June 2011

June 12 Meeting

Write, Publish, and Sell Your Book

George Arnold & Ken Squier


An Author’s Guide to Successfully Selling Your Book

June 12, 2011

The June 12 Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter program will feature George Arnold & Ken Squier, who will present “An Author’s Guide to Successfully Selling Your Book.”

The presentation is intended for writers wanting to be published and published authors
who want to sell ten to twenty times as many books. Ken and George will go into some very specific tools and actions that will almost assure sale of a manuscript to an appropriate publisher.  They will also discuss how to interact with editors, book designers, and publishers’ promotion departments, as well as how to establish and maintain cordial and profitable relationships with the general managers and community relations managers at Barnes & Noble and AMMs at Borders.  They will discuss the tools authors’ will need to sell more books–very simple stuff that works. Finally, they will show how to triple and quadruple sales at a signing event in a bookstore or other relevant venue.

Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter, meets monthly on the second Sunday of the month at 2 p.m. at the Westlake Barnes & Noble bookstore, located at the southeast corner of Loop 360 and Bee Cave Road, in The Village at Westlake shopping center.

This meeting is free and open to all. For more information, check out the Sisters in Crime website at www.hotxsinc.org.


If You Missed the May Meeting

Celebrating May Mystery Month, the Barbara Burnett Smith Foundation and HoTXSinC presented the Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers Event on May 15.

W.D. Smith, Barbara Burnett Smith’s son, spoke of his mother as a person who believed she could change her stars, and who changed her life, becoming a better person. She liked to see people find what they had inside themselves and to make decisions to live up to their potential. She always wanted to see people succeed. W. D. said he hopes the Barbara Burnett Smith Foundation and HoTXSinC will continue to mentor others, to keep people writing, to push them to succeed.

The Sage Award

W. D. prefaced the presentation of the 2011 Sage Award with personal recollections of recipient Russ Hall, and detailed some of Russ’ accomplishments: climbing Mt. Ranier, writing numerous books that have been translated into four languages, including Chinese, and writing in several different genres. Recalling Russ’ generosity with both time and talent, W. D. said that two words serve to characterize the man chosen to receive the Sage Award: Russ gives.

After presenting the Sage Award, W. D. gave Russ a set of books by Barbara Burnett Smith. Russ was then presented books by former Sage Award winners.

After accepting his award, Russ spoke about the nature of writing and the role of the author-mentor. Writing improves, he said, by the process of smart recognition: making mistakes and recognizing that we have made them. Writing means allowing for mystery; the writer must back away and leave room for the reader to use his imagination. The process can be daunting, but, following the advice of author Anne Lamott, writers go “bird by bird,” stringing scenes together like Christmas ornaments. The mentor, says Russ, is the writer’s extra–and tougher–set of eyes. The mentor knows, and helps the mentee to understand, that each time the red pen touches the paper, the manuscript gets better. The mentor helps the imperfect writer learn to embrace and enjoy the process and to see there is “still room to grow.”

[The paragraph above is an imperfect condensation of Russ Hall’s speech. Perhaps Russ will lend his red pen so it may be made, retrospectively, correct and whole.]

After Russ’ speech, four HoTXSinC members presented a reading of A Mystery in Four Parts, “A Killer Pair of Shoes,” written especially for the occasion. Sarah Ann Robertson presided as members read their submissions for Best Worst First Lines of a Mystery.

Following a break for refreshments, Mentor Joan Upton Hall met with Aspiring Writer Margaret-Anne Halse.

A Mystery in Four Parts

After Russ Hall spoke, four HoTXSinC members presented a reading of the following Mystery in Four Parts, written especially for the occasion.

A Killer Pair of Shoes

Chapter One (Marcia Spillers)


Image via Wikipedia

Some people say you can tell the integrity of a man if his word is his bond. It’s the old adage, say what you mean and mean what you say.

Me, I feel different.  Maybe it’s because I own a shoe store, but my take is that you can tell the integrity of a man by the size of his feet.

I’ve seen it time and time again.  Men with feet larger than size ten are solid and dependable.  They come into my store and ask for a Wingtip or Oxford dress shoe and I know their credit card is good.  Men with size ten feet or below are not to be trusted.  And that turned out to be a problem for me.

Because one morning I found a dead man at my store.

And I knew I was going to need help.

I’d walked into the store that morning as I’d done for the past ten years and flipped on the light to the main floor.  Everything seemed the same; nothing out of the ordinary except for the pair of feet sticking out from underneath the row of chairs where the customers tried on shoes.  I did a double take and stopped in my tracks. The body lying in a pool of blood on the floor shocked me, but the size of the corpse’s feet made me recoil in horror.  Not much over an eight, possibly an eight and a half tops.  And his feet were encased in some type of knock off brand of sneaker…nothing that I’d every carry in my store.

I pulled out my cell phone and called my best friend and fellow shoe store owner Rex.

“Rex, you’re not going to believe this.  I’m in the store and there’s a dead man on the floor underneath the chairs.  All I can see are his feet.”

“Oh my God.  What kind of shoes is he wearing?” (Rex and I were cut out of the same cloth.)

“Knock off brand sneakers…horrible things.”


I whispered in the phone. “At the most eight and 1/2.”

I had to hold the phone away or suffer a ruptured eardrum from Rex’s scream.

“Rex, get hold of yourself.  I need your help.”

Rex got a hold of himself. “You can’t call the cops right away.  Remember the bad blood between you and the chief of police.”

Rex was right as usual.  The local police chief had frequented my store on numerous occasions and I always had someone else wait on him.  I couldn’t bear the thought of touching those size nine feet of his and he knew it.

“I remember. So what do I do now?”

“You call in the big gun.”

My curiosity was aroused. “The big gun?”

Rex whispered. “Yes.  His name is Russ Hall and he’s the best private eye around this part of the state.  He’s a legend when it comes to the shoe industry.  He’s never been in my store, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that he’s at least a size fourteen.  Maybe even a fifteen if he’s eaten a lot of salt that day and his feet swell.”

I started to break out in a sweat. “Where can I find this legend – this Russ Hall?”

A sigh came through the phone that would have lifted the ends of my hair had Rex been standing next to me.

“You don’t find him – he finds you.”

My heart pounded ever so slightly. “He finds me?  Why?”

Rex took a deep breath. “The story goes that years ago Russ Hall was in show business.  He was raised in a family of clowns, all with huge feet.  But Russ’s feet were the ones that everyone loved, that everyone came to see.  Russ could walk down a hallway in his bare feet and you’d think gunshots were going off outside the window.  One day a beautiful blonde joined the show, and the first time Russ saw her feet he fell madly in love.  She was at least a size thirteen and proud of it.  They fell in love and planned to marry until that fateful day when the clown car overheated and burst into flames.  Twenty-five of the twenty-six got out safely, except for the girl.  When Russ saw that she was still inside, he ran back to the car but fell over his feet, face first into the flames. He was pulled to safety, but not before his nose was permanently scarred red.  The love of his life perished in the fire, and Russ vowed to never appear in public again.  And he didn’t for years, until he took up the life of a private detective.”

My head was spinning. “So how will he know to find me?”

Rex’s voice began to fade. “I’ll put out the word you’re looking for him.  And if he’s interested, he’ll give you a call.”

“But..but.”  It was too late. Rex had hung up the phone and I was alone in my store with a dead man.  I turned around, on my way to the cash register when my cell phone began to ring.  I looked down at the caller ID, and the name Russ Hall was flashing on the phone.

Chapter Two  (Kathy Waller)


Image via Wikipedia

“This is Russ Hall, PI. Don’t touch anything. I’m on my way.”

He was as good as his word, and his word was as good as his shoe size. In fact, the way his feet were stretching out the sides of his size fifteen Barker Black Blenheim Boots, I could tell he’d been hitting the salt.

Before I could say a word, he raised his hand, signaling silence, and surveyed the scene. I took the chance to observe the man standing before me.

I could see right off he was the genuine article: classic Inverness cape in real Harris Tweed, mahogany meerschaum trailing smoke and the stench of Turkish tobacco, magnifying glass, deerstalker hat appropriate for stalking deer. The only thing wrong was the wig: a mop of orange ringlets stuck out in all directions from under the deerstalker. It looked really strange. But I guess when you’ve been a clown all your life, it’s hard to let go of everything at once.

And then there was the nose. Red, just like Rex said. Completely off the record, if this guy had antlers and could fly, he would nose Rudolph out of that job before you could say Jack Robinson.

I was staring at his nose, imagining him in harness, when he turned to face me.

“Now, sir, a brief synopsis if you please.” Closing his eyes and steepling his fingers, Hall fell into a state of intense concentration.

“Well, I came in very early this morning, and immediately noticed the shop was extremely messy, so I slowly walked over and carefully looked around, and there, on the floor, just slightly visible—“

“No, no, no.” Hall’s shudder set his orange curls a-jiggling. “A synopsis. Omit the backstory. Scuttle the adverbs. And be sure to tell the ending. Now. You’ve got ninety seconds. Try again.”

I stood mute, unable to come up with the first sentence. And how could I know the ending? He hadn’t even looked for who done it. I decided to stall. “Why did you decide to become a private eye?”

He rolled his eyes. “Well, d’oh. I’m an expert at queries.”

Chastened, I turned again to my synopsis, but Hall cut me off. “Consultation over,” he said. “Call me after you’ve revised.” He thrust his pipe into my hand. Dropping to his knees, he peeked under the chairs at the body. Then he began to crawl around, peering through his glass at the carpet, the chair legs, the blood, the fitting stool. “This Brannock device,” he barked. “When was it last calibrated?”

Before I could answer, the door opened, and a woman entered. Her hourglass figure was encased in an old-fashioned riding habit. She wore a top hat on her raven upsweep. In her right hand, she carried a quirt. And from under her long skirt jutted Bohemian flip-flops encrusted with precious jewels. Feet to die for.

Leaving Hall scooting about on all-fours, I crossed the room to greet her. “May I help you, madam?” I said. “A pair of riding boots in size”—I hesitated; women can be sensitive about these things—“sixteen?”

“Later perhaps. I am here on a professional matter. I am Miss Irene Watson-Adler, actress, singer, medical doctor, and the only woman who has ever gotten Russ Hall’s goat.” She proffered her hand for me to kiss. Her lips curved upward in what should have been a smile, but it was really a smirk.

A low growl came from under the chairs. “Blast the woman. She gets one lucky break, and I’ll never hear the end of it.” Hall backed away from the body. He stood, repossessed his pipe, and took a long, slow draw. “Well, Watson-Adler, what do you make of all this?”

Miss Watson-Adler tilted her head. Her eyes narrowed. She tapped the quirt against her thigh. “Thom McAn sneakers, size eight and 1/2, occupant found lying on the floor, dead. Those clues suggest the scurvy wretch was murdered. A lake of blood covering the carpet. That can mean only one thing: the culprit is not the South Austin Vampire.”

“Excellent, my dear colleague,” beamed Hall. “And yet I find it interesting that you did not mention the singular marks extending from the body to the door.” He gestured with his pipe.

Fanning the smoke and scattered ashes, Miss Watson-Adler bent and traced the patterns on the carpet with her index finger. “Curious,” she muttered. “They’re footprints. One set is of a size six loafer. And the other—“ She looked up. Her cheeks paled, her eyes blazed, and her bosom heaved. Her voice sank to a velvet whisper. “Hall,” she hissed, “they are the footprints of a giant—a giant—“

“A giant what?” I said.

Hall chuckled. “Ah, yes, Watson-Adler. Now that I’ve practically drawn a picture. But time is short. Are you armed?”

In answer, Miss Watson-Adler brandished the quirt. Hall looked at me, eyebrow arched.

“Me? I don’t have arms. I sell shoes.” I looked around for something deadly, but the best I could do was a Prada sling-back in navy or red, size twelve.

Hall nixed it. Reaching into an inside pocket, he drew out a seltzer bottle and handed it to me. “Spray ‘em in the face. Gets a laugh every time. Now, follow me.” He led us outside to where a giraffe unicycle was parked at the curb. Red, white, and blue crepe paper streamers decorated the sidecar.

“You’re not going to alert the police chief?” I said.

Hall laughed. “That Bozo? He couldn’t solve a crime if Miss Marple had him to tea and fed him a plate full of clues.” He shoved me into the sidecar, then jumped onto the unicycle and placed his feet on the extra-wide pedals. “Give us a push.”

Miss Watson-Adler positioned herself behind the sidecar and, throwing her weight against it, propelled it forward. At the same time, Hall bore down on the pedal, and we were off. Miss Watson-Adler scrambled into the sidecar and settled herself on my lap. We sped down the street, streamers flying.

“Like old times, eh?” Hall threw his head back and laughed. “Come, Watson-Adler. The game’s a-feet!”

Chapter Three  (Jennifer Old)


Image via Wikipedia

As we charged down a dark alley, a two- foot-long black-and-white checkerboard clown shoe hurled through the air.  Like a drone missile, it targeted Irene Watson-Adler and toppled her off my lap and out onto the pavement, her skirt wrapping her up in an hour-glass shaped cocoon.  Her top hat rolled down the alley after her.  I scrambled out of the side car trying to catch my balance in my size six New Balance walkers and at a full gallop ran to Watson-Adler’s side.  Her raven hair fell across her face and I caught a faint whiff of shoe polish.  Her hair color mirrored the difficult-to-find Kiwi Black 107 with a tinge of blue.

The unicycle came to an abrupt stop, Hall jumped down, snagging his cape on the unicycle’s seat.  The whole effect acted like a bungee cord springing him back into the chain and spokes of the wheel.  He quickly cut himself free with a knife he extracted from under the extra-large pink pastel Mexican wedding shirt he’d worn under the cape and rushed over to us.  He threw down his deerstalker hat like a gauntlet.

Hall’s massive head of synthetic orange ringlets jiggled as he bent over Watson-Adler.  “Good night, Irene,” I heard him say as he hung his head low.

“Do you know the rest of the words to that song?” I asked.

“No,” he mumbled. “It hasn’t come out on Kindle yet.”

All at once, three goons—dressed in black and looking much like Italian circus elephant handlers—muzzled us from all sides.  “Hey, watch the shoes!” I cried as we scuffled.  “These white puppies don’t have a single black mark on them.”  As I looked down I could see that the guy tying Hall’s hands behind his back wore at least a size sixteen black Nike and his hands looked as big.  I’d been trying to order those shoes from the supplier but they’d been out of stock.  Now I knew why.

They tied up my hands next and stuffed us into the trunk of a black limousine that had come screeching to a halt and whose lid had sprung open like a Jack in the Box, no doubt from the push by some junior lackey of a button inside.

“So what do you think happened to the dead guy in my shop and Watson-Adler?  Or is that too elementary to ask about your dear Watson?”  My claustrophobia had kicked in.  I talked nervously.

Before he could answer, the limo came to an abrupt stop again tossing us around like so much pasta, maybe a salad.  The trunk lid opened.  Big arms scooped us out, took two easy steps and dropped us straight into an almost empty dumpster.   Hall’s cape, wig and deerstalker hat sailed in followed by Irene’s top hat, and flip-flops.  We heard gravel spray as the limo peeled out of the alley.

“That Watson-Adler is a good actress.  She might surprise you,” Russ said as he righted himself, winked at me, withdrew a compass, a swimmer’s nose plug and his magnifying glass from under his shirt.

He skulked around the perimeter of our new, steel coffin with the nose plug spanning across the bridge of his big, red nose as he peered through the magnifying glass.  After all, day by day in the sunlight, the goo and trash discarded by us business tenants of the strip shopping center baked to a hard crust but still reeked of oyster po’boys, commercial glue and wet newspaper.

“What are you looking for?” As I watched him I had to wonder how his mind worked that he’d become so legendary, so reclusive.

“Watson-Adler’s flip-flops have been de-jeweled,”  he said with a nasal, whining voice.    He stayed hunched over,  stepping  like a cat with wet feet, occasionally bending down to check out some particle he heard crunch under the weight of his size fourteen Blenheim boots among the wadded up food wrappers and retail trash.  The boots showed his rugged individualism with the distinction and discretion of a man who didn’t like to cause a scene.

I felt frustration wash over me.  “Let me spool back over what we’ve got:   a dead body in my shoe store; we’ve been kidnapped;   Watson-Adler’s missing and presumed dead.  And you’re worried about cheap flip-flops?”  He shot me the glance that said they’d been real jewels, and that I shouldn’t talk about a woman being cheap or trashy.

He removed the nose plug.  “Since my Boy Scout days in Ohio, I’ve learned a thing or two about investigations and survival.  Watched my share of MacGyver and Get Smart reruns on late night TV.  Read  Sherlock Holmes and James Bond novels.  I shouldn’t have to mention I have an eidetic memory.”  With that he reached under his shirt to pull out a pair of wire cutters, a screwdriver and a roll of wire.

“By the way, we’re right behind my store,” I said rather flatly, but trying to make a point.  “Here’s one of my fitting stools.”  I bent to pick it up by one of the legs and my hand felt the sticky red Kool-Aid of the children’s department…I hoped.

Russ kicked around the checkerboard clown shoe, and looked pensive.  “I know of only one clown family who wears this style… the Grimaldis,” he said with surprising resentment.  He stared off with an angry grimace.  Then his blue eyes danced.  “Well, look at that!  S’pose that Brannock device might be the murder weapon?” Even though the dumpster sat in the shade of the building, light twinkled off its new dent.

I looked over at it.  How should I know? I thought to myself.  You’re the expert.  It won’t be measuring feet any time soon, that’s for sure.

“So you left me in the street for dead, dah-ling?” Irene Watson-Adler peered over the edge of the dumpster.  A relief flooded over me and her velvet whisper—soft, sumptuous, dark and mysterious– reminded me she should read for audio books.  But Hall didn’t seem surprised to hear her voice or the splat of the quirt as she wrapped it against the dumpster wall.  What a team.

Hall kicked the stool over to the edge, made a sling with the wire, twisted a knot into it with the screwdriver and then cut it from the roll.  He took the screwdriver and bore out a small rusty hole in the dumpster from which to hang the wire.  “Here’s a makeshift stirrup.  Think you can catapult yourself out over the side?”

Me?  I would have just used my cell phone to call for help.  Simple.  Fast.  I wanted the dead body out of my store, not a lesson in make-believe.  Geez!  This guy lived in some sort of time warp, an alternate reality where bumper stickers read, “That was Zen, this is Tao.”

Chapter Four  (Joan Hall)

Gun that shot Dillinger

Image by Minnesota Historical Society via Flickr

Of course Russ Hall’s reputation was beyond question, but I felt bad vibes about Watson-Adler. Was her anger toward her boss minor professional jealousy or a serious vendetta? I didn’t have to wait long to find out.

Russ hustled me into that ridiculous wire sling, and next thing I knew, I was hurled over the side of the dumpster. I sprawled on the street and blinked in the sudden daylight. Before I could collect my wits, he skidded next to me except he managed to stay on his feet. No wonder with landing gear that substantial. We both stared at Watson.

She faced us twirling a pair of .38s. She held pistols too.

“Wh-what are you doing?” I stammered. “I thought you were his faithful side-kick.”

She cocked one pistol and drew a bead on my nose. “Do you have any idea how tired I get being called that? How about some women’s lib here?”

Russ’s jaw dropped open. “But I need you. We’re a team. Without you, how can I say, ‘elementary, my dear Watson’?”

She gritted her teeth and cocked the other pistol and aimed at his nose, a darn site easier target than mine. “Say that one more time, and I’ll pull the trigger before you ever get to hear me solve the crime.”

“You—solve the crime?”

“That’s right. Do you want to go to your grave ignorant as well as chauvinistic?”

“No, anything but that! Tell me who done it. Er-uh, let me edit that last question: Who perpetrated the crime and why?”

She rolled her eyes but didn’t lower either pistol.

“Okay, it’s elementary, my dear Russ.” She smirked. “Since you went into hiding, I needed a way to draw you out. I knew if the case involved feet, you couldn’t resist getting involved, especially if it happened in your favorite shoe store.”

“Liar, liar, pants on fire!” I interrupted. “You mean…that poor victim was an innocent bystander?”

“That’s right, bimbo. Just an ordinary passerby with little feet—and no right to be in that elite store. I plugged him when nobody was looking, dragged him into the store, and to make the case even more irresistible for Russ, I put those cheap shoes on him.”

“Like salt in a wound.” Russ cringed. “But don’t be so wordy. Such verbosity bogs down the suspense. Get to the point of why you despise me so much.”

Infuriated, she flung her pistols aside and karate-kicked at Russ.

He was too fast for her. Grabbed her foot and yanked her to the floor.

A rubber foot came off in his hand. We all froze for a moment.

Russ pointed at her naked foot, probably a size five. “All these years you’ve faked having bigger feet than mine! Why, your pinky toe would fit in a peanut shell.” He paused and studied the object in his hand. “This certainly gives new meaning to the term ‘foot-loose’.”

Humiliated, Watson curled up whimpering on the ground. “All I ever wanted was to outdo you. Now you’ve ruined everything.”

“Call the police chief.” Russ told me. “He and Watson deserve each other.”

“Won’t you stay to turn her in yourself?” I asked.

“No thanks. More than ever, I need my solitude.”

“But what shall I tell your adoring fans?”

He tossed me the rubber foot “Elementary, my dear shoe entrepreneur, show them this as a clear case of foot-envy.”  Then he turned and bounded away. His huge feet made long strides—once again proving the adage that size does matter.


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A Word from One of Our Members

Russ Hall: How to Write a Mystery

by Gale Albright

Russ Hall got right down to business and took us on a no-nonsense, hard-boiled–but cozy–journey through the grimy, dark, alleyways of modern publishing and the glittering, hard-edged turf of prose. We in the audience pushed our fedoras back, lit a (figurative) unfiltered, lipstick-stained cigarette, holstered our rods, and poised pens over notebooks. The game was on.

Russ Hall, recipient of the 2011 Sage Award, has penned three mystery novel series, as well as other fiction and non-fiction books. He was tapped by Sisters in Crime to present “How to Write a Mystery” workshops, which were presented free of charge on May 13 and 14 at Book People as part of May Mystery Month.

The workshops were filled with a wealth of useful and interesting information about the writing process and the road to publication.

Writing Process

 According to Hall, writing a mystery is like writing a book backwards, or like playing chess backwards. When you’re working backwards, how will the plot unravel?

Start with emotions and the tension between characters. Remember that people all want something, and their desires often put them in conflict with others.

Most important is the narrative voice that drives the story. Do you trust that voice?

Hall says the first five pages of a novel are life or death. Establish the key characters, an engaging voice, make a promise to the reader of what will follow. Show just enough.

Are the characters real and fleshed out? Observe emotion in yourself and others. You’ve got to leave room for the reader to participate in the book. Mystery readers are curious people. They want to know how the story unfolds. It’s your job as an author to keep it interesting. Emotion is always the best way. Draw on your past. Use everything, even if it hurts, especially if it hurts. You need to tap inner angst to write emotion, feel with intensity. Write what is in your heart.

Pay attention to the personalities of secondary and tertiary characters. It is also vital to take care in choosing the setting and the action. Always show instead of tell. Constantly look in the media for strange stories, see odd stuff in the news to give you the “germs” of ideas to spin a yarn.

Hall quoted Stephen King from his book On Writing. “Good writing starts in the imagination of the writer and ends in the imagination of the reader.”

Hall went over the types of mysteries. Cozies are more mental, not so violent. Cozies are also a big growth area in readership right now. Then there is the hard-boiled genre, violent, tough, intense, with lots of action. Police procedurals are very hot these days. Ninety percent of mystery readers are women. Mysteries used to be “men’s fiction.” You must decide what kind of audience you’re writing for.

You have to learn to like the writing process. Sometimes you start to hate the stuff you are working on. It’s going to come in chunks, stop and start. At some point it starts to feel fun. You need to embrace the process.

There will be lots of shaping and finishing to keep the writing tight. Every book needs research, but don’t show too much research. Research is there to make things authentic. Don’t let it get intrusive.

Hall encourages writing groups. Writers’ groups mentor and encourage you. You need someone who can give you the truth. A writer needs extra eyes and feedback. As far as reading about writing, he highly recommends Unless it Moves the Human Heart by Roger Rosenblatt and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Reading these two books “is like taking a college course in creative writing.”

Road to Publication

 In today’s publishing scene, does a writer need an agent? Will you self publish? If you decide on self publishing, says Hall, you’d better be good at marketing. And someone better “edit that thing.”  He personally recommends the services of Mindy Reed of the Authors’ Assistant in Austin, if you need professional help getting your manuscript in shape. http://www.authorsassistant.com/about-authors-assistant.html

A word to the wise: If an agent wants money, look out! If a publisher wants money, look out! Check out the website Editors and Preditors when searching for representation. http://pred-ed.com/

Writersmarket.com and WritersDigest.com are useful tools to help writers find the right places to send their submissions.

If you’re looking for an agent, be very careful how you start out. Know what kind of book you have written. Put a lot of effort into your synopsis and query letters.

In the query letter, the first paragraph has to “wow” the reader. Novelty is good. Upset the apple cart. Invent tag lines and use punchy verbs to get attention.

These days writers usually have to market their own books. Hall says use social media, such as blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Find out where your book fits in the market. Have you written hard-boiled, noir, cops, P.I., criminal’s side, or cozy? Try to create a book that dominates your genre.

You need a good understanding of what you are doing. To begin with, don’t try to mix too many genres in one book, such as “Agatha Christie meets Elmore Leonard.” It’s dangerous to try this.

The book must have a hook to get agents and publishers interested. What makes it distinctive from other books like it? A hook singles your book out from other books. Know what your hook is.

Hall said several times during the workshops that the publishing business is about money. With publishers you can get advances or royalties, and the more books they print, the cheaper it is to print them. You’re offering publishers the chance to make continuing money if you can produce a sizzling first book. To do this, you need a sizzling platform to get their attention.

Use your pitch and platform to sell your book along with a great treatment, synopsis, outline, and characters. Show that you are willing to promote the book. A publisher can send out advance review copies to help generate publicity. When your book is out, take it to book festivals. Be aware of opportune events and book stores that can help. Take book tours to grow your platform.

Said Hall, “Grip me with voice, grip me with the narrator.”  He then rattled off a list of things that writers should be aware of before they submit their manuscripts:

  1. Is it original, fresh, memorable?
  2. Does it distinguish itself in its genre?
  3. Does plot/story line do anything daring?
  4. Is the world a better place because this book came into it?
  5. Movement – sagging middle or sweeping all the way?
  6. Hard to put down—want more?
  7. Authenticity – are details (historical) accurate? Do the details reinforce the story? Details need a reason for being there—must be functional
  8. Is the writing organic or manipulative? No deus ex machina. Be honest.
  9. Does the story have redeeming value? Some moral aspect? Is there a moral dilemma? Moral agent, subtext?

Example: Hemingway’s story “Big Two-Hearted River.”
The overt plot is that Nick Adams is going fishing.
The subtext is that he is trying to recapture his innocence.

When asked about his own creative process, Russ Hall said he writes at home but edits at coffee shops. He reads his stuff out loud to test if it has flow. He hates to do outlines.

“I outline every book as soon as I’m done writing it,” he said with a grin.

He jokingly added that authors should have book signings at vineyards, since there’s “nothing like a liquored-up audience to buy books.”

Russ Hall’s words of wisdom were much appreciated. I can’t wait to use them in my own work. Any good literary vineyards around here?

Gale Albright is a member of HoTXSinC, a former Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writer, and a 2008 Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest Winner, YA Division. She is working on a historical novel for middle grade readers and a mystery novel.


The Word on Our Members and Friends

Hill Country Book Store in Georgetown hosted a book signing on June 3 for Kaye George, author of the recently released novel, Choke: An Imogene Duckworthy Mystery, the first book in the Imogene Duckworthy Series, from Mainly Murder Press. Refreshments, including adult beverages, were served. Copies of Choke were available for purchase, as were copies of Kaye’s previous publications.


James Parker, author of The Dark Side of the Cross, will sign copies of his book at Barnes & Noble Round Rock on Saturday, July 23, at 2:00 p.m. The store is located in the La Frontera Village at the intersection of IH-35 and SH-45.

 A disturbingly successful string of thefts of ancient, religious artifacts from Catholic churches in the New England area has left police baffled. Then a priest gets a call from one of the thieves, offering the artifacts back for a considerable ransom. Acting as agents for the church, James MacBridan and the Hawthorne Group are called in by the archbishop to handle this most delicate situation. The thief and MacBridan meet, but they are not alone. Something else has been waiting for them, something dark and terrifying. The simple exchange ends violently, leaving MacBridan unconscious and the thief brutally murdered. Although many of the artifacts are recovered, MacBridan sets off to find the most important of the missing artifacts, the Cross of St. Patrick. MacBridan finds himself up against an enemy more ruthless, more deadly than he has ever faced before. The body count and the terror continue to rise the closer he gets, all in a place where no one is who they appear to be.

 In James Parker’s The Dark Side of the Cross, MacBridan finds that in order to survive he will have to lean on a faith that he has long since cast aside.

This event is free and open to the public.



Need a literary agent? Here’s how not to get one: The Elevator Pitch.


An article from the Missoulian describes the growth of the fingerprint industry.


Cary Groner writes in the Glimmer Train bulletin “A Few Words about Conflict.”


“If you’re going to do anything interesting in the world, criticism is an unavoidable fact.” Consequently, criticism is an unavoidable fact for writers. For a look at what to do when it arises, see Leo Babuta’s “The Art of Handling Criticism Gracefully,” in Zen Habits.


Stina Lindenblatt tells why writers need to think carefully about backstory for all their characters in “Once Upon a Backstory,” in Query Tracker.


The FBI Handbook of Crime Scene Forensics – amazon.com – Kindle version on sale for $0.99 (as of 6/3/01) (Amazon lists alternative titles as well.)

The FBI Handbook of Forensic Services (2007) – free from FBI website in .pdf format


After selling her first novel, Janice Hamrick needed to “learn how to be a writer … and quickly.” To find out how she did it, read her article “First Novel, First Malice,” on the SinC blog.


Amazon announces a new imprint to focus on mysteries and thrillers.


The Writer’s Guide to E-Publishing offers tips on “Things to Keep in Mind When Going With a Small Press.”


Kristine Kathryn Rusch discusses what writers need to know about changes in the publishing industry in “The Business Rusch: Writing Like It’s 1999.”


Eli Pariser, author of The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, addresses the TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) Conference. The 9-minute video is worth watching.


The Writers’ League of Texas’ 2011 Agents Conference takes place June 10-12 at the Hyatt Regency Austin.


Check out the novels long-listed for the 2011 Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year.


Author Carol Dawson discusses the connection between writing and painting in “Carol Dawson’s Gallery Talk,” published in the WLT Scribe.


Hear (and see) author, speaker, and business consultant Joanna Penn interview literary agent and author Donald Maas about his latest book for authors, The Breakout Novelist, on The Creative Penn.


In There Are No Rules, Jane Friedman describes “5 Key Research Sites You Might Have Missed (Plus Cool Tricks),” “5 Free E-Books Every Writer Needs,” and “2 Tricks to Keep Your Online Reading Manageable.”


Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style is available free at Bartleby.com.


In a New York Times article, Al Baker describes “How Scans of Car Plates Are Reshaping Police Inquiries.”


Kim Komando calls Resoph Notes a “Cool, Useful, Fun Freebie.” To see what you think, click here to download. [FYI only. The editor hasn’t tried it yet.]


HoTXSinC  2011 Program Schedule

  • January 9 – Jerry Carruth, Retired Federal Prosecutor, and George Sanchez, Retired Federal Investigator: Human Trafficking and Human Smuggling
  • February 13 – Claudia Grisales:  Crime Reporting in Austin, Texas
  • March 13 – Texas Ranger Sergeant Cody Mitchell: The Texas Rangers
  • April 10 – Satish Chundru, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner
  • May – Texas Mystery Month
  • May 15 – Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers Event
  • June 12 – George Arnold & Ken Squier present:  An Author’s Guide to Successfully Selling Your Book
  • July 10 – Jennifer Aguirre: Crime Scene Analysis
  • August 14 – Shelia Hargis: Making Sense of Crime in Austin–Crime Analysts in Action
  • September 11 – Detective Ruben Vasquez: Murder Investigation Step by Step
  • October 9 – Marian K. Williams: The United States Postal Inspection Service
  • November 13 – Ron Franscell, Author of Delivered From Evil: My Life of Crime: A Crime Writer’s Journey
  • December 11 – Karen and Mike Cross: Christmas Mysteries


The Editor’s Growlery

The editor has nothing to growl about.

Please send submissions for the next HOTSHOTS! to katherine.waller68 (at) gmail.com by June 25.

Speaking of June, it’s getting on toward watermelon season. (Being able to buy melons at HEB in December does not mean it’s watermelon season. We’re talking about the real watermelon–as in Luling Watermelon Thump–season.) To prepare, check out the Watermelon Special Fruitcarving Gallery.


And remember Mark Twain’s assessment of “the chief of this world’s luxuries, king by the grace of God over all the fruits of the earth…what the angels eat”:

It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took;
we know it because she repented.


Image via Wikipedia


Image of Grasswear by bri v from canada (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Image of the Gun that shot Dillinger by Minnesota Historical Society via Flickr, CC BY 2.0 

Image of clown by Graeme Maclean (originally posted to Flickr as bad clown) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Image of Geox sneakers by Picture8 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Image of watermelons by Kumon (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photographs of Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers Event and of Kaye George’s book signing by Kathy Waller.

Image of Barbara Burnett Smith cropped from photograph of pictorial display at Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers Event, May 15, 2011.


One thought on “June 2011

  1. Dolores Sullivan

    Kathy, thanks for another very fine newsletter. I haven’t been able to attend meetings this year and you’ve kept me up to date. I hope to be at more meetings now but I’m glad to have what I’ve missed in person through your reports. Thank you. – Dolores


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