Monday, November 2, 2009

Don Bruns Wins Best Mystery of the Year Award

First the Silver Falchion Award, now best mystery of the year from the Florida Writer's Association. And Best Mystery 2007 from Forword Magazine, and various other awards.

Awards are great, and when I hang them on the wall, it reminds me that I AM a writer. But I'm not sure that awards sell books. Actually, if I knew what sold books, I would be fabulously famous and fabulously wealthy. I am neither. I asked John Jakes about it one time. Jakes is famous for the Kent Family Chronicles and North And South, both series then turned into mini-series on ABC in the 70s. John says all things considered it's the luck of the draw. Two equally talented authors have the same chance of striking it rich.

I'm not sure if that's true anymore. I think that in some cases a writer is discovered, gets a mention in People Magazine, The New York Times or USA Today ( The Nanny Diaries) and the book takes off like a rocket. But if the book is good, a publisher can buy the success. He can spend thousands of dollars and have it placed at the entrance to airport bookstores, front case it at Borders and B&N, take out ads in major papers. This doesn't guarantee success, but it certainly puts the book in success's path. If the potential reader senses that this book is a big deal from all the placement and all the ads, they are much more likely to buy it.

I've talked to authors who make it to the top of the New York Times list, and every one tells me that the publisher spent enough to get it there. So, it doesn't bode well for those of us who have limited funds and smaller publishers. That's okay. We'll take the awards, and someday when we're finally rich and famous and maybe having other people write our books we'll look back at our wall filled with trophies and remember when.

The Florida Writer's Association awarded Stuff Dreams Are Made Of the best mystery of the year this week. I am truly thankful. Stuff To Spy For was just released. I would like to think I'm wrong. I'd really like to believe that an award will sell a book. I'd like to believe that because of this award, my book will sell like crazy. So let's try this. Everyone who reads this blog, go buy Stuff To Spy For ( a comic thriller. Publisher's Weekly says "laugh out loud funny.") Then buy a book for everyone on your gift list. Then write to everyone on your email list, write to every blog you subscribe to, and enlist their support in buying Stuff To Spy For. Get them to buy a copy for everyone on their list. Take a day off work and put the cover of my book on the side of your car. Drive up and down the streets of your city! Call Borders, your local library, your independent bookstore and demand that they order 20, 30 copies of Stuff To Spy For. Explain that Don Bruns is an AWARD WINNING AUTHOR, and he now deserves to sell a lot of books.

Or don't.

If you do, I thank you in advance!

Don Bruns/award winning author, waiting to be a best selling scribe.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Big Wait

For the writers in the ranks of Killer Nashville attendees, we go for the info. We go for the networking. And we go to go.

The writing process is, sadly often, very much about the hurry-up-and-wait. We wait for the muse. We wait for Microsoft Word to load. We wait for the printer. We wait in line at the Post Office. We wait for the rejection. We wait for the acceptance.

So it feels good to move; to scurry from one session to the next; to throw our lunches down our throats to leave enough time for the floss and tongue scraper before our pitch sessions. The vitality of bustling offsets the dreaded ‘writer’s spread’ of the added hip girth gained from waiting around in our chairs.

Oh, but how we dive and roll when we work. Mystery, suspense, and thriller writers dodge bullets. We run after suspects. We tear though alleys and woods. We beat the hell out of people. Sometimes we kill, and sometimes we die, in our minds – just to know what it feels like, so we can write it right.

That’s what we do while we wait. Don’t let anyone tell you that’s not real work.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

2010 Killer Nashville Guest of Honor

By Beth Terrell

Every year, there's much speculation about who will be the Killer Nashville Guest of Honor, and every year, when Clay tells me who it is, I feel a burst of excitement--"Wow! That's amazing!"-- immediately followed by a trickle of anxiety--"Uh oh. How are we ever going to live up to that next year?"

But every year, somehow we do. Mary Higgins Clark was the very first Killer Nashville Guest of Honor, followed by Michael Connelly, Dr. Bill Bass, and J.A. Jance. To this list, it's my pleasure and honor to add the 2010 Guest of Honor . . .

(Drum roll, please . . . )

Jeffery Deaver.

Deaver is an award-winning author whose books have been on best-seller lists around the world. They've been translated into 25 languages and sold in 150 countries. Two have been made into movies (The Bone Collector, starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie, and A Maiden's Grave, starring James Garner and Marlee Matlin). Among Deaver's works are stand-alone thrillers (such as The Blue Nowhere, A Maiden's Grave and A Body Left Behind). His series characters include quadriplegic Lincoln Rhyme, whose keen mind and vast knowledge of forensics enable him to solve even the most difficult crimes from his hospital bed, and Kathryn Dance, an expert in kinesics--the interpretation of body language, such as facial expressions or gestures.

Deaver's attention to detail is legendary. He does extensive research on every book, and if he says x type of sand is only found in y area, you can pretty much take that to the bank. Lee Lofland, a well-respected expert in law enforcement procedures and investigative techniques, says Deaver's research is among the best he's seen. When asked how much time he devotes to research, Deaver says he devotes about eight months to researching and outlining a book.

Although Deaver describes his books as plot-driven, many have characterized them as psychological thrillers. In the Q&A on his website, Deaver says, "I explore the psychology of crime and crime detection in my books: the minds of the criminal and his hunters. I also try very hard to create characters--both heroes and villains--with psychological depth. In other words, the people who populate my books are more than caricatures. We inhabit their minds throughout most of the book."

If you like thrillers, forensics, or psychology, check out Jeffery Deaver. And please join us for Killer Nashville 2010. Registration will be opening soon.

I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

And a Grand Time Was Had by All!

OK, except for the dead guy in the boiler room.

Another Killer Nashville has come and gone; too short, too soon.

Up first, thanks to all who attended. The variety and quality of the writers who attend are what makes KN so much fun, and so important for mystery writers.

Second, but first in my heart, a huge well done and thanks to the staff and all of the volunteers. It went like clockwork.
(As any good crime should, right?) :)

An amazingly long list of attendees got the chance to get some excellent advice from, and pitch their books to, three extraordinary publishing reps.

My thanks, and all of KillerNashville's thanks, for their endless patience, good humor, professionalism and openness, to:

Jill Marr, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency
Lucienne Diver, The Knight Agency, and
Maryglenn McCombs, Oceanview Publishing

The downside of being an attendee is that you miss some awesome presentations. (I had to leave the "Mind of a Psychopath" session halfway through. Now I'll never know if Dr. Benning was talking about me.)

To all of the presenters, from everyone at KillerNashville, our thanks for sharing your expertise and advice.

All of that and more is true of our very lovely and special guest, J. A. Jance. She was wonderful, heartwarming and enlightening. She even gave us a song. It was an excellent and memorable session.

This wouldn't be complete without a thank you to the dead guy in the boiler room, and to the guys from TBI- Tennessee Bureau of Investigations, who put him there. The crime scene this year was a scream.

Congratulations to all of this years winners and awardees:

  • Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award: Chester D. Campbell, for The Surest Poison
  • Killer Nashville Claymore Dagger Award: Linda Black for The Death of Noble Dancer
  • SEMWA Magnolia Award: Elizabeth (Beth) Terrell
  • Wolfmont doorprize basket: Kristin Lemons

There are a few dozen more people that we need to thank, and as we pull some pictures together (I hope), we'll follow up and thank them proper in later posts.

For now though, let me leave you with a bit of hope --

The last session this year ended just about 2:30 Sunday.
The planning session for next year started at 3:00.

See YOU in 2010.

Butch Wilson
and very proud to say
I was at KillerNashville, 2009.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Finding your "Wayback":

I'm looking forward to showing off a number of "cool tools" for writers at Killer Nashville. For this post, I have a couple of neat sites for helping writers "find their way back".
Don't get the reference? Don't worry about it. We'll get there in a bit.

Is Historical Accuracy important to you?
Such a tool I have for you --

A friend, who shall remain nameless because he's bigger than me, faster than me, and Uncle Sam once taught him to use weapons, is writing this story about Chicago a hundred years or so ago. He's got a shootout in the stockyards and a rough and tumble along the docks and his historical details are important to him. So, he didn't like it when someone pointed out that a third of his story was impossible, because it would have had to have taken place under water. "No Way!", says he. "Yes, way," says.. um... somebody else.

If you go visit the wonderful Mister David Rumsey, at David Rumsey's Historical Map Collection and search his collection for Chicago, you can see what Chicago looked like more than 100 years ago. Compare it to a walk around today and it's pretty interesting. Overlay it on today's map and you'll see places that are dry now, that weren't so dry then. (Come see me at KillerNashville and I'll show you how!)

The Wayback Machine --

Ever found the most interesting informaton on a website, then tried to find it a year later and it's gone? The Wayback Machine, or, may be able to help. Just enter the site address and click "Take Me Back". You can get a look at what a website looked like years ago, sometimes even what it looked like back when it was just a name and some kind of "placeholder" ad. (Ok, a little boring at that point. Skip ahead a few years.) It's the internet... archived.

The Wayback Machine also has some interesting collections of archived websites from the dates surrounding historic events (like 9-11) & one showing some of the "roots" of the World Wide Web. They're working on more, I'm told.

Now, not every page of every website is there. Often it is just the front page of a site. For example, this is the earliest incarnation of the website. Which is probably only of interest to you if you want to know when tickets went on sale for the Carnegie Hall concert in 1999 (August 16th, how about that?)

And if you'd made the show, you'd have heard "Find Your Way Back". (If you're at work, turn the speakers down. It gets loud.)

Ok, the circle's complete and I've subjected you to an 80's pop song. My work here is done.

See you in Nashville!

-- Hugh Wilson

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

On Mentoring

The first thing you need to do is find out if you're any good. Writing is not as easily quantifiable as, say, pole-vaulting. A really long ruler will put a number to your abilities in a jiffy. Words on a screen (or on paper, if you've gone old school, or have enough confidence to risk the trees and ink) aren't strictly measurable.

The good news is that literary accomplishment comes in many flavors. The bad news is that literary accomplishment comes in many flavors. The difference between a crème brûlée and a cream-of-something-that-tastes-of-the-plastic-container-in-came-in is subject to opinion, at least to a degree. These opinions, if they were all written out, could fill many dozens of very dull libraries. You could always ask your mother, but in most cases, you'll just come back knowing that your mother loves you. If you're the sort of person who confuses maternal affection for valid currency, it could be a long road.

For me, I found a mentor and writing coach online on a writer's website. The two most important things to consider when trusting your ego and your words to another writer are these: that he (or she) be a better writer than you, and that he understands what you're trying to accomplish. In my case, it wouldn't have done much good to seek advice from a children's fantasty writer. But it's the first point that's crucial, and tricky. If you're lucky enough to find someone truly talented, who is willing and able to guide your writerly evolution, it can change your life.

Here's a quick rundown of the pros of electronic tutelage:

-contact with someone who knows what the hell you're talking about (This may seem terribly basic, but believe me, in a real life full of normal people, someone who understands the demands of constant day-dreaming is gold.)

-negative reinforcement (Go ahead, see how quickly you stop mistyping 'your' for 'you're' after being mocked for it a few hundred times. You'll still do it anyway, but you'll learn to be more careful.)

-a thick skin

-perspective (You always know what you meant. The test is, did it come across in the words you chose and the order you put them in? My mentor and I have a rule - if you have to justify a passage after criticism, it probably just needs to be rewritten.)

-patience (My writing advisor is 4,000 miles away and keeps ridiculous hours. As available as he makes himself and as generous as he's been with his time, I still have learned to better handle the itch of "did you read it yet?! How 'bout now?"

-the thrill of approval when you've gotten it right (There's nothing quite like applause from someone you deeply admire.)

The only downside, as I see it, is in the usual shortcomings of email. Specifically, tone can get lost. Electronic misunderstandings can really screw up a good day. Any frustration or hurt feelings sustained in the critique process would happen anyway, because inevitably, you'll get it wrong. A lot. And someone is going to point it out. Wiping the tears from your eyes while making rude gestures at your computer monitor in the privacy of your own home lets you keep your reputation of civility. So go ahead, get mad. He can't see or hear you.

But if you're becoming a better writer, then make sure you thank him where he can see it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fiction: It's Good For You

“Excuse me, sir. Grab that big heavy bar, will ya?”
“Okay. Got it. What do you want me to do with it?”
“Lift it up over your head. A little further… a little further. That’s it, push it. Great. You can put it down now.”
“Would you mind doing that again, nine more times?”
“What for?”
"It’s good for you. And you, ma’am, grab your ears and try to touch your knees to your chin. Excellent. Do it a hundred times. Over there, you! Yeah you. Run around in a circle until you want to die.”
There was a time when filling our bellies and keeping the rain out of our slack, sleeping mouths was a full time job. Life was exercise. There were no flabby hunter-gatherers and pioneers didn’t need Pilates. But as our conveniences got cleverer, we went soft and weak. It’s not an indictment, it’s only the truth. And who would go back to the days of crossing the room to turn up your stereo?

Everyone knows there’s value in power-walking over a wide rubberband that’s looping on rollers, and we don’t question the ridiculous practice of grunting under disks of metal lifted to nowhere in three sets of ten reps each. In our modern lives, there just isn’t demand enough on the muscles and tendons to keep them strong and healthy. Survival, for the most part, doesn’t test our capabilities anymore. So we invented Jack Lalanne.

Life also isn’t big enough, or long enough, for most of us to ever know how we’d react to an alien invasion, or what we’d want if we grew up as best friend to someone socially off-limits. The range of our experience, even among the most traveled and tormented, can’t cover all we could do, given the time. Our personal dose of drama often isn’t sufficient for the vast capacity of the human mind for empathy, outrage, heroism, and debauchery. So we invented fiction.

Just think about that the next time you feel guilty for wasting time between the covers of a novel. The benefits of mental and emotional calisthenics play out every day. Pure fantasy can lay the paving stones for journeys we have yet to take. And if it’s well-written, forewarned is most reliably forearmed.

But if you’ve been sitting there too long, just raise the book over your head. And one and two and - don’t lock those elbows - three and four…

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Nurturing our craft.

A few months back, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love shared an interesting way of looking at the gift/curse that we all share as artists and writers.  The occasion was a presentation at TED, in California.  Not familiar with TED?  Take a few minutes (ok, about 20:00) and check out her idea for nuturing your creativity.  Success as a writer isn't about being a genius, it's about being willing to have one.  

After that, maybe give TED a short look around.  It's fascinating, inspirational, motivational stuff.  

(But don't spend too much time there at once, eh?  There's writing to be done.)


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ye Olde Backups, Anyone?

Once upon a time, in the cramped tower of a dank English castle, the very prolific Duke de' Author was frantically working to protect his greatest literary efforts from being lost to the ages.

How, you might ask?

Minions, or “Scribes” if you would be kinder. Those Scribes were four brothers from the family “Drive”; -- Jump, Flash, Memory, & Thumb. They were of differing sizes and shapes, these drives, each perhaps rounder, or stubbier, smaller or larger than his brothers. They each were capable of carrying different loads, but they all served the same purpose. The good Count used them to create exact copies of his works. He then dispatched them to different locations, that they might not be all caught up together and destroyed in some act of catastrophe, malice, or more likely, simple duncery.

One did he send to his brother's home in the next town. Another did he send to his mother, to prove that he wasn't just up in his room goofing off all day and night. One he sent only to the other side of the castle, that he might be kept close in case of... well, you know, duncery.

Today those scribes have been replaced by the bits and bytes of the computer age, which makes them much cheaper to feed, though sometimes harder to keep track of. But, they are no less important. “Jump Drive”, “Flash Drive”, “Thumb Drive”, & their now cousin “Memory Stick” (There was some family ugliness. We don't talk about it.) Anyway, they are merely different names for devices that perform the same function; saving, storing and transporting copies of your work.

You'll find them at stores in town and online for anywhere from “free with purchase of” or $10 - $100. They can be personalized with your name, phone number and/or email address, which might help if you leave them in an airport. (Oh, yes I did, and TSA called me.) You might even want to put the name of the contents to be stored on them on the drive. It makes life easier after you've collected a few of them. For security's sake, you can find them with password and biometric (a thumb print) protection, to prevent access. (Yeah. The TSA one.)

They usually plug in to the USB port on your computer – whether MAC, or PC, Laptop or Desktop. (It's square, a bit smaller than two dimes stacked atop each other & is marked with a type of trident symbol. See the picture.)

Plug it in, give it a few moments to load itself and it will show up in your list of available drives. Then click on the files and drag them over into that drive. Make sure you copy, and not just “move” them. Now, remove the drive and put it somewhere safe. If you want to keep one nearby, great. (Did I mention duncery? )

However, be sure to keep a copy somewhere away from the others as well, say somewhere outside the house, just in case you experience one of those “Auntie Em! Auntie Em!” events.

One other important note for writers-- You might want to get in the habit of working from one set of files ONLY. Be sure to regularly save copies to your back up drives. You might also want to keep ONE copy of the most recent version, clearly marked. However, if you start keeping too many versions around, it is easy to find yourself with a dozen different versions of the work. Very confusing.

Also, back up drives are a great way to store and maintain copies of all your important documents.

For not much more than the cost of a coffee and a piece of cake, you can have peace of mind.

And hey, no scribes to feed.

As always, if you have a question or comment, please, drop me a line!

See you in Nashville

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Killer Nashville News

By Beth Terrell

Last month, I went to a lecture at the Frist Museum of Art. It was on psychopathy and how psychopaths respond differently to photos and paintings with emotional content than "normal" people do. The lecture was given by a Vanderbilt psychology professor named Stephen Benning. It was fascinating. Of course, throughout the lecture, all I could think was, "Gosh, this guy is great! I wonder if I can get him for Killer Nashville?"

Happily, the answer was yes; Dr. Benning will be giving a presentation on the two faces of psychopathy on Friday, August 14, 2009 at this year's Killer Nashville Conference. Our tentative schedule also includes sessions on poisons, blood spatter evidence, forensic anthropology, solving cold cases, what PIs really do, the life of a bounty hunter, how the FBI and TBI catch the worst of the worst, how modern technology is used by criminals and those who catch them, and much, much more.

For published or aspiring writers, Butch Wilson will conduct two exciting sessions for those who would like to optimize their use of online resources.

Software for Starving Authors --

Come, learn about free and almost free software you can use to make your writer's life easier and more productive. This session isn’t selling anything. We'll talk about software and hardware, tips, tricks and tools for writing, for story tracking, and ways to keep your hard work safe.

All attendees will leave with a copy of most, if not all, of the software discussed. And information on how to obtain all of it.

A Writer's Life on the "The Web" --

Should I have a website? What about a blog? Wait -- I don't even know what an LOL, IMO, WYSIWYG, BLOG, TWITTER, FACEBOOK even is! How do I do it? SHOULD I do it?

You've got questions. We'll have answers. And, we'll learn how to find even more answers for yourself. If sufficient internet access is available, everyone who wishes to will leave with their own place on the web. This session isn't selling anything. There's nothing you have to buy to put yourself, or your work, out there on the web. All attendees will leave with a copy of most, if not all, of the software discussed. (Note: This session is BYOL - Bring Your Own Laptop. It isn't a requirement, but it wouldn't hurt.)

We'll also have a great lineup of sessions on the craft of writing and how to market your book once you've finished it.

To take advantage of the early bird discount, register before May 31.

So what else is new with us?

Well, if you've checked out the website lately, you know that the 2009 Guest of Honor is New York Times bestselling author J.A. Jance. Jance is the author of more than 32 books and has over a million copies of her books in print. To learn more about her and her work, check out her website at http://www, There will be a Guest of Honor dinner at Sperry's on Saturday, August 15. Seating is limited, so guests will be selected on a first-come, first-served basis.

As many of you know, we unveiled the Silver Falchion Award in 2008. If you're a registered attendee with a book published for the first time between August 2008 and August 2009, you can nominate that book for the Silver Falchion. In 2009, we unveil the Claymore Dagger award for the best first 50 pages of an unpublished manuscript that is not under contract. The prize is an engraved replica of a Claymore Dagger and consideration for publication by Avalon Books, which is partnering with us for this year's contest. The deadline for the Claymore Dagger is coming up in May. For more details about either award, check out our website at, or use the link to the right.

Finally, our fledgling blog is beginning to take flight. On the first of every month, I'll give a news update. On the 7th, graphic novelist and independent filmmaker Phillip Lacy will write a monthly column. On the 10th, we'll hear from Sheila L. Stephens, long-term law-enforcement professional and author of The Everything Private Investigation Book. Sheila was the first female Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) agent in the state of Alabama, and one of the first in the nation. After leaving the ATF due to injury, she opened a private detective agency; she is also a criminal justice professor at Andrew Jackson University. On the 14th, Butch Wilson will offer advice, information, and reviews about computer software for writers. On the 21st, Killer Nashville producer, author, and filmmaker Clay Stafford will write a monthly column, beginning with a series of articles sharing his vision of the conference and what makes it unique. In between, we plan to have guest bloggers, book reviews, and interviews with Killer Nashville attendees, speakers, and volunteers. So check back often, feel free to comment, and if you'd like to contribute an article or volunteer for an interview, be sure to let me know ( Or, join the Killer Nashville group on Facebook. It's a whole new frontier!

See you soon.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


I’ve been doing several press interviews recently for Killer Nashville and, basically – as anyone who does interviews regularly can tell you – the same questions keep coming up. One, particularly vital one is, “What makes Killer Nashville different?” The answer, quickly, can be summed up in what I call “The Five Pivots” contained within our mission statement.

Not surprisingly, many people on the organizing level of Killer Nashville are educators or past-educators. Myself, I’m a former college professor who also served time as a teacher’s assistant in two high schools. Attempting to provide access to knowledge and wisdom mixed with a steady dose of encouragement in the times of success and failure are all part of the job. The educators or past-educators on the Killer Nashville team, I think, share that mission. It is something that comes from within and something, honestly, that those of us who have it can’t seem to get rid of. We find ourselves in teaching moments where we constantly want to reach out and share or encourage. That’s the heart of Killer Nashville.

Killer Nashville is not about who we bring in, what topics are discussed, who the guest of honor is, how many people attend, or how big we can grow. As everyone who volunteers for Killer Nashville knows because we say it over and over: Killer Nashville is about our attendees, each individual one, whether reader, writer, or curious onlooker. Each person who attends Killer Nashville is vitally important, not to the bottom line, but to the success of the concept of Killer Nashville period. If we can’t play a strategic part in the success of each of our attendees through “The Five Pivots” – especially addressing the objectives of our writers, published or unpublished – then we as a conference have failed. That’s how seriously we take it. When the conference is over, my questions to the volunteers run the gamut of how can we make it better, where did we fail, how many writers found consideration with an agent or publisher, how is the material offered going to be used by the attendees for their benefit over the next year, and – probably just as important – what was offered that just plain fizzled? Everything we evaluate is based against the criteria of “The Five Pivots.” It’s our reliance on and adherence to “The Five Pivots” that has made our conference grow as quickly as it has.

What are “The Five Pivots?” They are found in our mission statement: “To provide a place for the growth and encouragement of pivotal education, pivotal relationships, pivotal discipline, pivotal purpose, and pivotal circumstances.” Over the next several months leading up to this year’s conference, I’ll be addressing the individual components of the mission statement of Killer Nashville, how writing lives have been changed by these five pivots, and how these five pivots will benefit you during your attendance at Killer Nashville 2009. After the conference August 14-16, 2009, I’m sure I’ll have even more success stories to share, possibly even yours.

Until next month when we discuss the first in our five-part series – Pivotal Education – keep writing!

To register for Killer Nashville, go to

Clay Stafford is the founder of Killer Nashville. You can read more about him at or

Monday, February 23, 2009

Software For Starving Authors (and not so starving ones)

By Butch Wilson

Then what you're

looking for is at your fingertips.

Software for Starving Authors

(and not so starving ones).

Hi Gang –

I’m Butch Wilson, an Educational Technologist by trade, a writer and storyteller because I just can’t help myself. “Educational Technologist” is a fancy way of saying “that computer guy at the school”. In my case, it’s a bunch of schools. I provide technology support and software training for fifty two schools in Southern Illinois.

Part of my job is helping teachers find free, and nearly free, ways to help kids learn. Over the past year enough folks have said that I should be passing some of this stuff on to writers that the idea finally sank in. So, until that “House in the Hamptons” book deal comes through, and we can hire people for the grammar checking, typesetting, and publicity, let’s share some “cool tools” to help us in our craft.

A couple things up front:

You know that internal editor that you have? The one that hangs out and makes snarky comments while you work? Sometimes he or she does play by play of your day. (spoons go in the dishwasher, not the disposal...) Maybe it’s a side effect of my job, but mine is, well… not so internal.

You’ll find the inner dialogue in italics. Sometimes it’s just me being snarky, sometimes I might just be working on a new chili recipe. Feel more than free to skip over it. (Unless, you know, you want to compare chili recipes…)

My hope is, each time, to give you something from at least one of the following categories:

  • a tool for our everyday use of the computer
  • a tool or resource aimed at helping us develop or promote our writing goals
  • and maybe something to help keep us motivated.

I will try to include clickable links that will take you to more information on all the things presented, (because there is ALWAYS more information a mouse click away).

The bottom line, for me, is this:

Writing and creating is hard work. Getting the tools to do it shouldn’t be.

They shouldn’t cost us the light bill to get, and the best ones,

the “Cool Tools”, should work and stay out of the way of the process.

Every Day, Hands on the Keyboard stuff:

I was standing at one of the big box electronics stores awhile back, and met a very nice lady buying the MS Office Suite for her high school aged daughter. Current list price (at this writing) for Office Professional is about $400 bucks. The store wasn't bothering (because they probably didn't know) to tell Mom that she could get the Home and Student version for $90. The major difference? Home and Student doesn’t come with Publisher. Since her daughter needed it for homework, not desktop publishing, it worked out good for them.

You can find it at a number of reputable online and brick and mortar (read regular) stores. All you need is a mouse… and a credit/debit card.

Now, if you aren’t a slave to the brand name? Allow me to point you to the same writing and budget management functionality, for $0 dollars.

OpenOffice, courtesy of the nice folks at, does pretty much everything a writer needs, and more. And, it is Open Source. In layman’s terms, that means it is free for you to use.

(No, Auntie June, I promise this is not a trick. Not at all like that pretty movie I emailed you,

the one with the peaceful spring meadow where the zombie jumped out, screaming, at the end.)

Umm… where was I?

You can download the program, all of it, at the link above. Once you have it installed, you will see that it works, pretty much, just like the commercial word processing software (Word, Wordperfect) you are used to. Some of the buttons may be in a different place, but the learning curve is a bunny slope and you can be back to writing in no time.

One BIG difference? Stories written in Open Office can be saved in Word or Wordperfect, and, stories created in those programs can be opened and edited in Open Office.

How cool is that?

Need some help? Check this out-- Tutorials for Open Office. Just like the link says,-- free, step by step and guided tours, for you to print out, or open on your computer and follow along, no experience necessary. Really. They even have one called “No Computer Experience”.

Which begs the question: “If you have no experience, at all, how’d you get to that page on the internet?”

Not ready to give up your brand name word processing? Ok, here’s the same thing for you, courtesy of the amazing educational folks at Florida Gulf Coast University. They have online tutorials for all of Office 2000 AND Office 2007, and all you need is a mouse. Here’s the link: Office Tutorials

One other “hands on” writing related tip:

While we’re still in word processing, MS Office 2003 and 2007 both have a standard template for “Book Manuscript”. In 2007 you can find it by clicking “New” & “Installed Templates”. In both, you can also find it by opening Word Help, then searching for “Book Template”. Or, you can download it, free, here, from Office’s online help site.

Cool, huh? (But wait, there’s more) Whether from a generic Word document, or the template, you can change the margins, line spacing, the distance to indent first lines…. All that, and then create your own template, simply by clicking the “File – Save As”, and selecting “Word Template”. Call it something you’ll remember, save it somewhere you’ll remember, so you can open it when you start the next book or draft. Viola! The grunt work of starting your next piece is done, “auto-magically”. It works the same way in Open Office, by the way.

Just remember to hit the “Save as” and save it as some other name – “My New Book” document, the first time you save. That way the template you created will still be there, clean and formatted and ready to use.

Ever gotten lost in your own novel?

I have. I sometimes lose track of how tall Billy is, or where he lives (and just why did his accent go from Scottish to Italian?), or when Mary had to die (shh, she doesn’t know). That is where Plotcraft comes in. Plotcraft was created by programmer, fellow writer, and all around interesting guy, Fahim Farook. It’s designed to help folks like us keep our tales on track. It’s an easy download, easy install. It runs, I know, on Windows XP and Vista. AND? Plotcraft is available free for your use.

Unlike the Open Source license, Fahim calls his licensing model “Care Ware”. To quote the license itself: “Simply pay for it by caring enough about the people around you and helping them out whenever they need help.” I told you, he’s a neat guy. He does mention that, if you want to do something nice for him, you might, maybe, buy his book. His website includes a link to that.

Ok, so is that enough to play with today? Yeah, I know, if you do ALL of this, one at a time, we’ve sucked up your free time until a week from next Tuesday.

The thing to remember is this:

Just like with cooking, writing, and plotting the perfect murder, being willing to try new things teaches us how to get away with a lot more, a lot faster.

If you have questions, or you want to whack me over the head for getting something wrong, click here and drop me a line.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Latest News: Guest of Honor, Claymore Dagger

By Beth Terrell

Greetings, friends (and future friends) of Killer Nashville.

I know you've been on pins and needles wondering who the Killer Nashville 2009 Guest of Honor will be. All right, maybe the question has floated across your mind. Well, wonder no more.

New York Times bestselling author J.A. Jance will join the ranks of past Killer Nashville Guests of Honor: Carol Higgins Clark, Michael Connelly, and "Body Farm" creator Dr. Bill Bass. Jance is the author of four popular crime fiction series, one of which earned her the American Mystery Award. All attendees will have a chance to meet Jance and hear her conference interview and one-hour presentation on Saturday, August 15. That night, attendees may join Jance at a special guest of honor dinner, where she will be awarded the traditional Killer Nashville guitar. (For those of you who have attended past guest of honor dinners, we hope 2008 Silver Falchion Award winner Don Bruns will be there to continue yet another tradition, playing one of his original songs on it. Don?)

We have a great lineup planned for 2009 (August 14-16). We'll have manuscript critiques and breakout sessions, as well as four tracks of panels and presentations. Once again, there will be one track on the craft of writing, one on the business of writing, one on forensics and investigative techniques, and one just for fans. So whether you're a reader or a reader/writer, we hope to see you at this year's conference. I've heard that some fans of the genre have lamented that Killer Nashville is just for writers. Actually, it's for anyone who has ever stayed up past midnight with a good mystery or thriller, anyone with an interest in forensice or investigative techniques, or anyone who has written--or dreamed of writing--a piece of crime-related fiction.

Some of you have asked about the agent and editor pitches. Our visiting agent for 2009 is Lucienne Diver of The Knight Agency. Lucienne has sold over 600 titles and is one of the most respected agents in the industry. Maryglenn McCombs, a 15-year veteran of the publishing industry, will also be returning this year. Maryglenn represents Oceanview Publishing, which has accepted manuscripts from two of our attendees, Scott Pearson and Margaret Fenton. Scott's book just came out in early February, and Margaret's will be released in June. (Congratulations, both of you!)

Now, let's talk about awards. In addition to the Silver Falchion, which is awarded to the best novel published in the current or previous year (2008 or 2009) by a registered attendee, we're unveiling the first annual Claymore Dagger Award. The Claymore Dagger is for the best beginning (defined as up to the first 50 pages) of an unpublished manuscript that is not currently under contract. The winner will receive an engraved repkica of a Claymore Dagger, and the winning manuscript will be read and considered for publication by this year's partnering publisher, Avalon Books. You can find the rules and FAQs on the website: A lot of you have asked if you have to follow Avalon's guidelines in order to win. The answer is no, you don't have to follow their guidelines in order to win the award, but if you want to increase your manuscript's chances of being accepted for publication by Avalon, you do.

We have a number of special rates and discounts, including discounts for seniors, teachers, and full-time students, and an early bird special that runs through February 28. A second, lesser, discount runs from March 1 through May 31.

As always, the conference will be at the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs Hotel and Convention Center.

Got questions? Comments? Concerns? Feel free to contact me:

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Meeting Michael Connelly (or How Killer Nashville Jumpstarted My Writing Efforts)

Today's article comes courtesy of guest blogger Pamela Schmalz. Pamela is an engineer turned lawyer. She uses her technical background in the practice of Environmental Law. She is at work on a legal thriller and plans to attend Killer Nashville 2009.

I had been nurturing the dream of being a novelist for over ten years, and for the past two years I had been working toward that dream: writing and meeting with a small critique group every three weeks or so. But juggling my day job, and the demands of a toddler, resulted in a less-than-satisfactory output of written words at my computer.

At the urging of my writing group, I kept up my efforts--whenever I believed that time allowed. And one day, a friend forwarded me an email about Killer Nashville.

I had seen other notices for writing conferences, and in fact secretly dreamed of attending the Edgar Awards in New York City--as a nominee in the Best First Novel by an American Author category. When I linked to the conference website, I learned that the Guest of Honor for Killer Nashville 2007 was none other than MICHAEL CONNELLY.

I emailed back to my friend, "Oh my gosh, Michael Connelly is my favorite author of all time."

"Sign up for the conference," she told me. "It just may be the impetus you need in your writing career."

First, I checked with my family, and then I went online and signed up before I could lose my nerve. In the back of my mind, I knew that if I quit my day job to write full time, attendance at such a conference might not fall within our budget again--at least, not until I became a successful author.

As the days passed, I wondered how many of my Michael Connelly books I could carry to the conference with me for signing. I decided that carrying more than a dozen books would paint me as a pathetic writing groupie, so I brought with me only his two latest, Echo Park and The Overlook.

When I awoke Saturday morning, I still couldn't believe that I would be meeting MICHAEL CONNELLY. What would he be like, I wondered. Would he look like a mere mortal, or would there be an otherworldly aura around him?

After lunch, I rushed to the room where Michael Connelly would be interviewed. I got a seat near the center of the room, four rows back, where I could watch him straight on. As the minutes ticked on, I eyed a seat in the very first row. Should I move to that seat? Might near proximity to my hero imbue me with writing talent? Might I be anointed with a droplet of his sweat? If, as Thomas Edison tells us, genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, could such a droplet help me and my writing?

I decided that such thoughts steered me away from the author-in-my-own-right category, and into the writer groupie category.

And then I saw him. He looked much like the photographs on the back of his novels. His hair was a little shorter, his face not as stern. Amazingly, surprisingly, he stood alone in the room while cameras and microphones were being set up. Occasionally, someone would approach him to converse quietly. Where was the mob? Where were the adoring fans?

This is it. Go talk to him, I told myself. Tell him what an inspiration he has been to you.

But I was paralyzed by awe, still eyeing the seat in the front row, occasionally darting my glance toward MICHAEL CONNELLY.

Get up and talk to him, my brain screamed. But an inner voice told me that I was not worthy, and the moment passed. The front-row seat was taken by a less timid soul, and Michael Connelly got up on stage, behind a table.

Damn, damn, damn. I missed my moment. But the interview was about to begin.

Connelly spoke with quiet confidence. He seemed...could it be?...somewhat nervous to be in front of us speaking about his books and about the craft of writing. He was, as the moderator had told us, a really nice guy.

After the interview, Connelly was signing books, and I quickly got in line. A woman in front of me had a disposable camera, and asked me to take her picture with him as her book was signed.

Damn, damn, damn. Why hadn't I thought of that? Another missed moment.

When I got to the front of the line, I got my two books signed, and managed to stammer out some words about how Connelly's writing had inspired me. I clutched my precious books to me as I walked away, already thinking of the more eloquent things I could have said.

But all was not lost. I had also signed up for dinner with Michael Connelly. Maybe I would have another chance to talk to him at dinner. Alas, Connelly's reserve and my shyness prevented any interchange beween us. Dinner came to an end, and I was getting ready to leave, when I remembered that I had opened a tab so that I could have a glass of wine with dinner. I darted back into the room where we had dined, and asked for my bill. As I was handed my credit card receipt, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed someone else settling his tab.

It was MICHAEL CONNELLY. Again, my brain screamed, talk to him. But the words would not come. I turned to my receipt, only to find that my pen would not work. And as Connelly handed his receipt to the waitress, I blurted, "Could I please use that pen?"

He handed the receipt to the waitress and the pen to me and moved away. I was frozen. There he goes, I thought. I signed my receipt and prepared to give it, and the pen, in their faux leather folio, back to the waitress.

When suddenly, desperately, I asked the waitress, "Can I keep this pen?"

I know this relegates me to the hopelessly desperate writer groupie category, but I don't care. I've got a pen used by Michael Connelly.

Pamela Schmalz

Friday, January 2, 2009

A Killer Nashville New Year

Let me be the first to wish you all a Killer New Year.

With the new year upon us, the Killer Nashville crew is revving up for 2009 conference. Making New Year's resolutions? I hope you'll start by resolving to attend Killer Nashville 2009. That's one resolution it will be easy to keep. All you have to do is go to the Killer Nashville website and register. We have an early bird special that lasts through February 28, and a special rate for full-time students and teachers. The conference will be held on August 14-16, 2009 at the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs Hotel and Conference Center. I've already marked my calendar!

As you can see, we have a new Killer Nashville blog. We hope to use it to create a year-round community of writers and readers of mysteries, thrillers, suspense, and other crime fiction. (Readers and writers of true crime should find much to interest them as well.) We'd love to have blog articles from any previous attendee, presenter, or volunteer who is interested in participating--fans, aspiring authors, published writers, literary agents, law enforcement personnel, forensics experts, and anyone else who has been a part of the Killer Nashville experience. If you're interested in being a regular or occasional contributor, please let me know at Please check back often to see what's new--and feel free to leave comments!

Now, here's the latest Killer Nashville news:

The agent who will be joining us this year is Lucienne Diver of The Knight Agency. You can check out the agency at They are truly a class act. We hope Maryglenn McCombs will also be joining us again. We've always had great experiences with Maryglenn and Oceanview. Two Killer Nashville attendees, Margaret Fenton and Scott Pearson (Dr. A. Scott Pearson), received publishing contracts as a result of pitches given at the conference. Both have books coming out from Oceanview this year (Scott's in February and Margaret's in June).

As you'll remember, we unveiled the first Silver Falchion Award in 2008. It was awarded to Don Bruns for Stuff to Die For. This year, in addition to the Falchion, we'll be awarding the first Claymore Dagger Award. This award will be given to the writer of the "best beginning"--the best first 50 pages of an unpublished crime fiction manuscript that is not under contract. The winner will be chosen from ten finalists, who will be (chosen through a blind judging process) by our partnering publisher, Avalon Books. The winner will receive an engraved award, and Avalon's acquiring editor will read the winning manuscript. They will consider it for publication if it meets their needs and follows their guidelines. The deadline for the entries is March 30, 2009. Further information can be found on the Killer Nashville website, or you can send your questions to me at

A tentative schedule will go up on the site soon. If you have suggestions for panel/presentation topics, please let me know ASAP. We plan to have multiple tracks again this year, so please think in terms of panels and presentations on writing, marketing, forensics, and fan interest. We would love to draw more fans as well as published and aspiring authors.

I look forward to hearing from you soon and to seeing you all in August.


Happy New Year!

Beth Terrell, Associate Producer, Killer Nashville