Blog Archives

The Portrait of Doreene Gray – Review

Available in hardback and ebook right now.

Lesa Holstein is the winner of the 2009 and 2010 Spinetingler Awards for Best Reviewer, plus a slew of other awards. Here’s her review of the second in my Tripping Magazine mystery series.

Once again, Esri Allbritten has given readers a solid mystery with a well-developed cast of characters. But, it’s the staff of Tripping Magazine that are the best characters, as they argue and plot their way to the solution of the mystery. Angus tries to find a paranormal connection and Michael tries to debunk all such possibilities. If you enjoy a little local history, a few ghost stories, fun sleuths, and a great deal of humor, you won’t go wrong with the latest Chihuahua mystery, The Portrait of Doreene Gray.

Click here to read the entire review.

Click here to read the first chapters of the book.

Click here to buy Portrait at the bookseller of your choice.

And if you haven’t read the first book in the series, it’s available in paperback now.

Chihauhua of the Baskervilles now in Paperback

Hi, kids! Just a heads up that the first book in the Tripping Magazine mystery series is available in paperback as of today, and they have dropped the Kindle price to match ($7.99). Remember, you don’t need a Kindle device – you can download a free app to your PC, Mac, iPad, smartphone, Blackberry, or tablet.

 

 

The Portrait of Doreene Gray, second in the series, comes out July 3. Right now it has an Amazon pre-order price of $15.35 for the hardcover, $11.99 for Kindle. That Kindle price will probably stay the same until there’s a paperback, but the hardcover price will likely go up a couple of bucks when it officially comes out.

Reviews for The Portrait of Doreene Gray:

“A little bit X-Files, a little bit Agatha Christie and a whole lotta charming. If you like your mysteries baffling, bizarre and, above all, fun, you’re going to love it.” — Steve Hockensmith, author of the New York Times best seller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and the Edgar Award nominee Holmes on the Range.

“The three quirky main characters add an appealingly hip edge to the cozy core of Allbritten’s sequel to 2011’s Chihuahua of the Baskervilles” —Publishers Weekly

Want to read the first couple of chapters of either book? Be my guest.

Excerpt, Chihuahua of the Baskervilles

Excerpt, The Portrait of Doreene Gray

And if you’ve already read Chihuahua of the Baskervilles, don’t miss the free short story I wrote using some of the same characters.

Crowdsourcing the Bacon Museum

Within the next day or two, I’m going to be putting Porky Johnson’s International Bacon Museum on the page in Critter from the Black Lagoon, the third book in my Tripping Magazine mystery series.

I love coming up with creations like Porky and his museum. It’s a romp through the wilds of the internet, especially eBay. Usually I’m selfish and controlling as a writer. I don’t want input. But I have been working with a writers’ brainstorming group, and have loosened up enough to enjoy bouncing ideas off people. Also, there are fewer bacon collectibles out there than you’d think, even when including “ephemera” in the search terms.

“Ephemera” is a good word to know.

So I thought I’d see if anyone has suggestions on what an International Bacon Museum might contain. This is a roadside museum in central Florida. Porky is a hunter, a character and a highly motivated entrepreneur. For exhibits, he’ll probably have  Bacon through the Ages and Bacon in Wartime (I’m thinking a diorama for the first, perhaps a full-size scene using 70s-era mannequins for the second). There will be a painstakingly drawn Bacon Family Tree, which will include both the near relatives of ham and jerky, as well as far-flung cousins such as Vienna sausages in a can. There will be a gift shop, of course, with bacon bandages, bacon mints and bacon bumper stickers. There may be a curtained-off area devoted to jokes on the theme of “makin’ bacon.” He’s either gotten his hands on an educational film about the actual production of bacon, or made his own unflinching documentary. “Sensitive folks may want to cover their eyes at the beginning. You have to kill a pig to make bacon. That’s just a fact of life.”

So far, I have not found an actual, physical museum of bacon, which astonishes me. If you know of one, tell me. And of course, if you provide an idea that I use, I’ll put you in the book’s acknowledgements at a bare minimum.

Marni Graff, author of The Blue Virgin and The Green Remains

Marni Graff is the author of the Nora Tierney mystery series – which falls somewhere between a police procedural and a cozy. The second book in this very interesting series just came out, and I wanted to find out more. One lucky commenter will win a copy of The Green Remains.

Before we start talking to Marni, let me catch you up on the series. In The Blue Virgin, American writer Nora Tierney travels to Oxford, England. Her good friend has been wrongfully accused of murdering her partner. But is the accusation wrong?

In The Green Remains, Nora is living at Ramsey Lodge in England’s Lake District, anticipating the birth of her first child and the publication of her first children’s book. But when she finds a body by Lake Windemere, her illustrator, Simon Ramsey is implicated. As the body count rises, Nora and her unborn child will face risks and perils she could never anticipate.

Pretty riveting stuff, huh? Now, I’m a big fan of stories that take me to other countries, so I decided to ask Marni about setting her books in England rather than the U.S.

Author Marni Graff

Esri:

Setting is such a great way to add a tone or feeling to a story, especially if the setting has a strong “personality.” I’m trying to imagine a chipper comedy set in a place where it rains all the time – it’s difficult. I’m assuming you didn’t finish the books during your visits to the UK. Do you ever look at photos to get yourself back in a certain mood?

Marni:

I keep my photo albums of my last trip to Oxford and to the Lake District on my desk. As a matter of fact, we used a photo I took on Lake Windermere as the basis for the cover of The Green Remains. Cumbria is a place of such natural beauty, as opposed to Oxford, which has beauty of a very different kind, all of those golden ancient buildings and bustling crowded streets. It’s town vs country for sure; both strong in personality, as you mention, but of a very different kind.

When I read Elizabeth George’s newest (Believing the Lie) I wasn’t surprised to see she’d taken Lynley to a visit to Cumbria. But then I don’t have a lock on that place, as evidenced by Reginald Hill’s The Woodcutter, and one entire series by Martin Edwards, aptly called The Lake District Series. It’s one of my favorite places, and anyone who has seen the natural beauty of Cumbria comes away impressed. Beatrix Potter and Wordsworth and Ruskin all reveled in the tarns and becks, the fleecy clouds reflected in the many lakes’ surface.

Esri:

After I leave a remote book location, I sometimes have a logistical question about it. I once used Google Earth to find out if a parking lot had a convenient bush beside it, for my sleuths to hide behind (it did). Have you ever had this happen, and what did you do about it?

Marni:

Ah, yes, the challenges of setting …  since my books are set so far away, I use a local contact to answer email questions and keep my photograph albums out for reference. But Google came into play when my copyeditor was going over The Blue Virgin. I’d set a character on a walk from his flat to the Covered Market, past Magdalen College, and it sounded like he’s arrived in about three minutes. Turns out Google told her the distance was a mile and a half, so we changed the text to show it took Davey a bit longer to get there!

Esri:

Any funny stories about travel or other experiences you had in the UK?

Marni:

When I studied at Oxford as an adult, I kept buying books and souvenirs, things I fell in love with because I knew it would be a while before I could go back and I loved the town. But I ran out of suitcase space and ended up having to mail myself a two cartons home … don’t ask about the postage. Since the cost was based on weight, I packed the boxes mostly with dirty clothes and put the books in my suitcase! Then I went through the security check on my way home, and this was before 9/11 and they did random baggage checks. Of course, mine was pulled and when the woman opened my suitcase, it was mostly all books. She looked at my passport, saw I’d been there over a month, then looked at my bag and said, “Lor, lass, where’s your knickers?”

Esri:

Nora is writing an illustrated children’s book in the same area where famed Peter Rabbit author Beatrix Potter lived. Did you (and Nora) take the tour? Buy any souvenirs?

Marni:

I’ve taken the tour (lovely) to Hill Top, and Nora will in a future book with her child. The World of Beatrix Potter attraction (think All Things Peter and Friends) is in the village where The Green Remains is set, right near Windermere. Potter’s influence in the area is enormous; she bought up 14 farms and over 4,000 acres of land and left it to The National Trust in her will so that it would never be developed. In this book, Nora is name-hunting for her child and considers a few Potter favorites, which she ultimately discards. But she does use Peter Rabbit and friends to decorate her son’s nursery.

Esri:

Good for her. You can’t go wrong with the classics. A non-location question: Each of your titles mentions a color. Do you remember what brought that about?

Marni:

The first book, The Blue Virgin, was my original title, based on a club that’s mentioned in the first chapter but is actually metaphor for the young woman whose murder sets Nora on her initial investigation. I work with an outstanding book designer, Giordana Segneri, and it was her idea when she designed the cover, to use the blue wash. We liked the effect so much I made certain I worked color into the title for The Green Remains. This one refers to the appearance of the dead body Nora stumbles over at the edge of the lake but is also a metaphor for what remains at the end of the book: new lives to be molded from the aftermath of tragedy. Right now I’m working on The Scarlet Wench, which is the name of the local pub already mentioned in Bowness in The Green Remains, and is a metaphor for …  you’ll have to read it and find out! The fourth book’s working title is The Golden Hour.
———————–
If you’d like to read excerpts of Marni’s books (and who wouldn’t?), they’re below. And don’t forget to comment for the chance to win a copy of her newest!

Excerpt – The Blue Virgin

Excerpt – The Green Remains

Marni Graff, also known as Auntie M,  M.K., and Marnette, grew up in Floral Park, NY. She currently resides in rural North Carolina, living on the Pungo River, part of the coast’s Intracoastal Waterway. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime, and runs the NC Writers Read program in Belhaven. Graff is the author of screenplays, stories, essays and poetry, and writes two mystery series. Her creative nonfiction was most recently seen in Southern Women’s Review. She is also co-author of Writing in a Changing World, a primer on writing groups and critique techniques. Visit her at her blog, which has fab weekly book reviews, AuntiEmWrites.

Bonus link: A great guest post by Marni on Motherhoot, about her interesting journey to writing.


I’ll be your warm-up comedian today…

I have a guest blog post at Must Read Mysteries today. The topic is Death and Comedy, and it ends with one of my favorite jokes. As an appetizer for that, here’s another of my faves.

A guy starts to develop black spots on his penis. Naturally, he’s concerned, so he goes to see a doctor. The doctor takes one look and says, “I’m very sorry, but you have Chinese Black Gonorrhea, and we’re going to have to amputate your penis.”

The guy is stunned. “You’ll understand if I get a second opinion.”

The doctor nods. “Of course, but any other doctor will tell you the same thing.”

So the guy gets a second opinion, and a third, but both of those doctors tell him the same thing. His penis will have to be amputated.

He goes out drinking with his best friend and tells him the news.They sit in glum silence for a while.

Finally his friend says, “They call it Chinese Black Gonorrhea, right?”

“Yeah,” the guy says.

“Then why don’t you go to China and see a doctor there? Maybe they know a treatment that hasn’t made it to the States yet!”

“That’s a great idea!” the guy says.

So he books a plane ticket and visits a well-respected Chinese doctor who speaks English. The Chinese doctor makes a thorough exam, runs some tests, and finally comes back in. “It’s Chinese Black Gonorrhea, all right.”

“So is there any treatment?” the guy asks. “Because in America, all the doctors tell me that I have to have my penis amputated.”

The Chinese doctor breaks into laughter. “Those American doctors! What a bunch of quacks!”

The guy feels hope for the first time. “Are you telling me I don’t have to have my penis amputated?”

“Nah,” the doctor says, waving a hand. “It’ll fall off by itself.”

Thank you, you’ve been a great audience! I hope you enjoy the second act, now appearing at Must Read Mysteries!

Where Mystery Readers Go

Must Read Mysteries not only sells print mysteries, but also makes readers aware of new releases, sales, and free ebook mysteries through their Facebook page. They’re a fantastic resource, so I was extremely geeked when Mr. Must Read Mysteries (Scott) asked if I’d like to guest post on their blog.

You can find me there tomorrow, Wednesday, writing on Death and Comedy. I think it’s worth reading if only for the joke at the end.

Discussion Questions for Reading Groups

Today I received an email from Cynthia Provenzano of the Pikes Peak Library District, asking if I had discussion questions for reading groups. What a good idea! I asked if she had any tips, and she did. First, she suggested that I not have more than 10 or 12 questions per book. Second, she gave me the websites of two authors she felt provided excellent questions: Sandra Dallas and Carol Goodman. And finally, she said not to ask what actors would play the characters in a movie. (D’oh! That’s an author’s favorite game, but apparently we’re the only ones who care.)

With this information under my belt, I wrote discussion questions for both Chihuahua of the Baskervilles and The Portrait of Doreene Gray (available July 3, 2012). They are, of course, chock full o’ spoilers, so don’t read them unless you have already read the books. Or if you have no intention of ever reading them – that works, too.

Thanks, Cynthia!

The mystery of Must Read Mysteries – solved!

If you’re a Facebook friend, you may have noticed me sharing a lot of posts by Must Read Mysteries. That’s because it’s a great source for ebook mysteries that are reasonably priced or free. Eventually, I got curious — who was behind Must Read Mysteries, how did they find all these great books, and what was the motivation behind this great service? So I sent a message. Here are the answers.

Who are you?

While on the internet I am a man of mystery, at home I am a husband, father of 4 children ranging in age from 2 to 16, and a life long reader of mysteries, especially hard boiled ones. My wife Stephanie, another mystery lover, also contributes to the page, particularly when it comes to the cozy mysteries.

How did you get into this?

One of our favorite things to do is to go to library book sales and find new mysteries to try and fill in some of the holes in our collection. Unfortunately we ended up with a small house bursting at the seams with 4 kids and thousands of books. So we bought a Kindle and started to supplement the income from our real jobs by selling old pulp paperbacks and lots of mysteries on eBay grouped by author, series, and theme. As eBay became less and less seller friendly (making the feedback system meaningless by not allowing sellers to leave negative feedback for buyers even when they did not pay, taking a 9% cut on the cost of shipping) we created our own site, mustreadmysteries.ecrater.com, to sell the used books. To try to drive traffic to it we created the Facebook page and slowly started building a following. Then last summer we were away from home for an extended period of time, and in order to keep the page active I started putting up Amazon links to mysteries I enjoyed or were bargains. It seemed to generate traffic, and Stephanie enlightened me that if I was going to throw up links that we might as well become an Amazon associate and make a few pennies when people actually bought the books. As a bonus it is fun to share the freebies we find with the people following the page. It is a bit like a treasure hunt. So that is what we did and that is how the page came to be what it is today. The income from the links gives us just enough money to feed our mystery reading habits, and now we have a Kindle that is as stuffed with books as our house used to be.

How you find all the books (unless that’s a trade secret)?

There are several ways, but the starting point is using Amazon’s rather robust and varied search and recommendation mechanisms. I also follow several blogs and keep an eye on favorite author’s pages to see when they have sales. More recently authors have started emailing or messaging me to alert me when they have a promotion coming up. I also have been getting ARCs and gifted Kindle books so that we can do reviews. We have been able to get to most of those, but do not guarantee a positive review.

What feedback have you gotten from fans?

The most common feedback is people thanking us for alerting them to books or series that they were not aware of. There are also several recommendations that keep popping up: 1) start doing B&N links for the Nook, 2) start a page focusing on science fiction/fantasy/paranormal books, and 3) start a blog with more detailed reviews, musings, recommendations, and perhaps having authors guest post about some of their favorite books from other authors. Those are good ideas that we will try to incorporate as time permits. We welcome feedback from the community because it helps us find new things that might be of interest to others and help us stay responsive to rapidly changing trends.

What are your opinions on the future of publishing?

The industry is changing rapidly and my opinions tend to change too. In general I am pretty much in the JA Konrath/Barry Eisler camp that the traditional publishing route does not make sense financially for many (though certainly not all) authors. I have found eye opening some of the very open financial pieces written by Konrath compared to similar pieces by a traditionally published authors like Jennifer Stanley/Ellery Adams. The big question now is what the impact of the KDP select plan where authors can have their book be free for 5 days out of 90 at Amazon. Are people going to expect to get everything free and hold off on making purchases? Might they end up with so many books on their Kindles that they stop buying? Libby Fischer Hellmann had an interesting blog post about this recently.

One thing I really like about ebooks is the way it is making short stories and novellas available that might not have otherwise seen the light of day. I know this is particularly true for the more hardboiled crime fiction. I have been having a bunch of fun reading through the shorter pieces from Nigel Bird, Ray Banks, Keith Rawson, Heath Lowrance, James Reasoner, Edward Grainger/David Cranmer, Patti Abbott, Thomas Pluck etc.

Another thing I think about is the change to the used book market. When we first started promoting lots of used books on the Facebook page, there were complaints from several authors that they would not be making royalties on the sales of used books. I think that used books are a great way of introducing readers to authors that they will later buy new, much like a library is, but as ebooks become more dominant this dynamic is going to change, and it should change in a way that authors are going to earn more royalties off of their back list, especially when the rights revert to them. Right now most back list ebook titles are priced too high, and people looking for inexpensive titles might still buy used books. But as prices go down and e-readers more popular people will buy the inexpensive e-books instead, which should mean more royalties for authors.

Scott

(After I read all that, I had another question.)
Do the kids participate in the business in any way? And do you think it makes them aware of the possibilities of entrepreneurship?

My oldest daughter (16) has contributed a couple of recommendations (Dave Zeltersman’s Julius Katz mysteries for one) and is thinking of doing a similar page for music. So it has definite made her aware of the possibilities. If we do branch out with Sci Fi/Fantasy/Paranormal she would help with that. The 7 year old is a big reader (“How To Train Your Dragon” is current favorite) and the little ones (5 and 2) love having books and being read 2. The 7 year old has the kindle app loaded on his tablet, but it has to compete for time with Angry Birds.

New Review for Chihuahua of the Baskervilles

…I hope that author Esri Allbritten has plans for future ghostly mysteries involving these characters. I’m already planning on standing in line for them.

From NightsAndWeekends.com, an interesting site that reviews books, movies, music and board games. Full review is here.

What from the Black Lagoon? What?!

I had two radio interviews today, one with Cathie Martin of WGRT-FM, serving Michigan’s towns of Port Huron and Sarnia (the latter is accessible by going out the back door of a sandwich shop [that joke is for the Brits]), and a second interview with Maggie Linton of SiriusXM satellite radio’s show, Book Radio. Way fun gals, both of them, and I was on my game. For early morning interviews, I get up at least an hour beforehand so I can eat, drink some tea or coffee, and be able to string two sentences together. “Yes, I am a writer! Thank you for talking with me today! Here is my website!” That’s three, but you get the idea. I’m actually a little more suave than that.

I forgot fellow writer Lynda Hilburn had rescheduled her visit today, so the house is clean, which is a nice bonus for the weekend.

I need to write two blog posts — one for Mystery Fanfare (one of my fave crime-fiction blogs) and one for Lois Winston, author of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries.

And I’m still trying to find the perfect riff on Creature from the Black Lagoon for the third book in my Tripping Magazine mystery series. I’m willing to settle on Critter from the Black Lagoon, but I wish it were better.

I did find a more flexible online rhyming dictionary, Rhymer.com, and it suggested a few words that made me chuckle, although they have nothing to do with giant prehistoric pigs, which is what this book is about. Still, plug the following words into ” ____ from the Black Lagoon,” and see if you get a giggle.

Bachelor
Gesture
Moocher
Squelcher
Denture
Fixture
Cheaper

…and my current unusable favorite, which I came up with all on my own, Nietzche from the Black Lagoon. Is that unusable? I’m not sure. For all I know, giant prehistoric pigs are all over “will to power” and perspectivism. Has anyone asked?