Friday, June 29, 2012


Changing of the Guard (Dog)

It took me a while to warm up to Sam.
When we My brought our first golden retriever home, my partner picked the name Sam, and I agreed, if we could stretch the name out to Samwise Gamgee. I’m a big Tolkien fan, and I had the feeling this dog was going to become my boon companion, the way Samwise is to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings.
But at first, Sam was more fiend than friend. When he came to live with us, he was a five-month-old golden retriever with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. That puppy enthusiasm never seemed to let up, and after a month or two I was complaining, “That dog sucks all the air out of the house. He never leaves me alone!”
I took him for 45-minute walks morning and evening to keep him tired out. Fed him, played with him, kept him from destroying pens, cell phones and pieces of furniture. He slept in my room and followed me around the house. Every time I turned around, it seemed, I had to step over a big dog.
But all that time spent together bonded us to one another, and as time went on my obsession with him grew. I decorated my car and my office with stickers and slogans including “My golden retriever is smarter than your honor student,” and “If you don’t love goldens, you’re just stupid.” His picture was my computer desktop, and I forced him to submit to Santa hats and Harry Potter glasses for photo ops.
Eventually he even invaded my writing. With my friend, dog breeder and trainer Sharon Sakson, I co-edited Paws and Reflect, a book of essays in which gay men proclaimed their love for their dogs. I gave the hero of my Hawaii detective series a golden named Roby. But I had to go farther: I had to write a book about Sam.
Writing about the real dog, though, was boring, even for me. How many times could I wax lyrically about how cute he was when he perked his ears up? About the sound of his gnawing a bone while I was trying to concentrate?
Instead, I started to make up a dog. I called him Rochester, after the romantic hero of Jane Eyre, because when he entered the picture he belonged to a woman who’d given up on finding a human version of her ideal. Very quickly, though, his mom was killed, and he was temporarily adopted by her next-door-neighbor, who definitely did not love dogs.
He was a lot like me when Sam was a puppy. Rochester got into a lot of the same kind of mischief, but as Sam did, Rochester wormed his way into the heart of my protagonist, Steve Levitan. He’s a middle-aged guy recovering from his wife’s miscarriages, their divorce, and a brief prison term for computer hacking.  He needs to rediscover his ability to love—which is something Rochester helps a lot with.
Since the book I was writing was a murder mystery, once Rochester won over Steve’s heart, he went nose to ground in search of clues to uncover his mom’s murderer. The two of them made a great team, and I enjoyed writing In Dog We Trust a lot, especially because my inspiration, Samwise, was always handy, snoozing behind my chair or sprawled in the hallway outside the office door.
Sam inspired another book, The Kingdom of Dog, and then the first draft of a third, Dog Helps Those. By the time I finished that draft, though, Sam was failing. He had open sores on his legs that wouldn’t heal, and our walks, once wide-ranging, grew shorter and shorter. Sometimes I even had to carry him home when he couldn’t make it on his own.
When we finally had to say goodbye to Sam, I put the manuscript for Dog Helps Those away. I couldn’t work on it any more, because it reminded me too much of Sam. Our house was quiet, and for the first time in twelve years there was no dog to welcome us home.
We had to grieve for a few months. Sam had been such a presence in our home that it was tough to adjust to life without him. But then, after some time had passed, a new puppy flew into our lives. (Literally; he arrived from Oregon on a Continental Airlines flight.) He came to us with the name Brody, and I added “Baggins” as his last name, to keep that hobbit connection to Samwise alive.
Brody’s just as wild as Sam once was, though he has a lot of new tricks that are uniquely his own. His early exposure to air travel has translated into flying jumps from one sofa to another, even up over the gate we put in place to keep him from traveling upstairs. He likes tennis balls more than Sam did, and he chases lizards and birds, along with the squirrels Sam was fond of going after.
Having Brody in the house let me go back to Dog Helps Those—he helped both of us get over our grief and enjoy the love of a new puppy. He’s also inspiring new tricks and antics for Rochester—the fourth book in the series is already starting to take shape. For now, though, I still have to stop, often while typing the middle of a sentence, to see what the little angel/demon has dug his teeth into.
But I’m warming up to him, just as I did with Sam, and I’m looking forward to another long, productive partnership.

Friday, June 22, 2012

GUEST BLOGGER: Elle Lothlorien

Sleepy Stories: How Real Life Makes For Great Fiction (and Vice Versa)

The last thing I remember, I was in an elevator, rattling with agitation like a washing machine trying to spin an uneven load of laundry. A kind woman in a uniform—maybe police, maybe security—stood next to me. “Sorry, I get tired,” I tried to tell her through my tears. My words came out like mush.
When I wake up, I’m on a hotel room bed in my clothes. I sit up fast, trying to make sense of what’s happened. I can hear people talking, but I can’t see them. Then it all comes back to me.  
Hotel. Grand Hyatt. Conference.
A woman appears from the hallway, and I’m relieved to find that I know her. She’s my friend and my roommate, and I’m at Thrillerfest, a writer’s conference held every year in New York City. She asks me how I feel, but she doesn’t ask “what happened?” She might not know the specifics, but she has a pretty good idea.
I have narcolepsy. My body’s sleep-wake cycle doesn’t work properly. No matter how many hours of sleep I’ve had—five, eight, twelve—I feel like I’ve been on a sleepless bender for a week. As a result, my brain is always trying to put me to sleep. It doesn’t care where I am, or what I’m doing, or who I’m with.
I outsmart it with a medication that I take every three hours, using an alarm on my phone to remind me. When the alarm goes off, I have about a ten minute window in which to take my next dose. If I don’t, things start to happen, cascading from bad to worse, until I either take my medicine or find something go to sleep on. 
Unfortunately for me, when my alarm sounded, my pills were in my room. Even more unfortunate: I couldn’t get the hotel room door open. We’d complained several times since our arrival about the lock; sometimes the key would work, sometimes it wouldn’t. This was a “sometimes it wouldn’t” situation.
By the time I reached the lobby, my head was already filling with cobwebs. I found a person wearing a hotel uniform and I blurted out the words I’d been reciting over and over in my mind: “I can’t get into my room, and I’m having a medical emergency!”
Maybe he heard “I can’t find my broom, and I’m here for the insurgency!” because he told me to stand in line at the front desk.
And that was it. Time was up, sand through the hourglass, the window closed.
First to go are nouns. I can “see” the words in my head that I’m trying to say—cat, mat, rat—but when I try to say them, it’s like the worst version of “cat’s got your tongue” you can imagine. One noun that I am able to say: “thing.” As in: “Can you hand me the thing on the thing?” As the situation goes from bad to worse, I sound like I have a mouthful of rocks, no matter what I say.
 Next to set in is the confusion. Suddenly, I don’t know where I am. My brain feels like a huge bank of old, rusty filing cabinets, with drawers chock-full of useful information—if only I could open them. Mine are stuck. No matter how hard I pull, they won’t budge.
As I stumbled around the hotel lobby in circles, my panic growing right alongside an irresistible need to sleep, I could hear people behind me muttering.  
“I don’t know what she’s doing.”
“I think she’s drunk.”
“Call security.”
Many people think they know what narcolepsy is because they’ve “seen it on TV.” What I call “Hollywood narcolepsy,” is typically used for comic effect in movies or TV, usually by some guy stopping in mid-conversation, falling face-first into a bowl of shrimp bisque, and sawing logs like a lumberjack.
If you want to get technical, the full-body collapse described above is a symptom of narcolepsy called “cataplexy.” My cataplexy is mild by comparison, with speech loss, slurred words, mild muscle control problems in my face, arms and legs (hence the mushy sounding words and the stumbling), confusion, and blackouts. After about ten minutes, one of two things will happen:

1.     I will take my medicine.
2.     I will sleep.

Whichever one I do, I will feel completely normal twenty to thirty minutes later.
Narcolepsy is a pain in the ass. My symptoms have worsened in the nearly ten years I’ve had it, and it’s affected almost every part of my life: work, family, hobbies. Everyone in my family and most of my friends know I have it (hang around me long enough and it becomes a little difficult to hide). I wear a medical alert bracelet (in case I lose the ability to speak clearly, or I need to lie down and sleep, I can just hold it out to someone and won’t have to worry that they’ll call 911 or security). It reads:

May have slurred speech
or become suddenly sleepy
This is not a medical emergency

When readers crack open my romantic comedy/suspense Sleeping Beauty or the “alternate ending” version Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up! they find this dedication:
For my mother, Linda Loy, who selflessly and lovingly
put the pieces of my life back together while I slept.

After reading that, it’s natural for people to assume that there is an autobiographic element to Sleeping Beauty—that is, that the main character, Claire Beau, is a fictionalized me.
She is not.

In December 2010, my romantic comedy The Frog Prince became an Amazon bestseller. Unfortunately, I was still flailing around, still thinking about my next book. I knew I had to stick to the “loose riff on a fairy tale” theme that had made Frog so popular, but I was fresh out of ideas. And then…
One morning on NPR, I heard a story about a young woman who suffered from a sleep disorder called Klein-Levin Syndrome (KLS), also called "Sleeping Beauty Syndrome." KLS is severely debilitating, with sufferers experiencing prolonged bouts of sleep combined with blackout periods that can last for day or weeks. Oftentimes, they will appear by others to be functioning perfectly normal, but will have no recollection of this time after they "wake up."
Two things I took away from this story:

1.     Someone has it worse than me.
2.     C’mon…“Sleeping Beauty Syndrome?” It was like I’d prayed to the fiction gods, and they’d delivered with all the subtlety of a safe dropped on my head.

Sleeping Beauty (A Romantic Comedy/Suspense) started out as a straightforward comedy about a woman who "wakes up" to find that she had supposedly in the middle of a whirlwind love affair with a man she despises. Not long after I began the novel, the symptoms of my own illness worsened, beginning with mini-blackouts called “automatic behavior” that lasted about ten or fifteen seconds. Although I’d appear to be functioning normally to anyone watching—having a conversation, loading the dishwasher—I’d “come to” and have blanks in my memory, or be in a room I didn’t remember walking to. Depending on what I’m doing and where I am, this can be mildly irritating or hugely embarrassing. If I’m at home, the damage is minimal. If I’m in public, I might “come to” in the middle of conversation with someone, and ask them a question I apparently already asked, or suddenly just “check out,” my eyes going out of focus, my eyelids drooping, and my jaw dropping open.
Although the characters in Sleeping Beauty are very funny, and they find themselves in situations that are very humorous (à la The Frog Prince), as I wrote it, the story began to take a more somber, mysterious turn. This was a result, no doubt, of the struggle I was having managing the long-term effects of narcolepsy in my own life.
The Frog Prince became a bestseller after only three months. Sleeping Beauty, at six months, was a little more sluggish to do so. (Perhaps it was tired.) It will, I think, always be the novel nearest and dearest to my heart. Every laugh and tear in the book was cathartic to write, and I often think that if Claire Beau was a real person, we would understand each other very well.
Hell, if either of us was able to stay awake long enough, we might even be friends.

My next romantic comedy Rapunzel will be out later this summer, followed by Alice in Wonderland just in time for Christmas.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Guest Blogger: Bette Golden Lamb and J. J. Lamb

Well, there we were: we’d just finished our second co-authored hardback thriller for Five Star, thought we were on our way to becoming credible mid-list, if not best-selling, authors, and suddenly the publishing world started falling apart.

We didn’t stop writing, of course, but the mss. started piling up and we were running out of shelf space, and places to send queries to agents and publishers.

First, a word or two about co-authoring and cohabiting.

It didn’t start out as a joint venture. J.J. was the writer -- journalism, short stories, and an original paperback (OPB) PI series. Bette was an artist, ceramist, sculptor, and RN.

The jumping off place for collaboration came when Bette had this “great idea” for a novel and wanted J.J. to write it. After being put off for several months by a reluctant J.J., Bette dove in head-first and wrote a complete 300-page, medical/political thriller.

Then came some dual-byline short stories (the co-writing thing was working without our killing one another), and eventually full-length novels. That first wonderful phone call -- “We’d like to publish your novel” -- came for BONE DRY, a medical thriller, followed by HEIR TODAY…, a suspense-adventure-romance.

We’re now on our seventh co-authored book after being warned by others in the beginning that to collaborate and cohabit would end in disaster. After trying a number of approaches, we’ve settled on one of us writing a first draft, with input on characters, plot development, and settings coming from the other. The second draft goes to the non- originating partner. The final version evolves from the two of us literally sitting side by side at the computer keyboard.

The surprising result is that a book morphs into a style that is neither of our individual writing voices. Rather, it becomes a third voice that confounds friends, who are unable to correctly identify who wrote which part of the book. Even we can’t always remember the origins of characters, scenes, and dialogue.

During our struggle to find an agent and/or publisher, we took a tentative step into the world of e-books, which was coming out of infancy and into its terrible twos.

After a few more near misses with agents and publishers, we decided enough was enough, did a lot of research, and became independent publishers of e-books and trade paperbacks.

Although, as traditionalists, we looked somewhat askance at e-publishing, we gave it a try as a means of keeping our two published books “in print.” We also arranged to have the two titles turned into audio books. The nice thing was that neither of these reaching-out ventures cost us any up-front money. Almost like “real” publishing.

The first was SISTERS IN SILENCE, the story of a fertility counselor who lives in a world of disappointment, lost love, unfulfilled expectations, mental pain, and a deadly desire to make things right through a series of “mercy” killings.

The most recent, SIN & BONE, delves into the illicit and dangerous trade in human body parts. RN Gina Mazzio (from BONE DRY) investigates and ties together a weird male caller on the Ob/Gyn telephone advice line, the mysterious disappearance of hospital nurses, and a ring of dangerous and illicit dealers in human body parts.

One thing we began notice about the evolving independent e-book publishing scene was that writers with a backlog of books, particularly series, were having the greatest success. We’ll soon have a third Gina Mazzio book out as a follow up to that research. And if that’s successful, we may republish J.J.’s three PI books and pick up on a fourth new one.

Looking at our medical thrillers, an underlying goal for Bette was to create a strong nurse protagonist in contrast to the usual doctor-hero approach that dominates novels, movies, and television. Something more like “Nurse Jackie,” but without the nose candy.

Still, we didn’t want the books to be flat-out amateur sleuth novels. So, in each story the nurse protagonist manages to gain the support, usually reluctant at first, of someone from an official investigative agency.

Critical to these stories is not getting any of the medical facts wrong. So far, we’ve had nothing but praise about the medical aspects of our books. While you can research and write about most anything, nothing beats having actual experience in a field, which provides the basis to dig into any part of that profession to help make your story authentic.

Further on the subject of accuracy, organizations like Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace have given writers the ability to publish their own e-books and trade paperbacks without having to learn difficult technical skills. It’s almost like the follow-the-bouncing-ball approach to singing.

But, and that’s a very big but, there are no gatekeepers in this wonderful new world of independent publishing. Bad grammar, poorly plotted stories, amateurish formatting, and a host of other problems run rampant in the field. If ever there as a place for caveat emptor, this is that place.

In the meantime, we continue to enjoy the incredible advantages of writing and sleeping together, which include having a wonderful and supportive companion at writer/fan conferences, not being lonely on book-signing tours, and, most important, having someone always there for you when you wake up in the middle of the night with the world’s greatest story idea.

Bette Golden Lamb

J.J. Lamb!ZTRolfeIII

Friday, June 8, 2012


            “All self-published novels are crap.”  A friend of mine made that pronouncement recently, not knowing that I was involved in exactly that process—editing, cover art solicitation, font selection, book design, acknowledgments, marketing and more—up to my eyeballs. 
            Now I’m here to tell her—and anybody out there who shares that opinion—that they’re flat-out wrong!  (I try not to be defensive about this subject, so please try not to read that into the tone of this blog. J)  Here’s my story:

            My first mystery/thriller, Unreasonable Risk, was published in 2006 by a traditional small publisher (who shall remain nameless here) in hardcover at $27.99.  They had no plans to publish it later in paperback, and e-books were barely on anybody’s radar back then.  That publisher turned out to be less than stellar (if you email me, I’ll tell you more), and is now listed as “Strongly Not Recommended” by Preditors & Editors. 
            When I finished the second in the series, Through Dark Spaces, I actually considered going back to my original publisher simply because I wasn’t sure I could do the job myself.  But they were still publishing expensive hardcovers and, in the stumbling economy of 2009, I suspected that few readers would be willing to fork over $30 for an author they didn’t know.  Then I learned that my publisher was also printing paper copies of its books—in magazine format.  That made me grimace and shake my head.  Magazine?  No way.
            I tried to find another publisher, an agent, anybody who would bite on the second book, but had no luck.  Everybody liked it, but just not quite enough.  And it was a book for which they had not published or represented the first in the series.  After another year of trying to find a traditional publisher, I gave up and stuck the manuscript on a thumb drive, tossed it into my junk drawer and continued work on another project. 
            But I really like this book, so about six months later, after reading Joe Konrath’s blog (among many), I decided to publish it myself.  And here’s my secret:  I’m an engineer.  Yeah, geeky science girl.  But the thing about engineers is that we’re meticulous.  We follow through.  We ask lots of questions and don’t let go until we’re satisfied with the answers.  We learn all the way down to the details; it’s what makes us so irritating. J And that’s how I approached self-publishing.
            I asked my sister-in-law Kate Brennan Hall to do my cover.  I wanted it to be simple, stylized, easy to identify, easy to read in the thumbnail size shown on amazon and other e-dealers.  She read the book and sent me a simple, tailored cover that I love.  I worked on the book design for weeks, editing for months.  I’m still working on marketing and publicity.

            And the product, I am happy to say, is NOT crap!

            I hope you’ll go to Amazon and take a look inside this book, Through Dark Spaces.  Here’s the teaser:

When Hannah Morrison takes an environmental consulting job at a South Dakota surface mine, she doesn’t expect to confront her darkest, most personal fears. In the course of her work, as she discovers secret after secret, Hannah realizes that somebody is poisoning the water in the Black Hills. Who--and why? Driven to solve the problem and find the people responsible, Hannah finds herself deep underground, trapped in the darkest of spaces--with a murderer.



Thursday, June 7, 2012

Summer Guest Blogs

The Henderson Files is starting the Summer off with brand new Guest Author Blogs. Tomorrow, Friday, June 8th, a new self-pubbed author will be here Guest Blogging. New Guest Blogs will appear mostly weekly through September, with open weeks between for "wild" blogging by yours truly. I have a  new lesbian Gothic Historical Romance coming up and will be releasing book trailers, etc. here on The Henderson Files.

Come back tomorrow, Friday, and discover new indie authors that just might be your cup of reading tea.