Friday, March 30, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mom

Red Tide is now available through Amazon.

When I look at that sentence, I just shake my head. As long as it was in coming, it feels like it happened overnight. I talked about it, wrote about it, dreamed about it—then actually sat a target date for publication. April 2nd. What would have been my mom's 79th birthday.

The "Writer at Work, Stumbling Toward Publication" line by my signature is forever gone. Well, the last part anyway. We'll see what might take its place.

Today I'm looking at a long list of things I should do to get the word out. QR code, website, Goodreads Author program, guest posts, business cards, Twitter, Facebook, blah blah blah. I also want to begin the self-edits for my next book.


For a few minutes, I want to tap into the feeling of accomplishment and savor it.

Before I leave to savor, I want to let you know that in honor of my mom's birthday, Red Tide will be FREE Saturday, March 31st through Monday, April 2nd. Honest reviews are appreciated.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Am I there yet?

By Gayle Carline

By the time you read this, I will either be on the road to Sacramento or running amok through my house, attempting to get on the road to Sacramento. Either way, I'm going to Left Coast Crime, where I will get to see people I've met and meet people I've seen.

It's a strange kind of gathering, for me, in that I'm used to writers' conferences, where I know I'm there to learn something. LCC is a convention for mystery fans, so I guess I'm there to introduce myself to potential readers, as well as be a fan myself and meet other mystery authors.

I just hope the correct version of me shows up.

I believe in experiencing reincarnation while you're still alive to appreciate it. As a child, I was very shy. I muddled through my school years all right, but by the time I was in my early twenties, I would literally vibrate with nervous shaking if I had to meet new people.

Believe it or not, I chose to leave my home in Illinois and move to California, where I had to meet new people all the time. By now, I had stopped shaking, and had replaced it with a sort of trance, where I watched everything as it happened around me.

Then, I needed an extra flow of temporary income, so in addition to being a engineer by day, I took a job as a waitress at night. Not just any restaurant, but at Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor, where everyone came for their birthday and servers led the patrons in a rousing chorus of "Happy Birthday to You", and then they ran a gigantic bowl of ice cream ("the Zoo") around the room while someone banged a drum and it was a little like going to a Mad Hatter's Tea Party, only louder.

Shy people do not work in that establishment, so I needed to be Someone Else. Thankfully, my Inner Diva appeared. I delighted in singing "Happy Birthday." I loved awarding the ribbons for eating an entire Pig's Trough (2 banana splits). I even wore a grass skirt and lei while I served the Hot Fudge Volcano. The Diva enjoyed many years in the spotlight, before going into semi-retirement.

Mostly, she and the shy girl have been replaced with a more relaxed, more confident, yet still goofy woman who can look people in the eye and shake their hand.

Even though I'm that woman now, I know, when I get to Sacramento and approach the convention gathering, there will be a moment when my shyness says, "Oh, no, there are so many strangers. Let's go home." The Diva will tell her, "Shut up. They can't start the party til I get there."

And as long as I can navigate between those two, I'll be able to walk through the door.

Does anyone else have multiple personalities, or is it just us me?


Because I'm looking forward to such a grand and glorious time at LCC, I'm offering two one-day Kindle e-specials on my mysteries, HIT OR MISSUS, and CLEAN SWEEP (short story). CLEAN SWEEP is free today, March 29th. HIT OR MISSUS will be free on Saturday, March 31st. Get them while they're hot!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Interview with Former CSI and Author Tom Adair

It’s Tom’s day to post, but he’s been shy to talk about his first novel, so I prompted him with a bunch of questions. If you haven’t heard, Tom released The Scent of Fear recently, and based on his background as an exceptional forensic scientist, it’s no surprise his novel is pretty special too. Here’s more in Tom’s own words:

LJ: Did a specific event or crime inspire this story?
Tom: They say that you should write what you know. While the story is fictional, many of the events are inspired by actual cases I’ve worked. I’ve changed many of the details but a number of colleagues have commented on the similarities. I think it adds tremendous realism to the story by keeping it within the property line of my experience. In some ways writing this novel was therapeutic too. The crimes I saw in my career were not the types of things you can talk about at the dinner table. My family knew what I did but they never had a clear picture. It was my way of protecting them from the evils I saw. In The Scent of Fear I had the opportunity to shed some baggage I had been holding on to. It gave me permission to unburden myself.

LJ: Who is your protagonist modeled after? Because you’ve had the same career as your protag, is it difficult to keep her actions/thoughts distinctly separate from yours?
Tom: I don’t want them to be separate. Put simply, she’s the girl next door that can kick in the door. Sarah Richards could be compared to so many young professional self confident women in law enforcement. I love the depth her character offers me as a writer. Sarah has a wonderful mix of strength and vulnerability I couldn’t create with a male protagonist. She is young and impulsive and that makes for some hairy situations she finds herself in, but that can be said of so many young professionals. Sarah was created as a franchise character and I can’t wait to see how she develops with age and experience (just as I did).

LJ: Does the novel have a theme or message you want the reader to come away with?

Tom: Be fearless! So many of us let fear run our lives and it usually makes us miserable. Fear also keeps us from reaching our full potential. Sarah has fears but she must rely on her inner strength and morality to persevere (physically and spiritually). That is her story. In the end she only has herself to rely upon (metaphorically speaking; that was not a spoiler).

LJ: What else do you want readers to know about this story?

Tom: On a serious level I wanted to give readers a peek behind the curtain of crime. Evil does exist in our world. I’ve met it, spoken to it, even been threatened by it. We tell our children that monsters exist only in bedtime stories but they don’t. Monsters are out there; among us. Be prepared to meet them.

LJ: At what point in your law enforcement career did you realize you wanted to write instead? What was it like to make the transition?

Tom: The novel (trilogy) has been rolling around in my head for over a decade but I always figured I’d just write it when I retired. I never thought that day would come so quickly. I guess, like a lot of folks in that business, I hit a saturation point. I never saw it coming. Apparently the dark events in our lives can ferment until our soul can bear them no longer. I just wanted out. The problem was that my particular skill set is not very applicable in the civilian world. I had been a technical writer, not a fiction writer but it seemed like the right fit. Looking back I think it was fate.

LJ: Are you able to use specific incidents from your career in your fiction?

Tom: I’ve heard the term faction thrown around and I like it. A blend of fiction and reality. I’m very careful not to betray and confidences or divulge anything that might complicate any open investigations but that still leaves me a broad range of experiences to tap into.

LJ: What’s next for you? Are you working on another novel?

Tom: The Scent of Fear is the first in a trilogy and I am busy working on the second portion of the story which delves deeper into the motives of the serial sniper. I don’t want to give away too much but just as in The Scent of Fear there is a parallel story line of murder. I’ve always liked stories in which the protagonist must juggle different problems. I have to be careful not to overwhelm the reader with minutiae but real CSIs have to deal with many professional and personal distractions so why should our characters be much different?

FYI, Amazon Prime members can now check out The Scent of Fear free!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tips for Picking up the Pace in Your Fiction

by Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker  

Readers of fiction often complain that a book didn’t keep their interest because “it dragged,” or “the story meandered,” or “it was slow going,” or “it was boring in parts.” Today’s readers have shorter attention spans. Most of them/us don’t have the patience for the lengthy descriptive passages, the long, convoluted “literary” sentences, nor the leisurely, painstaking pacing of fiction of a century or two ago. Besides, with TV and the internet, we don’t need most of the detailed descriptions of locations anymore, unlike early readers who’d perhaps never left their village, and had very few visual images of other locales to draw on.

While you don’t want your story barreling along at a break-neck pace all the way through – that would be exhausting for the reader – you do want the pace to be generally brisk enough to keep the readers’ interest. As Elmore Leonard said, “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”

Condense those set-up, backstory and descriptive passages.

To increase the pace and overall tension of your story, start by cutting back on setup and backstory. Here’s what Donald Maass has to say about setup: “‘Setup’ is, by definition, not story. It always drags. Always. Leave it out. Find another way.” Some backstory can be essential, but marble it in on an “as-needed” basis, rather than interrupting the story for paragraphs or pages of explanation of character background.

Also, to pick up the pace, keep your descriptive passages short and vivid, and concentrate instead on scenes with action, dialogue, and lots of tension. Show, don’t tell – use vivid, sensory imagery, and just leave out the boring bits. 

In general, develop a more direct, lean writing style.

That way your message and the impact of your story won't get lost in all the clutter of superfluous words and repetitive sentences. I cover specific techniques for cutting down on wordiness in my upcoming article, “Streamline Your Writing.”

Of course, the best novels do vary the pace to allow the reader brief respites to catch his breath, but generally, your story needs to move along at a good clip to keep the readers interested.


Here are a few easy techniques for picking up the pace at strategic spots in your novel, to create those tense, action-packed, nail-biting scenes. 

Write shorter sentences and paragraphs.

For a fast-paced scene, use short, clipped sentences, as opposed to long, meandering, leisurely ones. Even sentence fragments. Like this. Use short paragraphs and frequent paragraphing, too. This creates more white space. The eye moves faster, so the mind does, too. This also increases the tension, which is always a good thing in fiction. 

As Sol Stein points out, “In fiction, a quick exchange of adversarial dialogue often proves to be an ideal way of picking up the pace.”

Here’s an example from The Watchman by Robert Crais, one of my favorite authors. My favorite hero, Joe Pike (Jack Reacher is a close second), is protecting a spoiled young heiress from enemies who are closing in. Pike starts out.

“Pack your things. We’re going to see Bud.”

She lowered the coffeepot, staring at him as if she were fully dressed.

“I thought we were safe here.”

“We are. But if something happens, we’ll want our things.”

“What’s going to happen?”

“Every time we leave the house, we’ll take our things. That’s the way it is.”

“I don’t want to ride around all day scrunched in your car. Can’t I stay here?”

“Get dressed. We have to hurry.”

“But you told him noon. Universal is only twenty minutes away.”

“Let’s go. We have to hurry.”

She stomped back into the kitchen and threw the pot into the sink.

“Your coffee sucks!”

“We’ll get Starbucks.”

She didn’t seem so wild, even when she threw things.

We get the undercurrent of tension in Joe, who’s trying to hustle her out without alarming her. 

It isn’t necessary to use dialogue to pick up the pace – short sentences and frequent paragraphing can have that effect even without dialogue.

Lee Child, another one of my favorite writers, is a master at lean writing and short sentences. Here’s a short excerpt from Worth Dying For. Our laconic hero, Jack Reacher, has a very painful broken nose that’s bent way to the side. He has to reset it, and he knows that when he does the pain will be so excruciating he’ll pass out from it, so he has to do it right, and fast, before he passes out:

He closed his eyes.

He opened them again.

He knew what he had to do.

He had to reset the break. He knew that. He knew the costs and benefits. The pain would lessen and he would end up with a normal-looking nose. Almost. But he would pass out again. No question about that. …

 And it goes on like that.

Skip ahead for effect.
Skip past all the humdrum details and transition info, like getting from one place to another, and jump straight to the next action scene. Delete any scenes that drag, or condense them to a paragraph or two, or even just a few sentences.

Jump-cutting is a more extreme version of skipping ahead. This is used a lot in movies. You jump straight from one scene to another, with no transitioning at all in between. Your protagonist leaves her house. Add an extra space or * * *, then show her at her workplace office having a conversation with a colleague. Or in a restaurant with her gal pals or a date. Or jogging through the park, or wherever. The reader can easily fill in the gaps. No need to show her getting into her car, driving to her destination, etc.

Some other techniques for increasing the pace:

- Use shorter, more direct words – mostly powerful verbs and nouns.

- Cut way back on adjectives and adverbs.

- Avoid unfamiliar words the reader may have to look up.

- Use active voice instead of passive: “The bank robber shot the teller,” rather than “The teller was shot by the bank robber.”

- Use cliff-hangers at the ends of scenes and chapters.

- Start each scene as late as possible, without all the warm-up, and end each scene as early as possible, without rehashing what went on. (Thanks to Peg Brantley for the reminder about this one!)

Do you have any techniques to add, to keep the readers turning the pages?
© Copyright Jodie Renner, March 2012

Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel
Sol Stein, Stein on Writing
Robert Crais, The Watchman
Lee Child, Worth Dying For

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. She has also organized two anthologies for charity, incl. Childhood Regained – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. You can find Jodie at,, her blog,, and on Facebook and Twitter

Friday, March 23, 2012

Tweaking Titles and Covers to Improve Sales

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

In December, I did Amazon-sponsored giveaways of The Suicide Effect and The Sex Club, and between the two, I gave away more than 55,000 ebooks, and they both have sold really well since.

So I thought I’d repeat the effort with The Arranger, a book with nearly all 5-star reviews that had never gained any traction. After two days, I only had about 2500 downloads. I couldn’t even give the book away!

Not everyone likes futuristic thrillers, but The Hunger Games is huge bestseller, so there is an audience for the genre. I decided that the problem was the name. The Arranger just didn’t have enough intrigue or power. It was one of two choices at the time, and my husband really liked it, and I let him talk me into using it—against my better judgment.

So I changed the title to The Gauntlet Assassin and did a two-day giveaway...with a terrific download response. The ebook has been selling steadily since at five times the rate of its previous sales. Yeah! But I think it has even more potential, so I’m having a new cover created, and I’m contracting with a new designer, one that specializes in thrillers. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with and how it affects sales.

I’ve also recently changed the cover of Secrets to Die For—for the third time!—and changed the font on all my Jackson books. They all instantly jumped up in the rankings on Amazon’s police procedural list.

This is one of the best things about digital publishing—the ability to quickly and inexpensively make changes. Sometimes I worry that it’s disturbing to readers but I hope they understand. I’m running a small business, and I have to ensure that my products are selling as well as they can.

Readers: What do you think?
Writers: Have you made cover or title changes and did it work for you?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Drive Like Your Life Depends On It

By C.J. West

In recent months I’ve been a passenger while my daughter drives on her learner’s permit. My life has flashed before my eyes once or twice and that reminded me of a fantastic experience I had on tour two years ago. 

I hosted an advanced driving class with Anthony Ricci from Advanced Driving & Security, Inc. Anthony is an amazing driver (I’ll prove that in a bit), and his class on situational awareness and driving techniques is incredible. We spent an hour in the classroom and then spent about two hours on the track. It was an incredible day on a converted airstrip on the Rhode Island coast. 

I learned several things from Anthony, but one thing has really stuck with me. A week before our session I sat in class with real bodyguards. These guys protect Fortune 500 CEOs and high value government officials. I was surprised by all the math. Lots of math. They calculated G forces and turning radii. After a while I guess they realized I was surprised and they told me something I’ll never forget.

Their lives literally depend on their driving. My daughter might kill me by running into a tree or an oncoming semi, but these guys have bigger problems. If they get chased and flip the car, the pursuers come up and shoot them before they do anything with the principal. They might only kidnap the exec in the back seat, but any wreck during a chase is fatal for the driver. It put a whole new perspective on driving for me and I’ll never forget the seriousness in the room when we had this discussion.

A week later I brought a group of fans to the classroom and then the track.

There was so much great information in the course I couldn't possibly do it justice here, but I want to share some of the things I learned because it is great information even if your most important passenger is three years old.

Anthony talked a great deal about situational awareness and how important it is to pay attention to subtle cues in traffic. You might not be a kidnap target, but there are idiots out there ready to crash into you because they are on a cell phone, or talking to a child in the backseat.

Anthony showed a series of photos taken on a busy street and asked us to identify which parked vehicles posed a threat. We learned to watch for illuminated tail lights, exhaust, presence of a driver, and one thing I hadn’t thought of, wheels turned toward the traffic.

On the track Anthony emphasized the importance of knowing your vehicle and positioning yourself properly. Here are some quickies from the track:
  • Enter and exit the car with two feet at once. This exposes you to less risk from someone approaching you when you are vulnerable. 
  • Seat yourself so you can brace your left foot on the rubberized pad. This will help you maintain control in severe maneuvers.
  • Keep a light grip on the steering wheel and steer smoothly to avoid skidding. This was key to maintaining control in the slalom.
  • Tilt your head down when checking back over your shoulder. Baseball pitchers do this because the shape of your eye allows the most peripheral vision when you are looking down. 
I’m going to leave you with a video of Anthony driving backwards through the obstacle course, which is a track with many twists and turns. I am filming through the windshield and we are chasing another car that is also driving backwards. 

If you’d like to meet Anthony and take one of his classes, visit him at Advanced Driving & Security, Inc.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Where Fiction and Real Life Meet

Guest post by A.K. Alexander

There is an experience that I think most women can relate to. There are some men who can also relate, but on a different level; they certainly can react when someone they love, such as a wife, sister, mother, friend has had this extremely uncomfortable experience.

From the time women are little girls they are taught to look over their shoulder, to be aware of who is around them, and to trust their instinct. I can remember my dad having a talk with me before I went off to college and him telling me exactly what to do if I felt threatened. I can remember an LA police officer coming into the sorority house I belonged to and telling the members what to do if threatened. My husband gives me a reminder now and then as to what I should do if I feel threatened. All three of these men suggested everything from screaming, to going straight for that male anatomy that would make any man scream…

NO for women, a threat can just be as simple as a feeling. If we live alone or even spend a night alone, we have a heightened awareness that we carry with us because it is ingrained in us.

I can remember the first time I felt truly threatened. I was about eighteen, and I was going to get my hair cut. I had never been to this particular salon, and I was not a genius when it came to directions. So, driving my 1984 Celica (most likely with Madonna belting out Lucky Star on my tape cassette), I found myself sort of lost and, as usual, low on gas. This was an issue my father has had with me since the day I got my license. Anyhow…I noticed these skuzzy-looking dudes driving next to me in their beat-up car. They weren’t just skuzzy. They were creepy, nasty-looking, long-haired, greaseball, slime ogres. And, they started following me. My stomach sank, and I could feel the rapid beat of my heart and the burst of adrenaline as I realized there was no gas station in sight, the gage was low, and I could not for the life of me find the salon. Remember, this was pre-cell phone. I tried to ignore the guys, speeding up and slowing down, singing along with Madge, and I knew that I had to get my wits about me—and at eighteen, I will admit that wits were not my strong point. I can remember talking to God out loud, just asking that He would get me safely to where I needed to go before I ran out of gas. Amazingly, that is exactly what happened. I found the salon and pulled into the lot where other people were around. The creepers kept on going. It was unlikely that these piece-of-shit characters were going to do anything to me, but I won’t ever know. I am sure, however, that they enjoyed intimidating me and freaking me out.

Through the years, other things have happened, things that would make me edgy and nervous. However, nothing quite like that until I was much older and the single mother to my boys. The boys were five and three at the time. My oldest belonged to a pee-wee soccer team. As usual, on Saturday mornings we would venture out for my son to play in a game. My youngest was with his dad that morning, so it was just my big guy and me. I was pretty shy during those years—I was a single mother who had been through some tough crap, and I had a tendency to keep to myself.

My kid had a helluva game. I was cheering as any happy mom would. As I stood on the sidelines, I could not help the feeling that someone was watching me. This sense enveloped me. It was surreal, and in a strange way, claustrophobic. I scanned the parents around the arena and the park. My eye caught this guy who just did not fit in. Dads of youngsters have that certain “dad” look. I don’t mean in a physical way, but you know when someone on the side of a game is Dad. He looks that part by his demeanor and interest in the game. This dude was young, okay looking, tall. But definitely no one’s dad. He smiled at me. A serious shiver snaked down my backside. I walked a few feet further down the side of the soccer arena. I did all that I could to focus back on the game and not the man who I knew was watching me. I was able to do a decent job of that, mostly because my son was playing an amazing game. When he scored the final goal, I jumped up and down and hollered out his name. As I went to run out to meet him, I realized that the man had made his way over, and before I could get far enough away, he actually said to me, “It was good for you, too, then.”

Oooh! Gross and just totally inappropriate! My jaw dropped. I ran over to where my son was and stayed in that mix of kids and parents until I couldn’t spot him anymore. I can tell you that for the rest of that day, I was constantly aware of my surroundings and looking over my shoulder. With my little boy, that awareness turned into full-on, “This Mom will kick your ass, you blankety-blankety-blank" mode (you can fill in the blanks).

I am sure there are readers out there who can relate to these two situations—the kind where your heart races and real fear charges your every nerve ending. It’s that feeling that a good thriller gives you while reading it. It is those exact feelings and the combination of these two stories (plus one that I won’t go into here about a stalker ex-boyfriend who I hope lives under a rock somewhere) that were the catalyst for my thriller, Daddy’s Home.

Readers ask all the time if I ever draw from real life experiences. Although the thrillers that I have written take the feelings from these stories to the extreme, I think that we have all experienced fear and can relate to the intensity of emotion. While these situations were unpleasant, I was able to get those emotions on the page and have watched as both Daddy’s Home and Mommy, May I? have climbed the Amazon U.K. charts. Daddy’s Home, was #1 and Mommy, May I? have remained in the #5 position for over a month! If you like thrills and chills, then I hope you will give these thrillers a try.

Also, feel free to share if you can relate to either one of these experiences. I’d love to know how you responded and what occurred.

Thank You!


A.K. Alexander is a pen name for international bestselling author Michele Scott whose work includes, but is not limited to, the Nikki Sands and Michaela Bancroft series as well as her latest blockbuster thriller, Daddy's Home. For more information about Michele and her work, please visit her website at:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

No Longer Looking for Agents

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

Last weekend I was the keynote speaker at an e-publishing workshop in Ashland, Oregon, where I also participated in panel discussions. The author on the panel with me kept talking about agents and publishers and what they could do for writers—as a counterpoint to my indie focus. I finally looked at the group of hopeful writers and asked, “How many of you are looking for agents?” Not a single one indicated they were. 

This is a radical change from just a year ago, when so many aspiring writers I interacted with were still “holding out for a traditional contract.” Those Southern Oregon writers, of course, don’t necessarily represent authors everywhere, but I think more and more writers are finally realizing that querying agents is a colossal waste of time and that publishers really aren’t necessary, and in fact, may be counterproductive to a successful novelist career.

This is not true for everyone, but then, playing the lottery is not a waste of time and money for everyone either. A few people get lucky every year. I’m just glad that aspiring writers, in general, are no longer counting on it. They’re attending conferences to learn about e-publishing and taking control of their own destinies.

I did what I could to inspire them.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Alone in a country house...

Before the Poison by Peter Robinson.

A review by Marlyn Beebe.

Chris Lowndes is a successful film score composer, well-known in the business and financially very comfortable.  Having promised himself he'd return home at the age of sixty,  he  buys an isolated country house near the Yorkshire town where he grew up.  He hadn't expected to be doing it without his wife at his side, but she'd died a few months earlier.  He goes anyway, telling himself he needs solitude to work on the piano sonata he's always wanted to compose.

Having completed the purchase well before he returns to England, Lowndes is unsure what to expect when he arrives at the house late one October afternoon.  He certainly doesn't expect to learn that the wife of the original owner, a physician named Ernest Fox, had been convicted of murdering him.

Out of curiosity, Lowndes begins to research the history of the house and it's early inhabitants.   The more he learns about Grace Fox and her family, the more he becomes convinced that she was not guilty of the crime.  Although he knows better than to tell anyone, he thinks he catches glimpses of her around the house.  People begin to accuse him of being obsessed with Grace and her story, and it certainly appears that way, though Chris believes that all he's trying to do is uncover the truth. 

Throughout Lowndes' search, the reader has the uncomfortable feeling that there is some underlying reason for  his investigation.  It's not expressed outright, but extremely subtle hints that this is the case permeate the narrative, very much in the vein of Rebecca

In fact, as in Du Maurier's novel, although the narrative is in the first person from the protagonist's point of view, the central character of the story is a ghost whose history somehow becomes intertwined with that of the narrator. 

As a devotee of Robinson's Inspector Banks, I was at first disappointed that Before the Poison was not part of that series.  But this is such a well-written and well-told tale that the sadness was short-lived.

Peter Robinson is the author of the now 16-book Inspector Alan Banks mystery series, the first of which, Gallows View, was published in 1987.  The next DCI Banks book is set to be released in the UK in August.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Blurbless in My Bubble

By Peg Brantley, Writer at Work; Stumbling Toward Publication

I'm in the local bookstore. I have a book in my hands with a compelling title and a great cover. I check out the first sentence. The first page. Not bad.

I've never heard of the author and need to make a decision about whether or not to buy this book because, um . . . I'm loitering. How long before a security person thinks I'm trying to figure out how to slip this book up my sleeve and leave?

Then I spot a familiar name on the back cover. A name I trust telling me so-and-so has written "a gripping, heart-pounding, sleep-depriving page turner" and I get hopeful. Since I don't have time to read more than the first page, I trust the name I know and part with my money. After all, one of my favorite authors thinks this book is great. It must be, right?

In a recent article in the New York Times, literary agent Sharon Bowers wrote that blurbs are "a necessary evil, a box that must be ticked." Frequent blurbers are known as quote whores, and in another section of the article written by author Bill Morris, novelist Colum McCann is quoted as saying that blurbs aren't intended for readers. "They are designed more for the bookshops and just help to get the books on the shelf." Apparently most readers, unlike me, see blurbs as cheap come-ons. Am I naive?

My first novel is getting close to a release date. I'm thrilled, but blurbless. My hope is that the ability to offer a free sample will make up for the lack of endorsement. That readers will be able to make a leisurely decision. That blurbless doesn't mean yucky.

What about you? 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Don't call me Clark.

By Gayle Carline

Raymond Strait, a writer I met at the Southern California Writer's Conferences, once told me that all the stories we tell are a little bit autobiographical. He may be right; even when we are writing about other people, we pour so much of ourselves onto the paper, it's hard not to mix a little of our spirit in with the words.

Writing fiction always begs the question: is the author living vicariously through their protagonist?

In other words, is Peri Minneopa my alter-ego?

Yes and no. Physically, we are nothing alike, except we are Caucasian. I am a petite redhead and she is a tall blonde. We've both been married three times, but I'm still married to my third husband, quite happily so. We are both impatient and stubborn, and get cranky when people are stupid; the difference here is that Peri has less filters to stop her from saying what she's thinking.

For example, it's become very common when I go to the grocery store, for people to think that the crosswalk markings are some kind of force field that will repel any car trying to enter their space. As I creep into the parking lot, driving so slowly the needle doesn't even register my speed, a shopping cart will barrel out in front of me, pushed by a clueless person. They can be male or female, usually on a cell phone, and always with their back to me.

Here's the difference between Peri and me: I slam on the brakes and give them my best "you idiot" stare. Peri would slam on the brakes, lay on the horn and yell, "Get out of the way, you moron! If I hit you I'll have to clean up the mess!"

Peri argues with authority and fights with her boyfriend, Skip, too. I have to believe that I'm absolutely correct in order to challenge people. Peri only has to think she's possibly right in order to debate someone. She tries to be tactful, but she can only hold her tongue for so long.

So does this mean I'd like to be like Peri? Not really. I like her, would be friends with her, but I don't want to be her. I like it knowing when to shut up; I think that's a valuable skill.

Now it's your turn. If you are a writer, what qualities do you share with your main character? What qualities would you like to share?

If you're a reader, who are the characters you like to live through? Who would you trade places with, if you could?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Active Shooter Training

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

“We handcuff dead people.” That was the takeaway message after an afternoon spent participating in an active-shooter training. Of course, I wasn’t one of the law enforcement officers doing the actual training (darn!), but I did play a role that helped make the scenario as realistic as possible.

My job for the afternoon was to run screaming across the top floor of an abandoned office building—which served in the scenario as a federal courthouse. The trainers wanted the sessions to be high intensity with lots of noise and distractions. So first, a loud siren came on. That started my adrenaline pumping. Then it was time to pull on my facemask and get into place. The mask was for protection against the paint-like pellets in case someone shot me.

Moments later, a man in green fatigues came running straight at us—across the long, cement floor—with an AK-47 in hand. Then our instructor signaled the three of us to go. And we would run, yelling something like, “Help! They killed Dave. They’re shooting everyone.” And screaming too. He wanted us to be loud and distracting.

It was weird at first, because I’m not a screamer, but I quickly got into character. Between the assault weapons and the siren and the sudden barrage of uniformed officers pointing more guns—it was easy to feel alarmed

We ran the scenario seven or eight times, with different groups of law enforcement personnel getting their turn. People from Homeland Security, Lane County Sheriff’s Office, and Eugene and Springfield Police all participated.

After the first few times, my adrenaline settled down a little, and my observational journalist side kicked. I began to notice that each team of officers did things a little differently. For example, another participant played a wounded Federal Marshal. Some officers checked him briefly and moved on. Others patted him down and took his weapon. Still others instructed him to crawl out of the room.

And then there was the armed bad guy at the top of the stairs. He got shot every time. And in each debriefing following the scenario, the instructor would at some point say, “We cuff dead people.” Meaning, you don’t just walk away from the bad guy, even if he looks dead and you have his gun. You cuff him to be sure.

The afternoon is one of those vivid memories that will not likely fade. And that phrase will always stay with me. Don’t be surprised if you see it in one of my novels someday.

Have you participated in something like this?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Enter the Culture Police: Home Slaughter Rituals

by Tom Adair, thriller author and forensic scientist

As an undergrad I studied cultural anthropology and it made me a better criminalist. That education forced me to recognize that people engage in a myriad of cultural practices and beliefs. Some of these may seem quite odd, offend our morality, or be classified as criminal acts under our laws. Over the years I've spoken to criminalists from all over the world, and those conversations remind me that our perceptions and values are influenced by these practices. As people, we sometimes have a hard time understanding cultural practices outside our own, even among people of the same "society". These differences can sometimes be problematic for detectives and crime scene investigators because the activity does not conform to what we may consider "normal". Take the United States for example. We have a very diverse culture, even among people of the same geographic area. A prime example of this is food preparation.

A few months ago I saw this BLOG posting about a Polish ritual at Christmas time that involves the home slaughter of carp. It was the photograph of the bloody bathtub that really caught my eye and I immediately began wondering how I would react to seeing a tub full of blood at a crime scene. Most people don't have blood spattered all over their bathrooms. Then I remembered a trip I took to a small town in Iowa. A sign in the motel bathroom asked hunters not to clean their game birds in the bathtub. It's all a matter of perspective you see.

 Killing an animal for food might seem very strange (even cruel) to people living in a city with a grocery store down the street. On the other hand, paying "good money" for a steak seems bizarre to a cattle rancher. I've been to crime scenes with goat heads in the refrigerator and live chickens scurrying around the house. At another scene, a cow's tongue was found hanging from a tree. The tongue was filled with tiny scraps of paper bearing the names of people. Out of a cultural context one might think they have stumbled into the home of a serial killer. More often than not though you've just expanded your cultural understanding of the world.

The reason I bring this up is that these cultural misunderstandings can lead to fireworks in life, and in your novel. As writers we tend to write what we know. What we "know" is often bound by our cultural practices. After all, it's hard to imagine some of the various rituals and ceremonies that exist outside our comfort zone.

This is especially true of food. People are much quicker to change their manner of dress or speech over diet. But just like real life detectives, writers should be mindful of the limitations of our accepted reality. We should embrace cultural differences because they can enrich a scene. As a reader I love being surprised. Nothing kills my desire to turn the page faster than one predictable scene after another. Predictable stories never challenge your views, never force you to look at the world in a new light. Cultural differences can momentarily scramble your brains, put you off balance. That makes for a memorable scene.

So as you are developing your characters ask yourself how you might use cultural differences to the delight of your readers. The more culturally diverse your scene setting is, the more likely your characters will encounter foreign practices. The same effect can happen in reverse too. If, for example, your character is placed into a foreign "homogenous" setting (think Crocodile Dundee). An easy place to start is the varied methods of meal preparation. Read up on various cultures and see if something catches your eye. If nothing else, you may find a great recipe!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

It’s All About the Writing

by Jodie Renner, freelance editor
There's a lot of very good info/advice out there on self-publishing and promoting your book, including several excellent blog posts here on CFC. But first, make sure your book is ready for the critics: the readers and reviewers. I see too many aspiring authors whipping off a book, then rushing to send it to agents or self-publish it on Amazon, and then promoting it like crazy on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and wherever else, when what they really needed to do was spend more time and effort producing a quality story first. This race to publish prematurely can be incredibly damaging to your career and your reputation as a writer.

Want to sell more books? Write them well! Don’t shoot yourself in the foot and jeopardize — or completely ruin — your reputation as a novelist by rushing to self-pub or send off a first — or even second — draft. Develop your craft by taking courses or workshops, joining a critique group, and reading how-to books and articles on effective fiction-writing techniques. Then apply what you’ve learned to ratchet up your story. Go over your whole manuscript again, fine-tuning, smoothing out any clunky writing or overly wordy spots, finding just the right word, and amping up the characterization, tension and intrigue.

Then send it to a few trusted "beta" readers for their opinions, and incorporate any ideas that really resonate with you. Finally, use a freelance editor to find those plot flaws and inconsistencies, spots where it's lagging, and any amateurish techniques still lurking in the draft and to go over it with a fine-toothed comb, looking for grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors. (Or these two stages may be carried out by two different people, a content editor and a final copyeditor/proofreader.)

Kristen Lamb doesn’t mince words on this point in her recent blog post, “The Modern Author–A New Breed of Writer for the Digital Age of Publishing”: 

“We can’t put a shiny bow on a pile of literary dog poop and call it a rose. No amount of marketing is going to sell garbage. We have to learn to write good books. Notice I use the plural — books. We can't slave over one book forever making it perfect. I said we need to write good books, not perfect books.

"We also can’t toss junk out there and think promotion will make it a hit. Good books will always sell way more than crappy books. Not rocket science. We should always be learning as much as we can about our craft, our trade, our art. This is why I blog on craft and point you guys to the best teachers in the industry.”

“Okay,” you say, “but I can’t afford an editor.”

Is it worth it to hire a freelance editor for your novel before sending it to agents or publishing it? I asked several successfully published writer clients and friends their take on this. Here are their answers.

Andrew Kaufman, talented bestselling thriller writer and fellow founder of Crime Fiction Collective, has this to say on the subject:

“This is an extremely important point and one I can’t stress enough. It doesn’t matter how good a writer you think you are. After numerous rewrites of a manuscript (which is just as important), you are too familiar with your work and have lost all objectivity.

“An editor with a fresh and critical eye will bring things to your attention you never knew existed, both developmentally and in the line/copy editing. These are the people who will help bring a novel to the next level. I consider their work to be an invaluable part of the process.

“And for those who say they can’t afford to hire one — I say you can't afford not to. If you’re serious about selling your book, then this is a step you simply must take.”
~ Andrew E. Kaufman, Sept. 2011, author of While the Savage Sleeps and The Lion, The Lamb, The Hunted. 

And Andrew had this to add recently: “Another thing that comes to mind is that, with the extraordinary success of my most recent novel, The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted, I’m getting more emails from authors asking what my secret is. I tell them there is no secret, that the single most important key to success is having a well-written, highly polished novel. Without that, all the promotion in the world won’t make a bit of difference. And you simply can’t get that by yourself. You need a professional. I’m not too proud to admit that, and you shouldn’t be,
either.” - Andrew E. Kaufman, March 7, 2012

I asked Allan Leverone, published thriller writer, what he thought about this topic. 

“As authors, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of our work, and it’s even easier to rush that work out before it’s ready. But in this day and age, when anyone with a computer and the time to string 80,000 words together can slap a price tag on his “book” and begin promoting, it’s even more critical to ensure your work is the highest quality it can possibly be. That means writing, rewriting, self-editing. And THEN working with a capable editor, one who is well-versed in your particular genre.

“And if you're reading this at the Crime Fiction Collective, you won't have to go far to find one. I was fortunate to work with editor Jodie Renner on my bestselling thriller, The Lonely Mile, and the result was a book far more suspenseful and page-turning than even I had thought possible. You worked hard on your book. Give it the best possible chance for success.”

~ AllanLeverone, Mar. 7, 2012, author of The Lonely Mile, StoneHouse Ink
“A taut crime drama full of twists and conspiracy”

One of my thriller-writer clients, Ian Walkley of Australia, tells me he wrote eight drafts of his novel No Remorse, before realizing he needed some objective input from professional editors. “Like many debut writers, I’d been to writing courses and read books about writing, but I was worried that a professional editor would cost me heaps and, to be honest, thought the editor might tell me my work was crap or make me rewrite the story.” 

At a writer’s conference, Ian met a professional editor whom he engaged to undertake a structural edit — advising on the structure of the book. “It was a good experience, and not as costly as I’d anticipated. The plot and scene structure were certainly improved to add suspense and pace. As a result of that, I hunted around for a copy editor.”

“I found several editors, including Jodie Renner, on Facebook, and I had them demonstrate their editing style with ten pages or so of my book. I contracted Jodie because she was thorough and I felt comfortable with her changes. I absolutely enjoyed the experience working with Jodie, who suggested numerous plot and character changes that improved the book. I certainly have a much better published novel because I used an editor.”  

~ Ian Walkley, March 2012, author of action-thriller,

Even editors need editing!

A few years ago, I edited a novel for a professional editor, Eve Paludan, and here’s what she said back then:

“I am a professional editor of scholarly work at a university but I hired Jodie Renner to edit my romantic suspense novel manuscript of 108,000 words. Just like a surgeon wouldn’t perform surgery on himself (or on his family), even a professional editor needs a second pair of sharp eyes to discern, deconstruct, suggest changes and help polish the language.

 “Your mother shouldn’t edit your work and neither should your best friend. Nor will spellchecking save your manuscript. So who should you hire to edit your work? I suggest choosing someone who doesn’t already love you, has stellar qualifications, and possesses a sharp eye and a true affection for your genre.

“Books about writing are helpful, and so are classes, but neither reveals what is wrong with your story, page by page, even line by line. A live professional editor like Jodie Renner has just the right one-on-one editorial style. […]
“It’s thrilling to experience the evolution of my novel manuscript and see both its strengths recognized and its weaknesses revealed, through Jodie’s eyes. Writing is a solitary endeavor but editing, for the eventual goal of professional publication, is a team effort between author and editor. This novel is the most important thing I’ve ever written. I trusted Jodie Renner with my huge manuscript and am happy to report, she’s worth every cent.”
– Eve Paludan, February 2010, author of The Man Who Fell from the Sky, (Angel Detectives, Case #1) 

Related article: "Don't Shoot Yourself in the Foot" - on taking care with your query letter.

And then of course we need to search out good formatters and cover designers, to give the book that final polish. See LJ Sellers' excellent post, Invest in Your Own E-Book, here at CFC. Also, see Publishing Yourself, by Helen Ginger, on Blood-Red Pencil blogspot.

Readers and writers - what's your experience with all this? Expensive? Worth it? Is cutting corners before publishing worth the risk? And how do you feel when you buy an e-book and find errors on the first page? We'd love to hear your opinion on these issues.

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, March 9, 2012

A Touch of Success

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

As novelists, one of the best things we can do for our friends and readers is introduce them to other authors. So I'd like to tell you about Gary Ponzo,

Gary has quietly become one of the bestselling indie authors on Amazon. His Nick Bracco series has consistently high ratings, and all three novels are consistently on Amazon's top 100 police procedural list. As an author, I know how hard that consistency is to achieve on Amazon. When I asked Gary what his secret was, he said it’s because his books come up as “also boughts” with many other authors. That means a lot of different readers are willing to try him out. Which is why I’m bringing him to your attention today. Great writing, great stories, and great prices.

In addition, the third book in his series, A Touch of Greed, is free on Amazon today and tomorrow. Grab it while you can. The first two books, A Touch of Deceit and A Touch of Revenge, are only $.99 and $2.99. If you like fast-paced FBI thrillers, add these to your reading list.

Here are few thoughts from the author:

Q: When you wrote the first book, did you envision Nick as a series character from the get-go?
A: I think deep down I always knew Nick was a keeper.  At its core, the series is really a modern day Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kidd. Only they carry credentials. I've never really said this out loud before and never heard anyone ever make the connection, but that's really the truth. I don't even think Nick throws a punch until the third book. His partner Matt McColm is the FBI's sharpshooting champion three years running, so he's the one doing all the damage. Nick is the brains and Matt is the enforcer. Not that Matt is dense, he's just quick with a pistol.

Q: Do you ever get tired of writing about the same character, and what steps do you a take to keep Nick fresh?
A: Nick Bracco has PTSD, a cousin in the mafia, and a wife who wants him to leave the Bureau. That right there is enough material to keep me going for the rest of my life. I don't think I'll ever run out different ways to keep him in trouble. The only thing I'll ever run out of is time to write the next thriller.

Q: In your author bio, you talk about the five year period it took to write A Touch of  Deceit. What’s your writing process, and how have you refined it as you’ve moved forward?
A: I've always worked with a writers critique group where we exchange each other's chapters and line edit our work. Once the novel is complete, I send it out to my beta readers who give me their input, then it's off to my editor who goes through it word-for-word to eliminate any grammatical errors. At the end of the day, it's about the quality of the writing. No one cares how clever your plot is if you can't keep the scene interesting and the five senses involved with every page. The reader needs to smell and hear and feel the emotion of the characters or everything else is nonsense.

Q: You’ve had considerable critical success writing short stories in addition to novels. Do you prefer one over the other, and if so, why?
A: Short stories are one night stands; a romp in the sack with a woman you met at a wedding when you were twenty-five.  It's quick and over fast. Instant gratification.  A novel is a long-term relationship, sometimes involving therapy.  It's messy and intimate and ultimately more rewarding. But every now and then I'll write a short story just to keep my libido working properly.

Q: What are you working on next?
A: I've been asked to collaborate with some talented writers, including Rick Murcer, Dani Amore and Lawrence Kelter, to write a collection of short stories. Each of us will write a story about a murder which has taken place on a beach somewhere around the globe. It should be fun. Also, I have a psychological thriller which will be released sometime over the summer, then on to Nick Bracco # 4.  Not sure of the title just yet, but I'm guessing the first three words will be "A Touch of . . . "