Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Future Looks Grim for Professional Criminals

By CJ West
Suspense. Creativity. Action.

In the last few weeks I read Flash Foresight: How to see the invisible and do the impossible by Daniel Burrus. I highly recommend this book. It shows us how to spot trends in the marketplace and create a thriving business by preparing to meet needs consumers don’t even realize they have yet.

Today I thought it would be interesting to apply the concepts of this book to the life of a career criminal.

Burrus suggests that we look for hard trends that will impact the marketplace and then anticipate the problems and opportunities they will create.

One of the trends affecting everyone are the three “digital accelerators” according to Burrus. They are the vast increases in computer processing power, storage, and bandwidth we are experiencing each year. These three factors have contributed to the explosion of cameras and social media.

The last thing a criminal wants is his picture being taken and shared around a vast network of people trying to identify him. I explored this idea recently in Thugbook, a short story about a social network that shares photographs of crimes in progress. With the proliferation of smaller and smaller cameras and social networks it is only a matter of time before someone implements an idea that combines cameras and social media to help prevent crime.

If you are a criminal or your customers are criminals, it is time to be thinking about clever disguises or some other way to thwart all those cameras.

Another trend related to the digital accelerators is the shift to electronic banking. Fewer of us carry as much currency as we once did. We do carry credit and bank cards and those present opportunities, but banks are getting smarter about protecting themselves from losses.

We may see a future like the one depicted in The End of Marking Time where no currency is ever exchanged. This would make dealing drugs and fencing stolen goods very difficult, but the loss of freedom would be so great should the government try to do away with currency there would be a major backlash.

On the plus side for the criminally minded, there are new opportunities to steal electronic funds, though I wonder if the level of sophistication required to steal from banks will be so high in the future that it will be easier to make an honest living than to outsmart the electronic watchdogs.

One final note on the digital revolution and its impact on crime. In the past it was unlikely that  data obtained by a law enforcement agency in one state would ever be shared with another. In the future, biometrics will be more prevalent and it will be simpler to connect data sources together.

In a future where states share biometric and other data about offenders, it will be more difficult to evade capture by moving within the country.  The heads of any large criminal organization may want to consider small tropical islands or large tracts of heavily wooded land to hide out in.

These changes are suggested in fun, but you’ll be glad to know that based on the FBI data I’ve been reading, serious crime is decreasing. I don't think crime writers will run out of real life stories to feed our work, but the trend is certainly encouraging.

I’d highly recommend reading Flash Foresight and using the tools inside to find the trends in your business.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Five Things I've Learned About Being an Author

By Andrew E. Kaufman
Author of psychological thrillers

I’m working on my third and fourth novels right now, and in some ways, I think I’m starting to get the hang of what this gig is all about. I’m not saying I know everything, nor do I think I ever will. Life is all about the learning curves, and the only time we stop riding them is after we die. But I’m at a stage now where, because I’ve put on some miles, I’m able to look back at the road and see things with more clarity. Of course, everyone’s journey is different and experiences will vary, but here’s what mine has taught me so far:

Follow your heart and everything else will follow right along.

I was once at writer’s conference. They were talking about how to sell lots and lots of books. When the speaker opened the discussion to the audience, I raised my hand, and when he called on me, I said:

“Don't you think if you follow your passion everything else will fall into place naturally?”

“Are you bull$h#ing me?” he said.

“No,” I replied, shrinking into my seat. “Why?”

He rolled his eyes and called on the next person.

But regardless of the less-than-enthusiastic reception, I still hold firm to that belief. In fact, I believe it now more than ever, and I’ve used it to guide me through every decision. I write about what inspires me, even when logic or “the rules” tell me otherwise. I allow my passion for writing to lead the way. So far, it hasn’t failed me. When you do what you love, and keep doing it on a consistent basis, success  is bound to happen.

My readers owe me nothing, but I owe them everything.

Make no mistake about this: whatever success I’ve had thus far, I owe to the people who have chosen to pick up my books and read them. Yes, talent can be a good thing, but it will only get you so far. If you want people to read your work, you need readers. The choices these days are mind boggling, and I’m grateful as hell to anyone who spends their hard earned money or precious time on my work. I will always be thankful to my readers, never take them for granted or lose sight of how much they mean to me, and I will always strive to give them the absolute best I can offer. 

Trust The Process

Writing a novel is a journey. Sometimes it’s bumpy, sometimes it’s invigorating, and yes, sometimes it’s just a plain old pain in the rear. But it’s all part of The Process, and it’s all necessary. There is a purpose for everything, and I’ve learned that if I allow it to occur, good or bad, I'll be just fine. I’ve also learned that the more I resist, the more I tend to get in my own way, so I do my best to avoid that pitfall. It’s all about allowing The Process to do its work. 

I write because I have to.

I often get caught up in the numbers game, on selling books; most of us do, but I’ve found that's the very moment I start to make myself miserable and unhappy. It never fails. On the other hand, when I forget about all that and focus on my writing--what I love--I remember again why I got into this business in the first place; it's because I have to write. Yes, sales are wonderful validation for hard work, but the real validation comes every time I start a fresh new page and watch my story and my characters come to life. Nothing else can compare. Nope, not even big sales numbers. Yes, I know...we also have to pay the bills, but let's be honest, if that's what it were all about, we would have chosen a career with much more stability.

I will never stop learning, never stop improving

Because the moment I think I’m too good to do better will be the exact moment I fail. There will always be room for improvement in my work, and to be honest, for me, that’s part of the magic. There's nothing better than seeing my skills stretch to new heights, and I never want to stop experiencing that feeling. To grow is to live life to the fullest.

What about you? What has your journey taught you? It doesn’t have to be about writing books; it’s about life.

A Dozen Do's and Don'ts on Prepping Your Novel for ePublishing

By:  Kimberly Hitchens.  Well, as you all know, I originally promised to blog, two weeks ago, about the ISBN monopoly controlled by initially the and then, here in the US, Bowker.  However, that post was delayed by an unforeseen “cat-astophe,” when The Amazing Zep (“Zeppelin,” properly known as Suncoon Tucson), a 7-month old Maine Coon kitten, decided he could fly off the top of our 7’ cat condo.  Obviously, I’ve allowed him to watch entirely too many Marvel Comics movies.  He leapt from the top of the Condo, aiming at a nearby artwork niche, and the results were, shall we say, not good; he nearly came to be known as Hindenburg.  Half a house-payment and 5 exhausting days later of caring for him 24/7, he’s fine, the little monster, but I apologize for missing the blog.  His nefarious face is shown here, so all will know the miscreant.  (And, yes, because most people look at kitten pics and go, “awwwwwwwwwwwwww…;” I’m shamelessly exploiting your weakness for kittens.)

But yesterday, Editor Extraordinaire Jodie Renner dropped me a line, and asked me if I happened to have a list, or a link to a list, of tips for preparing your Word document for e-publishing, whether you’re going to use an eBookformatting company like mine, or DIY.  She suggested it would make a good blog post—and I’d do anything to oblige her.  So today’s topic is What NOT to do in your Word document, either to keep costs down, or to make it easier for yourself/your formatter, to create your book in a gorgeous style.

1.       Everybody already knows #1; use Word’s built-in styles whenever possible.  Use them to automatically indent your paragraphs; don’t use the tab key or the space-bar (5 times or however many).  Now, an experienced formatting won’t have difficulty with this.  But if you’re using someone new, or doing it yourself, this will cause you problems.  Moreover, if you use Word’s built-in styles for all your regular narrative paragraphs, you shan’t have a problem, when you upload to the  KDP, with inconsistent paragraph styling—which you will have if you “style” every paragraph differently, not deliberately, but through misadventure, by not knowing and understanding Word’s styles.  If you don’t have a basic understanding of how these work (and how to see how they are working), take a few minutes and watch this video (not from my company, but we think it’s nice and clear enough that we host it in our Knowledgebase) on our Knowledgebase (you can enlarge it to full-screen for easy of viewing): Our Tutorials section also has a video on the TOC and how to use headings (just click the “Tutorials and Videos” breadcrumb to take you to that section, or click “Home” above the article header to rummage around to your heart’s content.

2.       Speaking of…Header styles.  Very few people seem to know about or use what used to be called the “Document Map” in word.  If you use “Header Styles” to create your chapter headers, you’ll be able to easily navigate through your document by simply enabling the “Navigation Pane” on the left-hand side  (In Word 2007-2010, “View—> Click “Navigation Pane”).  If you’ve used header styles for every chapter head—lo!  Right there in the Navigation Pane, you’ll be able to see (and jump to instantly) the beginning of every single chapter.  An even bigger “freebie” side effect of doing this—you can auto-generate your Table of Contents.  This is incredibly handy for those of you determined to “DIY.”  For the video on how to do this, please see our second Knowledgebase video: If you don’t like the LOOK of the header styles that are available to you, you can change that with a simple click—but that’s generally covered in the first video, so by the time you get to the second video, you should already know how to fix that.  This can also save you some ducats at the formatters, depending upon how their pricing lists are structured.

3.       Lists.  Ironically, for either price-savings or saving yourself DIY brain-damage, don’t use numbered or bulleted lists, IF they are indented.  If you must have a bulleted or numbered list (yes—like the one I’m using here, hence the irony), and you’re going to publish to Amazon, it’s a giant pain.  If you can live with the bulleted or numbered list at the left-margin, it will work fine.  However, if you are attempting to indent them, what will happen is that the wrap-indents will NOT align perfectly. This is due to the ability of the Kindle e-reader (of all kinds, excluding the Fire, which can do this quite nicely) to rescale fonts.  The “wrap,” inside the secret-sauce code of a kindle book, is set in (either) a percentage (of the available screensize) or “ems” which are relative to the font, unlike text measurements—which are absolute.  What this means is that your text wrap will, on an indented, bulleted or numbered item, look perfect at one font size—but  will creep, ever so slightly, left-or right, as the font-size changes, relative to the selected font-size, if that makes any sense.  To wit:  if you increase the fontsize, you increase the amount of the second-line “indent” in the wrap.  However, the first line remains as it was set up (don’t ask), so your second line creeps left or right.  If this doesn’t faze you, then rock on.  If you have bulleted lists, and want them to align as perfectly as possible---well, you know where to find us.  ;-).  Making them perfect can’t be done in Word.

4.       Return-itis.  This one may seem obvious, but, I kid thee not, we get at least one manuscript a week in that is actually typed with a “return” keyed at the end of each LINE.  Not paragraph, but LINE.  Seriously; we have authors who don’t understand that Word wraps automatically, nor how to set line-spacing, so in order to make their manuscript “submission-ready,” they type to the right margin, and hit “enter” twice.  Please:  for your sanity and mine, don’t do that.

5.       Don’t create a dedicated STYLE to italicize or bold your text.  Simply highlight the text you want to italicize, and use the “I” button at the top of the ribbon/menu.  Same for Bold.  If you create styles, but also use the buttons, you can create inconsistencies in your work, and if you’re not a Styles-Genius, it can get confusing. 

6.       Fonts!  If you ever read what I write here, you know that you have to license any copyrighted fonts you use.  That’s the first thing; the second thing, however, is equally important.  If you use fonts in your book, to set apart various types of content—for example, the interior FP thoughts of your killer—be aware of the following:  the Kindle e-ink devices, as well as the majority of all e-ink devices, like the Nook e-ink readers and the Kobos—do not support more than a single font.  In the Kindle legacy devices—still the most widely-used of all reading devices, of any brand—they have a single font, called “Caecilia,” which is a Times New Roman clone.  Therefore, although you can license and embed fonts that will work spiffily in ePUB readers and in the Kindle Fire, be aware that firstly, that second font, despite your wishes, won’t show up on the Kindle legacy devices and second, if you’re trying to do this from Word on a DIY basis, it won’t work.  Despite your best efforts, as far as I know, if you endeavor to upload a Word file with multiple fonts in it, you will not obtain the desired result; font embedding has to be done from within HTML or XHTML (HTML you used to be married to) to work correctly.  On a Kindle you can use a second font—a Courier monospaced font—if absolutely necessary, but it doesn’t reflow like the TNR font, and it’s not very attractive.  You should, if you are going to DIY, consider using a fleuron or some other graphic device, to set that “other font” or inner thoughts, or whatever it is, apart from the rest of your regular narrative flow.

7.       Poetry, song lyrics, and other miscellaneous material that is indented and somewhat “columnar.”  For ease of formatting, both for yourself and any formatting company, don’t use “enter” at the end of the line; use a line break, which is SHIFT+ENTER, as opposed to the usual “enter.”  Don’t use this coding pair to create a new paragraph, but if you intend to display poetry or song lyrics, this is the combo to use at the end of each “line.”  At the end of each STANZA, however, you would use the usual “enter” key, twice, as you would for a scene break.  (Yes—there are better ways to do this, using Word’s built-in Styles, but this will work “okay” for both DIY and for any formatter worth his/her salt.)

8.       Spelling.  Yes, I know—how obvious is this? But you would be shocked at the huge number of manuscripts we get in here that are chock-full of spelling mistakes.  I think that authors invent character names and places, which Word, naturally highlights with the ubiquitous red line; and they get so accustomed to seeing that, they ignore the REAL errors.  If you have invented names, places, etc., in your ms, tell your spellcheck to “Ignore” those, so that you stop being “spellcheck blind.”  Correcting spelling errors that your readers find, post-production, is embarrassing for you; and if you’ve used a formatter, it’s expensive, as editing in HTML isn’t like editing in Word. 

9.       Hyphenation and Track Changes:  (A Twofer!). First, if you’ve used hyphenation throughout the document, for line endings (optional hyphens), you should do a search and replace, and remove all optional hyphens.  If you don’t, they can show up as regular, non-optional hyphens in the finished eBook product, which you obviously don’t want.  Use FindàAdvanced FindàMoreàSpecialàOptional Hyphen, and replace with nothing.  As far as Track Changes goes, ensure you’ve “accepted all changes” in your document.  If you do not, the edits that are now invisible to your eyes—all your additions, deletions, etc.-- will show up in your ebook, just as if they were typed in the text.  I can’t emphasize enough the importance of these two “pre-flight” items.   

10.   Explicitly marking your scene breaks.  If you are going to use a formatting service, ensure that you explicitly mark your scene breaks.  If you haven’t been a religiously neat typist, and occasionally have extra “enters” between paragraphs, a formatter can’t infer when you want a scene break used (a flush left paragraph with vertical whitespace above it) and when you do not.  If, like some authors, you have multiple types of scenebreaks—one that uses a flush-left, and one that doesn’t, due to whether or not it’s simply a passage of time, or a POV shift—then be sure you mark them differently and explicitly.  EBook formatters don’t read your book and can’t read your mind, so be sure to tell them what you want.  At Booknook, we have our clients use the old convention of *** to indicate any scene break where they desire the visual cue of a flush-left paragraph with vertical whitespace above.  Alternatively, of course, you can use a graphical fleuron—but be aware that using fleurons requires extra coding for use in Kindle, as the e-ink devices will try to grossly enlarge them (that’s the default Kindle behavior.)  If you use a formatter, the cost will be higher; if you try to do it yourself from Word, the results, on the actual e-ink Kindles, may not be what you expect. 

11.   Broken Paragraphs:  If you’ve used any form of conversion software, (please see Tip #12, below), or perhaps typed the file on different computers, over a long stretch of time, make sure you diligently scan your document for broken pararagraphs.  If you’ve converted it from any other format, or had it scanned & OCR’d, the incidence of broken paragraphs will be quite high.  To find broken paragraphs, turn on your Pilcrow icon (if you don’t know what this is, please see my blogpost here called “Pilcrow A Go Go,” from last October), and scan the right-hand-margin.  If you see a Pilcrow mark hanging out in the right-hand margin, in the middle of what should be a paragraph, that’s a broken paragraph, and that’s the way it will convert in an eBook—as two separate paragraphs, broken right where the Pilcrow is sitting.  If you see one sitting there, highlight it and delete it, and fix any formatting around it (usually, a space is needed before the ensuing word).  For additional information on the “end of line” pilcrow problem, please see my post on “Pilcrow No-No’s, Part II,” from last November, which addresses this exact problem. 

12.   Don’t Convert!  Okay.  Here’s a tricky one.  This will sound contrary to everything you’ve read, on the KDP forums, etc.:  but don’t convert from Mystery Format A into Word.  If you have a PDF of the interior of your print book, just find a competent eBook Formatting company and hand it to them.  If you have a Wordstar File from the dawn of time, hand THAT to them.  WordPerfect?  Pretty much the same (although later Wordperfect files convert very nicely, but some don’t, and you end up with a manuscript full of “@” signs where you should see left-hand-quotes, and a host of other glitches).  We get roughly 2-4 manuscripts a week in from prospective clients that know that we have a higher charge for PDF than for Word (as do all formatters that are serious), and they’re all the result of either using Calibre, or some online “You can convert your PDF file to Word, Easy/Free/Cheap!” website.  Here’s the actual truth:  It does NOT work, not at all.  What comes out looks, on the surface, like a pretty good Word file; but lurking beneath what your eyes can see is a disaster waiting for a place to happen.  Believe it or not, it’s cheaper, in the long run, if you simply hand a PDF file to a converter, who, quite frankly, will scan it, OCR it, and proof it, just to get the same starting point as  a Word file—because the results from that are 100x better than what you’d get by using Adobe Acrobat X Pro and attempting to export the file as a Word file.  If you have an endless amount of time, and knowledge of HTML, you can use the “auto-convert” method; and spend days or weeks cleaning up the ensuing HTML.  But if you hand a file like that to a converter, like us, they’ll charge you for all those man-hours.  Honestly, the scan option is probably cheaper. 

And there you go.  An even dozen items for you to use in creating and “pre-flight checking” your book for e-formatting.  We have other frequently asked questions, along with the two videos I already pointed you to, in our Knowledgebase, which you may find by clicking here.  Not many are actually about formatting, but we do have some nice links about marketing, Retailers, and a few hints and tips on Social Media.

(And yes, for those of you who’ve emailed, tweeted, and asked:  yes, it’s true.  We have Jackie Collins in the house; you should expect to see “Chances,” her first Lucky Santangelo novel, in eBookstores around the end of the first week of June!)

K. A. Hitchens is the owner of, an eBook formatting and production company, specializing in producing affordable and professional conversions for every author--from first-timers to NY Times Bestsellers.  You can follow us at Twitter ( @BooknookBiz ), Facebook ( ), Pinterest (  ) or  LinkedIn (just search for us).

Monday, May 28, 2012

Back to Bon Temps

Deadlocked (Sookie Stackhouse #12) by Charlaine Harris.

Reviewed by Marlyn Beebe.

Felipe de Castro, the vampire king of Louisiana, is visiting Shreveport.  A party is being held in his honor at the home of Eric Northman, and Sookie's presence is requested.  She walks in on Eric feeding from a young woman, and is (understandably) upset.  Though Eric orders the girl to leave, his response is noticeably sluggish.  When she's found dead soon afterward, Sookie realizes that Eric has been set up.

What is difficult to determine is the reason for the elaborate plan, and just who concocted it.

On top of this, Sookie has to deal with the rest of her life, as complicated as ever.  She's now an investor in Merlotte's Bar & Grill, having lent Sam some money for structural repairs, and therefore has more responsibility. Sam's girlfriend Jannalynn is deeply jealous of Sookie's friendship with him, and is making their working relationship very difficult.

Tara is expecting twins very soon, and though her boutique is doing well, she and her husband JB are worried about finances. Sookie's fae housemates Dermot and Claude are homesick, since the portal to their homeland was closed and they're unable to go back and forth as they once did.  And she also has to keep the magical cluviel dor safe while she decides what to do with it.

Sookie, who has always been remarkably forbearing about her complicated life, is starting to feel stressed.  She's annoyed that Eric is distant and uncommunicative, and feels caught between the various factions of supernaturals, all of whom seem to think she should be on their "side".

Make sure you start this book when you have nothing else planned:  you won't want to put it down until you reach the end.

Charlaine Harris
 That this is the penultimate installment in the series has been known for some time.  On May 14th, it was announced on Charlaine Harris' facebook page that the final novel in the Sookie Stackhouse series, Dead Ever After, will be released on 3 May 2013.  This is not the first time that Harris has ended a series when she thought the story had run its course; she did the same with the Aurora Teagarden books, the Shakespeare series (protagonist Lily Bard did make a visit to Bon Temps early in the series)  and the Harper Connelly series.  

FTC full disclosure:  Many thanks to my step-daughter for lending me the book so I wouldn't have to wait for months to get a copy from the library!

Friday, May 25, 2012

What Am I Thinking?

by Peg Brantley, Author of RED TIDE

My first book has been out for almost two months. I'm still trying to figure out how to let people know about it without being obnoxious. It looks like the least obnoxious options involve a lot more time. By far. I have a list of several advertising possibilities but I haven't had a chance to really investigate them. And I'm betting they all take money.

I have worked through the initial edits of my next book but know there's still work to be done before I  ask beta readers to commit time to helping me make it even better. Time.

A wonderful group of writers who seem to have some traction, Indie Chicks, invited me to join them. Before they had a chance to reconsider, I told them I was in. A blog here and there (they have very precise requirements which I'll need to learn), participation in an anthology (just agreed to a travel anthology—due June 1st!) and support for my fellow "chicks"—all good stuff. All manageable. But there's the time thing again.

I'm working to find a balance. Really. I am. I understand that there will always be something more that could be done while my eyes are still open. Really. I do. (Actually I thank God every day for giving me a husband who is as independent as I am and supports what I'm trying to accomplish.)

And then (cue mysterious, threatening music) this past Wednesday morning I decided I want to create a trailer. (the sound of lightning striking the earth punctuated by thunder) Right now I'm more interested in video clips than I am still shots. For still shots I'd be hanging out at Morgue File or Dreamstime. But because I'm focusing on videos right now I've spent hours at iStock. Add more more hours at Free Music Archive and Incompetech. Since the music was free I downloaded a bunch then had to figure out how to get it to my iTunes library. At this point I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing. Time. Big Time. But I think it will be enormously satisfying to do this. Right?

So far I have spent HOURS on this project and have a solid THREE SECONDS of trailer to show for my efforts. I'm using iMovie and it's probably the easiest out there, but I still run into questions I can't find answers for.

Writers, have any of you created your own trailers? Any advice?

Readers, do you enjoy trailers? Do they annoy you? Do they encourage you to check out a book?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review: The Grey Tier

I know I'm supposed to be posting about how I write my mysteries, but sometimes I get tired of hearing about me and want to talk about something else. Marlyn gets all the fun of reviewing books, so I thought I'd take a day off from my stuff and tell you about a mystery I just read.

The Grey Tier (A Dead Celeb Mystery) is Michele Scott's millionth book (okay, I might be exaggerating, but the woman is prolific), and I loved it. Devoured it, actually, in a couple of sittings, although I admit I'm a fast reader.

The story is a typical whodunit but the circumstances and characters are unique, as well as the paranormal world Michele has created. You can tell that she had fun putting this together, figuring out where we go when we die (according to the story) and making the rules that govern the otherworld.

She also had a lot of fun with the characters. It usually takes a while for me to warm up to the main character, but I liked Evie Preston almost from the start. I'll talk about her later, though. It's the supporting cast I loved from the get-go. From Evie's mentor, Betty LaRue, to the mysterious Mumbles, these were all real people with real hopes and problems… even the dead people.

There are several dead folks wandering about, some good and some evil, some famous and some not. Michele made them all interesting, mostly by making their appearances "full-fleshed" as opposed to vapory apparitions. Of course, only Evie can see them, even if they do seem real to her, in all of her senses. There's always a sense of humor in the scenes where she walks into her (haunted) house and smells marijuana because Bob Marley has come to pay a visit.

As far as the secondary characters, I was particularly surprised by Evie's boss, a pop-star named Simone. She begins the book as a typical diva - demanding attention, tossing a fit if she's unhappy, and behaving badly in general. Over the course of the story, she shows actual growth. Not in a huge, Ebeneezer-on-Christmas-morning way, but in a realistic way that made me think she might become human some day.

Now, back to Evie - main characters can make or break a book. I might find a plot or cast of characters engaging and fun, but I've got to not only like the protagonist, but believe in them. Evie struck the right balance with me of young but not stupid-young. She has the qualities that you like to see in a friend: empathy, respect, resourcefulness. She also has the qualities we need in a sleuth: curiosity, stubbornness, courage.

It's a hard balancing act for a writer. Your sleuth must be likeable, but not a pushover. They must poke their noses into places they have no business, places you and I would not go. But they can't be stupid about it either. Although I am far from Evie in age, it was easy to identify with her, and even do a little vicarious walking in her shoes.

My only problem with this book was there were unanswered questions - questions to obviously be answered in the next book. Michele reports that she's writing as fast as she can.

If you're interested in The Grey Tier, click here to get it.

This is the blurb, in case I didn't convince you to buy it:

What happens when a small town girl moves to Hollywood to pursue her dreams and winds up smack dab in the middle of a murder investigation, haunted by famous dead celebs, and working for the biggest pop star in the music industry?

Introducing Evie Preston: Small-town girl and under-the-radar healer, currently trapped in a po-dunk Texas town but yearning for something more. When fate gives her the opportunity to move to Hollywood to follow her dreams, Evie finds herself navigating through the land of glitz and glamour, and the realm of (dead) celebrities…

Raised in Brady, Texas by her minister father and her beauty shop-owner mother, Evie has been trying to get out of town for years. When an old family friend gives her an unexpected gift on her birthday, Evie finally gets the chance to start fresh out west. Against her father’s wishes, she packs up her guitar, her dog, Mama Cass, and heads for California.

Once in L.A., Evie finds a singing gig at a local dive bar where she meets a slew of interesting characters including the owner himself, a former child star with a hidden past. She also scores a day job doing make-up for a famous and foul-mouthed pop diva. One of the job perks includes house sitting at a Hollywood Hills mansion. But what Evie doesn’t know is the house is also home to some famous celebrity spirits, including that of former Grunge rocker, Lucas Minx.

As if things weren’t complicated enough, Evie finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery and discovers she’s being targeted by some nasty spirits. And to top things off, she’s developed a Texas-sized crush on her hot, but very dead, roommate, Lucas.

Maybe her dad was right and the City of Angels really is the City of Devils—all of them after her.

WARNING: Strong language, sexual content, and mild violence.

Bought it yet? What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Writing Habits

by J.H. Brogran

 Space: In his book On Writing, Stephen King explains the basic writer’s necessity to have a place one call his or her own. More explicitly he advised about the ability to close a door. Okay, coming from a notorious horror writer, the advice stuck with me big time. Before I read On Writing, I used to write in the TV room, where we have the family computer against a corner. The room was so hot during the summer it could perfectly double as a sauna.

A couple of year ago we moved to another house, one that had a small room out in the back. I seized my opportunity and claimed that room. I managed to get a rusty old desk top; it ran on Windows Millennium Edition. (Yes, the one between ’98 and XP.) Still, the computer was big enough to run Word 2003 and handle more than a few research files. Most importantly, I was able to shut a door that would isolate me enough to delve into my characters, my plotting.

So, did I write the next greatest novel? Hardly. For a while, I barely wrote at all! I write in bursts: 4,000 words in one sit, then nothing for a couple of days. I lack the discipline to write every single day. This shows because I have several WIP in different stages. When I feel the urge to write, it can be anywhere, in the middle of a crowd, regardless of the noise. For example, I’m writing this in my living room, I can hear my wife and kids enjoying a show on TV. The sound is soothing. Then it hit me, old Stephen meant to shut down the mental door.  

Company: Besides the muse, of course. I’ve heard of authors who need complete quiet to get in the mood to write. Not me, I need music. Any kind of music would do. I’ve been a Winamp fan since their early versions. I have a few playlists: one with Jazz, one with classical instrumental music, and I have one titled “Some to Stay Awake.” That’s my last resort when tiredness is battling my muse. Among the ever favorites are Frank Sinatra, Michael Bublé, Amy Winehouse, Alejandro Sanz, Julio Iglesias, Juanes, and recently, Adele.

 One of the best pieces of advice is not to combine writing with bad habits; that means no drinking by the computer. I know a bottle of wine could spank spark the muse, but at least in my case, there will be plenty of typos to correct the next morning.  

Goals: If you can set yourself a daily goal, be it a chapter or word count, it is the best way to achieve constant results. I know, I already said I don’t work well on a daily basis. That doesn’t mean I can’t see its benefits. I’ve also discovered I work better against a deadline. So, my deadlines are not daily. I work in projects. I set a number of scenes that I need to have ready by a certain date. I can goof around for a couple of days, but then the urge to meet that goal settles in and the words begin to flow.

As with any sport or profession, you have to do what it works for you. There are many books, blogs and other information across the wide world web where you can get tips and tricks to help with a work-in-progress. In the end, like Barry Eisler says on his blog, finishing a manuscript is the only thing that is up to the author.  

J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator.

Connect with him at: The Tale Weaver
Twitter: @JHBogran

In addition, J.H. has a great short story, The Assassin’s Mistress A random encounter leads to deception, love and murder. While vacationing at a ski resort, professional hitman Robert Prescott meets a strange and beautiful woman. They discover passion and embark into a dangerous game hiding their relationship from her powerful husband. Then a further twist of fate makes Robert’s occupation collide with his new found love.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Wrong Way to Measure a Knife Wound

By Tom Adair
Author of The Scent of Fear

I don't want o get too technical here because, let's face it, the topic is kind of gross. Bu there is a wrong way to measure a knife wound at autopsy. Making this mistake in the real world can have disastrous consequences but in a novel it can be downright exciting! Before we start let's examine why we might measure a knife wound.

The main reason it to get a better understanding of the blade type. Knives (and other sharp instruments) can have many sizes and shapes but they will be either a single edged blade (one side only) or a double sided blade (like a dagger). A wound from a single edged weapon will have one "blunt" end and one "pointed" end. But CSIs also want to know something about the size of the blade. Not just the length but the width.

Here is where is gets tricky. 

The body (and skin) is pliable. As such, it can stretch and distort the wound depending on how the weapon is applied. Because of that, wound measurements are generally considered "maximum" measurements. For example, if you find a knife wound that is 4" deep in the abdomen does that mean a 3 1/2" knife can be excluded? The short answer is no (assuming that the abdomen was compressed a half inch during the thrust). Most of us have at least that much play in our gut don't we (if you answer no, I don't like you anymore ;))? Now sure, an 8" knife may only penetrate 4" but usually when someone is stabbing another they are doing it with a lot of force and the blade will go all the way in. But the other characteristic to consider is the width of the blade. That is the distance between the two ends of the wound.

Knife wounds often resemble a "football" (American) or an oval with pointed ends in shape. The reason for this shape in part rests with the elasticity of the skin. There are also properties called the lines of langer but I won't get into that level of detail here. Just realize that skin can lay open when cut. This can effectively shorten the distance between the two ends and thus, the total width. So when measuring the total width of the wound the pathologist will pinch or press the two sides together (like closing the wound) before measuring. Another issue is that since a knife blade cuts, it can expand a wound depending on how the weapon is wielded.

So as a writer, what does this mean for you? Well, knife wounds often go through more than skin. They can go through clothing as well. Here is how you can insert some mystery to your scene. Imagine a pathologist doesn't "pinch" the ends together and measures the wound as being 25mm in width. The body is then cremated. Now let's say your detective (or other character) looks at the clothing and the knife hole is 30mm? What kind of confusion might that cause? Now technically there are a lot of things that can affect the size of a hole in clothing as well. Blood saturation can shrivel a hole to make it appear smaller but you get the point. Mis-measurement is a problem in any area of forensics but when it happens with the murder weapon or wound the results can be disastrous! 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cut the Clutter and Streamline Your Writing, Part III

by Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker    

In Part I of this series, I gave some tips and examples for streamlining your writing to make your message more accessible and compelling. In Part II, we saw some specific examples of words and phrases to cut or reduce, to write more powerfully.

Here, we continue to explore ways to cut out the deadwood by avoiding repetitions and convoluted phrasing and going for clear, concise writing. Remember, it’s about direct communication and carrying your reader along with the story. Don’t muddle your message with a lot of extra words that just clutter up the sentence and hamper the free flow of ideas.

Avoid repetitions and redundancies in all their forms: two words meaning the same thing; saying something in five or six words when you can express it with one or two; and phrases or sentences that keep saying the same thing over and over in different ways.

Redundant Phrases. Avoid this kind of “repetitive redundancy”:

Repetitive phrase:                 Concise equivalent:

basic fundamentals                 fundamentals

honest truth                             truth

future plans                             plans

regular routine                         routine

past history                              history

final outcome                          outcome

extremely unique                     unique

repeat again                             repeat

totally unanimous                    unanimous

sudden impulse                       impulse

unexpected surprise                surprise

overused cliché                       cliché

What’s the problem? It’s obvious — the only kind of truth is honest truth, an impulse is sudden, repeat means to do something again, a surprise is by nature unexpected, and so on.

Cut out the deadwood, words that restate what is obvious by the rest of the sentence, words that just repeat what you’ve already said, words that are just adding clutter to your sentence. For example, the phrases in brackets are redundant here:

We passed an abandoned house [that nobody lived in] on a deserted street [with no one around].

At this [point in] time, [the truth is that] complaints are increasing [in number], but I don’t see that as a problem [to be solved].

Cluttering your sentences with too many unnecessary words can subliminally irritate your reader. Here a few examples of this “little word pile-up” tendency:

Instead of:                              Use:

in spite of the fact that            although

as a result of                            because

came in contact with                met

at this point in time                  now

during the time that                 while

he is a man who                        he

make use of                              use

with reference to                      about

Here are some examples, altered and disguised from my fiction editing, of trimming excess words:

Before: He was shooting off his mouth in the bar last night telling everybody that he was going to find the bastard that ratted on him.

After: He was shooting off his mouth in the bar last night about finding the bastard that ratted on him.

Before: Jennifer ran along the tunnel and up the stone steps to the walkway. She hesitated for only a moment at the top in order to jam the hand gun she was holding into her waistband and give her time to figure out where to run.

After: Jennifer ran along the tunnel and up the stone steps to the walkway. At the top, she stopped to jam the gun into her waistband and figure out where to run.

Finally, avoid convoluted phrasing and leave out unnecessary little details that just serve to distract the reader, who wonders for an instant why they’re there and if they’re significant:

Before: He had arrived at the coffee machine and was punching the buttons on its front with an outstretched index finger when a voice from behind him broke him away from his thoughts.

After: He was punching the buttons on the coffee machine when a voice behind him broke into his thoughts.

In the first example, we have way too much minute detail. What else would he be punching the buttons with besides his finger? And we don’t need to know which finger or that it’s outstretched. Everybody does it pretty much the same. Avoid having minute details like this that just clutter up your prose.

Before: The officer was indicating with a hand gesture a door that was behind and off to the right of McKay. Angular snarl stuck to his face, he swung his head around to look in the direction the other officer was pointing.

After: The officer gestured to a door behind McKay. Snarling, he turned to look behind him.

Before: “Bastards. Why am I always the last to know?” Pivoting, the detective walked in the direction of the station's front desk with a purposeful, nearly aggressive, gait.  He shoved himself bodily through the swinging door and locked eye contact with the uniformed officer on reception duty.
After: “Bastards. Why am I always the last to know?” Pivoting, the detective marched toward the front desk. He slammed through the swinging door and glared at the officer on reception duty.

Copyright © Jodie Renner, May 2012

Also, see my article entitled “Clear, Concise, Powerful Nonfiction Writing.”

Next: Resist the Urge to Explain (RUE), and One Plus One Equals One-Half

 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.