Monday, September 28, 2009

Drowning Machine Competition - Second Place

I was delighted to learn that my short story "At Least I Felt Something" won second place in the first ever Watery Grave Invitational.

I am in great company - both of the other winners are friends of mine and damn fine writers too. Congratulations to Keith Rawson for taking third and to Hilary Davidson for her first-place win.

Thank you so much to Corey Wilde for organizing the competition over at The Drowning Machine. Thanks too to all the other entrants and all the members of the crime short-story writing community.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Jen Said It Was a Masterpiece!

I'm so delighted with this review from Jen Forbus over at Jen's Book Thoughts.

Jen is such a friend to the mystery community, and she'd be cool even if she didn't like my book, but I'm just so glad she does.

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When Stella Hardesty simply couldn't take the physical abuse her husband doled out anymore, she fought back - with a wrench - and killed him. That left her with an inherited sewing shop and a reputation. She took on her second job to help other woman in abusive situations; in her off-hours, Stella makes sure abusive husbands and boyfriends stay away from her clients and on their best behavior. Since her moonlighting job isn't official, she's able to work outside the letter of the law if a situation demands it. Stella has to do just that when Chrissy Shaw believes her husband Roy Dean ran off with her son, Tucker. And in this particular case, playing outside the law results in a little more than Stella bargained for. If Stella can finagle herself and Chrissy out alive, she may encounter some potential waves, however, with the handsome sheriff, Goat Jones.

Folks, there's a new spitfire in town and her name is Stella Hardesty. And there's a new crime fiction star in town and HER name is Sophie Littlefield. A BAD DAY FOR SORRY is quite simply an amazing debut novel. Littlefield blends creative humor, fast-paced action and stellar characters together, adds just a pinch of romantic spark, and, boy, is the result explosive!

Stella Hardesty is truly a unique character for crime fiction. As she so eloquently enlightens the no-good Roy Dean, "...badass comes in all ages." Stella is in her 50s, spunky, funny and done taking crap from anyone. She tolerated an abusive marriage as long as she was going to and she's not about to let it happen again. And while she covets that "badass" reputation, she also harbors an amazing capacity for compassion. Littlefield illustrates Stella's extremes through independence, too. As a reader I appreciate a strong, smart, independent female protagonist. But even the strongest of any gender needs a little help every once in awhile. Stella doesn't need a "white knight" but she can definitely benefit from a "helping hand" once and again. Stella is a character who is going to surprise readers for years to come. And that is a very good thing.

Littlefield also has a knack with humor. Finding the funny in everyday situations and everyday people: their actions, their conversations. That's a big part of what makes this book come alive. From the crew at BJ's Bar to her teenage neighbor, Todd, to the crotchety old quilters; they are all dynamic and flawed and real; it's the richness of those characters that winds its way into the plot to meld everything together. Littlefield has created a symbiotic relationship between the characters, the setting and the plot; the elements of this novel simply don't exist separately.

A BAD DAY FOR SORRY is a masterpiece, and only the beginning for both new gals in town. If you haven't picked this book up yet, it's time to get your hands on a copy however you can!

A BAD DAY FOR SORRY is available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0-312-55920-5) from St. Martin's Minotaur Books.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Early Genius

Sometimes budding genius can be a little hard to recognize. The parent of one of my favorite young family members (the person in question is in first grade) received a call from the school expressing concern over this poem which was written in response to a writing prompt about Fall.

(Oh, does the term "writing prompt" bother anyone else? What the fuck is a "writing prompt"?? Sounds like someone standing behind me with a sharp stick, ready to jab if my fingers slow down on the keyboard. Which might not be a bad thing and all...but it deeply disturbs me that my kids knew the term "writing prompt" practically before they could hold a pencil. Whatever happened to "write a poem" or "write a story"...our school system's writing program seems designed to discourage as many kids as possible from writing - and reading, for that matter. But maybe I'm just bitter because my kids routinely score 1's and 2's out of 5 for their "response to literature," another term I abhor. Um, how about "did you like the book, kids? why?" Oh, but I digress.)

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Fall the season of death
Oh! Those acorns and leaves falling on your head
Maple trees and others chopped down on your head.
The season of death.

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Oh, I read this with glee! Another member of the clan carries the tainted blood, it seems...the boy's dad went on to explain that the drawing accompanying the poem had a person with x'd-out eyes under a falling tree that had just been chewed down by a beaver. And I, reading too quickly, thought it said that the person's eyes "had been chewed out by a beaver." Which would have been sooooo cool and all, but the kid *is* only six - give him time, my friends, give him time....

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Zombies that make you go "Awwww"

Find out more about this guy here (he has a book - don't tell my brother but I think someone in his family is getting it for Christmas!)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ravenous On HSN - Genius

You have to hand it to the ladies of Ravenous Romance, a new e-/print publisher of romance and erotica titles.

They've done a deal with veteran TV-hawkers the Home Shopping Network to package sets of their books for sale on the programming lineup. For about $25 and free shipping, you get six novels and you can choose from a Historical, Paranormal, or Contemporary lineup.

If you think of home/TV shopping as being the domain of blue-haired retirees, I've got a couple of things for you to think about. First of all, blue-haired retirees are an extraordinarily important consumer groups for commercial fiction. Without them we're all, frankly, screwed. and secondly, try this on for size: HSN is on the top-ten list of e-commerce sites based on traffic. I don't need to tell you that's a hell of a lot of clicks.

I have two friends whose books are featured in the initial offering: Monica Newcomb (HOT ON HER HEELS) and Inara Lavey aka Dana Fredsti (RIPPING THE BODICE).

There are lots of things that I think Ravenous could do a lot better. This is in no way a blanket endorsement of their practices, titles, etc.. However, in this publishing climate, I think that ingenuity ought to be rewarded, so a big congrats to the team and I wish RR/HSN great sales!

Friday, September 11, 2009

People Who Want To Do Everything All At Once

Yesterday I had lunch with a new friend, Elyse. We had such a good time. (I should mention that Elyse liked my book, so that of course made me a fan of her immediately.)

This morning I got an email yesterday from my dear friend C. C is one of those people who have more creativity in a single hair on their head than most people will experience in an entire lifetime. C can't do anything - grow a plant, hang a curtain, paint a wall - without turning it into a sensory/artistic experience.

But C is trying to finish a book and she was looking, not to mince words, for someone to give her a kick in the ass. (Something I am always happy to provide as my friends will tell you.)

Here's my thought on that. Both Elyse and C are people whose interests radiate out in dozens of directions. For Elyse it's books and movies and TV and...well, it's not for nothing that they call her the Pop Culture Nerd. For C...well, C is the classic Shiny Object Syndrome person - if it sparkles, glitters, has a texture or pretty color, C has to make something out of it.

I have no doubt at all that these two have books waiting to burst forth from them. It's just that there is so very much else they want to do as well, and the world is just going to have to wait a little longer to see what they are cooking up. And meanwhile, we get to enjoy their glorious excess.

Elyse likes books as much as I do...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Thanks Brian! - and Stella's origins

Today I would like to offer my heartfelt thanks to Brian Lindenmuth, who wrote this very thoughtful review. I'm really humbled that anyone would put this much consideration to my current and future work, and it makes me want to work that much harder to make sure the series shines.

A couple of people have raised the question of whether Stella would ever take a job on behalf of a male client, and I am happy to say that's addressed in future books. Another question that's been asked is whether Stella could ever be deceived by a client - if she could be swayed by a woman's sob story and later discover she'd been taken in.

That just tickles me to pieces, because that is precisely what happened in the short story that was the basis for the series. In 2007, I wrote a funky little paranormal story set in the Nevada desert. It was a little bit Koontz-ish, and it featured a badass renegade not unlike Stella. (It was first person, so she never really had a name in the story.) My brother Mike, who is my great supporter and frequent reader and critiquer, said "Hey, I think you have a book here." I took out the paranormal piece (long story) and off we went.

Someday I'd love to be able to share that short story, because I really think it's one of the best things I've written. For now though it stays under wraps because it's too confusing to reveal a ghost element that is not present in the rest of the series.

(Incidentally, and apropos of nothing, I wrote a great story for the MWA paranormal anthology competition this year. I mean, that story kicked ass all around town! I loved that story! Well, MWA didn't. Tell you what though - anyone who wants to read it, just email me and I'll send you a copy. I'm at And PS? My brother's story, which is also awesome, did make the cut and will be published in the anthology.)

OK enough of me blathering. Here is Brian's review, with my heartfelt thanks:
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I think that the engine of the story, and the series presumably, is a strong one and definitely an interesting one, but isn’t quite a finely tuned one – though it will serve Littlefield well as a launching pad for future stories. The “correcting” of husbands’ wayward behaviors through force is such a grey area on so many levels, and raises so many questions, that this has a lot of potential to be fertile story ground because it doesn’t take much questioning to come up with interesting “what if” type scenarios that challenge the notion. And to be fair I think the central premise WILL have to be challenged from time to time, otherwise it runs some risks. For example what if a woman was to know which of Stella’s buttons to push in order to get her to act and would lie to Stella to get what she wants. What if the genders were reversed and a husband needed Stella’s help, would she be so quick to mete out her brand of “justice” if it was a woman that needed correcting. I want to be clear, these questions don’t indicate a weakness of the central story engine (not yet anyway), just some corners that still need to be explored.

A good bit of crime novels are sexist. There, I said it. There just aren’t a whole hell of a lot of fully developed female characters in relation to the amount of fully developed male characters. This isn’t a condemnation, though, just an observation, because sometimes it’s intentional but often it’s not. More than once while readingA Bad Day For Sorry I had to smile to myself, because at times it’s like a photo negative opposite of the rest of the genre because the two female leads are fully developed but the men are all two-dimensional. They are either enigmas or assholes, with nothing in between. Those who have read the book will cry foul at this observation and will invoke the “Goat” defense. Goat being the closest thing that the novel has to a male lead, the sheriff that Stella flirts with and would like to pursue but is caught right now in a will-they-or-won’t-they story line. But I stand by it because the Goat defense doesn’t work for me when you take a closer look at it. Goat has the illusion of being fully developed but isn’t. He’s a caricature of female desire. He’s strong, he’s mysterious, he’s handsome and he comes to the rescue; he’s understanding; he’s powerful, wise and cunning; he’s this, he’s that… But more importantly, he’s a collection of traits rather then a developed character. Will he be developed further in later volumes? Only time and Sophie Littlefield can tell.

If, when Stella and Chrissie saddle up to rescue Tucker, A Bad Day For Sorry feels a bit like Thelma & Louiseredux, it’s not because it is a rehashing of that movies themes but because, on quite a few levels, it is a direct descendent of it. In the Oklahoma City University Law Review in 1997 Shirley A Wiegland wrote an article calledDeception and Artifice: Thelma, Louise, and the Legal Hermeneutic in which she posits a theory for why male viewers reacted differently, and often contrastly, to the movie than female viewers did. The crux of her argument is that the reactions have to do with how one views the legal system and its ability to protect people. The movie gave voice to feelings of ambivalence for female viewers who believed that the legal system (and probably society in general by extension) wasn’t there to help them and often hindered them. I think that Stella (and by extension Chrissie) operates within this framework of a tenuous and often untrustworthy relationship with the law. While being abused over the years by her husband she so desperately wanted someone to help her; a show of strength that would ignite the strength that was buried within her. But the law didn’t exist for her, so when that help never arrived she took the law into her own hands, meting out her own justice, and she now operates to give other women the same opportunity. Her reluctance to pursue a relationship with Goat indicates she is aware of her strained relationship with Law in the past, but her desire for him is indicative that she hasn’t yet fully rejected the system.

This poses an interesting question, though. If Stella is, in effect, the strength for others that she wanted for herself back then. And if her side business is an act of healing, in other words a partially selfish act, then what happens to that business when she becomes more balanced and her abusive-past-sized hole starts to fill? Certainly more fertile ground for Littlefield to till in later volumes.

While I do hope that Stella’s methods and her beliefs will be challenged head on from time to time, she remains a great character, and future books in the series are going to have a hell of good time fleshing her out further. She has three dimensions and multiple facets. She is contradictory and tenacious. She frustrates. She has firm beliefs that are born from hard experience. She may be an alcoholic. She is a killer. She hasn’t fully confronted her past actions but has loosely reconciled with them. She remains, above all else, interesting. Perhaps this quote from the book after she has handily dispatched beat the shit out of someone sums up her character best:

“You thought you had me because you’re young. But badass comes in all ages.”

On a very, very small scale, I found the minor character Marie, the wife of mafia-affiliated Funzi, to be an interesting character from one perspective and an interesting duck from another. Mafia (or Mafia-esqe) wives are, in a lot of mediums, presented as being tough matriarchal figures who know what the score is but would never talk about it in a million years. Marie, on the other hand, is an emaciated figure who cowers before her slimy husband. An inversion of a character type or a lack of character development? Could go either way. But a tough figure (possibly the real power behind her husband) who wanted a child and wouldn’t be denied probably would have made for a much more interesting climatic showdown (also addressing gender reversals). Interestingly, Stella’s system of favors done for favors returned (or not) at a later date is reminiscent of The Godfather and Vito Corelone’s complex system of favors. She is, in some ways, the Don Vito of her story.

There was at least one moment where (at least from her internalized perspective) she has enough of taking a beating from some heavies and turns into a superwoman. This bordered on cartoon. Her surge of strength. I thought that it would have been really interesting to know what would happen if this woman (who had dealt pretty firmly with abuse) catches a beating while on the job? Apparently nothing. How would it affect her? Not at all really.

Something else to consider. Whether she was intending to or not, Littlefield was kind of looking at the borders ofGone Baby Gone territory. Some readers may begin to wonder at some point if Chrissie is fit to be a mother. This debate is ducked by having the rag-tag band of antagonists be so unworthy.

Did I like the book? Yes, very much so. I found the book to be thought-provoking and engaging, and I tried to put a little bit of what I was thinking throughout my reading of it in the review here. This series and this character have all of the ingredients to be very commercially successful, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t. I agree with Nerd that Littlefield avoids full dark, at least for my tastes, and some punches are pulled, but that’s more than fine since not all readers like such things.

Readers who pick this book up (and they should) will be in for a damn good read.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Two Random Things I Like A LOT

Went out with some friends last week to a book event. Afterward we went to the Grand Tavern in Oakland and had their incredible homemade potato chips. Now I cannot possibly emphasize enough how important texture is in a potato chip. A chip should be sturdy and not smooth (Pringles, while a serviceable snack, are truly an entirely different species) - and there should be some evidence that it was once a potato, whether that's a tiny fleck of skin or those weird black spots even nice spuds get. The crunch should be tempered only very slightly by a bit of tensile flexibility - not entirely crisp, in other words, only almost. When it comes to seasonings, believe it or not, I'm far less picky; if there's adequate salt (lots) then I don't much care if they throw on some other junk or not.

The other thing that I love is this card my cousin sent. Every author should get a card like this, I think. It's going to stay right here in front of me for the tough days...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My Home Girls

Tonight my old book club had me over to, uh, talk about my book.

Here's the thing you have to know about my old book club. We kinda talk about books. But what we really talk about is life in the neighborhood. What everyone's kids are up to. Who said what about who. Who gained a few pounds and who else found them and who painted their house a butt-ugly color and a whole lot of stuff I wouldn't repeat here cause it's, y'know, in the circle of trust.

I moved across town a few months ago and I don't see these gals near as much as I would like anymore. N, our hostess, gave me a gerbera daisy and a box of Stella d'Oro cookies....get it, Stella d'Oro?

And I made everyone pose before we started in on the serious dishing...

but later I got to thinking that Ms. J here would make a great Stella...what do you think? (J is prettier than I imagine Stella to be, but she's got that covert sassy streak...)