Friday, August 31, 2012

Guest blogger Shelly Frome: The Hunt for the Elusive Agent

I'm thrilled to have Shelly Frome here today! (I've had such terrific guests this week--and another one tomorrow, so come back.)

He's discussing a topic so many writers agonize over: the agent search, and his recent experiences. Here's a bit about him:
A Professor Emeritus of dramatic arts at the University of Connecticut, Shelly Frome is a former professional actor and theater director.  Mr. Frome's writing credits include a number of national and international articles on topics such as acting and theater, profiles of artists and notable figures in the arts. In addition, Frome has written books on theater and film and mystery novels.

And now, his article:

It goes without saying that after you peruse a writers' guide like Jeff Herman’s key to knowing what literary agents want, you still have no real idea who they are and what they’re looking for. At best, you have a list of categories he or she will consider and are not interested in. Moreover, the information may be dated.  

            Back to square one. For starters, any and all top flight agents open to submissions are shopping for a property they can sell. At a writers' conference in Santa Barbara a panel of agents always claim if you’re in possession of a remarkable story, you’re well on your way. Translation: if the novel has been vetted by a reputable editor or fellow writer who understands the nature of the business and has been polished, you may stand a chance. What they also mean is by attending the conference you’ve bypassed the  fruitless process of adding to the 200 blind e-mail queries their office receives each working day. Plus, as noted in Herman’s guide, they only pay attention to writers they’ve either met at a conferences or who’ve been recommended by either a client or someone they know and respect.

            But, still and all, what do words like “remarkable story” mean? It certainly doesn’t help to look at the best-seller list with its smattering of poorly written material mixed in with some notable work. You can attend a conference of your choice like the one in Santa Barbara and look for a match for your genre or mainstream effort. But after studying the conference program carefully, you’re up against those words again:

“I’m looking for a strong voice, sure writing, an inventive story and characters with depth. I want to be surprised, engrossed and delighted.”

“I want to be captivated immediately.”

            And even if you attend a workshop like, say, Larry Brook’s gauge to a marketable product, even if you attend all three of his ninety-minute sessions at the Willamette Conference in Portland—even if you hold his guidelines up against your own “product,” you still have no idea how inventive it is and how immediately engrossed, captivated and delighted any given agent will be.

            So what we’re really talking about is a step-by-step fishing expedition. If you’ve gone to the trouble of putting your manuscript through the proverbial mill and wonder whether you should just hand it over to your independent publisher or whatever; or would rather try your hand at breaking into what Brooks calls “the professional ranks,” the only thing for it is to pitch. That is, boil down the essence of your work face to face with the agent or agents who seem appropriate, compete with all the others who have the same idea, and see what happens.    

            In my personal experience, at this stage of the game you’re given one to three strikes. If you hit it off and they ask for anywhere from the first 10 to 50 pages and subsequently discover you not only make a good impression but you can also write, so far so good. However, even if you pass the first two obstacles and they really like your work and feel it’s destined for success, if they don’t ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT (one agent’s caps, not mine), you’re left with feeling good about yourself and the sure knowledge you’ve  struck out. Which, supposedly, would still make you want to carry on.

            During my own fishing venture, I’ve had four responses. A Hollywood agent dealing exclusively with novels to film cut me short. In no uncertain terms he declared “as of the present moment anything alluding to Hollywood is not trending.” As for three other encounters, one shy young lady e-mailed that I’m a nice guy and a terrific writer but she’s not absolutely smitten by my first 20 pages. A very personable woman informed me that I’m very memorable, it was great meeting me, she likes the first chapter and wants to read the next 50. A laid back gentleman just wrote that he never received the first 10 pages I sent three weeks ago and he wants me to try again.

I haven’t yet heard from the four others and I still have no idea what words like “I want to be captivated immediately” mean.

            As they used to say in the old Saturday morning serials: to be continued.     

You can find Shelly's work on Amazon

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Why does the bad guy always have to lose? by Terry Ambrose

Author Terry Ambrose
I welcome Terry Ambrose to my Travels today! He has a nifty essay lamenting the bad guy's fate for us. I like his thought-provoking questions. (He's my second guest in a row with ties to Hawaii. I wonder if this means I should make a trip there?)

Here's a bit about him:

Terry's island bookstsore

A resident of Southern California, he loves spending time in Hawaii, especially on the Garden Island of Kauai, where he invents lies for others to read. His years of chasing deadbeats taught him many valuable life lessons including—always keep your car in the garage.

He's the author of PHOTO FINISH, "Rockford Files meets Hawaii Five-O". 

          Con men are riding a wave of popularity in fiction these days. From TV shows like Leverage to White Collar, these bad guys turned good are popular heroes. Their popularity seems to indicate that it’s okay to lie—as long as it’s done for altruistic purposes. For me, the con man persona is an emotional playground filled with wonderful toys like guilt, greed, and sympathy. My problem is that once I started playing with those toys, I wonder, why can’t the con artist ever get what she really wants—the big score?

I know, in the mystery genre, good triumphs over evil. But, does the good have to be purely good? Why not good with a little bad thrown in for flavor? After all, if the “bad guy” works hard and is sympathetic and the reader has developed a liking for the character, does the bad guy really have to go to jail? Enter Lawrence Block and his wonderful burglar friend, Bernie Rhodenbarr.

Block’s premise appears to have been that Bernie the Burglar solves the murder because not doing so would make him appear to be guilty of murder. So, Bernie must solve a bigger crime so that he can get away with his smaller one. I really like that concept, but would love it if the decision to help out wasn’t forced on Bernie.

Character dilemmas are my favorite toy to play with in my writing sandbox. Much like the classic scene from Fiddler on the Roof where Tevye says, “On the other hand…” the choices facing a con man can make the story so much more interesting. Does he choose the right path for the wrong reasons or the wrong path for the right reasons? To me, this is where the bad guy turned good guy stories take on a new dimension. And in that dimension, if the con man helped out willingly or even against his will, I wonder if it would really be so bad if he won. The result might not be perfect justice, but it might be just for that character.

What do you think? Do you want your stories tidied up at the end? Or are there times when you wouldn’t mind seeing a little larceny win out?

You can visit Terry at his website:

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fish Out of Water, guest Doug Corleone

I welcome Doug Corleone to my blog once again. His topic is an apt one, since I'm a huge fan of the Guppies, that Sisters in Crime group that has done so much for me that I volunteered to be president last year.

Doug has valuable things to say about fish and writing today. Read on!

Fish Out of Water – Douglas Corleone

One common theme in crime fiction is the “fish out of water.”  This is the small town cop who finds herself involved in a high-profile murder case in the big city.  The big city private investigator who lands himself in a small town after having his big city ticket taken away by his state’s licensing agency.  This is the American in Paris.  The Parisian in New Zealand.  The New Zealander in Tokyo.  Well, you get the idea…

The “fish out of water” theme provides the storyteller with several terrific devices.  First, the storyteller is afforded the opportunity to show a world through fresh eyes.  Second, the theme allows the storyteller to demonstrate contrast between the protagonist’s place of origin and his current setting.  And, finally, the “fish out of water” theme leaves the storyteller with plenty of room for conflict. 

One of my most recent reads was Michael Connelly’s Nine Dragons.  If you are familiar with Michael Connelly, you most likely know and love his tough Los Angeles detective, Harry Bosch.  Of course, we are used to watching Harry Bosch run through familiar territory in his hometown of LA.  But in Nine Dragons, the kidnapping of Bosch’s own teenage daughter leads him to a city very unlike Los Angeles – namely Hong Kong. 

In Nine Dragons, Michael Connelly takes advantage of all three of the devices mentioned above.  Connelly’s Harry Bosch has been to Hong Kong several times before to visit with his daughter, who lives there with his ex-wife Eleanor.  But Bosch has never worked a case in Hong Kong before – and that makes all the difference.  Bosch is seeing the seedier side of Hong Kong for the first time, and Connelly describes it every bit as well as he describes the seedy side of Los Angeles.

During his mission to find his daughter, Bosch makes constant comparisons to LA.  The air in Hong Kong is hot and beyond humid.  The smells are different, some nauseating to his unaccustomed nose.  And worse of all, Bosch is in a city where he doesn’t have any authority.  Unlike in LA, Bosch is the one breaking the law by carrying a gun.  And the gun laws in Hong Kong are harsh. 

Finally, Bosch is faced with conflict at every turn.  Accompanying Bosch on his search for his daughter is Sun Yee, his ex-wife’s current love interest.  Bosch has plenty of reason not to like Sun Yee.  But the question is: can he trust him?  Neither Bosch nor the reader knows the answer to this all-important question until Bosch nears his objective and the bullets begin flying.  The one thing we can be sure of is that Harry Bosch wants to get out of Hong Kong and back home to Los Angeles as fast as possible. 

What’s your favorite “fish out of water” story?

BIO: DOUGLAS CORLEONE is the author of the Kevin Corvelli crime novels set in Honolulu.  His debut novel ONE MAN’S PARADISE was a finalist for the 2010 Shamus Award for Best First Novel and won the 2009 Minotaur Books / Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award.  Doug’s third novel LAST LAWYER STANDING will be released on August 21, 2012.

A former New York City criminal defense attorney, Doug now resides on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, where he is currently at work on his next novel.

Visit him at his webpage: and catch his blog at:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Senior Citizens--and Bowker

April 21st was indeed Senior Citizens Day (shouldn't that have an apostrophe???), but what does that mean? Reagan called "upon the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities." How to do that?

Let's brainstorm. What's great about being a Senior Citizen? Medicare, that's a given. And, let's see. Arthritis? Nope, that's not a plus. Memory loss, hair loss? Nope. Age discrimination? The thought that's never far from your mind: every day you're still alive is one more day to deal with all of the above?

There are rewards. Grandchildren are the BEST prizes. Your reward for not killing your children, they say. We're celebrating the birth of a new granddaughter today! I can't tell you how elated that makes me. I'm hitting the baby stores VERY soon. (Since this is a public forum, I don't post kids' and grandkids' pix, but you'll have to trust me that there are NO babies cuter than my grands.)

Another one is not getting as excited about things as we used to. Lots of issues for younger people are things we've weathered. NBD, BTDT/GTTS. It makes for a more relaxed life.

Here's a biggie, though! You may know that I've been reviewing for Suspense Magazine for a couple of years. It's stretched me in ways I wouldn't have imagined. I am given books to read and review--I don't pick them. So, naturally, they aren't all books I would have gravitated to. But I've read such good books beyond my regular reading zone! Very fun! Even more fun is the news that Bowker (BOWKER!) is going to start using the reviews from Suspense! I'm not sure what the attribution will be, but we'll see. It can't be a bad thing. Bowker, IYDK, is the place every publisher gets ISBN numbers, the numbers assigned to every printed book.

(BTW, if you don't subscribe to Suspense, you need to fix that.)
((PPS, I usually research acronyms at either or, but be careful with the latter if you're sensitive to, well, raunchy meanings of things.))

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

National Relaxation Day

Are you celebrating yet? My opinion is that this should be a national holiday. Everyone should get to just…relax. I know, most of us have to work, but couldn't we just set aside a couple of hours for doing nothing?

It's also Lemon Meringue Pie Day, National Goat Cheese Month, and National Peach Month. Let's all at least get something good to eat today.

What's your idea of relaxing? Do you like to curl up with a good book? Listen to music? Watch movies?

I know a lot of writers who NEVER take a day off. Of course, I know others who take time between projects, or even during projects. Family emergencies come up, illness befalls, and nothing can be predicted. I'm not sure where I was going with this paragraph. I think I'm already on vacation. I'll try to kick back for a couple hours in front of the TV or with a book today.  Join me!

All photos from wiki commons. Beach is South Padre Island in Texas.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Book Review: “No Mark Upon Her” by Deborah Crombie

This review originally appeared in "Suspense Magazine" earlier in the year.

How nice to step into the world of Gemma and Duncan again! The reader is entering not only the world of the Metropolitan Police of London, but also the world of English sculling. And, along with the police department, the milieu of search dogs and their handlers.
Everything is set in motion when Becca, a Metropolitan Police officer who had a chance at the Olympics in single shell fourteen years ago, decides to stage a comeback and make another try. Her previous attempt at the Games was aborted under mysterious circumstances. Even now, she's training in secret. She's recently divorced from Freddie, but they maintain cordial relations, as far as anyone can tell. Freddie is an unlikely mate for a police officer, as his occupation is a bit shady. Kieran Connolly, former Combat Medical Technician, is a Search and Rescue dog handler and boat builder with a troubled past, but increasingly fond feelings for Tavie, fellow dog handler. Their animals, Finn and Tosh, are great characters. Something is off about Kieran when Becca's body is discovered, but Tavie can't quite figure out what.
Detective Gemma James and her husband, Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid have recently wed in a small ceremony and are the parents of a varied brood. The theme of complicated family affairs runs through the book. Duncan is called in to work the case, but Gemma figures heavily too, of course.
The ends of all the threads are simultaneously tied up and left leading to the next adventure. This is a lovely, satisfying British police procedural with many relationship subplots that lend texture.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Adding New Lanes to my Road

I've talked here about taking new paths and taking turns along the road. This week, it's more like I'm adding a couple of lanes.

LANE ONE: I'm a classically trained violinist and have been playing since I was ten. That's quite a few years by now. I've played in many community orchestras and string quartets, have done several string quartet arrangements and one full orchestration. So, if by osmosis if nothing else, I've absorbed a bit of music knowledge.

When I first started writing mysteries, I used a classical musician as my sleuth, adhering to the adage "Write what you know." My experience was, well, dismal after awhile. I queried agent after agent. Several of them liked parts of it, some of them liked all of it. None of them thought they could sell it. They didn't think enough people would be interested in reading about classical music. I cited community orchestra and band participation numbers in my query letters to no avail. If Dick Francis can base a mystery on banking, I thought, why can't I base one on music? I wrote a sequel and queried it. Finally, in defeat, I turned to something else.

Eventually, my mystery, CHOKE, got picked up by a small press. That was last year and things have been happening rapidly in the publishing world lately. Small presses are proliferating and lots of good writers are getting their stuff published without having to query for ten years like I did.

One day, out of the blue, a publisher asked to see my musician series. I call is my Cressa Carraway series. She's looked at my website and was interested. She didn't pick it up, but I reviewed if after letting it lie dormant while I worked on other things. Not bad at all, I decided, and started sending it out again.

Here's the good part--I'm signing a contract with Barking Rain Press to publish the first book in that series! Isn't their logo cute? The schedule is ambitious, so I hope to go through edits and publication and have more news on this before you know it. You'll see a bit about the book on my webpage, at the bottom. It's called SONG OF DEATH there, but the title is changing.

LANE TWO: A short story anthology came out yesterday with one of my stories inside its covers! The antho is called HE HAD IT COMING and my story is MY HUSBAND. Some of my friends have decided they need to warn my husband about me (actually, a lot of them say that), but there's no need. Ramona DeFelice Long, in a recent exchange, said she thinks women can write bad things about people they're secure with. The book is just about fun ways to…kill guys. Try the free sample, you'll see.

Road sign image used  under GNU Free Documentation License

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lazy, hazy, crazy

In honor of those above mentioned days, I'll give in to sloth and post some links to other things I've been doing lately.

I guested a LOT in July, I've just realized. My fellow writers are so gracious and so good at sharing their space. That is appreciated more than I can tell them.

Feel free to drop in at any of these and leave a comment, or just glance over the other postings at these places.

7/7, a post on mystery sub-genres, for Lynn Mann at

7/10, Kristi Belcamino interviewed me at

7/17, I related my fond childhood memories of the Fourth of July at a setting I've used for a novel I hope to get published one day. This is at Joanne Troppello's Mustard Seed Blog

7/19 saw the first issue of a new venture by Bobbi Chukran, A Murder is Announced. I was privileged to be in this one at

On the 25th I was a guest on two blogs. At Lois Winston's healthy living place, I talked about the therapeutic value of pets.

The same day, Sheila Boneham hosted my musings on short story writing versus novel writing.

Yesterday, an excerpt from SMOKE was featured by Chris Redding.

I only have 4 guest posts scheduled for August, so I hope to gets lots and lots of writing done!