Diane Vallere

What I Learned at the 2015 California Crime Writers Conference

Last week I attended the California Crime Writers Conference (CCWC), and wow did I learn a lot! For the last few years I've focused on attending mystery conventions where I get to meet readers, instead of the craft-of-writing conferences I attended while learning how to write a mystery novel. But CCWC was a fantastic reminder about how much all writers can continue to learn, no matter where we're at in our careers. Plus, it was fun!

The conference is a joint project between Sisters in Crime Los Angeles and SoCal Mystery Writers of America. It takes place every two years, and this was my first time attending. SinC LA president Diane Vallere and SoCal MWA president Craig Faustus Buck were the co-chairs. Their efforts, along with dozens of other volunteers, made it a fantastic weekend.

The first day of the conference included a signing for the new Sisters in Crime LA anthology, LAdies Night, published by Down & Out Books. All three editors and all but two of the contributing authors were in attendance!

It's a great lineup of authors (Julie G. Beers, Julie Brayton, Sarah M. Chen, Arthur Coburn, L.H. Dillman, Bengte Evenson, Cyndra Gernet, Andrew Jetarski, Micheal Kelly, Susan Kosar-Beery, Jude McGee, Gigi Pandian, Wendall Thomas) and editors (Naomi Hirahara, Kate Thornton, Jeri Westerson). My short story is "Tempest in a Teapot," an impossible crime mystery starring magician Tempest Mendez, a side character in the Jaya Jones treasure hunt mystery series.

LAdies Night authors and editors at the California Crime Writers Conference
(Thanks to Jackie Houchi for the group photo, and Anne Cleeland for the pic of me)


Next up, panels! So many great ones. The three that were the most eye-opening to me were a bookseller panel, a librarian panel, and panel where agents and editors reacted to opening pages. I jotted these tips in my notebook:

Bookstore Partners
  • The staff from Mysterious Galaxy had some advice I hadn't heard before: Don't do a reading at your event! Instead, tell personal stories about you and your book. People can read on their own, but they want to know what's special and interesting about you. (Readers, is this true??? I usually do both at an event.)
  • Want to do an event at a bookstore? Contact a bookstore three months in advance, ideally four. And to generate the most interest in your book, the month or so around your release date is really important -- though that buzz only applies to in-person events, not to a bookstore hand-selling your book, which can happen at any time. 
  • There's a thing called a White Box, containing Advance Reader Copies and other promotional materials, that American Bookseller Association members receive. 

Marketing Through Libraries

  • Ask your local library "What's your collection development policy?" to find out how books are added to their system. There's no one system that all libraries use to build their collections. 
  • Like bookstores, libraries like to have four months advance notice to schedule events. 
  • Many libraries have book clubs. 

Author Idol
A panel of agents and editors judged the brave souls who anonymously submitted the first pages of their unpublished manuscripts. The America Idol-style format wasn't for the thin skinned, but it was incredibly informative.

The first page of each manuscript was read aloud, and agents and editors raised their hands as soon as they would stop reading. The agents/editors then explained what it was that made them raise their hand -- sometimes it was as simple as the fact that it wasn't something they represented. (The lesson for unpublished writers: once you've polished your manuscript and are getting ready to submit it, do your homework to find out what an agent represents and a publisher buys.)

The exercise drove home the importance of the first page grabbing the reader on many levels. And yes, several of the first pages didn't receive any raised hands, meaning everyone wanted to read more.

Agents and editors on the "Author Idol" panel 

Keynote speakers Charlaine Harris and Anne Perry gave inspiring speeches, and also discussed Elmore Leonard's "10 Rules for Good Writing." They agreed with almost everything on his list, but like with everything in life, the real answer is, "it depends." I've always been a firm believer in knowing the rules before you break them.

Charlaine Harris and Anne Perry discussing Elmore Leonard's "10 Rules of Writing" (moderated by Craig Faustus Buck)

Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules for Good Writing

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said"…he admonished gravely.
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

And the most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.


Outside of the official program, one of the best things about attending events like this is getting to catch up with people in the mystery world, plus make new connections. In addition to catching up with writer pals I rarely see, I met amazing new people, and got to see both of my editors! (If you enjoy my books, it's in large part thanks to them and the rest of my editorial team.) 

With my awesome editors: Terri Bischoff from Midnight Ink & Kendel Lynn from Henery Press

Lunch with Naomi Hirahara

I also ducked out of the conference hotel for an excursion to the Magic Castle. Though I write about several magician characters, I hadn't ever visited this famous magicians' playhouse. Thanks to mystery writer and magician Stephen Buehler for getting me in!

And thanks again to the team who pulled off such a great CCWC!

Jaya Jones and The Hindi Houdini in Edinburgh

Last week I shared a recap and photos from my writing retreat in Edinburgh, where one of the highlights was revisiting the Edinburgh setting of "Fool's Gold," my novella prequel to Artifact. 

Jaya and Sanjay solve a mystery at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival that involves Scotland's famous Lewis Chessmen.

The novella was published in 2012 in Other People's Baggage, and this May was the first time I'd been back to Scotland since the mystery came out! So of course I had to stop by both the Edinburgh Fringe Festival office and the National Museum of Scotland where several of the chessmen are on display.

My Lewis Chessmen replicas, next to my book in which they appear.

Why are the Lewis Chessmen so intriguing? In addition to their origins remaining a mystery, the 12th century pieces themselves have so much personality, as can be seen in my photos below.

The Berserker biting is shield is one of my favorites!

When I was a kid spending the summer in Scotland with my mom while she did academic research, I got to attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the world's largest arts festival (also purportedly the world's largest street festival) that takes place each August.

Several years after I attended the festival, I performed in a theatrical production in Edinburgh during my junior year abroad. Since I doubted I'd ever again perform in Edinburgh, when I became a writer it occurred to me that I could send my characters there!

So I combined the Lewis Chessmen with the Ed Fringe Festival in the locked-room mystery novella 


Fool's Gold



All historian Jaya Jones wants is a relaxing vacation in Scotland before starting her first year teaching college. But when a world-famous chess set is stolen from a locked room during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Jaya and her magician best friend, The Hindi Houdini, must outwit actresses and alchemists to solve the baffling crime.

The novella is connected to Diane Vallere's "Midnight Ice" and Kendel Lynn's "Switch Back." Four years ago, Diane, Kendel, and I had the idea of collaborating on a project. The result was 

Other People's Baggage,

 a collection of interconnected mystery novellas featuring our mystery series characters. The premise: 

These are the stories of what happened after three women with a knack for solving mysteries each grabbed the wrong bag.

We're still friends after collaborating, so either we did something right, or nothing can tear us apart! And this year, the third books in each of our series came out.


“Midnight Ice” by Diane Vallere (A Mad for Mod Mystery Novella, the prequel to PILLOW STALK). The third Mad for Mod Mystery starring Madison Night, WITH VICS YOU GET EGGROLL, came out April 14, 2015.

“Switch Back” by Kendel Lynn (An Elliott Lisbon Mystery Novella, the prequel to BOARD STIFF). The third Elliott Lisbon mystery, SWAN DIVE, came out March 17, 2015.

“Fool’s Gold” by Gigi Pandian (A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Novella, the prequel to ARTIFACT). The third Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery, QUICKSAND, came out March 10, 2015.

Kendel Lynn, Diane Vallere, and Gigi Pandian in 2012 at Mystery Ink.

This weekend

I get to see my 

Other People's Baggage

 collaborators Diane and Kendel at the 

California Crime Writers Conference

 June 6-7, 2015!

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.


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

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!

Announcing the Next Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery: FOOL'S GOLD, Coming December 3

ARCs for Other People's Baggage, which includes Fool's Gold.
This summer has been surreal in several ways: I finished my cancer treatments, released my first mystery novel, have been traveling around doing book events -- and this week I received Advance Reader Copies for the next Jaya Jones mystery being published by Henery Press on December 3!

Fool's Gold: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Novella is being published in the Other People's Baggage collection of three interconnected mystery novellas. It's a prequel to Artifact that I hope will tide everyone over until the next full-length novel comes out in 2013.

All historian Jaya Jones wants is a relaxing vacation in Scotland before starting her first year teaching college. But when a world-famous chess set is stolen from a locked room during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Jaya and her magician best friend, The Hindi Houdini, must outwit actresses and alchemists to solve the baffling crime.

At Malice Domestic 2012 with Kendel Lynn and Diane Vallere.
Working on this new mystery has been so much fun! It's a joint project with two other mystery novelists, Diane Vallere and Kendel Lynn.

We had all read each other's work, and we were struck by the fact that while our mystery series' were quite different, the heroines of our stories had a similar voice. We thought they'd get along famously. What was stopping us from bringing them together?

In Other People's Baggage, a storm reroutes planes and knocks out power, leading to a luggage mix-up as all three of our characters are headed out of town. Jaya, Elliot, and Madison end up with each other's suitcases, and they each solve a mystery with the help of something they find in the mixed-up suitcase...

OTHER PEOPLE'S BAGGAGE: Three Interconnected Mystery Novellas
(Henery Press, December 3, 2012)

These are the stories of what happened after a computer glitch mislabeled identical vintage suitcases and three women with a knack for solving mysteries each grabbed the wrong bag.

MIDNIGHT ICE: A Mad for Mod Mystery Novella by Diane Vallere
When interior decorator Madison Night crosses the country to distance herself from a recent breakup, she learns it’s harder to escape her past than she thought, and diamonds are rarely a girl’s best friend.

SWITCH BACK: An Elliott Lisbon Mystery Novella by Kendel Lynn
Ballantyne Foundation director Elliott Lisbon travels to Texas after inheriting an entire town, but when she learns the donor was murdered, she has to unlock the small town’s big secrets or she’ll never get out alive.

FOOL'S GOLD: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Novella by Gigi Pandian 
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 sand alchemists to solve the baffling crime.

Other People's Baggage ARC with my Lewis Chessmen, which feature into Fool's Gold.

If you're on Goodreads, you can enter to win an advance copy of Other People's Baggage, signed by me, Diane, and Kendel. The giveaway starts today and runs through October 24. 

Malice Domestic 2012: Celebrating the Traditional Mystery with Elizabeth Peters This Year!

I'm home after attending the Malice Domestic mystery convention. If you're asking yourself what on earth "Malice Domestic" means, here's a quick explanation: Agatha Christie wrote traditional mysteries with puzzle plots that involve characters we get to know, quite different from conspiracy thrillers or gritty hard-boiled stories that also live in the mystery genre. Malice Domestic celebrates traditional mysteries. It's what I write and what I love to read.

Meeting Elizabeth Peters!!!
One of the authors who epitomizes this genre is Elizabeth Peters, whose books I have adored since I was a teenager. She stopped attending mystery conventions years ago, but she attended one afternoon of Malice Domestic this year to receive the Amelia award, an award named for her spectacular character Amelia Peabody.

It was a highlight of the convention when I got to meet her! What a lovely, gracious author. When I met up with my friends afterward, I believe I was giggling like I was thirteen years old. 

I moderated a Travel Mysteries panel featuring Hilary Davidson, Janice Hamrick, Maddy Hunter, Marie Moore, and Sara Wisseman. These authors have books set around the world in Egypt, Peru, and Europe, so it was fun to hear their travel stories that impacted their fiction. (UPDATE: Marie's husband took a photo of the panel, which I've added below.)

Our Travel Mysteries panel.  

Kaye George and Jenny Milchman.
Although panels at conventions are great, one of the best parts is who you meet informally, such as running into Kaye George (a fellow member of the Guppies chapter of Sisters in Crime who was up for an Agatha this year) and Jenny Milchman. If you haven't heard of Jenny's "Made It Moments" blog where authors share their stories about the moment they feel like they've "made it" as an author, you need to check it out. It's one of the most inspiring things you'll read all day.

A couple of my friends arrived late to a panel we had all planned to attend, so I ended up sitting and chatting with Sujata Massey, who writes the Rei Shimura mysteries. I learned she's working on a new book, The Sleeping Dictionary, set in colonial India, that sounds very cool.

With Sujata Massey.

In addition to chance encounters, I also planned in advance to meet up with two writers I knew through the Guppies, Kendel Flaum and Diane Vallere. The three of us first got to know each other when we traded works-in-progress. We really liked each others writing, so we decided to embark on a joint project together (more details to follow later this summer). The project has been going great, in spite of the fact that we hadn't ever hung out in person! I had met Diane very briefly once before, and Diane had met Kendel, but the three of were very much virtual friends—until this weekend.

Hanging out with partners in crime Kendel Flaum and Diane Vallere.

At the Agathas Banquet.

Guppy Leslie Budewitz won an Agatha award for her non-fiction guide for authors BOOKS, CROOKS, AND COUNSELORS.

Leslie Budewitz accepting her Agatha Award for BOOKS, CROOKS, AND COUNSELORS

At lunch with Leslie Budewitz, Avery Aames, Tracy Kiely, Kaye George, and Sandra Parshall.

Last but not least, I'm happy to report I finally met Nicole Peeler! I was starting to believe this urban fantasy author was a figment of my imagination. Turns out I was mistaken—she's real! And very fun.

Meeting Nicole Peeler in person for the first time.

p.s. I played hookie from the convention for a few hours one afternoon to see the gargoyles on the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. I'll post more photos of the gargoyles over at Gargoyle Girl next week.

A gargoyle on the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.