May 12, 2010

Made It Moment: Ken Kuhlken

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:58 am

The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles

I am proud to present Ken Kuhlken’s Moment, or Moments–they range from A to, well, W–including one that will give all us emerging writers reason to never say die. There are some biggies here, some even touching ones, but in the end this Moment is about there never really being an end.

Ken Kuhlken

A couple years after college, I entered an MA program in Creative Writing at San Diego State University, and the program helped me
persevere and actually finish a novel. When I typed The End, that was a made it moment.

A professor sent my novel to some contest. An agent with William Morris asked to represent me. When I found myself talking to this agent in a New York highrise office building, that felt like a made it moment. But it came to nothing.

A few years later, a Viking Press editor called me, a year after I had submitted a manuscript of Midheaven. That was a made it moment.

And there was the time my mother told me about calling a certain school administrator who had prophesied I might end up as “a bum in the gutter,” and telling him about my new novel and an award it won.

I’ve won several awards. But I never got the rush I knew would come with the made it moment. The one that assures I had picked the right career. The one that would free me from day jobs, debts, and budgeting, give my family a swell vacation, and might even allow me to believe that after I died my stories would remain.

I have at times made my living writing stories. I have friends who’ve struck it rich. But from things they say I infer that they still feel just short of their true made it moment, because other people have struck it richer.

So I have adjusted my attitude.

For a dozen years or so, I have worked on a series about a detective. The series has gradually morphed into a rather epic tale of Tom Hickey’s journey from beginning to end. I call it the California Century novels, because it chronicles the transformation of the state through the 20th century, from latter day promised land into a prototype for the rest of the world, largely through the power of Hollywood.

My new book, The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles, is number one chronologically, though it’s the sixth in the series. I mean to wrap up the series after nine or ten novels and a collection of short stories.

The made it moment will come when I type the final The End.

Ken’s stories have appeared in Esquire and other magazines, been honorably mentioned in Best American Short Stories, and earned a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. He has been a frequent contributor and a columnist for the San Diego Reader.

Ken’s novel Midheaven was chosen as finalist for the Ernest Hemingway Award for best first novel and the sixth in his series, The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles, comes out this May.

May 10, 2010

Made It Moment: Peggy Ehrhart

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:39 am

Sweet Man Is Gone

I’ve been lucky enough to get to know author Peggy Ehrhart in a few ways, which might be why I hear her writer’s voice in every word of this Moment. But I don’t think that’s the only reason. I relate very deeply to Peggy’s prime reason for writing–and for knowing she made it. Stephen King (my all time Master, at least in terms of things writing, as some of you already know) would too. Read this and see if you agree.

Peggy Ehrhart

I was bringing in the paper. My neighbor, Mitchell, was hurrying toward his car. But he stopped when he saw me.

“I finished your book,” he said. “It was great. Now my girlfriend is reading it. But she doesn’t like to pick it up at night because once she starts she can’t stop—and then she’s tired all the next day.”

Bingo! That was when I knew I’d made it.

Was it my goal to keep people up past their bedtimes? Unashamedly—yes.

I was a mystery addict for years before I started writing them. All my friends read mysteries too. We were graduate students in the English Department at the University of Illinois, and mysteries offered the perfect diversion after a day spent poring over Beowulf or Paradise Lost.

I still remember a magazine article about the lure of mysteries one of my friends passed along to me back then, particularly this one line: “Here I am, with several advanced degrees and a professional career, and yet I’m up at two a.m. because I can’t put down The Corpse Wore a Puce Peignoir.”

That’s power, I said to myself, and I want it.

Of course I also wanted to tell stories. And bring readers into a world I found utterly fascinating—that of a struggling blues band. And introduce quirky characters that were amalgams of quirky people I’d known.

And if there’s an overarching theme to my work, it’s that creative people create because they’re driven to create—and they’re willing to sacrifice a lot to pursue their dreams. Yes, there’s quite a bit of me in my amateur sleuth Elizabeth “Maxx” Maxwell, though she’s a blues singer and I’m a writer.

But I also really really wanted to keep readers up past their bedtimes.

Peggy Ehrhart is a former English professor who now writes mysteries and plays blues guitar. She holds a doctorate in Medieval Literature, and her publications include a prize-winning nonfiction book.
Her stories have appeared in FMAM, Crime and Suspense, Flashing in the Gutters, Spinetingler, Crime Scene: New Jersey 2, Murder New York Style, and several other venues. As a guitar player, she has performed with numerous bands in the New York City area.

Her blues mystery, Sweet Man Is Gone, was published by Five Star/Gale/Cengage in 2008. The sequel, Got No Friend Anyhow, will appear in January 2011. Visit her on the web at

Quote of the Day

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:36 am

English writer G. K. Chesterton said, “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

With thanks to mystery/suspense author Suzanne Adair who guests today at Kaye Barley’s wonderful blog Meanderings & Muses.

I did my college thesis in English Literature on the importance of fairy tales in childhood. Relying heavily on Bruno Bettleheim’s THE USES OF ENCHANTMENT, I found that text (unlike audio/visual media, such as film) cannot overwhelm children with fear. Children automatically filter text, absorbing only what is most important and relevant at the time it is read. This is why books can mean one thing at one age and seem almost completely novel (pun intended) when read at another.

The fearsome material in fairy tales answers key developmental issues children have. And the Disnification of those tales might make them more, not less scary, to children because they often strip away the meanings that speak so particularly to issues with which the children are struggling.

Bettleheim’s book is a wonderful resource for anyone raising kids, writing fiction, or analyzing the importance of story to our lives.

May 9, 2010

One More Mom’s Day Hurrah

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 6:40 pm

Just in case the latest exciting installment of Police Academy (Citizen’s style) wasn’t enough to make a blast of this blessed, Hallmark holiday, I offer you the funniest blog I have stumbled over in a long time. LOL troubles me because it’s said so often that we now need another acronym for when we truly laugh out loud. In the chortling sense, or till tears run down our faces. Maybe you can think of a new shorthand. In the meantime, I did both when I read Subourbon Wife’s funny, then touching posts, and hugged my kids.

May 8, 2010

One Tough Mama: Citizen’s Police Academy IV

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 7:52 pm

Just in time for Mother’s Day, emerging mystery writer Karyne Corum is back with her series about a job that has more than a little in common with being a mom. Like moms, cops have to call it like they see it, instill order, and sometimes risk everything to protect the ones they’re charged with keeping safe. A very Happy Mother’s Day to those with that job description. And I hope everyone enjoys this latest exciting installment of Police Academy, suspenseyourdisbelief-style!

Despite the, dare I call it rush, of my team’s first take down, the stairs and what lay beyond, still waited. I gathered my team and we slowly ascended, cutting to each corner, providing cover for each of us as we went.

I was sweating and my heart kept tapping out this crazy staccato of nervousness.

At the top of the stairs, we paused, looking into a room that was lit only by the light from a partially cracked doorway. The room was wide and filled with a variety of shrouded objects that cast menacing shadows in the darkness.

I gave directions in a low voice. We entered in a half-diamond; myself and the secretary would take the left side, the pharmacist, the right.

As it was none of us got more than three steps in before we spotted a figure seated in the far back of the room. She sat behind a table, a nondescript shape in front of her that looked vaguely familiar. To her left, several large boxes and boards obscured the corner of the room.

“Don’t come any closer! Don’t come any closer.” Her voice was half-hysterical, half-terrified and if we’d not been so pumped on fear and adrenaline, we might have heard it for what it was.

Instead, we shouted to her to drop the weapon. We could both see and hear the sharp pops of a weapon near her. She kept telling us not to come any closer, we kept countering that she drop the weapon.

The secretary, unable to take the tension anymore shot first and then we followed suit. (Later I told her she was just bloodthirsty.) By the time we had finished, the woman slumped forward, lifeless. All three of us cautiously proceeded forward, anxious about who might be hiding behind that obstruction.

The pharmacist, closely covered by us, took the turn around the corner, and made the last discovery, and third kill of the night. A man swathed all in black, sat down and below the woman’s body, a handgun at his feet. Before he could reach his weapon, he was shot dead.

Once the last shot was fired, we were able to discover the worst error of our entire night. (There were several.) The woman, handcuffed and posed in front of a staged weapon, was a hostage. An innocent civilian whom we had just shot dead, assuming she was the threat. Looking back many things became clear. Her voice had not been threatening, but pleading with us. We couldn’t see her hands in the darkness, but we had been convinced they held a weapon.

“Great, you shot the hostage,” I teased the secretary.

“I heard gunfire right by her.” She defended herself with a shrug.

Even the shooter, when we examined the scene afterwards, hadn’t actually been holding his weapon when he was shot, and therefore, in any court of law would be considered, technically, unarmed. Let’s face it, we’ve all seen enough legal shows to know just how many criminals get off on a technicality.

In the aftermath as we followed procedure and sketched out the various crime scenes, counted bullet casings and interviewed witnesses, it kept running through my mind just how badly it had all went down.

We had jumped to conclusions that had cost lives, one innocent, one guilty. We had faced dangerous situations and made snap decisions based more on our feelings than common sense.

I was inordinately thankful that the only blood spilled came from a plastic bottle and words, at least in this case, do not equate to bullets.

Karyne Corum is the married mother of one preschooler. She lives in Central New Jersey, and has been telling stories since she was a little girl–only now they get her into a lot more trouble. Fortunately, she can write her way out of most of it. Her many jobs prior to accepting the inevitable include actor, security guard, executive assistant and massage therapist. She is currently at work on her first full length novel, which keeps her up at night almost as much as her four-year old son does.

May 7, 2010

10 Things Never To Say To a Writer on Sub

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 7:57 pm

10. What’s the title so I’ll be able to look for it when it comes out? [50% of the time, titles change before the book comes out. Plus, at least 50% of the people asking you this question won't remember you--let alone that you have a book--by the time it comes out]

9. Oooh, I wrote a novel. Maybe I should have it submitted, too!
['Nuff said]

8. Oooh, I always wanted to write a novel. Maybe I should, and then have it submitted, too!

7. On sub? Is that, like, when you go down in a submarine?
[Writers on sub are already tempted to sink their manuscripts if not themselves]

6. Did you ask me what I wanted on my sub? Lettuce, onions, extra mayo…
[Writers on sub don't need to be tempted to drown their stress in further administrations of food]

5. You know, if it doesn’t sell, you could always self-publish
[Believe me, by the time we've gotten to this point, we know]

4. Can you give me your agent’s name?
[We owe our agents the world at this point and would be loathe to ask them to spit on us if we were burning]

3. Did you hear about [insert famous person's name] who just got 68 gazillion dollars for her first novel?

2. How do you know when it’s time to, you know…give up?

And the #1 thing NEVER to say to a writer on submission is…

1. So, have you gotten any news yet?

May 6, 2010

A Night with Edgar

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 7:34 am

I am thrilled to welcome back author Stefanie Pintoff whose Made It Moment appeared here on suspenseyourdisbelief a little less than a year ago. Now she’s back, fresh off the thrill of her Edgar win for Best First Novel, telling us what it’s like to attend the “Oscars of the mystery world”. As you’ll see, there’s glamor, nerves, and even some rollicking good fun.

The Edgar

Jonathan Kellerman for When the Bough Breaks in 1986.

Patricia Cornwell for Postmortem in 1991.

Michael Connelly for The Black Echo in 1993.

Steve Hamilton for A Cold Day in Paradise in 1999.

David Liss for Conspiracy of Paper in 2001.

. . . and now me.

It’s unbelievable to me that I would ever have anything in common with the other names on that list. But, as of last Thursday, each of us has won the Edgar® Award for Best First Novel.

The list above is only a sampling, but it shows what heady company I suddenly find myself in. No wonder it doesn’t yet feel real!

The day of the Edgar Awards was simply amazing. A delicious lunch with my editor at Gramercy Tavern – a terrific choice for a special occasion. A pre-banquet reception with all nominees. Then the black-tie banquet itself, at a table with other Minotaur authors and editors including C.J. Box (long a favorite author of mine and my husband). It was a delight meeting him and his wife. I also sat with Janice Hamrick, this year’s winner of the Minotaur Books/MWA Best First Crime Novel Award (the same contest that launched my own debut crime novel into publication).

Then the announcements began, including the Raven award to the fabulous Mystery Lovers Bookshop of Oakmont, PA and the Ellery Queen Award to Poisoned Pen Press. Best First Novel was announced at the end of the evening, second to last.

I enjoyed every minute of my nomination for the Edgar® award. In fact, I didn’t want it to end – and I resolved to relish that moment Thursday night when my name and book cover flashed on the giant screen while Jane Cleland and Steve Hamilton introduced the nominees for Best First Novel. Heady company again, to hear my name and novel listed alongside David Cristofano’s The Girl She Used to Be, Bryan Gruley’s Starvation Lake, Heather Gudenkauf’s The Weight of Silence, Sophie Littlefield’s A Bad Day for Sorry, and Attica Locke’s Black Water Rising. All terrific and deserving books.

Then Jane read the winner: In the Shadow of Gotham. I’m sure she said my name as well, but I didn’t hear it amidst the raucous noise at our table.

The rest of the night is a blur of happiness. So many well-wishers, including Michael Connelly himself! A heavy ceramic bust of Edgar Allan Poe with my name on it. My name – imagine!

It was a celebratory night for my publisher, Minotaur Books, as John Hart won Best Novel for The Last Child and S.J. Bolton won the Mary Higgins Clark award for Awakening (awarded the night before).

Edgar is now at home with me. He sits high on my shelf, safe from the dog – though I’m told that MWA will repair him should any damage ever befall him! He reminds me of the many people who have encouraged me in my writing – and represents the ultimate validation of my efforts. There could be no better start to a debut novelist’s career.

Of course, the names that precede mine on that list impress us today not because of their debuts alone, but because of what they accomplished with later books. Their example is one to inspire all of us who write: to keep improving, trying to make each new book better than our last.

Stefanie Pintoff is the author of a historical mystery series where early criminal science meets the dark side of old New York. Her debut novel, In the Shadow of Gotham, won the Edgar® Award for Best First Novel and the St. Martin’s Minotaur / Mystery Writers of America Best First Crime Novel Award, while also earning nominations for the Agatha Award and RT Reviewer’s Choice Award. Her second in the series, A Curtain Falls, releases May 11, 2010. Stefanie is currently at work on her third novel, which will appear in 2011. A former lawyer and academic, Stefanie lives in Manhattan’s Upper West Side with her husband, daughter, and their family dog.

In the News

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 6:50 am

For almost a year now I’ve co-hosted a series at the best independent bookstore in the world. Writing Matters: A Dialogue on the Craft & Business of Words seeks to do something a little different from a typical reading or signing–bring authors and readers together in a discussion about this changing world of publishing.

Well, the series has thrived, and we are now attracting panelists from as far away as New Hampshire, Boston, and South Carolina, and booking events into 2011. And today, the series was written up in a paper both as local and as wonderful as the bookstore where our events are held–The Montclair Times.

Please read all about it here!

May 4, 2010

Citizen’s Police Academy III: Everything That Goes Bump In The Night

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 3:01 pm

I hope you all are as excited as I to read the next installment in emerging writer Karyne Corum’s series on learning how to be a cop, all without ever having to fire a gun.

Not a real one, that is. As Karyne describes below, she gets pretty darn close…

All I could think was, oh please, don’t let there be someone waiting to shoot us. But of course, I knew there had to be. We could still hear the moans of the wounded behind us as I led my team forward. Two sharp motions with my hands, and into each bathroom an officer went. I held my breath even as I kept my eyes trained on the waiting gloom ahead of us. Nothing moved within, but still I felt my nerves twitch anxiously.

“Clear!” “Clear!”

The relieved shouts of my team alerted me to the fact that for right now at least, there was no threat.

Like gaping mouths, two doorways lay to the right and left sides of the center frame ahead of us. We split up, two and two, and then slowly, our eyes shifting from left to right cautiously, my team entered the room.

I could just make out two forms motionless on either end of the room. One slumped in a chair, while the other was a heap of tangled limbs on
the floor. From behind me, the secretary muttered, “We gotta shut that music off, it’s driving me crazy.”

I couldn’t have agreed more. We continued to edge into the room, watching those still forms, wondering if they would at any moment leap
up and fire at us. The darkness made it all the more possible. I heard the secretary slapping at the boombox that was pumping out the music, too afraid to turn her back to the dark room in order to find the off button. After several hard thumps, the music was cut off in mid-growl.

Just then, as if in response, light flooded the room. One of my team had found the light switch. Now the bodies came into focus. Bullet casings littered the floor by both, and gruesome wounds marked head, neck and abdomen. Nobody spoke for a second, then, “What do we do, Sargent?”

Before I could answer we heard several shots ring out on the floor above us. My first thought was to head there, find out who was in trouble and help them. But fear and preservation held me fast. I had others looking to me for orders.

There were several doors unopened that might conceal any number of dangers. But overhead there was something terrible going on.

Every shot you hear could be another person dead.

I struggled to make a good decision, the right decision. In the end, the safety of my team made me choose to keep them focused on clearing the
floor of any hidden danger. I hate to admit this, but I found myself thinking that whoever had been shot that many times upstairs was most likely dead. I didn’t want to sacrifice any one of my officers on that chance.

Wrong decision? Or officer’s discretion? I had already learned that most of what an officer decides to do in any given situation comes down
to two critical factors. Training and personal discretion. (Later on I would ask the Captain about my decision and he told me it was the wrong call. The first and most important task in that situation was to get to the shooter. The formation of my team would have helped to keep our backs safe while we went forward. The diamond formatter, one in front, another to the left, one to the right, and the last one in the rear facing backward is how this is normally carried out.)

By the time we had determined the bodies were dead, one from several shotgun shells to his stomach and neck, the other from a bullet wound to the head, everyone’s blood pressure and stress level had risen. The smell of blood was overpowering (in this case, Heinz’s ketchup; it was hard not to think of French fries).

We all knew we had to head up those stairs, and we all dreaded what was waiting for us.

The victim of the shotgun blast lay near the stairway, a wide pool of blood puddled near his belly. Bloody footprints led away from the body towards the door. I called my team to me, but there were just three of us, no fourth to handle our backs. We cautiously opened the door. The footprints now led to the outside. Surviving victims had yelled to us upon entry that there were three shooters, and one of them had headed outside. I posted the secretary, who was just about itching to shoot someone, I could tell, at the door, while the pharmacist and I raced to the front of the building.

Inching our way around the righthand side of the building, where a medium sized parking lot was, I could see several cars. Each one translated into a potential hiding spot. Using my flashlight as a probe I slowly worked my way around the back ends of the cars, while the pharmacist maneuvered along the side of the building.

We had just reached the back of the building, where the open door lay, when a tall white haired man came scurrying out accompanied by the the secretary, who announced with great satisfaction, “I shot you, you’re dead, dumba**“

One of the training officers agreed that she had indeed shot him before he could run. Schoolyard rules still apply here. Whoever shouts “Bang!” first wins.

The pharmacist and I looked at each other and grinned in relief. First blood, it would seem, had been drawn, and it was for our side.

Karyne Corum is the married mother of one preschooler. She lives in Central New Jersey, and has been telling stories since she was a little girl–only now they get her into a lot more trouble. Fortunately, she can write her way out of most of it. Her many jobs prior to accepting the inevitable include actor, security guard, executive assistant and massage therapist. She is currently at work on her first full length novel, which keeps her up at night almost as much as her four-year old son does.

May 3, 2010

Made It Moment: Mary Reed and Eric Mayer

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:20 am

Eight For Eternity

This Moment, the first ever penned by a writing team, has one of the best analogies for success in publishing that I’ve ever read. Take one graphic artist, and a piece of household hardware…OK, I won’t spoil things by saying anything more, but if Mary and Eric’s books are anywhere near as clever and well written, we’re all in for some wonderful reads, as well as some insight into this wonderful, crazy business.

Mary Reed and Eric Mayer

As writers, how did we know we made it? A difficult question. Are we even sure we have made it? It depends on one’s definitions. If “making it” means sitting atop the New York Times bestseller lists, we have a long way to go.

It might be best to think of a writing career as a series of steps on a ladder, though sometimes one that must surely have been made by Escher. A ladder without any obvious beginning or end, where you can be going up from one perspective and down from another. At this point we can with all modesty say that we are climbing the ladder, or at least clinging to the rungs.

We knew we had got our collaborative feet on the fiction writing ladder when we sent “An Obo Mystery” to Ellery Queen Mystery magazine and rather than the usual standard rejection slip there arrived in our mailbox an acceptance.

We reached another rung in 1998 with the sale of our first novel, One For Sorrow, to Poisoned Pen Press. Having an actual book published seemed so astonishing that we’re not sure we actually knew for certain we had made it there until we had the hard cover copy in our hands, or perhaps it was on Christmas Eve, the year before publication, when our publisher emailed us a .jpg of the cover.

Now we are a few steps from our beginning and hoping to sell a new mystery series set in Victorian London. Poisoned Pen Press, with typical generosity, encourages us in this new endeavor, so perhaps we shall go up another rung soon. But as for the top of the ladder….who can say where that might be?

And what if we were selling millions of books? Maybe we still wouldn’t have reached critical acclaim, or won the Pulitzer, or if we had won the Pulitzer, the Nobel. Or maybe if we’d have won over the critics and prize judges but hadn’t made the bestseller lists, we’d be wishing we could sell more. But, of course, the Nobel comes with a cash prize. But then again, have you really made it, in any field, if you don’t have your own reality television show?

The husband and wife team of Mary Reed and Eric Mayer began writing together in 1992. After publishing several short stories in anthologies and in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, their first full length novel featuring John, the Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian appeared in 1999. The American Library Association’s Booklist Magazine has named the novels as one of its four Best Little Known Series.

« Newer Posts

Powered by WordPress