Interview with Christine DeMaio-Rice, Author of DEAD IS THE NEW BLACK

Cover Design by Flip City Author Services

Today I”m interviewing Christine DeMaio-Rice, author of the hit cozy mystery, Dead is the New Black.

In your new cozy mystery DEAD IS THE NEW BLACK, your amateur sleuth, Laura, works in New York City’s fashion industry.  Yet you live on the West coast and studied screenwriting.  Tell us about your NYC and fashion connections.

I was a young painter fresh out of School of Visual Arts in 19(gurgle, cough). I realized that not only did I need money, but that I was no longer interested in painting. I was utterly burned out. Luckily, a friend of mine from high school was just exiting Parson’s and told me I could turn my talents to something artistic and lucrative, just as he was. I borrowed his portfolio and got a job as a designer.

Did I just say that?
Which character in DEAD IS THE NEW BLACK was the most fun for you to write about?

Sheldon, the prick lawyer. He doesn’t care about anyone else. Well no. He does, but his wife’s dead by page 5, so he doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him, and all he wants to do is liquidate any memory of his wife. Every time he walked into a room, I just imagined him strafing it with napalm.

I think she knows how to use them…
Not to sound shallow, but the very first thing that struck me about DEAD IS THE NEW BLACK is the cover.  It’s a knockout, and you created it yourself.  What’s your process when you design a cover?

Not to be shallow? Listen, covers are this fun new career for me, so feel free to be shallow.

Every cover is different. For this one I had about seven ideas and they all sucked. The VOGUE lettering sucked. The young tailor sucked. The sewing supplies. Suck. The runway. Suck Suck Suck. So I just typed “New York” into Shutterstock and on like, page 45 this photo you see came up with a space for a title right on that building (which I believe is is SoHo). I diddled with it for three weeks. I cannot even tell you how many layers it has. All told, the file is 75mb. I’m much more efficient when I do other people’s covers.
What’s next for Laura?  Can you spill a few details about the next book in the series?

Well, romantically, it’s not all cut and dried. No walking off into the sunset. No one gets to work 70 hours a week and maintain a relationship, I’m sorry, but that’s a fantasy.
Professionally, Laura’s about to learn how hard it is to run your own business, and all about the fallacy of creative purity in fashion.

And there’s a murder, of course, because I do need to sell books.
Dream casting for Laura?  Jeremy?  Ruby?

Laura and her sister Ruby are played by one of two pairs, and I don’t care which is which. Either Heather Graham/Kate Hudson or the Olsen Twins.

I refuse to let …

… the Olsen Twins appear on my blog.

Jeremy, I just don’t know. He was originally Jeremy Piven, then he grew into something else. He actually looks like someone I know, but I can’t say or he’ll be too uncomfortable to be my friend any more.
This photo reminds me of your author pic, Christine!
Thanks for stopping by, Christine!  I’m reading Dead is the New Black right now and enjoying it immensely.    
To check out a recent review, go here: BigAl’s Books and Pals.

To buy Dead is the New Black, click here:

Fanfiction Vs. Fiction

Kirk/Spock … fanfiction’s original slash couple?

Fanfiction, or Fanfic: A Definition
Fanfiction is fiction written (duh) by fans in a preexisting universe, with preexisting characters.  I’ve said before that for many emerging writers, fanfic was their training ground.  After an interesting encounter on the web, I want to expand that thought.

More-Writerly-Than-Thou
One of the worst things about being an author these days is putting yourself out there on the web and meeting — even talking — to other authors.  (Tongue in cheek.  Mostly.)  In an effort to market myself (sigh) I have joined lots and lots of author groups — Facebook groups, message board groups, LiveJournal groups.  Some have worked out great and I’ve learned a lot.  Others — not so much.  I belonged to one group for less than twenty-four hours.  The moderator asked me a question and I responded, in part, by mentioning fanfic.  Another participant asked what fanfic was.  The moderator explained at length in multiple posts that it was (I’m paraphrasing):

  • Juvenile
  • A lazy writer’s way to produce a story without doing any real (conceptual) work
  • A tremendous waste of time
Let me tackle these points one by one.
“Juvenile”
Fiction runs the gamut.  I have read certified bestsellers by Big Six-published authors that had all the depth, intelligence, and grownup meaning of wet Kleenex.  I have read fanfic that took risks, asked serious questions, and resonated with meaning. To brand all fanfic a juvenile pursuit proves you’ve read little or none of it.
“Lazy”
It’s true, some writers have trouble creating believable characters or situations.  If they plan on crafting and selling original works, that’s a problem.  If they are writing and sharing for the love of writing and sharing, how is that lazy? Think of all the TV writers who routinely submit teleplays for this drama or that sitcom.  Think they keep your favorite shows afloat through pure laziness?  They’re doing the same thing fanfic writers do, working within a static framework to add to a particular mythos.
“A Waste of Time”
Now here I could simply point out the obvious — if writing PURELY for the love of it is a waste of time, then everyone (like me) who sells their work is (1) mercenary, (2) an egomaniac, or (3) both.  Yikes.  No fun being summarily judged that way.  And how can writing for the sake of writing ever be bad?

But I’ll go one further.

Lately I’ve noticed a lot of authors discussing their dependence on their editors.  And my goodness, I don’t doubt it.  From what I can gather, some simply type up a manuscript and send it off for that red pen.  They don’t agonize over each phrase. They don’t chop out unnecessary modifiers.  They don’t haul out the dictionary because they KNOW poster #3 will comment, “Um, like your fic but you used ‘torrential’ incorrectly…”

Because fanfic readers are passionate about giving feedback, a writer of fanfic learns not to post until they’ve self-edited to the best of their ability.  Hell of a way to improve your craft — write for the love of it, self-edit obsessively, accept feedback.  What a concept.
I am not down on selling fiction for money (clearly) and I am certainly not down on editors or copy-editors, the most wonderful people in the world!  But I will say this.  I read a lot.  And there are some authors out there whose writing can’t hold a candle to some of the fic writers I’ve sampled.  Maybe because they’re too busy not wasting their time to dare write for the pure love of it.

Guest Post: Misty Rayburn of The Top Shelf

Dream BIG! 
by Misty Rayburn of The Top Shelf Book Reviews
Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake – Henry David Thoreau
When I was in the third grade, I made the firm decision that I wanted to be a teacher. That never wavered in my life until I finished high school.  My interests then changed and I started getting more into computers, the internet and building websites.
I entered Capital University in 2001 with a declared major in Computer Science.  I had to take a few math courses to brush up and catch up to be ready to take Calculus and Idid.. Only to fail it in the end.  I was pretty miserable.  Computer Science wasn’t what I thought it would be at all and honestly, I wasn’t cut out for it.
By that point, I was already doing photography for local bands and was starting to get good at it.  However, I really enjoyed the lit classes I was taking as a backup plan so I re-declared my major as English and would later add on a history minor.  Why?  I was in love with medieval literature. 
I loved everything about the Middle Ages, the literature, the art, and the history.  I enjoyed it so much that I thought that maybe I wanted to be a teacher again.  My parents of course, were happy with my idea to teach medieval literature at a college level.  They didn’t want me anywhere near the nontraditional job of live event photography.
My senior year, I started to have a breakdown.  The English classes I was in were taking the fun out of reading, we were dissecting everything and nothing just seemed fun anymore.  It all felt like work.  The only part that didn’t, were the history classes.  I started challenging my professors and they weren’t too happy with it.  I started asking them the why of it all and if they realized what they were doing.  They looked at me as if I had gone mad. 
I made it through senior year and graduated in 2005.  Only after taking a couple courses at the community college over a stray credit hour that got neglected because my advisors screwed up my schedule.  That’s a long story that I might tell some other time. 
Once I graduated, I took a year off.
After that year was over, I decided that maybe I should continue on and get my masters.  I started emailing my professors to ask for letters of recommendation and the one person who knew me best emailed me back saying he couldn’t because he felt my work wasn’t good enough to be in a master’s program.  He said had I wanted to apply to a smaller college that he would have done it, but since it was OSU, he couldn’t.  For if he did and I failed, it would look bad on Capital and they’d stop taking them seriously.
Thanks for breaking my heart that day right?  I’ve forgiven him.  I feel he was still wrong, but I forgive him.  College wouldn’t have worked out anyway as my back started giving me really bad trouble not long after that and as you know, that very re-occurring back problem is what led to what I’m doing now.
So what’s the point?
The point is, I always dreamed big.  No matter what I was doing.  The desire to be a teacher lead me to my English degree later on.  My love of computers led me to computer science which led me to doing a lot of promotional flyers and even websites for bands I supported.  Doesn’t it all kinda tie into what I’m doing now? 
It’s funny how it all came together like this and while my parents are wondering what in the heck I’m doing, I feel this is the right thing for me to be doing right now.  Is it an an end or a means, I don’t know.  I’m thinking it’s a means as I’m constantly thinking of ways to make this place bigger, of more things I can do.  It might lead me to a major reviewing job or it might lead me down some other path in the industry.  I’ve already met some people that I never thought I’d talk to in a million years.  I had a conversation with Jennifer Roberson, got to review a book for Caridad Pinero.  I’ve gotten a tweets back from Scott Sigler, Jeffery Deaver and Christopher Paolini and I’m reviewing books now for three of the big six publishers.  That’s a lot of clout for a small blog that’s only a year old to have!
All I know at this point is that I’m going to keep on finding ways to do more for my readers and my authors.  I strive to achieve the best I can do and I never give less than 100 percent no matter what.  My ferocity, determination and passion have gotten me this far.  It’ll be interesting to see where I am this time next year.
Happy birthday to my blog! TTS has done some amazing things and I’m still quite shocked by all of this.  I know that my hard work has had a part to play in all of this but I have to thank my readers, the amazing authors that have let me review their work, and the authors that are waiting anxiously for me to get to their books.  You all are just wonderful! 
GIVEAWAY!!!
I’m giving away TWO print copies of C Street by Claudette Walker! All you have to do to enter is leave a comment with a valid email address.  Winners will be chosen by random.org on Thursday December 1st at 8pm Eastern! Good luck!

Synopsis: The secret of C Street is secrecy. Solomon Rosenberg is a 20 year veteran of C Street, a government lawyer, and a bi-polar CIA assassin. He breaks the silence by recording his missions. Jacqueline is left with the evidence, as she enters the web of sex, drugs, and politics with the men of C Street. The men of the CIA, the men of C Street, are one step behind her on a mountain top, in London and even in Costa Rica. Palestine is willing to pay for the secrets, and Israel is willing to help her. Who can she trust with the evidence of espionage, murder, and more?

“I ask no forgiveness for my work on C Street. Men like me believe God is our judge, or more honestly stated, we believe we are gods.”

The 10 Worst Pop-Rock Christmas Songs Ever

‘Tis the season when I’ll be sitting at the bar, having a drink — minding my own business — and overhead something truly foul, something that never should have been forced upon the public, will play for 3.5-4 minutes.

Yes.  Christmas music.  And not just any Christmas music.  The WORST.

(In no order, because how would I quantify it?)

1.  “Christmas All Over Again,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  From “You Got Lucky” and “Breakdown” to this.  For shame.

2.  “Silent Night,” Stevie Nicks.  Mind you, I’m a fan of the raspy-voiced Welsh witch wannabe.  But dear heaven this song with its endless “Well it was a … silent … night” refrain will make you want to stab yourself in the eye.

Because I like her, I’ll give her a nice picture

3.  “The Little Drummer Boy,” Bob Seger.  An amazingly terrible version of an unabashedly awful song.  Where’s that silver bullet when you need it?

4.  “Little Saint Nick,” The Beach Boys.  Full disclosure.  I pretty much hate the Beach Boys.  (Well, except for “Don’t Worry Baby.”)  But this song makes “I Get Around” seem like Johann Sebastian Bach.

5.  “Mele Kalikimaka,” Bing Crosby.  I can’t even think of anything to say.  I’ve never heard it all the way through because I’ve always fled.

6.  “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End),” The Darkness.  Spectacularly tuneless, frenetic, and strangely maudlin, too.

7.  “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” Bruce Springsteen.  You know, there’s a place for Bruce.  The flannel, the copious perspiration, the absolute refusal to rock more than the same three chords once he gets started.  But any little children forced to listen to this could only think: WTF?

“One … more … time…”

8.  “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Band Aid.  Or as they should have been called, Egos on Parade.  A nice message and a lousy song, still played occasionally to make us all thank heaven the 80s are over.

9.  “Hey Santa,” Wendy and Carnie Wilson.  In which the Wilson sisters manage to sound even dumber than they looked on the single’s cover.

All we want for Christmas is … brains…

10.  “Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time,” Paul McCartney.  Or as I like to call it, final definitive proof of what happens when a great musician doesn’t have a fellow genius (Lennon) around to shame him out of writing lyrics.

Guest Post: Salem the Black Cat on Black Friday

Hello

It is I, Salem.  The elder states-cat in the in Abbott-Cravens household.  As this is Black Friday, I am here to tell you…

10 Good Things about “Black”:

1. Goes with everything.  Whether I’m strolling across a counter top or snuggling into a warm basket of clothes direct from the dryer, I never clash.

2.  It’s slimming.  When her photo is taken, Mother often picks me up and holds me in front of her to look slimmer.

3. Black Holes and Revelations was a great CD from Muse.

4.  Black blends in.  Often when there is a question of which cat has committed what crime, I can disappear into the shadows, while the orange tabby and the silver Bengal are collared.

5. “In the black” denotes profitable, i.e., the company will continue.  “In the red” is bad news.  This is why there are no red cats.  They would be the truly unlucky ones!

6. Black Books: books + alcoholism = Mother loves it.

7.  Black light posters, vintage cool…

8.  A little black dress is perfect for every holiday party!  Unless you’re a dude.  And even then … sometimes.
9.  Without black, what would Goths wear?  Teal?

10.  The Black Widow … the one bright spot in the otherwise terrible Iron Man II…





Have fun on Black Friday!!

In Gratitude

Here’s my random in-no-order Thanksgiving gratitude post.  (No, it’s not meant to be comprehensive.  Yes, it may contain a secret message).

I’m so grateful for:

The cold leathery paw to the face which awakened me this morning.  Salem, my big black cat, thirteen years old and still trying to smother me.

Amazon, Kindle, KDP, and everyone who ever bought, reviewed, or told a friend about one of my books.  Bless you.

My friends, all of them, but especially the ones who’ve been around the longest.  You know who you are.  I can’t imagine facing this world without you.

Michael Fassbender in A DANGEROUS METHOD

The movie A Dangerous Method, if I can find a theater that’s actually playing it in this region…

The series The Walking Dead, which has fascinated and infuriated me so much, I just might write a zombie book.

My cat Howard, still a kitten at 15 months and plotting to launch his own advice column, Dear Tabby.

James McAvoy in the Brit drama, MURDER IN MIND

For British TV, independent British films, and books by British authors.  What would I do without you?

For Gevalia coffee, often the only thing that gets me to work each morning.

For my brother J. David Peterson, who has created four of my book covers — and two more in the pipeline!

“Dude who played Magneto,” as I once called him in a blog post

For my sister-in-law, former librarian and world-class bibliophile Barbara.

For Letty Hise, who solved my formatting woes.

For Donna, who puts up with more than most of you realize.

And finally, for those nice reviews of SOMETHING DIFFERENT.  When I published the book I wasn’t sure anyone — beyond the five usual suspects — would read it.  Now I’m glad I took a chance and put it out there.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Three Things I Learned from Anne McCaffrey

Prolific author of fantasy and sci-fi, Anne McCaffrey

I read my first Anne McCaffrey book when I was twelve.  It was one of those “omnibus” editions from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club — Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and The White Dragon, all in one huge, poorly-bound book.  Being twelve, I picked it for the cover: a female riding a huge golden dragon.  But it was a good choice.  Right at the age when I’d started to think of myself as a writer — when writing started to compete with reading as my favorite activity — I started reading Anne McCaffrey’s books and picked up a few things.

#1: A Heroine Doesn’t Have to be Nice
Dragonflight’s protagonist, Lessa, isn’t out to win any popularity contests.  Nor any beauty contests, for that matter.  The last survivor of a slaughtered aristocratic house, she survived to adulthood on her wits and lives only for revenge.  The last thing on Lessa’s mind is making herself attractive to a good man.  No, Lessa wants vengeance on Fax, the man who killed her family, and then restoration to her proper place.

Now before you say, come on, it’s 2011, we’re all post-feminist here, stop and consider much of the current fiction out there.  For every character like Hermione Granger, who spent years more interested in schoolwork and heroics than in romance, there’s yet another — cough, Bella Swan, cough — who goes into the fetal position when her romance goes south.

Lessa is written with the same dignity as a male character.  She has her own life, her own pursuits, and a willingness to be disliked as long as she gets what she wants.  Too often as writers we agonize over whether our female protagonist is too smart, too tough, too independent, too sexually liberated.  Ever written a male character and paused to wonder, Does he come off as too tough?  Am I making him seem slutty?  Probably not.

#2: Tell A Story
I don’t have the article at hand, but years ago, when I was about 16, I read an article Anne McCaffrey wrote called “Advice to Budding Novelists.”  Her chief point: tell a story.  Flowery, poetic description is fine, she said.  Beautiful words strung together in elegant sentences is fine, too.  But a book that is all clever writing and no plot is like a brand new Mercedes-Benz without an engine.  Pretty to look at, but taking you nowhere.


#3:  Starting With Confidence Is All the Hook You Need
One of the more frustrating, yet ubiquitous, rules of writing is, be sure to start with a good “hook.”  And there’s a reason.  Newbie writers tend to beat around the bush.  Often they begin where the character might begin telling his story, rather than a place which will secure a reader’s interest.  And yes, that’s a foible that has to be overcome.

On the flip side, desperation to create first-sentence hooks had led to some pretty terrible crimes against fiction.  Here’s an example:
Weaving in and out of Boston rush-hour traffic, Special Agent Leroy “Bud” Lincoln refused to think about his crazy ex-wife or his bleeding ulcer, at least while the red Ferrari stayed on his tail.
Oh, yes.  I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen an unpublished (or unpopular) manuscript start with something like that.  The rationalization will be, it’s a perfect hook!  Instant action, introduction of the protagonist and setting, a couple of character details, and the implication of danger.  Yes … but it also sucks.


I can quote you the first line of Dragonflight from memory:  
Lessa woke, cold.
The book’s been in print for more than forty years.  Just tell a good story from the right starting point.  That’s hook enough.  Thanks, Anne.  Rest in peace.