Monday, August 31, 2009

Echelon Press Shorts

Echelon Press Shorts officially opens on September 1, 2009. So what can readers look forward to?

This month, they have new releases scheduled for the first AND the fifteenth. There is a wonderful list of authors whose stories they are excited about and who they know you will enjoy reading.

There are also authors waiting to meet you! Readers will enjoy new blog posts Monday through Friday by the most current authors. Read about their latest ventures, their characters, and get to know them. Both Echelon Press Shorts and the authors would love reader feedback, so feel free to leave comments.

During launch week, there will be new releases and posts from the authors of those stories. Readers will hear from Regan Black, Mark Vun Kannon, Michelle Sonnier, and yours truly, Mary Welk. To celebrate the launch of Echelon Shorts, they are giving away *free* ebook downloads. Want to know how? Visit Echelon Shorts on September 1 at

Great short stories available for a variety of readers -- that's what Echelon Shorts is all about.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Truth or Consequences, Part Two

In my last blog I wrote about a panel presentation at Killer Nashville that I participated in along with Linda Petrilli Duncan, Colleen Brogan-Raasch, and Dr. A. Scott Pearson. All us work in the medical field, and along with members of our audience, we universally decried the lack of accuracy in some medical mysteries and medical TV shows.

We agreed that because screenwriters are restrained by TV time limits, it’s understandable that they compress facts in order to make them fit a program’s time slot. Likewise, we agreed that fiction writers have a right to build on reality, sometimes taking events beyond what is normally credible in order to create suspense in their novels. Despite these caveats, we felt that professional writers have a duty to research medical facts so as not to present information that is obviously incorrect or misleading.

In my blog I asked if the same could be said for someone who blogs on the Internet. Can a person claim immunity from accuracy when expressing an opinion on medical matters that could possibly influence hundreds or thousands of people? Does this person have any less duty to research the facts than a novelist or screenwriter?

I don’t think so. No one writes a blog solely for his own personal amusement. Blogs are tools used by individuals to convey their opinions on matters of importance to them. They are meant to be read by others who consider those same matters important to them. Thoughtful bloggers form opinions about subjects after carefully examining all the facts related to those subjects. Less thoughtful bloggers – or those driven by something other than the truth – form opinions first, then twists the facts to fit their opinions.

There are consequences associated with the spread of false or inaccurate information via blogs. When that information has to do with medicine and matters of health, the consequences can affect us all. For example, consider what happened recently when a minor political celebrity with a flair for writing turned her imagination and disregard for facts to pressing medical problems. By constantly equating end-of-life counseling with “death panels” on her blog site, she not only resurrected her flagging political career, but also frightened thousands of uninformed citizens into believing their government was out to get them.

Oh, oh, you’re saying. Mary is straying into dangerous territory here. Mystery writers who want people to buy their books should stick to nice, comfortable blogs about nice, comfortable subjects. They certainly shouldn’t offend anyone by blogging on controversial subjects, such as the unfounded assertions of a certain resident of Alaska.

If I was only a mystery writer and had no other interests in my life, I might agree with you.

But forty-one years ago I stood in an assembly of my peers and repeated the solemn words of the Florence Nightingale Pledge. As a new graduate nurse, I swore to “devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care”. By swearing that oath, I committed myself to defending the right of my patients to receive truthful information regarding their medical problems and care, including information on end-of-life decisions.

Over the years I’ve spoken with many patients and their families regarding Living Wills, Power of Attorney for Health Care forms, and hospice care. By rights, their doctors should have discussed these matters with them long before their deteriorating medical problems drove them to the Emergency Room where I worked. But as one doctor told me, “I’m not good at that. I leave that to the nurses.”

One section of the currently proposed Health Reform Bill (HR 3200) would have lent monetary encouragement to doctors to discuss these end-of-life rights and decisions with their patients. But an Alaskan politician saw an opportunity to further her political ambitions by inciting fear in the populace with a lie, and that changed everything. Congressmen who voted overwhelmingly for end-of-life counseling in the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (Public Law 108-173) acted on the fear they saw in their constituents. They quickly aligned themselves with the Alaskan, conveniently forgetting how they’d voted for President Bush’s Medicare bill only six years ago. On August 13, 2009 they removed end-of-life counseling from consideration in any health care reform proposal.

The Alaskan who gained her state office by receiving 99,610 votes – a number smaller than the population of many towns or suburbs – must be gloating today. She not only cowed into submission the entire Congress of the United States of America, but also successfully managed to kill a good opportunity for people to learn how to take control of the final days of their lives.

This same Alaskan is now decrying the cost of the proposed health reform on her blog. I wonder how she feels about the costs related to TEFRA, the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1982 and still in place today. Former Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett said that “TEFRA raised taxes by $37.5 billion per year" and "according to a recent Treasury Department study, TEFRA alone raised taxes by almost 1 percent of the gross domestic product, making it the largest peacetime tax increase in American history." Nevertheless, among its many mandates, TEFRA made Medicaid payments available for the care of children with disabilities – including Downs Syndrome – regardless of their parents’ income.

I have no idea if the Alaskan in question has taken advantage of this government-run health care program for her child. I do know that many parents of children with Downs Syndrome are grateful that, despite the cost of the program, Congress passed TEFRA two decades ago. Any financial help they can get in caring for their children is deeply appreciated.

Likewise, when I speak to patients and families about their right to accept or refuse feeding tubes, mechanical ventilation, and other forms of invasive therapies that prolong the dying process, they inevitably respond with gratitude. Patients want to know their options. They want to have their wishes known and respected by their doctors, and they don’t want the difficult decisions left to family members who may not agree on end-of-life care. Mostly, they want to die peacefully, pain free, and with dignity. All of this is possible if they have Living Wills, Power of Attorney for Health Care forms, and understand what hospice is able to provide for them both at home and in a formal hospice setting.

The Alaskan would probably call me a member of a “death panel”. I call myself a responsible member of the nursing profession.

But then, she probably doesn’t have a Living Will or Power of Attorney for Health Care form.

I do.

And that’s not a lie.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Truth or Consequences

Truth or Consequences. Some of you may remember this old quiz show that appeared on several TV channels between 1950 and 1988. Contestants on the show had to answer questions truthfully or face some usually silly consequences.

I got to thinking about this program last Sunday when I appeared on a panel at Killer Nashville, a writers conference held in Franklin, Tennessee. The panel was called “Medical Professionals on Medical Mysteries and Thrillers” and featured Linda Petrilli Duncan, Colleen Brogan-Raasch, and yours truly with A. Scott Pearson as our moderator. One of Scott’s questions dealt with accuracy in medical mysteries. He asked each of us how strongly we felt about the issue of credibility in our books.

The panel agreed that accuracy based on personal experience plus research was important to our stories. As could be expected, we all decried authors who failed to do their homework when writing medical mysteries. Each of us gave examples of false information contained in medical mysteries we’d read.

The conversation then turned to TV shows like “House”, “ER”, “CSI”, and “Gray’s Anatomy” that promote unrealistic views of medical personnel and the practice of medicine. We agreed that these shows sometimes do more damage than good because they influence people’s expectations of what science and medicine can accomplish. In reality, CSI officers do not get DNA results in twenty-four hours. Likewise, no self-respecting hospital would put up with the likes of Dr. Gregory House. If a real doctor performed the stunts attributed to House, he’d be booted out the door quicker than you could say ‘Mississippi’.

But, you say, these are fictional characters, and people know they must suspend their disbelief if they’re to enjoy a mystery novel or TV program. Maybe. But let’s face it. People are susceptible to believing the most outrageous things, and often confuse what is fiction for fact. I think this is especially true when it comes to what people read, see, or hear about medical matters.

Which brings me to the subject of “Truth or Consequences”.

Do professional writers have a responsibility to portray credible medical information in a novel or TV program? I believe they do. At the same time, I believe they have the right to build on that information to create suspense in a fictional novel or compress the information to fit into a TV time slot.

Can the same be said about someone who writes an op-ed article in a newspaper, or blogs on the Internet? Can someone claim immunity from accuracy when expressing an opinion on medical matters that could possibly influence hundreds or thousands of people? Does this person have any less duty to research the facts than a novelist or screenwriter?

I don’t think so, and I’ll tell you why in my next blog when I discuss the consequences associated with the spread of inaccurate information.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Villains & Heroes – Gotta Love ‘em.

Morgan Mandel, author of the newly released KILLER CAREER, joins us today as my guest blogger. Morgan says she enjoys variety both as a reader and a writer. Her past works include GIRL OF MY DREAMS, a romantic comedy about the misadventures of a reality show contestant, and TWO WRONGS, a romantic suspense involving wrongful imprisonment. Because romance quite often goes hand in hand with murder, Morgan joined both RWA and MWA when she began her writing career. She is a past President of Chicago-North RWA, presently serves as Library Liaison for MWMWA, and belongs to Sisters in Crime and EPIC.

And now, without further ado, here's Morgan!

Villains & Heroes – Gotta Love ‘em.

I love villains, don’t you? The more outrageous they are, the more intriguing they seem. They get away with stuff normal people can’t do. They kill, maim and destroy people, animals, even inanimate objects. We expect that of them.

That’s not all we expect. We want to know why the villain is bad. We need some kind of hint or reason, even if it’s flimsy, to make the bad guy more human. It could be a horrible childhood, a cheating spouse, an incurable disease, getting fired from a job, anything that could drive someone over the edge.

In Killer Career, the villain kills someone by throwing a rock at the back of her head. From my clues, readers should be able to deduce the reason behind the murder. At other points of the book, I slip in hints and flashbacks to explain the villain’s thinking. Yes, his thought processes are twisted, but at least the readers have something to grasp onto. That’s important. The more readers can bond in any way, even with a bad guy, the more satisfying the book will be.

So, even when villains are bad, we can still find ways to like them. What about heroes?

There’s so much to like about them. They look like we’d like to look. They do what we wish we could do. They’re clever and strong in mind and body. Despite tremendous odds, they come through and do the right thing. If only we could be like them.

But, let’s face it, nobody likes someone who’s too perfect. So, make sure to throw in a weakness or two to make your hero or heroine more human like the rest of us. It could be a quirky imperfection, like unruly hair or freckles, or a major one, like a physical or mental illness.

In Killer Career, the heroine has claustrophobia. The hero has a jealous streak. I gave good reasons for their thoughts and behavior, so readers could sympathize with them. That didn’t let my hero and heroine off the hook. Readers expect the good guys to rise above their weaknesses and do the right thing. I’ll let you guess how it all turns out.

What about you? Do you like to write or read about villains or heroes both, or maybe you like one more than the other? What tricks do you use to make them more human? Please share with us.

PS. Mary, thanks for hosting me at the first stop of my Killer Career Blog Book Tour!


And thanks to you for joining us here today, Morgan!

For more information about Morgan and her books, please visit her website,, her daily blog,, or any of her group blogs at,, and You’re also invited to join Morgan’s Ning site, at

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Vintage Cookbooks and Potato Pancakes

This is for all you mystery fans who also love good food! Instead of blogging here on Monday, I'm blogging about potato pancakes and my mother's mangled fingers (yes, they do go together!) on Amy Alessio's wonderful "Vintage Cookbooks" site,

Along with the blog I've included my grandmother's recipe for potato pancakes, and if you scroll down to previous blog entries, you'll find some delicious recipes from Amy and her past guests.

Good food and good books go together, so for a fun look back at the past and the role food had in my life (and my mom's!), please visit with me Monday at "Vintage Cookbooks",

I'll have a guest blogger here on Thursday, August 12th. Morgan Mandel enjoys variety in her writing. She's penned mysteries and romances, and even has a dog book in the works. Her latest release is a romantic suspense called Killer Career, published by Choice One Publishing Co. Morgan is a past President of Chicago-North RWA, presently serves as Library Liaison for MWMWA, and belongs to Sisters in Crime and EPIC.

Morgan will be discussing the role of heroes and villians in mystery novels. I hope you'll be able to stop by for Morgan's interesting take on the subject.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

We Have a Winner!

As you can see, this poor fella worked his fingers to the bone while Googling the questions from my two FUN FRIDAY blogs. Hopefully the rest of you had an easier time finding the answers.:) Thanks to everyone who entered the contest. Several of you came close to winning, but no one got all the answers right. In the end, Helen Kiker sent in the highest number of "officially correct" answers. Congratulations, Helen! As first prize winner, you'll be receiving a copy of Cynthia Polansky's fine novel, REMOTE CONTROL.

And now, here are the official answers to my mystery trivia quiz.

1. Who is Hercule Poirot's sidekick? (Captain Hastings)

2. Who wrote the Perry Mason series? (Erle Stanley Gardner)

3. In what town did Miss Marple live? (St. Mary Mead)

4. What facial feature is Jim Qwilleran famous for in the "Cat Who" series? (His salt-and-pepper mustache)

5. What was Charlie Chan's highest rank in the Honolulu Police Department? (Inspector)

6. What awards are given out at the Malice Domestic mystery con? (The Agatha awards)

7. Where is Edgar Allan Poe buried? (Westminster Graveyard, Baltimore)

8. What was the address of Sherlock Holmes' lodgings in London? (221B Baker Street)

9. Who is the author of the series featuring hard-luck thief John Dortmunder? (Donald Westlake)

10. Who is the co-author of Rita Mae Brown's mysteries? (A cat named Sneaky Pie Brown)

11. Who writes the "Death on Demand" series? (Carolyn Hart)

12. What is the name of Amelia Peabody's son? (Walter Peabody Emerson, better known as Ramses)

13. What is the name of Raz Buchanon's pig in the Maggody series? (Marjorie)

14. Who played Perry Mason on TV? (Raymond Burr)

15. What Scotland Yard official assisted Lord Peter Wimsey in his investigations? (Inspector Parker)

16. Who said, "Advice after mistake is like medicine after dead man's funeral." (Charlie Chan)

17. What was the name of Perry Mason's secretary, and who played her part in the TV series? (Della Street, played by Barbara Hale)

18. Name at least three actresses who portrayed Miss Marple in the movies or on TV. (Joan Hickson, Angela Lansbury, Margaret Rutherford, and several others too numerous to mention)

19. Who writes the Maggody series? (Joan Hess)

20. What are the names of Arly Hanks' mother and her mother's best friend? (Ruby Bee Hanks and Estelle Oppers)

21. How many children did Charlie Chan have? (Fourteen)

22. What's the address of Perry Mason's office? (The Brent Building, Suite 904)

23. Where did Nancy Drew live? (River Heights)

24. Sherlock Holmes first appeared in what story? (A Study in Scarlet)

25. What is the name of Charlie Chan's #1 son? (Henry Oswald Lee, known as Lee)

26. What does "Ruby" stand for in Ruby Bee Hanks' name? (Rubella – she was named after the measles)

27. What is Dahlia Buchanon's favorite food? (Twinkies)

28. Who wrote the Myron Bolitar series? (Harlan Coben)

29. Who are the Anthony awards named for? (Anthony Boucher, critic)

30. What was the name of Nancy Drew's boyfriend? (Ned Nickerson)

31. Whose series' titles bear the names of English pubs? (Martha Grimes)

32. Who writes the Caroline Rhodes mysteries? (Mary Welk)

Thanks again to all who entered the contest. I hope you enjoyed it!