Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bouchercon 2014 Memories

Another conference comes to a close. This time it was Bouchercon 45. Great conference, though, since it was my first Bouchercon, it was a bit overwhelming. 2,000 people and more fantastic panels than I could possibly attend in a month. The humidity contributed to some bad hair days, but what are you gonna do? The week in pictures and comments:


Took the train from Hollywood. Conference travel for $1.75. Can't beat that. Roommate and bestie Kendel Lynn and I headed off to the grocery store for conference essentials.
The extra glamorous view outside of our hotel room. Not to worry, we only needed that room to sleep, eat bowls of cereal, and establish the fact that when we're away from home, we live like rock stars.


Fabulous day of forensics with Sisters in Crime. No photos. Totally worth it. Just one of many reasons why it's important to belong to Sisters in Crime!


Kicked the day off with Author Speed Dating. After brief pitch rehearsing, we were ready to hit the ground running. Then off to the Hyatt to fill up the swag table, mingle with friends, and take in some panels.
"Short But Mighty" panel Speaking of rock stars, these peeps have staked their claim on short story territory. Craig Faustus Buck, Travis Richardson, Barb Goffman, Robert Lopresti, Paul D. Marks, and Art Taylor. Art Taylor went on to win the McCavity award later the same night. Congrats, Art!


With a few members of the Henery Press team: Lyndee Walker, Kendel Lynn, Annette Dashofy, Sybil Johnson, Susan M. Boyer, and Wendy Tyson
The "Hollywood Premiere" Opening Ceremonies at the Pacific Ballroom. Half an hour later, this place was packed.


Big day for me. Not one, but two sessions. Powered up on Cheerios and coffee and hit the ground running!
My fellow panelists for the Sassy, Sexy, and Smart Protagonist panel on Friday: Elaine Viets, Hilary Davidson, James, Ziskin, and Andrew Mayne.
Later on Friday, my pincushion cupcake panel! So, yes, me posing by the sign, that you cannot read. In my special Bouchercon apron, designed and crafted for this very event.
The graduating class of pincushion cupcake school!
And just incase you need a close-up, here's a pincushion cupcake.
With friends Susan M. Boyer and Kendel. No, I did not want to take my apron off. It was cooler than the tweed cape!


After a fantastic breakfast with Sisters in Crime, where I managed to both tear up and forget to take photos, I headed out to the conference.
The Fine Art of Murder panel with Juliet Blackwell, Kate Carlisle, Sheila Connelly, Kendel Lynn, Reba White Williams, nd Jane Cleland.

"We've Got Grit" panel. I moderated, and may I say this ended up being a conference highlight? With John McFetridge, Charles Salzberg, David Stout, and David Swinson.


After the conference, Susan Boyer, Kendel Lynn, and I headed off to the Queen Mary for High Tea.

Objects are larger than they appear. And by objects, I mean the boat.

I can't resist a phone booth photo op. The only thing missing were the circuits of time.


Many hours later...room service. Don't judge. (For the record: it wasn't all for me, and we didn't finish).

As always, it was great to get away from real life and exist in the world of mysteries for a week, but all too quickly it was time to go home. Back to the grindstone tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Anatomy of a Cover Girl

In addition to writing the Style & Error Mystery Series, I also design the covers. This is generally not recommended in the world of self-publishing, but I've had experience with graphic design, plus, this is kind of like having my own set of paper dolls (more on that in a bit!). The fourth Style & Error Mystery will be out in early 2015, and I thought it would be fun to share the process of designing Samantha Kidd for her next cover.

First, I start with a concept sketch. This is basically me getting an idea of what elements I want to use while coming up with the body language I will then mimic when I build her. I knew I wanted flames because the book deals with an arsonist.

Next, I start the process of layering shapes (literally rectangles, circles, triangles, etc) to get as close as I can to the position of the figure in my sketch before I start fine tuning. At this point, everything is still very rudimentary, at least until I feel good about the overall thing. She remains faceless/headless. She has the same face on every book, so that is a final detail.

After that, I start playing with the design elements to see if this is going to work:
But already, I'm thinking the hand on the hip is too similar to the hand-on-hip pose from the third book:

 ...so I start experimenting with alternate arms:
While the above isn't right for this book, turns out it's PERFECT for an upcoming book, so you'll see that get developed into something at a later date. But okay, let's just put her hand on her other hip for now and move on. I've always loved a motorcycle jacket, so...

I love the jacket, but my sense of proportion kicks in, and I don't love those pants with it. But I'm wildly impressed that I built a motorcycle jacket out of triangles, squares, and trapezoids in the first place, so I'm keeping it. Plus, it does fit the story, since Samantha spends much of the time partnering up with Dante, who drives a motorcycle. Let's give her a skirt instead and try a couple of hairstyles:

I feel like I'm zeroing in on something, but still, the whole thing is too busy. Plus, that hand on hip still bothers me. Maybe if I drop her onto the rest of the cover, I'll get a better sense of what to keep and what to lose.

Old cover fonts
New cover fonts
The skirt's not quite right and that hand on the hip still bothers me! How about:

Yes! Now to give her a head and add the rest of the cover elements, including Logan, who fits perfectly in her helmet (which is way better than having him sit in the flames!):

And that's the cover for SOME LIKE IT HAUTE, #4 in the Style & Error Mystery Series, due out in January 2015. Here's the blurb:

Fashion expert Samantha Kidd is in the hot seat. After agreeing to help her ex-boyfriend’s former girlfriend with a runway show, she’s attacked backstage, landing in the hospital. But when a garment goes up in flames on the catwalk the day after the attack, the already explosive situation turns deadly. She recruits a smokin’ hot photographer to turn up the heat on the investigation, but even the third degree won’t expose an angry arsonist. With a crash course in sizzle, Samantha’s curiosity leads her into another inferno, and this time she either faces the fire or gets burned.

If you're like me and you grew up reading mysteries and playing with dolls, then leave a comment below and enter to win a copy of SAMANTHA KIDD PAPER DOLLS, featuring dolls and outfits from the first three Style & Error books.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sewing Project #2: July 4th Dress

Working on a fabric shop themed series has brought me back in touch with my sewing side. Though slightly late, here are pics from my July 4th dress.

The pattern: from 1967 (purchased in a lot from a yard sale)
Pattern sizes are not 100% accurate, so I eyeballed the pattern and the fabric and made adjustments. Not the most scientific approach, but that's how I roll.

The fabric: thin cotton weave from the holiday section of Jo-Ann Fabrics
It was over 80 degrees in Santa Barbara on the 4th. I was quite happy that I'd opted for a thin cotton weave and not the 60s staple of double-knit polyester!
The accessories
The vintage scarf is from my Mom's collection, and it comes out every year on July 4th. The pin and earrings are from different thrift shops, and the glasses are from the 99 cent store. The shoes were my first ever purchase from Neiman Marcus in 1996. Still love them!

The resulting outfit

The dress ended up a bit large so I went with an above the knee hem to compensate. And yes, I'm really that pale. I used lots of sunscreen that day!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Glitter Matters

(This was originally posted in July 2010. Ever year around this time I think about Megan Barroso, so I'm reposting in memory of her.)

Glitter. Aside from being a bad Maria Carey movie, it's innocuous. Right? Wrong. Those tiny particles of reflective paper that get stuck in your hair, that get into the carpet fibers and onto your clothes, that linger months after the holiday where they were used to enhance a festive setting, those little buggers are unique. Several years ago, aside from the craft stores where it's a basic item, you could even buy it at trendy stores in the mall. But because of slow sales the store marked it down. From a discount shelf at the back of the store, a young woman bought a jar to sprinkle on her friends at a 4th of July party on a beach.

How do I know all of this? Because of Forensic Science.

Here's a summary of events: Megan Barroso was at a beach party. Her friend sprinkled everyone with red glitter. On her way home, someone shot her, then carried her body to a ravine and left her to die. Evidence gatherers found red glitter in Megan's hair. There's a forensic scientist who specializes in glitter. He analyzed the sample in Megan's hair and discovered it was red on one side, silver on the other – not like most glitter. It was octagonal in shape. Because of its unique nature he could trace it to Hot Topic, where the red shade lived on the clearance shelves. Her friend verified that she had sprinkled people with the metallic pixie dust on the beach. So why does this matter?

It matters because tiny pieces of red glitter were found in the suspect's vehicle. And other than the red glitter, there was nothing to connect him with her murder.
But connect him, they did. They connected the glitter dousing from the beach to the glitter in Megan's hair, to the interior of the suspect's car, to the ravine where he left Megan's body. And in doing so, the suspect became respectively the defendant, the convicted killer, and the inmate.

Like a piece of glitter stuck to my cheek, this story has gotten stuck in my head. I didn't know Megan Barroso. I have no connection with her other than watching an episode of Forensic Files. But as a mystery writer, I am fascinated with investigations, evidence, clues, and reality. And what strikes me about Megan Barroso's case is the reality. But Glitter? As a clue to solve a murder? If it weren't so tragic, it would read like chick lit.

In life, as well as in fiction, the little things count.

Friday, June 27, 2014

HOOKING: A Writer’s Guide to Selling Yourself

It’s the day –that day—that you agreed to step in front of your reading public to promote your book.  Maybe it’s a book fair.  Maybe it’s a signing.  Maybe it’s a table by the checkout line at the grocery store.  Whatever/wherever it is, one thing is for sure.  Where you’re going is like another dimension to the writer, it’s the polar opposite of sitting in a chair not speaking, hammering out words on a keyboard, occasionally using words that, if your mother was around, would get your mouth washed out with soap. 

You want to sell your book, and by selling your book, you are selling yourself.  Only, your skirt isn’t short enough, you don’t feel good in fishnet stockings, and God bless the bookstore people, but they chose not to set your table up in a red-light district.  With so many things stacked against you, what are you going to do?
By trade, I work on commission sales in a luxury store.  We like to say that we don’t carry anything anybody needs.  Our business is built on wants and desires.  As much as I need people to shop so I can pay my rent, I don’t approach customers by saying, “Please buy something so I don’t have to live in a cardboard box.” 

Think about your book in the same terms.  Nobody needs it, but you want people to want it.  Based on years of interacting with customers, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t.  Here are basic tips that you can use when selling your book to the public: 
1.       LOOK BUSY.  Often comical but always true:  customers approach busy sales staff instead of those idling by the register.  When you aggressively approach a customer, she/he instinctively becomes defensive and closed off.  How often have you heard the words, “May I help you” and how often have you automatically responded, “No thanks, just looking”? 

Customers want to make their own decisions, but they occasionally want help.  They do not want to feel like something is being pushed on them.  If you appear unapproachable (or desperate) a customer will bypass you to find someone who appears busy and not so obviously needy. 

2.       DON’T WASTE PEOPLE’S TIME.  Be efficient, be aware.  If someone wants to chat you up while other customers are in line with cash in hand, politely ask them to step to the side so you can attend to everyone.

I’ve been on the customer side of this one, and after fifteen minutes of waiting behind one person, I set down the book I had planned to buy and walked away.  The author was aware of my presence but appeared not to care about my time.  I could have interrupted her conversation to pay but was more interested in seeing how she handled the situation.  I don’t know if she was as interested in how I handled it--by putting my cash back in my wallet and leaving. 

3.  CAREFULLY CONSIDER FREEBIES.  People will take stuff that is free.  Don’t overextend your budget, and don’t offer the equivalent of a glass bowl of peanuts in a strip club.  Somebody else’s hand has been in that bowl.  Let’s keep it clean, folks! 

Yes: if it relates to the book you’re promoting.

Yes:  if it is small and portable. 

Yes:  if it is a minimal investment. 

Yes: if it is individually wrapped. 

Suggestions:  ½ cans of soda or aqua pods, sourballs (consider a sugar-free version, too), M&Ms, bookmarks.  For alcohol, be sure to check with your venue first.
4.       GET OFF YOUR IPHONE.  This is an important event for you, for your career.  These next few hours should trump whatever else exists in your life, and should be treated with the same care you’d treat your writing time.  Still, we all have personal emergencies.  If Uncle Fred is in the hospital and you’re expecting an update to his condition, let the people helping out with the event know.  Arrange a place you can check your phone periodically so you don’t look preoccupied to the people who showed up.  Besides, Uncle Fred will be fine.  He’s not the first person to put his hand down a garbage disposal and he won’t be the last. 
5.       HAVE A RAFFLE.  This one small idea can trigger a three-pronged result:

*Acquire email addresses for future customers. It stands to reason that you will interact with people who don’t buy your book the day of your event.  Getting their name and address for the future will let you keep in touch via a newsletter, thus keeping your name and product relevant. 

 *It gives you another reason to talk to people and a way to look busy.  If the golden rule of the day is to avoid the words “Please Buy My Book”, then this should become your default phrase: “Would you like to enter a raffle?” 

*The right raffle prize is an additional way for you to define your book through a visual medium.  Example:  For DESIGNER DIRTY LAUNDRY, my fashion-themed mystery, I could raffle off any number of fashion items or a collection of more than one, limited only by my imagination and what I am willing to spend. Having a visual presentation by my table will draw people interested in this sort of thing to me and allow me to say, “My mystery is set in the retail fashion industry.” I may not get as many names and emails as if I was raffling off a $25 AMEX gift card, but the people who will enter to win this kind of giveaway already have an affinity for my subject.  They are my target customers.

6.        GIVE AWAY WHATEVER YOU’RE ALLOWED TO GIVE AWAY.  Find out if the store validates parking, offers free gift wrap, or has a monthly calendar of events.  Offer these freebies to customers before you’re asked.  You’ll be supporting the store and you’ll have something to say other than “Please buy my book.”

Nobody said hawking your book was going to be easy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. You’re building your community here. You’re paving the way for your next event, and the event after that. You’re making friends in the industry, finding readers for your books, and building a reputation. And when it’s all over, be sure to remember the all-important last step: THANK EVERYONE.  Thank your customers.  Thank the bookstore staff.  Thank the raffle enterers.  Thank the woman who took a handful of sourballs and the man who asked if the store had a restroom. Thank Uncle Fred for not interrupting your event.  And thank yourself. You’re the one who made it all happen when you decided to become a writer.

(Originally posted on Savvy Authors in May 2012)