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2009 Bouchercon

Indianapolis was a delightful town, though I didn’t see much of it. The cool weather, however, was welcome after the 90 degrees Houston experienced during that time.
I arrived by plane from Houston on Wednesday in time for the SinC Workshop with Donald Maass. What a wealth of information. I scribbled, I scratched, I disappeared into my story and emerged with new ideas, hardly able to wait to get back to my laptop and let my fingers flow my brain. I was ignited, mind filled eratically. Could I possibly remember everything before I flew back home and captured it all in my computer? Well, I’m back now, with so much to do and to catch up with job, family, and other writing commitments. Yes, it is still in my head somewhere, simmering, growing, almost ready for birth.
Thursday, the panels began. So many to choose from, each filled with information I had to have. I had to decide which best fit my writing, my story, my mystery and my characters. This could be hard because so many panels fit perfectly. Men, Women & Murder Through the Ages. Okay, I don’t write historicals, but I wanted to meet Tony Hays, a new member in the Southwest Chapter of MWA. Well worth the hour, and I got his book.
Heroes for our Times sounded like another relevant one. After all, isn’t Niki Alexander a hero to the teenagers she counsels? Murder, Therapy and Social Work. Now that fit Niki. She was a social worker, therapist, counselor. This led to Suddenly I’m Thirsty with Con Lehane, Chris Knopf, J.A. Konrath, Jason Pinter and Tom Schreck. All their characters drank. Niki’s an ex-drinker, so I figured she would fit right in. I couldn’t help but notice that Joe Konrath and Tom Schreck both had bottles of beer in front of them and drank without shame during the panel. They fit right in.
Then there was Adaptation. Novels to Screen and back. I’m also a screenwriter. Did I ever mention that? These guys know what they’re talking about. Sean Chercover has a movie in the works. They made a movie from one of Joe Finder’s books, too. Paul Guyot is a screenwriter working with Sean’s book.
Them came the presentation of the Barry, Macavity, Derringer and Crime Spree Awards. The night ended at the Gameworks in Circle Center Mall. I spend my time there performing in the Talent Show. Pictures will follow.
Friday came early, but I was ready for the panels, especially since some of my favorite authors were on first. More Noir Than You Are featured Christa Faust, Victor Gischler, Charlie Newton and Jeri Westerson. These folks portray a world that’s gritty and real as the cops and the streets make it. What is more natural to follow them than The Dark Side of the Fair Sex with Megan Abbott, Chelsea Cain, Sophie Littlefield and Derek Nikitas. Woman can write noir, too.
A treat was in store following lunch. Michael Connelly interviewed by Michael Koryta.
The afternoon continued with P.J. Parrish, Charlaine Harris and Julie Kramer, among others, talking about How I Met My Protagonist, and finished with a bang with Michelle Gagnon, Linwood Barclay, Andrew Gross, Erica Spindler and Michael Robotham for The Fabled One-Sitting Read. But who can read that fast? These are authors whose characters I like to spend time with and really lose myself in their stories.
The evening ended, for me, with the Rex Stout/Nero Wolfe Banquet. Five courses, each with their own wine, prepared by the chefs Nero Wolfe himself would laud, served by the finest servers, one to each table. But we all had to participate. Some little rhyme or song each table had to come up with and perform for the room. Luckily, our table was blessed by several of the Wolfe pack and P.J. Parrish, who came up with a fitting song and which we performed brillantly.
Saturday we were up early again to meet David Morrell, Laura Benedict, Lee Child and Gayle Lynds for Thrillers! Following them notable authors were none other than Michael Connelly, Sue Grafton, Peter Lovesey, John Lutz and Sara Paretsky celebrating Edgar Allen Poe.
The afternoon continued with Issues, Entertainment or Both? The answers came from Carl Brookins, Cara Black, Mark Coggins, Libby Fischer Hellmann and Mark T. Sullivan. I like to write about issues, sometimes want to chew them up to the point of sounding preachy. But then I stop myself. Have to find the right tone. Speaking of tone, what about Dark Books For Dark Times with Reed Farrel Coleman, Larry Beinhart, J.T. Ellison, Michael Lister and Duane Swiercynski. What more could you ask for?
Answer? Anthony Awards Ceremony. You all know by now who won, right? Later, I was swept up by Sophie Littlefield and her friends for dinner at the Wine Tasting and party at a blues club, where I caught a dance with Joe Konrath. (He probably wouldn’t remember, but I do.)
The Bazaar finished us up on Sunday. Rows and rows of tables filled with free books, and fans lined up through the lobby end to end. A fitting climax to a wonderful four days.

Procrastination – or as I call it, Organizing

Okay, I’ve started the third book in the Niki Alexander series. I have so many ideas for it and really want to storyboard the plot so I have a visual.

Speaking of visuals, you should have seen my writing office at home. Stacks of paper everywhere. Books tumbling out of the book shelves two-deep and crammed to the top of the shelves. Totally unworkable. Boxes of stuff in the way of getting to my trusty laptop. When I finally opened my computer, there were hundreds of emails to go through.

You see, I set priorities. I couldn’t organize or clean house while writing the first two books and two short stories. They were my priorities. On one hand there was cleaning the house. On the other, writing the books. What would you choose? Working a day job left only so many hours in a day or a week to finish the writing projects.

Now straightening up my office became my priority because I couldn’t find anything – like bills, contracts, research, mail, CDs. And I can only concentrate on one project at a time. Reminds me of when I took up sewing years ago when the children were small. I couldn’t write while I was sewing an outfit until I finished that particular project. I couldn’t sew until I finished a writing project.

So after four weekends of cleaining, I had eight hefty bags and eight paper bags of files that I discarded because they were years old and never looked at anymore. I took out all my books from the shelves and re-arranged them. I alphabetized all the hardcovers, but not the paperbacks. Gee, I can now see what I have. And what I have is no more room for books on my four bookshelves. I couldn’t buy another book. (Of course, I just bought James Rollins’ newest and Megan Abbott’s, because I went to their signings. How could I not???) Signings and Murder By The Book are my weaknesses.

After I cleaned and vacuumed my newly organized office, I checked out my bedroom, closet, bathroom and kitchen. Had to do those, too. Actually that only took one weekend, believe it or not.

So now I’m ready to write. Well . . . there is the pictures in my office to hang, getting the clothes together to give to Goodwill, getting my bank statement to match my checkbook, and the mid-year financial statement to prepare and send to Mystery Writers of America.

Then I can start writing. Or, at least outlining or storyboarding. (Is that as bad as waterboarding?)

A Look Back With The Future In Sight

Where did this year go? It flew past so quickly I missed contacting dear friends, my home office grew piles of paper, my books-to-read jumped into book shelves unread. Someday I’ll get around to cleaning and organizing. My book’s been published and I’ve signed and been interviewed, plus I’ve written the second Niki Alexander mystery, Lost Witness.
This while working a full time job and taking care of newsletter and treasurer duties at Mystery Writers of America. I’ve made time to usher for lots of wonderful plays at the Alley Theater.

We had a hurricane named Ike. Fortunately, I was one of the few who didn’t have any damage. Just loss of food and a few inconveniences while the lights were off for a few days. Nothing like what many of my fellow Texans went through.

Plans for the new year? Write another book and few short stories. Do more volunteering. Stay close to my children and grandchildren. Travel to book conferences and conventions. Visit friends, read books, continue to be a part of the writing community and give back what I can.

I am grateful for my job and the wonderful partners who steer our ship. They work hard and inspire their staff to work with them because of their respect for their employees. They know where they are headed and how to travel the road to get there. Too bad so many bosses and managers out there haven’t learned these principles. Maybe our economy would look better if more leaders had integrity.

I am grateful for my family. We’re a close knit bunch who pull together. They are my inspiration.

I always feel hopeful at this time of the year. Especially this year when we will have a leader in the White House that will make this country proud. We haven’t had that in a long time. Change in good. Integrity is awesome.

The Lessons I Learned from My Children

Someone might ask why I chose troubled and lost teenagers as characters for my books. LESS DEAD is the first of the Niki Alexander series. She deals with runaways and throwaway teenagers. They are called the “less dead” because no one cares when they disappear or are the unidentified lost.

I was a teenager once. My children were teenagers. My grandchildren are teenagers. Weren’t you? Do I understand them? Not completely. I’m trying.

My children are grown now, but I was a single mother. Yes, I was married a few times and they tried to be fathers in their way, but not satisfactorily. My kids came first. As a family we told ourselves it was us against the world. But it wasn’t easy for them, I have to admit. My son hit the streets when he was 14. He found Covenant House when he stayed until he called me to pick him up and bring him home.

My daughters were independent at an early age. My oldest daughter took up karate and entered tournaments. While she attended high school, she also worked nights at a Dairy Queen. A man accosted her one night as she walked home. He had a knife. Did he do anything to her? Never had a chance. The knife really pissed her off. She threw a karate kick at him, knocked the knife out of his hand, and he bolted.

My youngest ran away for a brief time to her girlfriend’s house. The girl’s mother was an alcoholic and a drug addict, but she took the time to talk to the girls, and listen to them. I had to learn that lesson from her before my daughter would come home. Later my daughter brought home friends who had run away. She knew they would be safe with me. Now as an adult with a teenage son and a six-year-old daughter, she still takes care of her friends when they need help, and her children are learning from her.

The “less dead” have transient lives and are basically ignored by society. They want more than life gave them but were thrown out before they had the “legs” to stand on and the ability to walk alone. They survive any way they can. They sleep in the park or in all night fast food restaurants or in door steps. Some go to shelters, but others cringe from authority and rules because they have “adjusted” to a certain way of survival. But they are prey to the worst type of predators and some are never found again.

I created Niki Alexander to be their champion, to fight for them when they could not win by themselves. She used to be a cop until one terrible day she came up against a PCP-addicted teenager who would have killed her if she had not acted. She quit the force to become a counselor at a teen shelter. It became more than a job to her. It was her life and purpose to save the children

I have met many of the teens she deals with everyday. I have listened to them at the street church which gathers every Wednesday night and provides food, drink and counseling. I have met them through my children when they were teens. I try to reach and listen to my teenage grandchildren as they struggle through these tumultuous years. The future generation should never been thrown out and abandoned.

We have to be responsible for our youth because they will soon be adults. Who do you want to lead our country?

Hardboiled Heroes & Cozy Cats Conference

Hardboiled Heroes and Cozy Cats is the annual conference for Mystery Writers of America, Southwest Chapter. What a terrific success. So many talented people giving up their time and expertise to impart wisdom and speak from the heart.

Jeffrey Marks, moderator of Murder Must Advertise, gave helpful advise delivered in a warm, friendly tone. Easy to approach with any questions, he was generous in his replies. I wanted to rush to Murder By The Book, who were set up to sell the books of the presenters and everyone else who attended and had a book. David Thompson and McKenna are a great couple. You can tell they love books and authors and do everything possible to encourage sales and spotlight the authors.

I learned the different ways of marketing from Jeffrey Marks, Body and Mind from Kara Lennox, writing query letters and marketing your book and from my wonderful publicist, PJ Nunn, getting past the dreaded middle from Sandy Steen, poisons from The Poison Lady, Lucy Hansson Zahray, and how to write action scenes from Rob Preece and his assistant. I missed a few others – Jeff Crilley, Dee Sturart, Patricia Springer, Jan Blankenship, Jim Gaskin and Dep-Wah Davis, but you can’t be in two places at once.

I really enjoyed my friend Sylvia Dickey Smith and learning how to write settings. The rest of the time we gathered in the bar and discussed the writing life.

Lunch and dinner were punctuated with motivation from Jeff Marks, Jan Burke (one of my favorite people and a great mystery author), and our lovely and talented Chapter President, Deborah LeBlanc who flew in just in time for the Saturday banquet.

What about Kristen Weber, editor from Penguin NAL Obsidian, and Jim McCarthy, agent with Dystel and Goodrich? Both so young, so eager and passionate about their work. Kristen wants paranormal and cosies with a hook. Jim is open for anything. They will get submissions from practically everyone at the conference. That’s the reason most go to conferences like this. But I went to mingle, talk, get inspiration with fellow writers who are struggling the same as I. It was worth every moment.

The Final Twist at Murder By The Book

What a great time we had May 24 at Murder By The Book. Friends, writers and readers filled the bookstore meet the writers of The Final Twist, Houston chapter of Sisters In Crime. We celebrated Texas Mystery Month with delicious snacks – veggies, cheese, crackers, cookies and awesome red velvet cake balls. Wine was served at the end.

They came to hear us view our opinions and answer their questions as a panel. The subject was “What Came First …” We covered characters, plot, location, past experiences, and writing styles. Mark and Charlotte Phillips write, fight and live together as a husband and wife team, and explained how they were able to work together with very different styles. Loretta Wheeler acts out scenes – sometimes violent – with her Aussie husband, sometimes shocking their neighbors who can view their antics through open windows. Gayle Wigglesworth writes off travel expenses when she sets her mysteries in exotic locales. Pauline Baird Jones prefers to write her way, and explains why she doesn’t go the way of the New York publishing houses. I explained how the locale of my book, LESS DEAD, affected the story and told how my go-go dancing years gave me story ideas. Cash Anthony writes screenplays and knows just the right questions to ask to bring out interesting facts about the authors.

I look foward to seeing The Final Twist anthology “A Death In Texas” come out in September with a short story by yours truly entitled, “Searching for Rachel” about teen runaways and the sex trade. I’m betting the launch party at Murder By The Book will be a big success.

Remembering My Three Mothers on Mother’s Day

I just received a call from my oldest daughter wishing me Happy Mother’s Day. She’s 43. The youngest is 33 and I know she will call soon. They both tell me that I am their hero. I don’t know why. Motherhood! What did I know about being a mother? I flew by the seat of my pants the whole time they were young.

I was a single mom when I wasn’t supporting a husband along with my kids and myself. I made up the rules as we went along.

My memories of my mother were scarce. My first recollection was at the Quonset hut where we lived when I was about 2 or 3 and my father was still in the Army. I remember one instance telling her I needed a clothes hanger with which to spank my doll. She asked me how I would like it if she spanked me. I wouldn’t, I said. “Your baby doll wouldn’t like it either,” she said. I don’t remember any time she ever spanked me.

My next recollection was visiting her in the back bedroom of my grandmother’s house in Los Angeles where we were living at the time. I was only allowed short visits because she was very weak and ill with cancer. The morning my grandfather took me to church without my grandmother, I knew I would never see my mother again. She was gone by the time we got home. I was five years old.

For the next three years I was raised by my grandparents while my father went to San Francisco because he couldn’t to face the loss of his beloved wife. I used to have a reoccurring nightmare about crossing our street, crawling because I was too weak to walk, and there was a car bearing on me and I felt so heavy I could barely move, terrified that the car would run me down. I always awoke before that happened.

My grandmother was everything a mother could be. She was loving and always there for me. She listened and gave practical advice. She helped me with school work and taught me penmanship. Any good mothering skills I learned came from her. She baked wonderful breads and pies, sewed my clothes and tried to teach me to do both. Of course I wasn’t interested in cooking or sewing, but I learned the basics. My grandfather was a gentle man, but very quiet. He hardly ever spoke to me, but I knew he loved me.

I did read, though. Constantly. I’d read during classes, in the afternoons after school, in the evenings in front of the fireplace (grandpa said I would ruin my eyes), at night under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to be asleep. It became my greatest escape. With my best and only girlfriend, Vida, who lived across the street with her grandmother and had beautiful corkscrew curls and looked like a doll, we would act out some of the stories. Vida’s mother died also. When her father remarried, she refused to live with them. Hated her stepmother. Her grandmother was a widow and Vida was her whole world.

When I turned eight, my father returned with a new wife and a new mother for me. She tried hard to be a good mother. She had lost her mother when she was same age as I was when I lost mine. She understood what it was like to have a substitute. The thing was, I knew my father only married her so I could have a mother. They fought often, but stayed together until I was grown and left home.

I did not plan to have children. I was going to be a writer. I planned to move to Paris and study at the Sorbonne and ride around Europe in a motorcyle with a side car which would carry my typewriter and papers. Instead I fell in love – more than once – and had three wonderful children by three unlikely husbands. Even during the bad times when it was me and the kids against the world, they learned how important it was to stick together and protect each other. Now they call me hero, but I’m not. I love them for who they are and they know they could come to me with anything and I will understand and help in any way I can. I think that’s what being a mother is for.

Drawing From Life

I’ve been told writers should have interesting life experiences from which to draw their creative juices. My six husbands made great characters – a motorcycle racer, a hard-hat diver, an actor/bartender, a Hawaiian chef…unfortunately none were very good husband material!

I lived in a variety of places – New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, six cities in Florida, and six months in Baja California before returning to California and finally moving to Texas in 1981.

To subsidize my writing I found work as a waitress, bookkeeper, go-go dancer, car salesperson, retail salesperson, a psychiatric assistant, and legal and corporate secretary.

All I wanted to do is write mysteries and screenplays from the age of reason and dreams. I optioned three screenplays to a production company and a fourth was a finalist in the Empire Screenwriting Contest. I served two busy years as chapter president of Mystery Writers of America, Southwest Chapter, and currently serves as their treasurer and newsletter editor. I’m also a member of The Final Twist, the Houston chapter of Sisters in Crime.