Sunday, October 28, 2007

Cool Beans

Hey, I just found out that Airball is on the list for Washington’s Sasquatch Award. How exciting. Here’s the complete list:

Whittington by Alan Armstrong
The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley
The Legend of Spud Murphy by Eoin Colfer
The Misadventure of Maude Marche by Audrey Couloumbis
Chicken Boy by Frances O’Roark Dowell
The Giant Rat of Sumatra by Sid Fleischman
Stumptown Kid by Carol Gorman
Owen Foote, Mighty Scientist by Stephanie Greene
Airball: My Life in Briefs by Lisa Harkrader
Defiance by Valerie Hobbs
The Ghost’s Grave by Pet Kehret
Abby Takes a Stand by Patricia McKissack

Wow. What a list. I’m honored to be in the company of such great authors and terrific books.

For more information about the Sasquatch Award, click here.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


By now everyone knows how much I love the Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave, the mystery convention held each fall in Manhattan, Kansas. I just got an email from the convention organizers that next year’s dates and main speakers have been chosen:

October 31–November 2, 2008
Holiday Inn at the Campus
Manhattan, Kansas
Guest of Honor: JoAnna Carl (aka Eve Sandstrom)
Toastmaster: Joel Goldman

These are just the first details the committee has planned. They’re working on the cost, program, and registration form now, and as soon as I know more, I’ll let you know. But I’ve already told them to count me in. What could be more fun than spending Halloween at a mystery convention?

Friday, October 12, 2007


October is a very big month for me, and this next week will be a very big week. I’ll be participating in four events, beginning tomorrow morning at my very own hometown library:

Tonganoxie Public Library
Tonganoxie, Kansas
10:00 a.m.
October 13, 2007

River City Reading Festival
Festival hours: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
My book signing time: 11:00 a.m. to noon
October 14, 2007
Lawrence Arts Center
940 New Hampshire
Lawrence, Kansas

This celebration of reading will bring together of authors and performers, most of whom have strong connections to Kansas, including keynote speaker Jim Lehrer, host and executive editor of The NewsHour on PBS, who was born in Wichita, and Dense Low-Weso, who will be inaugurated as Kansas Poet Laureate in June.

14th Annual Literature Festival
October 16, 2007
Kansas Memorial Union
University of Kansas
Lawrence, Kansas

I’m honored to have been asked to participate in this festival, and doubly honored that I’ll be sharing the day with Heartland Award winner Sharon Draper. I’ll be speaking in the morning and will be doing a Q&A session in the afternoon. This festival is organized each year by The Writing Conference.

Louisburg Library
4:00 p.m.
October 18, 2007
Louisburg, Kansas

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I’m really big on setting. I don’t like to go on for paragraph after paragraph describing a setting, but I do like to paint the telling details that will ground the characters and action in a place. And one of my favorite ways to get the setting right is to actually be in that setting as I’m writing about it.

For Airball, I wrote in the bleachers during my son’s basketball practice and at my smalltown diner during lunch. Recently I began writing a scene set in a university’s student union. Now, I’ve been to college. And I still visit the union at KU from time to time (we have to buy our Jayhawk apparel somewhere, plus they have a really terrific bookstore and coffee shop). But as I tried to write this scene, I had a hard time coming up with those details that would bring the setting alive. So I packed up my laptop and drove over to Lawrence (I’m lucky I only live 20 minutes away), bought a latte and settled in among the students in the union to write.

And wow, was I glad I did. Not only was I able to capture a setting that had been eluding me at home, one element of that setting—the flatscreen TVs mounted high on the walls—gave me a great idea for some action in a scene that could have been too introspective. The TVs also gave me a way to pass important story facts to the character—and readers—without resorting to a (boring) narrative information dump. Plus hanging out in the union with college students is a whole lot more fun than hanging out at my house with the laundry and the dishes.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Louisburg Library

I have some details of my upcoming talk at the Louisburg Library:

Louisburg Public Library
Louisburg, Kansas
4:00 p.m.
October 18, 2007

I’m looking forward to meeting and talking with Louisburg readers!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Another Writing Tip From the Conclave

On our panel, “From Cooking to Basketry to Basketball: Weaving Passions Into Plots,” Diane Mott Davidson shared this writing tip: She plots her action on a calendar. She first maps out on the calendar page the time frame of the story, then she fills in the action on the appropriate days. This makes perfect sense, especially for her culinary mysteries. Anyone who has read her books knows that her main character, caterer Goldy Schulz, lives her own life by the calendar and the catering events she has booked on it.

But it makes a lot of sense for any kind of novel-length story. How many times have I tried to sort out in my mind things like: If Kirby and Bragger get the permission slips on Friday, when will they need to turn them in? Or: If Kirby and Bragger have been doing this and that and that other thing all week, shouldn’t it be time for a weekend already? How helpful it would be to have everything mapped out so I can look at it and know exactly which day which characters are doing what. I’m certainly going to try it.

Also, Diane says she doesn’t weave the plot around Goldy’s catering dates. She does just the opposite—she schedules the catering dates according to what needs to happen in the mystery. If Goldy needs to run into another character and note odd behavior or glean an important clue from the conversation, Diane schedules the next catered affair to fit into that plot point.

More Conclave Reporting

I spent a lot of time with Juliet Kincaid at the Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave. Juliet was part of the “Mystery in History” panel and shared some great tips on conducting historical research for mystery writing. My favorite tip was: Tell everyone you know what you’re researching. Through word of mouth and serendipity, chances are good you’ll find exactly the right person who can give you exactly the right information.

Juliet wrote up her own conclave report for our local chapter of Sisters in Crime. Click here to read it on the Partners in Crime site.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Conclave Report

I always have such a great time at the Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave, and this year was no exception. Keynote speaker Diane Mott Davidson looks like Kathleen Turner and is as smart, funny, and utterly charming as it is possible to be. And she brought Got-A-Hot-Date Bars—that she made herself before coming, from a recipe from her latest culinary mystery, Sweet Revenge—to hand out at her book signing. (Honestly, these bars are so good, they should be called Better-Than-A-Hot-Date Bars.) I bought Sweet Revenge while I was at the Conclave, and I’m enjoying the story even more now that I can hear Diane’s voice in my head as I read.

Nancy Pickard was as gracious and wonderful as always, and while we were at the Conclave, she found out that she had won the Macavity Award for The Virgin of Small Plains. No book deserves it more. Honestly, if you haven’t read it, treat yourself. It is the best book I’ve read in a long time.

Will Thomas was a terrific toastmaster. I haven’t yet read his historical mysteries about a private detective and his sidekick in Victorian London, but I fully intend to. They sound wonderful.

The law enforcement panel was terrific, as always. There are only a handful of certified forensic anthropologists and forensic psychologists in the country, and we’re fortunate to have one of each teaching at Kansas State University in Manhattan. They, along with a Riley County homicide detective, the retired Riley County district attorney (who sounds just like Jimmy Stewart—I kid you not), and the chief public defender in Wichita, spoke for over two hours on Saturday morning, and were just fascinating. I could’ve listened to them all day.

I missed a few of the Conclave regulars who couldn’t attend this year, such as Susan McBride, Mark Bouton, and Margaret Shauers. And of course, it’s a little like Christmas—I looked forward to it for so long that now that it’s over, I’m feeling a bit of a letdown.

But that won’t last long because this Friday I’ll be motoring down to Wichita for the Kansas Book Festival. I am very lucky to be invited to so many fun book events.