September 07, 2009

Whatever Motivated Me? By Guest Blogger Lisa Bork Four years ago I put my youngest child on the bus for her first full day of school—and was left with seven hours of time to fill. Or should I say “kill”? I decided to write a book. A murder mystery. It seems like a big leap, but I love to read and write, and in college, I majored in English. During my career, I’d written human resources and marketing manuals, very dry but nevertheless important communications. Along the way, teachers and managers had said, “You know, you’re a very good writer.” I decided to put that to the test. With time on my hands and old compliments ringing in my ears, I started to write. I wanted to write a mystery series, because I read a lot of them and thought I knew the elements of a good one. From Lorraine Bartlett, I learned about the Sisters In Crime chapter, The Guppies, an online mystery group with critique group opportunities. I signed up immediately, craving feedback. I made all the classic mistakes with my first mystery. I wrote characters like people I knew and spent lots of time describing real places. The only person in my first critique group willing to read my story said, “Something has got to happen.” I took this to heart. I packed up my characters and moved them to a golf course. With positive feedback from my new critique group, I finished a novel. During one of her contests, the infamous Miss Snark gave me positive feedback on my one line pitch. Then an agent read the first chapter and asked for the whole manuscript. Was I ever excited! He rejected it within a week. One more partial request and many more rejections followed. I made the rookie mistake of getting excited over form letter rejections that said my work “showed promise”. Still, I felt like I had something to offer. But I didn’t try to fix that book. I started something new. I wrote a standalone book. A few agents requested partials. One west coast agent made some snippy comments based on the synopsis. I decided to avoid her in the future. A New York agent requested two chapters, then two more, and ultimately rejected it. I made note of him, because he was responsive, professional, and liked my writing. Then I hit on the idea for my Broken Vow mystery series. Ideas and words flowed. I leapt up from the dinner table and out of bed at night to get them down. With all day to write, I had For Better, For Murder completed in four months. This time, I had ten people critique it before marketing it. A couple months after the end of my second year of writing, I went back to the New York agent who had expressed interest in my standalone book and offered him For Better, For Murder. He responded quickly and positively. I knew it was a match. What joy! All the positive feedback from my critique group and manuscript swap partners had me fired up enough to complete the second book in the series. Finding an agent guaranteed I’d finish the third immediately. My agent worked almost a year to find For Better, For Murder a home. But in the end, when he contacted my publisher, an offer was made within days. The contract took a little longer to hammer out. Never the most patient person, I’d tabled writing and accepted a part-time job near the end of the year I’d waited to find a publisher. Good thing, too, because actually getting published took eleven more months of waiting. My job killed the days and hours. This week, four years later, For Better, For Murder is on the market. Kirkus Reviews said, “Bork juggles multiple puzzles deftly in her witty debut.” Such a thrill! I’ve resigned my part-time job. Now I’m motivated to write some more. ----------------------------- Lisa Bork’s debut novel, For Better, For Murder, hits stores this week. It’s the first book in the Broken Vows mystery series from Midnight Ink. Lisa has a BA. in English and a M.B.A. in Marketing, and she worked in humans resources and marketing before becoming a stay-at-home mom and author. For more information, visit
Fan Mail From Some Flounder* Posted by Lorraine (L.L.) Bartlett and her nom de plume (who can't stop laughing) Lorna Barrett I've been a published author for just about four years now, and during that time I've received scores of lovely letters from my readers. One of the nicest came from a woman who was stuck in the hospital while her loved one recovered from a very serious car accident. She told me that reading my books made the lonely, angst-filled hours more bearable. I love getting mail from my readers (be it snail or e-mail). But last week I got my first unfriendly letter. In it I was accused of promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. Why? Because my second Booktown Mystery opened up with people eating cake. Not just any cake, but chocolate cake with a white chocolate ganache filling. This person accused me of endosing the idea that "fatty foods and cream sauces are even remotely good" for one. (BTW, I don't believe I mentioned cream sauce, as it's not something I personally eat--then again, I don't eat chocolate cake, either.) (Let me get this straight--eating cake is unhealthy, but death by bungie cord is okay?) I was also accused of showing people who eat well as "weird." Hmm. My protagonist, Tricia, is very careful about the food she eats, preferring salads and low-fat options. She also runs four miles a day on her treadmill. Can she help it if other people around her eat or bake sweets? (Especially her sister, the cookbook author, and, oh yes, the woman who runs the local bakery?) Perhaps the worst offense I've committed as an author is to contribute to the DEATHS of MILLIONS of READERS. Hmm...has this person looked at my upcoming royalty statement? Will I find that instead of thousands of books sold, I'll be paid for MILLIONS of them? Perhaps I should warn my agent to practice writing lots of zeros before she makes out the check next month. And talk about promoting fatty foods--does this person even know about Paula Deen? Hey, Paula, put down that stick of butter and walk away from the mixing bowl -- nice and slow --and maybe you won't get hurt. Er . . . ahem. Puzzled by this rather strong reaction to Bookmarked for Death, I asked several of my author friends about it. Our own Leann Sweeney said, "There are people who have totally eliminated the meaning of "fiction" and "fun" from their brains. You wrote a novel, not a treatise on nutrition. That person needs a chill pill." (Oh dear. Would this person think Leann promotes reckless drug use?) My local critique partner, Liz, said, "Lorraine. YOU'VE MADE IT!! As a writer, you have certainly touched the soul of this poor being. Think of what joy he had writing to you. And if he tells enough of his friends, those who actually Like Cake will probably pick up your books." I sure hope she's right. My friend Mary Jane Maffini said, "That reminds me. I read your book and now I'm dead. Been meaning to speak to you about that...." (Oh bother. Now I've killed a dear friend. I wonder if her husband has noticed?) Pal Elizabeth Spann Craig said, "And I'm writing a barbeque book. I can't imagine what kind of letter I've got in store for me." In closing, the author of this "fan letter" told me not to write back to try to explain my recipe choices, or defend myself, or the book in any way. In fact, s/he doesn't want to be reminded that I even exist. Gulp. Wow. I'm hurt. But somehow I'll have to find the courage to go on with life. I'll eat my veggies and have the occasional slice of cake--even if it's not good for me. Oh, what the heck--here's the recipe for that white chocolate ganache: 1 ½ cups heavy cream 8 ounces white chocolate chips In a saucepan combine 1 1/2 cups of the cream and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat. Place white chocolate chips in a large bowl and pour hot cream into the bowl. Let sit for 1 minute or so, then whisk until smooth. Transfer to the refrigerator to cool, stirring occasionally. When mixture is cold and thickened, beat with an electric mixer into soft peaks, then beat the last few strokes by hand with a whisk until thick and firm. (Do not to over-whisk or mixture will become grainy.) For flavored ganache, deduct 1 ounce of cream and add 1 ½ ounces of rum or your favorite liqueur. Or, add in 1/4-teaspoon vanilla extract—or other flavoring. Ganache can stay at room temperature for 2 days, as long as it’s kept in a cool place. ------------------------------------ * Those of you who remember the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show should be familiar with this expression.

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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