Friday, December 14, 2012

A Book Cover's Unintended Consequences

Once a book leaves a writer's personal computer and goes out into the world, it no longer belongs to the author. Readers give a novel a life of its own through their personal interpretations.

In the few months since Artifact has been out, it's been fascinating to read reviews that focus on different aspects of the novel that the reviewers found compelling. I'm lucky the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive so far. But what I didn't expect was the reaction to my book cover.

I love my book cover. And from the enthusiastic comments I receive from readers, they love it as well. Then what am I talking about, you ask? I'm referring to the reaction from people who aren't my core audience of female traditional mystery readers.

As a graphic designer, I was able to design my own cover art. Part of a designer's job is strategy. One of the key questions a designer begins with is identifying the target audience. Therefore I studied the book covers of recent mystery novels I enjoyed that I knew had a similar target audiencebooks where I thought if a reader liked one of those books then they might enjoy mine, too. Here's a picture of a few of those books. Notice the similar elements in these books and my own cover.

The problem?

I may have been too narrowly focused. While my book cover has been successful at signaling to fans of "lighthearted, fun, well-researched, puzzle-plot mysteries with a strong-willed female protagonist and a dash or romance" that Artifact is for them, it turns out that the book has the potential for broader appeal.

Here are a few things that clued me in to this unintended consequence of creating a cover for my core readership:

1. ForeWord Reviews is a literary magazine that reviewed Artifact. They have gave it a great review, but in their email blast that promoted the review, they began:  "Don't let Artifact's cover discourage you. It's a classic mystery that will appeal to those who enjoy complex puzzlescomplete with quirky characters, suspense, and romance." Ha! I'm happy they decided to read and review it in spite of the cover. 

2. I've been doing a bunch of events this fall to promote the book. On numerous occasions, men came up to me after I spoke to tell me that my treasure hunt mystery sounded like something they'd love, but that they'd never pick it up based on the book cover. I admit I assumed it would be women who would be my primary readers. But looking at the reviews of Artifact on Amazon, roughly half of the reviews are from men. Live and learn!

3. This is something I already knew, but didn't realize would be an issue: the book cover looks like it could be a Young Adult book. The book is definitely YA-friendlythere's no sex or violence or swearing on the pageso it's appropriate for young teens. The cover is very appropriate in that sense. But I've learned that some people won't pick up a mystery if they think it's specifically for young adults. And the flip side is that some readers enjoyed it as a Young Adult book and wondered why it wasn't categorized as a YA book.

Book covers are completely subjective, of course, so no cover is going to please everyone. Even if I could go back in time, I'm not sure I would go back and change my cover. Though I may lose some readers because of the cover, I'm also able to find mystery readers who have a greater chance of enjoying the book once they pick it up. There are so many books published each yearI read some statistics that put the number at over a millionthat it's important to stand out quickly to the people most likely to appreciate a particular book.

Lastly, styles of book covers change over time. Here's an example of the book cover of one of my favorite books, Borrower of the Night by Elizabeth Peters. You can see how it has changed over the decades.

Will Artifact ever get a new cover? Who knows. For now, I'm having a lot of fun hearing from readers who've found the book, regardless of why they picked it up.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Suspense Magazine Names ARTIFACT One of the Best Books of 2012

I'm so honored that Suspense Magazine has selected Artifact as a "Best of 2012" book in their year-end issue!

This month's issue is free to download on the Suspense Magazine website. I'm on page 46 as one of the best debut mysteries of 2012. It includes a fun little interview in which I talk about a new project I'm working on.

Now I'm off to read the rest of the magazine to get good recommendations before Christmas. If you're a mystery reader and don't already subscribe to Suspense Magazine, I highly recommend you check it out.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Photos from the LA & OC Book Launch Parties for "Other People's Baggage"

I'm back from a fantastic visit to southern California. I was in town for two book launch parties for the Other People's Baggage mystery novella collection with co-authors Diane Vallere and Kendel Lynn. We were at Traveler's Bookcase in Los Angeles on Thursday night, and at Mystery Ink in Huntington Beach on Saturday afternoon. What great bookstores! The events were a lot of fun. Here are a few photos.

And if you missed the parties but are interested in the book, more details about Other People's Baggage (including links to buy it in print or as an eBook) can be found here on the Henery Press website.

Kendel, Diane and me popping champagne to celebrate the book launch!

The fabulous bookstore staff who hosted us: Traveler's Bookcase owner Natalie (top right) and staffer Victoria at their Los Angeles bookstore, and Mystery Ink owner Debbie with staffer John at their Huntington Beach bookstore. 

Display of our books along with our raffle giveaways. Since the theme of the novella collection is travel and mixed-up luggage, we filled each of these three mini suitcases with gifts from the parts of the world where our stories took place: Carmel-by-the-Sea (Diane's novella "Midnight Ice"), Texas (Kendel's novella "Switch Back"), and Edinburgh (my novella "Fool's Gold"). 

Everything was airline-themed at our snacks and drinks table. 

Mingling at Traveler's Bookcase before we read from our novellas.

 With Daryl Wood Gerber (who also writes mysteries as Avery Aames).

With wonderful old friends who stopped by.

Reading from our novellas at Traveler's Bookcase on Thursday, November 29.

 Over at Mystery Ink in Huntington Beach on Saturday, Dec 1, not far from where I grew up in Orange County.

 Chatting with attendees at the signing.

Authors Juliet Blackwell and Ashley Ream stopped by.

Diane and Kendel signing books.

Thanks to everyone who came to one of the events. And an especially big thanks to Traveler's Bookcase, Mystery Ink, and my amazing co-authors Diane Vallere and Kendel Lynn. Writing books isn't the solitary experience I expected it would be, and for that I'm very thankful.


Monday, November 19, 2012

The Night of Writing Dangerously

I received a last-minute invitation to attend the NaNoWriMo Night of Writing Dangerously write-a-thon last night. So I scrapped my plans to try out a new recipe from the fabulous new Kris Carr cookbook, and headed to San Francisco!

The Night of Writing Dangerously serves the dual purpose of being a benefit to raise money for the Office of Letters and Light and providing a place where NaNoWriMo writers from all over the world can come together as a group to get to know each other and be inspired to finish their novels. I'm not kidding about people coming from all over the world. There were people at the event from all over California and across the US -- plus a couple dozen people from Canada and even a few people who traveled from overseas!

Writers who raise $250 or more can attend the yearly event and bring a guest. I've raised money and attended in the past, but didn't have the time or energy to do it this year. I thought it wasn't in the cards for me to attend this time, until it turned out Rachael Herron -- author, knitter, and wonderful friend -- had an extra ticket.

The event was a success. Their goal was to raise $50,000. They raised over $60,000. And on the personal level, I wrote about 2,000 words, bringing me to 40,000 words of the 50,000 NaNoWriMo challenge. I'm not a great night-time writer, though, so I don't think the scenes I wrote last night were very good. But the most important thing about writing events like this is to be inspired by other writers. I had fun with old friends and made some new ones. And by the end of the evening, I was positive I could turn the messy draft I'm writing into a great proposal I'll be able to show my agent.

The Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco, filled with 250 writers.

Me and Rachael taking a break from writing. 

 Snapshot of my workspace: laptop, program, and vegan cupcake. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

NaNoWriMo Halfway Point

Heading to a Berkeley cafe to write after voting.
It's November 15th today. Halfway through November, meaning it's also halfway through National Novel Writing Month / NaNoWriMo.

I turned in the next Jaya Jones novel to my editor in October, so while she reads it this month, I'm using NaNoWriMo to experiment with a new project. I don't know yet if I'm succeeding, but I've got close to 30,000 words of a story. That puts me slightly ahead of schedule to reach 50,000 words by November 30.

Yes, 50,000 words isn't a full novel, but it's the number of words in the NaNoWriMo challenge, and it's a great number for a first draft!

I know a lot of people don't get it. If I'm a writer, why can't I write whenever I want to? I know a lot of writers can do that every day of the year, but that's not me. And it's not just because I have a day job. I love my day job, so it doesn't sap energy from me. But it takes a lot of focused work to write a good novel. The collective energy of NaNoWriMo gives me the staying-power to throw myself into the difficult stages of a new project and write every day, even when it's tough. Once this messy draft is done, then I can work at a more sustainable pace to turn it into something good.

I learned something else a few years ago. Even with my own study at my house, I can't write at home. I know it's psychological, so every so often I give it a shot. Last weekend, I sat down at my desk to write... and promptly got up to cook a delicious winter squash soup and chilled lentil cucumber salad. Sigh.

Green smoothie in my NaNoWriMo "Novelist Fuel" mug.

Luckily, I've got a lot of local friends who will meet me at a cafe to get a couple solid hours of writing done with minimal chit-chat. 

And when my friends aren't free, there are NaNoWriMo write-ins. The gatherings are listed by region on the NaNoWriMo site. I've gone to a few of them this year, and I've never left with fewer than 2,500 words, not to mention having had some inspiring conversations—though never too much talking, because we're there to write!

A NaNoWriMo "write-in."
Now it's time for me to sign off and get back to writing. If you're doing NaNoWriMo yourself, don't worry about how many words you've got right now. Just keep going!

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Next Big Thing

I've been tagged by mystery author Diane Vallere to answer the questions in this blog hop. Diane is one of the co-authors of my new project discussed below. 

Q: What's is the working title of your book?
A: Other People's Baggage, a collection of three interrelated mystery novellas that comes out December 3, 2012. My novella is Fool's Gold: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Novella. It's a prequel to Artifact.

Q: Where did the idea come from for this book?
A: Mystery writers Diane Vallere, Kendel Lynn, and I had read each other's works-in-progress. Though our mysteries were quite different, we thought our protagonists shared a certain something. We thought they'd get along great in fiction, and that readers who liked one of our heroines would like the other two. So why not bring them together?

Q: What genre does your book fall under?
A. Mystery.

Q: How long did it take to write the first draft?
A: The very first draft took about a month, but the revisions took much longer! I'm great at writing quickly to get the ideas of a story down on paper, but turning those ideas into something good is what takes more time. Since Fool's Gold is a novella, it's about 25,000 words, compared to the 5,000 words of my previous short stories and the 75,000 words of my novels. I kept a notebook of details for the novella just like I do for my novels, since it was more complex to write than a short story.

Sort-of what Jaya looks like?
Q: What actors would you use for a movie rendition of your book?
A: I keep a character bible that has pictures of what I imagine the characters look like. The main characters in Fool's Gold are Jaya Jones and Sanjay Rai. They're hard for me to cast with famous actors because when I watch famous Indian actors it can be hard to imagine them with American accents! Therefore most of the time the pictures I clip aren't of famous actors, but of random people I saw when flipping through a magazine. I've got a picture of model Liya Kebede on Jaya's page, and actor Ali Fazal on Sanjay's page. Neither of them look exactly like I imagine Jaya and Sanjay look like, but they give me a general feel for them.

Q: What is a one sentence synopsis of your book?
A: In Other People's Baggage, this is what happened after a computer glitch mislabeled identical vintage suitcases and three women with a knack for solving mysteries each grabbed the wrong bag.

In my novella Fool's Gold, when a world-famous chess set is stolen from a locked room during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, historian Jaya Jones and her magician best friend must outwit actresses and alchemists to solve the baffling crime.

Q: Will it be self-published or represented by an agency?
A: The collection of novella's is being published by Henery Press.

Q: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
A: I spent a lot of time in Scotland as a kid, and I love Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a huge performing arts festival that takes place every August. I thought the festival would make a great setting for a mystery. Since Jaya's best friend Sanjay is a stage magician, I had the perfect opportunity to send them to the festival.

Q: What other books would you compare to this story to within your genre?
A: The Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series has been compared most frequently to the books of Elizabeth Peters, who writes about adventurous academic women with a bit of romance added to the mysteries.

Q: What else about your book might pique the reader's interest? 
A: Fool's Gold is a locked-room mystery. It's a puzzle plot about a seemingly impossible theft, but Jaya's historical expertise and Sanjay's magician viewpoint make them able to piece together what nobody else can.

I also think readers will enjoy how the three novellas in the Other People's Baggage collection are connected through a running thread but also stand alone. Novellas are a great length when you feel like reading something more in-depth than short story but also want to finish reading a full mystery within one sitting.

Thanks to the five authors who invited me: Diane Vallere, Susan Shea, Pat Morin, Alyx Morgan, and Nancy Adams

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Book Launch Parties in Southern California

If you're in the Los Angeles or Orange County areas, I hope you'll join me at one of the book launch parties for Other People's Baggage, the new book coming out December 3rd that features three interconnected mystery novellas—one of which is the new Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery novella, Fool's Gold.

Traveler’s Bookcase
Thursday, November 29
6 – 8 PM
8375 W. 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA

Mystery Ink Bookstore
Saturday, December 1
3 – 5 PM
8907 Warner Avenue
Huntington Beach, CA

I'll be there with co-authors Diane Vallere and Kendel Lynn. There will be giveaways, airline-themed drinks and snacks, and lots of fun to be had! And here's a teaser about Other People's Baggage: Baggage claim can be terminal. These are the stories of what happened after three women with a knack for solving mysteries each grabbed the wrong bag...

More details about the novellas and the parties can be found on my website.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Delicious Healthy Eating in Paris and Prague for Cancer Survivors and Vegetarians

A cancer diagnosis puts life in perspective. I realized with clarity that I wanted to travel a lot more, but I also needed to take care of myself with the dietary changes necessary due to my particular type of breast cancer. With a little research, I was able to do both this fall. I even got to eat wonderfully! I might have to live off sprouted nut bars when I travel through parts of Asia, but that wasn't the case in Paris or Prague.

This is what I learned about eating tasty, healthy food on the road in Paris and Prague. Below are 10 restaurants and a few markets to keep you well fed. 

A couple of notes before I dive in: The focus of this post is vegetarian food. I'm trying to avoid hormones of all kind, meaning I'm eating only organic animal products, so eating vegetarian and vegan is an easy solution. I'm also trying to avoid as many toxins as possible, since I already got my fill of them with chemo, so I eat organic whenever I can. Therefore many of the restaurants listed here are vegetarian and organic, and all of them are vegetarian- and vegan-friendly.

All the restaurants and stores mentioned here can be found in the central part of Paris and Prague. I haven't listed addresses and opening times for the stores and restaurants, because both of those pieces of information might change (which is what we found to be the case). I hope this blog post can be a good starting point, but definitely check the web for the most current information. Two great resources we used were Happy Cow, a vegetarian and vegan online restaurant guide, and a helpful ebook from the Vegan Paris blog.

Tip: In Europe, "bio" means "organic."


Le Pain Quotidien
A chain of organic cafe-style restaurants in Paris. Not vegetarian, but lots of vegan-friendly dishes. We went to the location in the Marais. I ate a couple of their fabulous salads, but they have good hot food, too. As the name suggests, they've got lots of good bread. It's a proper bakery, too, so you can buy food at the counter to take away. Organic croissants, anyone?

Bob's Kitchen and Bob's Juice Bar
Green juice and green smoothies! If you miss your Vitamix, this is the place to go. The Kitchen location also has great hot meals. The restaurant is a bit hard to spot, with only a tiny sign, so here's a picture of what it looks like.

Rose Bakery
Organic breakfast and lunch. We went here twice for brunch, eating omelettes, oatmeal, granola, and excellent coffee. Like Bob's, this place is a bit tough to spot, since it doesn't have a sign.

Pousse Pousse "Sprout Sprout"
Lots of raw food at this organic vegan restaurant. Right now it's in a tiny restaurant, but the owner said they're looking to expand into a bigger space. This was the most expensive place we went to, but it was definitely worth it. They have a few daily options rather than a long menu, and they've got green cocktails in addition to food.

Les Cinq Saveurs D'Anada
Vegetarian food plus fish in the Left Bank.

Organic health food that's both a store and a small restaurant. Lots of raw food options.

A good place to stop by for a quick, inexpensive vegetarian bite. Vegetarian falafel joint near the Sorbonne in the Left Bank.

Organic Food Markets
Naturalia is the biggest organic food market chain, and we stumbled upon several of them just walking around. I also came across two organic markets we hadn't read about: A Touch of Bio and Boutique Bio.


Country Life - Restaurant and Market
Organic vegetarian store and restaurant chain. One of the locations is conveniently located right off Old Town Square in the center of the touristy part of the city. The restaurant is a cafeteria where you get a tray and serve yourself, and your food is weighed to determine how much you pay. It's casual, but the decor is very cool. We ate lunches here most days, and would explore new places for dinner. The cabbage salad was a favorite of mine. The entrance to the store is shown in the photo I took below, and you walk through the covered walkway to get to the restaurant entrance.

Lehka Hlava "Clear Head"
Vegetarian food in a really cute restaurant. It's praised in the Rick Steve's guidebook, so it can be crowded and they recommend reservations. We lucked into getting a table at dinner without reservations because we got there early one evening before a walk along the nearby Vltava River.

Dhaba Beas Indian Cafe
Vegetarian Indian food in a casual cafeteria atmosphere. Like Country Life, you get your own food and they weigh it to determine how much you pay. Really inexpensive, and it was crowded but we always found a seat.

I hope you have a great time eating fantastic food if you visit these cities!


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Photos from Sisters in Crime NorCal's Fall Showcase

Twice a year, the Sisters in Crime Northern California Chapter holds a showcase in which author members with a recent book out read from their work. We rotate around to different bookstores. This time we were at San Francisco's Books Inc. at the Opera Plaza. Since Artifact came out a little over two months ago, I read a passage at the event last Saturday.

Left to right: Vinnie Hansen, Gigi Pandian, Sophie Littlefield, Kirsten Weiss, Pat Morin, Juliet Blackwell, and Carole Price. 

Me with Sophie and Juliet. 

Reading from ARTIFACT. 

Dagger cupcakes baked by one of the SinC Board members!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Night Train from Prague to Paris

Vyšehrad, Prague.
I returned a few days ago from my celebratory post-cancer-treatment trip to Prague and Paris. Now I'm jet-lagged and broke, but it was worth it! Highlights below.

Related posts: I'm posting artsy mysterious photos from the trip over at the Gargoyle Girl photography blog on Mondays for the next several weeks. I'm also writing up a separate blog post about delicious healthy eating options in Prague and Paris for cancer survivors, vegetarians, and others with food restrictions—coming next week.


We flew into Prague. I had been to the city once before, for only two days right after college. I had always wanted to go back, but at the same time I wasn't sure if my memories had romanticized the city. Was it possible it wouldn't be as intriguing as I imagined? I'm happy to report it was even better than I expected. The sites, the people, the food, the gorgeous architecture... The whole vibe of the city was wonderful. If Czech wasn't such a difficult language to learn, I would be very tempted to spend a sabbatical living in Prague.

Views of Prague from the Klementinum (National Library) Tower.

Whenever I travel to a country where English isn't the primary language, I try to learn at least a few words of the language, both to communicate and to be respectful of the fact that the world is a lot bigger than my home country. Czech was more difficult than I expected, but by the end of the week I had about a dozen key phrases down. The problem? Unlike the French, who often switch to English upon hearing my accent, the lovely Czech people were so happy I was speaking Czech that they'd try to keep speaking to me in Czech! I had no trouble finding English-speakers, though. It's true that most young people speak English. But I did use "mluvite anglicky" ("do you speak English") quite a bit once we left the touristy center of the city. 

We spent nearly a week exploring the city and surrounding areas. After visiting the requisite sites—e.g. Old Town Square with the amazing clock tower, the hidden underground level of the city, and the Prague Castle complex that includes the towering St. Vitus Cathedral covered in gargoyles—we headed further afield, including hiking down to the old fortress ruins at Vyšehrad and checking out some alchemy sites for the mystery novel I'm currently writing.

Views of St. Vitus Cathedral in the Prague Castle complex.

The Vltava River, from Vyšehrad.

Astronomical clock tower in Old Town Square.


From Prague, we caught a City Night Line train into France. The train station deserves a blog post of its own, if not a whole mystery novel, so for now I'll just say that it's fascinating how different the old northern train station is from the new main train station. I'm pretty sure we were either in a Twilight Zone or Doctor Who alternate reality. But the train still showed up, and a wonderful porter got us set up in our sleeper car at the very end of the train. He explained that the train would be split up in Germany during the night, with destinations in Germany, Switzerland, and France.

On the sleeper car, I felt like we were in an Agatha Christie novel! (However, no jewel thefts or murders took place on the train ride. As the husband had to remind me, that was a good thing.) We spent the evening watching the scenery go by.

Autumn in Paris: Luxembourg Gardens.

We stayed at a hotel in the Marais neighborhood (4th Arrondissement), the perfect central location for leisurely walks with frequent breaks at cafes that provided excellent coffee and even better people-watching. I love the presentation of coffee in Europe, where elegant little trays that give you everything you could need for your coffee, including a tiny chocolate.

Cafes in Prague and Paris. Below, Mama Coffee in Prague, full of laptop-users; Les Deux Magots in Paris, with an interesting literary history; one of many random street cafes where all the seats face outward for blatant people-watching.

Street art in the Marais.

Since I've spent a lot of time in Paris before, this trip was for relaxing more than sightseeing, but we did wait in line at Notre Dame to climb the 387 steps to see my favorite gargoyles.

With the gargoyles at Notre Dame.

This post is long enough, so I'll stop now and you can catch more photos at Gargoyle Girl!