Texas Proud of a Texas Officer


It’s late Friday afternoon, June 14th, and I’m on the last stretch of a nineteen-hour drive from Estes Park, Colorado to our home in Houston, Texas. It’s just me and Tommy and our luggage and four half-gallon jugs of cherry juice in the Mini Cooper. There’s a good audio book on and I’m mulling over the possibilities of setting a standalone mystery in one of those near-ghost towns I’ve driven through between here and Dumas, and this is what happens in the next three seconds—the pickup in front of me swerves, a huge pipe dances down the highway to meet me, bam, and then I’m on the inside verge of 45, eighteen wheelers thundering past with enough force to rattle my teeth. The pipe takes out four cars behind me. A guy gets out of his truck and drags some of the debris off the road. Everybody checks that everybody is okay, shakes their head at the smashed fenders and shattered headlights, and gets back on the road. Except me.

Now, no complaints. My little bitty Mini Cooper took a direct hit from what turned out to be the pole of a downed Texas Highway sign and came out with nothing worse than a mangled tire. I never took physics, but I know enough about speed and solid objects and the meeting of the twain to know that Tommy and I could have been pavement jam and I’d have lost all that lovely cherry juice, too. But there I am on the wrong side of the freeway, miles from any kind of service station, and Texas is having one of those searingly hot days when you’re pretty sure God is giving us some payback for that disproportionately large share of the greenhouse effect that Texas may (or may not—I don’t want to argue the point) be responsible for.

That’s when Officer Guyton pulls up and makes me glad to be a Texan even though it’s absurdly hot and Tommy can’t find a green blade to tinkle on.

He told me to tell AAA that I was taken care off and then I was. He got that car to the other side of 45 (“When I say so, you go. Don’t worry about the sound your car is going to make. Just go.” I went) and then he figured out how to change a Mini’s tire (this is some kind of British IQ test designed to make Americans feel stupid—I flunked but Officer Guyton got top marks).

I didn’t have a cold drink to offer him but I gave him the books, not a great substitute at the time. And the man very graciously posed with them.

You know what? He didn’t have to help me. That’s not really his job. And he got very hot and dirty and suffered Tommy’s attentions, and my near constant assurances that it hadn’t been my fault, and he never once lost his cool.

Mystery writers love a bad cop—they’re so great in stories. But if you’re stranded on the side of a Texas Highway in the heat, you’re going to be very grateful for a good one.

I Have Just Discovered…

Puggers reading Berkley Prime Crime mysteries!

Cozy-Mystery.Com. I don’t know how I’ve missed this site. The cozy mystery has been a favorite of mine since I was in elementary school and I read them still. I WRITE cozy mysteries (the second in the Sugar Land Mystery Series, Safe From Harm, will be released March 5th!). And I’m on the web more than I want to admit. But somehow I hadn’t stumbled upon Cozy-Mystery.Com.

It’s easily the most comprehensive cozy mystery site I’ve found, and the blogger doesn’t only list the books by author’s name, the books are listed by theme and by award, there are alerts to new releases and the blogger offers authors’ recommendations and interviews,too (be sure and check out the interview with Susan Wittig Albert–she writes the wonderful Texas-based China Bayles mysteries and she blurbed Faithful unto Death for me).

The site has introduced me to several writers who are new to me. I’ll be checking out Jeff Abbott, a fellow Rice alum, first.

So here’s a new New Year’s goal for me–to see the Sugar Land Series books listed on Cozy-Mystery.Com. Wish me luck!

Before You Self-Publish…

Recently, a fellow writer sent me this question:

Even though Janet is your agent, you’re having to market this book on your own—the same as if you self pubbed a book. So, is the agent only to get a big name publisher to give you an advance for the next book?

What does the publishing house do except distribute the book. Several companies distribute books for self pubs to the same places the big houses do. Is it the name recognition that makes buyers stand up and pay attention?


Here’s my answer:

Yes. Even though Janet Reid is the best agent who ever graced the streets of Manhattan, most of the marketing falls to me, as it does to most new authors—even well-established authors make enormous use of the social media—it’s a necessity in today’s publishing world.

And several of the self-publishing companies may distribute books to the major book sellers.

Here’s the thing. Does the bookseller have to ask for that specific book? If so, how do they find out about it? Go by any bookstore and ask them how many self-published books they stock.

My book was sent to and stocked by the major bookstores because I was a Penguin Putnam author. I got calls from bookstores (including Murder by the Book) to do readings because they saw the book on the Penguin Putnam directory. Faithful Unto Death was a Library Journal Debut of the month—that put the book into libraries throughout approximately 500 libraries in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Unless I’m very mistaken, the Library Journal, the number one industry journal for librarians, does not review self-published books.

Penguin Putnam sent out 100 free copies of my book to Goodreads reviewers and many more to conventional reviewers so the book was reviewed (very favorably) by Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Fresh Fiction (they made mention of the book on a Good Morning Texas show and my book was later chosen as a Fresh Pick—a reader award), Suspense Magazine (they also did an interview and put my name on the cover), and many others in the mystery/suspense field.

Because I was a Penguin Putnam author, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Susan Wittig Albert and M.C. Beaton, all queens of the mystery genre, agreed to read and blurb my book (a ton of readers tell me they bought the book because one of the three recommended it).

Because Murder By the Book saw the book on the Penguin Putnam list, hosted my first signing, sold books at my book launch AND read and liked the book, they recommended it to the Houston Chronicle. The Chronicle made the book one of its 2012 Ultimate Summer Book list reads. Also directly due to Murder By the Book’s unflagging support of the community of mystery readers and writers, I’ve been contacted by the Houston Chronicle for an interview for their Faces in the Crowd feature.

Partly because of the Library Journal Debut of the month award, I was brought to the attention of the Texas Library Association—I’ve been invited by them to sit on their Mystery and Thriller panel in April 2013—everyone else on the panel is a NYT bestselling author. This is such a coupe that my publisher is paying for my travel expenses (Yay!). Someone in the TLA told the Literacy Council of Fort Bend about the book and I’ve been invited to be a featured author at their Reading Between the Wines annual event in February.

Someone in my community saw the book at Barnes and Noble, asked me to attend their book club after they’d read the book, took a picture, put it in a local paper, and now I do a book club almost every week—some weeks I do two.


Here’s the thing. None of these things would have happened if I had self-published the book. Except for my friends and family, almost no one would have bought my book. Almost no one would ever have heard of it. How could they? Anyone can self-publish a book. People who can barely put a sentence together can, and do, self-publish. Your lovely gem of a book is lost in a tidal wave of flotsam. Can it become a success? Yes. It happens. Almost never, but it does happen.  Someone wins the lottery, too. But I’m not planning on winning the lottery for my retirement.

As faulty as it is, the book publishing industry IS a filter. Publishing is a money-making industry and, barring very singular circumstances, publishers will not publish books they don’t think they can make money on. So most published books have been well-edited; they are assumed to have an appeal for some segment of the book buying population.

This is why I urge every writer who has finished a book to take all the passion and patience and hard work they used to write the book, and use those same gifts in getting an agent and getting the book published. Query agents—not four or five, but dozens and dozens. Go to conferences. Meet people who know people. Polish your query and pitch. Enter contests. Blog and review books so your name becomes familiar to a group of readers. Make it happen. You owe it to yourself.  More, you owe it to the book.


Picture from theantijunecleaver.com