Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A tale of two conferences

Laura Hayden of Author Author, center
 Bookends. That’s how it worked out. Killer Nashville ran from Aug 24 to 26 and Dragon*Con was from Aug 30 to Sept 3. During my three days of down time I barely had time to empty the suitcase and reload it.

Not sure I’ll book back-to-back events again, but when the dates to things you want to attend are preset, sometimes you don’t have any choice. Killer Nashville is my favorite mystery conference and I don’t want to miss that. I have two science fiction books written so I needed to attend a conference in that genre. Dragon*Con is held in Atlanta, which is a five-hour drive, so it all seemed feasible.

Since the conferences were so different, I’ll talk about each one separately.

Beth Terrell, me, Robbie from B&N
What fun to hang out with Clay Stafford and Beth “Jaden” Terrell again! I met this conference producer and director duo at my first KN and we’ve kept in touch ever since. Beth was her Energizer Bunny self, keeping the train moving without ever losing her cool. Despite Clay’s recent accidents, he was on hand to welcome folks and that was much appreciated.

 The first night was a hoot with Mystery Bingo, created by Greg and Mary Bruss. They created clever cards with mysterious categories. In the “I” category were means of death. You wouldn’t believe how many times “gas” came up as the answer. After a dozen rounds of bingo and no gas at all on my card, I traded that loser in for one with gas on it, and three games later, came up a winner. The prizes were free mysteries from the Bruss’ store Mysteries and More. I selected Murder of a Sleeping Beauty by Denise Swanson, which I read in one night. (good book!)

me with Dr. Bill Bass
Friday, I helped with Registration, from 7:30 a.m. until nearly noon. I took a brief time-out to hear part of Dr. Bill Bass’ talk about forsenics at a fireworks factory explosion. While the slides were gruesome, the reality is that people aren’t whole after an explosion, and it takes a big effort to reassemble them. (What a job, right?) One interesting aside is that he said that shaved legs are common for women, so if they find a shaved leg, they automatically place it into a female pile of limbs.

My husband and I had lunch with Robert Spiller of Colorado and my agent, Holly McClure of Sullivan Maxx at the nearby brew pub. The food was great, the conversation even better.
I participated in the E-revolution panel on Friday. Peter Green, the moderator, did a good job of keeping the discussion on track, and I felt like I got my message across. E-publishing isn’t for wimps. It’s hard work, though the payoffs can be wonderful.

The crime scene dummy and an intrepid author
I shopped at the Barnes and Noble bookstore onsite as well as at the Mysteries and More site where I purchased crime scene bandaids. I can’t wait to use them! The Crime Scene was great, and though I thought the wife did it, I didn't have the patience to prove it.

For dinner, my husband and I met up with my editor Deni Dietz of Five Star and we drove to The Speckled Elephant for Thai food. Deni’s dish of Phad Thai (spelling?) was the best, we all agreed.

me with Jennie Bentley
 I caught up with old friends and made new ones including Ernie Lancaster, Glen Allison, and Stacy Allen. NYT bestseller Jennie Bentley was all smiles during the conference. And we had a great time catching up on news. Alana White, fellow Five Star author, and her husband sat at the banquet table with us on Saturday night, along with Outer Banks writer Joseph Terrell and Veronica. The food and the music at KN were outta sight.

During the conference, I met up with three unpublished writers for critique purposes. We talked about their works, and I hope my remarks will continue to move them along the road to publication. I also staffed the MWA booth with Stacy Allen and SEMWA president Rick Helms.

Maggie, Jay, Marsha, Addie, Terri Lynn
 On Sunday, I had the honor of moderating a panel on Murder and Mayhem which was staffed by four lawyers telling true tales from the courtroom. Jay Drescher, Terri Lynn Cooper, Marsha Lyons, and Addie King – you folks rock.

Doris and Steve Covey
 My posse of Stephen Covey (the live one, as he likes to say), Doris Covey, and Jean Osborn arrived in Atlanta a little after one on Thursday. We checked into our hotel, hopped on MARTA, and picked up our badges at the conference site. Downtown looked busy to a smalltown gal like me, but I  had NO IDEA of the crowds to come, about 30,000 strong.

Jean with the Ghostbuster mobile
 Jean had signed up for a special program which ran from 10 to 4 Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, so I didn’t hang with her much during the con, though she was the best roommate ever.

 I elected to attend the Writers Workshop track at Dragon*Con, which is chaired by Nancy Knight. She kindly offerred to place me on a panel of my choosing, so I selected “Creating Memorable Characters” on Sunday morning. We sat through a couple of excellent panels and then decided to stretch our legs.

costumed participant
My first thought was “where’d all these people come from?” The hallways were thronged with people between sessions from each of the 62 tracks spread over 4 downtown hotels. Skywalks and connectors were crammed with people and you couldn’t move without the whole group stepping forward. For a claustrophobic person, this was extremely challenging.

 Steve and I toured the marketplaces associated with the conference and the art show. Lots of weapons, costumes, comics, bustiers, books, space toys, masks, hoodwinks, fantasy toys, and more. I couldn’t take it all in. There was an excess of everything.

costumed folks took to the streets during the parade
Did I mention a lot of folks were in costume? You could be walking down the hall next to Princess Leia, a steampunk character, a comicbook character, and so much more. Words fail me even now. It’s as if a firehose of people were sprayed over my mind. Lots of rich color and texture.

 I resolved to only come out of the Writers Track for food, bathroom breaks, and to return to our hotel six metro stops to the north. I met some folks, even some who knew me, which is always a pleasant surprise. Mary Marvella, who I’ve run across online for years, saw my name on my badge and stood up and hugged me like a long-lost relative. We had a two-hour lunch where we talked about everything under the sun. Ran into Laura Hayden at DragonCon as well - what fun! She was dressed as Dr. Who.

periodic table elements in the parade
 My panel on Sunday went well, though I was one of half a dozen authors with such serious scifi credentials that I should have been too humbled to speak. But memorable characters are something I know a lot about, from personal experience and writing, so I said my piece. During Q&A, questions were directed at me, so I felt my presence had made an impact. Afterwards, I sat down with a rheumatologist and talked writing for nearly a half hour. What fun.

parade float
 All too soon it was time to head back to the hotel. Monday was a travel day, but Steve and Jean wanted to hit a few more sessions. Doris and I went to Lennox Center, shopped at Macy’s, and had lunch at Panera. The car ride home that afternoon was accented by thunderstorms, a bad accident on I-75 between Atlanta and Macon, and catnaps.

all tuckered out on Marta
 Again. Either experience would have exhausted me. But doing two so close together has me still reeling a bit. I hope you’ve enjoyed the pics. Remember to follow your dreams. And don’t forget to spend time with your friends. These are important!!!

 Maggie Toussaint

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sitting on eggs - hatching creativity

"Sits on eggs" was the crossword puzzle clue.

The space was too long for hens, too short for chickens. My brain chugged to a start, trying to figure out what would fit. Crosswords are often humbling for my poor brain. The foreign words are challenges; the literary references are above my pedestrian taste.

But I'm an author, I say to myself. Surely, I can come up with a word that means sits on eggs.

But what?

I tapped my pen on the newspaper, hoping for inspiration, lightning, or both.

A moment later, it came to me: broods.

I hadn't thought about brooding as sitting on eggs since I was a kid. As an author, I tend to brood more about the amount of promotion I can't get to, about the reviews I need to garner, about the manuscript I hope to get contracted, and more.

That got me to thinking. If brooding is sitting on eggs, that's definitely waiting, but it's a creative/fertile waiting because something new and good is going to hatch from it.

Like keeping the home fires burning, brooding for writers is more productive when you focus your energies on "eggs" within your reach.

Can you control how many people review your book? No.

Can you control what the reviews say or how many stars there are? No.

Can you control if an editor will contract your book? No.

Can you control how well edited your submission is? Yes.

Can you control your weekly word count? Yes.

I discovered that I tend to brood about tasks/chores I'm not fond of. "Ugh, I've got to weed my flower beds," I'll think - for days - before I finally stir myself to doing it. Another source of my brooding, "What will I cook for dinner?" When we're on diets, I go to the diet book and fix what it says. And because we're being strict about the diet, all of the ingredients will be on hand. Normally I grocery shop by the seat of my pants; that's how I cook too, and in a hurry. It's never great, but it's decent and digestible.

No point in brooding about either of these jobs. They have to be done. And pretty routinely or there are negative consequences.

Dang! What else have I been wasting energy on? I can do better! I need to nurture those eggs!

What about you? Is there something you brood about that isn't productive? Can you rephrase your thoughts about it and move forward?

Maggie Toussaint

In For A Penny, now on Kindle:
Murder in the Buff, Ariana finalist
Death, Island Style - at your library!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Olympic Silver ... or Bronze .. in publishing

With the theme song from the Olympics drumming in my ear the past week, I've been focused on the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Everyone is thrilled by their Gold medals.

But the other medals, Silver and Bronze, are initially disappointing to many world-class athletes. Sure, everybody shoots for the Gold, but there's only one Gold medalist in each event.

I'm keenly interested in the also-rans, the top stars who either didn't medal or who won Silver and Bronze. You know why? Because in everyday life more of us are the non-Gold medalists. And that's especially true in the world of publishing.

Best in the world in publishing is easy to tell in terms of critical success. Those authors crown the bestseller lists time and again. They engage millions of people at a visceral level.

Publishing stratifies into mid-list next. I think this may be the Silver and Bronze category, depending on the size of your book deal and your sell-through.

After this comes small press and indie pubbed authors. With each step down the bestseller ladder, the number of authors vying for readers increases exponentially. And for many authors, they are content where they are. Sure, everyone wants more sales, but the more sales you have, the higher the demand is for the next book on a quicker timetable.

Lesson learned?

Critical success comes at a price.

Those Olympic athletes have paid it. Every one of them. We authors have paid it, too. We've put in the time, trained and honed our skills, and risked rejection by putting our books out in the field of critics.

Sure, I'd love to receive the publishing equivalent of a Gold medal, but I won't be sad or crying if I happen to win Silver or Bronze.

What's your take on this?

Maggie Toussaint

In For A Penny out now in ebook
more info at

Friday, August 3, 2012

Hey Reader!

The day has finally arrived! My cozy mystery, In For A Penny, is a real steal on Kindle for the next three days. That's right. This wonderful book reviewed by Kirkus, PW and Romantic Times costs absolutely nothing.

There's only one catch - the clock is ticking. Aug 3, 4, and 5, that's Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for you folks like me who are date-challenged, is the extent of the free period. I hope you'll click on over to Amazon and take advantage of this deal.

And, if you're of a like mind, feel free to share the news with anyone who enjoys mysteries! The more, the merrier!

Thanks and happy reading,

Maggie Toussaint
excerpts and reviews of all my titles at 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tending the garden

Tending the garden- now there's a phrase you don't hear a lot these days. Back in the day, people used to tend gardens because they grew their food. I don't know about you, but I can't even grow tomatoes on my patio without something eating them. Much easier to buy something from the farmer's market or grocery store.

But I've been tending a different kind of garden lately. Flower beds. Or, I should say weed beds. Mine get out of hand because I hate weeding, then when I finally get motivated to "weed" I have to hack the weeds out so the bed looks like it wasn't abandoned ten years ago.

Even worse than my flower beds are the ones in a rental property we own. The first owner and the second tenant were gardeners. They took pride in having a bit of this here and a bit of that there, so there's lots of stuff planted in the beds. Both of them liked viney things that grew up on the trellis and softened the fence line.

The second tenant was ill for a number of years and didn't keep the beds up. Though the recently moved-out tenants kept good care of the lawn, they also didn't pay any attention to the beds. Between the rampant wild grape vines, the Virginia creeper, assorted vines, and sticky bushes, it was hard to make a determination about what was supposed to be there.

I've been hacking out weeds as big around as my wrist. They've been there so long, they thought it was home. Not anymore. They are not welcome and have been pulled up and cut back to nothing.

All of which got me to thinking, how many other areas of our lives do we let slide? As a writer, I know I put off all manner of chores and yardwork with the excuse of I'm too busy to do it now. And filing. I put that off too. I have stacks of paper for this subject, writer's group, research project, newsletter, you name it, its on my desk.

Friendships require an investment of time. So does family. How many times do we put off doing something with a friend or family member because we'll get to it later?

And exercise. How many of us don't tend the garden of exercise? I have the best excuses for that. Exercising is even lower on my to-do list than weeding.

But it's a mistake to forget to tend your personal garden. You can potentially jeopardize your health, distance yourself from friend and family, and isolate yourself in the weeds of your life. No one wants that all the time.

So we have to do better. I'm going to put it on my to-do list. What about you?

Maggie Toussaint
In For a Penny out now as an e-book on

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A new "old" release: In For A Penny

E-revolution, here I come!

Announcing the digital release of In For A Penny. It's got a sharp new cover but it's the same fab story reviewers loved in 2007. The list price is $2.99. It will be exclusively available at Kindle for 90 days.

This cozy was my first published mystery, and it opened all kinds of doors for me. I'm delighted to have the opportunity to bring in out in e-format for mystery lovers everywhere.

First, let me introduce you to my amateur sleuth, Cleopatra Jones, small town accountant. She knows everybody and does most of their taxes, but she was the last to find out of her husband's affair. Now two years later, they're divorced but her anger at his adultery comes out in her golf game, causing her score to shoot into the stratosphere and her balls to fly into the woods.

One shot sailed over the green and landed on a dead guy. A dead banker, to be exact. Worse, she knows him. Even worse, the cops are sure her best friend Jonette killed him.

Cleo and Jonette have been best friends since forever. She can't let her BFF go to the slammer, so she starts poking around in the case, turning over rocks, and dodging the nasties that come crawling out.

Want more? An excerpt follows.

Chapter One

The golf course is one of the few places I don’t have to pretend. Oh, I still give the socially correct answer of “fine” when asked how I am, but I am not fine. There’s enough anger churning through my gut to fuel a volcano.

Golf therapy is how I’m relieving my stress. I imagine my ex-husband’s face on every ball I hit, and when I’m done, I’m almost fine.

My name is Cleopatra Jones, Cleo for short. Self-employment allows me to spend my Wednesday mornings playing golf in the Ladies Nine Hole Golf League. So far in today’s round, I hadn’t experienced any signs of rebirth into a nicer, perkier thirty-five-year-old, but I hadn’t given up hope.

Sunbeams danced around me on the number six ladies tee of the Hogan’s Glen Golf Club as I aimed my shoulders at the distant flag. I swung hard. My tee shot hooked left into the trees lining the fairway.

I whacked my driver against the ground. Exorcising Charlie through golf was therapeutic to my mental health, but it was hell on my golf score.

“Provisional ball,” Jonette Moore suggested. People thought of Mutt and Jeff from the comics when they saw us together because I was tall and slender while she was short and stacked. I’d known Jonette since forever, a fact she never let me forget.
Jonette’s tee shot taunted me with its perfect lie in the middle of the fairway. By mutual agreement we’d decided that the winner of the previous round got to drive the golf cart. I can’t remember when I last drove Jonette around the course.

I dropped my provisional ball on the tee box. Hitting this second ball would speed our play if I couldn’t find my first ball. Unfortunately, my provisional ball curved along the same evil trajectory into the woods. 

Drat. I stomped back to the cart. 

“Looks like you’ll be buying more golf balls,” Jonette said with a smirk.

I’d used up my late father’s lifetime accumulation of golf balls during the first year of my golf therapy. If I didn’t find either of my tee shots, I’d only have one ball left for the remaining three holes. Not good. “I’ve been over there before. The underbrush isn’t too thick.”

“Have you given any more thought to going out with that lawyer friend of Dean’s?” 

Jonette asked as we zipped towards the woods. Dean was the current man in Jonette’s life. He was also her boss at the tavern where she waited tables.

The thought of dating twisted my stomach in knots. “Sure I’ve thought about it. And the answer’s no.”

“Damn you, Cleo.” Jonette waggled her finger at me. “Don’t let Charlie win.”

My ex hadn’t won. I was being cautious. I wasn’t giving up. Who said I had to jump back in the dating pool right away? The view from the high dive was terrifying. “I’m not ready.” 

“Maybe some hot guys will move into White Rock. I wouldn’t mind checking them out for you.” 

“That development is wishful thinking and you know it.” The much-hyped new subdivision on the old Wingate farm had stalled in the bulldozer phase of construction. 

“You need to get out of that house.”

“If I wanted to get out of the house, I should take a golf lesson so I don’t spend half my round scouring the woods for my balls.”

“There’s an idea.” Jonette beamed her approval. “The golf pro is definitely hot.”

I sure wished Jonette would get off this dating kick. “Don’t go getting any ideas. I’m not interested in dating.”

“You may be right about Rafe Golden,” Jonette said. “He’s supposedly slept his way through the women of the club. But, he’s such a hunk.”

“I don’t want a man that reeks of sex appeal. If I ever dated again, I’d want someone like me. Hardworking, loyal, trustworthy, family oriented, and obedient.”

Jonette’s mouth gaped. “Where’s the excitement in that? You need someone to sweep you off your feet.”

I leveled my sternest gaze at her. “Forget it.”

Jonette rolled her eyes and huffed her disapproval.

Too bad. If I could erase Charlie from my life, I would, but his weekend visitations with our two daughters put him on my schedule every week.

Shedding Charlie was more difficult than getting fungus out from under a toenail. Just when you thought you had the problem solved, there it was again.

Jonette stopped the cart near where my balls had disappeared into the woods. “Should I help you look?”

“Stay put.” I waved her back in her seat. “I won’t be responsible for you getting poison ivy again.” 

I marched into the thicket alone, kicking through last year’s musty leaves as I searched for my golf balls. A gleam of white beckoned in the honeysuckle-scented shade ahead.

Both balls lay adjacent to each other. That brought a fleeting smile to my face. Hell, if I couldn’t hit straight I’d settle for consistent. “Got ’em,” I called to Jonette as I pocketed my provisional ball.

A massive maple stood between me and the number six green, blocking forward progress. I had no choice but to chip out of the rough and hope for distance on my next shot. Of course if I missed and hit the slender trunks of the myriad of smaller obstacles between me and the fairway I’d quite possibly lobotomize myself. Fair enough.

I marched back to the cart and selected my pitching wedge. “You might want to back up the cart while I hit.”

“Won’t do it.” Jonette smoothed her flirty little red golf skirt. “But you hit me and you are one dead dog.” 

Back in the woods, I took aim at Jonette and whaled away. My ball skimmed over the top of her head and landed in the center of the fairway. 

Success tasted sweet in my mouth. “Hot damn! I’m on a roll.” I jogged back to the cart and noticed Jonette had a death grip on the steering wheel. Served her right. I thumped her on her back.

She choked in a breath of air. “Didn’t think you had it in you, Cleo. Nice shot.”

I was still furthest from the hole, so I exchanged my wedge for a seven iron. In truth, I didn’t see the point of having so many clubs in my bag when my trusty seven worked well for any occasion. I took a deep breath and swung easy. 

My ball landed twenty yards ahead of Jonette’s. Counting all my strokes, I lay three to her one, but that was beside the point. If the world ended right this minute, my ball would still be closest to the pin. That was worth a lot. 

The golf gods must have taken a lunch break because my next shot zoomed over the green and down a steep embankment. I grabbed a club and started down the hill.
Jonette followed, sniffing tentatively. “Do you smell something?”

I did. My eyes watered at the latrine-like stench. It wasn’t unusual to smell something ripe this time of year in Maryland. The odor could be anything from farmers manuring their fields to the groundskeeper’s natural fertilizers. “No telling what that is.”

Using my golf club as a cane, I crabbed sideways down the hill, scoping the terrain near my feet for my ball. At the base of the hill, I saw something that resembled a bundle of clothes. 

A huge lump formed in my throat. “What is that?”

“I’ve got a real bad feeling about this,” Jonette said.

“You and me both.” The closer I came, the more certain details stood out in my mind. I saw that the bundle of clothes was actually an expensive business suit. Pinstriped trouser legs were rolled up to reveal dark crew socks and black-and-white golf shoes. 

The man lay on his back staring straight up at the cloudless sky. Between his slate-gray eyes was a dark circular wound. Bloodstained grass framed his lifeless head in a grotesque abstract shape, as if some wicked cartoonist had thought to ink in the conversation.

Only there was no conversation coming from this person. He was dead. Very dead.

My personal problems receded in a heartbeat. I fought down dizzying nausea as I felt my blood charge through me like a speeding freight train. I wanted to run and get far away from this grisly scene, but my feet weren’t listening.

I knew this man. He was my ex’s best friend and coworker down at the Hogan’s Glen Bank. His name tumbled from my lips. “Dudley Doright.”

Still want more? Click on over and download your copy right now! It's priced at $2.99.

Wishing you a summer full of reading and mystery!

Maggie Toussaint
ps the second book of this series, On the Nickel, is out in hardcover and the third book, Dime If I Know, is under contract!

Monday, July 9, 2012

All my bags are packed - travel tips

Remember the lyrics from "I'm Leaving On a Jet Plane"? All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go..

In those days, you weren't charged for checking your bags and you could check multiple bags.

Fast forward to 2012, when you pay for checked suitcases, starting at $25 a bag, and you must meet a weight limit. Argh!

Now more than ever, it pays to be a tidy packer. Gone are the days when you could pack 5 pairs of shoes for a weekend jaunt. Today folks try to cram all the clothing for a long weekend into a single carry-on bag.

I've always eyed up those dressing systems, where you select a skirt, two pants, four tops, and a dressy jacket/cardigan all in a non-wrinkling neutral color. Everything mixes and matches and if you have extra days, you just rinse them out in the sink. Anyone ever bought one of these sets?

Indispensable knits. Mix and match these nine versatile pieces. Premium Tencel lyocell fabric resists wrinkles, shrinking and fading. Breathable and comfortable for every season.
as seen at
My budget won't allow for such a bulk purchase, so I try to make do with what I have. Trouble is my closet is an explosion of bright colors, my waist a saggy accordion depending on diet or no diet, and my shoes tend toward comfort.

She looks put together
With conference season breathing down our necks, it's time to take a hard look at our closets for those far flung adventures. Even if you don't have the luxury of those travel sets, it's a good idea to stick to a color family. I don't have a lot of blue slacks, so for me the choice is black or brown?

I always seem to have black slacks that fit, and black looks professional so I often go black. But brown is different and sometimes it pays to be different, in a good way. Luckily, I have comfortable "dress" shoes in black and brown, so I can accessorize either way once I decide on the color.

For conferences, I go with two pairs of slacks, four tops, a dress-up outfit for the banquet, pjs, and one or two warm "toppers" (nice sweaters, blazers, or shawls) because I'm always cold in the conference rooms.

this is a much nicer pic than me with my sneakers
I usually travel in a pair of non-dressy shoes. They are handy for walking during those time-out moments, or for when I head out for meals. I travel in less dressy clothes, something like khakis or nice jeans, which double for casual clothes if I want to dress down for dinner.

The other travel tip I've learned is to carry a backpack. It corrals the overflow from the suitcase, and its where I keep meds, computer, and the see-through baggie of travel-approved liquids. That convenience makes it easier to get through the security screening - much easier to access the backpack than the suitcase, and no risk of underwear falling out at the wrong moment.

Also, many conferences have a service onsite where you can ship books or conference swag home. That makes for a lighter suitcase too.

And, if you're going to visit family (or close friends) and don't wish to travel with a suitcase at all, you can ship your clothing ahead of time through USPS or UPS, so that all you have with you is stuff for the plane. My Mom did this one summer when she came up to help with the new baby and it worked out great.

One last packing tip from me. When I have a lot to pack and not much space, I roll up each article of clothing tight like a fruit roll up. That really does save space. The downside of this method is you have to roll up the dirty clothes too or you'll never get them all back in your suitcase.

Do you have traveling tips? Chime in and share. I need all the help I can get.

Maggie Toussaint
mystery and romance author