks.
Something else is:…easy as rolling off a pie.

I guess a misstated idiom is actually a malapropism, right?

My character Mr. Toombs, a character in my own Eine Kleine Murder, spoke of the “phrases of the moon.” I got that from a guy I worked for when I was a teenager. Cracked me up.  

Do you have favorite idioms? Or messed up idioms?

All images from

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Adverb Always Follows the Verb

I’m working my way backwards through William Safire’s satiric rules for writers. I did the last one last week. This week, I'm doing the penultimate rule, which is:

The Adverb Always Follows the Verb

Okay, the main problem for me with this rule is the word “always.” I very much enjoy breaking rules that contain the words “always” and “never.” It’s great fun!

I think the actual rule is that the verb should follow the adverb. Maybe that’s the point Safire was making? One official exception is the word “always.”

She carefully walked into the house.
Does that sound better than the one below?
She walked carefully into the house.
The first one is supposed to be more correct.
Of course, fiction writers are encouraged to ditch adverbs whenever possible and use stronger verbs.
She crept into the house.
She tiptoed into the house.
She stole into the house.
Something like that.

“Only” is fun adverb. Here’s a great example of the importance of the placement of the adverb
Only she loves horses.
She only loves horses.
She loves only horses.
See? Three completely different meanings.

“Many” and “much” do get misused and there are actual rules that should be followed for them.
“Much” is a big amount of something. Singular. “Many” is a large count of something. Plural.
I gave her as many details about the project as I could.
I gave her as much detail on the project as I could.

Do you have any other thoughts on adverbs?

photos from
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Wednesday, April 11, 2018


All writers are probably familiar with William Safire’s tongue in cheek rules for writers. The last one goes like this:

Last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague; seek viable alternatives.

However, I think they have their place. The most obvious is to put them into the dialog of a character you want to portray and, maybe, unoriginal, uneducated, even superstitious if he spouts old folklore things.

Where else can we use them? They’re shorthand for things that everyone instantly understands.
Here are some I think are useful:
As the crow flies
Bad blood
Chip off the old block
Eat crow
Flat as a pancake
(These examples are from

Sure, you could figure out new and fresh ways to say all of these, but you might not come up with anything better and you might confuse your reader if you don’t hit the nail on the head, so to speak.

Of course, you shouldn’t fill your pages with them and use them out of laziness. I think there’s a fine line. The occasional completely apt cliché can work for you. Too many of them will work against you.

Part of my motivation in defending the maligned cliché is that I hate to throw away finely honed bits of language, wisdom, and lore.

I’d love to hear thoughts on this!

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