Category Archives: Conversation

The way to Nora’s heart

It’s always a pleasure (for Nora and me) when a baby comes to a signing.  We’re veteran child herders so we know that waiting in line with a tired or hungry baby is not always fun for the parent (or grandparent or aunt or uncle or friend) in charge of the baby.  But it’s a welcome respite for us.

Many times I’ll see the baby back in line and get a chance for a cuddle.  Then, of course, I simply HAVE to show off for Nora who gives me the stink-eye for getting there first.

But I’ll admit Nora’s a baby whisperer and even the crankiest little one calms down when Nana Nora holds him or her.  (Though some of them are actually eyeing her jewelry to get something shiny in their fist — or mouth.  They are fast and strong and rarely give up without a complaint.)

We ran into two little beauties a couple weeks back.  Taylor came with her mom, her aunt, her grandma and great grandma to the Fall into the Story brunch.  It was a busy day, but I did snap a couple photos of the four generations with their cameras, and one — a little blurry — with mine.

20160710_113502 (2)

Fortunately, our good pal Maureen McGowan — a TTP regular and a wonderful photographer — took a few of Nora with the baby for me.

DSC_0010 DSC_0008

Then there was the adorable Isabelle who brought her mom Katie to the Literacy signing on July 13.  Mom waited on the huge line for book and a photo but Miss Isabelle had an agenda of her own.  She acquiesced when Nora took her in her arms — for all of 10 seconds. Then she let us all know she was not best pleased and she wanted to be with her mom — NOW!

Happy baby, happy Nora.
Mightily annoyed baby, very amused Nora. (And mom Katie)

Fortunately Mom knew what Isabelle really wanted and the next time we looked over she was having a bottle.

We also get to meet some very smart and patient older kids who hang at the signings with their family, let me take their photos and usually walk out with a book (or two) of their own.

It’s always a huge pleasure to know that reading families seed the next generation as early as they can.  I think it would be great fun to share those new readers with seasoned vets here on the blog.  If you have any photos of your kids or grandkids with Nora, send them to me at  Any if you have any anecdotes about their reading habits, please let me know.  I hope to share some more photos in the coming weeks.




For the past several weeks, I’ve been house hunting–publishing houses, that is. While publishing’s a business, a house is still a home, and moving is stressful, complicated–and for a creature of routine like myself–just fraught.
Exciting, too, because once you work through the fraught, there are new possibilities, a fresh page, a new start.
There were changes in the house I worked with, lived in, was part of for more than twenty years, and with those changes I no longer felt at home there. Home, for me, is the center, the core, personally and professionally, so I need to feel comfortable and in place. I need to fit and feel connected.
So it was time to pack up, move on, and take memories of those twenty-plus years of good work with good people with me to somewhere new.
But where?
I’m fortunate to have had choices, to be able look at the landscape, the architecture, the personality and foundations of what was available to me. Each had its own distinct appeal and advantages, and since I don’t move lightly, all had to be carefully considered–with the invaluable and level-headed guidance of my agent. Amy Berkower of Writers’ House has been my agent since 1980. Not only don’t I make changes lightly, but I know when I have the best and I hold onto it. She knows and understands me, values for me what keeps me content, keeps me happy and creative, is not only my agent but my very good friend.
In the end, though we both determined I could do good work and be satisfied settling into other houses, one could be a real home, a place of contentment and creativity, one that suited my wants and needs at this time in my life and career.
For those reasons and many others, I’m unpacking my bags in MacMillan–St. Martin’s Press. Their landscape, architecture and personality all fit so well I already feel at home. I already know some of the family, and that’s a path to contentment. I’m looking forward to meeting and making connections to the rest. Best of all, I can now concentrate on the work I’ll do for them, and for you. I like to think, within this new house I’ll create some rooms readers will enjoy visiting, spending some time in.
They’ll begin publishing me next year (it takes time to write those books, create those rooms), and I’m looking forward to what my new family and I will do together.  (Note from Laura: there is still work to be done arranging the 2017 schedule.  While I know readers would love to continue with a schedule that’s familiar, there are bound to be tweaks up ahead.  We’ll share as we know what’s what.)
Penguin Random House will publish The Obsession this April, Bay Of Sighs in June, Apprentice In Death in September and Island Of Glass in December, as scheduled.  I’m grateful to everyone I worked with there–and to those who continue to work on my books for 2016, and my backlist.
Happily, with the move made, I could spend my Saturday with Kayla in the kitchen without the distractions of what should I do, where should I go eking into the day.
She wanted to learn how to make my red sauce–and she and Logan voted for fudge. My girl learns well, and learns fast. She’s learning the names of herbs and spices–and that no sauce is complete without a good dose of wine.
Once the red sauce is simmering, it’s fudge time. I don’t have my mother’s recipe, sadly, but I found one on-line that uses Marshmallow Cream–we called it fluff. And when I pulled that out of the cabinet, her eyes lit. Fluff! And the two of us had a little taste from the jar. I was ten years old again. She mixed, she stirred, stirred, stirred until the fluff, the sugar, the evaporated milk–a little salt, if I remember right–were all combined and smooth and boiling. And that’s a LOT of stirring. Add the chocolate, a dash of vanilla. Stir, stir. Pour into a foil-lined dish, and into the fridge it goes. Which leaves the spoon and pot to be licked and scraped–just like I did as a girl in my mother’s kitchen.
It’s not quite my mother’s fudge–a little sweeter, I think–but it’s awesome.
The kid also ate a bowl of soup, one of my baker brother’s sourdough English muffins (christened by Laura as J’muffins for my brother Jim). She helped me pick out Easter presents for her younger sibs, helped me sign four tubs of books. Then learned how to make another of her favorite things. Garlic bread.
At the end of the day she took home a container of red sauce–just add pasta!–a plate of pretty amazing fudge and a bag of garlic bread. I suspect her family ate as well and happily as BW and I.
I think of my professional (and personal, because my work and my house are) change. It happened relatively quickly. I look at my granddaughter, stirring, chopping, creating meals, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with me instead of boosted up in my arms. That’s a gradual change that seemed to take five minutes.
And find myself, a creature of routine, not only okay with the changes, but delighted by them.

Price Points, Discounts, Sales!

Laura generated a Facebook post asking readers to pick either Three Fates or The Collector for a discussion. As often happens in the comment section some readers complained about the cost of books–why can’t I make them cheaper, or asked me to have a sale, do some discounting.
Is this aggravating to me? Yes, it is.
First, the post clearly asked for readers to vote for one of two books for a discussion. Second, while I appreciate a bargain as much as anybody, I find requests or demands or complaints re book pricing addressed to me, the writer, frustrating. Third, and perhaps most frustrating (over and above the fact I’ve addressed this countless times already) because I write the books. I do not publish them. I do not sell them. I do not set the price point. I do not decide when or if to discount or have a sale.
I sit here, in my office, at my keyboard, and I write. Period.
But then it occurred to me there may be readers who are simply confused, and some confusion may spring from the fact that many authors self-publish. When someone self-publishes, they are, basically, in charge of all. They set the price of the work, discount as they deem appropriate. They often give the work away for free, at least for a limited time, to generate interest.
If a reader’s surfing the web, they might often encounter an author announcing a sale, a discount, a give-away–and just assume it works that way for all.
I don’t self publish. I have no desire to be in charge of all. This is my choice. I want to sit here, in my office, at my keyboard, and write. Period.
Therefore I have no say–absolutely no say whatsoever, in the cover price the publisher puts on my work. I don’t want any say. I have no say when or if Amazon runs a sale, or when and if my publisher discounts my books in e-form. I have no say what B&N sells my books for, or Sam’s Club, or your local indie bookseller. I can’t tell them what to do, what to charge.
I can write the book.
I have no more control over this than I do when my books come out in another country. I can’t tell my Spanish publisher, for instance, when to release one of my books, or what price point to set.
While it’s weirdly flattering to have some people imagine I run all this from my office chair–or maybe zip around having meetings with all kinds of publishing, bookselling, distributing, marketing people, I just don’t.
To my knowledge no one who doesn’t self-pub has any control over price points or sales.
Let me add another pitch for libraries. They are the treasure house of books. Support your local library. They’re free! You can walk into that treasure house and choose a book, take it home, read it, enjoy it, then take it back so someone else can do the same. You can watch for your local library’s book sales, and buy books at incredible prices.
If you want to own a particular book before that library sale, try used bookstores, try flea markets, yard sales. If you prefer e-books, watch for sales at the venues that offer them. There are many, many ways to own a book.

Asking me to make them cheaper, to offer discounts, isn’t one of them.

(added 2/13/16)
A little math for those readers who believe e-books should be cheap or even free.
The industry standard royalty on e-books is 25%.
So if an e-book’s cost was slashed to, let’s say $5. (Because math’s easier with 5s). The author would make $1.25 on that sale. The industry standard for an agent’s fee is 15%, so 8.3 cents goes to the agent, leaving the author with $1.16.6.
This doesn’t factor in any expenses said author might have laid out for promotion or the other business that revolves around the writing. The publisher would have $3.75 of that sale to pay for formatting, proofing, marketing, promotion (if any), distribution and all the other factors that go into it. They’d probably break even, maybe even eke out a small profit.
Publishing paper, audio and e forms start on the same road–with the content from the author, from the editing of that content, the scheduling, the generating of cover. Then the road splits off. One avenue for paper, one for audio, one for e. All those forms require work, a sales and marketing department, managing editors, proofers, distributors, book reps and on and on. All of them require that.

Publishing is a business. Writing is work. Reading should be a joy. But the joy isn’t free, and can’t be valued so cheaply that the creators of the joy can’t make profit or a decent living.



Not so deep thoughts

I’m pleased to say my Facebook pages are pretty much a happy place for me and for readers. The idea behind them has always been to offer information to readers, to provide some fun and a platform for interaction.
Laura works hard to make that so.
I’ll always be baffled by those who come on to take swipes–and now since the infamous BITE ME blog, our policy is to delete a post and/or ban a poster who crosses the line. It helps maintain that happy, informative place for all of us. So now my bafflement is more about the passive-aggressive type posters who bounce into a thread, make some half-assed complaint or snarky comment that generally has nothing to do with the actual thread.
Here are my rambling and circular thoughts on that–which I hope I’ll round up by the end of this blog.
I had a really solid writing week–always grateful when that happens, when nothing much interrupts. (Dogs in/dogs out is routine around here.) It’s a simple fact that when I’m working, I’m not giving this type of poster a single thought. Their opinions, or bids for attention, or sad need to take shots–not just at me, but other posters–aren’t in my universe when I’m writing. The story and characters are all. My story, my characters, my job, my responsibility. There are times when I see this kind of comment I’d like to say: Babe, do you honestly think you have one iota of influence on me when I’m into the work?
But anyway.
Excellent streak of writing time, which is almost the only thing I like about winter. And the weekend focused on more of the annual purge. This year, I emptied out the DVDs and VHS tapes from their cabinets. And asked myself WHY am I keeping these VHS tapes? Is this not 2016?  I made a list of those movies I really want, and ordered them on DVD for the collection. In organizing the DVDs I optimistically shelved them by category (this will never last). But it doing that it illustrated clearly, I love a variety. I have the wonderful classics (To Have And To Have Not remains one of my all-time faves) right up to our latest addition, The Martian. Dramas, comedies, musicals, thrillers, film noir, mysteries, action movies, science-fiction (klaatu barada nickto). I have the entire 7 seasons of Buffy on DVD. I have horror and Disney movies. If they make a movie from a Marvel comic, I have it (and have probably watched it multiple times). And okay DC comics, too.
Not everyone would like every movie I own. Some, in fact, may seriously dislike many of them. We are not the borg. We are not all the same with precisely the same tastes and interests. Movies, like books, are written and produced to entertain, to make us feel or think, laugh or cry, excite us or soothe us. What a story, in any form, evokes in an individual is personal. There are scores of popular or renown books/movies I dislike–some intensely. I may very well say so, giving the reasons for my reaction, in a group of pals. I would not go to the FB or fan page or whatever for same and post comments saying I hated that movie–or take the passive-aggressive approach with: It could have been better if…
One, I have better things to do. Two, it doesn’t make any difference whatsoever what I think. It doesn’t change ANYTHING. The book, the movie remains the book, the movie. The writers, publishers, producers, directors aren’t going to suddenly say: OMG, Jane Smith doesn’t like it–pull that sucker, or reform the current project to suit Jane!!
If they reformed a project to suit (some of) my tastes, it would probably read: Buffy and The Avengers Travel To A Galaxy Far, Far Away Where They Go Singing’ In The Rain On The Way To Silverado To Inherit The Wind.
Hmm. I should make one of those refrigerator magnet scrambles out of all my DVD titles.
Point is, most of us wants different types of entertainment at different times. We want something that suits our mood as well as our tastes. And there’s so much to choose from, we can have just what we want.
I also purged and organized my exercise DVDs in the gym. It just reinforced my particular needs and desire for variety. Some days I just need yoga, others I want some sweaty cardio–maybe Latin dance style, maybe hip-hop. Or I want to pump some iron (okay, it’s only 5-10 pounds, but I PUMP it) or I feel like I need some strong Pilates. I can choose. I can mix it up (always better to cross-train anyway). If I buy an exercise DVD, decide it’s not for me, I can give it to a friend who it might suit better.
I won’t even get into the fact we–finally–bought a wireless music thingie and boxed up hundreds of CDs. Or the big cabinet full of beloved vinyl. It’s the same thing–variety and taste and mood.
We all have favorites–we have likes and dislikes in our entertainment tastes. Okay, workouts aren’t entertainment, but you get me. The world’s just chock-full of choices to suit everyone’s needs, tastes, moods. Sometimes we choose something that just doesn’t work for us. Or doesn’t work at that particular time (because moods change). So the smart thing is to move on to something that does work, at that particular time.
Life’s too short to spend time reading, watching, sweating or listening to something that doesn’t engage us, make us happy.
And it should be too full to spend time poking into FB threads where people are engaged and happy to try to change that mood to your own unhappy one.


Brotherhood in Death teasers

Less than a week until you have the chance to read the first of the 2016 In Deaths — Brotherhood in Death.


First, a brief summary:

When Brotherhood opens, Mr. Mira just learned his cousin Edward arranged a secret meeting with a real estate agent about their late grandfather’s West Village brownstone, despite the promise they both made to keep it in the family. He heads to the house to confront Edward about it, and gets a blunt object to the back of the head.

When Eve arrives on the scene, he reports the instant before the attack, he’d seen Edward in a chair, bruised and bloody, but when he came to, Mr. Mira found himself alone in the house. With the mess cleaned up and the security disks removed, there’s nothing left behind but a few traces for forensics to analyze.

As a former lawyer, judge, and senator, Edward Mira mingled with the elite and crossed paths with criminals, making enemies on a regular basis. He also made some very close friends behind closed and locked doors.  As the case builds Eve shines a light on the dirty deals and dark motives behind the disappearance of a powerful man, one part of a brotherhood of equally powerful men with secrets to keep.

Now for a few gentle teasers.  I won’t spoil the case, I won’t give away big details.  These are just a few tidbits to look for as the case unfolds.

I’ll add one teaser each day between January 27-30 so bookmark the thread and check in when you can.

January 27
A two-fer:  within a few pages we learn Roarke exercised some restraint in the house design AND a suggested addendum to the Homicide credo.

January 28
A second two-fer:  Peabody has a much better locker room experience in Brotherhood than she did in Treachery.  Oh, and Whitney relays his wife’s interesting opinions on a matter close to the case.

January 29
Eve shares her theories about dolls.  Peabody may be scarred for life.
Oh, and remember Roarke’s reaction to coming upon Will Banner? A couple tables are turned this go round.

January 30
Dolls show up again. This time more people are scarred.
Eve and Peabody show off more than detective skills on scene.

That’s it, guys.  The book will be yours soon enough.

Stars of Fortune discussion thread

stars largeThis is the place to discuss Stars of Fortune, Book 1 of  The Guardians Trilogy.  Please note that spoilers will abound.

I knew the basics of this book from conversations with Nora, but even knowing those basics, the way the story unfolded, the way secrets were revealed kept me reading faster and faster until it was done.

Please share your thoughts about the book or about this new group of six we meet or their particular talents.  My personal countdown until book 2 is already underway.  Laura


The process after the writing

A note from Laura:  this post springboards from a little tidbit I shared about the title of the fall 2016 In Death title (Apprentice in Death) and the resulting “why can’t we have it now?” comments.  It’s also a preventative measure for the upcoming Stars of Fortune, book 1 of The Guardians Trilogy, and the predictable “why do we have to wait for the second and third books??”  (In the latter case,  it’s because book 3 is not yet written.)  We’re so lucky that Nora has the discipline and fast pace to give us more than one book per year but that can be lost in the fun and excitement of a new book.  So let’s get a peek into what goes into a book beyond the writing.

I think I’ve tried to explain the publishing process before, but I’m going to try again, with–I hope– more detail.

Laura will often announce when I’ve finished a book or the title of an upcoming. Many readers are impatient–and I appreciate that–and wonder why they can’t just have the book NOW. It’s written, after all.

Here’s why.

To begin, my process is generally a three draft deal. When I’ve completed the final draft, I send it to my editor and my agent. I let out a big WOO!

My editor and my agent will read the ms (manuscript). My editor–any editor–will read it through. He or she is the first reader. She–as mine’s a she–will read it to see if it engages, if it holds together, if it’s a good story, and makes sense, does the job. This read isn’t done at the office–too many meetings, too much other work for that–but most often on the editor’s own time. Mine read this last ms. over the weekend after I turned it in. The editor may make notes–have questions. Maybe something doesn’t hold together, maybe the ms needs some more work. If it does, those notes become an editorial letter or discussion, and the writer may have to do revisions. Minor or major, depending.

This triad–writer, editor, agent–all want the same thing. The best book possible. That’s work, and that’s time.

If the ms holds together, or the revisions are done, the editor then reads the ms again for a line edit. That’s line by line, editing. It takes time. It may be a very clean ms, so little has to be done, or it may need more work. Either way, this next step has to happen. Then it must be copy edited, and gets its first proofing after that.

Meanwhile, the editor is working with the art department on a cover. With Sales and Marketing on how the book will be sold in, how it will be marketed. It has to be scheduled, and this book is one among many. Accounts–bookstores, chains and independents, other venders like WalMart, Target, Costco and so on, have to be addressed–so there are book reps who deal with that. Catalogue copy must be written, Publicity has their meetings on the book–what to do there? Back cover copy, flap copy must be written. That cover has to be produced, maybe revised, produced.

None of this happens in five minutes. Or five days. Or five weeks. Or five months.

The book must be printed, produced–audio and e must be produced. If it’s a major book Advance Reader Copies are produced and seeded. And the book must be proofed again, by a proofer and by the author. Any changes resulting from the proofing must be fixed in the final product.

And yes, yes, yes, there are still going to be mistakes that slip through. You have humans, you have mistakes. A lot of people think/say: If I proofed that book, I wouldn’t have missed that mistake. Maybe not, but you’d have missed something else. If you think you’d miss nothing every time, let me just say: bollocks.

In any case. It’s a very labor intensive and creative process, on many fronts. It takes between nine months to a year to reasonably take a ms from completion to publication.

It takes a reader a matter of hours or days to read it.

Nothing, absolutely nothing is ever going to change that gap. Writers can’t write as fast as a reader reads. Editors can’t edit that fast. Publishers can’t publish that fast. That’s reality.

But! There are scads of wonderful books published every month for readers to choose from and enjoy. There are scads because there are writers and editors and publishers working their asses off to make that so.

Enjoy them. And some impatience is fine. Just don’t blame the author, the editor, the publisher when the book isn’t in your hands five minutes after that final draft is done, and the writer lets out a big WOO!


MS at the start of the process
MS at the start of the process
Edited ms
Edited ms

PS. I did these two galleys back-to-back in the evenings–as like my editor I have too much work to do this task during the work day. That’s two solid weeks of proofing in the evening, after a full work day–and juggling that in between signing tubs of books three days a week.

Saturday soup
Saturday soup

But today I made soup!

Wonderment in Death description/discussion

ddtrh coverI usually let everyone else chime in about books but last weekend I had a chance to read “Wonderment in Death” — the In Death novella in Down the Rabbit Hole — and in my opinion it’s a particular standout among the 11 novellas under JD’s belt.

The official description for the anthology?

You’re late for a very important date…
Enter a wonderland of mesmerizing tales. It’s a place that’s neither here nor there, where things are never quite as they seem. Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s whimsical masterpiece, ranging from the impossible to the mad to the curiouser, these stories will have you absolutely off your head. 

Don’t be afraid to follow them…

Since it’s short and efficient (and marvelous) storytelling there actually isn’t a real teaser to give that won’t potentially spoil the “Wonderment in Death” story.  So I’ll set this page up for the discussion now.

It’s in stores on September 29.