Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hurricane Katrina Anniversary- Part 2

Part 2 of my Katrina Anniversary Blog is up at

If you leave a comment on any of the Katrina Blog series, you'll be entered in a drawing for a signed copy of Gumbo Justice.

Holli Castillo


Reviewing and Review Copies
By Wendy Gager

I’m writing a blog this week on something I know next to nothing about in the hopes of those with more information will comment and I will learn something. The topic is getting reviews for your book.

Everyone wants good reviews and I would even take a few bad reviews if they were constructive criticism. My question is how do you get good reviews? I’ve asked fellow authors and been turned down. (None were Oak Tree authors) Is there some unwritten rule that says you can only review books if they are by the same publisher?

I know most “reputable” reviewers need the book at least two months in advance. How do you do that? Do you send them a printed second-edit copy or electronic PDF? I’ve asked for volunteers to review it and sent out books to people and no reviews. Big publishers send out advance review copies by the hundreds in the hopes they will get a few good reviews. I don’t have the budget for that.

I get notes from readers that they like it or they couldn’t put it down which really keep me going, but no notable reviews. I thought I would be better at it with the second book but I’m not. I would like to send out more books but with the cost of the books and postage, it is costly. I would like them to go where it will make an impact. What are some of the ways you have gotten reviews? (Mike I will be curious to hear your response from Dorothy L)

Just trying to create a buzz outside my little circle but can’t seem to even catch the bubble.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hurricane Katrina Anniversary- Part 1

I have posted part 1 of a blog on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina at

If you leave a comment on my blog site on any of the Katrina anniversary blogs I am doing over the next few days, you will be entered in a drawing for a signed copy of Gumbo Justice, just a little promotion while I am finishing up the second book, Jambalaya Justice. If you already have Gumbo Justice, leave a comment anyway and if you win the drawing, you can resell it or gift it.

Holli Castillo

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

big cons, little cons

Over the ten years I've been writing my mystery series, I've been to quite a few conferences. I've enjoyed each for different reasons and will go to B'Con in October in San Francisco because it's 1. close, and 2. I hope I'll have a new book out and there's no place better to "launch" a new story than at a conference.

Beverly asked which are better, the big or small events, and I'd have to answer, It depends. The best reason to attend any conference is to get our names out there. Unlike non-fiction that's usually discovered by looking up the subject matter, fiction is found by knowing the author's name, our names, period. I've been lucky enough to always have a panel or two, and have often moderated, as well. Those rows of people listening to the chatter will get to know you and, hopefully, they'll tell their friends. THAT is the best reason to spend all the money (and it DOES add up). Another reason, a more personal one, is to network, meet old friends, share the gossip--all the social reasons for going.

I always do the simple math that compares what I'll "get out of it" and how much it's costing me. It's not just the travel fares, the cost of the conference itself, the hotel, food, and everything else, but I live on a working ranch with a husband who teaches in the Bay Area and anytime both of us are gone we must hire a "ranch sitter." I certainly won't sell enough books to cover all that, but I may, if I'm lucky, meet some nice, new folks and get my name out there and both of those will pay off in the long run!


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Review of Days on the Beach

DAYS ON THE BEACH was published in 2009, seven years after author John Taylor retired from The Oakland California Police Department. He has since had another book published based on his experiences as a soldier in Viet Nam.

The phrase, days on the beach, is Oakland police slang for time spent on disciplinary suspension, and the cops in this story earn every beach day they are given. Although a work of fiction, I suspect the antics described in BAYS ON THE BEACH are not too far from reality. Cynicism is part of the armor cops wear to shield their psyches from what they deal with on the mean streets.

Officer Bull Brewster, disgusted at being dispatched to deal with a cat in a tree, asks the tearful owner, “Lady, you ever see a cat’s skeleton in a tree?” When the owner admits she hasn’t, he says, “That’s because cats don’t dies in trees. Your cat will come down when he is damn good and ready.”

Being rude to tearful old ladies is a minor transgression, but even that brings a scolding from Chief Ernie because of Bull’s record. Which includes such things as he and fellow officer Duke Washington donning gas masks and streaking naked through the morning briefing. When nothing is on the line, the OPD is a fraternity house gone wild. But a psychopathic pair of killers brings out the best in these cops who put their lives on the line without hesitation to do their job.

DAYS ON THE BEACH is an astounding piece of writing. The deadpan description of the most heinous crimes is chilling. Taylor’s juxtapositioning of pranks and depravity reflects the mental place cops have to reach in order to survive. Do not dwell on the evil. Just track it down and destroy it.

In its lighter moment, the story might be one spun by Carl Hiaasen. In its darker moments, it could have been written by Eddy Duran of STONE COLD KILLERS.

DAYS ON THE BEACH is not for everyone. It is grisly. It depicts wanton cruelty. But it is also funny, heartwarming, and well-written. When the story wasn’t chilling, I was usually either laughing or crying. Mostly the latter at the end.

John Taylor is an excellent writer, his prose unpretentious. He tells an honest story with a fast pace and a sympathetic voice.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Hi All!
By the time you read this, Billie & I will be wrapping up our exciting weekend in Tennessee. I'm post dating the blog to make it on my assigned Sunday.

I'm anticipating humidity, something I'm not used to in California. I wanted to attend this conference because the chances of meeting Jeffrey Deaver any other time in my life seems minimal. Plus, I had a free round-trip flight for giving up my seat in Miami.

Once I started making plans, everything snowballed. I have a friend, Del Tinsley, who I met many years ago at Bouchercon Las Vegas. She's been incredibly supportive of my writing. Another friend relocated from this area and is with Sisters in Crime in Tennessee. She'll be there. I'm also on a panel with a woman from NC whose book I blurbed. And, my webmistress (also from NC) is exicited to hook up.

Two of my former Navy WAVE buddies are coming to see me. One is from Georgia now, we were stationed in Newport, RI, together. The other was stationed with me in Puerto Rico and Orlando. We haven't seen each other in 35 years.

I'm on a short story panel and a marketing panel. The conference organizer had heard of me and was very generous to give me two panels. I think of myself as a regional writer but it seems I have fans in Tennessee.

And that's why I'm telling you all this. Conferences start out as being fun, a chance to meet authors and get books signed. At some point, you move from just attending to participating. You may have to scramble to get a foot in the door (volunteering helps, as does being an expert in something). Play your cards right and invitations start coming in. You might even get paid, but usually the reward is a book signing.

The people you meet and network with will be there for you throughout your career. You'll meet up with them at other conferences and communicate on the Internet. Some will remain peers, some will become close friends. You'll follow their careers. It's an exciting existence.

I'm anticipating ribs, country music and the tang of Southern accents over the long weekend. Billie and I will talk business and be sociable. I will probably collapse on the plane trip home. I'm sure it will be worth it. And oh, the stories I'm sure I'll have to tell!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Greetings from Nashville!!

I've just come away from the interview with guest of honor, Jeffrey Deaver. He's an engaging fellow, and full of great stories about his writing life and the things forthcoming.

Killer Nashville is a super conference, and one well worth putting on your travel list for next year. Lots of super panels and speakers and the mingling is outstanding.

For me, however, the high point of the trip was my visit and tour though the Lightning Source operation. My tour was conducted by our Ingram Services rep who seemed to know absolutely everything about the Ingram/LSI/Amazon/Barnes & Noble operations. And, if their current operation was not spectacular enough, a run-down of their plans for the next ten years definitely took them over the top.

I will put more detail into some in-house memos, but suffice it to say, I am convinced we are in the right spot to ride through the changes that the publishing industry will be going through...exciting times ahead!

Oh, and Mike and Sunny are here...and both of them are nominated for the Falchion Award!

Billie Johnson

Thursday, August 19, 2010

All the Big Guys are Out of Town!

Tee hee! I've been trying to think up some mischief to get into since I know that our publisher, acquisition's editor and some of our authors are attending the big writers conference in the south. I envy them, it's a conference I've always wanted to attend.

Can't think of a thing naughty to do--so I think I'll talk about conferences a bit. I love going to writers conferences. Of course my favorite is PSWA's, mainly because it's small and you really get to know everyone who attends.

This year I'm going to Bouchercon in San Francisco. I've been to other Bouchercon's and know that it can be overwhelming. They have so many tracks going at once that it's hard to decide what to go to. There are also lots and lots of people. You might make a new friend and never seem them again. Usually I go to these things with my husband, but this year I'll be rooming with a writer friend who I haven't seen for awhile. There'll be plenty of people there I know--but you never know if you'll run into them or not.

Next year I've decide to limit my conference going to two: PSWA and Mayhem in the Midlands. The rest of our traveling will be around California to book festivals and the like.

I'm anxious for our "big guys" to return and tell us about what they've learned this weekend.

I'll be heading to Nipomo tomorrow for a book and craft fair at the Nipomo Library on Saturday. In case you're wondering where Nipomo is, it's very close to Santa Maria, CA.

From there we're heading down the coast where we'll be spending some time with two of our daughters, but also I'm giving a talk to a women's group in Ventura about my life as a writer.

Though I loved my review of An Axe to Grind from Mike Orenduff, it was time for new content to be on this blog.


Friday, August 13, 2010


NOTE: Many readers of this blog will already know much of the information about the Rocky Bluff PD series, but I include it for those who do not.

AN AXE TO GRIND is the sixth of F. M. Meredith’s Rocky Bluff PD series. The previous five, in order, are FINAL RESPECTS, BAD TIDINGS, FRINGE BENEFITS, SMELL OF DEATH, and NO SANCTUARY (which I reviewed on this site a year ago).

For those who might want the books, I should mention that FINAL RESPECTS is no longer available unless you can find a used copy. The next three are available only from the author’s website (, and the two most recent ones are available or can be ordered from anywhere you buy new books thanks to Oak Tree Press which keeps books available. All the books except for BAD TIDINGS are also available on Kindle.

When I first heard of the series, I thought it was about a private detective named Rocky Bluff, which struck me as a hackneyed-sounding name. I realized PD stands for ‘police department’ only when I started to read NO SANCTUARY. Rocky Bluff is a good name for a small fictional community on the California coast.

I enjoy Meredith’s unforced prose. Sergeant Abel Navarro is looking at a man whose head has been cut off, and he summarizes, “Including the missing head, he would be around five-foot-ten.” The arrival of Detective Frank Marshall leads to this exchange:

“Do we know the identity of the victim?”

“Nope, haven’t touched a thing, “ Abel said, and hoped he didn’t have to.

“Know where the head is?”

“No, but I didn’t look for it either.”

The people of Rocky Bluff are as real as your neighbors. Meredith is the American version of England’s Barbara Pym, a writer known for characterization and sketches of village life. Of course Pym’s books are comedies of manners and Meredith’s are murder mysteries, but good characters and good stories are what make any genre work.

The plot of AN AXE TO GRIND engages the reader comfortably. The beheaded man was a lout who had been stalking a young woman, so her protective brother, her hot-headed father and her jealous boyfriend all make interesting suspects. Meredith is also good at suspenseful finishes, and AN AXE TO GRIND does not disappoint on this score. With an old warehouse, lots of fog for which Rocky Bluff is famous, a cop following a hunch that backfires, and his fiancĂ© wondering where he is, it’s a nail-biter.

The Rocky Bluff PD books are police procedurals given depth by attention to how the officers’ personal lives are affected by their work. Over the course of the series, there are deaths, divorces, and weddings. Friendships are made then, in the next book, frayed. Each book is a stand-alone, and they needn’t be read in order, although I know many mystery fans insist on doing that. It may be a bit better to do that, but I haven’t and I’ve enjoyed the three I have read thus far.

I believe I bought one of the last copies of FRINGE BENEFITS. I look forward to reading the remaining three if I can find a copy of FINAL RESPECTS.

Mike Orenduff

Book Giveaways

I am really excited to have a new fan in Italy. Barb G. Tarn won a copy of Gumbo Justice on BlogJog day some time back. I didn't know when I picked her that she lived in Italy, but shipping was reasonable and I was pretty psyched about having my book travel all the way to Rome.

I thought maybe she hadn't enjoyed the novel because I hadn't heard back from her, but she emailed me a few days ago and said she had finally gotten around to reading it and finished it in two days because she couldn't put it down. She also mentioned it was the first police procedural/legal drama book she had read, so I was thrilled. She has done a nice short review on Amazon, as well as a little bit longer review on her website, and is featuring me in an interview on her blog as Author of the Month.

Her website is

As much as I enjoy reviews and interviews and free publicity, I think I am more stoked about having a fan in another country than anything else. Book giveaways, totally worth it to me.

Holli Castillo

Thursday, August 12, 2010

a nice thing

Hi all,

We were in Santa Barbara celebrating several family birthdays by renting a delightful cottage by the ocean. The manager came over to greet us and said, "Kit Sloane? Are you THAT Kit Sloane, the mystery writer?" It seemed that the young woman had actually read my books! What a nice treat for me! (I just wish there were more of her...) And, of course, it was very nice to be acknowledged professionally in front of the whole family :)

So nice things do happen, even to us authors!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The 2010 Philadelphia Writers' Conference

The 62nd Annual Philadelphia Writers’ Conference took place on June 11, 12, and 13. Newsman Larry Kane entertained us in the opening session with his anecdotes about traveling with the Beatles in the 1960’s, including a story of how actress Jayne Mansfield made out with John Lennon in the back seat of a limousine with Larry sitting between them. Keep an eye out for Kane’s first novel, a thriller. He shared the beginning of the book with us and it was a grabber.

A workshop on the contemporary short story emphasized the need for a writer to be receptive to his or her surroundings since a good story may pop up at any time. As an example the instructor provided some quirky stories about his mother, who always had praise for her son, not because of his writing, but because he really knew how to pack a dishwasher.

Premiere Philadelphia playwright Bruce Graham said that inspiration can come from one’s own life or news stories (which must then be researched). He said that writing about what makes a person angry can be a good springboard to a story. There was a workshop on flash fiction, which, when done effectively, can be amazing in the almost poetic distillation of character and action.

Recent Agatha winner Elena Santangelo was there giving good advice on mystery writing. She definitely reminded me about the importance of means, motive, and opportunity in a story. Since I did not attend the Saturday night banquet, she informed me Sunday morning that the first short story I had written in about twenty-five years had won an award. It was nice to finish up the conference on that encouraging note.

Gus Cileone

Friday, August 6, 2010

Lingering Spirit Press Release

(Since no one has posted for a few days, thought I'd share my press release. I've sent it to local papers and posted it all over the web.)

Lingering Spirit by Marilyn Meredith Receives High Praise

After a month long Virtual Book Tour with Pump Up Your Promotions for Meredith’s latest book, Lingering Spirit, she is thrilled to announce that the book has received wonderful reviews from many sources. During the tour Lingering Spirit made the top 100 best sellers on Amazon.

Book blurb: After, Steve, her police officer husband is killed in the line of duty, Nicole Ainsworth struggles with the changes forced on her life. Her efforts to focus on her daughter an cope with her grief are kept off-balance by Steve’s ghostly visitations who seems to be trying to communicate with her. Eventually, Nicole finds that Steve isn’t the only one watching over her, and discovers a second chance for love.

Review Snippets:

“…Meredith is a master of characterization. She fully rounds out the facets of her protagonists’ personalities and richly develops the details of the supporting cast. She does not hit any false notes with her dialogue and builds strong relationships among her characters. She realistically describes what a young widow would go through following the tragic death of her husband.
Overall, uncovering why this spirit lingers is an incredibly moving experience.”

--New York Journal of Books--Reviewer Nicole Langan owns the independent publishing house, Tribute Books

5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous Book!
“…Lingering Spirit is well worth buying and spending time with. It'll give you a lot to think about after the story is finished. I loved it, as you can tell. It's the perfect summer OR winter read. Great book, one of my favorite reads this year.” --Beth Anderson, author and book reviewer.

“I rate this book 5 Stars out of 5 Stars!
I LOVED this book I could not put it down! I am telling you all Marilyn is a FANTASTIC writer and anyone who does not read this book is missing out on a fabulous read…” – Vanessa -Ohio Girl Talks

“,,,I polished this book off in two days and you won't want to stop reading it once you pick it up.
Lingering Spirit is the type of book that romance lovers dream of finding.” –Cheryl Malandrinos, The Book Connection

Watch Lingering Spirit book trailer for a preview.

Autographed copies of the book are available from the author’s website
and the book can be ordered from any bookstore and online at all the usual places.

Lingering Spirit by Marilyn Meredith
Oak Tree Press

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Matrix- Life Imitating Art

Reading Wendy Gager’s post about the similarities between her latest Mitch Malone novel, A Case of the Accidental Intersection, and something that happened in real life, I felt the need to share my own experience while working on Jambalaya Justice.

While some people may call such things coincidences, I call them Matrix experiences. These are those times where you mention something or someone, and then suddenly the thing happens or the person calls. This happens a lot in our house. For instance, one time I said something like, “Our health insurance deductible is so high Blue Cross will never pay for anything," and the next thing you know, I’m in a wreck and I meet my deductible, and the insurance company ends up paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for my medical bills. That’s a true story, by the way. Not a fun story, but a true one.

This type of thing happens so much my husband gets mad if I say something bad is NOT going to happen, because inevitably it will.

The same happens with people. Out of the blue I’ll suddenly remember a friend from sixth grade and wonder what she's doing, and the next thing I know she friends me on Facebook. I have not yet found a way to control this, such as getting the Powerball numbers or having some big production company buy the rights to my book. In fact, many times these things end up negatively for me.

For instance, three of these Matrix things happened while working on Jambalaya Justice.

Without giving away too much of the plot, there is a part of the novel where three prosecutors go undercover as prostitutes to catch a murderer. There are real cases in our jurisdiction where female prosecutors have served such a function to catch johns, but it’s not really a common occurrence.

Imagine my surprise as I was reading posts on DorothyL and I saw that on a new cop show, Rookie Blue, the rookies were posing as prostitutes in a sting. The part that really drew my attention was that some of the DorothyL posters felt that it was unbelievable, that something like that would never happen. This had me a little concerned, because I don’t want to write something people won’t believe, and I definitely don’t want to write something that looks like I stole it from a television show. I finally decided to break down and watch the episode on my laptop, and it was actually quite good, and, fortunately, not anything near my plot line. Also fortunately, the follow up comments on DorothyL revealed that most of the posters did believe that kind of thing happens. So now not only do I feel I went in the right direction with my story, I also have a new favorite t.v. show to boot.

A second Matrix occurrence happened recently that is almost identical to something that happens in the book, but I can’t say too much about it or I’ll end up giving away my villain’s identity. In any event, a man in southeast Louisiana who is very similar to my murderer was caught committing a crime that is the same as one of the crimes my murderer is also committing, and actually the catalyst for his murders. While the underlying crime is pretty small potatoes here as crimes go, it was interesting to me that I wrote about it and the exact scenario played out in one of the podunk parishes nearby. Luckily, it wasn’t big news, but I couldn’t help but think how it could look like I copied the situation from real life when I actually wrote about it a long time ago.

The final Matrix moment was another event from my book that came true. In another country parish in southeast Louisiana, two old men, one the prosecutor and the other the public defender, got in a fist fight after one of them, in the heat of an argument, said something about the other one’s mother. It was something to the effect of the public defender saying, “John, you’re so stupid you wouldn’t know an innocent man if he bit you on the ass,” to which the prosecutor replied, “That ain’t what ya mama said last night, Vern.” They then went to blows, which ended with the judge reprimanding them both, throwing them in jail for contempt, and both being sanctioned by the Bar. The judge did tell the prosecutor he was inclined to let the public defender off the hook, ‘cause you know you can’t be talking ‘bout nobody’s mama and not be expecting to get your butt whooped.

I took out my scene, because (1) my version paled in comparison to this true story, and (2) despite it being completely true, I can’t imagine anyone would believe it. Even in New Orleans. I also ended up making other changes to the story that took away the original purpose of the scene, so I would have ended up cutting it anyway.

So with the Matrix firmly in place, I’m thinking I should now write about a female character who loses weight by eating pie, wins the Powerball, and develops the superpower to zap slow drivers out of her way on the interstate. Except just my luck it would come true for that girl I remember in sixth grade who found me on Facebook instead of to me.

I am going back to writing Jambalaya Justice now, before something else I wrote about in it comes true and I have to change it.

Holli Castillo
Gumbo Justice