Thursday, April 17, 2008

HEIDI'S PICK SIX - Elizabeth Zelvin

Elizabeth Zelvin_Heidi's Pick SixElizabeth Zelvin


1. Which of your characters is your favorite?
I'd have to pick Bruce, the protagonist of Death Will Get You Sober. He's smart, funny, sexy, and once recovery starts peeling away the alcoholic b.s., he's got a heart. That said, I admit I'm also fond of Barbara, the world's most codependent addictions counselor.

2. Tell me about your travels.
Am I allowed to show off? If so, I'll start with Timbuctoo, which I visited while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Côte d'Ivoire, West Africa. Timbuctoo's in Mali, and during my two years there I visited or at least touched down in Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, and Tunisia. And when I went back to visit friends in Africa twenty years later, we took the train to Burkina Faso as far as Bobodioulasso, which has one of the best names of any city in the world. The train goes on to Ouagadougou, another great name, but we didn't have time. In Europe, I've been to France and England many times, Italy, Greece, Holland, Germany, and Denmark. Oh, and Sweden--my husband and I were in Copenhagen for a belated wedding reception that turned out to be a divorce party, and we took a day trip on a train that crosses the Baltic Sea on a bridge to Malmo, Sweden.

Where else? Canada. The Caribbean. Iceland. My son got married in Manila, so I've visited the Philippines--only a few months after 911, so that was a little scary--and spent a perfect seven hours in Japan on the way back. In the US, I've spent a lot of time on the Left Coast. I'll do several signings in both the Bay Area and Southern California on my book tour, along with one in Seattle, where I've been before to visit my Aunt Hilda, who just turned 96 and still plays tennis and goes dancing with her boyfriend. In 2006 I drove down the East Coast to an arts residency in North Florida. I love the directions from Manhattan, where I live: cross the Hudson River, hang a left, and drive 1000 miles on I-95. Did you know Florida is as big as England?

I'll go all over it on my book tour, which will also take me to Virginia, North Carolina, and points north and south along the Eastern Seaboard. I'm also visiting bookstores and libraries in the Midwest: Ohio, which I know, and Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota, which are new to me. Where else? New England and Hawaii. I've done whale watching off Maui and Cape Cod, both great places to connect with the amazing humpbacked whales. And Alaska: a friend and I took the ferry up the Inland Passage and stayed with therapist friends in Juneau. I gave two talks there, one to mental heath professionals on intergenerational alcoholism and the other a public talk on codependency. The room was packed for that one, even back in 1990, and I don't think all of them came for the refreshments. In those days, lots of people had never heard of codependency, they just lived with it.

3. Coffee, tea, or milk?

4. What else can you do besides write?
My latest accomplishments are knitting socks and running 3 1/2 miles almost every day--very, very slowly. I can use the computer, which my family still considers a miracle, even though I make a living on it on my therapy website at and designed and help maintain my author website at

I'm a poet with two books--but that's still writing--and a singer/songwriter. I play guitar and used to play cello and piano. I can shrink heads, I mean, I've been helping people doing therapy and counseling for the past 20 years. I garden, so I can make flowers and vegetables grow, if not every single one I plant. I used to fly a plane, though not by myself: I took about 30 hours of lessons back in the 1970s. And I love to swim, especially in the ocean off Eastern Long Island, where I spend my summers.

5. Who are you reading right now?
6. Pop culture or academia?
7. What is the toughest scene you ever wrote?

8. Where do you find your inspirations to write?
That's an easy one, because Death Will Get You Sober is about recovery, and Bruce and his friends will continue their journey of self-exploration and growth as the series unfolds. It takes enormous courage and self-honesty to recover from alcoholism and other addictions and compulsive behaviors. Codependency and the frozen feelings of adult children of alcoholics and other kinds of dysfunctional families are even harder to beat, because the symptoms are rescuing, controlling, and being hard on yourself. You can't stop doing any of those perfectly. People in recovery are remarkably self-aware and willing to change whatever isn't working in themselves, whatever ways they've been hurting themselves and other people. I find that inspiring, and that's what I write about.

9. Food you could eat everyday.
10. Are you into sports or other physical activities?
11. What kind of music speaks to you?

12. Do you outline your stories or do they just take you along for the ride?
I'm an into-the-mist writer. I start with the title, which gives me my theme. And since Death Will Get You Sober is the first of a series, I now have my protagonist Bruce and his two sidekicks, Barbara and her computer-wiz boyfriend Jimmy. But the rest is up for grabs. I may not even know the victim, and I usually don't know the murder, before I start to write. That method means a lot of angst in the first draft, but I love how my characters talk to me and tell me who they are and what they want.

13. Celebrity crush.

14. Who are the biggest influences on your work?
My answer will be quirky, because the mysteries I love to read aren't quite like what I write, since most of them have major characters who are either cops or private investigators. What they have in common with each other and Death Will Get You Sober and its projected sequels is series continuity and lovable characters who change over time and come with important relationships, whether that's a family, a circle of friends, or a network of work relationships. Among my favorites are Marcia Muller, Dana Stabenow, Margaret Maron, and in the UK, Reginald Hill, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, and Janet Neel. And the three books that influenced me to become a writer, books I read over and over as a kid, were Little Women, Anne Frank's diary, and L.M. Montgomery's Emily of New Moon.

15. Do you still watch cartoons?

Elizabeth Zelvin is a New York City psychotherapist who has directed alcohol treatment programs, including one on the Bowery, where Death Will Get You Sober begins. She currently does online therapy via chat and email at Death Will Get You Sober, just out from St. Martin's, is her first mystery. You can learn more about Liz on her author website at

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Monday, April 14, 2008


Hot Scots Castles and Kilts_Tammy SwoishHot Scots, Castles, and Kilts by Tammy SwoishHot Scots, Castles, and Kilts is the first novel I have published. I began writing shortly after I graduated from college. I'd always loved writing and figured while I was waiting for an English teaching job to open, I'd make some quick money and write a novel. I had an English degree. I'd studied the best. How hard could it be? Approximately ten years later, a full-time job which pays the bills, and three manuscripts stored in the attic, I have my answer. Writing is hard work.

It took me writing in two genres (adventure and romance) before I found my voice in young adult fiction. Voice . . . now that's an illusive foe to conquer. Hot Scots began during my time in Seton Hill's Writing Popular Fiction program. When I finished the program, the story, with the help of an editor, continued to improve and change into the novel it is today.

Here's the blurb from the back of the book:
Little does 16-year-old Sami Ames know what she’s in for when she and her mother head to Scotland to help their cousins save MacKensie Manor. Sami feels like she’s landed in a medieval time warp. There’s no electricity, no running water, or hair conditioner! But Sami joins in the challenges of daily peasant life in order to get MacKensie Manor up and running as a working farm tourist attraction. She can’t imagine people paying to make soap, dye wool, or milk cows. What’s worse, a ghost has invaded her room. Sami can’t figure out cousin Fiona, who obsesses over an ancient family feud with the McClintoggs, but Sami’s thrilled when she has a close encounter with a hot Scot. Too bad it’s Adan McClintogg!

Ten years ago, I had no clue how difficult the writing industry would be to crack. I love to write, but you won't hear me say things like I'd be happy just to write even if I'm never paid. I'm a realist and do not like the feeling of wasted time. If I had no hope of being paid for my writing, I'd have given up and stuck to private journal writing. Being published was the beginning goal. Now I set the bar higher and move forward. This is our purpose in life. Set your bar and move forward.

-Tammy Swoish
April 2008

See what Santa Fe New Mexican had to say about Hot Scots and watch for a second Sami Ames story in early winter 2008.

You can visit Tammy online at

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Monday, April 07, 2008

From The Authors Guild: Amazon Tightens Grip on Long Tail

I got this message over the weekend in my email from The Authors Guild:

Last week Amazon announced that it would be requiring that all books that it sells that are produced through on-demand means be printed by BookSurge, their in-house on-demand printer/publisher. Amazon pitched this as a customer service matter, a means for more speedily delivering print-on-demand books and allowing for the bundling of shipments with other items purchased at the same time from Amazon. It also put a bit of an environmental spin on the move -- claiming less transportation fuel is used (this is unlikely, but that's another story) when all items are shipped directly from Amazon.

We, and many others, think something else is afoot. Ingram Industries' Lightning Source is currently the dominant printer for on-demand titles, and they appear to be quite efficient at their task. They ship on-demand titles shortly after they are ordered through Amazon directly to the customer. It's a nice business for Ingram, since they get a percentage of the sales and a printing fee for every on-demand book they ship. Amazon would be foolish not to covet that business.

What's the rub? Once Amazon owns the supply chain, it has effective control of much of the "long tail" of publishing -- the enormous number of titles that sell in low volumes but which, in aggregate, make a lot of money for the aggregator. Since Amazon has a firm grip on the retailing of these books (it's uneconomic for physical book stores to stock many of these titles), owning the supply chain would allow it to easily increase its profit margins on these books: it need only insist on buying at a deeper discount -- or it can choose to charge more for its printing of the books -- to increase its profits. Most publishers could do little but grumble and comply.

We suspect this maneuver by Amazon is far more about profit margin than it is about customer service or fossil fuels. The potential big losers (other than Ingram) if Amazon does impose greater discounts on the industry, are authors -- since many are paid for on-demand sales based on the publisher's gross revenues -- and publishers.

We're reviewing the antitrust and other legal implications of Amazon's bold move. If you have any information on this matter that you think could be helpful to us, please call us at (212) 563-5904 and ask for the legal services department, or send an e-mail to

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Friday, April 04, 2008


Seven for a Secret_Mary ReedSeven for a Secret by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer

Some years ago a friend of mine whose husband worked for an oil company was living in the middle east. At a social gathering attended by other British expats, she met a lady who worked for the BBC Overseas Service, who mentioned they didn't get many submissions for their short story broadcasts. Hearing this and having contributed to science fiction fanzines as well as professional non fiction mags, I thought, hmmm...and so was written "Aunt Ba's Story". It had a double nativity, being partly inspired by a dream and partly by a favourite Pre-Raphaelite painting, Home From Sea. "Aunt Ba's Story" is difficult to categorise, but would perhaps best fit the fantasy/mystery slot, since it deals with Death, who has grey eyes -- and when you see him a third time, you're about to sail away with him.

Lo and behold it was chosen! It was my first fiction sale and was memorable not only for that reason but also because the acceptance letter arrived just as I was leaving for an appointment with fear at the dentist. I suspect few patients bounce into his surgery with a grin from ear to ear.

Several years later I embarked on writing short mystery stories, giving myself five years to sell one or else take the hint, and succeeded about two years after starting to submit. A complete unknown, I was one of those who came out of the slush pile at Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine into publication. They ran three short stories, a couple of which have been reprinted here and there. In retrospect however I realise five years was wildly ambitious, for some of our best mystery writers took longer to initially get into print.

Subsequently fate took a hand for, as is so often the way, one success led to another, though in our case not immediately. About four years after the third story ran in EQMM, one afternoon we had a call from master anthologist Mike Ashley, who asked us to submit a short historical mystery story for his Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunnits. The snag was it had to be written to a very short deadline -- less than a month as I recall. However, it happens Eric is interested in Byzantine history and had a number of books about the period, so we decided we would set our story in that period, which was unploughed at the time, having the research material right to hand. Thus was written A Byzantine Mystery, which appeared in 1993.

A number of short stories about John have now been published, as well as other yarns set in different eras plus four unspooling in modern day Mongolia (Interested parties may like to point their clickers at for further details.)

Our latest short story is "The Three-Legged Cat of Great Clatterden" in The Mammoth Book of Dickensian Whodunnits, again edited by Mike Ashley. The feline of the title is a hill figure in Kent, visited by that jolly fellow Mr Samuel Pickwick (accompanied by fellow Pickwickian Mr Tracy Tupman) who are in Great Clatterden to investigate a strange disappearance.

Returning to the early l990s, we decided to write a novel concerning John and his adventures. By then we had joined the Mystery Writers of America and not long after we had "One For Sorrow" ready for submission we read in the MWA newsletter that Poisoned Pen Press, then a newly minted publisher, had been nominated for a 1998 Edgar Award for its A to Z Murder Goes....Classic.

Writing to congratulate them, we summoned up the brass nerve to ask if they also published fiction, whereupon in a classic case of the sort of luck that so often appears in these paths to publication, we learnt editor Barbara Peters had just been complaining about the lack of
Byzantine mysteries! Needless to say we submitted ours and One For Sorrow became the first original mystery they published.

We're now up to Seven For A Secret, the book titles being taken from the traditional counting rhyme upon seeing black-plumed birds. The version of the rhyme Mary knows ends at seven, and so we've said all along that once we get to eight we will start making up new lines for the benefit of bird counters and claim it as oral tradition at work.

The path to publication is not easy, but from our own experience we would say it can be smoothed by persistence, patience, politeness, and the occasional bit of luck -- particularly being in the right place at the right time. Wayfarers on the road will need to keep their sense of humour well polished, as it will be needed! Other than that, our best advice would be to work at the craft, write something every day, read as much and as widely as possible, and above all keep sending the ms out. Don't be discouraged about rejections. Although they were not fiction, Mary's record was twelve in two days, and yet all the articles were eventually published.

-Mary Reed
April 2008

You can read reviews of Seven for a Secret at Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and on their website:

And, if you want to know more about the book, here's the official blurb:

Who killed the mosaic girl? As Lord Chamberlain, John spends his days counseling Emperor Justinian while passing the small hours of night in conversation with the solemn-eyed little girl depicted in a mosaic on his study wall. He never expected to meet her in a public square or afterwards find her red-dyed corpse in a subterranean cistern. Had the mysterious woman truly been the model for the mosaic years before as she claimed? Who was she? Why had she sought John out? Who wanted her dead -- and why? The answers seem to lie among the denizens of the smoky streets of that quarter of Constantinople known as the Copper Market, where artisans, beggars, prostitutes, pillar saints, and exiled aristocrats struggle to survive within sight of the Great Palace and yet worlds distant.

John encounters a faded actress, a patriotic sausage maker, a sundial maker who fears the sun, a religious visionary, a man who lives in a treasure trove, and a beggar who owes his life to a cartload of melons. Before long he suspects he is attempting to unravel not just a murder but a plot against the empire. Or is John really on a personal quest, to find the reality behind the confidante he thought existed only in his own imagination? Is there such a thing as truth in a place where people live on memories, dreams, and illusions? Even if there is, can John push aside the shadows and find the truth in time?

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Thursday, April 03, 2008


A Carrion Death_Michael StanleyA Carrion Death by Michael Stanley

Michael Stanley is the nom de plume that my friend Michael Sears and I (Stan Trollip) use for A Carrion Death, our first novel.

It was at the lion research center in the Savuti, an ancient dried-up lake in Botswana’s Chobe National Park, that we realized how to conceal a perfect murder. One evening we watched hyenas team up to drive lions off their fresh kills, then devour everything in sight, bones and all. By the next morning, no evidence remained of the carcass

Michael drafted the opening scene of A Carrion Death within a week after I broached the possibility of collaboration. Both natives of Africa, we have traveled regularly together to Botswana and Zimbabwe over the past twenty years to photograph wildlife and go bird watching. Our book reflects the authentic Africa of the 21st century: not merely the politically unstable, desperately poor Africa of the nightly news, but also the emotional conflicts of people with one foot in traditional culture and the other in Western-instigated globalism. The new Africa is not the safari jungle, but a collection of diverse tribes and nations struggling to find their way in a rapidly changing context.

Botswana offered the ideal setting for our book. A successful democracy with some of the richest diamond mines in the world, Botswana is in constant tension with its past. The San or bushmen of Botswana, for example, exemplify the cultural conflicts of the evolving continent. Historically they have been nomadic, eking a living from the Kalahari Desert with great skill, but now the government wants to keep them in a fixed location, ostensibly for the delivery of modern services.

The range of beliefs in Botswana encompasses both superstitious pantheism and fervent Christianity, and sangomas - traditional healers - are consulted as often as Western-style doctors and nurses.

In our research, we were shocked to discover that ritual murders still occasionally occur in contemporary, democratic Botswana. Evil sangomas occasionally kill young girls to procure body parts believed to bestow great power, and sometimes men in positions of authority also perform such murders to enhance their power. In one case, the people of a village took to the streets to protest the death of a girl and the seeming inability of the police to solve the case. Even after the matter was turned over to Scotland Yard, the final report was never made public, leading to widespread speculation that influential people were involved. The sangoma in A Carrion Death, perceptive and wise but ignored as a trickster, embodies the dichotomy between traditional and Western values.

Our protagonist is Assistant Superintendent David Bengu, known as Kubu because of his size – “kubu” being the Setswana word for hippopotamus. Hippos in the wild spend most of the day in pools or rivers, with all but their eyes and ears under water; they look deceptively docile, belying the fact that they kill more people in Africa than any other animal, trampling whatever lies between them and their objective. So with Kubu. On the surface he appears harmless; a convivial man with a sly sense of humor who loves his wife, who is passionate about wine and classical music. But Kubu is a capable, wily policeman determined to rid Botswana of crime and corruption, no matter what gets in his way.

Michael and I enjoy both a local and transglobal collaboration, mainly via e-mail and Skype. Michael lives in Johannesburg, South Africa; I spend half the year in Knysna, a small town on South Africa’s Indian Ocean coast, and half in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

We are often asked how two authors can write fiction together. Our answer is that we cannot imagine writing fiction alone. We believe that the constant interchange of ideas has led to a book far better than either of us could write alone. Plus we have had so much fun working together.

An excerpt from A Carrion Death was short-listed by the Crime Writers Association of the UK for the 2006 Debut Dagger Award. The full book will be published in the United States on April 1, 2008 by Harper Collins, and in the UK on April 3, 2008 by Headline. In France, J.C. Latte will publish the French translation, and in Italy, Sonzogno will shepherd the Italian edition.

We recently had our first review – in the February 1, 2008 issue of Booklist. Here it is:

Assistant Superintendent David Bengu earned his nickname, Kubu (hippopotamus), for his size, generally amiable nature, and occasional ferocity, all of which are evident in this lengthy but fast-moving story, the debut of writing team Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Kubu is called out to a remote tourist camp in Botswana when the manager finds a hyena chewing on human remains. What first seems to be a simple case of death by desert turns into something much more complex, as the Botswana Cattle and Mining Company turns up in every corner. Soon people start to go missing, beginning with a geologist whose specialty is diamonds. Rich with the atmosphere of modern Botswana, and peopled with interesting and well-drawn characters, this is an exciting debut, which will leave readers looking forward to reading the next investigation of Assistant Superintendent Kubu. Recommend to readers who like the Botswana setting of Alexander McCall Smith’s stories and all readers who enjoy international police procedurals with a strong sense of place.
— Jessica Moyer

Needless to say we were delighted with the review. We hope every reader of McCall Smith will read A Carrion Death!

We learned a huge amount writing A Carrion Death and are now happily at work on a second novel featuring Detective Kubu. We have tentatively titled it The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu. It deals with the tragedy of Botswana’s northern neighbor, Zimbabwe. It is scheduled for publication in 2009.

Please visit Detective Kubu at his web site: Read a transcript there of a radio interview he did with a Botswana radio station!

-Stan Trollip
April 2008

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Death of a Bawdy Belle_M E KempDeath of a Bawdy Belle by M. E. Kemp

Persistence and the willingness to try something new paid off for me. I tried the traditional and slooow method of sending my first book out to editors and agents. This brought encouragement but no offers, even though I had a well earned nonfiction bio. When I heard about publish on demand I embraced the idea. My first book, Murder, Mather and Mayhem, was a "pod" book -- I made sure the product looked good, and I paid to have the cover art done -- and I really believe that having that book in my hand at a mystery conference brought me to the attention of a small but aggressive publisher. Hilliard and Harris asked to see my next book; they took Death of a Dutch Uncle and will put out my new book, Death of a Bawdy Belle:

There's an extra witch hanging on the Salem gallows and two nosy Puritans must find out who the mysterious beauty is and who strung her up! Hetty Henry, wealthy widow with connections, and Increase "Creasy" Cotton, young Boston minister, find themselves in deep water as they come closer to the killer. The victim's young daughter and her friend the Ferret literally pull Hetty out of the deep, and out of the mouths of babes comes justice.

You can visit me at my website:

-M. E. Kemp
April 2008

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