Giving Away the GREEN

Why did I give away 100 copies of GREEN AS A GARDEN HOSE at the Decatur Book Festival this past weekend?

I’m glad you asked.

When GREEN was originally published, the cover was very straightforward, almost stark-looking, as all my Biscuit McKee Mysteries were: the title, my name, the series logo, and a stripe at the top showing the color of the next book in the series–in this case, a blue stripe for BLUE AS BLUE JEANS. I’m putting the picture sideways so you’ll know it’s not the current cover! Also, because I can’t figure out how to rotate the image, but we won’t talk about that, will we?

So, here’s the new cover, complete with blood dripping from the logo and a picture that ties into the title. Great, huh? It also gives the order of the book in the series, something I always hate trying to track down when I read other people’s mystery series. Janet Evanovich and Sue Grafton are the only writers whose books are easy to follow in sequence, what with their 1, 2, 3’s and a, b, c’s in the titles.

Anyway, back to the original question. Why give away the originals? Authors who are going to be appearing at book clubs, libraries, festivals and so on, generally buy copies of their books to sell at those events. We call those “author copies.” Way back when, I bought an outrageous number of GREENs. And then the cover changed, so I preferred to sell the new cover, and used the old ones only when I ran out of new copies.

Finally, it dawned on me. What’s the perfect way to introduce people to my characters and to the way I write? Not bookmarks, not postcards, not flyers. Nope. The surest way is to give people a chance to read one of my books. So . . . (drumroll here, please) . . . free books.

Actually, I had some old copies of YELLOW AS LEGAL PADS (the second book in the series) as well, so I gave away twenty of those.

This means that 120 people now have a chance to read my book. If they like it, they might want to pick up other books in the series (or try my ScotShop Mysteries as well). If they don’t like GREEN, they can always give it away to somebody else who might enjoy the story.

Sound like a good idea?

I sure hope so.


Parkview High School Forensics Classes

Yesterday I had the honor of speaking to the forensics science classes at Parkview High School in Lilburn GA. This is the third year I’ve been invited there, and it’s always fun. It’s also always a LONG day — I have great respect for teachers who keep up such a schedule consistently.

I was there to speak about how I wrap forensics into my murder mysteries, so I took copies of my own books plus a number of the reference texts I use on a regular basis: Deadly Doses: a writer’s guide to poisons by Serita Deborah Stevens, Grave Matters: a journey through the modern funeral industry by Mark Harris, Dead Men Do Tell Tales by William R. Maples, Bones: a forensic detective’s casebook by Dr. Douglas Ubelaker, Police Procedural: a writer’s guide to the police and how they work by Russell Bintliff, and of course, Forensics for Dummies by D.P. Lyle.

I spoke about the way I deal with specific social issues in my Biscuit McKee mysteries – bipolar disorder, suicide prevention, the long-term effects of childhood abuse, and so on. I do this because I consider it part of my responsibility as a writer to give people more than just a good story (although that’s very important, too!) I want to give my readers good information they can take away with them, which is why I list toll-free numbers and websites at the end of my books so people can get information or help for themselves or for a friend, relative, or colleague.

Whenever I speak, though, I go with the flow, and with each class it seemed right to read the first chapter of A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP, my first ScotShop Mystery, which has Peggy Winn discovering that her boyfriend is cheating on her. She complains to her friend Karaline, at which time Karaline tells her, “Just kill him and get it over with.”

My friend Jackie White, who writes under the name Jaclyn Weldon White, read that chapter in draft form and then wrote a song called “Just Kill Him, Girl.” Naturally, I had to sing it to the students. It seemed to be a big hit, as a number of students asked if I would record it so they could download it from iTunes.

The loveliest compliment, though, showed up in my inbox this morning, with a note that Alex Bond had linked a post of his to my Fran Stewart Author Facebook page. Here’s what he wrote, as soon as school was over yesterday:

Fran Stewart just came to Parkvkew High School. She talked about her career as an author and the whole presentation was simply inspiring. As a songwriter, I was very intrigued with her stories. She also had said something that caught my attention. She said that she wanted her audience to be entertained by the stories, but she also wanted them to finish the book understanding her message and reason for writing for the stories. That was one of the many things I could relate to. I want my audience to finish my songs with a new perspective and an apprehension of the message in the song. Ms. Stewart’s visit was much needed for me personally and I plan to read her books in the future. Thanks Fran Stewart, you’re truly inspiring!

Thank you, Alex. And best wishes with your song-writing.

Hank and I

Hank Phillippi Ryan was teaching at the Mystery Writers of America University in Atlanta last week, and she stopped by Eagle Eye Books in Decatur to sign copies of her newest thriller TRUTH BE TOLD. Naturally, I was there (as were other members of the Atlanta Chapter of Sisters in Crime) to buy a hardcover copy and get it signed.

at Eagle Eye Books, Decatur GA
at Eagle Eye Books, Decatur GA

Besides telling us where the name Hank came from (nickname from her college years), Hank talked about how her work as an investigative reporter is a fantastic source of leads for story ideas.

“Where do you get your ideas?” That’s one of the most frequently-asked questions a writer hears. And it’s a great question, because where we get our ideas feeds directly into the stories we create from those ideas.

A hundred people can see one event – but it’s usually only the writer who will ask “what if…”

What if this happened? What if that happened? What if a man walked down this street instead of that one? What if a woman chose to leave for work earlier than usual (or later)?What if the fire had started in the garage rather than the bedroom? What if someone buying a new car found a body in the trunk?

Hank made me think about how I generate my story ideas.

Just as Hank asked what if there’s a dead body in that house where the eviction is happening, I had to ask, years ago, what if there’s a dead body in the library?

With that question in mind, I began to write ORANGE AS MARMALADE.

Why did I create Martinsville GA as the scene of my Biscuit McKee mysteries? And why will Hamelin VT appear as the scene of my new ScotShop series next March? Those two small towns come directly from the fact that I grew up as an Air Force brat. Four different schools in 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades.

Still, there was one constant, in every place we lived – Germany, Ohio, Illinois, Colorado, South Carolina, Tennessee . . . a library. I must admit, I never did find a body behind the stacks, but Martinsville is the home town I always wanted, but never had – a feeling shared by many service families.

So, where does Hamelin come in? Well, there’s another question I had to think about: what if somebody bought a shawl in Scotland, and it had a ghost attached to it?

Now there’s a question to start off a book right!