News & Views

Page 2 of 4812345...102030...Last »

Conference Tiffs and the Polite Lie

Networking name tag

This month's MWA meeting was about conferences. I personally think that if you can afford conferences, you should go, because nothing else works quite so well to get your name out there and allow you to meet people you might want to work with in the future. That said, I have a few thoughts on the topic of things that can—and do—go wrong.

Every year, I hear about someone who is no longer speaking to someone else because person 2 insulted person 1—or possibly insulted person 3 who is a friend of person 1—or because person 2 felt as if person 1 ignored them in favor of a more “important” author or editor.

“She looked right at me, and pretended she didn’t know me,” said one of my friends of another.

Well, yeah, that’s possible. It’s equally possible my other friend was simply on conference overload with a buzzing head and tired eyes, thinking about how much her feet hurt. Or, like me, she barely recognizes people even while fully awake and not thinking about a dozen things at once.

And then there are the room-mate dilemmas. “OMG,” one of my friends bemoaned in an instant message, “so-and-so asked me if I have a room-mate for RT and I don’t, but I sure as hell don’t want to room with her. What am I supposed to say?”

Well, under normal circumstances, honesty is the best policy. But there are also appropriate times for the polite lie, and this is one of them.

“You tell her yes, you already have one,” I advised.

“And what if she finds out I don’t?”

Well, if so-and-so finds out at the conference that you don’t have a room-mate and confronts you, you have two choices. First, say your roomie fell through (which happens all the time) or you can tell her the truth. Chances are, however, that even if she does find out, she won’t say anything to you. Most people aren’t that confrontational.

And if you’re on the receiving end of “sorry, I already have a room-mate” and then later finding out that person is alone in her room? My advice is to leave it alone and assume her roomie fell through. And if you think someone’s ignoring you in favor of a more popular author or a better agent or bigger editor or whatever…make a decision about how important that is to you. I’ve been ignored numerous times at conferences. I’m a nobody. I basically expect it. I understand that people are there to network and I cannot do help their careers in any way. The ones who want to chat with me because we are actually friends will seek me out. And if my friends are networking with someone else for a few minutes, well, they’ll find me later or they won’t.

Let me put this another way: RWA, ITW and Sleuthfest (and to a certain extent even fan cons like RT and Bouchercon) are professional conferences. People are there to do business. If you treat it as a business conference, you’re a lot less likely to get hurt than if you treat it as a social gathering. Remember that even while people are drinking and dressing up in costumes, they’re also there trying to get ahead in their careers. You may not approve of the way they do it, and that may mean cutting them out of your life, but don’t assume that just because they look past you in their search for someone at a con that they don’t like you or care about you. They’re simply wearing a business hat and not good at blending the business and social.


Laura K Curtis Laura K. Curtis gave up a life writing dry academic papers for writing decidedly less dry short crime stories and novel-length romantic suspense and contemporary romance. A member of RWA, MWA, ITW, and Sisters in Crime, she has trouble settling into one genre.

Timelines and Series Bibles

Binder view of a Scrivener outlineWhen I got a two-book contract after having written only a single book in my romantic suspense series, I found myself presented with several problems. First: a deadline. After all, I'd taken forever to write the first book, and I couldn't do that with the second. And second, I had to remember everything from the first book so that I didn't contradict it in the second.

I slid through that by the skin of my teeth, but with the next contract it became clear that I needed a more comprehensive setup. Here are the two tools I rely on:

• Scrivener

• Aeon Timeline

For every scene of a Scrivener manuscript, I annotate the day and date. This gives me a visual overview of the timeline when I am outlining or roughing in scenes. (If you're not a scrivener user, you can do this by turning on commenting in Word and giving yourself comments in the margins that say things like "Sunday July 14, 8am" or whatever. Then you can skim down the margin to make sure all days are accounted for.)

Of course, Scrivener does more than time tracking for me. I also have a full series "Bible" where all my characters in the series are described, their backgrounds, likes, dislikes, scars and tattoos all enumerated. The character sketches contain images of actors or models who remind me of the characters so that when I am trying to figure out how someone with certain features might smile, I can check it. Forget eye color? Easy check. Where's that eagle tattoo? Oh, wait, it's not an eagle, is it?

And then there's the timeline. Before Aeon, I wasted a LOT of time plotting things on long pieces of paper. I have a tendency to write things rooted in the distant past, so I need to know several generations worth of history. This is some of the stuff that happened before the first book in my romantic suspense Aeon format (click to enlarge):

Most of my romantic suspense books feature an organization called Harp Security. If you look at the timeline, you'll see that there's a Harp column at the far right. Harp was founded in 2007. You'll also see that 9/11 is a featured date. I wanted Nash Harper to buy the property in TriBeCa that houses Harp Security long before the company is founded, and I know what that area was like after 9/11. So I put in 9/11/01, and Aeon automatically calculated how long before the founding that would be (-5y on the chart). That sounded about right. If I change the founding date, all the other dates linked to Harp security will change, too.

Honestly, I don't use half the features in either Scrivener or Aeon. But even the few I do use have saved my bacon more times than I can count. So if you find yourself on your third or fourth book in a series, and suddenly freaking out about what you might need to remember for book seven, those are my two recommendations.


Laura K Curtis Laura K. Curtis gave up a life writing dry academic papers for writing decidedly less dry short crime stories and novel-length romantic suspense and contemporary romance. A member of RWA, MWA, ITW, and Sisters in Crime, she has trouble settling into one genre.

Pathways to Publication

bloody bills

We all know that in a mystery the most obvious suspect, the first “person of interest,” isn’t always the culprit. The same is true of pretty much every aspect of publishing.

There’s a lot—and I mean a lot—of debate, acrimony, and bad information out there about what you can or should expect, or what you’ll be doing as an author as well as writing and how much you will—or won’t—make. Don’t expect me to give you the answers. I won’t. I don’t know them. I don’t think anyone does, no matter what they say because every book is different. Every author’s experience will be different.

I have short stories in three anthologies, two published with small presses in both print and e, the other we did as a crowd-sourced charity anthology, so once the original Indiegogo campaign was over, it became available to the public only in e. My four romantic suspense novels were published by  a major publisher—Penguin—but in their e-only imprint, InterMix, so they had no paperbacks. I've also self-published two shorter contemporary romances, as well as re-publishing the Penguin books when I got my rights back. I haven't covered all the publication bases, but I've come close.

And I still don’t have the answers.

Publishing is a business. The decisions you make must be business decisions. The fact that there are so many new pathways opening up has both positive and negative aspects–you have more choice, but you also have more responsibility.

Here are questions I ask for every project before deciding what to do with it…as always, your mileage may vary.

  • • Who will want to read it (and no, you can’t answer “everyone”–the more specific you are, the better)
  • • Where do those people hang out–online and off?
  • • How do those people choose to read? In e or in print or both?
  • • How much do you think those people will be willing to pay for a book, especially if it's by someone they may never have heard of?
  • • Do these people look at covers when they are making choices about what they are reading?
  • • Where do these people find recommendations about what to read next?

Now, let’s say you want to go the traditional route. And let’s say you don’t have an agent you trust, who can help you vet the publishers to query. Publishers aren’t going to come to you, so you have plenty of time to check them out before sending out your query!

  • • Have you heard of any of the other authors on their list?
    (Check out their websites and see if you can find them on social media. Look to see if there are any who appear friendly. Ask them about their experiences—politely.)
  • • What do their covers look like? Would they make you want to buy the books?
  • • How about the cover copy? Check out their books on Amazon or B&N and see whether the copy is well-written and makes you want to buy the book.
  • • What kind of promotions have you seen for the books they publish?
  • • Can you even find a list on their website of the books they’ve published in the last year?
  • • For that matter, is their website filled with information about their authors and books, does it have links to the authors’ own sites? Does it have “buy buttons” for the books?
  • • What do they charge for their paperback books? Is it more than you think your readers would pay? What about their ebooks?

Businesswoman looking through a magnifying glass to contractNow, let’s say the books look good and fit your requirements and they offer you a deal. You’re still not done doing your homework!

  • • EXAMINE THE CONTRACT THEY SEND YOU. This one I cannot stress strongly enough. Be sure you understand every word of that contract. If it says “out of print,” you need to know what that means in a world of print on demand and ebook. You need to know if your royalties are standard. Do they own foreign language rights? What about audio rights?


I am sure there are questions I’ve missed, but I am trying to stress something here: not all publishers are equal, and even if you like your publisher for one project, they may not be right for all your projects. What does your contract say? Do you owe them right of first refusal on your next project even if it’s completely different from the one they bought?

For example, Twisted was bought as part of a two-book deal. That same contract gave me a deadline for the second book, Lost. But it didn’t specify what might happen in the middle. That is, if I had the kind of speed to complete a book/novella in the middle, I could have published it, as long as what I published did not infringe on my Penguin "world."

So those are some of the things I’d consider. As I said, your mileage may vary, and I’d love to hear any thoughts in the comments about other things I’ve forgotten to include in comments!


Laura K Curtis Laura K. Curtis gave up a life writing dry academic papers for writing decidedly less dry short crime stories and novel-length romantic suspense and contemporary romance. A member of RWA, MWA, ITW, and Sisters in Crime, she has trouble settling into one genre.

The Mystery of the Unsigned Pledge, Part II

Grave marker of Francis Bellamy(Didn't catch Part I? Read it first!)

From the city of Rome, New York, came a strongly worded letter from a citizens’ group that said it wasn’t Upham who wrote the Pledge, but a clergyman named Francis Bellamy (sometimes called Frank) who used to preach in that part of the country!

Margarette threw up her hands. Here was the Bellamy claim again, only this time dressed up in a minister’s suit of cloth. But wasn’t it strange that the youthful plagiarist grew up to be a man of God?

Then came a more disturbing letter. It was from a David Bellamy in Rochester, New York, who identified himself as the son of the late Reverend Bellamy. He said that he clearly remembered his father writing the Pledge of Allegiance after leaving his pulpit in Rome, New York, to work for The Youth’s Companion!

Margarette was deeply troubled. In her research on Bellamy, she had found no mention of a journalistic career, much less a ministerial one. But the really strange part was this: If the new information was correct, then Bellamy worked on the same magazine from which he allegedly pilfered the Pledge in order to win a school contest! It seemed fantastic.

The lights burned late on Portsmouth’s Hatton Street as Margarette pored over her newly thickened Bellamy file. The contradictions had grown. Bellamy was born in Kansas; he was born in New York. He served in the Spanish-American War; he did not serve in that war. He died in Colorado in 1915; he was seen in
Florida in 1929. Margarette wondered for a giddy moment if Bellamy had led a bizarre double life. She finally put out the light, but slept only fitfully.

At about 4 o’clock in the morning, she sat bolt upright in bed, her mind ablaze with sudden clarity. She knew now that there were two Frank Bellamys, and that they were unrelated. One was the Kansas “schoolboy” who stole the Pledge of Allegiance out of a magazine to win a contest. The other was the preacher from Rome, New York, who worked on The Youth’s Companion. It would, of course, be this second Bellamy who wrote the Pledge for which his boss, James B. Upham, took credit.

Now Margarette was sure she had the right solution, but even the best detective must take his case to court. Her court was the United States Flag Association, a private sector group that sets standards for honoring and displaying the American flag. At Margarette’s request, they chose three outstanding historians to sift through the evidence. Months later, Margarette received their final report, which boiled down to this:

In 1891 the country was a beehive of activity in preparation for the next year’s celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in America. The Youth’s Companion was eager to take part. James B. Upham, an executive of the magazine, proposed that The Youth’s Companion sell flags, at cost, to schools
throughout the United States. His goal was a flag in front of every schoolhouse in America. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if on Columbus Day all the school children in the land recited a pledge to their newly acquired flags!

The job of writing the Pledge went to editor-writer Francis Bellamy, a former preacher from Rome, New York, known in his youth as Frank. It was published in the September 8th, 1892 issue of The Youth’s Companion without a byline as all staff-written articles were. No one saw any reason to make an exception in the case of the Pledge of Allegiance. No one imagined it would be used or remembered beyond that one Columbus Day in 1892.

But used it was. And used, and used. And plagiarized by the other Frank Bellamy. Was the similarity of names a coincidence? Certainly, but one that worked for the plagiarist. Programs of Columbus Day events containing the Pledge and Francis Bellamy’s name as a committee member were in fact distributed at festivals. How easy for the Kansas “schoolboy” to point to the Bellamy name, and say, “That’s me.”

In years that followed changes were made in the Pledge.

The phrase “my flag” was changed to “the flag of the United States of America.” Thus an expression of personal love was exchanged for a pledge of loyalty to government. Francis Bellamy opposed the change, but no one paid any attention to him. The change was made by a group of patriotic organizations that felt no need to consult with Bellamy; they believed that James B. Upham, executive of the Youth’s Companion, was the true author.

An act passed by Congress in 1942 made the Pledge of Allegiance, for the first time, the official Pledge of the United States. It was not until the 1950’s, at the height of the Cold War, that Congress voted to insert the phrase “under God," no doubt to prove to the world that we were different from the atheistic Soviet Union.

Francis Bellamy died in 1931, still struggling to achieve recognition for his creation, not knowing that five years after his death a young woman in Portsmouth, Virginia would take up the battle, and win.

Margarette Miller died in 1984, secure in the knowledge that her solution to the mystery of the unsigned Pledge had been upheld by the Library of Congress and by every state legislature in the United States.
How fitting for this American story that the two leading characters in it are a Christian minister and a Jewish woman who brought his authorship to light.

Bellamy’s gravesite in Rome, New York is now adorned with a white granite monument and a plaque that attributes the creation of those 23 original words to him.

The author of our Pledge of Allegiance is not lying in an unmarked grave.


Jerry CoopersmithJerome Coopersmith has authored more than 100 television scripts for anthology dramas, episodic series and television movies and specials. His Broadway musical, Baker Street, based on the stories of Sherlock Holmes, earned him a Tony Nomination. He is a longstanding and much appreciated member of Mystery Writers of America.

Page 2 of 4812345...102030...Last »