Diversity is Strength

I’m a sixty-something year-old white woman who had the good fortune, at nineteen, to meet and fall in love with a man of color.

My life was enriched and my experiences deepened because of what he brought to my tapestry. The treasured history and community connection of a black man in America broadened my soul, as much as it could be broadened, in ways that never could have happened without him. For all of these positive experiences I’m forever grateful.

On the other hand, my awareness of stereotypes and exclusion became profound. Really? No person of color is in this class photo? No person of color could have had a role in this movie? Oh wait… that role doesn’t count. Not one person of color as a possible candidate for office?

Not one author of color on your bookshelf?

How many crime fiction authors of color are out there? Two? Three? Walter Mosely? Kellye Garrett? Frankie Bailey? Atticka Locke? (I really, really, really want to include Octavia Butler but that would be mixing things up a bit too much.) And now that I’ve read the fabulous Mysteristas post by Alexia Gordon, she’s on my list too.

I believe that celebrating ethnic, religious, and sexual diversity by crime fiction authors makes us bigger and better and stronger. It gives us a foothold so we can reach back and pull up. It’s a shout out to other non-inclusive genres to figure it out and make room.

Here’s a list for you. I challenge you to count the number of authors you’ve read up until this very day, and then add ten more between now and July 2019. It might be your first ten, it might be a new ten.  Are you gonna like them all? Probably not. But because you’re aware of the diversity in our genre, we’re all stronger, and I wager your life will be richer.

Print this list. Take it with you to the bookstore and keep it handy when you’re online.

Frankie’s List

African American Writers

Abdul-Jabbar,Kareem
Bailey, Frankie Y.
Baker, Nikki
Bates, Karen Grigsby
Batts, Krys
Bland, Eleanor Taylor (deceased)
Brown, Elaine Meryl
Burns, V.M.
Camacho, Austin S.
Canterbury, Patricia E.
Carter, Charlotte
Carter, Stephen L.
Chambers, Christopher
Christy, Cynthia
Clemons, R. Lanier
Coleman, Evelyn
Croom, Janice
Darden, Christopher
Davis, Kyra
DeLoach, Nora (deceased)
Dickey, Eric Jerome
Edwards, Grace F.
Flowers, R. Barri
Ford, Clyde
Fullilove, Eric James
Gardner, Danny
Garland, Ardella (pen name of Yolanda Joe)
Garrett, Kellye
Gordon, Alexia
Greer, Robert
Grimes, Terris McMahan
Hall, Rachel Howzell
Hardwick, Gary
Harris, Marietta
Hayes, Teddy
Haywood, Gar Anthony (also writes as Ray Shannon)
Head, Cheryl A.
Henry, Angela
Holton, Hugh (deceased)
Jackie, Sonja (pen name of Sonja Hazzard)
James, R. Franklin
Johnson, Keith Lee
Jolivet, Myra
Jones, Solomon
Jones, Stephen Mack
Kabongo, Gledé Browne
Kelley, Norman
Lamar, Jake
Lawrence, Deliah
Locke, Attica
Lovell, Glenville
Mallette, Gloria
Meadows, Lee
Mickelbury, Penny
Miller, C.M.
Mosley, Walter
Neely, Barbara
Olden, Marc
Osborne, Karen E.
Phillips, Gary
Quartery, Kwei
Ramsey, Gail
Rhodes, Jewell Parker
Richardson, Gwen
Robinson, Angela ( lm and TV writer)
Rudolph, Wally
Ridley, John
Samuels-Young, Pamela
Singer, Gammy
Smith, Andrea
Smith, Brian W.
Smith, Ian
Smith-Levin, Judith (deceased)
Swafford, Erika Green (TV writer)
Thomas-Graham, Pamela
Tramble, Nichelle D.
Underwood, Blair
Walker, Persia
Wesley, Valerie Wilson
West, Chassie
Woods, Paula L.

 

Asian American / Asian Writers

Cha, Steph
Chang, Henry
Chang, Leonard
Chien, Vivien
Chupeco, Rin
Furutani, Dale
Gerritsen, Tess
Goenawan, Clarissa
Hirahara, Naomi
Lee, Don
Lee, YS
Lin, Ed
Ng, Celeste
Revoyr, Nina
Rowland, Laura Joh
Tan, Anne R.
Xiaolong, Qiu
Yi, Melissa
Yu, Ovidia

South Asian American / South Asian / South Asian British Writers

Claverton, Rosie
Jacob, Mira
James, Tania
Khan, Ausma Zehanat
Kirchner, Bharti
Massey, Sujata
Pandian, Gigi
Swarup, Vikas
Vatsal, Radha

 

Hispanic/Latino/a Writers

Acevedo, Mario
Anaya, Rudolfo A.
Corpi, Lucha
Cortez, Sarah (editor of anthologies)
Garcia-Aguilera, Caroline
Gaspar de Alba, Alicia
Hinojosa-Smith, Rolando
Lantigua, John
Lefeve, Claudia
LoPinto, Charles and Llamas LoPinto, Lidia
Maldonado, Isabella
Narvaez, R.
Nava, Michael
Ortiz, Martin Hill
Ramos, Manuel
Roman, A. E.
Segura, Alex
Thurlo, Aimée (deceased)
Torres, Steven
Vasquez, Ian
Villatoro, Marcos McPeek
Zamorano, Desiree

 

Native American Writers

Cox, Jessie
Erdrich, Louise
Hogan, Linda
Hoklotubbe, Sara Sue
Holm, Tom
Owens, Louis
Rodriguez, Linda
Smith, Martin Cruz
Welch, James

LGBT Writers

Chandler, Jessie
de Helen, Sandra
Ettritch, Sarah
Forrest, Katherine V.
Friend, Catherine
Gordon, Josie
Gordon, Max
Griffiths, Nicola
Hart, Ellen
Head, Cheryl A.
Herren, Greg
Hill, Gerri
Hunter, Fred

Isabella (only one name)
James, Renee
Kelleher, Dharma
Lake, Lori L.
Lepionka, Kristen
Lynch, Katie
Maiorisi, Catherine
McDermid, Val
MacGregor, K. G.
McNab, Claire
Marks, Jeffrey
Padgett, Abigail
Radclyffe
Redmann, J. M.
Roberts, Ann
Scoppettone, Sandra
Sherman, Scott
Silva, Linda Kay
Sims, Elizabeth
Sweeney, Kate
Summer, Mary Elizabeth
Vali, Ali
Waters, Sarah
Wilson, Jon Morgan
Yu, Ovidia

 

Thank you, Frankie Bailey, for your list. And thank you, Sisters in Crime, for moving forward.

 

It’s all better with friends.

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Book Clubs

35645600_10217320673908085_2894060512935411712_oBook clubs are among my favorite things on this earth. In no particular order, those favorite things include LoML’s laughter, a good Zinfandel, the honks and wing-noise of flying geese (bonus points to anyone who knows what that wing-noise is called), a dog who lays its head on my feet or in my lap, and a chapter easily written. Oh, and awesome mac and cheese.

But I’m talking about book clubs.

I’ll never forget the first book club I attended as a visiting author.  I’d heard about writers expecting to meet new fans only to find themselves vivisected by book club members.

So I brought chocolate.

I don’t know if it was the book or the chocolate, but that evening started my love affair with sitting down and talking to people who’d actually read my stories. (However, I still prepare myself for  knife-wielding readers with murder in their eyes.)

Since then I’ve enjoyed book clubs with as few as three people and those with more than forty. I’ve done them close to home and by Skype. One of the most fun evenings was actually 3:30 in the morning. The book club members were relaxing with their wine… in Australia.

And yes, I put on a face at 3 a.m.

Sisters in Crime – Colorado has three active book clubs in the front range area that meet monthly, inviting our crime novelist members to attend and discuss their books. One of the coolest and most natural ideas ever!

Are you in a book club? Have you invited authors to participate?

(In other news, TRAFFICKED picked up top awards for the two programs in which it was entered. Special moments…)

 

It’s all better with friends.

Ghostwriting

When I first learned about ghostwriting it felt wrong to me. Like someone was playing on their famous name to make money without doing anything. I thought it was deceitful. Kind of a con to readers. “Read the book by Celebrity X!” Only it wasn’t actually written by Celebrity X.

Just plain wrong.

Then I learned more about why some books are ghostwritten.

For the most part, the people who find someone to ghostwrite their book have an interesting story to tell. It might be their biography, or that of someone they love. I know of one woman who bought a book at a garage sale for 25¢ on how to make a million dollars in real estate. Guess what? She did it. It could be a book that would help someone going through the process of addiction recovery, or surviving cancer, or the loss of a child. Maybe it’s a book about building and selling a small business. It could also be a dramatic/traumatic period in someone’s life that would make for a great novel based on fact.

My bet is, the true owners of these stories tried to write the book and discovered, for whatever reason, it wasn’t going to happen. But the idea persisted. The need to tell their story didn’t go away just because they weren’t able to write it.

In comes the ghostwriter.

I’m writing one now, and happy to do it. The owner of the story has contracted with a publisher to bring something important to them to print. The publisher, who has a good reputation, brings writing talent to the table. That’s me… the “talent.”

I’m only a couple of weeks in, but here are the pros and cons as I see them now:

 

Pros:

  • The story isn’t mine. I’m not creating it from scratch. I pretty much follow a transcript from hours of interviews. Essentially, the transcripts are the first draft, which for me is always the hardest part of the process.
  • In my case, a supportive publisher.
  • Helping someone bring their idea to life.
  • A paycheck.

 

Cons:

  • The story isn’t mine. I’m not creating it from scratch. I have to stay within the probabilities of their recollection of events. My opportunity to invent is limited.
  • If my voice isn’t the one they’re looking for I need to be able to change it.
  • At least initially, the time commitment is greater than what I’d expected. That means…
  • The new manuscript I’m working on is taking a hit. But I think it might level out in the next few weeks. That’s what I’m counting on.

I’m learning as I go through this process. So far, I’m not regretting a thing.

And oh, by the way (in case you didn’t hear me yell) TRAFFICKED walked away as the winner in the Mainstream Fiction category at the Colorado Authors’ League Awards Dinner a couple of weeks ago. 

Writers, have you ever thought about ghostwriting? Readers, does it matter to you how the story was written?

 

It’s all better with friends.

How Important are Book Awards?

Seriously. I’m asking.

I mean, aren’t awards just the opinion of a few people who might not like the same things I like?

Do you make a decision to read a book based on whether or not it has received an award, or even finalled?

Do you ever cynically wonder if an award was unduly influenced by a publisher?

It’s kind of the same thing with endorsements. Rumor has it that many publishers require their writers to endorse each other’s books. A few  years ago there was a lot of buzz surrounding authors who were willing to “pimp” any and all books.

Would an award for a book by an author you’ve never heard of help to make buy determination, assuming you were mildly intrigued?

So maybe you can guess why I’m asking.

TRAFFICKED is a finalist for two awards. It’s also the second novel of mine that’s found itself in this position. I’m beginning to think I’m the Susan Lucci of crime fiction.

I’m just not sure an award is a determining factor.

Maybe I’ll feel differently (and experience differently), if rather than a silver “Finalist” label it receives the gold one that says “Winner.”

I’ll know May 24th on one, June 2nd on the other.

 

It’s all better with friends.

Writing While Afraid

Only recently did I discover another reason why I write: to face something that bothers me; something I’m afraid of.startled

When I wrote THE MISSINGS I had to research cults, at least minimally. What I discovered left me queasy and uncomfortable. The cult that scared me the most was called Santeria. Evil perpetrated by hateful people stopped me in my tracks.

Eventually, the plot moved on to something equally evil, but I couldn’t get the bits and pieces I’d learned about Santeria out of my head. It was the stuff of nightmares.

So I wrote THE SACRIFICE which is about the missing young daughter of a drug cartel leader who left home voluntarily with someone she trusted. It turned out that someone was involved in—you guessed it—Santeria, and had terrible plans in store for the young girl.  I researched deeper into the cult so I could write the scenes legitimately.

When I began noodling around with the idea of writing a book about human trafficking, I thought I’d base it in Italy. My husband and were planning a trip there and I thought the Colosseum in Rome would make a great creepy setting.

But then someone I admired (she’s a global diplomat, primarily for women’s issues) made me promise that if I did write a book on trafficking I’d base it here, not anywhere over there. I didn’t think research would be particularly easy, but when I first googled human trafficking colorado, I was blindsided by the volume of real stories. (I googled again for this post… 2,180,000 results in 0.49 seconds.)

Once again queasiness became my motivator, and I wrote TRAFFICKED.

I was afraid to go online to Backspace (a prominent advertising source for sex) and see for myself what was going on. Only after meeting with a detective who gave me a bit of an education on the site using her tablet was I able to use my own computer and plug into Backspace. However, I still haven’t used Tor or been on the Dark Web. There’s only so much queasiness I can take.

What am I working on now? A story involving the alt-right and hate groups. Yeah, tell me about it.

 

It’s all better with friends.

 

Making a Book—Peg’s Recipe

(This article originally appeared in my December 2016 newsletter.)

Several weeks ago I completed the first draft of my new manuscript. The celebration was brief because I knew there was a lot more work ahead of me… edits and revisions. This new stage is where it’s possible to take an “okay” book to a “great” book. To me, the hardest part is over—finding the story and writing it. What happens next is pure magic. Yeah it’s work, but it’s still magic.

I thought I’d share a little bit of my process with you.

This particular manuscript took me about eleven months to research and write. That’s pretty much the norm for me. While I’d love to write two reader-worthy books a year, I haven’t quite figured out how to do that.

A few days after I finished the first complete draft (many scenes having already been rewritten numerous times), I do a series of self-edits. The first is a read-through where I look for plot and character inconsistencies, glaring errors, scenes that need to be cut or added, etc. and then apply those changes. Then I do a text-to-speech edit that points out over-used words, and missing words, and places where I used the wrong word. It’s a computerized voice that demands your attention. When I work through the same words over and over, my mind does an auto-correct from what is actually written to what I think is written. For example, I remember in this edit hearing the word “now” when it was supposed to be “know.” I make those corrections and then do another full read-through.

At this point I’m standing in the middle of a word-forest and have lost all perspective. I know the story can be better, but where? How? (Just so you know, the story can always be better. At some point I just have to let it go.)

That’s where my beta readers come in. For this manuscript, I have seven people who have agreed to read and share their comments with me. Four of them are successful authors in crime fiction, one is a trusted friend who could be an editor if she wanted, and two are readers whose opinions matter to me. I’m in the middle of my fourth round of revisions from beta readers, with a fifth one waiting. So far they’ve run the gamut from general observations to a line-by-line edit. I value all of them, and it’s amazing… they’ve each caught different things! And each person made this commitment during one of the busiest and most stressful times of the year. Every one of them has my gratitude.

After I finish the beta revisions, it will finally be time for me to bring out the Big Gun, a/k/a my editor. Each of my three books has had a different editor, perfect for that book at that time. I’ll be using the same person I used for THE SACRIFICE for a lot of reasons. First of all, she’s an amazing editor who makes my brain bleed (in a good way). She’s also familiar with these characters because this book is the second in a series, following THE SACRIFICE. She was referred to me by an author many of you might read, Timothy Hallinan. Peggy Hageman, formerly with William Morrow, was involved in the editing process for Tim’s Edgar nominated, THE QUEEN OF PATPONG. (If you haven’t read Tim’s Poke Rafferty series set in Thailand, do yourself a favor. My advice is to read them in order, beginning with A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART.)

Sorry, talking about books and authors can often get me running off on a tangent.

The process of the final edit can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, depending on the scope of the story and any issues with the manuscript. My plan, always, is to present something that’s fairly clean so the remaining editing process can be as smooth as possible.

While my manuscript is with Peggy, I’ll be in touch with my cover and interior designer. Together we’ll hopefully come up with a compelling cover that reflects the story inside.

And finally after it’s edited, it’s time for a really good proof reader.  So many edits and revisions and changes can wreak havoc on those tiny details—the same ones that text-to-speech helped me with earlier. Only now, even t2s is unlikely to work. My ears and eyes have grown numb and there’s a disconnect in my brain. So someone else, fresh to the manuscript, is needed to give it a nice, tight read. One more edit to go.

There you have it. My revision process. It takes a village to create a book, at least one of mine.

It’s all better with friends.

In Search of Imperfection

Recently I learned two new words: kintsugi and pentimento. While these were applied to objects, I think they fit well into who we are as creative humans.

Pentimento (Italian) refers to paintings or drawings evidencing that the artist has changed her mind, but instead of covering up the old work, she lightly erases it and creates the new image. I couldn’t find a photo of pentimento that I could freely share, but the renowned artist, Matisse, has such a drawing. I figure if he was willing to show fallibility, who am I to try to impress with (fraudulent) perfection?

We can cover up our past, refuse to acknowledge we’ve changed our minds about something, or we can hold it as a marker reflecting where we’ve been and how we’ve grown. We can admit to numerous rewrites of our stories, or we can assert we only need one or two drafts and it’s ready for readers. We can pretend our lives, and kitchens, are perfect, or we can be comfortable with the smudge marks.

Kintsugi (Japanese) celebrates the breakage and repair of pottery by putting the broken pieces back together with gold or some other shiny and noticeable element. Rather than trying to disguise the break, and in my mind treating it as a flaw, the object is made whole while beautifully acknowledging a history.

Who hasn’t made a mistake? Or been badly wounded physically or emotionally? Those are the moments and events that make us human and help us grow into something awesome and treasured.

Perfection is impossible, but pentimento and kintsugi are real and something I can relate to. They relax me.

Can you use these two concepts to incorporate into your life? Your 2018 Goals?

 

It’s all better with friends.

 

**Side note: January is Human Trafficking Awareness month. I’m pleased to announce that the audiobook for TRAFFICKED is now available at Audible, Amazon and iTunes.**