Sunday, December 4, 2011

IN THE FIELD WITH A DEA AGENT: Law Enforcement, A Mystery Writer's Best Friend!

Sisters in Crime, Chessie Chapter, arranged for a DEA Agent to talk to us mystery writers on December 3, 2011. I will call him Agent A.

As a young college student, Agent A applied to the DEA, was accepted, spent 17 weeks training in Quantico, VA, and having no idea what he was doing – his words – he was given a gun, a badge, credentials and shipped off to a job in Switzerland where he did surveillance on an international drug dealer who was finally apprehended in a Motel 8 in CA.
DEA: Seized Drugs

I suspect this agent will be writing thriller novels in the future.  He can really tell a story. One point he made stuck with me. If agents are trained to lie, and you’re married to one, how can you ever believe them? Makes for a high divorce rate.

I lucked out yesterday as Agent A wound up at my table during the lunch. Loved it when he gave me the answer I wanted to hear. My new Nikki Latrelle novel takes place at Colonial Downs racetrack in Virginia and takes a hard look at the illegal drug trade in methamphetamine. When I write a book, and a couple of years go by, I worry. Is it still timely?

I asked agent A about meth. He said it’s once again one of their biggest problems. That, and the new synthetic cannabis and synthetic stimulants, many of which are coming out of China, some in the form of “bath salts.” He said he doesn’t believe the things people are willing to put in their bodies.

Agent A talked about the DEA’s fight against the Mexican drug trade, and coincidentally, the New York Times broke a story on December 3, about how DEA agents launder drug money as a means of tracking these criminals.  (To see this story, cut and paste into your browser bar)

Agent A said one of their best weapons against the Mexican drug cartels is the seizure of their money.  Thinking the recently increased violence in Mexico is a bad thing is somewhat counter intuitive. He explained by cutting off the Cartel’s money, cutting off their drug routes, these criminals are like rats in a cage. They turn violent –  turn on one another. Agent A believes our agents are relatively safe when fighting the Mexican cartels, since the cartels know that if they kill an American drug agent the wrath of the US Government will be on their heads. 

Regarding our two ICE agents that were murdered, he explained the agency’s furious backlash against the cartels caused one of these criminal gangs to give up the perpetrators of this crime in two days! 
He did admit he wouldn't want to be a Mexican drug investigator at this time and he wonders how much longer the Mexican government can fight this vicious war. 

I’d had no idea that DEA has so many agents overseas and around the world. Agent A spent two years in Haiti and here again, though it is one of the most dangerous places in the world, he felt fairly safe as a US agent. He said the trouble comes when an undercover agent does such a good job, the drug lords think he’s one of them, then think nothing of killing him if is suits their needs. What a life.

Nasty Most Wanted Guy!

Agent A suggested the DEA website ( is a great place for writers to root around. He’s right. Looking at pictures of their most wanted criminals in the area where I live was enough to keep me up half the night checking that windows and doors were locked, and my dog was on guard duty. 

On their site I found this picture:

And was fascinated to discover I’d already seen it, that I’d been there before. In 1993, one of my favorite mystery authors, Michael Connelly wrote a novel called “The Black Ice.” His character, LA detective Harry Bosch, ends up in a Mexican tunnel used to ship drugs into the US.  Because of Connelly’s authorial magic, this DEA photo brought on a tremendous sense of deja vu. I know Connelly works hand in hand with law enforcement agencies to get his books right. 

Personally, I am very grateful to these agencies who take the time to make sure us mystery authors get it right!

The DEA, Drug Enforcement Agency, operates under  the US Department of Justice, and is our nation's largest enforcement agency. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

TECH INFO FOR WRITERS: Latest Tips on Establishing Your Online Presence and Broadening Your Readership

Below are excerpts from October issue of “More” magazine. They are interesting suggestions and make sense. The “More” article was directed at job hunters, but so much of it pertained to writers or anyone who wants to broaden their presence online, I posted them here:

Produce an author video -- a two minute clip, and introduce yourself. List any writing or applicable awards you’ve garnered. Talk as if you were speaking at an author signing. What is your passion, how did you get published, etc. If you’re tech savvy– I’m not – you can use iMovie and do it yourself. Shoot inside with a white background and do some lighting checks to make sure you aren’t creating unflattering shadows. Avoid natural daylight and fluorescent bulbs. Use indirect soft light bulbs, like a lamp with a paper shade. The latter will create the most flattering look.

(I note here that you should get some good bulbs before they are permanently taken off the market!)

Otherwise, hire a video-production company like VideoBIO –  cost close to $300 –  but they will set you up with a videographer, offer script advice, will do the lighting, shooting and editing. ( Rehearse first!

I’m skipping the basic info on blogging as most of us have more samples of good blogs than we know what to do with. But this info was new and useful:

Consider vlogging (video blogging) if you are skilled with a webcam. You can interview other writers or people in the industry about which you write. Example: I write horse racing mysteries so I might interview a racing security officer who was involved in bringing down a race fixing ring.

Follow the top blogs in your industry. Pick five or fewer blogs. Find them at This is a way to keep up with the latest information pertaining to your genre or story related industry. Example: Having just checked the top equine blogs, I find that information on training riding-horses, show-horses and Quarter horses has a much bigger following (readership) than race horses. Could it be time to broaden my novels to reach this wider market? What about your market?

Get a good, professional profile picture to use on the internet. Use it at each and every site you appear on.

Regarding Tweeting, the new rule of thumb is 120 characters.  This allows followers to retweet and add their own commentary. You can check your Twitter influence by entering your name at, a service that analyzes your tweets and followers.

Create a Facebook author or “brand” page. For extra security, consider downloading’s free tool, which encrypts everything you post to Facebook so your data won’t get leaked the next time privacy settings change.

Ditch your AOL e-mail address, ditto Hot Mail and Yahoo. Supposedly these are an instant give away that you are out of touch. Use Gmail, which enables you to take advantage of useful tools such as Google Documents (great for sharing/editing manuscripts without any worry about disappearing attachments), Google Reader (which allows you to track all your blog subscriptions and news feeds in one spot) and Google Video Chat.

Friday, September 30, 2011


I arrived in St. Louis on Wednesday, September 14, to a cold, wind-driven rain. After checking into the conference hotel, I rolled one of my two suitcases – filled with copies of FULL MORTALITY– to the book dealers room. Truth is, many authors published by small presses have to carry their own books to these events and sell them on consignment. 

Don’t feel bad for me; there was an author from the big publisher, St. Martins, who’d been assured the book sellers would have this person’s book on hand. The poor author arrived at their book signing to discover they had no books at the conference. Not one. I’d rather schlepp an extra suitcase any day of the week than face that situation. Especially when Southwestern Airline allows two free bags per flight!

Richard Katz's Book Store in Milwaukee 

In the dealer’s room, where book sellers were busy unpacking hundreds of boxes and setting up their displays, I found the people who’d agreed to shelve my books and sell them: Deb and Wayne from Hooked on Books, and Richard Katz of Mystery One Books.

Both shops gave Full Mortality excellent shelf space and location. I’m grateful they had my books on hand and sold copies at both of my book signings.  
That evening, It was raining so hard, and the temperature dropping so fast, friend and fellow SinC member, Debbi Mack, and I took a cab. For a two-block trip. Seemed the only way to avoid drowning or freezing. We rode in $5.00 comfort to the Sisters in Crime “Great Writing” workshop, where panelists took a hard look at the incredible changes transforming the publishing industry. They discussed everything from e-books and social networking to three dimensional e-marketing strategies. 

Being informed by these experts that I need both a Facebook page and website for my character Nikki Latrelle, might have caused me to drop my head into my hands, or maybe I was just tired from schlepping suitcases.

On Thursday I attended some great panels including one I participated in, “Adding Depth to Character.” Panelists for this were Mysti Berry (Moderator), Sparkle Abbey, me, Joy Laughter, Victoria Laurie, and Sandra Parshall.

Then it was off to the book signing in the dealer’s room where I was lucky to sit between authors Tim Hallinan and David Housewright. I’d already read Hallinan’s “Queen of Patpong” and loved it. I started Housewright’s “Highway 61" since returning home, and so far, so excellent.
 Author Hallinan 

Thursday night, I had a great dinner with some of the Chessie Chapter SinC members including author Sandra Parshall. (Note: her book UNDER THE DOG STAR is fabulous!) Afterwards, at the opening ceremonies I met author Simon Wood and spoke again to Timothy Hallinan. Since my book, FULL MORTALITY was up for a Best First Macavity award, I waited a bit anxiously. Hallinan seemed a bit stressed, too. Not surprising since his book, QUEEN OF PATPONG, was up for Best Novel! 
Sasscer Hill, Simon Wood, and Debbi Mack

When they announced the title for the winner of the Best First Macavity Award, sadly, it wasn’t FULL MORTALITY. Hallinan's QUEEN OF PATPONG didn’t get the nod for Best Novel, either. Time to suck it up. 

Support from SinC members made my loss a bit easier to swallow.  A phone message from David Housewright claiming, “You were robbed!” didn’t hurt either. Later, some of us went to the bar and partied. I had a chance to speak to Kate Stine, Janet Rudolph and Hank Phillippi Ryan – lovely women, all three. I met Guest of Honor, Colin Cotterill, and had a drink with him and author Tim Hallinan. When you don’t win, make the best of it!
Janet Rudolph founder of Mystery Reader's International and Sasscer Hill

Shaking it off with a good night’s sleep, I attended some great panels on Friday with Debbi Mac. The best panel for me was “The Last Detective” an interview of Robert Crais by Greg Hurwitz. These two have worked together before, and it showed. They were sharp, funny, and very quick.

Hurwitz razzed Crais by saying that best selling author Lee Child insists his protagonist, “Jack Reacher,” would pulverize Crais’s “Joe Pike” if the two were put to the test.

Crais shot back, “Jack Reacher is Joe Pike’s bitch!”  

 Robert Crais and Co-Program Chair Judy Bobalik
Debbi and I laughed so hard, we almost fell out of our seats. That evening I had dinner in my room and watched NCIS. Why? Because my alarm was set for at 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning. I had to be fed, dressed, and made-up by eight for my first ever panel as a moderator, and I was scared to death of being late or messing up somehow. Besides, I planned to go to the live-band dance Saturday night, too.

I arrived on time, but I still screwed up. Our panel was “RELEASE ME: Finish Your Research and Write Your Book,” with a host of great historical fiction authors: Dan Johnson, Frances McNamara, Judy Moresi, Roberta Rogow, and Nancy Means Wright.

Being nervous and convinced that notes on cards would be lost, I put my questions for my five panelists in a notebook. Only, I couldn’t pull the notebook close enough to the microphone, so my first questions came out very slowly and with big gaps of silence as I tried to read the pages that lay off to the side. Probably, I scared my panelists to death. Our moderator is crashing and all of us will burn! 

I warmed up after the first few minutes, and listening to a tape of the panel that arrived in the mail yesterday, I was relieved to hear my voice smooth out and the pace pick up until there was laughter and the audience seemed to be enjoying the show. 

 Dancing fiends from Saturday Night. Can you say blast?

Saturday night, I danced to the great sounds of “Cruisin’” from eight-thirty until midnight, crawled into bed at one a.m. and staggered to the airport and back to Maryland on Sunday.
My Saturday Night Dancing Partner Was So Cute!

Passengers, sardined into that Southwest flight to Baltimore, never suspected they were surrounded by people who kill for a living – me, Marcia Talley, Debbi Mack, and Laura Lippman, to name a few.

If that plane had gone down, the D.C. area would have lost half its mystery writers. Fate, apparently, has other plans.

Read First Chapter of RACING FROM DEATH!
Click on following link to read:

Monday, September 5, 2011


The northeast Pleasant Hills Chimney
In Maryland, the earthquake of August 23, followed almost immediately by Hurricane Irene, left behind a number of devastated historical homes. Many of Maryland's Prince Georges County landmarks were hard hit: Pleasant Hills, Tulip Hill, Weston, Mount Calvert, Bellefields, Bowling Heights and others. The ground rocked wildly, building a force that cracked the mortar joints of old brick walls and whiplashed the tall chimneys above. 

At several locations two, or even three, chimneys broke and fell, tearing huge holes in the roofs. Within days, Hurricane Irene dumped torrents of water inside these historical treasures.

At Pleasant Hills, we were very lucky to have the chimneys stay up. Still, we have to take two of them them down brick-by-brick, cover the resulting hole, and then rebuild each structure. If we don’t, another production by Mother Nature may bring them down and break open our roof. 

When the earthquake hit, Mr. Duval, a local religious man, was in the graveyard at St. Thomas Church in Croom. The belfry and tombstones shook so hard he thought  Doomsday had finally arrived. Had I been there, I’d have kept a sharp lookout for Buffy-the-Vampire-Slayer. 

As an author, I  see no use for the earthquake other than to write it into a novel.

In the meantime, former Baltimore Sun writer Ross Peddicord, who is now head of the Maryland Horse Industry Board, invited me to do a FULL MORTALITY book signing at the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s exhibit at the Maryland State Fair in conjunction with the Timonium’s horse races. I said yes!

In the 91 Degree heat of September 4, I arrived at the fairground’s Farm and Garden building, a block structure without air conditioning. The Department of Agriculture provided me with a hand-held paper-fan, but waving it only made me hotter. It was a sweatbox in there. 

Any jockey who wanted to make racing weight that day, could simply walk across the midway, past the Ferris wheel, and into in the Farm and Garden Building. We even had an Equicizer in our booth, except it was supposed to be for the children.  

In a daring display of bravery, I rode the fake exercise horse.  A dangerous sport, as I was laughing so hard, I almost fell off.  

After losing two pounds of water weight, selling a dozen books, and eating several fresh peaches, I took home a load of ripe red tomatoes, and first-blush farm apples. 

When I got home, the chimneys were still standing and I decided life is pretty sweet.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


A gang of hard-shooting authors will gallop into St. Louis for the Anthony Boucher Mystery Convention in September. Pandemonium, panels, and podiums will take over the town. Writers, outfitted in shiny new badges, will draw pens and pencils and start firing. May the best gun win.

This is what happens when I learn the Bouchercon Committee has assigned me two panels at the convention. I get excited, words break loose, run wild, and fingers on the keyboard race out of control. If you will be at Bouchercon, come see me and the other authors on these two panels.

Let me give you the restrained version on my two performances.

Thursday, September 15
“SCRATCHES: Adding Depth to Character.”
Hotel room location: Landmark 1,2,3
Panelists: Mysti Berry (Moderator), Sparkle Abbey, Sasscer Hill, Joy Laughter, Victoria Laurie, Sandra Parshall

Saturday, September 17 8:30AM-9:30AM
“RELEASE ME: Finish Your Research and Write Your Book.”
Hotel room location: Majestic A,B,C
Panelists: Sasscer Hill (Moderator), Dan Johnson, Frances McNamara, Judy Moresi, Roberta Rogow, Nancy Means Wright.

Okay, I admit it. I have never moderated a panel before. Will I flub it? You won't know if you're not there.  When I mentioned the word "flub" to Tim Hallinan, author of  Macavity Best Novel Nominee, THE QUEEN OF PATPONG, he sent me the kindest tweet on Twitter:

Only 2 ways to moderate badly: do all the talking and not have questions. I know you won't do either.
Direct message sent by Timothy Hallinan (@TimHallinan) to you (@SasscerHill) on Aug 10, 11:33 AM.
Timothy Hallinan

I can do that, I am sure. I have to end this blog now, drink more coffee, and study my panelists’ books. More later.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


My mystery novel, FULL MORTALITY, was nominated for an Agatha Best First Award last winter. Though one of five finalists, the book did not win. Several of us “also rans” were moved to tears.

 But with a mental head slap, and the support of fellow writers, I moved on.

Next thing I know it’s summer and FULL MORTALITY is nominated for a Macavity Best First Mystery Award. I receive Twitter congrats from author Lawrence Block and New York Times writer, Joe Drape.

Joe Drape
joedrape Joe Drape 

Congrats to @SasscerHill for high honors for her debut mystery novel Full Mortality. Must read, and look forward to more. 23 Jul

Oh boy, here we go again. I had so much fun at Boucherdon 2010. I saw author friends and idols

met Lee Child,

fought Jack Reacher,

and spoke on the “Off-beat Protagonists” Panel on Thursday, and on Friday a “30 on the 30" session they titled “Racing from Death: Mysteries at the Racetrack.”
I wasn’t under the extra pressure of an award nomination last year, didn’t know enough about the Macavity, and realized I’d better get educated right quick. 

After learning the basics (“Macavity's a mystery cat. He's called the Hidden Paw;
 For he's a master criminal who can defy the law . . .”) I emailed Janet Rudolph, founder of  the Mystery Readers Journal – whose members vote on the Macavity Awards.

“Is there a ceremony?” I asked. “Do we finalists know anything before hand, or do we sweat it out like I did at the Agathas, only knowing the results when the announcement is made?”

She replied, “The Macavity Awards will be given out during opening ceremonies. Sadly, you won't know if you won until 'the moment'...”

I thanked Janet for the reply and noticed my eye teeth are already watching my fingernails in preparation for the nail biting Bouchercon blast. 

“I must,” I thought, “be sure to pack a crutch supply of bourbon to help protect my nails in St. Louis.”

In the great event the gods bestow a Macavity Best First upon Full Mortality, I promise not to brandish my bottle of bourbon before the Bouchercon attendees. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011


Ever ignorant Sasscer Hill; her book’s a nominee?
A Macavity Cat award she asks herself, whatever could that be?

Quickly, so my ignorance could not be truly seen,
I looked it up on the internet, then asked Jon L. Breen
Macavity's a Mystery Cat, Jon said, he's called the Hidden Paw 
By not knowing who he is you’ve broken every mystery law!

In shame I read the poem by T S Eliot
And was not surprised to find I liked it quite a lot! 

Here is my favorite stanza from Eliot’s poem:

“Macavity's a ginger cat, he's very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly doomed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he's half asleep, he's always wide awake.”

For more on this award follow this link:

Please stop by the Lipstick Chronicles on Sunday, July 3 and read how riding a steeplechase race is like writing a novel. Check it out. It’s not as ridiculous as it sounds.  
An educated mystery cat

Friday, June 24, 2011

Rough Sailing in the Kindle Sea, or Death By E-Publicide

“Other people do it, so why can’t I?” And with this brave premise I launched into the Kindle self-pub sea.

My short story, “Steamroller,” was written as an entry for the MWA Anthology previously called “Dark Justice.” They are calling it something else now, and since only ten stories out of hundreds of submissions were accepted, “Steamroller” didn’t get in. 

Okay, I thought.  I’ll sell in on Amazon.

My first problem: I am a Corel Word Perfect user and have never learned anything but the basics on Microsoft Word. And I have a bad attitude – I hate the way Microsoft keeps changing, forcing users to upgrade, face yet another learning curve, and spend their money. And what really amuses me is Kindle says they cannot take a Word 2010 file!

Rant finished.  I converted the story from Word Perfect to Microsoft Word and made sure I put manual Word page breaks where needed (after title page, reviews page, etc.) Still it took all day to get the text file up on Kindle.

The file I submitted on Tuesday was up on Amazon Wednesday morning. The Kindle "preview" looked fine Tuesday. But I ordered the book and opened it on my computer’s Kindle application to make sure it looked professional. The cover and front matter were fine. Actual story was a disaster. Some grafs had no indent, some had indents, still others were in block form. Shoot me. In the meantime people were buying the story. It went to #28K in sales rank. I had sold multiple copies of a story in a lousy format. Shoot me again.

I wrote Kindle, then “unpublished” the book as soon as my Kindle bookshelf page dropped the limbo "publishing" status listed next to the book. When your book is “publishing” you can’t unpublish or make any edits. The good thing about Kindle is that any time the drop down arrow next to the word “action” on your bookshelf page is working, you can click on edit, then reload a different copy of the book’s text. Happily, Kindle writes over what was there. 

Magically, I heard back from Kindle! Whoever wrote me even said they saw that I had most recently uploaded a PDF file, and kindly told me why that hadn’t worked either. Believe me, I feel like I have tried everything other than paying someone money I don’t have to do this for me.

Mr./Ms Responder said that I needed to take my word file and justify the text. I did. Mr./Ms. Responder said to save it as a “web page, Filtered (*.htm, *html).” This direction confused me because my Word offers save as “web page, Filtered” – nothing at all about “*.htm, *html.”   

Not knowing what else to do this morning, Friday, June 24, I saved the text as a “web page, Filtered,” reloaded it onto Kindle and looked at the preview, which, of course, looked fine. I republished. Now I wait to see what it really looks like when it comes out tomorrow and I spend another $0.99 to buy it again.

For what it’s worth all the rest of the stuff you fill out, title, rights, price, was easy to do. I was very lucky with the cover because the pro-photographer Rick Samuels let me have a picture he took of a horse named Stay Thirsty. The horse was ridden by an exercise girl that could surely be Nikki Latrelle. Sisters in Crime member Beth Hinshaw took the photo and made a terrific cover. All I had to do was give her the pixel size that Kindle asked for, none of which means anything to me, and she sent me a JPEG that looked great on the Amazon page when the story was up on Wednesday.

And now while I wait on Kindle, I am holding my nose and jumping into deep Nook waters. Wish me luck.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Royal Delta winner of the Black-Eyed Susans going to post.

Thanks to the enthusiasm and endless promotion by Karin De Francis and the Maryland Jockey Club, the Black-Eyed Susans (BES) Day program at Pimlico matches any racing event I’ve attended in the country.  

BES day is also Lady-Legends Day, and I couldn’t wait, rushing out early to meet the gal that was giving me a ride, Christy Clagett. Christy was also taking the ninety-year-old lady-legend, Jane Toal. Jane was a cancer research scientist at NIH for many years and always an avid foxhunter.  When I climbed into the back seat of Christy’s SUV, Jane sat up front wearing a thickly knit wool hat, a leather sun visor, amber racing goggles and a winter coat.

I wondered if we were really going to Pimlico.
Jane Toal

Jane cranked her head around slowly and said, “I wear this to protect my head and eyes.” Then she talked for a while, sharp as a knife and totally with it. I had no doubt she was one tough bird.

Christy was cruising on the Baltimore beltway, when Jane asked me to check through her large, wheeled-bag for her BES ticket. Fifteen minutes later, I still hadn’t found it. I found a lot of interesting stuff, but not the ticket. 

When we arrived at the entrance to the Pimlico parking lots, Christy suddenly had other business to take care of. She hopped out of her SUV and handed me the keys, leaving me with Jane. Christy has long legs, and I couldn’t figure out how to adjust her car seat. Driving with my feet straining toward the pedals, I was waved past numerous parking attendants and finally directed to a designated space. 

I looked over at ninety-year old Jane and her large wheeled bag, then at the Grandstand over half-mile away.  

Jane, not a lady-legend for nothing, insisted on rolling her bag herself. “I’m slow,” she said, “but I’ll get there.” 

We headed off across the broken gravel lot toward the grandstand that loomed like a mirage in the distance. “This isn’t working work for me,” I thought, and jogged ahead to an attendant holding a track radio. I pointed to the old lady creeping toward us with her bag on wheels. 

“We need a golf cart,” I said. “That’s one of the lady-legends.” It was like saying “open sesame.”

Pimlico staff had a golf cart magically appear and ferry us to the entrance, lickety split. Only Jane still didn’t have a ticket. 

Fortunately, Crystal Kimball, owner of the Equiery and another force behind Lady- Legends Day, was near the entrance with a gaggle of staff and other “retired” lady-legends. I stashed Jane with them and rushed over to Will Call to get my ticket, then hot-footed into the ticket office to straighten out Jane’s problem. After zipping back to Jane to ask a few pertinent questions, and a two-minute-lick back to the ticket office, I returned to the group of ladies, proudly bearing a ticket for Jane.

Leaving the gaggle behind, I headed for the entrance gate. Rain had threatened that morning, so I carried an umbrella, only a guard warned me that umbrellas were not allowed inside. I turned toward the distant parking lot, and stuck the top half of my walking-stick-styled umbrella under my coat, and the bottom half into my bag. 

I was busted at the gate. Schlepping back to Christy’s car to unload the dangerous umbrella, it’s possible I said a bad word. Maybe two. At last, I got inside the grandstand, past the paddock and over the tram – a covered walk across the dirt racetrack. Inside the Turfside Terrace tent, I collapsed in a chair.
The Turfside Terrace Tent before the day got started.
Kitsi Christmas and my nephew Bartholt Clagett handicapping.
Me and Karin De Francis
The best act of the day! The Lunabells. Roll over Dixie Chicks.
Pink and hats were everywhere!
Even pink hair!
Alidia Clagett, Crystal Kimball, Kitsi Christmas and Bartholt Clagett

Alidia and Bartholt's other aunt, Christy Clagett with a Budweiser  horse.
Me with a different Budweiser Horse. His head is as big as me!
Me and Kitsi
Immediately after the Black-Eyed Susans ran, the entire entourage of retired lady-legends either walked or golf-carted to Pimlico’s stake’s barn for a tour. All the horses running in the Preakness were in that barn! Except when we arrived, we weren’t allowed inside. 

But I’d seen something really interesting before we’d turned the last corner. A man in dark glasses with a handsome shock of long white hair. Had to be top trainer and mega racing personality Bob Baffert. I hopped off my golf cart and double-timed it back, pulling my camera out as unashamedly as any paparazzi. I admit it – I had someone snap a picture of me with Baffert.

It didn’t take long for the others to catch on, and within moments the golfcart brigade was rolling toward Baffert. A photo session ensued, with cameras popping out of bags, cases, and pockets. But Baffert just rolled with it. No wonder he is loved by the press and the entire racing industry.  

Since I know he has a zany sense of humor, and everyone else was too star struck to say anything, I said, “Bob, you and I were friends on FaceBook . . . for about three minutes.” 

“Yeah,” he said, “it was really fun  . . . I don’t know . . . .” He allowed a look of regret to cross his face. “My wife made me get off. She thought there were too many flirtatious emails.”

I said, “You mean your beautiful blond wife, who provided you with a gorgeous child?”

“That was mostly me,” he said. “I was the sire.”

When you have an opportunity, you keep going, so I said, “Do you remember when Informed Decision was in your barn at Santa Anita for the Breeder’s Cup in 2009?  And Barry Wiseman was leading her around your shedrow and you tried to throw both of them out?” 

Informed Decision is the huge, beautiful,  grey mare who won the Breeder’s Cup Sprint a few days later, and Baffert is so quick and so cool, he grabbed the story and ran with it.

“I do remember that,” he said. “I thought it was some raggedy assed European outfit that wasn’t supposed to be there.”

“Yes,” I said. “You told Barry Wiseman he had to get that horse out of your barn.” 

Baffert was nodding, so I kept going. “And Barry looked at you and said, ‘I have to get THIS horse out of your barn?’” 

For any reader who knows Barry, you know this was probably said with the kind of quiet intensity that makes you want to watch your back. But Baffert was grinning now and continued with the story.

“So one of my people comes up to me and says, ‘Bob, they’re with Jonathan Sheppard!’” 

Baffert put his hand over his mouth as if the memory was painful. A word I won’t repeat here escaped him. 

“Barry was so steamed at you,” I said, “and from that day forward he has called you ‘Bob Baffled.’” 

Hard to see behind those dark-glasses, but I think Baffert took the hit really well.
Me and Bob Baffled, I mean Baffert.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


What kind of parents raise there young in a place like this? Vultures do. Reminds me of vampires that sleep in a coffin, werewolves that roam through hell, and zombies who are undead.

On a lighter note, these little birds, about two weeks old when picture was taken, stood up for this picture, spread their wings, and hissed mightily at the photographer. Love the junior chick who is hiding under his sibling's wing.  "If I can't see them, they can't see me."

 Their mom flew the coop, but came back as soon as the photographer left. These chicks are in an abandoned barn in Maryland, and the people who live there say they are getting bigger every day.  Soon, they will be rising on a thermal. Wish I could.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


This post appeared earlier on Derby Day on the Mystery Reader International blog “Mystery Fanfare.”

There are several colts I like in the Derby. A horse named Dialed In, whose trainer is Nick Zito; a horse named Nehro, with Steve Asmussen as the trainer, and finally my emotional pick, Pants on Fire.

How can you not like a racehorse with a name like Pants on Fire? My heart is bound to this colt and his female jockey because of the rider’s connection to my horse racing mystery, “Full Mortality.” My book features the young, female, Maryland-jockey,  Nikki Latrelle.  Two of the themes in the Latrelle series are “fighting the odds,” and “chasing the dream.” In the Derby, Pants on Fire will be ridden by a young Maryland gal who, like Nikki, is competing with the male jocks.  Her name is Anna Napravnik. Fans call her Rosie because of her red hair.

Many believe Pants on Fire has a lot of speed, but not the stamina to go the Derby distance of one and one-quarter miles. His pedigree and improving performances suggest otherwise.

“Fire’s” trainer is a man named Kelly Breen who knew his colt had brilliant speed. But Breen entered Fire into the one-million-dollar Loiuisiana Derby a few weeks back as a “rabbit” – that is, a horse to set a rocket pace that forces the other horses to go faster than they like, and allow a come-from-behinder with a late kick to blow by the field in the last strides. Fire was supposed to do this for Breen’s other entry, Nacho Business.

But Fire blossomed right before the Louisiana Derby, and despite Breen’s pre-race planning, he sensed his colt was sitting on a big race in the Louisiana Derby.

“I told Rosie,” Breen said, “that I thought this horse was coming into his own. So I said to her, ‘Give it a shot. Don’t just think we’re in here because we have nothing better to do. He’s doing awfully well. You don’t have to wing it and be a rabbit. Just be in a spot where you can win it when the time comes.’ ”

And she did!

Now, Pants on Fire is giving Anna Napravnik the chance to chase her biggest dream – winning the Kentucky Derby.  Can you imagine the remarks by pundits and the press if the redheaded, Anna “Rosie” Napravnik beats the boys and wins the Kentucky Derby riding a horse named Pants On Fire?

Expenses and scheduling precluded the Derby for me this year, but I'll be watching this fabulous race from the couch, bourbon in hand, and little purple "fascinator" Derby hat on head!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Three of Five Best First Agatha Finalists Who Didn't Win The Award

Laura Alden, Alan Orloff, and Sasscer Hill upon realizing they did not win the Agatha. Rumor has it that Amanda Flower, who could not be found for this picture, may have thrown herself from the Hyatt Regency roof.  But that is mere speculation and probably not true.

Fortunately, my old pal, award winning writer Vinny O'Neil found me wallowing in self pity, slapped me around a bit, and straightened me right out.

"You're a finalist in the Best First Agatha Award!" he said.  "Get a grip. Since when did the best book always win?  Get over it. Give me a thumbs up!"

So I did.
When a former Army Ranger says give me a thumbs up, I do.
But all was not lost.  I got to meet Sue Grafton and give her a tip for the Derby. I had lunch with the best selling author whose books I devour like chocolate, Julie Smith.

Above: Sasscer Hill, three time Agatha nominee Elizabeth Zelvin, and NY Times best selling author Julie Smith. Below, Julie Smith and Sue Grafton providing the audience with a fabulous and humorous interview near the end of the Malice convention.

Above: At last Sasscer Hill meets her idol, New York Times Best Seller and winner of every mystery award known to man, Sue Grafton!

What an eloquent speaker Sue Grafton is.  She talks as good as she writes, and that's saying something!
Sasscer Hill at Best First panel between finalists Amanda Flower and Alan Orloff

Below, in white jacket, the Winner of the Best First Agatha Award: Avery Aames. Congratulations Avery!
Avery Aames and Sasscer Hill