Saturday, February 25, 2012


I moved from southeast Iowa to the Twin Cities in…I think it was spring of 2000. My son had settled in the area a few years earlier, and I fell in love with the place after just a few visits. I had to remain in Iowa until all of our aging animals were gone, one being a horse. If you read my memoir, you will have met him. Mr. Red. My daughter ended up at the University of Minnesota, so it was wonderful when our small family was once again reunited. 

I can't explain why I love the Twin Cities. I've tried. How can you love a city that is oftentimes dark and ugly and full of crime? A place where your car is destroyed right in front of your house? When you get mugged leaving a venue? When your pocket is picked at a gas station?  When cops throw people over car hoods and arrest them steps from your door? When you sometimes wonder if you just heard gunshots. Pretty sure those were gunshots. 

I love it because there's magic here.  There's this wonderful energy, this charge of creativity that's in the air and in the buildings and in the sidewalk under your feet. It's in the snow that falls and pisses you off because you can't get anywhere.  If you could flip a switch and actually see the creativity, it would look like flying sparks settling in your hair and inside your boots, catching on your eyelashes. When you inhale, you breathe sparks into your lungs.

I set a book in the Twin Cities, but I was unable to convey my love of the place, or why I loved it.

Well my friends… If you want to understand why Minnesota is wonderful, if you want to know how in the hell people can stand it here when a dark winter night bottoms out at -40 (that's not wind chill), download a copy of the Devil and the Diva by David Housewright and Renee Valois.  You will understand.  You will want to move here. Even if you already live here, you will want to move here.

Here's my short blurb:

Mysterious, lush, and lovely; a present-day gothic tale drenched in love for a magical land called Minnesota.

It's rich, it's lush, it's romantic, it's smart, it's funny. It's a mix of genres, a Beauty and the Beast tale.  Mystery. Crime fiction. Intrigue. Gothic romance.  Inside the pages we visit Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, the North Shore, all in winter. Winter!  A masked man. Dark wool capes that flow over deep snow. A house like a castle. A woman in a white gown holding a candelabra.


Full disclosure: David is a friend of mine and contributed a short story to the Halloween anthology Deadly Treats. He's also an Edgar winner. So there ya go!

Thursday, February 23, 2012


One of the more interesting interviews I've ever done is going on over at a new place called  Wonk-o-Mance.  What is Wonk-o-Mance? To boil it down, it's when two messed-up people meet and fall in love.  

From the Wonk-o-Mance manifesto:

We are the mythical readers, the undermarketed writers, who like our protagonists less conventional, our conflicts less tidy, our endings less certain. We want escapism, but we want it with a nice, stiff shot of human frailty. Give us Scarlett and Rhett, yes, yes, but can we also have Harold and Maude? Atticus Finch, mmm-hmm, but also Boo Radley? Nick and Nora, absolutely, but also that broody, effed-up Philip Marlowe? We want the whole messy spectrum of human behavior, packaged up for consumption in romance novel form.

Boy, did this strike a chord with me.  Because I've been writing wonk my entire career, feeling like a freak and kind of a loser because as much as I tried to conform, I simply couldn't do it. Even when I tried. Because I just don't do normal. I don't even know what normal looks like. I do remember at times thinking, Okay, this is boring. Maybe this is normal. 

So to have wonk recognized, embraced, understood, and given a name— yay!

Come on over. And just for fun, I'm giving away a copy of The Orchard. Which, by the way, is also wonk.


Thursday, February 9, 2012


I’m going to talk a little bit about building suspense around and under your suspense, about building suspense even if you aren’t writing suspense.  I think all stories contain suspense no matter the genre.  The basic formula of romance is suspense, or rather the question or questions that carry the reader along. With romance, we can boil it down to one basic thing: Will these two people get together? And how? Even though almost all romances end in happily-ever-after, the question is always there in every romance, and the reader plays along even though she knows it will most likely end in a satisfactory way.  With The Orchard, one of the big questions: Will this person stay in this relationship? A lot of readers hoped she wouldn’t, and they wanted to see her break free. I say she because I don’t think of that person as me. I’m no longer that person.

The big question is closely tied to conflict, and can often be the conflict. EVERY STORY HAS CONFLICT.  I don’t care what you’re writing.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this: “I’m not writing suspense so I don’t need conflict.”

 Conflict doesn’t need to be external. Good suspense (the genre) has both internal and external conflict.

  I’m always talking about unpublished writers not giving the reader enough information. Thinking the reader will magically figure it out. Or worse, the writer thinks she’s creating suspense with this lack of information. So it’s a delicate balance. It’s knowing what to use and what to keep in your pocket for later.

 In my book Play Dead, I hinted at something that had happened to one of the homicide detectives.  We knew he was on medication, knew he had a drinking problem,  and we knew he'd been sent to Savannah to start fresh.  But I didn’t reveal exactly what had happened to him until maybe the halfway mark.

  But you can wait too long. If you wait too long, the reader becomes impatient and annoyed. You keep dropping these tantalizing hints, but the payoff comes too late. The reader is already annoyed.  So annoyed that she might not even care anymore. Someone who often waits too long for the payoff is Joss Whedon. IMO. Love him, but the payoff comes after the annoyance hits.  You’re engaging us, and we’re following you, but you can’t keep slamming the door.  And once our annoyance is engaged, the payoff and satisfaction isn’t as strong. And sometime we actually forget what the question was in the first place. Oh, yeah. I remember being really curious about that in episode one. And episode two. And episode three. But episode eight? Not so much. Which reminds, me, you might need to remind the reader at well-placed intervals (part of pacing). But anyway, rambling here. Again. Every story should have questions that keep the reader turning the page.

Note-to-self: Plant some questions for the reader. It doesn’t have to be anything big. It can be the history of the character. It can be something that happened recently.  It can be something that the character has been unable to face, maybe something she will have to deal with in order to grow.

Note-to-self: Don’t forget that readers are reading because of the characters. Even in suspense, readers are reading because of the characters. Yes, they want a good mystery, but they really want to live with these people.

The reason I’m saying note-to-self is because I tend to get caught up in the storytelling and I sometimes forget to employ these important story-telling devices. They tend to hide under the surface of the story, and don’t seem that important, when in reality they could be what keeps the reader (or agent or editor) turning the pages. THE DEVICES DON'T CHANGE THE STORY, but they change how the reader engages with the story.

What is this about?
story structure
building suspense
creating tension

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


I've been working hard, getting my old romances formatted for Kindle. I've got two more uploaded.  It's been weird editing these old titles. By editing, I mean proofing them for scanning errors. I didn't change anything. But it's weird, because it takes me back there, to the time I wrote them. These two titles feel like three or four lifetimes ago.

I actually think One Fine Day might be my best romance.  Forever is the prequel to One Fine Day, and it's...well, not so great. So it's weird to have a sequel that's good, and a prequel that's okay. I think One Fine Day can stand alone, but people might want to read them both.

Which is why I'm offering them both for free for a couple of days. Grab 'em while you can.  (Click on titles to take you to the Amazon page.)

I love the new covers designed by my daughter! Gorgeous!!

Below is my current take on each book:

First printing: 1990
Reissued by Belfry Press
This is a hybrid of romance and women’s fiction; it contains sex scenes.
Heat rating: 5 out of 10

 From the author:
This book kind of makes me squirm. Which is really weird considering the fact that I wrote it. Twenty-two years ago. When I was a kid. I’d loved the play Flowers for Algernon, and the movie Charly, starring Cliff Robertson. If you recall, he was a guy with a low IQ who drank (shot up?) some scientific formula while wearing really dorky clothes like shirts with big collars and beige stretch pants, and he became super smart, then fell in love with his doctor and they had sex. And he was so smart that he figured out he would eventually become unsmart again.  So anyway, Forever has that icky thing going where it’s a patient/doctor relationship that makes you feel a little uncomfortable.  Kind of yeah, do it. Then wait, she’s his doctor.  And mentally he’s nineteen.  But at least he’s not twelve like Tom Hanks in Big.

And the title. Don’t get me going about the title. Well, I’ll get going about the title.  The original title was FORVER YOUNG.  Remember the Bob Dylan song? Not the Rod Stewart song?
 May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young.

 Because it’s about a GUY WHO LOSES HIS MEMORY AND GETS A SECOND CHANCE BECAUSE LOSING HIS MEMORY MAKES HIM YOUNG AGAIN.  THAT’S WHAT THE STORY IS ABOUT. But the publishing house changed it to FOREVER, and they blurbed it with stuff about these two people meeting and falling in love. And I’m guessing they were so much in love that their relationship probably lasted FOREVER.
From the book:
Sammy looked up at her, an all-too-familiar bleakness in his dark eyes. “Funny, isn’t it? The way we thought we were so indestructible. That nothing could touch us.” He shook his head, seeming stunned by it all. “We thought we’d stay young forever.”
YOUNG FOREVER!!!!!!  Ding!!

I might have rated this higher years ago, but here’s my 2012 rating for FOREVER:

3 out of 5 stars
FYI: FOREVER (YOUNG) is the prequel to ONE FINE DAY, which is a better book.


Vintage romance
First printing 1994
Reissued by Belfry Press
This is a romance: it contains sex scenes
Heat rating: 8 out of 10

This is the second of two books. The first is Forever, but One Fine Day easily stands alone. During the early nineties, romance publishers were experimenting with hybrids, books that were a combination of romance and women's fiction. One Fine Day was one of those books. This experiment didn't go over that well, because the hybrids stepped too far outside traditional romance for many romance readers, while at the same time containing too much romance for women's fiction readers.

From the author:
It's been odd proofing these old titles. Brought back a lot of memories, some not so pleasant. I recalled that One Fine Day was the book that broke me. That broke my writer's heart. I poured so much into this book, and even today I would say it's a fairly strong read except for a chapter I call the sexcation. I was tempted to remove it this time around, but decided to keep the original book intact, flaws and all. So skip the sexcation if you like. You'll know it when you get there.

The publishing house I was with at the time of writing One Fine Day wasn't supporting my titles. They felt kind of meh about me and just as meh about my books, especially One Fine Day. Another house wanted to publish One Fine Day, but after some hand-wringing I decided to stay with the house that felt meh about it. A bird in the hand and all that. I'd already experienced moving to a new house only to have the editor depart as soon as my contract was signed, so I was gun-shy when it came to being courted. But in retrospect, I can see that staying was a bad idea. The book was released with no backing, and from that point on I didn't try. I just couldn't put myself out there any longer. I couldn't connect with the stories knowing I was writing more throw-away titles---as these neglected books were called in the biz. This sounds horribly melodramatic, but it's hard to write with a broken heart. Other writers will understand what I'm talking about.

I wrote five more romances after OFD, but I kept my distance and stuck to tried and true formulas. And I erased this book from my mind. Tried not to think about it ever again. The other writers who were doing these hybrids with little success either quit writing and vanished, moved into suspense, or moved into straight romance. I eventually moved into suspense.

Romance readers are always asking if I'll ever write another romance. It's really hard to go back there, even for a few days, so I don't know. I'm working on a trilogy about cats. It's kind of a romance, but not in the traditional sense.

My rating: If the sexcation were removed from One Fine Day, I would rate this book 5 out of 5. With the sexcation, 4 out of 5.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Had such a great time in Georgia. Love that place. I uploaded 140 pics to Flickr, and also made a slideshow that I uploaded to YouTube. Same photos both places. All were taken with my iPhone, most using Hipstamatic lenses.  The above photo is one of my favorites, taken in South Carolina near the area where I plan to set a Play Dead sequel.

The short story I wrote on Tybee Island is almost done. Just need to give it a final proof and polish, and then I'll send it to the mermaids at Mermaid Cottages.

Flickr Photos