On Friday, we took a ride over to Venice, Florida in preparation for the big Book Fair the next day. This charming seaside resort is on Florida’s Gulf coast just a bit below Sarasota. After checking in at our hotel, we drove to the fishing pier for lunch at Sharkey’s. This highly popular restaurant also has an upper level, but we chose to dine downstairs with a lovely view of the beach. The New England clam chowder was thick and creamy, just the way I like it. But the coconut shrimp didn’t compare to the ones at Bahama Breeze. These tasted greasy fried and the sauce had no flavor. I recommend you avoid this dish here. The stuffed mushrooms were good. These two appetizers and the soup were enough for lunch. From here, we strolled down the fishing pier but not to the far end as storm clouds were moving in. By the time we drove to downtown, it was pouring.
Nonetheless, we gamely took out our umbrellas to stroll up and down the street lined with outdoor cafés and gift shops and bordered by majestic date palms.
The deluge kept us in our hotel room for the rest of the afternoon until we met some of our gang at Left Coast Seafood, recommended by FMWA member Nancy Gazo. Nancy and her husband joined us along with Alison McMahan and her spouse. This restaurant is hugely popular and the food was worth the wait. I had grilled salmon with hush puppies and a vegetable medley. It was cooked just right.
The next morning found us all at Centennial Park for the Book Fair. While Nancy went to set up our exhibit booth, Alison and I met another FMWA member, Randy Rawls, who was our panel moderator. We were joined by thriller author Leo J. Maloney, whose experience as a black ops agent had us enthralled. Our panel went well and we proceeded outside to man the booth.
Aside from a strong breeze, it was a lovely day to be outdoors with cooler temperatures and sunshine. We represented our Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, gave out brochures, and acquainted passersby with our books. All too soon, it became time to leave. Many thanks to Nancy Gazo for organizing these events for us. See you at the next one!
Back home, we took advantage of the cool weather the next day to take a walk at Tree Tops Park. Little did we realize when we entered the path for the Pine Island Ridge section that we’d be in danger of getting lost! The trail wound around with no maps to tell us where we were. It seemed to go on for miles. Finally, we turned back and asked other walkers which way would take us into Tree Tops again. How scary to be lost with only a cell phone for communication with the outside world. What if there wasn’t cell service? Should we have marked the trail so we’d know the way back? I can just imagine Marla and Dalton getting lost with a killer on their tail.
Okay, back to reality. Murder by Manicure (Bad Hair Day Mystery #3) is now available in a Print edition as well as for Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iBooks (See previous post for links).
Yesterday I took a break from work to relax at Fort Lauderdale Beach. On Saturday, I’d attended a meeting of Florida Romance Writers, and Sunday I spoke at a benefit for the Palm Beach School of Autism. Fellow panelists were Elaine Viets, Joy Fielding, and Michael Haskins. Some very talented members made paper sculptures out of books. The table decorations were inspired as well. We spoke a bit about our work and then fielded questions from the audience.
Monday I decided that I deserved a day off, so I suggested to my husband we head to the beach for a walk and lunch. We drove down Las Olas and parked at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park across from Bahia Mar resort. It’s cheaper than one of those flat-rate lots. After paying our money via the meter and placing the sticker on our dashboard, we walked alongside the low wave-shaped white wall that borders the beach. Fort Lauderdale officials had the foresight to ban condos here so there’s an unbroken view of the water. Across the street are souvenir shops and cafés bustling with customers.
We passed the cruise-ship shaped Ritz-Carlton hotel and went as far as the Casablanca Café, a popular restaurant on Route A1A. Then we turned back and went to lunch at Coconuts Bahama Café on the Intracoastal. The breeze was pleasant as we sat outside under an umbrella. I had a Caesar salad with grilled shrimp and we split a Key lime pie for dessert. Tourist boats and yachts plied the water while pelicans groomed themselves on the adjacent boat dock.
Satisfied after our meal, we took our beach chairs from the car and found a shady spot on the sand. Here we sat for an hour or so until we were ready to leave. The ocean looked pretty clear down by the shore and I listened to the waves crest and recede. It was fun to people watch. Young girls wearing bikinis strode past while their male counterparts played on a basketball court or used the outdoor gym apparatus near the picnic tables. When I closed my eyes, I heard the ocean surf, seagulls squawking, people chatting, the thump of the ball on the court, the roar of a motorcycle, the drone of prop airplanes overhead dragging banners.
And so a sense of peace descended upon me until I returned home. And now it’s back to work.
Contest Alert! One more day! Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card or free books from Booklover’s Bench authors, including an ebook copy of Hair Raiser (Bad Hair Day Mystery #2), in our March contest http://bookloversbench.com/contest/
March weather in Central Florida can be variable, and the day we chose to go to Animal Kingdom was cool and overcast. But the clouds kept the sun at bay and the temperatures comfortable. We strolled through the winding paths amid tropical foliage with temps in the delightful low seventies. I noticed the location for the Lion King show had been moved to a new section in Africa, presumably because of Avatar land being constructed. The new theater has a cool design as an old fort. Everything in this park looks so authentic.
While in Africa, we ate lunch at one of the take-out eateries. Our chicken curry came with rice and was a substantial meal.
After dining, we hit the tiger trail, spotting a Komodo dragon and other creatures along the way. The tigers didn’t disappoint us, ranging their turf in full view. The path took us to an Indiana Jones-type realm with ancient ruins and crumbling temples.
From Africa, we headed toward Asia with its thrill rides and passed through dinosaur territory with its circus arcades and kiddie play areas. Another live show about Nemo attracts visitors at this end. We didn’t go on any rides, having been on most of them before. The African safari remains my favorite. If you have time, take the train to the conservation station and hear the behind-the-scenes talk. Once back at the central island with the Tree of Life, we headed for the exit. It’s the perfect time of year to hit this park if you’re visiting Orlando.
I attended several panels on Saturday at SleuthFest. Here are the points I took away.
Michael Barson spoke about book publicity. In looking for interviews, does your book have a theme related to what’s in the news? It may take six or seven books to gain traction. For a writer, the radio is your best friend. Put links to your shows on Facebook and elsewhere online. Amplify your publicity. “You are capable of amplifying any coverage you get.”
“If there’s no solid answer to what happened, we fill it in with imagined actions.” That’s a conspiracy theory. For example, here are some theories related to Amelia Earhart’s disappearance: captured by the Japanese as a spy; landed and died as a castaway; came home and disguised herself as a New Jersey housewife. People believe things that seem to make sense. The speakers discussed presidential assassination attempts. There were fourteen presidents with known attempts to assassinate them plus two questionable deaths.
Abraham Lincoln may have been the target of a “decapitation strike.” This is a tactic to kill off the heads of state. The conspiracy would have included a plot to kill the vice president. James Garfield was shot, but he died from an infection to his wound. William McKinley was shot. Regarding John F. Kennedy, the question remains if there was a second shooter.
Lunch came next with auctioneer Cynthia Thomason leading an entertaining and productive author auction.
Set your scene up according to the genre. In a mystery, the fight will be protective while for a thriller, it might be more purposeful. Learn your weapons. If in doubt, ask an expert. Build tension so the reader knows a fight is coming. If your hero can talk his way out of a situation, do it. Don’t rush the fight scene. Physically act it out. Use your senses. Your senses are sharpened when you’re scared. Use short sentences. Your perspective narrows and you focus on survival when frightened. If you’re part of a team, you don’t want to let your friends down. The characters should have a reaction to the violence after the scene is over.
Then I was on the supernatural panel wherein we talked about world building and how to make your paranormal elements seem real.
Saturday night , after another entertaining talk by James W. Hall, we headed to the cocktail party. Here we enjoyed appetizers and a potato bar while the FlaMANgo Award went to—no big surprise—James W. Hall.
Sunday morning held the new Flamingo Pitch Tank where attendees could pitch their work to a panel of editors and agents all at once.
Brunch with humorist Dave Barry concluded the weekend. He had us laughing out loud at his hilarious presentation.
Now we’re all back home having a rest before we begin planning for next year. My husband missed me, as evidenced below. Isn’t he a sweetheart?
Lunch on Friday followed the agents and editors panels. There I am seated between James W. Hall and Randy Rawls. As Chapter President, I went up to the podium and gave a warm welcome to the crowd. I thanked our conference chairs, Vicki Landis and Joanne Sinchuk, for their superb job in making the conference a success.
Then we gave out two awards. The first one was presented by Diane Stuckart, aka Ali Brandon. She chaired our Freddie Awards for Writing Excellence Competition and was happy to announce the winners:
In the Hardboiled Category,Dana J. Summers won for Drawn and Buried In the Traditional Category, Penelope Thomas won for The Airfield.
Next I was happy to present our esteemed chapter service award, the Flamingo Award, to Sharon Potts, who is well deserving of the honor.
Guest of Honor James W. Hall addressed us next with his valuable writing advice.
“Show, don’t tell. Be as concrete and specific as you can. Observe this pyramid,” he said.
What do you imagine from these words? People who want to write something important start at the top of the ladder. But what creates beauty and helps us experience the story is the banana. Tangible items create emotions. The nutrition takes care of itself if you have a good banana.
Avoid bathtub scenes. Don’t open your story with somebody in the bathtub thinking. We all want to be alone to mull things over. But to get involved, you must climb out of the tub and go out into the world. “No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader.” You must be passionate and moved about your own story if you want to engage the reader. Write from your heart and your emotional center.
While you are working, turn off the Internet.
Quit if you can. If you can’t, it solves a lot of issues.
That afternoon, I gave my talk on “Blogging, Posting, and Tweeting Your Way to Success.” Then I was busy schmoozing until Ric Gillespie’s fascinating talk on “The Hunt for Amelia Earhart.” From his presentation, it sounds as though he’s found her site but further research is needed for confirmation. There’s Ric with Britin Haller.
I bought my raffle tickets from the boa team. Below are Mary Lou Benvenuto and Rick Wymer on the left, and Stephanie Levine and Gregg Brickman on the right.
Heather Graham’s party kicked off the evening. She sang and entertained the crowd along with an accompanying band. Don Bruns is playing the guitar and people are actually dancing!
Friday morning at SleuthFest began the editor and agent panels. Here’s a summary.
Kristyn Keene likes women’s fiction, thrillers, crime fiction.
Mel Berger likes an “important” book or one that has potential for being a commercial success, including romance and thrillers.
Victoria Skurnick is looking for “great” books with a unique voice. No sf/fantasy.
William Callahan is “interested in everything” but especially works with a historical element, true crime, or psychological suspense.
Queries must have a professional look with no weird fonts. The story should be told in a concise summary. Mention your awards and writing credentials. Lead with your strengths and kill the adjectives. Mention why this agent is right for your book. In the body of your e-mail, include a sample such as the first few pages. Do not attach files because the agent will not open them from strangers. Avoid gimmicks and gifts. Don’t use redundancies like “I’m sending you a fiction novel.” A novel is fiction. Don’t say your book is “better than Gone Girl.” Watch the clichés like “grim satisfaction,” or “he said dryly.” Kristyn took on an author who’d first self-published her book, and she’s been very successful. What works? Memorable characters, interesting settings, uniqueness, something the author brings to a genre that’s different. Your confidence as a writer and the momentum count as well. The agent wants to keep turning pages.
They all prefer e-mail submissions. Multiple submissions are acceptable. Would they accept a previously published e-book? It would depend on the sales figures. Does having a social media presence matter? Not to them. They suggest you focus on the manuscript.
Neil Nyren is looking for a book where the author is in control plus something extra, a certain intensity. He has to love the book and believe in it. Christine Pepe wants a story that connects with her, so that she gets what the author is trying to say. Hannah Braaten has to love the characters and the place, so that it becomes somewhere she wants to go. She prefers writing where she doesn’t have to work too hard and can sync right into the story.
The editors discussed changes in publishing. Frequency enhances your brand and doesn’t cannibalize your own work as previously thought. We have more choices today in how we can publish books, including enhanced e-books and trade paperbacks. Readers have higher expectations than ever, and ways to acquire printed matter will expand. The publisher still wants a full year to prepare a book for publication. They need to get the editorial staff excited, produce galleys, build media buzz in-house and out in the world.
“There’s room in the marketplace for other formats.” Regarding advances, it’s safer to have diminished expectations. Normally there’s a proportional commitment to promote a book based on the advance. It’s because the publisher feels this book is more likely to succeed. “You’re always trying to build the author and not only the book.” You can start small and show an editor that you have a fanbase of readers.
What is not selling well? Battered women and children in danger. Also, don’t kill the dog.
Don’t follow trends, such as dystopian novels. Write a story that drives your passion.
Thursday at SleuthFest is a day of special workshops. I got there after lunch and ended up at The Art of Embalming talk by George Rafaidus from Ford Funeral Home in Michigan. Attendees were treated to slides and descriptions of the embalming process, plus other behind-the-scenes details of how funeral homes prepare bodies. While it was a morbid topic, it was also a fascinating one. We received many handouts along with a show-and-tell of various props.
The Art of Embalming
Disclaimer: These notes are based on my interpretations. Any errors are unintentional and are mine alone.
Bodies are refrigerated from hospitals but not nursing homes. There’s more than one type of autopsy. There’s a partial wherein the thoracic cage is carved in the classic “Y” or there’s a cranial, like for Alzheimer’s patients or for medical studies. And then there is the double or complete autopsy. There may still be slight rigor mortis after 48 hours but that’s generally how long it lasts. Through washing of the body and manipulation, the stiffness lessens. The morticians need to know injection and IV sites, medical waste issues, birthmarks, and more, about the deceased. A trocar is a tool used to release gases and fluids from the body in the belly button area. Morticians shave people so they’ll look better for relatives.
How does the embalming work? They make an incision in the carotid artery, bring up the artery and inject embalming fluid. This part is done by machine. Up to 3 gallons of a formaldehyde and water mixture are injected in through the carotid and out through the jugular. This may take a couple of hours. The blood that is replaced goes through a filtration process before it’s released.
A dye in the fluid helps give the person a more natural complexion. Cosmetic enhancements may include a tissue fluid that works like Botox to fill in areas under the skin, so if the victim is emaciated or ill, they’ll look better for viewings. They may prepare the face with eye caps and mouth-formers. Look in the upper right corner of this photo to see these items.
If the person is being cremated, they could still have a visitation and viewing prior to the cremation. They could have a memorial service and embalming as well. Even if it’s a closed casket funeral, they would do the same, because a relative has to come in to identify the deceased. Difficult cases are trauma or accident victims. Regarding cosmetics, normal cosmetics have bluing agents that may distort a person’s color. So they use special makeup that’s like a foundation and brush it on the skin. (It’s sort of gummy and has an unpleasant odor—we tried it on). Waxes may also be used.
The state may dictate when embalming has to take place. Usually it’s at 48 hours. Embalmers are licensed. There are 38 mortuary schools throughout the country. A vault holds the casket to protect the body from the elements. The casket is labeled with the deceased person’s name, its burial location in the cemetery, and the name of the funeral home. In cases of flooding, this helps to identify the casket and where it belongs.
After the lectures finished, we were welcomed to Sleuthfest by Conference Co-Chairs Joanne Sinchuk and Vicki Landis.
Then publisher Neil Nyren spoke on Myths and Truths About Publishing.
Sleuthfest 101 Dinner followed, where we got to meet and mingle over a meal.
My husband and I celebrated Valentine’s Day in downtown Fort Lauderdale. We strolled by a display of art for sale near the Riverside Hotel. It was an event called “Hearts on Parade” as a benefit for Children’s Home Society of Florida. These hearts are available to buy at http://www.ebay.com/usr/heartsonparade
We ate dinner at the French restaurant, Le Café de Paris on Las Olas Blvd. Our celebration dinner started off with a bottle of wine and a Caesar salad. Next I had Beef Wellington and my husband had Veal Oscar.
Dessert was the best part. The waiter flambéed a large portion of Baked Alaska in front of us. It would have served four people but we each devoured our share. The rum was generous. This dinner package for $96 was a great deal and one we’d do again, although you can order a la carte.
One of the topics I’d researched for Hair Raiser was pre-need funeral plans. I firmly believe people should address this issue before their demise. It saves your loved ones from having to make these choices during a difficult time. You get to choose what you want, and when the time comes, all your heirs have to do is make a phone call. You can pay off the cost in installments, instead of your surviving family members having to come up with a lump sum later on. So don’t avoid the issue and put off for tomorrow what you can do today.
Marla interviews a suspect in Hair Raiser who happens to be a funeral director. Her excuse for seeing him is ostensibly to get information on a pre-need plan for herself. I hope you find this interview to be useful for your own planning needs.
Excerpt from Hair Raiser by Nancy J. Cohen
“Let’s talk about funeral plans,” Marla said.
From the way Stefano glowered at her, she figured he was wishing she could make use of one right now.
“Is this going to be a package for two people?” he snarled, pen poised in his fingers. His glance dropped to her ringless left hand.
“No, this is just for me.”
“You should think ahead. At some point in your future, there may be a significant other. I assume we’re talking about a traditional ground burial rather than a mausoleum?”
“I guess so.” She had no wish to be preserved for eternity in a tomb like Romeo and Juliet. Besides, she believed her religion required a ground burial.
“Purchasing two plots now will save you money because land prices keep rising. In the event you don’t need the second plot, we’ll buy it back from you. Consider it a hedge against inflation.” Pushing a chart in front of her, he pointed to various sites marked out in squares. “Which cemetery section appeals to you?”
Marla moistened her lips. “It doesn’t matter, whichever costs less.”
“That would be the newest section.” He circled two spaces. “Do you prefer a chapel or graveside service?”
She gave it serious consideration, mortality being on her mind after viewing Riley’s body and being shot at herself. “A graveside service would be easier on my family, so let’s go with that one. Is there a price difference?” Squinting, she tried to read what was on the upside-down form.
“It’s $420 for use of the chapel as opposed to $275 for a graveside service.” At her nod, he continued. “Next there’s a basic charge for the professional services of the funeral director and staff. That’s $1870. This includes arranging conferences between family and clergy, filing necessary permits, planning the funeral, placement of obituary notices, and coordination with other responsible parties. It also includes administrative expenses for the use of our facilities.”
“You have a choice about embalming. May I ask your religious preference?”
He nodded sagely. “Jewish people usually don’t embalm unless you’re going into a mausoleum. It’s my understanding, and correct me if I’m wrong, that the religious directive is to return to the earth as quickly as possible.”
“Okay, no embalming.” She felt uncomfortable discussing these choices, but it made sense to do so before you needed them. What a relief for your relatives to make one phone call in the event your prearrangements became necessary. Ma had paid for a plan, and Marla was grateful. She dreaded the day when she’d have to use it, but that was better than having to make hasty decisions later while coping with grief.
“You’re going to have other expenses.” Stefano reversed the general price list so she could see for herself. “Transfer of remains to the funeral home is $290. Use of a hearse will be $275. Dressing and casketing is $145. Since you’re not embalming, refrigeration is required, which costs $395.”
I’d always wanted to die broke, she told herself sardonically. “What’s this opening and closing that you’ve circled?”
“That’s for opening the gravesite and closing it after the service. Also, I recommend a concrete vault. It gives more protection than a concrete liner, which is more porous. Now let’s discuss choice of caskets.” He stood, gesturing for her to follow. “We have a casket room so you can see the selections.”
Oh, joy. She couldn’t wait.
Trailing behind, she entered a room where up to twenty coffins were on display. Detaching herself emotionally wasn’t hard. She didn’t want to think about herself lying in one of those boxes.
“The Jewish religion calls for your casket to be made of all wood, meaning pegged and glued with no metal parts so the body can get back to the earth quickly.” He showed her a few samples. “See, no nails or metal hinges. Or, if you go into a mausoleum, embalming is required along with a sealed metal casket. Choices include steel, copper, and bronze, like this one here.”
Her eyes bulged. The price tag of $37,995 made her throat constrict. Hopefully the ones made from wood were more reasonably priced. She surveyed the different styles ranging from solid mahogany with a polished finish and a champagne velvet interior at a cost of $19,995 to a plain pine box for $795.
“How about this one?” she asked, pointing to a solid poplar design with a polished maple finish and beige crepe interior. It ran mid-price range at $2,695.
Stefano ran his fingers lovingly over the smooth service, his dark eyes gleaming in appreciation. “Beautiful, isn’t it? Of course, if you prefer a velvet interior, we have a similar one for an extra $800.”
“No, I like this. What’s next?” Uncomfortable in the confined space with Stefano looming beside her, she headed through the door and back toward his office.
“Clergy fees, death certificates, prayer books, yarmulkes, acknowledgment cards, a guest sign-in book. Then there’s an archiving fee and sales tax on the merchandise.”
He’d been writing everything down on a proposal form, and now he pulled out a calculator to get the total. “Here’s the best package I can give you,” he said circling a number that made Marla cringe. “We have a payment plan available if you’d like to stretch this out over four years with no interest. It includes our personal protection program. If, God forbid, something happens to you after a year, the rest of the premiums are waived.”
“Terrific. Can I take this home to study?” She’d contact another funeral home to compare prices. Babs had told her Stefano charged exorbitant fees. Upon his approval, she folded the papers and stuffed them into her purse.
“Who handled the arrangements for Ben’s funeral?” she asked, knowing the answer but wondering how he’d react.
He grimaced. “One of the Levinson places took care of him.”
“They weren’t the ones involved in that voodoo case, were they?” She’d read a news article about a mortician convicted of performing voodoo rituals by stuffing dolls stuck with pins into a dead man’s chest cavity and chopping off his hand.
“No, that was somewhere in north Florida.” Thrusting stiff fingers through his gray hair, Stefano regarded her from beneath heavy brows. “Levinson’s is a nation-wide chain. Conglomerates now own more than fifty percent of the mortuaries in this county. Most people don’t realize it when they choose a place. Ownership may have changed hands, but the old names remain on the signs.”
“Doesn’t that hurt your business? Yours is one of the few family-owned firms left.”
“We still provide more personal services than the chains, and their prices tend to be higher. Did you know they charge up to sixty-two percent more than independents for the same items?”
Yeah, right, pal. Like your prices are cheap? “You’ve managed to stay viable.”
“I heard a rumor that Ben was suing you on behalf of some former customers,” she said, switching topics glibly to provoke a response. “Did that have anything to do with Pre-Need plans? What guarantee is there that I’ll get what I pay for?”
He shifted uneasily. “You have to trust me, Marla.”
No problem. I’d trust you like I would a snake.
NOTE: Hair Raiser (Bad Hair Day Mystery #2) was originally published by Kensington Publishing Corp. This Author’s Edition has been revised and reformatted with added bonus material.
Last weekend, we attended a family wedding. It was a lovely affair at a country club.
Look at this cake. Isn’t it worthy of the one in Shear Murder? And note the floral centerpieces have orchids that play a central role in my story.
I got to see my cousins, and my brother visited from out-of-town. This gave me the chance to show him around. He loves flea markets so we went to the infamous Swap Shop on East Sunrise. I remember the days when there used to be a circus with live animals.
We headed over to Bass Pro Shops and lunch at Islamorada Fish Company Restaurant next. I had coconut shrimp, while my brother had a conch salad and the husband had fish and chips.
Look at this iguana sunning itself on the rocks. There’s a whole bunch of them. A family, perhaps?
Anyway, it was a neat day, and we were sorry to see my brother leave. I’d bought vegetables at the Farmer’s Market, and what I made with the eggplant will be posted on my next blog.