Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Who says authors can't autograph ebooks?

By Judith Yates Borger

Yeah, but you can't autograph a Kindle is the response I often hear after I've listed all the reasons why an ebook is a perfectly fine way -- the best, in my humble opinion -- to read crime fiction, or any other, for that matter.

The honest truth, though, is well, yes, and no. There are at least a couple of fledgeling ways to offer an autograph. They just aren't refined enough yet. Autography is one, Kindlegraph is the other. I've also run across a couple others, but it doest appear they've been used much yet. If you've had any experience with these, please let me and other readers of Crime Fiction Collective know about it by posting a comment.

I first learned about Autography from a link in the New York Times last April. I check on the website and placed a call to the phone number listed more than two weeks ago. I said I was researching Authography for a blog. As of this evening, no one has called me back, so I'm wondering if Autography is operational yet. If you have any experience with Authography please let us know.

The second, Kindlegraph, is owned by  ... wait for it ...  Like everything else Amazon, Kindlegraph is fairly straightforward for authors, with one exception. It must be accessed through a Twitter account. I don't understand why, but that's how I got to it.

Then I followed the simple instructions. Instantly, almost, I was listed among the new authors. Then at about 5 p.m. central time today, November 29, 2011, I asked myself for a personalized inscription and autograph. Again, instantly Kindlegraph confirmed that I had fulfilled my own request and showed a PDF to prove it. Every hour since I have checked the beginning of both books looking for my groovy inscription and autograph on Where's Billie? and Whose Hand? in my Kindle. So far, I see nothing.

According to information released last spring, Barnes & Noble upgraded it software in a fashion that uses Autography, but I haven't seen any concrete example of that. Again, if you know anything about that, let us know.

And then there's Bookiejar beta, a 2011 ebook publishing company. According to the company's release from September,  authors can set up generic or dedicated inscription and autographs for their ebooks. "A reader is now able to have his/her copy of an ebook personally signed by the writer at a book signing event. This has never been possible before, "says the company's president, an ex-Microsoft guy. Has anyone heard of anyone doing this?

This experiment begs the question: Who pays for eBook autographs? There are really only three options, the reader, the writer or the distributor. I can see someone advertising "Get your own personalized eBook for only 10 percent more."

Can authors autograph their books? I haven't seen it work yet, but I sure would like to. No one is more important  than our readers.  I suspect readers would react warmly to a personalized dedication that shows they are always top of the mind for us.

If you know more about this topic, please comment so we can all share in the knowledge.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Do Dat DRM HooDoo Dat We Do So Swell....**

By:  Kimberly Hitchens is the founder and owner of, an ebook production company that has produced books for over 500 authors and imprints. 

DRMDigital Rights Management.  The mere term is enough to set teeth on edge at innumerable fora for ebook lovers and set publishers to fisticuffs with so-called "pirates" (too glamorous a name for them, methinks), who cheerfully fly the flag of "free ebooks for all."

But what is DRM?  And why do you want it?  Do you want it?  And is it, as claimed by noted Sci-Fi author Charlie Stross, actually killing Bix Sig Publishing, at their own insistence?

Stross, in his blog, Charlie's Diary, writes:

"As ebook sales mushroom, the Big Six's insistence on DRM has proven to be a hideous mistake. Rather than reducing piracy[*], it has locked customers in Amazon's walled garden, which in turn increases Amazon's leverage over publishers." (Stross' asterisked note goes on to say:  "[*] It doesn't reduce piracy; if you poke around bittorrent you'll find plenty of DRM-cracked ebooks — including all of my titles. DRM is snake oil; ultimately the reader has to be able to read whatever they bought, which means shipping a decryption key along with the encrypted file. And once they've got the key, someone will figure out how to use it to unlock the book.")
 Now, first, what is DRM?  DRM is "Digital Rights Management," and in short, it's an encryption key, "tuned" to your own device or reading software, that allows you, and only you, (or folks to whom you legally "lend" the ebook) to read an ebook that you've purchased from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and the like.  Many authors and publishers are vociferous proponents of DRM, not wanting their IP--intellectual property--illegally shared (without payment therefor, in other words).

Proponents of doing away with DRM argue, as does Stross, that it doesn't prevent piracy, and there's certainly some truth to that. If you don't have multi-million dollar book sales, as an author, it's very expensive to add DRM to your own ebooks (to sell on your own website, for example), as the primary commercial DRM software available is Adobe's Content Server, which runs about $6K (yes:  six thousand buckeroos) for a license, and, if that isn't painful enough, you need someone trained to use it.  You'd have to sell Locke-worthy numbers to pay for that type of overhead, which is one of the advantages of selling through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.--you get to use theirs, without paying Adobe's rather exorbitant licensing fees. 

But Stross' point, in his blog, is that Bix Six Publishers (BSP--is that a coincidence, she wondered?) are, literally, slitting their own throats by using DRM on their ebooks, because using DRM ties them in to Amazon's platform...and hence, delivers them directly into Amazon's nefarious bargaining clutches (by his reckoning).  He reasons that Amazon used DRM, and their proprietary platform, to propel themselves to an 80% market share, because users (that would be the reading public) are locked into Amazon's platform as their existing purchases can't be read on other devices.

But is that crucial part of the argument even correct?   Nowadays, you can install completely free Amazon reading software on almost any mobile or stationary computer, so you're not locked into a Kindle device any longer; your books aren't lost to you, even if you ran out and bought a NookColor, which uses ePUB format.  You could still read your Kindle books on your computer; your Kindle; your smartphone, or even an iPad.  A Galaxy tablet; a Droid tablet; a Crackberry...well, you get my drift. 

Now, I think that Stross is wrong in many aspects; I don't think that Amazon's use of DRM catapulted it to its 80% market share; I think that their early recognition that self-publishing, and ebooks, were the natural outgrowth and bastard children of blogging is what propelled it to those lofty heights.  Were they, as he argues, willing to take a hit on the early sale of Kindles, in order to sell eBooks?  You betcha.  And just like any other capitalistic enterprise, risk was rewarded, and they reaped the rewards of selling devices at a loss, just in order to sell ebooks.  Nearly everyone reading this blog is a direct beneficiary of that philosophy, because that same risk-taking mentality led to the very expensive development of the KDP--the Kindle Digital Platform, providing an Indy Publishing outlet for self-published authors to be seen by large numbers of prospective eBook buyers.

I'd lend his argument more credence if he'd argued that the proprietary format was a bigger "lock-in," but he never even took that argument out for a spin.  His rationale is essentially that because Publishers insist on DRM, they're somehow joined at the hip to Amazon, (Nook, anyone?  Google Editions?  iBooks?), and that the DRM has locked the consumers into Amazon's website--hence, giving Amazon an Olympian advantage over those self-same publishers, bringing them to their knees during pricing negotiations.

He then argues that the supply chain is also getting whacked with the "cram-down."  But the part that he seems not to discuss, or wrestle with, is this:  these publishers, like everyone else in life, have a choice.  They could, if they wished, cut exclusive deals with Nook, instead of Kindle.  They could, if they wished, publish their own ebooks (they can certainly afford their own DRM software), and sell them from their own websites.  Harlequin does it, and quite neatly, cheerfully sidestepping Amazon and building a community in the process (and of budding authors, too, I'd note...appetizers for the Amazons of the world, if not a whole meal).

And lastly:  no publisher in the world "has to" use DRM.  If DRM is, as Stross argues, the Devil's Brew, then Hachette, Putnam, etc., can simply stop using it.   But I think that Stross is wrong, and that the entire picture is more complicated than that--or less.  I think it's nothing more than this:  people will, in general, always do what's easiest, and Amazon has made shopping with them easier than shopping with anyone else.  No draconian schemes, no Dickensian plots; no Rube Goldberg twists and turns:  nothing more than humans obeying the laws of physics, favoring the least amount of energy. 

Stross argues that once Amazon controls the world, it will continue the cram-down on everyone, including Indy authors, and that all will lose, under that scenario. What do you think?

**My apologies to the divine Ella, The Chairman of the Board, and even Adam Ant, for abusing the lyrics that They Did So Well.


RIP Mr. Clancy.  April 1, 2004--November 22, 2011.  "Of all God's creatures, there is only one that cannot be made slave of the lash. That one is the cat. If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve the man, but it would deteriorate the cat." - Mark Twain

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Case of the Missing Babysitter

In Search of the Rose Notes by Emily Arsenault.*

A review by Marlyn Beebe.

When best friends Nora and Charotte were eleven, they shared a sixteen-year-old babysitter by the name of Rose. The small, idyllic town of Waverly, Connecticut was considered fairly safe even in 1990, and Rose often walked home alone at dusk. One day, she walked Nora to her house, then continued to her own home. She never arrived, though, and most people assumed that Rose had run away.

Nora never believed that, however. She always knew, somehow, that Rose was dead. Her feeling was proven true sixteen years later when she receives a call from Charlotte telling her that Rose has been found.

Nora, who had left Waverly as soon as she possibly could, at first believes that Rose is still alive. That thought is quickly quashed by Charlotte, who explains that Rose's remains had been found near the local pound, stuffed into a wicker trunk. Although Nora has always been certain that Rose was dead, she is shocked by this, and feels the need to go back to Waverly.

Telling her husband only that she's visiting her old friend Charlotte, Nora drives from her home in D.C. to Waverly, where Charlotte still lives in the house she grew up in. Once she gets there, she finds that for some unknown rason she really needs to know what happened to Rose, and starts asking questions of everyone she can find who used to know her.

As the reader might anticipate, there was much more to Rose's life than eleven-year-old Nora could possibly imagine. Although the adult Nora expects this, the reality completely stuns her.

The characters are believable, though not all likeable, and the story keeps the reader eager to learn what happened to Rose. Although this reviewer found the eventual revelation something of a disappointment, many will probably think it perfectly satisfactory. In any case, the prose is a delight to read and the relationships between the younger characters ring true, as do their perceptions of adult behavior.

*FTC Full Disclosure: Many thanks to the publisher, who sent me a copy of the book for review purposes.

Friday, November 25, 2011

I Met this Guy in a Bar . . .

By Peg Brantley, Writer at Work, Stumbling Toward Publication

No name. Angry. Sitting alone. Handsome in a rugged kind of way. Pretty much of no long-term consequence to my story, so I sent a secondary character in after him.

Turns out he’s all kinds of strength. A complex guy with an incredible history. A really, really long name (so he goes by a three-letter nickname). More secrets than a politician.

And someone I couldn’t get out of my mind once I found him sitting there. Someone who threatened to take over the story I’m one-third of the way through. He’s a little like Jack Reacher, or Harry Bosche. Intriguing, scary and adorable. Oh yeah, and he’s got that ruggedly handsome thing going on.

This morning, another element to this man became apparent: there is a battle he must wage, and one that would not have come to me had I not attended a luncheon the other day to benefit the CU Depression Center. My deepest thanks and respect go to Marianne Franklin. If you want to learn more about the issues of youth suicide, check out the Shaka Franklin Foundation for Youth.

I can’t wait to finish the rough draft of the one I’m writing so I can edit the one I’ve written so I can edit the one I’m writing so I can write the next one. 

Which will belong to this guy I met in a bar.

Writers, have you ever had a major character come out of thin air? Readers, have you ever read a story that had a minor character in it you wished had a bigger role?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Baker's Tale

Before I get started on today's post, I need to post this. Cause it's funny.

I thought, in honor of Thanksgiving, I'd write about cooking. A few years ago, before my first book came out, I contributed a short story to an anthology and met some other writers, including Amy Alessio. She wanted me to contribute something to her blog, except that her blog is about cooking, which has nothing to do with mystery, unless you're at my house. Just kidding - I know how to follow a recipe. Don't ask me to wing it, though, or you'll never know what you're gonna get.

In an attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole, I wrote a little story about how my gal, Peri, can't cook but is trying to bake a cake. I've re-interpreted it here for your enjoyment:

* * * * *

    "Beebs, you gotta help me." Peri stood in the aisle of Albertson's Grocery Store, an index card in one hand and her cell phone in the other.
     Blanche Debussy, Assistant Coroner for the Orange County Sheriff's Office and Peri Minneopa's best friend, was nothing if not sympathetic. "Make it quick, Girlfriend. I'm in the middle of an autopsy."
    "This recipe you gave me calls for sugar, but there's so many different kinds." She curled the index card in her hand as she spoke. "There's brown stuff, and fluffy stuff, and stuff in paper bags. And what's a tisp?"
    "It's not a tisp. It's the abbreviation for teaspoon."
    "You mean I gotta buy a whole bottle of vanilla just for one teaspoon?"
    "Don't be a baby." Blanche's deep voice was stern. "You can flavor your coffee with it later. And get the kind of sugar you use in your coffee. How did you manage to grow to female maturity without knowing how to cook?"
    "My mother figured, if I wanted to learn, I'd ask. I never asked. I can make a salad and grill a steak. Why should I know how to bake a cake?"
    "So why are you baking one now? You know there are places that sell cakes."
    "Because Skip bet me I couldn't do it. And no, you can't help me. That's part of the bet."
    "Then I'd better let you get back to shopping."
    "Not yet." Peri read the recipe again. "Where do I find baking powder? How do I crush a pineapple? I still have questions."
    "And I'm apparently not supposed to help you, which works for me because I'm in the middle of a dead man. I'll check in with you later."
    Left with silence on the other end of the phone, Peri went back to reading the card, studying the boxes and mumbling softly to herself about getting into this mess. Why did I have to tell my boyfriend that anyone could bake a stupid cake, even me?
    Later that evening, a car pulled into Peri's driveway and the sound of women's heels clicked around the corner and up the back steps.
    "Peri?" Blanche opened the door. "How'd the cake turn out?"
    Peri looked up from her seat at the kitchen table to see her best friend's eyes grow wide. She followed her gaze and regarded the room. On one side of the sink, the counter was strewn with bowls of various sizes, serving spoons, and a frying pan. On the other side were bags of sugar and flour, a carton of eggs, and other ingredients. Everything had been dusted with white powder.
    Blanche continued to walk in. She picked up a plastic cup. "What's this from?"
    "I needed a measuring cup, so I used the one from my detergent," Peri said. Blanche scowled, so she added, "I cleaned it before I used it on the sugar. And how do you work with flour without it - foofing - all over the place?" She splayed her fingers to mimic an explosion.
    "It's a skill," Blanche told her. "Did you at least get some of it in the pan?"
    Peri pointed to the stove, then resumed picking the batter from her fingernails.
    "Peri…" Blanche looked at the brown and orange layer of lumps, a quarter-inch thick, crusted across the bottom. "What the hell happened?"
    "I have no clue. I followed the directions. They're obviously wrong." She picked up the recipe. "I put the sugar and oil together."
    Blanche looked at the bottle on the counter. "You used olive oil?"
    "The recipe says 'vegetable' oil. Olives are veggies, aren't they?"
    "Only on a pizza, dear. How did it stay so flat?"
    "How should I know? I scrambled the eggs, then added them to the sugar-"
    Blanche interrupted. "Wait. You 'scrambled' the eggs. You just mixed them, right? You didn't cook them."
    "Well, of course I cooked them. Raw eggs are unhealthy, right?"
    Blanche sat down beside her flour-spattered friend and began to laugh. She kept laughing until her sides were sore and eyes wept.
    "I'm glad I can provide your comic relief," Peri told her, before breaking into laughter herself.
    "By the way, what was the bet about?" Blanche asked, as her giggles subsided.
    "If I won, Skip was going to treat me to a day at Glen Ivy Hot Springs."
    "And if Skip won?"
    Peri stopped laughing and frowned. "I have to take a cooking class."
    The two women looked at each other, and their laughter began again.

* * * * *

In case you're dying from curiosity, here's the recipe she was trying to follow -

Carrot Cake

1 1/2  cups sugar
 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
 4  eggs, lightly beaten
 2 cups flour
 2 tsp baking soda
 1 tsp salt
 3  tsp cinnamon
 1/2 tsp nutmeg
 2 tsp vanilla
 3 cups carrots, grated
 1/4 cup pineapple, crushed


Preheat oven to 325. Combine sugar, oil & eggs. Sift dry ingredients. Add to sugar mix, beating well. Add vanilla, carrots & pineapple. Pour into greased & floured pan(s). Bake approx. 45 min or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Just top it off with some cream cheese frosting and you've got a little slice of heaven. Easy, right?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fighting the Enemy

By Andrew E. Kaufman

I'm currently in the throws of panic as I prepare for the upcoming release of my new psychological thriller, The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted (Read: pulling out what little hair I have left and alternately banging my head up against the wall--it's not pretty). In doing that, I'm finding there aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done, so I'm reposting from my own blog. It's advice about writer's block, and it got quite a response when I first ran it, so I thought I might share it here, hoping to help my fellow authors.

For a writer, there's nothing more horrifying than staring at a blank screen and having nothing to say. This sort of thought-paralysis can not only slow you down; it can stop you dead in your tracks. But quite often, we unknowingly create the blocks that bind us, and once we acknowledge that, it's just a matter of getting out of our own way. I've learned to see writer's block as an indication of a bigger problem: a signpost telling me that I've strayed off course and need to get back on track. Instead of fighting it, I make friends with it and listen very closely. After that, the key is finding my center and taking control of my mind--rather than the other way around.

Here's how I get back into the flow when swimming in a sea of verbal-doubt:

What you resist, persists: trying to fight it just creates another layer of resistance, so the first thing to do is surrender to the fact that you have writer's block and simply allow it to "be".

Stop everything: here's one instance where being a quitter is a good thing. Quite often, writer's block is the product of over-thinking. Your best defense against an overactive mind is to stop it dead in its tracks. At this point, trying to continue can be pointless--it'll only create more mind clutter. I'm not talking days here; I'm about a few hours, if you can swing it.

Tune out, turn on: What's the first thing you do when your computer freezes? You restart. The same can work for your mind when it becomes overloaded: Do a mental reset. Step out of your mind and give it a chance to find a new perspective. Focusing on your breathing is the best way to halt the process. Research shows that when you direct all your attention on each breath you take, your thoughts ground to a halt. I usually close my eyes and count my breaths. If I find my thoughts wandering again, I direct my attention back to my breathing until my mind stops reeling.

Do something else: After cleaning the clutter from your head, move to something completely writing-unrelated: Watch a movie, read a book, take a walk, or play with your dogs. Here's one my editor suggests and swears by: clean your refrigerator. Anything other than writing will work. Quite often, this is where I notice my engine starting up again. My brain kicks into gear and the wheels start turning. Ever notice how some of the best ideas come when you're not thinking about writing? While you're driving? Taking a shower? Dreaming? These are the times when your mind is at ease and the pressure is off. You can induce the same state by finding a pleasant diversion.

Road Blocks: What about the times when it's not your mind that's fouling you up but instead, it's your story? I can't tell you the number of times I've written myself into a corner, only to discover I couldn't find my way out. For me, a roadblock is another signpost, one that's telling me I haven't done my research. Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the more you'll have at your disposal to get the story forward-moving again. I'm not just talking about going on the internet and Googling. This is a situation where human interaction is the key. Talk to one of your experts, maybe even explain your dilemma. You'd be amazed by how another perspective--especially a knowledgeable one--can bring on a flood of inspiration.

Here are a few other things you can try in your efforts to thwart writer's block:

Change your atmosphere, change your mind: Take your laptop outside or to a place you don't normally write, and try working it from there. Sometimes new surroundings are all it takes change your frame of mind.

Unplug: Checking your emails or dropping by Facebook may seem like good way to take a break, but it's also a distraction, one that will pull you out of your thoughts. Continuity is the key to free-flowing ideas. Interrupt that process and you're asking for trouble. Try turning off your router or unplugging your ethernet cord to eliminate the temptation.

Get the blood flowing: move your body and your mind will move right along with it. Blood is vital to all working organs, the brain included, and research shows it operates more efficiently when the flow is at its maximum. Exercise creates endorphins. Endorphins make the mind sharper.

Sleep! I know, you hear it all the time: get plenty of rest. However, studies show that a lack of sleep will dull your creative edge. Pulling that late night writing session may save time but in the long run, will only slow you down.

Write in the morning: Studies show it, and most writers will tell you that the best time to write is shortly after you wake up. The mind is its sharpest after a good night's sleep, and we're better connected with our subconscious patterns when we rise and shine. The end of the day can be a bad time for the mind because it gets more polluted as the hours wear on, not to mention, more exhausted. The hour later you stay up to write can be shifted into the morning hours.

One last thing: The need for perfection is a writer's worst enemy. Don't have such high standards on a first draft, and don't be afraid to produce "garbage". Just sit down and write--you can tweak it later. Getting the words flowing will get the mind moving as well. American poet William Stafford probably said it best:

"There is no such thing as writer's block for writers whose standards are low enough."

Happy writing, comrades!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Detectives and Details

Last week I was attending a function at an old building. I had some time to kill so I decided to peruse an array of old class photos dating back to the late 19th Century. I love old photos, the faces of the men. Some look so serious, other look bewildered. I find myself wondering who they were, what they believed. As I was looking them over a friend and old colleague came by and struck up a conversation. He was switching assignments to begin supervising the crime lab and we soon began talking about how criminalists are different than other municipal employees. I drew his attention to the class photograph for mid-November 1963. "Check out who was President of that class" I said, pointing to the name. It was Jack Kennedy. Imagine the odds of that I thought (for our international readers that is essentially the name of the United States President assassinated 48 years ago today).

My old colleague replied "How do you notice things like that?" The answer was pretty simple, I made a career out of noticing the details. It's a skill that transcends the workplace too. Now, I'm not going to say that criminalists see everything or never make mistakes; but a good detective notices details. We notice things that others may not. I mention this to you for consideration in character development. Good CSIs and detectives don't just notice the small bloodstain on the car door handle. They notice when a friend is giving them a line of bull, or a policy doesn't make sense. We're trained to notice those things that run counter to the offered narrative.
I remember one time having dinner with a group of people. Most of which were friends of a friend, so I didn't know them very well. One guy got to the dinner late and his wife (who arrived earlier) wasn't too pleased. He claimed he had a flat tire but his hands and clothes were clean and he came straight to the table from the street (i.e. not stopping in the bathroom). A few months later I found out he was getting a divorce because of infidelity. I don't know if he was telling the truth about the tire but I couldn't help notice the inconsistencies.

So when you are writing a CSI or detective character keep in mind that their powers of observation are not limited to crime scenes. They will take note of little changes in their environment, their relationships, and are programmed to challenge those inconsistencies. It can actually be a little annoying at times. They may pick up on little white lies and in the process embarrass another character. One character that comes to mind is the television serial killer Dexter. He always seems to notice those little things that give him a special insight into the other characters. Ironically, the other characters don't suspect him of anything. I guess he embodies the devil is in the details mantra.

The point is that readers will expect your detective to pick up on certain details, especially if they are obvious. If they have to be tricked or deceived give them a good reason. Provide an alternate explanation for the evidence they can hang their hat on. Its a bit more work for the author but the payoff is well worth it. You also keep the reader in suspense and keep them happy all the way to the end.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Dialogue Nuts & Bolts

by Jodie Renner, editor & author     
In another article,
Tips for Writing Effective Dialogue, I discuss various techniques for writing dialogue that will come alive on the page. Drop over there for some tips on making your dialogue less stilted and more natural-sounding.

This article just provides a reference for the grammatically correct way to write dialogue, as well as some style tips for dialogue tags. Using correct punctuation and form for dialogue will keep your readers from becoming distracted, confused or annoyed, and maintain their focus on your story. So if you want your manuscript to look professional and your story to read smoothly, it's best to follow these technical guidelines.


First of all, start a new paragraph every time the speaker changes. On the other hand, don’t start a new paragraph if it’s still the same speaker, unless you’re doing it for a good reason, like a pause or emphasis.

Punctuation for Dialogue:

1. Put quotation marks around all spoken words. Although in Britain and Australia, it’s more common to use single quotes around dialogue, in the United States and Canada, the standard is double quotes around dialogue, with single quotes for quoting or emphasizing words or phrases within the quoted dialogue. (Italics are also used for emphasizing words or short phrases – but don’t overdo it.)

2. In North America, the punctuation always goes inside the end quote, not outside it:
“What’s wrong with you?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she replied.

3. If the person is asking a question, the question mark goes inside the quotation mark, and a period goes at the end of the whole sentence. The same goes for exclamations.
“Where were you?” she asked.
“Help!” he shouted.

Note that in the above examples, even though your word processor wants you to put a capital letter for “she” or “he”, these need to be lowercase, as they don’t start a new sentence.

4. If the person speaking is making a statement (or a suggestion or a command), replace the period (which would follow if it weren’t in quotation marks) with a comma. Then put your period at the end of the sentence.
“Let’s go home,” he said.

5. If there’s no attribute (he said, she said), put a period inside the closing quotation mark.
“Turn off the TV.”

6. If you start with the dialogue tag, put a comma after it, before your opening quotation mark and the dialogue:

He said, “But my game is on.”

7. If you want to put your dialogue tag in the middle of a sentence, put a comma inside the first set of closing quotation marks, and also after the dialogue tag:
“I can never understand,” she said, “what you see in him.” (Note no capital for the second part.)

8. If one person is speaking and the dialogue goes on for more than one paragraph (not a great idea to have one person speaking at great length), you leave out the closing quotation marks at the end of the first paragraph, but put opening quotation marks at the beginning of the next one. Use closing quotation marks only when that person is finished speaking.
“…no matter what you do.
“And another thing, don’t ….”


1. Avoid overusing dialogue tags. Instead of constantly using he said or she said (or the name and said), replace them often with action beats, which will also help bring the scene alive:
He closed the door very quietly. Too late.
She stood there, hands on hips. "Where've you been?"
"Don't start." He took off his coat and hung it up.
The action immediately before or after the words tells us who’s talking.

Or, if it can be done without confusing the readers, just leave out the dialogue tag or action beat. Context often makes it obvious who's speaking.

2. The best dialogue tags are the simple he said and she said (or asked), or with the name: John said, Carol said. These simple dialogue tags don’t draw attention to themselves or interrupt the story line, as they’re almost invisible. Avoid fancy tags like queried, chortled, alleged, proclaimed, conjectured, affirmed, etc., which can be distracting. But I do suggest using verbs that accurately and quickly describe how the words are delivered, like whispered, shouted or stammered.

3. You can’t use words like laughed or grinned or smiled or grimaced or scowled as dialogue tags:
“You look great,” he grinned.
“Why, thank you,” she smiled. (both incorrect)

Why not? Because smiling is not talking; you can’t “smile” or “grin” words. Change to:
“Why, thank you.” She smiled at the compliment. (Note period and capital “She”)
Or “Why, thank you,” she said, then smiled at him.

4. Use adverbs very sparingly. Avoid:
"I'm sorry," she said apologetically.
“Come here,” he said imperiously.
“I’m in charge,” she said haughtily.

Instead, make sure the words they're saying and any actions convey the feelings you wish to express.


1. Contemporary North American fiction seems to avoid the reversed form, “said Joe”, in favor of “Joe said.” The reversed form seems to be more British and also considered kind of archaic, which makes it great for historical fiction.

2. Most contemporary North American fiction writers, with the notable exception of Lee Child, seem to put most dialogue tags after the words spoken:
“Let’s go,” Tony said.
Rather than before:
Tony said, “Let’s go.”

These last two points are of course just my observations of common usage, not rules. But aspiring or debut authors would do well to stick with what seems to be in favor, to give a contemporary feel to your novel. Of course, if you’re writing historical fiction, go for the older “said Elizabeth” form.

Fiction writers and readers, what do you think? Do you have any more tips to add to the mechanics of writing dialogue? Or opinions on the last two “style trends”? Let’s get a dialogue going!

Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER (Silver Medalist in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013). Both titles are available in e-book and paperback.
For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Re-Branding: Without The Sex Club

By L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers
I rarely use this forum to talk about my books, but recently I made a decision about my series that involves the broader topics of branding and reader perception.

In this evolving industry, writers must adapt quickly as well as continuously search for new ways to reach new readers. In that mode, I’ve decided to re-brand my Detective Jackson series by listing Secrets to Die For as the primary book and creating a new cover for it.
The first book on my Jackson list used to be The Sex Club, a title I've come to believe turns away as many readers as it draws in. The story has served me well, and thousands of readers have loved it. It will always be a favorite, and I'll continue to sell it. When I only had a few books on the market, it was an important part of my work.

But now that I'm about to launch my 10th book, and I'm poised to reach a huge new audience, I've decided I don't want The Sex Club to be the first thing new readers see about me. I don't want to be defined—and possibly rejected—by this title.

I considered simply changing the name, but thousands of people have read it—and loved it—and I'm not willing to annoy my faithful readers who might buy the story again with a new title, not realizing they've already read it. And a new title wouldn’t alter the content, which is equally disturbing to some conservative readers.

So I’m moving The Sex Club into my standalone thriller column. The truth is when I wrote the novel, it was intended to be a standalone with dual protagonists. Then at some point, it occurred to me the detective would make a great series character. When I wrote Secrets to Die For three years later, I based it on the Jackson character, thinking I’d try to make a series of it. So Secrets is really the first book I intended as the start of a series. Of course, readers can begin with either one.

In simple terms, this is a very competitive market with ebooks selling for $.99 and $2.99, and I can’t afford to alienate thousands of potential readers with one little word.

This has been a huge undertaking. I'm not only creating a whole new website, I also had to make a change in my "titles list" and republish each of my ebooks. I've also had to redo my bio everywhere it's posted online! And I'm sure I haven't found them all yet.

But with millions of new people joining the e-reading revolution, I think this move makes sense. What do think of this re-branding decision? Brilliant or cowardly? Worthwhile or waste of time?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Grandpa's Killer

By CJ West, author Addicted To Love

I’ve killed a lot of people, fictionally speaking, with guns, knives, ropes, chemicals, explosives, and even a wine bottle. These killings tend to be spectacular and the killers usually get punished in the end. What would be more insidious is a real life killing that has gone unpunished. I’m going to tell you the story of a sweet old man who died before his time and I’ll let you decide who was to blame.

My grandfather, Lefty, was a people pleaser. The kind of guy that would do one hundred favors for you and never ask for one in return. He would shovel snow in a blizzard with a spoon before he’d ask to borrow a shovel. As I grew older I understood that our personalities were incredibly similar.  We are both very quiet by nature and take great pleasure in doing things for other people. As I watched my grandfather age, I believed he measured himself by the things he did for others. I saw my future in him, and understood the root of some of my behaviors by watching his.

Everyone who knew my grandfather loved him. How could you not love a guy who’d give you his left arm if he could figure out how to attach it for you one-handed?

You might expect a sweet guy like my grandfather to end up with a doting wife, each taking great care of the other. Nothing could be further from the truth. My grandmother was domineering to the point of absurdity. I was often embarrassed for my grandfather as I watched him being ordered around by a woman who didn’t leave her chair. He was a smart man, but very often was pushed into unwise decisions because he couldn’t refuse my grandmother’s wishes. I don’t think my grandmother was evil, but she was certainly self-centered and one of the least self-aware people I’ve known.

When I watched them I saw my poor grandfather being bullied, but it was also clear they were very much in love. They needed each other. Grandpa needed to serve. Grandma needed to be firmly in charge. I wondered as the years went on if my grandmother had always been so self-centered or if my grandfather’s doting had raised her expectations to unsustainable heights. And when I create characters I think about how our psychological makeup may bind us to people who may not seem like the obvious choice, but serve our “invisible” needs and bring us peace in a way that is hard to understand.

When my grandparents were in their mid 80’s, my grandmother’s health began to fail. My grandfather did everything for her, driving himself to his physical limit, until he finally asked for help. The family knew it was serious because Grandpa never asked for anything. My aunts and uncles prepared to bring in a fulltime nurse to take care of my grandmother, but she refused to have a woman in the house because she thought my 85 year old grandfather would run off with her.

Grandpa worked on. My grandmother demanded to be cared for day and night and Grandpa could not keep up. He washed bedclothes twice a day. He cleaned. He cooked meals. All at an age where many people, my grandmother included, couldn’t take care of themselves, never mind someone completely dependent for everything.

Grandpa literally worked himself to death. He had a massive heart attack and died several years sooner than he should have. It has been years since. My grandmother has also passed and no one misses my grandfather more than my dad. I wonder why this happened. Should the children have stepped in and forced my grandmother to accept in-home care or move into a home? Should my grandfather have finally stood his ground and refused to serve her every need?

Since this is a blog about crime, chime in and tell me who you think Grandpa’s killer was and what punishment (if any) they deserve.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cover Design Calypso, Part II

by:  Kimberly Hitchens is the founder and owner of, an ebook production company that has produced books for over 500 authors and imprints. 

Some months back—heavens, in April—I wrote a post on my own website ( entitled “Cover Design Calypso,” in which I discussed “what makes a great book cover?” 
At the time, I likened it both to pornography (“I can’t define a great cover but I know it when I see it”) and to frozen dinners (“People buy frozen dinners based not upon the actual content of the bag or box or TV-Dinner-Tray, but, rather, based upon which company has put the best picture on the cover of the box.”)  In other words, as painful as it is to those of us who believe that the words rule the book and its world, the truth is that covers, absolutely, irrefutably and indisputably, sell books--particularly eBooks. 

So, having accepted that shocking truth, how do we mine for great cover design? 
It’s been my experience that authors, in general, envision their book covers as if they are watching a movie in an IMAX theater…a grand rolling epic, sprawled across a massive screen, with THX sound, telling the awesomeness contained within.  Or, even when considering space, thinking of it on an 8½x11” sheet of paper.  But the reality is that 99% of the viewing (and buying!) public will only see your book cover the same size that it is displayed on, (or Barnes & Noble) which is a whopping 88x135px (1.2 inches by 1.88 inches), or on the book page itself, a whopping 160x240px (1.75 inches by 2.5 inches).  That’s not a lot of real estate in which to grab someone’s attention and hold it. 

So, what to do?  Remember THIS:  one, single, strong central element.  Don’t make a cover too busy, and don’t try to tell your entire story on its tiny little face—that’s what the book is for, to tell the tale.  When you find yourself thinking, “I want a vampire and a heroine with a bloody neck and a knife and the magic cup and an amulet and a wolfpack in the background and…” JUST SAY NO.   A cover is supposed to catch the eye; to pique curiosity; to impart a feeling.  It needs to reach out to people and make them want to pick up that book (literally or metaphysically) and read it.  If you need to remind yourself what BAD cover design is, roll on over to Fixabook and check out both good and bad covers.  If that doesn’t convince you, simply tootle around, and find one—just ONE—busy cover that you love.  Can’t do it?  Remember that when your next cover comes around. 
Seth Godin, chatting it up at The Domino Project, has issuedbooks that have no title text whatsoever on the covers—neither title nor author name, although the spines have both—and argues that there are compelling reasons not to have either.  Of course, not everyone has the clout—or the hubris—to simply put their last name on the spine as a tell-all/signature/branding.  I don’t love his cover, myself; but Godin’s a guru, and what he says does carry weight.  Will your next book have text on its cover?

Lastly, on the topic of covers, just for fun:  this is a hoot.  I laughed my patooties off.    That's it for today, gang!

Monday, November 14, 2011

What Is Truth?

Cemetery Girl by David Bell.*

Reviewed by Marlyn Beebe.

Twelve-year old Caitlin Stuart used to walk her dog Frosty in a park near their house, next to a cemetery. One day, Frosty comes home without Caitlin.

Four years later, her father Tom hasn't given up waiting for her to return. He still leaves a key under the doormat for her in case she comes back and no one's home, and refuses to talk to a counselor or therapist.

Meanwhile, Caitlin's mother Abby resigns herself to the fact that she may never see her daughter again, and organizes a memorial service for her at a church that she's started attending regularly. She even puts up a headstone in the cemetery near the house. Unsurprisingly this difference of opinion has caused a rift in the marriage and Abby moves out.

Then, suddenly they hear from the police. Caitlin has been found walking down a deserted road at 3:30 in the morning. She won't say anything about where she's been, or whether she ran away or was taken.

Tom and Abby take her back to the house, and try to get to know their daughter again. She asks Tom not to ask her any questions about her life during those four years. At first, Tom agrees, assuming that she will talk to the police or their psychiatrist, but when it becomes clear that she came returned against her will, he becomes frustrated.

Pushing her for answers, he gets the response:

"Someday I hope you do find out where I was and everything that happened to me...I can tell you the truth will hurt you more than not knowing".

Tom focuses not on the concept that the truth would hurt him, but that she said "everything that happened to me", not "everything I did". He becomes obsessed with learning where she was, and who she was with, certain that if he knows all the details he will find some peace.

Bell's portrayal of Tom as a father made irrational first by his belief that his daughter is alive, and then by his need to know what she was doing during the four long years were gone is compelling. The story is written in the first person, so we perceive everything as Tom would. Despite that, most of the primary characters are portrayed as neither or both good and bad.

The story does begin a little slowly, but becomes more engrossing as it progresses. By the middle of the second chapter, it's tough to put down.

The trailer for Cemetery Girl is one of the best I've seen:

*FTC Full Disclosure: Many thanks to the publisher, who sent me a copy of the book for review purposes.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Publishers Weekly Picks

By Peg Brantley Writer at Work, Stumbling Toward Publication
These are PW's choices for the best crime fiction of the year. They are apparently simply chosen by staffers, and if they argue, I suppose the senior staffer wins.

The End of Everything
Megan Abbott (Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur)
This psychological thriller charts the friendship of two 13-year-old girls in pre-cellphone suburban America, one of whom disappears a few weeks before their eighth-grade graduation.

Started Early, Took My Dog

Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur)
Semiretired PI Jackson Brody returns to his Yorkshire hometown to trace the biological parents of a woman adopted in the 1970s, but finds only questions in this intensely plotted, multilayered novel.

Rory Clements (Bantam)
John Shakespeare, the playwright’s older brother and spy, seeks the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of the colonists of Roanoke, Va., in this first-rate Tudor historical full of intricate plots.

Hurt Machine
Reed Farrell Coleman (Tyrus)
Razor-edged contemporary whodunits don’t get much better than Coleman’s seventh Moe Prager mystery, in which the Brooklyn PI, recently diagnosed with cancer, looks into the stabbing murder of his ex-wife’s estranged sister.

A Simple Act of Violence
R.J. Ellory (Overlook)
A must-read for noir fans, this crime thriller charts the efforts of Det. Robert Miller to catch a serial killer strangling women in an upscale Washington, D.C., neighborhood.

Field Gray
Philip Kerr (Putnam/Marian Wood)
Set in 1954 with flashbacks to the 1930s and ’40s, Kerr’s outstanding seventh Bernie Gunther novel finds the tough, wisecracking Berlin cop under interrogation by the U.S. authorities for his role in saving the life of the future East German spy master, the real-life Erich Mielke.

The Most Dangerous Thing

Laura Lippman (Morrow)
Childhood friends, long since splintered off, uneasily reunite after the death of one of their own, in this unsettling stand-alone from Lippman, who sets the action in the Baltimore suburb where she grew up.

A Trick of the Light
Louise Penny (Minotaur)
Chief Inspector Gamache of the Québec Sûreté and his team look into the mysterious death of a woman ­found with a broken neck in the garden of artist Clara Morrow­in this subtle seventh entry in this acclaimed traditional series.

Two for Sorrow

Nicola Upson (Harper)
Upson upsets readers’ expectations with a surprise three-quarters into her psychologically rich third Josephine Tey mystery, in which the author of The Daughter of Time draws inspiration for her novel-in-progress from the 1903 execution of two women convicted for murdering babies.

Which of these have you read? I confess I have not read one of them. Not one.
Are you more (or less) compelled to read books that appear on lists such as this one?
What were your favorites for the year?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Once upon a time

A long time ago, before I was a writer or a software engineer or a dancer or a flying angel or a horsewoman…

I was an artist.

It was destiny, in a family of people who drew and painted and sculpted, that I follow suit. My uncle actually made his living as an artist (eventually - after spending years working in an advertising agency). He has since passed on, but you can see some of his works here. As I was the first child, first grandchild, and first great-grandchild, the heat was on for me to fill my uncle's shoes. I was the Chosen One.

Except that my favorite thing to do was doodle. I didn't want to study line and work with light and shadow and color. I wanted to take a big sheet of paper and start in one corner with my crayons and pencils, and tell a story.

"Once upon a time," I'd say to myself, then start drawing. It might be a house that would hold a family and they would go on an adventure. Or maybe it was an airplane flying over some distant island and the tale would be about mermaids in the ocean and volcanoes and parachutes. Most of the time, there were animals. A forest of lions and deer and monkeys. The Great Plains, teeming with mustangs, all charging forward with long, waving manes and flying tails.

By the time I was finished, my "artwork" was a patchwork of scenes. They were fairly well drawn, with good perspective. But taken as a whole, it was a hot mess.

Nevertheless, I persisted in my art, spending a year at college as an art major, before I figured out that a) I didn't want to pursue art in the same vein as my family, and b) if I didn't get out of my parents' house soon, someone would have to die. So I dropped out of school and burst from my folks' house in a fit of marriage. Which is a story for another day.

Why am I telling you this story?

I've mentioned before that my first novel was plotted out on an Excel spreadsheet, with all of the characters and clues and a steady timeline lain out. My second novel started life in Excel, but I was never really happy with the plot points, so I went rogue and just started making stuff up. I say that very casually. What I did was open every scene with "Who is in this scene? What do they want? What obstacle can I throw at them to keep them from reaching their goal?" I am, by the way, amazed at the writers who always use the seat-of-the-pants approach. How do they know where the story is going to arc? How can they tell when they're done?

Now I'm writing the third mystery. As usual, I need to know what happened, then figure out how my character solves the case. I started with the Excel and got confused because there were a lot of new people running around in my head. Then I went to journaling these strangers and realized I could spend years writing everyone's diary. I needed to find a way to blend these actions or I'd never get the book written.

A blank piece of paper told me what to do. I sat down on the carpet, picked up a pencil and started in the corner. "Once there was a house on fire and a boy trapped inside. The house belonged to a man who had a lot of Dean Martin things. He was very sad when his things burned."

See? I'm a doodler
I wasn't drawing houses in flames, this time. There are lots of words and circles and lines with arrows going here and there and it looks like a hot mess to anyone who doesn't know what the book is about. But now I know what it's about.

If you'll excuse me, I've got some writing to do.

P.S. I'd show you my "storyboard" but I don't want to give away any spoilers.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Is it a Crime to Skip the Sex?

By Andrew E. Kaufman

I did it again.

That second-guessing thing I do. The one where, as my novel nears the release date I begin wondering if I’ve inadvertently missed some vitally important element in the story, if maybe I should go back and rethink things. In this case it was sex, the fact that I don’t have any.

In my book, that is.

Actually, to be more exact, my two main protagonists don’t have any, and they didn’t in my first novel, either. This got me wondering: is it a crime in crime fiction to deprive characters the pleasures of the flesh? Is it even necessary? I gave it some serious thought.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a prude, and I’m pretty sure I have no deep-seated Freudian Oedipus tugging at my psyche (at least, that’s what my therapist tells me), but in the
final analysis what it boils down to is a case of simple mechanics. With danger lurking behind every corner, having my protagonists stop to do the Wild Thing just doesn’t make much sense. Sure, a romp in the hay would be good fun and all, but there’s a time and place for everything, and if some killer’s got a bullet with their name on it, they’re not going to be thinking about getting it on; they’re going to be thinking about getting the hell out. Period.

Besides that, in suspense pacing is everything, and it seems to me this would only slow things down, and if it doesn’t serve a purpose, isn’t it just gratuitous?

And then there’s the predictability factor. It’s just too easy. How many times have we seen this in books and movies? Guy meets girl. Guy and girl get thrown into some ridiculously dangerous situation, and then somewhere amidst all the chaos, guy and girl fall in love. It doesn’t work that way in real life, so why should it work that way in fiction? We’re not sexually attracted to everyone who crosses our path.

Of course, this isn’t an across-the-board condemnation of sex in crime novels. I’m all about the theory that if it works, use it. And I’m sure that under the right circumstances it could actually work. But so far for me, not so much. In the end I decided I was okay with not having any sex.

In my book, that is.

But what about you? Readers: how do you feel about it? Sex or no sex with your novels? And authors: Do you use it, and if so, how? I'm interested in hearing both sides.