Thursday, May 31, 2012

One of Those Days

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

It's been one of those days.

If you're a writer, you know what I'm talking about. Those days where you look at the story and think there is no way you can ever fix it. Then every word you've ever written starts to look like horse manure, and you think, "How the hell did I ever think I could be a writer?" and "I think Panera is hiring, so maybe I should apply and be content making paninis for the rest of my life."

Yeah, those days.

My friend Amy would call it the "gremlins" coming out to play. Call it gremlins, call it insecurity, call it stalling, call it writer's block - whatever you like.

All I know is it nearly reduced me to tears this morning.

While the irrational part of me is thinking that the job at Panera looks pretty good right now, the rational part of me know this is just part of the game. And what I need to do now is step back.

I've closed the story. I'll finish this blog, and the only other thing I will write today will be the newsletter article for my taekwondo school.

After that, the rest of that Caramel Delight ice cream and a few episodes of "Dr. Who" sound really good. Or maybe I'll lose the my misery in Never Tell a Lie by Hallie Ephron (which is excellent, btw). A few games of Doodle Jump. Whatever it is, it won't be writing.

No, I'm going to resist to take immediate action on the idea I had in the dentist's chair regarding my WIP. I'm going to let it stew, let it percolate. Age, like fine wine or cheese.

Some might call it stalling. But I recognize it for what it is: A sign that I've been working to hard and I need to chillax. That happens you know.

That ice cream is calling my name. But what about you? Do you have those days? What do you do about it?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Unlock the Handcuffs

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Few topics are more likely to incite heated debate among technophiles than the mention of electronic media. Music, movies, and most recently books. A quick search of the Internet will reveal half a dozen stories of how ebooks are destroying reading - or not, depending on your point of view. To self-publish or not. Are 99 cent books ruining the industry.

I admit it - I'm a convert to ebooks. Originally, I didn't see how this "fad" would be viable. I mean, books have been around for, well, forever. Then I realized there is great joy in never being without reading material - and not just one book, dozens. I read on my iPhone. Small screen, yes, but I find it manageable.

But recently, and culminating this weekend, I realized their is a massive issue, a massive barrier, facing the publishing industry. And it's related to ebooks. But it isn't the face that books are digital. No, the real handcuffs on the industry can be summed up in three letters: D-R-M.

For the less technically-minded, DRM is "digital rights management." It's the thing that keeps you from illegally copying digital material and it's been around in various forms for a long time (anyone remember the Sony CD DRM debacle - anyone?).

Sometimes it's just a pain the the butt. You know, Kindle books can't be read in iBooks because they use a proprietary format (.mobi). You can read them on a Nook, but only if the publisher has disabled DRM and you jump through a few hoops to convert the format. iBooks use the more universal .epub format, but you can't read them on a Nook because Apple has inserted DRM code. You can read Kindle and Nook books on an iPad, but only if you download the Kindle or Nook apps. I've even read of problems where if someone moves from one country to another, stuff they've purchased from Apple disappears and they can't download it again.

It's preposterous. Take a DVD. It would be like saying that if you buy a DVD from Universal Pictures, you can only play it in a Panasonic DVD player (and yes, I can't believe I just used movies as an example because they have their own DRM issues - and I'm ignoring regions for the moment). Or buying a CD from a Sony Music artist and you can only play it in a Sony CD player. Stupid, right?

My daughter wants a Nook for her birthday. I had to caution her against buying books from the iBookstore because if she does, she won't be able to read them on her Nook. She'd wind up buying the book twice.

We both liked the Hunger Games trilogy. We bought the paper books - we can both read them. But if I buy the book for the iBookstore, she would have to buy a new version for her Nook - or at least get the Nook app and buy the book through there (and let's not discuss the fact that you can no longer buy books right from the Nook or Kindle apps, shall we?).

As a consumer, I find this irritating beyond measure. When it comes to digital reading, I prefer the iBooks app (please, I'm not an Apple fan-girl, I've used lots of reading apps and settled on iBooks). But I bought some things via Amazon and the Kindle app before iBooks came out. I have to keep the Kindle app around because I can't read Kindle books in iBooks - or I have to buy the book again, and quite honestly I haven't encountered too many books that I love so much that I want to buy two or three times.

As an author, I find this even more irritating. I want my words read in as many formats as possible to reach the biggest audience. I don't care if it's paper, digital, papyrus, or stone tablets. I don't want unnecessary barriers put in their way by publishers.

The bottom line is this: ebooks should work in whatever reading device the reading public wants to use.  Period. Because the reason that the market is full of different versions of DVD players, CD players, can openers, or whatnot is because different versions appeal to different people. But I can open any can on my can opener. I don't have to buy cans designed specifically for Sunbeam can openers. I shouldn't have to buy digital books designed specifically for a specific reading app or device.

So publishers, please. Find the key to the handcuffs. Readers want to buy your products. Don't lock them out.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Romancing the Writer

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Not that long ago, I wrote about a little exercise I was doing to stretch my authorial legs - namely writing a romance novella set in Puerto Rico (a very romantic place, if you ask me).

Well, a week later, I think I'm almost done. The first draft was completed before the weekend. I'm now on rewrite #3 - the point where the changes are small tweaks, not major insertions or deletions.

I do plan to read it once more just to make sure my timeline hangs together (I had to start a notepad file to keep track of the days). But I feel perilously close to the "fiddling" stage. You know, where I'm making changes just for the sake of making changes. And that's really a bad place to be.

I've been asked "how do you know that you're done?" I'm not sure I really have a good answer to that. On one hand, you're "done" when your publisher says so. But in another way, I kind of feel that it's similar to defining pornography. Nobody can give a very good definition, but we all know it when we see it.

That's where I am. I'm not "done" yet, but I'm tantalizingly close. I feel it more than I know it.

And here's the most surprising thing: I've really, really enjoyed writing this novella. It may never go anywhere. But I've had a lot of fun. It's all about character, which I love. I mean really, there are only so many variations on "boy meets girl," right? So with a few minor details, one romance is a lot like another. That means that if you don't have good characters, you're dead in the water.

When I'm writing mystery, there's a lot of "who did what, when, why, how" puzzling that has to be done. No, that guy couldn't have done it, because of this thing I said he did in chapter 1. And the girl couldn't have been there at that time because I already said she was 100 miles away. Keeping track of those threads can be maddening.

So writing a story without those details has been refreshing. Yeah, there are details. The story still has to hang together. But it doesn't feel as technical. I've got a little more freedom. I need to worry more about whether a characters actions are consistent with her personality than whether or not I already alibied her four chapters ago.

So what's next for this story? Not really sure.

But I'm definitely going to go look up those contest rules again.

Updated 5/24/12: I pushed "send" on the entry today. Ack!

What's the one thing you've tried and enjoyed more than you expected?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Evolution of a Character

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

I've heard it said recently that character is king. Give a reader an engaging, likeable character (or characters) and he'll forgive you a few plot holes (not craters, but "oopsies"). One of the things that makes characters engaging is development. Your protagonist starts as one person and grows to become a richer, fuller person - hopefully. Flat characters are hard to love.

Very few fans of crime/mystery fiction have not read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic "Sherlock Holmes" stories (or at least heard of them). Many who have not read the stories, have seen movies with Basil Rathbone or the late, great Jeremy Brett (my personal favorite).

But as much as I love Brett's manic, quirky, arrogant, yet gentlemanly, portrayal of Holmes, I think he's being eclipsed in my mind by the new face of Sherlock: Benedict Cumberbatch. Why? Character development.

In the first episode of Holmes, he's really a jerk ("I'm a high-functioning sociopath. Do your homework."). There's little to like about this man. He's arrogant. He's rude. He dismisses everybody and everything as beneath his notice, including Watson, Mrs. Hudson, and Molly the lab tech. He's brilliant of course, but he takes that for granted. Anybody who doesn't measure up (and that's just about everybody) he dismisses (he does somehow take to Watson).

In short, he's a guy who I can admire as a genius, but wouldn't invite him to dinner in a million years.

Then in Season 2, there came the moment. Watson makes a comment about friends, and Holmes retorts, "I don't have any friends." Watson is clearly hurt and starts to pull away from their relationship. And Holmes misses him; it surprises him, I think, but that stings, to lose Watson. And later he says, "I told you the truth; I don't have friends. I have one." The message is clear: Holmes considers Watson his one friend. There's another moment where this goes further in the Season 2 finale, but if you haven't seen it I don't want to spoil it for you.

That, my friends, is character development. Holmes is still arrogant. But he's realized that these people, Watson in particular, matter to him. He's a little less isolated and a little more human.

That humanity is what makes characters appealing. Real people change and grow (or at least they should). If we want our characters to be people our readers would invite for dinner, we have to make them human. We have to develop them in a way that makes them change and grow.

What's the best example of character development you've read or seen?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Today's Paranoia: Head-Hopping

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

So, this morning, as usual, I check up on my Twitter feed. Saw a couple blog posts about head-hopping, and how it's bad (and of course now I can't find the links - maybe it's time to start using lists on Twitter).

Update: Couldn't find both articles, but this one was the tipping point.

Update 2: Found the other one at

So, of course I read theses posts before I start my day's work, and now I'm paranoid. I'm seeing head-hopping everywhere.

For the uninitiated, "head-hopping" is the practice of switching point-of-view (POV) multiple times, especially within a scene. It's kind of disconcerting for the reader. Even in third-person voice, you have a main character (MC). That MC is the one who you see the story through - at least in the main. Think of Harry Potter. Third-person POV. There are other characters, but you mainly see the action through Harry's eyes, which means the story is processed through Harry's brain and thoughts (there is this concept of third-person omniscient, but I digress).

Some people find it difficult to write in third-person for this very reason. Sure, there are challenges with first-person, namely you cannot write anything that the person speaking (normally the MC) doesn't know directly, even if you the author knows it. But maintaining consistent POV is pretty easy.

I've written third-person. I'm pretty comfortable with it. I've even written stories with multiple POV and my readers (one of whom is the aforementioned editor) had no problem following the story. So I kind of think of it as a strong suit of mine.

But after this morning, I am freaking out with this particular romance project. Am I head-hopping? Am I confusing my reader? Because here's the thing.

When you write a scene with two people in it, especially a romantic tension scene, you can't totally ignore the feelings/thoughts/emotions of one of the players.

I mean really. You just can't. You can't talk about how the heroine gets all mushy inside when the hero looks at her and then totally ignore how she affects him. How he gets all hot and bothered every time he brushes her skin. I mean, you just can't! If you want romantic tension, you need to get both actors involved, otherwise you've got bupkus.

So, while I firmly believe rules are meant to be broken, I'm having a little bit of anxiety here. And there's not a lot I can do about it except look for the really egregious places where even I can spot the head-hopping and get rid of it.

Because in the end, it doesn't matter if I think what I've done is completely clear. It matters what my reader thinks. So on I trudge. This is the part of the story where I think "OMG, why did I think I could do this?"

I know it's just a part of the process. I'll get over it. But in the meantime, I'm still feeling a bit paranoid.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Stretching My Boundaries

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Last week, via Twitter, I got a link to a writing contest from a tweep of mine. Novella length, 15k-50k words. Due by 1 June. I thought, "That looks interesting." Just one problem.

It was for the romance genre.

Okay, I'll wait while you have whatever reaction you have to romance novels.

Now, I've never written romance. Don't really read them either. Not my thing. Not for me. Pass.

Until my husband, who had been reading one of my short stories, said "Are you sure you aren't writing a romance disguised as a mystery?" Whoa.

And that got me thinking: Perhaps I need to stretch my writing legs. You know, go outside the norm. Get out of my "comfort zone," as my friend Amy would say.

So I looked at the contest rules again. The level of "heat" in the manuscript was up to me. Which is good, because I don't think I'm ready to write an explicit sex scene yet. I started thinking. And for some reason, my three-month sojourn in Puerto Rico popped into my head. "What if two people, each looking to get over a heartbreak, met in San Juan? And what would happen if...?"

And thus, a story is born.

I finished the first draft using the #1k1hr tactic of fast-drafting. Don't spend days on an outline, just write. Some in the biz call this "pantsing" - writing by the seat of your pants.

Is the story any good? Well, I kind of like it. It's been fun writing something a little sexy, without the conundrums of "who got killed, by whom, how, and why."

Will I enter the contest? Don't know yet. I'm doing draft #2 now, expanding things, adding some more detail. If I like where the story is at by 1 June, I just might enter. You know, just for kicks.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dare to Suck: Part 2

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

So, I dared to suck. I sent the story out. Yesterday, the comments from the editor came back. Guess what?

I don't suck.

I feel a CS Lewis quote coming on: Oh frabjous day, calloo, callay! Cue the fireworks!

She liked the character. She liked the dog. She didn't even talk about my lack of intricate plot twists (it is a short story after all; how many twists can you possibly have?). She even told me that I have "no reason to be insecure about my writing," which is a huge sigh of relief for me (okay, I know, lots have people have told me this, but this is a woman I've never met, a professional, who has no reason to sugar coat it for me).

Now, this is not to say that she didn't have any comments at all. Turns out that even though I didn't think I was writing a police procedural story (I deliberately stayed away from overly technical details that I thought characterized the genre), I was. Any story told from the POV of a law enforcement officer is a police procedural. Who knew?

Fortunately, I have great timing. I'm taking an online class with Lee Lofland, former law enforcement officer, author, and blogger at The Graveyard Shift this week. So I'm going to restrain myself from jumping right back into the story, finish the class, and hopefully be able to make it better.

That's the key: make it better. It's good now. It can be better. None of the editor's comments were unfixable. She didn't tell me, "Don't give up your day job, sweetie."

It's true. Great things happen when you show up. When you dare to suck. Because sometimes, you don't suck.

I suddenly feel the urge to "futterwhacken."

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lessons from "The Avengers"

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Okay, so I saw "The Avengers" yesterday (me and millions of other folks, judging by the box office receipts). First, if you haven't seen the movie, go see it. As soon as possible. Even if you don't like superhero movies. Why? I'll tell you why.

Because the story-telling makes me weep with envy.

Without giving away any spoilers, just let me say that Joss Whedon could teach a clinic on several things that challenge writers.

Giving each character a voice. At no time did one character sound like another. In a movie that contained no fewer than eight significant characters, Whedon managed to give each one a unique voice. Iron Man did not sound like Captain American, who did not sound like Thor, who did not sound like Bruce Banner. And I'm not just talking about the voice of the actors. It was in the language, the syntax, the rhythm of the dialogue. I could close my eyes and know which character was speaking. And that's hard - especially with such a large ensemble.

Pacing. From the first minutes of the film, you were off to the races. No tedious exposition. No getting you familiar with the characters. Now, Whedon was certainly helped here by the previous individual movies, but even if you have been living under a rock and haven't seen those movies, you figured it out pretty quickly. But that was done through action, through doing. Not a 10-minute lecture on the Hulk's history. With a running time of 2 hours and 23 minutes, it would have been easy for this movie to either drag or just overwhelm with action. It did neither. I hardly noticed the time, but it was not a constant barrage of blowing things up. Plenty of action, yes, but Whedon kindly allowed you to catch your breath and prepare for the next Big Scene.

Humor. If you are a Firefly or Buffy fan, you know Whedon's got a sense of humor. "The Avengers" script dripped with it - and if you weren't paying attention, you'd miss the little one-line zingers. And they weren't all allocated to Tony Stark, either. Every character, even Loki, got his day. But the humor was appropriate to the situation. There were no gratuitous jokes. The humor enhance the story and the characters. And yes, there were some damn funny parts.

Killing your darlings.  Again, no spoilers. Every writer is told, "You have to be willing to kill your darlings." You have to put your characters in real danger. You have to threaten them. J.K. Rowling killed her favorite character. And yes, there is a point in the "The Avengers" where my jaw hit the floor - "Oh no he didn't!" Yes, yes he did. And it was gut-wrenchingly painful. And it was necessary. And it worked. It takes a brave writer to do that.

Some authors spurn screenwriters. Face it, we get snobby. But I urge you: Set aside your snobbery. Go see "The Avengers" for the writing lessons it teaches. Then try to put those lessons to work in your own writing. You'll be a better writer.

Thank you, Joss Whedon, not only for a great movie, but for a great lesson in how to write a kick-ass story.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Taking the Plunge

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

I know yesterday I said, "Don't be afraid to suck." But today, I feel a little like this:

See, I sent my first story out to an editor. A real editor. Not a friend, not a friend of a friend. I'm going to pay this woman to rip m baby to shreds and tell me how to make it better.

I'm praying that she doesn't tell me to find the nearest McDonald's, apply, and give up the ghost. I don't think she will. I think she's too nice to say it like that.

So yeah, I'm not precisely afraid to suck.

But I'm really, really nervous.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Don't Be Afraid to Suck

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Confession time: Sometimes, I'm stupid. See, I don't always learn the lesson the first time. The universe has to tell me again, and again, and again, and...

You get the point.

The lesson of this week seems to be encapsulated in five words: Don't Be Afraid to Suck

I got a lot of links this week, this and this, from my friend Amy; this one; oh, and this one. I myself have written on the topic of fear over at my personal blog.

But as writers (well, as people really) all too often we feel like this:

Why? Well, I can only come up with one reason: We're afraid of sucking. We're afraid that every word from our fingertips will not be perfect, that we cannot capture the thought. So we remain paralyzed, afraid to move because we fear The Suck.
Most folks have heard of NaNoWriMo. This week, I heard of a new hashtag on Twitter, #1k1hr. The idea is to write 1,000 words in one hour. Some people scoff at this (see above link). Some people use the scoffing to cover their feelings. Because they fear The Suck. See, you cannot write a polished story, or even a polished scene in one hour. Just not possible. But you can write something. You can, to use the words in the blog post, "cut away everything that does not look like an elephant."

In one of my all time favorite books on writing Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, she refers to the "shitty first draft." It's an essential part of writing. You need that shitty first draft. You need to cut away everything that doesn't look like an elephant.

That's what #1k1hr is. That's what NaNoWriMo is. It's the shitty first draft. Guess what, I read the 2,100 words I wrote yesterday and some of them sucked. But some of them were good. Some just needed a littler "ner" tweak to be really good (at least in my mind, which is the only mind that counts right now).

So writers, don't fear The Suck. Just write, write, and write some more. Yes, you'll end up with a shitty first (or second, or third) draft. Your elephant will look a little weird. Not every word that you put to pixels or paper will sound like Hemingway. But here's a secret: I bet Hemingway had a shitty first draft. I bet Hemingway occasionally feared The Suck.

But really, it's not so scary. And the good part, is if you don't fear the The Suck, someday, you might just feel like this:

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Playing the Revision Game

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

At one point this morning, I had three Chapter 21s. No, I am not joking.

I was frustrated. I kept trying to make new things happen, and the story traveled down the same well-worn path. The wrong path. I wanted to drag the entire manuscript to the trash.

This is what happens when you're revising. You rip out pieces. You write new ones. You move things around. You realize that the scene you just wrote really belongs about three chapters earlier. You start hating your story.

It's messy. It's necessary. And if you're not careful, it will drive you batty.

But I'll live, I guess.

Into all of this comes an exciting new project, one with a deadline of 1 September 2012. And a theme. I won't say more yet because, well, I don't know if I should. But it's kind of cool.

It also gives me an opportunity to use a new trend on Twitter - #1k1hr. The concept is that you write 1,000 words in 1 hour. No editing, no revising. Just write. I like the concept because as writers sometimes the hardest part of what we do is just power through the words. I'm just not sure how it works with my current rewrite. Do I see if I added 1,000 words in an hour? But what if what I need to do is rip out 1,000 words?

You see the dilemma.

But there are days when it's hard to sit down and "get-r-done," so I can see the value of #1k1hr.

What do you do on the days where the words just don't come or the rewrite seems to be going nowhere?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Making Bread - and Stories

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

We borrowed a bread machine last week from one of the husband's co-workers. See, we've been thinking of buying one, but wanted to make sure we didn't just love the idea before plunking down the cash.

This morning, as I munch the last bit of the foccacia I made yesterday, it occurs to me that making bread - or cooking anything really - is like writing a story. No, I'm not off my rocker.

See, both require specific elements. With bread, you need flour, water, yeast, and salt. Without those, you don't really have bread (don't get technical on me about flat breads and such).

When you're writing a story, you also need certain elements: plot, characters, dialogue (it's really hard, but maybe possible, to write an entire story without dialogue). Yes, I'm speaking more to fiction here, but hey, that's what I write.

But at some part of the process, you get to be creative and throw a little something unexpected in there. With bread, there's a multitude of things you can put in: cheese, nuts, dried fruit, herbs - otherwise all you have is a tasteless hunk of baked flour.

Same thing with a story. You've got to throw in something interesting: a twist, a hook - something to engage your reader. Otherwise, well, you have a tasteless block of words.

I suppose the possibilities are almost endless, only limited by your imagination. With baking, and writing, you try lots of things. Some work, some don't. Over time, you find your groove. The best writers - and bakers - don't just settle for what works, though. They're always experimenting. Some day, I hope I can change that pronoun to "we."

For the time being, it's Monday, and that means back to Rewrite #2 on Out of the Blue.

Oh, and I need to make another loaf of bread.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Slow and Steady

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

So, here I am. Been a week of unemployment and a week into Rewrite #2 of the novel. I think I came up with a title I don't completely hate - Out of the Blue. See, without giving too much away it speaks not only to one of the details in the story, but the idea of this woman breaking out into her own as an investigator.

Okay, cut me some slack. I'm working on it.

Speaking of working on it, I'm up to what is now Chapter 12 (yeah, those keep changing on me). I've trimmed about 5,000 words from where I started, but I'm sure I'm going to add them back. The manuscript feels "tighter," at least to me. My body is there when the story starts, but I've dropped the idea of murder in chapter 3, instead of chapter 7, and I hope I've introduced what has been described to me as the "hole in the heart" - basically, why you care about this character. A bit of a damaged past for her to work through as a person.

I really hope it works.

The thing about this rewrite is that it's a weird mash-up of tweaking and rewriting. Some of what I have a really like. Some of it, well, "dreck" is probably too strong of a word, but based on what I've learned in the last two months it's not quite as good as I thought it was when I wrote it.

I'm sure my author friends can relate.

My husband is disappointed that my original beginning, which was approximately 25 pages of backstory (you did get a good glimpse of the characters and the world, but it was slow), is gone. That leads me to a question: As a reader, how fast do you like to be thrown into the action? Gentle lead up or right from page one?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Baby Steps

So, the big news of today, I'm guest blogging for Writer Wednesday over at "The Blotter," a blog from my friend and Sisters in Crime sib Joyce Tremel. Check it out if you are so inclined, and read an excerpt from my first Jim Duncan short story.

Other than that, I've jumped into Rewrite #2 for the as-yet untitled novel. (I really must remedy that lack of a title thing.) I'm feeling pretty good about it. In Rewrite #1, I switched to third-person POV because I thought it was necessary. Then I took a great workshop in March and learned that wasn't necessarily true - so Rewrite #2 moves me back to first-person POV with limited third-person scenes.

Of more importance is introducing another character and added depth for the protagonist. Why should you care about her? Why does she care about this murder? Those kinds of questions. I've heard this referred to as "the hole in the heart" - essentially, the reason you are rooting for her.

When I first let someone read my draft, the main comment was, "Your character is too damn happy." Hopefully this second rewrite addresses that. I mean, I don't want her to be absolutely miserable, but I don't want Pollyanna either.

The body is dropped in chapter 1, but previously the idea of murder didn't happen until chapter 7. A bit late, so that concept has moved up to chapter 3.

Anyway, I feel like I'm on the right track. Progress by word count is tricky (since the words are really already written and I'm just adjusting), but I've worked through the first six existing chapters.

I added the equivalent of 12 chapters in the last rewrite. Wonder what I'll add/subtract this time?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I'm Now a Festival Veteran

Well, sort of. Yesterday was the annual Festival of Mystery hosted by the Mystery Lover's Book Shop in Oakmont, PA. Over forty authors packed into one hall to showcase books, rub elbows, and have mini-interviews.

Confession: I've lived in the Oakmont area since 1996 and have never attended the Festival. So when I parked, I was a little amazed at the crowd. I didn't plan well enough to help with the setup (okay, I originally didn't think I'd make it at all, but sudden unemployment at least allowed me to attend), but I did get to sit at our table for our Sisters in Crime chapter - and I even sold a book! I felt a little awkward browsing the author tables, since my book-buying budget has disappeared, but all the authors I met were super-friendly.

The best part of the evening had to be the pizza after-party at Mystery Lovers. Since I'd volunteered to drive a couple authors out to the airport I skipped the wine and champagne, but I did chug a Coke, nosh on a couple slices of pizza and have some great conversation. I also picked up a slew of book marks (because that's what authors use to promote books, you know), some recommendations, and a lot of encouragement for my own writing efforts. I really wish I'd know that Alice Loweecy was from Western New York when I talked to her - we could have compared notes! (I grew up in Buffalo.)

The two ladies I drove, Beth Groundwater and Vicki Doudera were lovely people and we chatted the entire trip to their hotel (they had accidentally booked at the Holiday Inn near Pitt - and since Vicki had a 5am flight that was absolutely NOT going to work). They were cheerful and gracious when an unexpected detour prompted the nickel tour of a couple of Pittsburgh neighborhoods - Lawrenceville, the Strip, the Cultural District, and Downtown. They even forgave me for almost driving over the lawn at the Holiday Inn (I blame bad lighting on the part of the hotel grounds).

All in all, it was a great time. Beth encouraged me to join the Guppies chapter of Sisters in Crime and both extracted promises from me to keep them posted on my writing. It's only May 1, 2012 and I'm already looking forward to next year's Festival!