The Mystery Novel as Coffee Table Book



Introduction: What writer hasn’t looked around her office and wondered where all those hard copies of her drafts came from. And then wondered what to do with them. Here is one solution.

What I have written exists only if it appears on paper and I am able to hold it in my hands, read it, and make notes on it. Forget the Cloud, and Dropbox, and Mozy. I still fear that Word documents will disappear into the ether and be lost forever despite my multiple backups. So I printed version after version of my novel. When it finally left my hands to be published, I looked around my office and discovered I was surrounded by teetering piles of drafts printed on different colored papers in a variety of fonts. (I had made the happy discovery that changing the font helped make errors more visible.)

I needed to do something about the reams of paper stacked on the floor, on the shelves, and on the chairs before I started the next book, one I hoped would require many fewer ‘very last final versions.’

Salvation arrived by way of a Call for Entries from my local Center for the Arts. Its upcoming juried show had to do with the book — artists’ books, hand-bound books, and altered books. I was inspired. The surrounding stacks of drafts were nothing if not an altered book, particularly if one considered my multi-colored arrows, notes, post-its and revisions.

The original title of the novel had been “Bitter Ashes,” so it seemed most appropriate to burn the drafts, put their ashes and some artfully burned pages in a clear box, and call it, of course, “Bitter Ashes.” However, the noxious odor from burning the first few pages disabused me of that idea.

Then inspiration struck. I had been collecting quotations from writers about revising one’s work.

For example, Elmore Leonard’s advice: “When you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip.”

And Robert Cormier’s “The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.”

I bundled the stacks of paper and tied them with heavy twine. Then I wrote a number of quotations about revising on tags and hung them from the knots. An artist friend knocked my precise stacks around until they looked artfully messy. (I love how artists see things.)

I heaped the stacks on a rolling cart and trundled it off to the art center. My husband warned me that the center volunteers were going to laugh at me. I said that’s okay. Laughter is a response, and in art, provoking almost any response is a good thing.

When I wheeled my masterpiece into the building, political correctness as well as common courtesy flew out the window when the folks accepting the submissions looked at my offering and burst out laughing. So far so good, I thought. I hoped the juror had a sense of humor.

Apparently she did. The piece was accepted, and to my surprise, so was the cart.

After the show closed, my artist friend was horrified that I was going to put it in the recycling bin. He rescued it and the drafts now rest proudly, but messily, on a table and the floor in his living room.

Now if I could just figure out what to do with all those backup disks.



Launch Party

Kaitlin from Copperfield’s Books in Healdsburg

It was ninety-seven degrees June 8, 2014, when we gathered at CRUX Winery to send In the Shadow of Lies: A Mystery Novel out into the world.

Friends and family mingled and sweltered. Thank goodness for Heidi’s watermelon water!


Thank you for coming. I had a wonderful time!


What I Learned About Using Lyrics While Writing “In the Shadow of Lies”

Sometimes, a song enters my mind and becomes the soundtrack for the scene I’m writing, particularly if the scene includes Oliver, who shares my love of music. Early in the book, he sits in the dark listening to Billie Holiday sing “Gloomy Sunday.” If the reader knows the song, she knows something significant about Oliver and may begin to wonder what has caused him to seek comfort in that song.


My Writing Process Blog Tour

Fellow She Writes Press author Tory McCagg invited me to join the My Writing Process Blog Tour.

First, I would like to tell you a little about her, then I will answer the four questions about my process, and then I will introduce you to the three wonderful writers who will continue the blog tour next week.

World War II

Ghostly Funeral Procession

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established Columbus Day as a national holiday in 1934. In 1942, with an eye to a planned invasion of Italy, and to the upcoming elections (for which FDR needed the Italian vote), the government chose Columbus Day to announce that Italian Americans would no longer be considered enemies of the United States.

Dogs, World War II

Always Faithful

Always Faithful, A Memoir of the Marine Dogs of WWII, by Captain William W. Putney tells the story of the dogs that fought in Guam and the other Pacific Islands. The dogs were used for scouting, attacks, carrying messages, detecting mines, and guarding. The dogs scouted in front of more than 550 patrols on the island of Guam. Not one patrol was ambushed, but 25 dogs died in service. As Captain Putney writes in his book:

“The sacrifices of these dogs were recognized by everyone of us that served in the 2nd and 3rd War Dog Platoons. They died; we lived.”

World War II

Remember Pearl Harbor

Seventy-three years ago, Americans sat by the radio horrified by Japan’s sneak attack on the Pacific Fleet in Honolulu. They wanted to know more than the radio could tell them. Were their loved ones safe, what would the Japanese do next, would the United States be drawn into the war against the Germans and the Russians, Japan’s allies. After hearing about Pearl Harbor, Winston Churchill said “he went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.


Xylitol: Sweet and Deadly to Dogs

I’ve been worried recently about the number of people who don’t know that the artificial sweetener xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs and that it is being used in more and more products.

This is Andy licking the bowl after I made cookies. (I do sterilize the bowl afterwards.) He and Lily come and wait in the kitchen as soon as they hear me getting the mixer out. They don’t really get much sugar in the licking, but they get tons of enjoyment! However, if I had used xylitol in the dough, they would be in danger of having seizures and even liver failure.



In How to Grow a Novel, Sol Stein asks the writer to give thought to what the reader is experiencing in each scene of a novel. He characterizes the attention the writer gives to the reader’s experience as courtesy. He says that you must reward your audience, the reader.