Thursday, December 18, 2014

Family Gatherings for the Holiday Season

We’re fortunate this year to be able to see all of our family over the holiday season. Since we have kids and grandkids living in other parts of the country, we don’t always see the whole clan.

We celebrated an early Thanksgiving when our son, daughter-in-law and grandkids came to visit. Then we’ll see our daughter and her boyfriend this month. Between Christmas and New Years our other son and his family will be here.

All in all a good season. Best holiday wishes to everyone.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Writers Conferences and Fan Conferences

I attend two different types of conferences: writers conferences and fan conferences. Writers conferences provide an opportunity to improve writing craft, meet agents and editors and learn how to promote books. Fan conferences focus on the readers of a specific genre, in my case, mysteries.

In Colorado I have attended four excellent writers conferences: The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Gold Conference, The Pikes Peak Writers Conference, The Northern Colorado Writers Conference and the Castle Rock Writers Conference. These are one to three day eventss. Early on, I paid most attention to the workshops on improving writing craft: plot, character development, setting, show don’t tell. Over time I started attending more panels on how to pitch to agents and editors and how to sell your manuscript. Finally, I graduated to sessions on promoting a book. I still go to at least one writers conference a year, often on the faculty to teach one or more workshops, but I also attend as many workshops as possible. I find it important to continue to improve my writing skills so I always sit in on a number of sessions on writing craft. I’m most loyal to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference because I sold my first novel, Retirement Homes Are Murder, as a result of a pitch session to Deni Dietz of Five Star at the 2005 conference.
Fan conferences focus on the readers and are enjoyable because, as a writer, I have a chance to mingle with other mystery writers and fans who are enthusiastic about all flavors of mysteries. I go to at least one of these a year and have attended Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime and Malice Domestic. At Left Coast Crime this coming March I will again host the Meet the New Authors Breakfast, I have particularly enjoyed moderating this event because I have an opportunity to introduce newly published authors. I’ve been doing this since 2008, and it’s great to follow the careers of emerging authors.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Stalag IV-B and the Bombing of Dresden

Stalag IV-B was one of the largest prisoner-of-war camps in Germany during World War II. In early 1945 two prisoners held there were Kurt Vonnegut and my friend, Ed, whose biography I’m writing. A few months ago, I listened to the audio book edition of Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut’s book about time travel and the bombing of Dresden. Vonnegut survived the bombing because he was in the basement of a slaughterhouse while on a work detail. This morning I watched the movie that I had ordered through Netflix.

The reason I returned to Slaughterhouse Five was that Ed was in Stalag IV-B at the time of the Dresden bombing. He described how he could see flashes in the sky but couldn’t hear the sound of explosions, being approximately thirty miles away. To put this distance in perspective, I live in Boulder which is approximately that distance from Denver. At ninety-five years of age, Ed is a vital man with a sound memory of past events. He mentioned that one of his fellow prisoners commented, “Oh, boy, is Jerry getting it tonight.” Only later did he learn of the immense destruction to Dresden as a result of the bombing.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Our son, daughter-in-law and two grandkids have been visiting. We went sledding and down slides at a warm pool, visited the Wild Animal Sanctuary and Casa Bonita, had a pre-Thanksgiving dinner and played numerous games. A wonderful family time.

We can celebrate Thanksgiving on a different day and be grateful for all we’ve been given. May this Thanksgiving bring you joy and happiness.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Back from Bouchercon

Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, California, was a terrific mystery conference this year. Some of the headliners included Jeffery Deaver, J. A. Jance, Eoin Colfer and Edward Marston. We had ample opportunity to talk with fans of the mystery genre as well as the leading mystery and crime authors.

Here are a few sound bites. On one panel, the moderator asked the panelists at the end, “Are there any last words?” One of the panelists responded, “Are we going to be killed?”

Eoin Colfer described how he like to put things in his children’s books that would make a dad laugh when reading the book to a child. One example was a character named Colin Oscopy. Eoin explained that a father reading that would laugh and the child would ask what is so funny. The father would have to think, “There’s nothing funny about a colonoscopy.”

I had an opportunity to host the Meet the New Authors Breakfast, where we introduced 53 new authors who had their first mystery/crime novel published in 2014. Here’s a picture of the audience.

One Sunday morning I took a walk and watched sunrise with the Queen Mary in the distance.

Later that morning, I was on a panel titled Sleuths at Every Age. Here’s a picture with Becky Masterman, me and Thomas Perry on that panel.

All in all, a wonderful five days. Now back to writing.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Stories That Come My Way

One of the wonderful things about being a writer is the stories and ideas that come my way. A common question that people ask when I give presentations is where do I get my story ideas? The answer: everywhere. I have come up with story ideas from newspapers, television, people I meet, friends and waking up in the middle of the night. A reader emailed me an idea that I used in one manuscript.

Also, when I give speeches, people occasionally share stories and jokes with me.  Here’s one. I was told about going on SKI vacation—Spending, Kids Inheritance.

Then one of my current projects, writing the story of a World War II veteran, came about because a mutual friend introduced us. After hearing his wonderful stories of being an infantryman in Europe, prisoner of war and liberated by the Russians, we began a collaboration.

What I’ve learned—keep the eyes and ears open and enjoy the discoveries.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Communication in the World of Writing--Hello Are You There?

Having spent a 39 year career in business, I learned the importance of responsive communication. To negotiate a contract, close a deal, hire employees, or develop a successful product all required clear and consistent communication. As I entered the publishing world with my first book released in 2007, I found many instances of communication that became one way or nonexistent. I refer to this as speaking into the void.

Here’s one example. Agents used to send form letters when they rejected a writer’s query. A success would be a letter that had constructive suggestions. Now many agents don’t even bother to reply. On numerous web sites agents merely state that if you haven’t heard from them in six weeks they’re not interested. I can understand how this situation came about. Two years ago at a writers conference a literary agent described how her agency had received 36,000 query letters in one year and out of these signed seven new writers. Clearly, they couldn’t respond to all these queries without having a large staff. But from a writer’s standpoint, it’s frustrating to get no reply.

I also hear from publishers that one of the things they look for in authors is the ability to meet deadlines and keep the publisher informed of progress. My experience is that the authors are better at this than many of the publishers.

There are many reasons that writers turn to self-publishing, but the main one is control. When self-publishing, you have to manage the editing, cover art, production and distribution, but these items are under your control. Still, communication and meeting deadlines are needed from people hired to perform services.

On the flip side, in traditional publishing, it’s wonderful to have others bear the upfront expenses and manage the process if there is good communication.

What has been your experience?