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.