Saturday, July 14, 2012

Number 22!

In a Witch's Wardrobe hit #22 on the New York Times Bestsellers list!

I've read the New York Times ever since I moved to New York from California, when I was in my early twenties.  Even though I eventually moved back to California, I've always kept a subscription...and I've always read the Book Review. 

To see my name listed there is an indescribable feeling. 

When I first started writing books, it was a lark.  It was so much fun to spend time with my characters, think up story lines, and not have to footnote anything! (I used to write academic articles, which is a very different kind of writing, to say the least.)

But I never *really* thought I would be published. 

And even once I was published, I never *really* thought I'd be able to quit the day job.

When the books were doing well enough to allow me to quite my day job, I never *really* thought they'd keep doing well.

And then what happened?  I look at the bestsellers list, and there's my book, right there in the New York Times! (sort of -- only the first 20 titles are listed in the print edition of the paper, so I'm only listed on line. But still. I'll take what I can get!)

So thank you thank you thank you, all you readers out there who defy the doomsday predictions that people no longer read fiction.  Thank you for supporting your local independent bookstores, traditional publishers, and authors like me who make a living by sharing our stories with you. 

You have *seriously* made my month! 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Book Birthday!

Tomorrow's my book birthday!!! In a Witch's Wardrobe comes out tomorrow, July 3! In it, Lily Ivory goes to the Art Deco ball and comes across a woman who's fallen under the spell of a cursed corsage.  In order to track down whoever has been fooling around with deadly botany, she'll have to call on all her resources --including Oscar the familiar, of course.

I don't have big plans for my book birthday.  I used to celebrate big time, every time...but after a while I started to feel a little chagrined, forcing my friends to celebrate each and every time.  After all, do I throw them a party every time they finish a project at work?

Still, I enjoyed my book release fetes. My very first book birthday was, of course, the most exciting.  I could barely believe it the first time I stopped by my local Barnes and Noble and saw Feint of Art sitting on a shelf, so shiny and pretty!  A friend hosted a huge release party at her house, and we invited dozens of friends. 

When my second book, Shooting Gallery, came out I rented an art gallery/bar in San Francisco and had a big party focused on art-- and wine, of course!

  And with the third, Brush with Death, which is set at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, the Chapel management invited me to have my party and reading right there in the columbarium.  It might sound strange to have a party in a big old mausoleum, but for a mystery writer,  what could be cooler?

Since then, though, I have to admit I've grown lazier.  I do readings  with my Witchcraft Mysteries and the Haunted Home Renovation series, but I haven't thrown myself a huge release party in a long while.  In part it's because a person gets busy, writing so many books.  I always have one book due every time another is coming out, so I'm under a deadline at the same time as I'm trying to promote a new book.

But it's a shame not to take some time, breathe a little, and remember that miraculous feeling of having my words wrapped up in a professional package, a lovely --and in the case of the Witchcraft books, a *glittery*-- cover, and sitting on bookstore bookshelves...where I have found so much happiness over the years as a reader.  I adore reading, and still know the thrill of realizing one of my favorite authors has a book out.
Sometimes celebration is as simple as a Ding Dong and good wine, provided by friends  

So if you're a Witchcraft mystery fan I hope you'll pick up In a Witch's Wardrobe at your earliest convenience, or request it at the library, and let me know what you think!  Meanwhile...maybe I'll throw myself a mini-celebration with patient friends, and thank my lucky stars that I get to be an author.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Annie Kincaid and Art Forgery

A lot of readers are asking me when the next Annie Kincaid Art Lover's Mystery is coming out.

I wish I knew.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Art Lover's Mystery series, I'll say this: It was my first foray into writing.  It was my entree into the world of publishing, into making a living as an author, into friendships with other authors --it ushered in a whole new phase of my life.

I love this series.  Cherish Annie Kincaid, and her quirky friends and associates.  Adore the crazy world of art fraud, forgery, and theft.  Plus, I wrote the series with my sister Carolyn, who's a super smart history professor by day...our mutual project was so much fun, taught us so much, and brought us even closer as sisters.

The series has a lot of SERIOUS, committed fans, and FEINT OF ART was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. 

Unfortunately, the Art Lover's books did not have the sales numbers the publisher wanted (needed) to see, so the series was cancelled after the third installment,  BRUSH WITH DEATH.  Carolyn and I had been working on the fourth, ARSENIC AND OLD PAINT, so we finished it up and published it with Perseverance Press -- a wonderful, small publishing company that specializes in continuing on with popular series that have been discontinued. 

I was fortunate that I had a great relationship with my editor at Signet (a Penguin imprint) and she asked me if I had anything else "sitting in a drawer somewhere" that she might read.  Thus, the Witchcraft Mystery Series was born, and then the Haunted Home Renovation series.  I was lucky this time -- both series have become national bestsellers, and Dead Bolt (latest in the Haunted Home Renovation series) was a New York Times bestseller!

I love writing, and I feel confident that I write good books.  That doesn't mean everyone will like them, of course -- what we choose to spend our precious time reading is a very personal choice.  But I am hyper- aware that there are many great books that never quite catch on with readers, just as there are some wretched novels that strike the right chord at the right time and become huge sellers.  There are things that can be done to help a book, of course, and every author in the world is happy to enumerate precisely what the publisher or booksellers could have done to better support their novels.

But when all is said and done, I believe it's mostly about luck.  Good placement at the bookstores, a great cover, a general zeitgeist that swings toward your topic, chatty librarians or book group leaders who happen upon your novel and push it to their friends...any of those things can make or break a novel, and a series.

It broke my heart when the Annie Kincaid series was cancelled.  But there's one attribute an author must have: persistence.  In the immortal words of song, "you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again." Or, you know, get a job at a coffee shop.

So all of that's possible that Annie and the gang might rise again.  Both of my paranormal series have done so well that the publisher is talking about the possibility of re-issuing the Art Lover's Series with the Juliet Blackwell name, as in "Blackwell writing as Hailey Lind".  If it happens, we would add another two or three books to round out the series...and maybe even conclude a few hanging threads, like which fascinating man Annie winds up with...

In the meantime, if there are any Annie Kincaid lovers out there who want to send along ideas for the next few books, well...I'm already working up ideas :-)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Let Fly Your Inner Anthropologist 

Not long ago I had coffee with an SFPD Homicide Inspector. We chatted about crime scenes. A friend of mine, who just happens to be an Assistant District Attorney in San Francisco, set it up for me. Yep. That’s me. Hanging out with ADAs and Homicide Inspectors like it’s No Big Deal. Just me and the City’s movers and shakers.

Dontcha just love research?

Maybe it’s because I was trained as an anthropologist, and then worked as a social worker. I adore listening to people, watching them, studying them, interviewing them. Even in my latest occupation–painting murals and faux finishes in people’s homes—I love listening in while I paint. When you work in someone’s house for a while, you become a piece of the furniture. Rich people, especially, seem to easily forget you’re there. Not that I'm a gossip, but it fascinates me to see how differently people view the world. Give me a glass of wine and a few hours, and I could tell you stories

Which is precisely my point. When we writers talk about research, most of us think of Google –and indeed, it’s a fabulous, irreplaceable resource. (Seriously, what did we ever do without it?) But to me, the biggest part of being a writer is listening, watching, observing. In anthropology, "hanging around and noticing things" is a legitimate form of qualitative research, called "fieldwork."

For my latest series featuring a witch with a vintage clothing store, I've gone to coven meetings and spent afternoons wandering aimlessly around Haight Street scouting secondhand clothing. I've interviewed witches and store owners. I've mixed up herbal balms and observed a clothing conservationist doing the laundry (much more interesting than it might sound).

If I sit around waiting for my imagination to come up with random ideas, I’m in for a long wait. Life, on the other hand, is chock-full-o' stories for the borrowing. The other day I noticed a torn note under a windshield wiper: “Amber: call this number. Trust me. 555-8769” ... my imagination was stoked. Was it from an old boyfriend? Could Amber owe money to someone? Was it a job opportunity? Has a child has been kidnapped and only Amber will be able to save it?

How about a ratty leather satchel left on BART, covered in French stickers? A frail old woman being helped from the bus by a punk in a thug outfit? A stripper with a chatty streak? Life is fascinating, and everyone has a story. I mean everyone. The kid on the way to school with a backpack half her body size. The fiftyish neighbor who lives alone with cats. The mail carrier who keeps misdelivering mail. They’ve all got something to say…and even if they don’t, I’ll bet I can make something up for them based on clues in their dress, bearing, and mode of speech.
Overheard the other day while standing in line for coffee: “So the stripper says to me, this guy is obsessed with the Lord of the Rings. He wants to be Frodo and her to be a Faery Queen. 'Cept, of course, naked."

Hmm, I feel a story coming on.

I love research.

Monday, June 11, 2012

New Books!

Marketing.  Speaking strictly for's a draaaaag. 

Which might explain why I've made nary a peep that my newest book, IN A WITCH'S WARDROBE, is coming out in a couple of weeks!  July 3, to be precise.  Just in time for beach reading, mountain reading, garden get the drift :-) In time for vacation, or at least sunny evenings after work! 

Sooo, here 'tis:  

Pretty, huh?  I can't take any credit for the artwork, of course -- that's all due to the brilliant Victor Rivas, an illustrator from Spain. 

In IN A WITCH'S WARDROBE Lily encounters a sinister sleeping spell while at the annual Art Deco Ball...and finds herself in the path of a killer.  

What's that you say?  You'd like a sneak peek?  Why sure...check out my website, 

You can buy IN A WITCH'S WARDROBE in oh-so-many places.  Please ask for it at your local independent bookstore (most will be happy to pre-order for you), find it on the shelves at the big retailers, or order on line from: 
Mysterious Galaxy
Barnes and Noble 

Oh, one more thing...did you know those first week sales are critical numbers for any author?  So if you're going to buy the book anyway, please consider pre-ordering or buying within the first week.  It's sort of like the first week's box-office sales for a movie...means I'm popular! 

And while we're talking pre-ordering...have you seen my new cover for MURDER ON THE HOUSE, coming out in December?   The third novel in theHaunted Home Renovation series, MOTH (cool, huh?) is in final copyedits at the moment, so it's moving right along!  In it, Mel Turner is vying to transform a gorgeous old Castro Street home into a haunted bed and breakfast...but in order to win the job she has to survive the night in the creaky old place.  Available for pre-order any time!!!

All Roads Lead to Austen

I am a guest on the wonderful blog, All Roads Lead to Austen.  Whether you're a fan of Jane Austen or not, this is a fun and creative blog about teaching, writing, and adapting universal themes to the world around us.

As for me?  I'm yammering on again about myself, my books, and how I write.  Sometimes I'm even interesting!  Hope you stop by and check it out!

Thursday, June 7, 2012 just kill me!

I felt compelled to write a note here because, well, I promised to keep up with the blog.  But the manuscript for Tarnished and Torn, the fifth novel in the Witchcraft Mystery Series, is due at the end of June.  Which means, of course, that I'm losing my mind.

I raised a son, and one of my frequent admonitions was: "Don't wait until the last minute.  Do your work ahead of time. No sense putting off 'til tomorrow what you can do today."  And the crazy thing?  He listened.  He's now at college and he's very organized and wise about looking ahead and figuring out what he'll need to finish early so he's not under too much stress at crunchtime. 

If only I took my own advice! 

It's not as though I'm not writing all along, of course. I write just about every day.  It's just...I have commitment issues.  The plot keeps shifting and changing, I keep bringing in new ideas, I might be working on a different novel entirely.  Its not until the last few months that I force myself to actually tease out the storyline and stick to it.  And then finish it. And then polish it. 

And of course life intervenes.  There are birthdays, and holidays, and sunny days when I simply *have* to join a friend for a walk around the lake to see the ducklings and goslings.  There are colds and heartaches and sick friends who need my time and attention.

So here I am, once again, with a deadline looming, writing like crazy.  But you know what?  It's still the best job EVER.  And I must remind myself how much fun I have when I get to do things like hang out with my homies at writing conferences...

Me, Nicole Peeler, and Sophie Littlefield
Malice Domestic Conference, 2012
We look like we're in the same band--
but it was pure chance that we dressed in a color-coordinated fashion!

So how about you?  Any words of advice for getting down to work? Or how to survive Deadline Brain?  Or tales of your own procrastination (so I don't feel like such an idiot)???

Saturday, June 2, 2012

And we have a winner!

The winner of the audio version of Secondhand Spirits (Tantor) read by Xe Sands is...  Yay!  Congrats!  Let Xe and me know how you like it!