Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hearts and Daggers

I'm pleased to report HEARTS AND DAGGERS is now available on Amazon in Kindle format. Along with one of the included novellas, I wrote the introduction for this book. I present it here for your reading pleasure.


Two years ago Amy Alessio approached Margot Justes and me with a unique idea for a writing project. She suggested we each compose a story that not only highlighted our own protagonists, but also included the main characters of the other two writers. The end result would be a three-novella romantic suspense book based on the theme of Valentine's Day.

Amy's novella would feature Alana O'Neill, bookkeeper for an antiques store called Attic Treasures and the protagonist in several of Amy's short stories. Margot's tale would revolve around Rebecca Standish, a Chicago art gallery owner who first appeared in the anthology Heat of the Moment. As for me, I'd write about Caroline Rhodes, the star player in my 'Rhodes to Murder' mystery series.

Alana O'Neill. Rebecca Standish. Caroline Rhodes. Each leading lady would have a chance to shine on her own while also appearing in a minor role in the other novellas.

Margot and I were undeniably intrigued by Amy's plan. The problem was, we were each involved in other projects at the time. Margot was working on her second mystery novel, A Hotel in Bath. I was concentrating on short story writing, editing for other authors, and promoting my own mystery series. As for Amy, she was busy co-authoring a book while also building her resume as a public speaker at libraries across the state. And at the time, all three of us were also working in careers other than writing. Where were we to find time for such an ambitious project as a three-novella romantic suspense book?

Like many 'best laid plans of mice and men', Amy's suggestion languished in writers' purgatory for almost a year. But when struck by a good idea, Ms. Alessio is not a woman easily denied. Early in 2010, she rallied her troops--those troops being Margot and me--into action with a battle plan for success. We responded as desired: we wrote and revised, wrote and revised, until at last we had stories fit for inclusion in Hearts and Daggers.

So now we present those stories for your reading pleasure. Amy's Blast From the Past has newlywed Alana O'Neill up to her ears in trouble when a murder occurs during a Valentine's Day party at Attic Treasures. Margot's A Fire Within deals with broken hearts, some of which can be mended and some of which never find peace again. And my Valentine offering, Framed, finds Caroline Rhodes falling for a handsome gambler who might be more than just a thief of hearts.

Mystery? Yes. Suspense? Definitely. Romance? All you could want. So go ahead and take a chance on us. We think you'll enjoy reading this book as much as we enjoyed writing it.

(And, BTW, have a happy Valentine's Day!)

Mary V. Welk, author of the 'Rhodes to Murder' mystery series

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Criminal Cats? Unbelievable!

Dark Things II: Cat Crimes
Edited by Patty G. Henderson
Savage Tiki Digi Books, Dec. 2011
ISBN 9781468055481
trade paperback, 243 pages
also available in E-book format

First things first. Yes, it’s true that I wrote one of the short stories selected for this collection of criminal capers involving cats. My story, Diamonds Aren’t Forever, is a piece I’m proud of and truly enjoyed writing.

But it’s also true that I have no close association with either the editor or the other writers who donated their stories to Dark Things II: Cat Crimes. I’m reviewing this book for two reasons only. First, because all proceeds from the sale of this book will go to support feline rescue and support facilities in California and Florida. And secondly, because I’ve read every story in the book, and I’m truly impressed with the quality of the work Patty chose for inclusion in the anthology.

Let me give you a brief sample of the tales so lovingly penned by the twenty-one contributors.

Jim Silvestri’s Eating Cleopatra features a young man who must compete with a bird and a cat for his mother’s love. All poor Chauncey wants is a little attention from dear old mum, but is he willing to go to any lengths to get it? Read the story and find out.

In Nat Burns’ Hisss, Darla is convinced that a dream about snakes shape-shifting into cats is not just a nighttime fantasy, but a true evolutionary explanation for the existence of felines. No one believes Darla—except her cats.

Dogs may enjoy the feel of a good brush down, but cats look on grooming by a human as sheer torture. In Room Service, by Patty G. Henderson, we learn how an angry Angora takes her revenge when a groomer’s shears leave her looking like a shaved poodle.

J. S. Watts’ Cats and Bags tells the story of a sympathetic feline whose beloved mistress suffers a sudden and severe decline in her health. Is a swift mercy killing preferable to an agonizing natural death? Only the cat knows.

Baby Lamb is an unusual cat. She won’t eat store-bought food, preferring to hunt for her dinner in the great outdoors. The weird thing is, when she catches a mouse or a pigeon, she never eats the flesh. Is it simply a coincidence that her former master once investigated the grave of Vlad the Impaler, the model for the fictional Count Dracula? You’ll have to read Anna Sykora’s Baby Lamb to find out.

Have you ever watched a cat play with his image in a mirror? In Edward DeGeorge’s The Other Cat, Skeeter the tabby undergoes a life-changing experience when he discovers another cat lurking behind a glass ‘window’ in his house. He can’t get at the intruder, and this irritates him no end—until the day the other cat passes through the window, causing all hell to break loose in Skeeter’s domain.

Last but not least, my own tale, Diamonds Aren’t Forever, features a trio of feline thieves who must compete with four robbers of the two-legged variety when they attempt to steal the famed Duchess Diamond of Baldagovia from a local city museum. Can Eddie G. and his trusty friends outwit a couple of behind-the-scenes manipulators, two not-so-trusty museum guards, and a doped-up Doberman Pinscher to save The Boss from the feared Axe Man? Given the plates of fresh catnip waiting as their reward, they’re sure going to try!

These are just a few of the tales recorded in Dark Things II: Cat Crimes. If you love cats, you’ll enjoy not only them, but also the other offerings this anthology of odd, funny, scary, and/or off-beat stories.

If, on the other hand, you hate cats, you’ll still enjoy this book: it will definitely confirm all your beliefs about conniving cats and their criminal natures.

And if you don’t care about cats one way or the other, buy this book for someone who does. I guarantee they’ll thank you for it.

And so will our furry little friends in California and Florida.


Monday, January 16, 2012

It snowed here in Chicago last week. Snow was falling when I woke up Thursday morning, and it didn't end until late Friday afternoon. We wound up with five inches of the white stuff, and were only saved from more because the ground was still warm due to the fifty-degree weather preceding the storm. Still, it made for some shoveling, and that I didn't mind. Shoveling gave me an excuse to abandon the dining room where I was struggling through the annual chore of sorting through bills, receipts, and records needed for filing our income tax.

(It also gave me that righteous feeling of burning off some calories, something much needed considering my post-holiday scale numbers.)

Thankfully, my husband does the major work on our taxes. My job consists of putting the records for my two C-Schedule forms into some kind of recognizable order, 'recognizable' meaning our accountant won't tear her hair out when she sees them.

You see, I have a bad habit of tossing everything into a folder in the file cabinet with the promise that "I'll get to it next week." Like tax procrastinators everywhere, "next week" usually means somewhere around April 10th.

This year, though, I decided to mend my evil ways. With my latest writing project finished and off to be formatted, I dug into my tax folder early. Good thing I did. It seems I'd misplaced the pamphlet from the Illinois Tollway Authority on which I'd scrawled the user name and password I use for their website. Without that, I had no way of downloading my toll records for the year. That might not seem a big deal if you don't use your car for business, but as a writer, I travel a lot, and those tolls add up quickly.

If you're reading this and you write on an active basis with profit as your goal, do you use Schedule C to report your income and losses? If you don't, you're liable to run into problems with the IRS. Royalties, advances, and any other profits from the sale of your books -- private sales at book fairs, presentations, libraries, or other customer events -- must be recorded on a Schedule C. Business expenses such as mileage and tolls to and from book events, lodging costs for conferences at which you're speaking, and ordinary business expenses connected to your writing -- office supplies, editing fees, advertising and marketing costs -- are deductible on a Schedule C form, as is depreciation of home office equipment such as your computer.

Whatever you do, don't be tempted to avoid paying the self-employment tax by reporting book profits -- royalties or other payments -- as "Other Income" on a Schedule A form. The IRS may treat your writing as a hobby rather than a business and may even audit your past tax returns, leaving you in a whole heap of trouble.

My best advice to serious writers is, get yourself a good accountant who understands publishing and the tax laws related to it.

And don't be like me and put off your tax chores until the last possible moment. I was lucky and eventually found my ITA pamphlet tucked in with the 2008 tax forms. How it got there I'll never know, but it sure came in handy for recording my 2011 toll payments. If I'd waited until April to look for it, I'd have been scrambling to get done by the 15th.

Then I really would have been snowed under! :)