Reader Blackmail: This Letter Bums Me Out

I received the following email this morning:

I enjoy these books — mostly. The characters are believable, the setting and descriptions lush, the plots not requiring too much “suspension of disbelief” and of course, the cats. I have read only three of the series and want to read more; however, I am tired of stories relying on the woman-in-peril endings and am ready to give up the rest of the series if they all end this way.

That’s the email in its entirety. Now, first of all, let me just say that I get lots of letters and emails from readers — really wonderful emails, full of encouragement and constructive criticism. I love them. I’m thankful for them. Truly. An email from a reader can totally make my day.

Does it go without saying that a letter like this does not make my day?

Perhaps I’m too sensitive. If I wasn’t so sensitive, I could “mostly” focus on the nice comments. Lush descriptions and settings… believable characters… And anyway, I should be grateful anybody even cares enough about my work to write me in the first place. Right?

But it’s not enough…

This letter bums me out.

Maybe, I tell myself, it’s just the letter-writer’s tone, lacking as it is in the common niceties of polite etiquette. There’s no finesse. No one is Dear in this letter. No one closes Sincerely or Truly.

But that’s not it. I know exactly what it is. The vague, sinking lypophrenia I get from a letter like this comes from the bald, ugly threat at its core — the manifesto of every bully, every despot, every abuser:

“Do what I want, or I’ll do something to hurt you.”

You can trace the origins of just about everything bad that’s ever happened in the history of mankind to that simple sentiment… war, genocide, terrorism, slavery, spousal abuse, child abuse, abandonment, blackmail, murder.

Am I over-reacting? Am I crazy to think that all the world’s evil begins with a careless thought, like a tiny hemlock seed in the fertile soil of our collective consciousness?

Ha. Or maybe I’m just too sensitive. I’d hate to think what kind of writer I’d be if I wasn’t.

Dear Reader,

Thank you so much for your email. I appreciate your thoughts. I have to admit, at first I was kind of hurt by your bluntness, but then I got over it. I’ll definitely think about the whole “woman-in-peril” thing. Although it’s tricky… I write murder mysteries. About a woman. Throw a woman in the ring with a murderer and it’s damn near impossible to avoid some good old-fashioned woman-on-peril action, but I promise I’ll try as hard as I can to make it as thrilling and entertaining as possible. If, in the end, you’re still unhappy, I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll love. There are so many good writers and good books out there. Maybe stick to the ones with a male protagonist? Or if that doesn’t help, maybe a different genre? I’m rereading Tobias Wolff’s “The Night In Question” and oh my gosh it’s so good. Thanks again and happy reading!

Yours Truly,


Seven totally trivial and/or deeply revealing things about my writing process…

Over on Facebook, in a kind of virtual spin-the-bottle challenge, I was tagged by author Lynne Raimondo to share seven things about my writing that most people don’t know… it quickly morphed into a confessional. I planned on numbering them from least to most embarrassing, but that turns out to be impossible, so here they are in the order they came to me…

#1. I have a desk, but I don’t normally write there. Instead, I sit on the couch with a laptop, then I sit on the carpet, then I sit outside, then I stand at the kitchen bar, then I sit on the bed, and so on. I don’t normally stay in one place for longer than a half hour. My dog likes to be wherever I am, so this drives her insane.

#2. I used to be a really, really good speller, and I felt smugly superior to people who were not-so-good spellers. Now, for unknown reasons, I am a not-so-good speller, and it’s hugely embarrasing. Embarasing. Embarrassing. The only way I know I finally got that right is because my word-processing program has not underlined it in red.

#3. Some days I write 2,000 words with ease, and others I struggle, truly struggle, to write 200.

#4. I write the word “wow” in a lot of dialogue. My editor has asked me to limit myself to no more than four wow’s per manuscript.

#5. I have a love/hate relationship with outlines. I envy writers who can stick to them while they work, but at the same time, I like to be surprised as the story develops. Otherwise, I lose interest. I always have an outline in the beginning, but invariably it gets abandoned as the story and characters flesh out and take on a life of their own. This is hugely problematic though, because it’s easy to write oneself into a corner and get stuck there. So far, I’ve been lucky.

#6. I can’t write and listen to music at the same time, and I can’t write if someone else is in the room. I’ve lately gotten into the habit of turning off my internet and phone while I write, not necessarily to limit interruptions (although that is a nice side-effect) but because it’s isolating, and the more alone I feel, the better work I do.

#7. I write early in the morning, usually starting by seven, and I keep going until the coffee pot is empty, usually around noon, with just one or two short breaks. I’ll go at it again in the afternoon, but once the sun has gone down, I’m useless.

They call it a Cozy? From Blaize Clement, some damn good writing…

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I regularly read the old Dixie Hemingway books to keep the voice going in the back of my mind, and occasionally I stumble across something that literally stops me in my tracks, like this, from CAT SITTER AMONG THE PIGEONS…

And now another man was in my bed, and I was inhaling him the way I had once inhaled Todd, and it was good and right that he was there. Pain was still with me, but there was more sweetness than pain. New love had come as quietly as cats’ paws, silent as smoke or trickling sand. It had drifted into my consciousness when I least expected it, shoving out memory of old loves, lost loves, hopeless loves, wrong loves, betrayed loves, true love, all fading into the darkness of doesn’t matter. This new love stood alone, marvelous and electric, always believed in but never expected. The lightning it created lit up the universe from eternity to infinity, and lit up my heart from edge to open.


I’ve had a little multiple choice bubble up on the website for about two weeks now. You might have seen it. The question is, “If you were stranded on a tropical island, who would you want to be stranded with?” The options are all characters from the Dixie Hemingway books: Dixie (of course), Michael (her brother), Paco (Michael’s partner), Ethan (Dixie’s boyfriend, for lack of a better word) and Guidry (Dixie’s long lost love, ahem, that’s not true says Dixie).

I’ve gotten a few write-in votes for Deputy Jesse Morgan, and a solid block of votes for Ethan, which was no surprise since he is, after all, so damn hunky. On a whim, I included a line in the questionnaire where you can explain your choice, and I’m so glad because that’s given me some things to think about. Hands down, the most popular response has been Paco…

People love Paco. I’ve always known that. My mom got letters praising Paco, and I’ve gotten them too. What’s surprising is the reasons. “Paco wouldn’t lie to you.” “Paco could probably catch fish with his bare hands.” “Paco would keep me safe.” “Paco could make a gourmet meal with a coconut and a couple of snails.” And my own personal favorite, “Paco is THE MAN.”