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Guilty Pleasures?

Bekka : May 10, 2011 4:39 am : Latest News

Guilty Pleasures
By Rebecca Cantrell
What’s the guiltiest pleasure on my bookshelf?
I’m vaguely guilty about all the stacks of books I have that won’t even fit onto my shelves, but not enough to give them top billing. Because, really, they’re just a sign that I will never catch up and read them all and where’s the pleasure in that? (I know, the pleasure is in the journey of reading the ones I do get to. Thank you, Mr. Zen.)

The guiltiest pleasure on my bookshelf is my collection of newspapers from the 1930s. Here’s how it looks all tucked away nicely. It seems nice and safe and non-guilt inducing. And yet…
First off, it cost more than my Spartan soul can justify. I got them mostly on e-bay, for a song, and they are tax-deductible because I use them to write my books. But still, I probably could have found scanned in versions online for free. Version that did not have the delightful scent of old newspaper and ink. Versions that did not feel smooth under my caressing fingertips. Versions that you couldn’t leaf through, just as the original subscriber did, eighty long years ago. Yes, pleasures of the eye and nose and hand won out over common sense. Guilty.
Secondly, I worry that those priceless artifacts will be destroyed while under my protection. Much like the dining room table that has needed to be refinished for ten years. And don’t even get me started on the sorry condition of the chairs. Back to the bookshelf. Those newspapers are made of lovely old paper. And Kona eats paper. It covers it with mildew. It sends silverfishes scurrying in. It dispatches geckoes to poop on it. And I have recklessly brought those newspapers here.

I try to keep them safe. I store them in a blue archival box recommended by a friend who sets up museum exhibits (nice job at the California Academy of Sciences, BTW, Pixie!). It’s acid free and protects against gecko poop and maybe silverfish.


I have a dehumidifying box in there that has magic crystals that suck the moisture out of the air to protect the paper from mildew. But when I took the box down for these pictures, the indicator crystal had changed from friendly blue to poisonous pink.

It’s in the oven now, having the moisture backed out of it, but how long was it pink? What evil befell the newspapers during the weeks it might have sat there, flashing out a pink beacon of despair?


I don’t know. But I know it’s all my fault.

Still, I think I will go re-read those newspapers one more time before they succumb…
What’s YOUR guilty bookshelf pleasure?
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Thriller, mystery, or cheater?

Bekka : April 26, 2011 8:37 am : Latest News

by Rebecca Cantrell
Here’s an opening based on a thriller I’m working on. I fudged a bit. The scene is set in Venice, so there’s no high rise, and Clara’s in her 20s instead of her 30s. But at least I followed a couple of the rules of the assignment. There’s a gun and he’s older than her.
A woman in a burgundy suit showed her to Commissario Rutelli’s office. Stacks of paper towered from each corner of his scarred wooden desk. The papers on the bottom looked older than he did. Between the stacks was a pistol. She had seen one like it before in a glass case in Vienna. And another near the body of a dying man.
“Signora Bloch.” He rose and took her hand between both of his. “You are well?”
She pried her hand free and gestured to the pistol. “A connoisseur, I see.”
“The M1910?” He made a sound of dismissal. “A common gun here.”
“Yet it is the gun that killed Archduke Ferdinand and started the first world war,” she said. “The tool of an assassin.”
* * *
I rewrote it as a mystery. I don’t quite like it yet, but decided to post it anyway. Not all experiments are successful, and that’s important to show too. Or at least that’s the high falutin’ excuse I’m spouting so that I can gracefully give up and go to bed.
I took a water taxi to the police station. The brackish water reeked of decaying fish, the smell of the sea that my mother always raved about. I clenched my hands in my lap and tried not to think about her.

At the Questura a woman in a burgundy suit with a golden scarf knotted in that clever European fashion that I could never master showed me to Commissario Rutelli’s office.
I knocked once and went right in before he could send me away.
He sat in a rickety office chair that failed all Silicon Valley’s ergonomic standards, head resting on a stack of papers piled up on his desk. A pistol sat square on his desk next to his outstretched hand.
“Hello?” I asked, but he didn’t move. In fact, he wasn’t going to ever move again.
* * *
You be the judge: is the thriller a thriller? the mystery a mystery? or did I cheat the assignment?
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Inciting a riot for the paperback release of A NIGHT OF LONG KNIVES

Bekka : April 12, 2011 5:39 am : Latest News

By Rebecca Cantrell
Today’s post is about inciting a riot and then getting off scot free. Hannah Vogel, as we know, never gets off scot free, no matter how glib she might be. This is because her author is mean to her and forces her to constantly confront Nazis in a time of escalating evil. I’ve assured everyone that, between shootings and stabbings and poisonings, she sits around in Switzerland eating the really good chocolate and getting daily massages from a hot Swedish guy named Ulf. So far, no one believes me.
I’m suffering from a bit of disbelief myself. According to my publisher and Amazon and Barnes & Noble and various other online sources, the paperback version of A NIGHT OF LONG KNIVES is being released TODAY. Yes, today. Sorry for shouting there, but I’m excited.
I want to find my book in the wild (a bookstore) and take pictures and hold it and pet it and casually watch every single person who comes in to see if they will hold it and pet it and buy it. I want to turn its cover out when no one is looking. I want to write my name on it and stick the “Autographed Copy” sticker on the front with my own hands.
But I can’t. I live on one of the most geographically remote islands on Earth and it’s turning out to be literarily remote as well. Our local Borders went out of business on Saturday. We bought “The Haynes Manual for the Starship Enterprise” on the very last day, plus the first Ian Rutledge mystery because I felt that Inspector Rutledge has been through enough and couldn’t bear to think what might happen to him after closing. Which is a long way of saying: my book isn’t there this time, because there is, in point of fact, no there there.
We have a lovely indie bookstore called Kona Stories in the Keauhou Shopping Center. I’ve bought most of my books there for the last few years and I’ll definitely get to pet A NIGHT OF LONG KNIVES when it finally arrives there. But it’s not there yet.
So, I’d like to incite a riot. Please rush to the nearest bookstore and look for the beautiful paperback with the zeppelin on the cover. Take pictures and pet it and turn its cover out. And, if you want, feel free to sign it and slap a sticker right on the front! Talk your way out of it if you can.
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My Reference Shelf?

Bekka : March 15, 2011 7:01 pm : Latest News

Sorry for the lateness of today’s post. I just got back from the Tucson Festival of Books and collapsed in an exhausted, dried up husk instead of writing my blog post.

Today’s topic? What’s on my reference shelf? I have all the standard writing books on the writing shelf to the left of the dresser, the one that’s covered with necklaces that I forgot to put away and dust dunnies and a valentine from my son with a bug on it. Titles include: Elements of Style (Strunk and White), The Hero’s Journey (Christopher Vogler), Save the Cat (Blake Snyder, and yes I know it’s formulaic, but some of the advice is still damn good), Romancing the A-list (Christopher Kean), The Joy of Writing Sex (Elizabeth Benedict, but it’s still not joyful and I cannot write sex scenes at Starbucks because I’m that much of a prude).
Then I have all the titles that are specific to what I write: Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (William Shirer), Blood and Banquets (Bella Fromm), I Will Bear Witness (Victor Klemperer), Voluptuous Panic (Mel Gordon, and the pictures are so racy that I hide it under my archival box of newspapers), bound editions of Berlin Illlustrierte Zeitung from 1931 plus one from 1934, BZ anniversary edition to 1986, Lenya (Donald Spoto), What I Saw (Joseph Roth), Counterfeit Spy (Sefton Delmer, and yes it was expensive because it’s out of print so I didn’t let myself buy it until I sold my book), plus more.
My thesaurus fell apart, so I use and (although they put a bunch of tracking cookies on your computer, and are, in fact the worst offender when it comes to building an online profile of you according to the Wall Street Journal). I also love Online Etymology Dictionary because they give great histories of words. They’re by no means complete, but what they do have is fascinating! I also spend a lot of time at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and YouTube has an amazing collection of videos of Berlin in the 1930s is you poke around a bit.
For my upcoming novel, A GAME OF LIES, I spent a lot of time reading the 1,500 page official report of the 1936 Olympics. It’s in two volumes. One is here. Volume Two is here.
Yes, I’m in touch with my inner research nerd.
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Dump the body

Bekka : February 1, 2011 4:53 am : Latest News

Your protagonist blows a tire on a deserted road. When she checks for the spare, she finds the body of a young girl (mid-teens.) What does she do?

Living in Berlin in the 1930s with a small income, Hannah doesn’t have a car. In “A Trace of Smoke,” she couldn’t even drive, but by “A Night of Long Knives,” she was a good enough driver to steal Ernst Röhm’s staff car and light out after Hitler. In the upcoming “A Game of Lies” a certain wine-red Opel Olympia plays a key role too.

Here’s a quick step through the cars in Hannah’s life:

Boris’s car in “A Trace of Smoke,” except that his was black and had that fancy flask of expensive whiskey in the glove box (and gloves too).

Hitler’s staff car, a twin to the one Hannah steals in “A Night of Long Knives.” (and no, I don’t actually know what kind of car Röhm drove, but if you’re going to steal, steal big)

That wine-red Opel Olympia in “A Game of Lies,” except that this one’s not red. But it did come in dark red, plus white, sea blue, green, medium blue, beige, medium green, green and five shades of gray (light sand gray, dark gray, German khaki which is more gray than green, light gray, and grayish beige). That many shades of gray under the Nazi regime. Oh, the irony.
So, what if she found a body in any of those? Hannah was a nurse, so the first thing she would do is check for a pulse. Assuming there was no chance of resuscitation, she’d dump the body somewhere and hope it would be found and sorted out. Then she’d sort things out but good with the owner of the car.
After that she’d stick with the transportation she’s most familiar with: trains, subways, buses, and zeppelins.
How about you? What would you do with a body in the trunk?
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Promotional present from Santa?

Bekka : January 18, 2011 8:00 pm : Latest News

by Rebecca Cantrell

Here’s my problem (and I suspect I’m not alone): there is TOO MUCH to do. I twitter. I Facebook. I do physical book tours. I do virtual blog tours. I check in at goodreads and shelfari. I blog. I read and comment on other blogs. I have a newsletter. I go to conferences and book festivals. I review books. I help out organizations. I judge major contests. I do TV (a couple of times). I do radio (likewise). I get great reviews (and bad ones). I read about marketing. I try to reach my niche. I check through my google analytics web site data. It’s exhausting.

And through it all, I have a sinking feeling that I’m not doing enough, or I’m not doing enough of the right thing. To make matters worse, I have no direct proof that any of those things work. Nada. It’s all “indirect.” Maybe I wouldn’t sell any books at all if I didn’t do all that stuff. Or maybe I could stop doing half or all of it and sell just as many. No one knows.

I’m tired and I’ve decided I’m abrogating responsibility to someone else. I’ve figured out what they need to do. What I want is for someone to invent the Right Place for readers. Readers will find the books they like, really like, and buy them. Readers will be happy. Writers will be happy. Once my books are in there, I know they’ll find readers who love them.

In the olden days, that place was bookstores, and sometimes it still is. There are many wonderful bookstores staffed by people who know what their customers read and like and can recommend books they’ll enjoy and set up events for writers and readers to mingle (Poisoned Pen in AZ for one, Book Passage in San Francisco, M is for Mystery in San Mateo, The almost late Mystery Bookstore in Westwood, Kona Stories in my hometown). I go to those stores whenever I can and I buy as many books there as I can afford. If they don’t have what I want, I ask them to order it. Sadly, it’s clear that not enough people do. More and more indie bookstores go out of business every year. Even the two biggest chains, Borders and Barnes & Noble, seem to be floundering.

I want the web analog. I want a giant online bookstore (and, yes, I have heard of Amazon, B&, etc. Bear with me). How to build this online paradise?

Make it about me. Like Netflix. When I go to Netflix, it tells me what I just saw and how much I liked it. It gives me Top Picks of things I might like based on the bajillion movies I’ve actually rated and watched. It’s a small, manageable list. I can see it all at a glance. And, dang nab it, it’s usually right. I can scroll through the list if it’s not. Or scroll down and see more movies tailored to my preferences that are sorted by category (comedy? Here’s 5 you’ll like. Thrillers? Ditto). It doesn’t have a ton of things to look at and click on (although it’s still too busy).

When I go to most bookselling web sites, in contrast, it’s all about THEM. What books they have. What books they like. What books they want to sell me at a discount. I’d be old and gray if I actually browsed through all that. I don’t want infinite choices, at least not all at once. There’s too much. I don’t want to wade through One More Thing. I’m tired, remember?

Pop up that predictive software. Instead of “Customers who bought what you bought” at the bottom of the page, that should be my home page. Sure, I can choose to browse and look at all your other stuff, but I don’t have to. Yes, I know that Amazon has a “My Amazon” section, but it doesn’t captivate me like Netflix.

Start aggregating stuff. It’s not just about books. It’s about the love of books. Help me connect to other booklovers all in one place. Give me the top 10 mystery blogs. The top 10 mystery reviewers. Discussion groups. You get the idea. The content is all there already. Filter it. Curate it. Use your knowledge of books and bookselling to help me get what I want, not what you think I should want.

Simplify your design. I have a tiny netbook computer. When I go to bookselling web sites, do you know how many things I can click on without even having to scroll?

At B&N it’s 48, Amazon, 30. It’s overwhelming. Netflix comes in with a more manageable 18, although that’s still too busy. Apple, financial juggernaut of design? Only 10.

How about it indies? Amazon? Barnes & Noble? Google? Apple? Santa? Can you build this place for me and all the other readers out there? I know you have the technology. Build it so I’ll have more time to write and more time to read. Or, build it because it will help you sell more books (I like it when you sell books, even if they’re not mine).

I really want dialogue on this, Oh Gentle Blog Readers. What’s YOUR dream online bookstore look like?

(One of these days I also want to talk about online conferences, like the wonderful conference put on by Poisoned Pen last year. But that’s another post.)


‘Twas the night before

Bekka : December 21, 2010 5:12 pm : Latest News

‘Twas the night before…

By Rebecca Cantrell
‘Tis the season to be sentimental. This year I’ve been thinking about things that I’m grateful for as a writer. So, as a warning, I’m going to list them off now. It will be sappy. The less sensitive among you should go back and read Josh’s post on the 8 days of Hannukah. It has more severed penises than sentimental phrases and is, like all Josh’s stuff, good writing.
These writerly things I’m grateful for are in no particular order:

I am grateful for other writers. Just today I received in the mail a box of books from the talented YA author Kathryn Lasky. Her novels, The Guardians of Ga’Hoole, were made into a movie last summer that my son and his friends loved. Kathryn heard about my books from our mutual agent and read mine and now just sent me some of her books, including two signed for my son. What a lovely holiday present! To find another writer likes your book and gives you hers. And that is just the most recent example of writerly camaraderie I’ve experience from writers published and non, including my fellow blog mates. I’m sober and I’m sayin’ to all of my fellow writers (male and female): I love you, man!

I am grateful for readers. I’m humbled and thrilled every time someone tells me they read my book. In this day and age the investment of $25 for a hardcover book and hours of your time to read it is a precious commodity. And then some folks actually go out of their way to write a review or an email or come to a reading. Wow. Just wow. Bless you readers, every one!
What possesses people to spend their whole lives helping others to get their vision out there? How did I get lucky enough to stumble on them? I don’t know, but I’m immensely grateful that such people exist, from agents to editors to cover designers to booksellers to reviewers to bloggers. Without you I’d just be writing quietly in my cave (which I have to confess that I do adore) and I would never have met those other writers and readers.
Thank you everyone! And happy holidays! You all already gave me the best presents ever.
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If Mina Won the Lottery…

Bekka : October 26, 2010 6:36 pm : Latest News

What would my protagonist do if she won the lottery?
By Bekka Black (aka Rebecca Cantrell)
If it were Hannah Vogel’s month and she won the lottery, I think her first order of business would be to hire someone to put out a hit on me so I stop messing up her life and let her live a happy and peaceful life in Switzerland. But, luckily, it’s not her month. 🙂

This is October and that’s iDrakula’s month. I’ll give the lottery to Mina Murray, the teenager hunted by Dracula through the streets of New York with only her trusty cell phone and a pre-med student named Abe Van Helsing by her side. She’s tough and smart though, so Dracula had better look out!
Mina’s a practical sort, with a kind heart. If she won the lottery, the first thing she would do is give money to the Red Cross to support blood donations. Mina, of all people, understands the importance of getting fresh blood when you need it.
Next, she would start some kind of Vampire Killing Club to track down vampires around the world and settle the score for the humans. They eat us, and clearly that can’t be allowed to continue. Mina worked hard enough to make New York vampire-free. She’s a think global, act local kinda girl. But she can branch out. I imagine the foreign arms, particularly Romania, would need the most funding initially, but vampire legends put them everywhere on the globe. Good thing her iPhone has a translator app.
I think the VKC would also need a very cool research and development arm. My son suggested the first item to develop: a machine gun for shooting stakes. It’s really indispensable if you’re faced with multiple assailants, want to take them out from a distance, or want something that looks really cool. I like the one in the picture because it’s got an 1890s Steampunk aesthetic that the original Mina Murray would have admired too.
I experimented with a ring of fire idea in the climax of iDrakula and I think that would be important shielding technology. Not like a flamethrower, more like a ring you can stand in that surrounds you with fire. I think there would be some weight issues with this, so suggestions are welcome.
Any other suggestions of other projects for the VKC?
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It’s alive!

Bekka : October 2, 2010 9:30 pm : Latest News

After all that waiting, iDrakula is finally here! And in tons of formats.
There’s the print book, at bookstores everywhere (and Amazon).
There’s the ebook. I’ve only seen the iPad version so far but it’s lovely!
And as an app in Apple’s app store!

I’m a bit in shock that this little idea I had on a plane just a bit more than a year ago is now out there in the world. Wow.

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So close I can almost taste it…

Bekka : August 30, 2010 10:29 pm : Latest News

iDrakula comes out as an iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch app in just two weeks! I can’t believe it’s almost here. That little idea I had on a plane is going to see the light of day (or the dark of night) so very soon.

And the first trade review is in from Kirkus (they’re hard to please)….they really liked it! Awesome news. A big excerpt from the review is over on the Books page.

I can’t wait to see what comes next…

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