Friday, November 16, 2012

Gigi's Book News

It's been a while since the Pens have posted on a daily basis, but we still keep the site up for the archives as well as to post news of interest about what we've been up to. Most of us now have personal blogs, email newsletters, and are on Twitter, so you can keep most up to date there. Since I haven't done an update on the Pens site since we wrapped up daily posts, I've got a lot going on so I thought it was about time I did one here!

Artifact: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery was released August 28, 2012. I held the book launch party at A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland, CA. (Photos here.) 

I found out this week that Artifact is being named a Best of 2012 book by Suspense Magazine! The full list of books will be in their December issue, coming out the first week of December.

In a couple of weeks, I'll be heading to southern California for the book launch party of the next Jaya Jones mystery. Fool's Gold: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Novella is a prequel to Artifact  being published in Other People's Baggage, a collection of three interconnected mystery novellas (Henery Press, December 3, 2012). This was a really fun project to write a mystery connected to two others through a luggage mix-up that leads to mystery and mayhem. 

In Fool's Gold, when a world-famous chess set is stolen from a locked room during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, historian Jaya Jones and her magician best friend must outwit actresses and alchemists to solve the baffling crime. (More details here.)

If you're in the Los Angeles or Orange County areas, I hope you'll join me and my co-authors Diane Vallere and Kendel Lynn at one of the launch parties:

Thursday, November 29, 2012 
6-8 pm at Traverler's Bookcase in Los Angeles

Saturday, December 1,  2012
3-5 pm at Mystery Ink Bookstore in Huntington Beach

Friday, August 24, 2012

Lisa's new book Archangel Rafe (A Novel of The Seven) is out now!

Just doing a quick check in!! Hello to all the Pens fans out there. We've all be ridiculously busy, as evidenced by our lack of posts here. We will try to be better about posting pics and appearances. Note I said, try. :)

Just thought I'd let you know that I have a new book out. Working on this book was an amazing journey.

The beginning: I wrote the original story a few years ago and my agent submitted it to the publisher I had specifically targeted. Ultimately they turned it down but said they would look at a revised version, if I made the heroine younger with no children and less responsibility.

The middle: I re-wrote the book and changed the heroine. I made the plot stronger and more epic. Unfortunately, they turned it down again. But now I had a heroine that even I wasn't crazy about.

The end: I worked with Theresa Stevens, editor extraordinare, who consistently pushes me to be a better writer. I am blessed to have her input and direction. And this book is the result.

So a little about the story of Archangel Rafe....

Here are the details:

Angelina. What I love about Angelina is that she's got some life experience. She's about to be divorced. Has two teenagers. A sister who is a little on the needy side. An ailing grandmother who raised her. Her life is plenty full. And all she really wants is a little peace and respite from all of her responsibilities.

She starts having these dreams. Hot dreams. About an angel. And in her dreams is the only place she can escape and be free of responsibilities.

Except her dream angel turns out to be real. And when he starts talking rare healing powers and a responsibility to help people she shuts him down. She doesn't have time to take care of anyone else. She doesn't even have time to take care of herself.

Rafe is the Archangel of Healing. He's pretty much had it with the human realm. He's frustrated and disillusioned with people. He's actually one final act away from leaving behind the human realm and ascending to the Second Sphere of the Angelic Realm. He just has to get Angelina to accept her power and begin healing.

Take two determined protagonists whose goals are at total odds, throw in a very steamy and completely forbidden attraction and the sparks fly.

Archangel Rafe is available at Amazon, BN and AllRomance eBooks.

If you like it, please leave a review on one of those sites or Goodreads. Without the might of a publishing house behind self-published books, authors have to rely on word of mouth to get a distribution channel going. We are eternally grateful when people review our work!!

Also, huge thanks to Kim Killion (Hot Damn Designs ) who did an amazing job on the cover!!

Friday, May 25, 2012

New Ebook Release!

The Outlaw’s Secret Bride
L.G.C. Smith

A Teacher and An Outlaw in an Untamed Land
Emily Parker came to Dakota Territory to escape an unwanted suitor so the last thing she wants is to get married . . . and certainly not to the rough-mannered Drew Rutledge, whose illegal dealings with renegade Indians make him a less than ideal choice of husband. But when Emily's brother and Rutledge's adopted Lakota family team up in a matchmaking effort, the unexpected fire Drew ignites in her threatens to rage out of control, threatening her respectability. For all his strength and resolve to protect her, Drew can’t resist his feelings for Emily. As conflicts between the Black Hills settlers and the Lakota flare, Emily and Drew are caught in the crossfire. A secret marriage could save them both—or carry them into ruin.
This week marks the ebook release of my first backlist title, a historical romance originally published by Avon Books in 1990. Now titled The Outlaw’s Secret Bride, it’s available as an ebook from Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and Smashwords. This is an unabashedly big romance from the heyday of the historical western. I tidied up some of the extra adverbs and adjectives, but as I read it through again I was pleased with how well it holds up—aside from that little problem with pheasants in Dakota Territory in 1880—WRONG, they weren’t introduced until 1882, and I do believe every single person in South Dakota knows that and made sure I did, too. I got it, folks. No pheasants this time. Still lots of meadowlarks and eagles, but no pheasants.

Writing The Outlaw’s Secret Bride was the most joyful thing I’ve ever done. I’d wanted to write since I was in elementary school. I’d tried lots of things. Poetry. Short stories. Literary fiction. Then one September night shortly after I started my doctoral program at Cal, I couldn’t sleep, and I found a historical romance on my mother’s coffee table. I devoured it. I’d read romance in college, then stopped, mostly because I lived in Switzerland and was so poor I couldn’t buy many books. I read what my friends passed around. There weren’t a lot of romances in the mix.

As soon as I finished reading that big historical, I knew what I was going to write. I lugged three giant backpacks into the stacks at Cal and gathered enough books and journals to damn Bear Butte Creek in a rainy June. I spent most of that semester researching and plotting. I don’t know how I got any course work done, but I did. I also read every bestselling romance I could get my hands on and analyzed the stories and the language. By winter break I was writing. By the end of March, I had a 150K draft. There were days I spent ten hours in a folding chair at a kid-sized desk in a dumpy family-student housing apartment, and never took my head out of my story or my eyes off the tiny screen of my Mac SE. I didn’t eat. I lost track of time. For me, that was unprecedented.

I loved this book. I loved writing it. Some might quibble with my stylistic choices, but I made them carefully. Every freaking word. I didn’t take no for an answer until I got an agent (not a great one, as it turned out), and then an editor (who was pretty great) and a publisher, and I have been writing romance ever since.

Here’s a sample:
Bear Butte, Dakota Territory, 1861
The small flags of colored cloth snapped against their poles like wild ghosts in the night as the west wind lifted them. The wind brought the scent of new grass, damp earth, and promised rain, yet there were no clouds. A waning crescent moon dipped toward the horizon, and the boy sitting on a bed of sage, enclosed by the four poles, shivered as the breeze rippled over his bare, sunburned body. Goosebumps rose on his arms and stomach, but he didn't notice them. His eyes were fixed on a small, dark speck far away in the western sky, beyond the pale buffalo skull atop the cottonwood pole before him, beyond the dark humps of Mato Paha, or Bear Butte. Without blinking, the boy lifted the pipe that rested in front of him and raised it to the four winds, to the earth and the sky, and finally to the dark shape approaching him.
He stood motionless. Tiny sounds began to fill his ears, growing until they were almost deafening in the predawn stillness. He heard the grass stems bending and shifting in the wind, and the insects marching upon the moist spring earth. He heard the horses at the camp whinnying and snorting. And though the camp was far from him and beyond his sight, he heard the even breathing of the sleeping people, the small cries of babies, the snores of old men, and the creak of the lodge poles in the gusting wind as if he were present in each lodge.
The sounds spilled into the night. Then there were new voices, and harsh, metallic noises coming from the east. Noises he remembered from his childhood encroached on the prairie night: crowds milling, engines churning with cranking gears and hissing steam, wheels screaming against steel tracks, and heavy wagons thundering over uneven roads. The roar built in his ears until he could no longer hear the earth and the people, but only the chaotic din of machines and white men's shouting voices.
Suddenly, the rush of beating wings drowned out all other sound, and the boy stared in wonder as the dark shape above him descended, wide wings blocking out the stars. Instinctively, he held his pipe aloft, and a sob escaped his lips. Tears streamed down his face, and he thought he would faint from the excitement and fear that coursed through him. Then the great bird dropped onto the buffalo skull and looked curiously at the boy. It was an eagle, strong and powerful, his dark feathers touched with lighter spots that glinted in the faint moonlight.
The boy ceased trembling and forced himself to meet the eagle's gaze. Should he ask a question? Overwhelmed, he waited, saying nothing.
The eagle continued to regard him. Finally, the boy felt words forming in his mind and heard his own voice in the silence.
"Welcome, Tunkaśila, Grandfather. I am honored that you have come. What can I, a man born to the white eyes, learn from you, Wambli Gleśka, the Spotted Eagle?"
As soon as he had spoken, he wished he hadn't. He sounded so young, so weak. But the eagle seemed pleased and answered the boy.
"Wakantanka, the Great Mystery, knows you, Iśte Śkan Niyapi, you who have eyes that are alive with the sky, and I have come as a messenger. I will show you things you will need to know to serve the Lakota. Come with me."
The words died away, and the boy felt himself drawn up into the air with the eagle, sweeping ever higher into the night sky, until he thought they would brush the very stars. High and far they flew, into the east. The boy saw the great rivers below them shimmering like ribbons. As the sun lifted over the distant horizon, throwing a pale yellow light into the sky, they reached a land of rolling hills and low mountains covered with dense forests. Among the trees were farms and fields, and along the rivers were towns, white people's towns, and many, many white people. The boy had seen these places years ago, when he had traveled through them with his father, before they had met the Oglala. Yet something was different about the hills and towns. Looking closely, the boy saw an ugly pall of smoke overtaking the land and flashes of fiery light glinting red through the trees. The eagle drifted downward on the wind currents, and soon the boy heard terrible sounds. People were crying everywhere, and explosions and gunfire erupted all over the land. Then the noises faded, and he and the eagle kept flying toward the east, finally reaching a city that the boy recognized as the place where the White Grandfather lived, the laws were made, and the white councils met. He had visited this city with his uncle once when he was very young, perhaps five or six. It seemed very strange and frightening now. He wondered why the eagle had brought him here.
In answer to the boy's thoughts, the great bird swept low over the city, so close that they could hear people talking. There was talk about the war, and about the need for land, more land in the west. People talked of cattle and railroads and gold. And they spoke of the Indians.
The boy listened hard to hear what was said about the Indians, and his heart grew cold at the words he heard. Savages. Animals. Murdering heathens. Let the army take care of them after the war is over. They're sitting on land we need. Push them off. Eliminate them. Make room for good Christian people. The boy was ashamed that he was of the same race as these callous men, and he was shocked by their ignorance. Indignation and fear burned his spirit. Their own country in war-torn ruins, they calmly spoke of taking the Indians' country and carrying their ugliness onto the plains, bespoiling them forever. There were men who defended the Indians, but they were few, and even they did not seem to understand the horror of what the others said.
Then he heard the eagle's voice in his ear. "You will be able to help the Lakota. You know this world, and they do not."
The eagle bore him high above the city again, and they turned back toward the west. The boy thought about what the eagle had said. He didn't feel as if he knew this world at all. He knew the prairies and hills of Dakota and the Powder River country. He knew horses and hunting and how to survive on the high plains. He had been a child in the white man's world, but he didn't know it any longer. He was becoming a man in the world of the Lakota, and he was happy there. He didn't wish to return to his old life. Would he have to? Was that what Wakantanka wanted him to do?
The dawn caught them again, and the eagle carried the boy back and forth above the earth between the Missouri River and the Bighorn Mountains. He showed the boy the bands of people traveling with their horses and their travois from camp to camp, from south of the Platte River to the Canadian border. The land was wide and lovely, full of game and wild fruits and herbs. Buffalo blanketed the prairies, moving like a dark cloud through the broad valleys and across the hills, and the people were happy.
But each time the boy and the eagle crossed the land, they didn't go as far as they had the time before. Soon they didn't go as far south as the Platte. They didn't go as far west, or north or east, either, and the people didn't travel as much from place to place. There were large camps along the Missouri that never moved, and the people were not so happy. The buffalo and the other animals began to disappear, and the people grew weary. When the boy and the eagle flew only between the Black Hills and the Missouri, the people were starving. Then the boy caught his breath.
There were white people in the Black Hills. The Lakota were being chased away, sent to the river to die of white men's diseases and grief. Everywhere now there was the sound of mourning. Hunters returned with empty hands, and children and old people cried because their stomachs were empty and their hearts remembered better days. The land itself sighed with sorrow for the people and all the relatives, the buffalo, the elk, the birds, and all who were disappearing.
The eagle flew back toward the Hills, where the boy saw a single buffalo cow below on the prairie, trotting toward the Hills. The eagle followed it.
The buffalo picked its way through the trees, sometimes lost to sight in the narrow gulches it followed. After a long time, it disappeared into a thick grove of pines and spruce beside a meadow and did not reappear. The eagle soared above, and the boy looked down on a small waterfall and a pool. A tall pine rose like a spire next to the falls. The eagle glided down to perch in its uppermost branches, and they waited, looking for the buffalo. It was so beautiful and peaceful in the meadow that the boy forgot the suffering he had seen.
There was a sudden movement below. The boy and the eagle looked down immediately, but instead of the buffalo, a woman walked from beneath the trees. At least the boy thought it was a woman. He couldn't see her clearly; a cloud of mist from the falls obscured her from view. The eagle lifted his wings, and they dropped to the earth before the woman, yet still the boy couldn't see her. Then the mist cleared, but only for an instant. All the boy saw were her eyes, the most beautiful, mysterious eyes he had ever seen, as brown as the moist earth below his feet, and as green as the dark pine boughs above him; eyes that beckoned him with expectation and the warm promise of invitation. His heart leapt into his throat as he instinctively reached toward her, his hand grasping for hers through the tattered wisps of clouds and fog. Then the mist wrapped around her once again, as quickly as it had cleared, and he felt the powerful thrust of the eagle's wings as they rose into the air together. He strained his eyes, hoping for another glimpse of her, but he was too far away. She was gone.
Soon he saw the familiar shape of Bear Butte below, and he was falling, falling back to the ground, back onto the bed of sage within the square marked out by the four poles and colored flags. He hit the earth facedown and knew no more.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day from the Pens Fatales!

The Pens had a mini-retreat this weekend. We holed up in a hotel room and worked! (For all you non-writers out there, this is the ultimate in writer indulgence :) )

View from the balcony!

 Writer Super Food!!

Another view from the balcony--it was a GORGEOUS day in Oakland! 

Adrienne and Martha working hard

Then we visited Juliet's house for a lovely afternoon of cheese and chocolate and pizza.

And to celebrate some good news.

Rachael was honored with a Holt Medallion Award of Merit for How To Knit A Heart Back Home!
LGC sold her time travel romantic thriller, Warlord, to Belle Books...publication date TBA (sometime in 2013--don't worry we'll let you know when it's coming. This book is fabulous!!)

Rachael (post-surgery lounging on sofa) and LGC

Sophie had a new sale (not sure if I'm allowed to announce deets on this one so we'll just say congrats!)
Martha has been working like a fiend on several projects.

 Sophie and Martha bundled up and hogging the chocolate cookies and brownies

Juliet is going to France for the month of August. Can we all just admit that we're jealous as hell and leave it at that? :) Gigi's working on the September release of her fabulous mystery, Artifact, which is garnering rave reviews from advance readers!!

Juliet and Gigi talking writing and process

Lisa is editing her paranormal romance, Archangels: Rafe, due out in early June. Adrienne is working on several projects. And Nicole is wrapping up the semester at Seton Hill so she can spend the summer writing about Jane True. We are super excited that she's coming to visit!!

Happy Mother's Day!!

That's a quick update on the Pens. Hope you all have a lovely Mother's Day!!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Unexpected Friends

Unexpected Friendships (A Pens History)
by Lisa Hughey

When we started this grog we didn't all know each other. This is how it all happened.

Our first photo shoot and our first meeting! We had so much fun :)

Each of us had connections.

LGC and I served on the board of the San Francisco Area Romance Writers of America and became writer friends, critique partners and then friend friends. She's talked me down off a few ledges and gave me encouragement when I thought maybe I should just go get a 'real job'.

Sophie and I had parallel lives. Grew up in the midwest, attended Indiana University (at the same time) and dated guys in the same fraternity. I married my Phi Delt. She did not. We both lived in Evanston, Illinois and then we both moved out to the East Bay of San Francisco. We have boys the same age and our girls were born 2 yrs and 1 day apart. But we didn't meet until she attended an RWA meeting after she first arrived in California. LGC and I asked her to join our critique group.

Martha and Adrienne bonded over an RWA meeting, became critique partners. And then Sophie, myself, Martha and Adrienne served on the board (again for me, ten years later) of our local RWA chapter. And I got to know them, although I didn't know them very well until after we formed the Pens.

Sophie and Julie and Gigi met through Sisters In Crime and Mystery Writers of America. And then, of course, Sophie slowly cross-pollinated both groups.

Sophie and I met Rachael at one of the RWA meetings. At that point I don't think we were serving on the board (I honestly can't remember). We sat at the same table. She had just gotten an agent and her book was under submission. We were both charmed by her as she told us about her plot while she knit a sweater.  

Nicole and Julie and Sophie met at a conference through mutual writer friends and she was such fun and so freaking smart that they told her she had to join the Pens.  

The underlying goal of our grog was business oriented. To reach readers of all genres, to touch lives, and hopefully sell some books in the process.   

But something funny happened along the way. We became unexpected friends. Not the polite acquaintance friends that you like but with whom you'd never share anything deep or meaningful or profoundly embarrasing.

We are multi-purpose friends. Industry support, moral support, kid support. Nagging, bragging, bitching. Celebrating, cheering, pimping. We've done it all.

Last summer after wig shopping with Gigi (sadly no Nicole)  

However, we have come to realize that the daily grog/blog format has run it's course. The Pens are still going to be around but we've decided to forgo the daily posts in favor of a blog that's a little less structured. We'll still be around. We'll let you know about our releases and awards and appearances. We'll post pictures of our shennanigans (the clean ones). We'll still have blog posts but on subjects and people we are impassioned about rather than a bi-weekly topic that gets a little tired by week 2 (Gigi gets the trooper award for always being last). We're all on twitter now (!) so you can catch up with us there. But in this age of instagram and sound bites, maintaining a daily blog no longer seems like the best option to stay in touch with our readers.   

So, on that note, we're signing off from daily posting. But don't worry, everyone has plans to keep writing. And we still get together regularly and we may not be right here every day but we are still around. 

Thank you to everyone who has supported us and loved us and cheered us on. Your comments and kind words have touched us all.

The Pens Fatales

ps-We must have too much fun when Nicole is around because I couldn't find a pic in our photo files :) 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Writer Pals

by Gigi Pandian

Far from being a solitary pursuit, writing wasn't something I was able to do well until I surrounded myself with other writers. Shortly after I moved to the Bay Area, everything in my life began to fall into place: wonderful friends, a great guy, an amazing job. But something was missing. Writing a book was still one of those things people say they really want to accomplish but don't actually find a way to do. 

A couple of years after setting into my life in Berkeley, a woman who had recently completed her MFA in creative writing moved to my neighborhood. Emberly Nesbitt was the friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, and we discovered we were both working on novels. Em and I wrote together during my first National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and the momentum stuck. We met frequently at local cafes to motivate each other.

NaNoWriMo with Emberly Nesbitt

Everything snowballed from there:

It was through Em's encouragement that I sent my NaNoWriMo novel to the Malice Domestic Grants competition, which fosters the next generation of traditional mystery writers by giving grants to promising unpublished writers. When I found out I was being awarded one of their grants for Artifact, I attended Malice Domestic -- my very first mystery convention. It was there I met Juliet Blackwell.

Gigi Pandian and Juliet Blackwell

It turned out Juliet was the president of my local Sisters in Crime Northern California chapter. Since I hadn't previously known any local mystery writers, I would never have attended a meeting without her recommendation. Juliet and I became friends, and I also found myself serving on the board doing the chapter newsletter. 

Sisters in Crime NorCal Board in 2010

I learned about another group at that Malice Domestic convention: the Guppies Chapter of Sisters in Crime, a chapter set up for unpublished authors to have an online community. It was there that I learned how much time and effort it takes to learn to write a good novel, how to query an agent once your work is ready, and also how to not get discouraged in this crazy business.

Guppies Avery Aames (Daryl Wood Gerber) and Gigi Pandian.

I continued to write with Em at cafes, attended events in the mystery writer community, and signed with an agent I love working with. It was then that Sophie Littlefield rounded up a group of writers she thought would be a good fit for a group blog.

Juliet Blackwell, Gigi Pandian, Sophie Littlefield at Bouchercon

Since we wrote across genres, we hadn't all met each other before. I only knew Sophie and Juliet. Yet somehow we instantly clicked. (Sophie, to this day I don't know how you did it!) We picked a blog name, then got together for a photo shoot at a local cemetery (hey, many of us are mystery writers, after all).

Pens Fatales photo shoot in 2009
I didn't realize at the time how much of a community the group would become. Not only for writing, but for life in general. When your friends take you wig shopping and buy you a fun wig after you've been diagnosed with breast cancer, and then throw a big dinner party, you know you've chosen wisely.

A Pens Fatales dinner party
The Pens Fatales after wig shopping for Gigi

Last month at Left Coast Crime: Gigi Pandian, Sophie Littlefield, Juliet Blackwell

If you're a writer, definitely surround yourself with other writers. It doesn't have to be in person. Some of my best friends and critique partners are people I primarily know online, a couple of whom I've never even met. Even if you're an introvert, having at least a few writer pals who understand will make all the difference.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Martha's Growing List of Friends

I used to think you could only have one friend.

The best friend. The one who knew everything about you. Who could read your every mood. The flipside being she knew all the buttons to push.

I found myself in troubling situations where another girl would say, "This is my friend Martha" and I would find myself awkwardly thinking, yikes,friend? When did we decide that? You don't know anything about me and I don't know anything about you!

I didn't realize you could have more friends until Oprah told me.
Yes, I used to believe everything Oprah told me. In this case she was mostly right.

She named five other kinds of friends every girl should have. The friend who is always encouraging, the one who is flexible, the one who tells you the truth, the one who just wants to party, and the one who defies expectation.

Through this list, I began to identify other friends, and I finally realized who I was, as a friend, to these people who had seen me as such. Most surprising is I discovered I was a different kind of friend to different people.

But why stop at five friends? I began collecting more. The friend who had the same upbringing as me and just got it. The friend who believed in the same causes I did. The friend who shares my hobbies and interests. The friend who understood my dream of becoming a writer. The friend who understood why I resented my dream of becoming a writer.

I kept thinking it would all be too much but the more I made room for friends in my life, the more room I had, and best yet, they became friends with each other and before I knew it there was this crazy collection of people, one for every occasion, and even better - from their perspective - I was just one of many, too.

Plus why stop there? Why only have one friend who tells you the truth when you can have several? Your one friend can't be available all the time, can she? You need backup! A dozen friends who share your hobby. Another half-dozen who are flexible. At least eight who understand your dream of writing (hey there, Pens, looking good).

I suppose that brings me to my unlikeliest of friends - at least, if you knew me, you'd think this to be the case.

"The husband" - as I call him. As of today, we've been together for sixteen years and married for eleven. That is not quite half my life. But it's close.

He is not my best friend. A girl I've known almost five years longer holds that distinction.
He is not the one who is encouraging. He's actually kind of a naysayer.
Not the one who is flexible. He's rather an intractable engineering sort.
Not the one who tells the truth. At least not without a lot of hemming and hawing.
Not the one who likes to party. He's a complete homebody.
Not the one who understands my upbringing. He doesn't get my family at all.
Not the one who shares my causes. Some of our biggest fights are about his lack of understanding them.
Not the one who shares my hobbies and interests. He's into the sports and the outdoors (ugh).
Not the one who understands my dreams. He far more practical than that.

I understand this means I am not these things to him, either.

He's that "unlikely" friend. The one who shouldn't work, but does. The one you'd never pick out of a crowd for me. I picked him all myself, half-fate, half-accident.

I only have one of him.
I only need one of him.

Until Oprah tells me otherwise, at least.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Friends , Glorious Friends

I frequently say that I would write without my friends, but I wouldn’t work very hard at publishing. It’s not the friendliest process. Lots of rejection. Submitting novels to agents and publishers can feel a lot like unrequited love. A writer may have to go for years on a sliver of encouragement. I like your writing, but this story is weird. Interesting premise, but it needs work. I can’t market this, but if you have something else, let me know. If pursuing publication were a relationship, friends would advise moving on. Stop wasting time on a hopeless endeavor. You can’t make someone love you. Among the greatest gifts my writer friends give, and that includes all of the Pens at the top of the list, they never give up on me. They may be annoyed with my ambivalence and chicken-heartedness when it comes to submitting and promoting my work, but they nudge me along anyway. “Want me to nag you this week?” Lisa asks. I usually say yes. “I love your books,” Rachael says as she delivers the best hugs ever. Adrienne patiently shows me how to use Twitter. Sophie, Nicole, Gigi, Julie and Martha dive forward with energy and skill, showing me over and over how to write with unflagging commitment. With all this support behind me, I take slow steps forward. It’s working. I’m delighted to announce that I’ve sold Warlord, my time-travel MI5/Spooks meets Outlander romance thriller in which a seventh-century Anglo-Saxon king is brought to the present-day to help fight terrorism in Britain to Debra Dixon at BelleBridgeBooks. I would never have finished this book without the friendship and support of my writer friends, first and foremost my critique group and the Pens. Warlord was hard to write. It is a complex and detailed thriller and an epic romance. The book demanded a science fiction-inspired contemporary British world, and a thorough understanding of early medieval Britain. There were a lot of times when I stalled, afraid I couldn’t pull it all together. But my friends were there with encouragement and nagging when needed. Even better, they gave me the example of their own writing journeys. There isn’t a tougher, more determined, harder working bunch of writers anywhere than the Pens. At the same time, they are also kind, generous-spirited, and compassionate. It’s a glorious thing to be surrounded by friends of this caliber. Selling Warlord is fabulous. Having the amazing friends I do is pure grace. Nothing would move in my writing career without you all – Pens, Goat Rock Girlz, Goalies and so many more. Thank you. You’re the best. :)

Friday, April 20, 2012


I'm very lucky, when it comes to friends. I have amazing friendships, and up until recently I took it for granted that everyone does. But I've had people point out, in the last few years, that I have an abnormal amount of really great people in my life--some I've known since I was a little girl.

The fact is that friendship is, I think, an art. And like most arts, for every ounce of natural grace that goes into it, a lot of hard work or conscious effort does, too.

So here are just  few of the things I think make for being a good friend:

1) Don't sweat the dates

The fact is that remembering arbitrary dates like birthdays or anniversaries do not real friends make. My evil step-grandmother never forgot my birthday, but also never told me she loved me once in her long life. Besides, you get lots of attention on those "special" days. Real friends are there for you on those arbitrary Tuesday nights when you think your world is over, but despite being at a convention or on vacation or at work, your friend drops everything and responds to your angst-ridden text with a phone call. That's a real friend.

2) Remember that friendship isn't a location

This has been a big one for me, as I've moved around a lot. Some people, I've discovered, think that friendship has to be something one maintains by being in the same room at least once or twice a week. People who move away, well, they've let the friendship go.

The reality is that the best friendships know that relationships aren't based on location and that it's so much more gratifying to keep people in your life who really get you than to fake it with warm bodies in the same room.

3) Give to give, and receive with grace

Making the people you love happy should be a joy in itself, as should receiving gifts. I don't just mean tangible gifts, either, of course. Do nice things with joy, and receive nice things with joy. One temptation is to tally up such things--"Well, I phoned twice last week, so she should phone me at least twice back." So never tally, in either direction. That makes generosity a competition.

4) Love isn't cool

While I don't struggle with this in friendships, I definitely struggle with this in intimate relationships, so the way this power dynamic works is very stark to me. In friendships, I have no thoughts of power. I'm happy to lead, to follow, or to just enjoy. I am happy to adore my friends in gushy, obvious ways. In relationships, however, I'm so aware of the power dynamic of who cares for whom more, and it is something that drives me crazy about myself. But I can see my unhealthy love-relationship dynamic played out by others in their friendships, for similar reasons. That fact is that no one person, friend or lover, is going to bring complete happiness to your life, and that's what I think is going on when we put so much pressure on a single relationship. We make this one relationship bigger and more meaningful than it can ever really be. So I'm trying to be to my lovers more like I am to my friends: someone who adores because I don't need, but want. Wanting is so much sexier and more fun than needing, don't you think?

5) Be sweet, to yourself as well

I think sometimes we forget that we all need affection. Don't forget to tell other people why you care or how great they are, and don't you forget why you became friends in the first place. Remind yourself what others bring to your life as much as you remind them that you care, and be grateful that you've got people who care. I take a huge amount of pride and pleasure in the happiness and accomplishment of my friends, while caring about their struggles also helps give me perspective on my own troubles. This isn't about comparing yourself to other people, but about being genuinely invested in your friends' lives, even if you're not there on a day to day basis.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Imaginary Friends

My five year-old son's best friend is named Mr. Berserver. He showed up around my son's fourth birthday. Now I've never met him, but he sounds like a hell of a guy. He lives underground in a giant tunnel house and is a world class Hide and Go Seek player. He drives a pink Cadillac, and, while sometimes he works a shift or two at Taco Bell, his main profession is teaching people how to tell jokes.

I'm not always fond of him. He's been known to sneak into our house and color on the entryway tiles with crayons, or put the stopper in the bathroom sink and flood the place. But in general, I like him.

He reminds me of a good friend I had when I was my son's age. His name was Gemco Beans, named after the store, of course. Gemco didn't drive a fancy pink Cadillac, but he did have his own plane. One that looked suspiciously similar the Fisher Price one in my room.  He also shared Mr. Berserver's strange habit of doodling in inappropriate places.

Gemco and I went on all kinds of adventures. He had the magical power to turn my backyard into any place imaginable. And, man he could tell a story. I'm pretty sure that Gemco gave me my first lesson in storytelling.

There have been studies showing how kids with imaginary friends have more active prefrontal cortexes and are more able to express abstract thought than their peers. It appears that some of us were just born to make stuff up.

I guess that's why I don't get too mad when I have to clean up another one of Mr. Berserver's messes. I know he's teaching my son a hell of a lot more than just how to tell jokes.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Not your mother's high school

--by Juliet

The writers’ community is a little like high school. Only fun.

For years I thought no great adult could possibly have liked high school. I thought this because I, myself, was hopeless in high school. (I know, right? Who could imagine such a thing? Me? Not cool???)

I didn’t fit in. At all. I didn’t have the right clothes and my hair didn’t feather properly and I didn’t think Stairway to Heaven was, like, the bitchin'est song ever. Adolescent sullenness and mindless pranks seemed lame. To my mind drugs made people boring, and the thought of having sex with one of my classmates made my skin crawl. I used to skip school in order to audit classes at the local community college because at least there the lectures were interesting. Or I skipped in order to paint or read or…gasp…hang out with adults. Yeah, I was *that* kid.

But back to the writers’ community as high school. It’s more fun, since you don’t actually have to go to class or take finals, and most of us are no longer too worried about acne. But in some ways, it’s a lot like high school: just about everybody knows everybody, or at least they know *of* them. There’s continual gossip about who’s sleeping with whom, and who’s acting like a dick, or who lost their advance and got dropped by their publisher or flipped out at a low royalty check. We hang out in the halls and gab, then some of us sneak out for smokes while others stay after and get extra credit…

And there are little cliques, but unlike real high school, here just about everybody has an “in” crowd to join. There are the cozy folks and the noir folks and the romance folks and the thriller folks and the literary folks. The great part is: we all secretly think we’re the in-crowd. And we are, for our readers and for each other.

When I first got swept into the Pensfatales by Sophie (you may have known her in high school: she was the one gorgeous cheerleader who was not only whip-smart but also nice, and who deigned to speak to underlings like me in the halls), I felt the thrill of being accepted into a group at the highest echelons of coolness: these great women writing romance and suspense and mystery and erotica. And each one so freaking awesome I could barely stand it. Since then we’ve shared fears and failures as well as dreams and successes. We do homework together and talk about boys and rant about The Man bringing us down. And then we each chocolate or organic peaches.

It is the sort of friendship never threatened by graduation. I am so sitting at the cool kids’ table this time around.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Before I was tapped to be part of this group (o fortuitous unearned tap), I thought I had all the friends I needed. I'd reached saturation. I couldn't give the friends I already had the time and energy they deserved, and I already had fabulous friends in many of the arts. Why would I want more?

Back then, I wrote in a vacuum. I wrote alone and didn't talk to anyone about what I was working on. I read writing blogs voraciously, and I thought that I could get everything I needed from them.

And yes, from the internet I learned how to write an effective query letter. I learned how to find an agent. I learned that I needed to write every day to make reliable forward progress (something I hadn't even learned in grad school).

But from the Pens, I learned how to live as a writer. From them, I learned that I wasn't alone in my blatant eavesdropping habits. I wasn't the only person who jotted notes on the clothing of people on BART. I wasn't alone in being unable to sleep when in the first throes of a fresh, perfect, sparkling idea. It was okay to be obsessed, over-the-top in love with your new crush, your work.

I learned that true writer friends will help you figure out where and how to bury the body. They'll tell you when you have toothpaste on your shirt and when your character motivation is unrealistic. And most importantly, I learned that writer friends laugh and laugh and laugh and then laugh some more. The internet is good at transmitting information, but lousy at hugging. Hugs are plentiful with writer friends. Love is real, and strong.

Thank you, ladies. I am so lucky.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

In a Pinch

by Sophie


If you ever want to test the strength of your friendships, I suggest you do this:

If, in the first half hour after texting your friends from the orthopedist, you have received offers for everything from dictation assistance to housecleaning to scotch delivered during rush hour, you'll know you've chosen well.

I love my Pens. :)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sofie Kelly on The Writer’s Image

Please welcome guest blogger Sofie Kelly. Leave a comment today and you could win a copy of both of her mystery novels!

Sofie Kelly is the pseudonym of award-winning young adult writer, Darlene Ryan. Darlene’s latest teen novel is Cuts Like a Knife, a Junior Library Guild selection. Sofie writes the New York Times bestselling Magical Cats mysteries. The next book in the series, Copycat Killing will be available May 1st. Visit her at

Whenever I tell someone I'm a writer I almost always hear, "You don’t look like a writer." If I ask what I do look like, the answer I most often hear is an academic. A few times I've heard that I look like a psychologist.

I think it's the glasses.

Back when I worked in radio I was always hearing that I didn't look like my voice. "I thought you were blonde," people would say when I showed up at some community event, looking at me somewhat disappointed. (When I say "people" I mean guys and when I say looking at me I don't mean in the eyes.)

The face we present to the world does matter. Readers--as well as agents and editors--like to be able to put a face to the name. And a photo of me in my paint-spotted sweatpants with my hair standing on end is going to make a very different impression than the photo of me smiling in the sunshine at the park. But I think there’s another part to a writer's image that's even more important than how our author photo makes us look, and that's presenting a professional image.

Do you have a business-like email address? (Not bobbys-girl or bbq-king.) Do you answer emails within a couple of days or have an auto-respond message to explain why you can't? What’s the message on your voicemail? (Your acoustic version of the Bay City Roller's Saturday Night is not professional unless you're looking for work in a tribute band.) 

When your manuscript is finished is it properly formatted and checked for spelling mistakes and grammar errors? When an agent asks to see it, do you get back to her in a few days or a few months? Do you wrangle over every single suggested change with your editor? Do you argue for days about serial comma use and whether or not Ms needs a period? (It's not an abbreviation so I maintain it doesn't.) Do you meet your deadlines? Do you say please and thank you?

Being reasonable, responsible, and easy to work with is part of creating the image of a professional writer. No one's suggesting you have to be a pushover. But over time, people get tired of working with the "difficult artiste," no matter how brilliant his or her writing is.

Maintaining a professional image makes it just a bit more likely that you’ll have a long career. And no one will be disappointed if it turns out you're not blonde.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Mystery Writer

Let's face it. When I look back over my life, I was destined to become a mystery writer. Shall I count the ways?

  • I prefer rain to sunshine.
  • I seek out gargoyles and other mysterious sights wherever I travel, and have done so as far back into my childhood as I can remember.
  • I played "The Bad Angel" in the play The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus.
  • I have my own custom fitted vampire fangs, which I acquired 12 years ago at Gargoyle Statuary in Seattle (a city I adored when I lived there, in part because of its near-constant cloud cover).
  • I prefer ruined castles to lavish ones, and preferably in winter when there's snow on the ground and hardly any people around.
  • I've never been "cute." I've been called sultry and sexy and even goth on rare occasions, but not cute. I can rock black or red attire, but look absurd in pink or pastels of any kind.
  • My photography is dark and mysterious instead of light and cheery. When I started a photography blog it was the natural thing to call it Gargoyle Girl.
  • I was obsessed with Scooby Doo as a child. Obsessed.
  • Shortly after that Scooby Doo obsession, I formed my own detective agency, which I named Snoopy Detectives. 
  • It's been two years since I moved from an apartment into a house, which gave me my own study for the first time. Even so, the room is already bursting at the seams with mystery novels.
It's too late to fight it, so I'm going with it. So far it's been a fun ride.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Martha's Image of Writers

I've always wanted to write, but I remember the exact moment I wanted to be a writer: my first viewing of the 1984 hit romantic comedy, Romancing The Stone (which Lisa mentioned yesterday!)

It's main character, brilliantly played by Kathleen Turner, is Joan Wilder - a romance novelist who is introduced as a lonely cat-owning, Manhattan-dwelling writer.

As a child, I didn't realize this image of the lone writer was a bad thing. That it was something the character was supposed to overcome on a journey with a good looking, adventurous con-man so she could actually live life.

To me that image - typing away with a cuddly cat in a Manhattan apartment and coming up with lines like, "That was the end of Grogan... the man who killed my father, raped and murdered my sister, burned my ranch, shot my dog, and stole my Bible!" - seemed more like the ride-off-into-the-sunset than the actual ride-off-into-the-sunset.

To some degree, I haven't shaken that image.

I write. I write almost every day. I query. I network. I social network. I write some more.

But I have never considered myself "a writer" because I still don't live in Manhattan with a cat and a typewriter - the kind that clickety-clacks.

But then I start thinking about all my friends who I consider writers -

- like Lynn whose days are filled with editing and cooking and caring for her family
- like Lisa who, if she was paid a penny for every time she was fussing over one of her kids would be a millionaire
- like Nicole who molds the minds of brilliant future writers

I can go through all the list of Pens and can even more onto non-Pens and none of them live alone in their Manhattan apartment with their cat.

So maybe it's time to rethink my image of a writer. Maybe a writer can be married with a house in San Francisco and a garden she obsesses over and a day job in Finance and more friends than she knows what to do with and an obsession with finding the perfect pizza...maybe, just maybe, I'm someone's image of a writer, too.