Category: Past Meetings

SISTERS IN CRIME/LA June 2019 Meeting Recap

Catherine Pelonero was the featured reader.

Making Time to Write with Rachel Howzell Hall

By Shannon Muir Broden

Rachell Howzell Hall’s topic last month, entitled “Use Your 9 to 5 for the Write Life,” contained some useful tips for those of us who work full time jobs that may not necessarily be 9 to 5 on the dot, or even those of us who work in open office settings versus having the ability to close oneself up in an office as Rachel can in her job.

The most important thing to remember, regardless of your start time or office environment, is to work smarter not harder. Find ways to use your lunch breaks to write, by bringing tools you can use anywhere in the office (pen/pencil, little notepad, and similar) that allow you some privacy and not have the rest of the office looking over your shoulder. Carrying things like this around at all times also works great if you are at other places like appointments where you are waiting and have time. If you have your own office where you can arrive a bit earlier on your commute and take some time before your actual work hours to write, Rachel advocates trying this as well.

Rachel also reminded us that it is important to identify with yourself the “why” of the importance of this story. That’s not only why it should be told, but why you should be the one to tell it and why you are excited about it. Always remember to leave your writing aside “when it’s easy” to help motivate you when you first come back, instead of always bailing out when you’re stuck and coming back to an area of high frustration.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find a circle of people you can trust to give you honest and constructive feedback.. This will help you grow.

Rachel had additional tips, tricks, and questions for people who attended as she helped them with advice specific to their situations. Attending the meetings provided by the chapter that are free and open to the public are a great benefit to access other writers and experts on a monthly basis. Your membership dollars that help support Sisters in Crime/LA to continue to exist as a chapter help provide these local support opportunities that enrich not just our fellow members but the Los Angeles area.


SISTERS IN CRIME/LA May 2019 Meeting Recap

Sheila Lowe was the featured reader.


Building Suspense with Libby Fischer Hellmann

By Laura Brennan


Thriller author Libby Fischer Hellmann gave a terrific presentation on the art of building suspense at the May meeting of Sisters in Crime/LA.

The first step is realizing what suspense is. Libby pointed out that suspense isn’t about what *is* happening, but what *may* happen. It’s about creating an uncertain situation, posing a threat that is not immediately resolved, delaying and stretching out answers.

Techniques include starting in the middle of the action — not only to keep the pace up, but to throw your reader into a situation where they don’t yet have all the information. Make them catch up to you. Avoid the use of prologue; they are best used when there’s a time difference and (ideally) a secret. Be sure to reveal only that there is a secret and withhold what, exactly, that secret may be.

In addition to hooking the reader with your opening, you want to keep them turning the pages at the end of a chapter. Create a cliffhanger that makes it impossible to put the book down. Introduce a new character or reveal a new clue. You don’t want to do this with every chapter — everyone needs at least a little sleep! — but do use this technique to keep readers engaged.

As you develop the plot, raise the stakes. Build the possibility of disaster. Tension and stakes (and the odds against the protagonist) should increase as you go. You can also create dilemmas for your hero, no-win situations. Does your hero get what she wants? The answer is not Yes or No. Instead, it is “Yes, but…” or “No, and furthermore…” There aren’t just obstacles between her and her goals, there are also strings attached to getting what she wants, or even more dire consequences than expected for not reaching her goal.

Isolate them, make your protagonist question everything, even themselves. In suspense, they may face questions of both mortality and morality. Their world is atilt; they are working outside of their comfort zone, both physically and emotionally. And remember that time is never your hero’s friend: in suspense, the protagonist is always working against the clock.

One final nugget of wisdom: remember that your villain is always the hero in their own mind. They are always justified, and part of the hero’s dilemma may be that he sympathizes with the rationale, but not with the actions the villain is taking. Killer pacing, moral quandaries, and shifting sand under both the hero’s and the reader’s feet will keep those suspenseful pages turning.

SISTERS IN CRIME/LA April 2019 Meeting Recap

Desiree Zamorano was the featured reader.



Paddy Hirsch and Monica Holloway
The Mystery of Marketing:
Solving the Puzzle of How Best to Promote Your Book

By Laura Brennan



Paddy Hirsch, NPR producer and fiction and non-fiction author, and Monica Holloway, memoirist, report back from the wilds of book marketing. Both are traditionally published, and the sobering news they shared was that, unless you’re already a big name (as an author or as a celebrity), traditional publishers are not going to put a lot of muscle into your marketing. As with indie authors, getting the word out is up to you.

So how do you make your book discoverable?

First of all, understand that marketing is time consuming and can take away from your writing time. If you don’t want to do it, there are publicists (both national and local) you can hire for anywhere from three to six months prior to your book launch to help with the process. They are expensive, and there is no guarantee of success. But sometimes the best marketing you can do is write another book. Unlike writing, outreach can be outsourced.

Start early, as much as a year before your book launches. Paddy and Monica highly recommend reading Jane Friedman’s book, “The Business of Being a Writer.” Build a website, get an author Facebook page, and experiment on other social media such as Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. What you want is to find out which platforms you enjoy and which you hate. Focus your attention on the ones that you will do regularly and discard the others. The idea is to connect with readers where they hang out online — but you have to be willing to hang out there as well.

Remember that unless you’re gunning for the NYT Bestseller List, you don’t have to pop on the first day. Keep going with your outreach to sell books over the long haul. It used to be that publishers themselves were the tastemakers, but now anyone with followers is an influencer. You can reach them as well, or better, than a publisher’s in-house publicity department. Make a personal connection: why do you think they (and their audience) would want to read your book? Marketing is about finding those people that your book — and your own personal story — will resonate with.

It’s not just about making virtual connections. Get yourself, your story (why you wrote this book at this moment, which is often as compelling as the book itself) into the world. Connect with your community by reaching out to local groups interested in your topic. Offer to give a talk and let it be known on your website that you are available as a keynote speaker. While this may seem obvious for nonfiction books, it can also work for fiction; many mystery novels are about deeper issues than whodunit. Go to book fairs and make yourself available to local book clubs. To reach book clubs around the country, make an offer on your website to send a free copy of your book to the club for them to check out to see if it’s a good fit, and then offer to Skype into the meeting.

In the end, whether you do it yourself, with your in-house publicity department, or with your own hired gun, marketing your book is about connecting with the readers who will resonate with your story. It’s a long process, but it is full of lovely people who will become fans, open unexpected doors for you, and buy your next book, and the next.

Learn more at and

SISTERS IN CRIME/LA – March 2019 Meeting Recap

Alice Zogg read an excerpt from her book, ACCIDENTAL EYEWITNESS.


Double Lives: The Arsonist Next Door

by Shannon Muir Broden

Eric Brach, author of the book DOUBLE LIVES,walked audiences through the history of one of the area’s most notorious arsonists… who also turned out to be significantly involved as part of a local fire department investigating arsons. He discussed how this provided the arsonist advantages in doing what he did, but also the ultimate slip-ups that led to his discovery. You can read other stories like this included in his book.

SISTERS IN CRIME/LA February 2019 Meeting Recap

Nancy Cole Silverman read from her book REASON TO DOUBT, the fifth of the Carol Childs Mysteries. The introduction focuses on Carol, Carol’s daughter, and her photographer boyfriend, and launched us straight into the exciting story line. She also talked a little about how her own professional background inspired the Carol Childs Mysteries.


Fifteen Ways to Add Humor to Your Writing

by Shannon Muir Broden

Ellen Byron, with a diverse background in television and theater as well as prose, talked about tips and tricks for discovering the humor in writing. Additionally, she reminded attendees of types of humor that are tired and contrived and ways to consider going in new, yet still funny, directions. Ellen led the audience through fifteen points to think about (plus a couple bonus ones as well), accompanied by take-away exercises to apply at home for authors to try adding “funny” to their toolkits.  She even threw in some extra pointers based on feedback by those in attendance.

SISTERS IN CRIME/LA October 2018 Meeting Recap

Paula Bernstein was the featured reader.


Paula Bernstein is a physician, a scientist and the author of the Hannah Kline Mystery Series: Murder in the FamilyLethal InjectionPrivate SchoolThe Goldilocks PlanetIn Vitro and Honeymoon. Like her main character Hannah Kline, Paula has spent her professional career as a practicing obstetrician gynecologist. In addition to her medical mystery series, her short story, “On Call for Murder,” was published in LAst Resort, the 2017 Sisters in Crime Anthology. Learn more at


Valerie C. Woods – “Screenwriting Dialogue Tips Novelists Can Steal”


By Shannon Muir Broden



Screenwriter, publisher, author and educator Valerie C. Woods wrote the middle grade mystery book KATRIN’S CHRONICLES: THE CANON OF JACQUELÉNE DYANNE, VOL. 1, founded the independent publisher BooksEndependent, has written for television shows such as Touched by an Angel, and has adapted novels for the screen. She spoke to Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and shared ways to think about dialogue that are usually associated with screenwriting but can also be applied when thinking about how characters sound when “speaking” on the printed page.

Growing up, Valerie read Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes, and overall a lot of her choices were influenced by her older sister, whom she looked up to. “Whatever my older sister read, I had to read,” Valerie told the audience. One year, she couldn’t figure out a gift to get her sister, so she wrote her a story about them as kids, which she then followed with several other adventures. This became the basis for her mystery book.

Regarding dialogue and the struggle to make people sound different on the page, Valerie draws from the teachings of her late, good friend Syd Field. A key point she stressed from Field’s teachings is that “[d]ialogue is a function of character” (Field, SCREENPLAY, p. 173). She also emphasized that “you should be able to read a script or story without names and know who is talking.”  To use an example from mystery fiction, Woods encouraged examining Holmes and Watson and pointed out that just reading their dialogue makes it immediately clear who is speaking, due to their history and life experiences. Other elements to use can include nuances of speech (such as a lisp or a French accent being indicated through word spelling), different cadence in how dialogue reads, or the use (or non-use) of contractions.

Syd Field calls out several purposes for dialogue in his book SCREENPLAY (p. 173), which Valerie expanded upon. Dialogue:

– moves the story forward;
– communicates facts and information to the reader;
– reveals character;
– establishes character relationships;
– makes your characters real, natural, and spontaneous;
– reveals the conflicts of your story and characters;
– reveals the emotional states of your characters; and
– comments on the action.

Valerie reminded the audience that if dialogue doesn’t move the story forward in any of the above ways, it needs to be cut. She encouraged people to overwrite to find their character’s voice, then cut back as needed to ultimately serve one or more of the purposes above, as “the story is still revealing itself to you.” As to when dialogue is appropriate, sometimes it’s important not to have people speaking, as Valerie suggested silence can “reveal what people say and what they didn’t say.” Ultimately, “it all goes back to knowing who your people are and what they’ve experienced to make them the way they are” as “what we say defines us.”

In terms of adapting book dialogue to movie dialogue, she suggested comparing books and movies to see what was kept and what was removed, citing THE GODFATHER as a good example, but pointing out that even if you throw away what’s in the book, writers should “be true to the book” when doing adaptations.

Additional advice Valerie offered included encouraging people to take acting classes to help get a feel for how other people act and speak, or taking improv.

SISTERS IN CRIME/LA September 2018 Meeting Recap

Gayle Bartos-Pool was the featured reader.

A former private detective, Gayle Bartos-Pool (G.B.Pool) writes spy novels, short stories, as well as three detective series featuring Johnny Casino, an ex-mobster, Gin Caulfield, an over 50 gal who’s still packing heat, and Chance McCoy, a detective who gets the opportunity of a lifetime. G.B. also teaches writing classes: “The Anatomy of a Short Story,” “How To Write Convincing Dialogue,” and “How To Write a Killer Opening Line.” Find out more at


Danny Smith – “Ask a Detective”

By Laura Brennan

Former Homicide Detective and current private eye and mystery author Danny R. Smith gave us a glimpse beyond the yellow crime scene tape at the August meeting of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles.

“There is no greater burden — or privilege — than investigating the death of a human being,” Danny told us. “It’s up to you to speak for the victim.”

He also spoke of the reverence many homicide detectives have for the crime scene. It’s not just the best source for physical evidence, “The crime scene,” Danny said, “is a story. It needs to be read correctly.”

Danny took us through key points of an investigation. Detectives need to talk to everyone involved in the victim’s life, whoever texted them last, whoever they dealt with or had issues with. The first thing to figure out is who the victim was in life, how they lived, so that you can figure out how and why they died.

One of the key things Danny always keeps in mind is that everyone who is murdered had someone who loved them. There are some victims whose deaths were especially tragic because they had never done anything but be kind to the wrong people — you can check out Danny’s blog post about a particularly difficult interrogation after one of these murders right here: — but even those victims who had skirted the law themselves during their lives had a mother or a sister or a husband somewhere who had loved them. There is a lot of weight on your shoulders in Homicide. This is one of the reasons you keep cases open long after the likelihood of making an arrest; you believe someday something will break, and that you’ll finally be able to bring some peace to those that had loved your victim.

Danny also answered questions and gave tips for handling police investigations in your novel:

* The first rule is NO PLASTIC BAGS. Plastic holds in moisture which can destroy evidence. Police use paper only for storing and transporting almost all forms of evidence from a crime scene. They keep stacks of paper backs and envelopes in their cars. The only thing to go into plastic bags should be narcotics.

* Crime scenes take a long time to process. The simplest cases, such as a gang shooting with witnesses, may take 4-6 hours to process, while complex murder scenes can take up to 18 hours.

* If a suspect may have standing in the crime scene (for instance, they live or work there, or it’s their car), then and only then do you need a crime scene warrant. Detectives will often get the warrant if someone else does have legal standing at the crime scene, just in case they become a suspect. You want to cover yourself, and it’s usually only a formality to get one. Judges know that crime scenes must be investigated.

* Yes, detectives do have their favorite judges. They will drive to the courthouse to track down a judge who knows them and trusts their work and their judgment. Danny once drove a judge home from court to give him time to read the warrant en route and sign it in time for Danny to get back to the crime scene and start processing it that night.

Danny had many more stories to tell than we had time to hear. Luckily, he keeps a nonfiction blog, he writes spectacular fiction that gives you a look at the camaraderie of the squad room, and he will soon be turning his pen to true crime as well. Check out Danny and his books at

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