Friday, June 29, 2012

Amazon News and Market Pressure

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

Amazon News
An item caught my eye yesterday that I think is huge news. Amazon made a bid to buy Dorchester, the 80-year-old, mass market publishing company that went bankrupt last year, owing a lot of authors unpaid royalties. If no other company outbids Amazon—and who could?—it will soon own the rights to all those books.

This is good news for the authors—who will get paid and see their books return to the market—but the bigger issue is that Amazon is acquiring titles like crazy. It’s already purchased Avalon (3000 titles) and a collection of titles (450) from Marshall Canvendish Children’s Books. And this may be only the beginning. More publishing companies, especially those focused on mass market products, will likely fold. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see Amazon keep acquiring book catalogs.

Amazon is also picking up individual authors, like myself, often buying their whole backlist, and now has six imprints. This is how Amazon will eventually dominate the market, by owning a massive inventory of published titles and pricing them competitively.

Market Pressure
And on another somewhat unrelated topic, I’ve also been reading about authors who are writing three to six books a year. Joe Konrath says he can “comfortably write four books a year” and Brett Battles blogged recently on Murderati about writing six last year and being well on his way to writing five this year. Alexandra Sokoloff posted recently about writing three or four books a year, and Zoe Winters just blogged about trying to write a book in a week. She cranked out 30,000 words in three days.

I admire their output, but I don’t know how they do it! I’m diligent and hard-working, but if I can produce two stories a year for several years in a row, I’ll be very pleased. But I do know why most of them do it. Pressure! Brett talked about feeling compelled to make a living as an indie author after his traditional publishing contracts dried up, and Zoe blogged about feeling a constant pressure to be more productive and get more books out there before she “disappeared.” The New York Times addressed this issue recently too.

I've felt that pressure for the last five years. But I’m trying to let go of it and live a more balanced life. Which is one of the biggest reasons I signed with Amazon—for the stability and marketing support that will take some of the pressure off me. Now I just have to learn to shut off that little voice in my head that says, “If they can write three or four books a year, so can you, slacker!”

What is your output and do you feel pressured to write more?

What are your expectations from your favorite writers? Can you tell the difference between books that take months or years instead of weeks to write?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Some Retreats Launch You Ahead

By C.J. West
Suspense. Creativity. Action

This last week I locked myself in a friend’s apartment to block out the noise of everyday life and focus on writing. I imagined entire days doing nothing but working on my latest mystery and dreaming up ideas for what comes next.

That’s how I drew it up, but it didn’t turn out that way.

On Monday there was my CJ West Kills Blog to write.

On Tuesday I met with someone about a new project and then spent the afternoon running between my doctor’s office and the lab for X-rays and blood work.

My Wednesday was a complete bust. I had a commitment that lasted 14 hours. The only writing I’m doing in the 26 minutes left in the day is this blog.

My retreat may sound like a failure to you, but it was very productive. You’d think a writer would spend a whole lot of time writing, but the truth is that the pressure to sell books often distracts me from what I love most about this gig—dreaming and storytelling.

This week I’ve made great progress on the mystery I’m currently writing. I’m now into Act III and the climax of the book is taking shape. Getting away has helped me recharge my creative batteries and the story is really flowing.

When I’m able to dedicate multiple hours to a project day after day I feel the depth of the story grow. Each day I develop a deeper understanding of the characters and as the plot unfolds I find myself adding elements that neatly fit plot and character in a way I couldn’t achieve without the continued focus day after day.

I deliver realism in my work that isn’t there when my writing sessions are separated by too much time.

I also had an unexpected bonus fall from the sky last weekend. While I was on the beach (supposedly relaxing), I developed the idea for a sequel to The End of Marking Time. I’ve always had trouble with a sequel because of the way the book ended, but last weekend I worked out much of the plot of the sequel and I’m confident the ending will be just as shocking as the original.

Even the small amount of time I dedicated to focused writing has really helped me. It’s fairly easy to do what I’ve done if your schedule and home life allow. Simply set aside the time to write and ignore those distractions when they come calling.

For most of us that's easier said than done.

Whispering Pines Writers Retreat
West Greenwich, RI

If that's the case for you, try booking a week at a retreat like The Inn at the Oaks in Eastham, Massachusetts.   A space like this is not only inspiring because of its beauty, by pulling you away from the little emergencies of daily life, this retreat allows you to focus your energy on writing for a weekend, a week, or longer.

If going it alone isn’t your thing, you can go for a conference like this Writers Conference at Ocean Park, held in Ocean Park, Maine this August. A retreat like this offers more than a beautiful quiet setting. A good writers conference offers writing classes, assignments to spur your creativity, and the camaraderie of working alongside other writers.

One of these types of getaways is bound to help you launch your writing project forward.

I hope you find a way to pour yourself into your writing this summer no matter which type of retreat you choose.

On Theft and Entitlement

By Andrew E. Kaufman

I’ve had Google alerts set up for my books and my name for years. I like keeping up on where and how my work and I are being mentioned over the Internet. It goes with the job.

But for several years now, I’ve noticed a growing and disturbing trend. The majority of my alerts now come as advertisements for “torrent” feeds offering up my books as free downloads. Generous of them to do so, but unfortunately, it's being done without my permission.

I get these advisories several times a day now, and they always seem to come from different websites. Insidious little bastards, they are, and I can only assume that since the volume of books I sell through approved channels has grown substantially over time, so too have the unapproved ones. There is always a price to pay for success, and this, I suppose, is one of them.

I can also assume that all this means there is probably a very large number of people who are reading my work free of charge. How many? There’s no telling, but according to what I’ve read recently, the numbers could be staggering.

Torrents work by dividing large amounts of data into smaller chunks. Through this process, files like movies and e-books can be disseminated very rapidly and very widely, spanning well beyond the U.S. and into other countries.

Of course, torrents themselves aren’t illegal. What’s illegal is when they’re used to pirate copyrighted materials, and more often than not, that seems to be the case.

Unfortunately, stopping this kind of activity is about as easy as nailing jello to a tree. Many of the sites operate from overseas sites where copyright laws don’t apply. The U.S., in an effort to circumvent this, has started prosecuting people who download copyrighted materials via torrents. Unfortunately, because of the large number of people doing it, the process is cost prohibitive at best. Some companies have also  taken measures by “poisoning” torrents containing their material. Some have even filed cease and desist orders to Internet service providers of torrent users. But again, we’re taking about what amounts to a drop in the bucket when you take into consideration the size and scope of the problem.

Does it bother me that possibly hundreds of thousands of people could be enjoying my hard work without paying? It certainly does. Do I let myself get worked up over it? Not really. I mean, let's face it, pirating is nothing new—it’s been around for ages—and the art of thievery is one that’s even older. Of course, with the advent of the Internet, these efforts become amplified to the nth degree, which does make it more troublesome.

And while I hate to take the “There's Nothing I Can do to Stop it” attitude, I know that there's in fact really nothing I can do—except maybe complain, get all upset, and stomp my foot. But then I just end up with a sore throat and foot, and the behavior that caused it continues on anyway.

But here’s the thing. I'm not worried about the money. Honestly, I'm not. If I were, I wouldn't have given away more than a hundred-thousand copies of my books this past year. What bothers me is when people steal because they feel they're entitled to do so. Kind of like when someone sees your fancy new car in the parking lot at a shopping mall and thinks it's perfectly okay to drive away with it just because they want to. When people steal because feel they deserve what I've worked so hard to get--that's when I start to get miffed. And what about all the wonderful readers who actually spend their hard-earned money on my books? Is if fair to them? Nope.

What do you think? Authors, does it bother you to know people are stealing your work? And readers, how do you feel knowing there are folks out there who are taking what you had to pay for?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Twitter Tattle, or, How To Use Twitter--REALLY.

Kimberly Hitchens is the founder and owner of, an ebook production company that has produced books for over 750 authors and imprints.

This week's entry is from our Social Networking Genius  extraordinaire, Steve (Stephanie) Nilles, who holds down the fort on Tweeting and Facebooking, Pinteresting and other "stuff" over at, and has taught me all I know about Twitter, et al.  So, yes, please feel free to blame her for all the annoying twaddle I inflict upon you as you try to pluck pearls from the muck on Twitter.  And, yes, I'm one of those  horrible people that post CAT PICTURES on Pinterest, too.  This article is currently appearing on our website at, and will be appearing in our upcoming (no, really, I'm not kidding this time) newsletter.  

1. Create an informative, concise, and unique bio.

You want potential followers to know who you are, what you do, and why you do it, without appearing arrogant, hasty, or a bore. Think like a (micro)journalist: answer the obligatory who? what? when? where? and why? as briefly as possible. Alternatively, think like you're filling out an online dating application. What kind of followers are you trying to attract? Bloggers? Reviewers? Agents? Readers? Ex-cons? Marine Biologists?

Example of a good profile bio:

Ellen Jones   @ellenjones
Oakland-based motorcycle rider and author of the Jane Smith YA mystery series. Read more about Jane's latest adventures:

Why this bio is good:

It tells us that a woman (presumably) named Ellen lives in California, likes to do crazy things like ride motorcycles (without obnoxiously proclaiming "I'm wild! I ride motorcycles!"), and writes a mystery series of young adult novels about a girl named Jane who most recently took on Washington. If I'm curious, I can click on her link for more information. Short and sweet.

Example of a bad profile:

Joe Smith   @joesmithcool
My name is Joe Smith. I am an author. I have written 4 books. Two were published with Book Publishing, Inc. One is self-published because I'm trying to stick it to The Man! My books are, without a doubt, some of the bestest books in the whole wide world!!! Read more about "The Awesome Series" (including tons of 5-star reviews) on Amazon!!

Why this bio is bad:

It tells us that an author named Joe Smith has written 4 books, is bitter about the fact that only 2 of them were traditionally published, and is (likely unfoundedly) convinced that he's an extraordinary writer. The extraneous exclamation points take up unnecessary space and suggest he might secretly be a 6th grade girl. I know the title of his book series, but if I want to read it, I have to search for it on my own. This bio is long-winded, immature, and ineffectual.

2. Self-promotional tweets

When tweeting to promote to your followers, be it an event you're publicizing, a blog entry you'd like them to read, or a product you'd like them to buy, tread carefully. In a world ripe with bombarding advertisement, it's difficult to convince people that your self-promotion is any different from or better than everyone else's self-promotion. Make it your goal to pique interest. Promote creatively, humbly, and concisely. Come up with 140-character phrases that would make even the busiest, pickiest reader just have to know more.

And... Never underestimate the value of hyperlinks and hashtags.

For the uninitiated, a hashtag consists of a # sign followed by a word or words that categorize a tweet (no spaces in between). #books denotes a tweet about a book or books. #Obama2012 denotes a tweet about Obama's reelection campaign, including event listings, press coverage, and commentary. Anyone can employ any hashtag at any time. Hashtags that are trending as I write (you can find trends on the left hand side of your Twitter home page) include #MayWeather, denoting tweets about thunderstorms and sunshine, and #AJBurnett, denoting tweets about whatever sport that dude is playing right now.

Hashtags authors commonly use:


Hashtags useful in promoting KDP free days:

#freeebook (that's "free ebook")

Why these hashtags will help you:

If I'm searching for a new book to read, I can type "#books," for example, in the search field located in Twitter's upper right hand menu. Twitter will send me to a page listing all tweets including the hashtag #books, whether I'm following those users or not. If I'm looking for a replacement for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I've just finished reading, I can search for #thriller, #crimenovel, or #SteigLarsson.

This search feature works for promoters as well. If I've just written a crime novel I would compare to Larsson's series, I can run searches for those books in Twitter and use hashtags I find in my own future tweets, such as #MillenniumTrilogy.

Apart from using by the book (no pun intended) categorical hashtags, use your imagination in your tweets! Don't be afraid to be funny.

Bad self-promotional tweet:

Back to Basics is free today! Please Retweet you guys! I love you!

Why this tweet is bad:

It's lacking information. Remember that people use Twitter for various reasons, not just to find books they'd just like to buy and read and share with their friends. We have no idea what "Back to Basics" is. A book? A work-out video? Even if I were to assume Back to Basics is this author's book, there's no link to it, which means I'd have to search for it. Then he asks me to retweet to my followers with the additional qualifier that he loves me. Not only am I annoyed, I'm a little creeped out.

Good self-promotional tweet:

#freekindlebook: Back to Basics A case for resuscitating the electric #car. #books #nonfiction #amreading #green #energy #algore #hybrids #free

Why this tweet is good:

Right off the bat, it informs followers that the tweet is about a free kindle book. It gives the book's title, a direct link to where it can be purchased, and a phrase explaining what the book is about. Hashtags in the tweet explain that the product is a book, is nonfiction, and pertains to energy policy, green energy, that it is related to hybrid vehicles, and that it is a free product.

More examples of good self-promotional tweets:

Now out on #kindle: #Murder in #Miami, the 2nd #book in the Jan Austin #mystery series: #chicklit #femalesleuth #romance #florida #mustread

Is #Twitter REALLY an effective tool for #selfpromotion? An interview with #selfpub #author @JackieJCollins

"Joe Jones does it again. Before There Was #Coffee is #hilarious & #moving. A page-turner to the last drop." #books #satire #humor #capitalism #starbucks

Non-promotional tweets:

Don't use Twitter only to sell yourself! Think of it as a bar conversation with an acquaintance. Retweet (denoted by "RT") tweets you're interested in by large publications and individuals, ask your followers questions, find common ground with other Twitter users, start conversations with those you follow, make small talk about day-to-day happenings. You wouldn't talk incessantly about your job or divulge gory details about your recent divorce to the stranger sipping a beer on the bar stool to your right; don't do it on Twitter, either.

3. Quick Tips:

Twitter now has a built-in link shortener, which automatically codes your hyperlinks to take up no more than 20 characters. This means you can copy and paste links without having to worry about losing precious characters.

Running out of room in a tweet? Can't figure out how to shorten it any further? Replace "and" with "&," and compound words w/ (hint!) contractions.

Thanks, Steve!  For those of you that like jazz, our Steve is a smokin' musician.  Warning:  ADULT lyrics and music, don't go to the page with your kids in the room, but her lyric, "facebook is a gateway drug to stalking" should be used in a bestselling  novel!   Visit her site at:

Next time:  yes, I swear, I really will do the bloody article about ISBN monopolies.  I know it'll sell like nekkid picshures of Kim Kardashian (wait--I'm too late, huh?), and you're all breathless for it.  I can tell from those cards and letters that keep pouring in.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Documenting Reality

Life Without Parole by Clare O'Donohue.

Reviewed by Marlyn Beebe.

When we first see Kate, she has just finished working on a budget home-design series, which she hates.  After work, she cocoons herself at home, mourning her estranged husband Frank, who died seven months earlier.  Although she insists (both to herself and others) that she's fine, her family and friends are worried about her.

 Upon Kate's refusal to do another episode of the soul-sucking design series, the executive producer asks her to do a program about men who committed serious crimes and are serving long prison sentences. Kate quickly agrees, despite the fact that the show will by necessity be filmed in a prison. 

Meanwhile, she is asked by a Los Angeles company  to produce a reality show about the opening of a new restaurant in Chicago, which would be titled "Opening Night".  Kate is reluctant, but they tell her that they've already discussed this with the producer of "Life Without Parole" who has assured them there will be no scheduling conflicts.  To sweeten the deal, they offer her 25% more than her usual rate, which she finds herself agreeing to.

It turns out that one of the partners in the restaurant venture is Vera, Frank's mistress, who insists on trying to be friendly with Kate.  Kate wants to back out, but can't, and discovers that the relationship between the restaurant's investors and staff is somewhat volatile.  She learns just how volatile when Vera finds the chef dead in the restaurant's kitchen and calls Kate for help.

I was almost surprised to realize that this is only the second book of the series featuring television producer Kate Conway.  When I began reading the book, it was as though I were re-connecting with a friend I'd known for some time.  I look forward to getting to know Kate even better.

Clare O’Donohue is a freelance television writer and producer. She has worked worldwide on a variety of shows for Food Network, the History Channel, and truTV, among others. Life Without Parole is the second in the the Kate Conway mystery series. She is also the author of  the four-book in the Someday Quilts series, and is currently working on the fifth. 

FTC Full Disclosure:  Many thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book to review.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Medical Pitfalls Authors Fall Into

It's my pleasure to welcome Jordyn Redwood as our guest today on Crime Fiction Collective. She and I have hung out together at the Citizen's Police Academy and driven across town to attend a series of lectures on sexual homicide. Some might say we're strange, but I'm betting that the readers of this blog understand our friendship and how we choose to spend time together.

Jordyn is a pediatric ER nurse by day, suspense novelist by night. Her debut medical thriller, Proof, examines the real life possibility of DNA testing setting a guilty criminal free. It has been endorsed by the likes of Lynette Eason, Dr. Harry Kraus, and Rick Acker to name a few. You can find out more about Jordyn by visiting her blog: and website:


One of the reasons I created my medical blog for authors, Redwood’s Medical Edge, was to right some of the wrongs in published works—traditional and self-pubbed—that caused me to want to toss the book aside and move onto to something else.

A reader, even one who primarily reads fiction, wants to trust you as an author. Part of building that trust is doing your research to make sure the details are authentic. The more close to real life you write, the more believable your fiction is. Strange, right?

So, as a medical professional of almost twenty years, these are a few author type pitfalls that will signal to me that an author has not done their research and I begin to wonder what other details of the ms they’ve been loose with.

1. Referring to an ECG as an EKG: This is relatively common and you’ll likely be given a pass on this because as medical professionals communicate with one another—we still will say “EKG” but the correct terminology is ECG. An ECG comes from electrocardiogram and is when we attach patches to your chest to look at the electrical activity of your heart.

2. Use of needles: There are instances where needles are still used. Primarily, they are used for starting IV’s, giving intramuscular (IM) injections, suturing and for drawing up a medication from a medication vial. However, what’s left in place after an IV is started is not a needle but a plastic catheter. Giving medications through an IV line is done with a blunt tipped plastic “needle”. I don’t know of a hospital that doesn’t use “needleless systems” that are designed to reduce needle stick injuries among healthcare professional. Be sure you’re referring to the right type of equipment for your scene.

3. Anatomical Issues: These are the most annoying because they are the easiest to research on your own. I’ve seen in published novels where the spleen is on the right side (it’s on the left), and the clavicle referred to as a scapula (your collar bone versus your shoulder blade.) Easiest way to determine where a certain organ/bone is would be to Google search specifically—“what side is the spleen on?”

4. HIPAA Violations: Which stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This is the law that governs patient privacy and is the notification you likely receive (and subsequently throw away) each time you visit a doctor that dictates how your health information is shared. Let’s look at an example—I take care of a neighbor’s child in the ER during a shift. If my husband calls me at work, I can’t say, “Hey, Kim is here with her daughter. She broke her arm.” This is a violation of HIPAA. Now, I can share that information if Kim says I can do so but she has to give permission. Types of HIPAA violations I’ve seen in published novels? A nurse giving patient information to a reporter—this is a huge no-no. All information released to the press is done through the public relations office. This is drilled into every medical professional’s head from the get-go. A medical person giving info to a spouse. And from real life, a local news station that shot an interview where the patient tracking board was in the backdrop. All big no-no’s.

5. Injuries that heal too quickly: Sure, you want conflict and sometimes conflict means someone taking a bullet or being in a car accident or any number of ways you want to injure and maim a character. The problem usually is after the injury. Your hero that took a bullet to the arm is easily shooting with it the next day with subsequent ease. Make sure whatever injury your character suffers, the result of the injury is reflected in the manuscript. If you break your femur, you will not be running the next day.

What medical inaccuracies have you seen in published fiction?

Dr. Lilly Reeves is a young, accomplished ER physician with her whole life ahead of her. But that life instantly changes when she becomes the fifth victim of a serial rapist. Believing it's the only way to recover her reputation and secure peace for herself, Lilly sets out to find--and punish--her assailant. Sporting a mysterious tattoo and unusually colored eyes, the rapist should be easy to identify. He even leaves what police would consider solid evidence. But when Lilly believes she has found him, DNA testing clears him as a suspect. How can she prove he is guilty, if science says he is not?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Where'd you say you were from?

Jen's post yesterday generated a lot of thinking about where we set our crimes so I thought I'd talk about my own setting. It's not nearly as romantic and sophisticated as San Francisco, the home of Jen's mysteries, nor is it as charming as her hometown of Swindon.

I set my mysteries in my hometown of... Placentia, California.

Yes, that's pronounced Pla-SEN-cha, a Latin word for "a pleasant place to live." It is not, as my brother says, "Afterbirth, California." The town began around 1837 as Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana but that wouldn't fit on the envelopes at the post office, so some woman named Sara Jane McFadden suggested Placentia. For some reason, that stuck.

It's now about 6.5 square miles, with 50,000 residents, surrounded by Fullerton, Brea, Anaheim, and Yorba Linda. All just names of cities to most of you, without any flavor or interest. Sure, Anaheim has Disneyland, Angel Stadium, and Honda Center (home to the Ducks hockey team), but a stranger to southern California would probably race down the freeways without even noticing they've left one zip code for another.

Hell, I did.

After I had lived in Placentia for a few years, I began to notice the difference. It feels more like a small town, more intimate. It also feels more Hispanic and truer to its heritage. The schools are diverse, filled with ethnicities from African-American to Samoan and everything in between. For a multi-racial family, we were planted in the right soil.

When I started planning my mysteries, I thought a lot about inventing a fictional town that looked a lot like Placentia. I wanted a small-town feel in a large metropolis setting, so that strangers could wander in and out. In a big city, one murder is barely a ripple and may not even make the news. In a small town, you can only kill off so many residents before property values start to head south.

I imagine Peri's house looks like this.
But in a town like Placentia, with so many towns nearby and a train track running through it, well, you can have quite a few murders!

While I was thinking of a town name, it slowly dawned on me that readers might actually look on a map for my setting. Perhaps I should include a little blurb that explains it's a fictional town based on my hometown, the way Sue Grafton's Santa Teresa is really Santa Barbara, wink, wink.

After a few days' thought, I decided to hell with winking and making up names, etc. It didn't matter what I named the town, it was Placentia. Let's call it what it is.

The landmarks and streets of Placentia are used in my book, although I change a few things to fit into the story line. I moved a street in Hit or Missus because I needed Peri to have a flat tire at a specific location. I'm also a little leery of naming actual restaurants now. Two restaurants have closed after I mentioned them in my books.

I don't want to be anyone's jinx.

The Backs Building - where the first body was found.
Although I try to put the reader in Placentia, I doubt if I'm enticing people to come and visit this exotic locale. In fact, I'm certain my motives for setting my books in my hometown are purely selfish and lazy.

I want my murders to be nearby, so I can be a part of the action.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Setting the Scene

We'd like to welcome Author Jenny Hilborne to our happy little family of bloggers. Today is her first post as a regular. She joins us every other Wednesday, and we look forward to having her here!

By Jenny Hilborne

When I wrote my first novel, Madness and Murder, I wanted a recognizable, popular setting that readers would enjoy, not some remote place no one had ever heard of. Even though the strength of my stories is in the characters rather than in the settings, the locale of a novel is important. It gives the story background and sets the scene. At least, it does for me.

I recently read the Sam Christer novel, The Stonehenge Legacy. What a fabulous setting for a thriller. I was immediately drawn to the mystery before I opened the book. The place is iconic, even if you’ve not yet been there. I visited Stonehenge when the stones weren’t roped off and it was possible to get right up next to them. This place always gives me chills, so I couldn’t wait to delve into the book.

An extra treat was the few scenes Christer wrote that took in my hometown of Swindon, a town about 36 miles from Stonehenge and not known for its glamour. I liked the fact he chose a non-typical setting. I could reference all the streets and landmarks, which further enhanced my enjoyment of his book. In my own novels, I use mostly real neighborhoods in San Francisco, with a combination of real and fictional streets and establishments. It’s fun to create streets, maybe even whole towns, and name them.

Last week a reader approached me, with a copy of my new novel, Hide and Seek, in his hand, and posed this question: are the streets and venues real? Intrigued, I asked the reader how much it mattered, whether he had a preference, and if so, why. Turns out he didn’t, but the question led me to wonder about the preference of other readers and how important the setting of the story is to them. How much does it depend on genre? For example, can a historical thriller set in a fictional location be convincing? What type of environment improves the reader’s focus? To find out, I conducted a mini interview with ten randomly selected readers (plus a couple of authors) to get their take on it: a real setting they can visualize, or a fictional one they can imagine? I asked male/female, younger/older, readers in the US and the UK, and of varied genres. The answers surprised me.

Almost all those I asked prefer a real location. The most common reason I was given is based on travel. Readers enjoy stories that take place in locations they’ve either visited or plan to visit in the future. Those without the budget or opportunity to travel enjoy doing so through the author’s eyes.
Some readers say a fictional setting creates no frame of reference and leaves them remote, less than fully vested in the story. “If I fall in love with a fictional setting, I can’t visit it.” 

The advantage of a real setting, if captured perfectly by the author, is it allows the reader to visit the place, which is a huge part of the story for some readers. To what degree does this create a stronger following between the author and the reader? One reader cautioned: “If you choose fictional settings, the writing must be true to the region. I want to sense the rhythm and the culture.”

I thought Fantasy might be different, but even the readers of Urban Fantasy I asked chose real world places (with fantastical elements). The few I asked who didn’t choose real settings expressed no preference. The answers made me think about my writing style and the worlds I create. If readers want rhythm and culture, how do I give it to them in a fictional setting? If an imaginary town is at the centre of our stories, we must make them seem vivid and real. That’s quite a challenge, for which we only have our imaginations upon which to draw. They better be good.

Of course, I only asked ten readers. Others may feel differently about the setting. Which do you prefer – real or not?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Invisible Inks on the Fly

by Tom Adair

Invisible inks have been around for centuries; used by good and bad forces alike. Spies use them to report home and prisoners use them to pass messages to the outside. All along, CSI (types) have endeavored to uncover these secret writings so that the truth will out. Secret messages have great value to the writer and the reader. Sometimes even more to the unintended reader. Such was the case with British spy Benjamin Thompson in 1775 Boston and such is the case today with other unmentionables. I bring this up because using invisible inks might come in handy for your protagonist or the bad guys they are chasing. But in order to use invisible inks you have to know a little about them.

For our purposes let's assume that the best "inks" are the ones readily available and don't leave significant staining or odor once dried. These are most commonly organic in nature. Some common types include diluted urine, vinegar, sugar water, lemon juice, and milk. You're probably conjuring up images at this moment of how a character might use these inks. Maybe they are in a public bathroom with a killer outside. Maybe they are in a restaurant staring at the man that wants to abduct them. You may even imagine a prisoner sending a letter out through his attorney or mother.

The clever writer chooses a location that enhances the "invisibility" of the message. It might be on the back or in the margins of a letter written in colored ink. It may be on the inside of an envelope. It could even be under several layers of rolled toilet paper. CSIs learn to search for these messages without actually "seeing" them. There are two basic types of methods used to detect simple organic invisible inks. The application of heat or the use of a chemical reagent. The application of heat is one of the oldest methods. Heat will generally darken the writing making it visible. Some inks like urine can also be seen with an ultraviolet light without applying heat. To apply heat the most common methods are the use of an oven (low setting) or steam iron (without the steam). Documents can even be left in the sunlight but the development process may take hours or days depending on the temperature.

The use of chemical reagents obviously is a bit more involved in that obtaining the reagents requires more effort. Lemon juice can be developed with iodine and very diluted blood can be developed with Phenolphthalein or Ninhydrin. Some of the chemical reagents are hazardous and may require special handling procedures which is why CSIs typically use them more than others. Acquiring these reagents often leaves a "trail" that police or others can follow.

So if your character needs to pass a secret message I advise following the K.I.S.S. model. Keep it simple and use materials and methods that any third grader has access to. Don't be afraid to get creative in the hiding place either. Sometimes the most effective location is in plain sight. There may even be a "system" for delivering messages such as the third napkin in the dispenser on a given day. Some of that depends on the sophistication and circumstances of your character but as long as it makes sense to them the reader will follow along.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Info Dumps, AYKB, and Other Author Intrusions

....more advice for fiction writers by Jodie Renner, editor       

When you’re revising your novel, be on the lookout for any obvious blocks of information or mini-lectures that you may have inadvertently wedged into the story here and there.

Author intrusions and info dumps come in various shapes and sizes, but whatever their form, they can be perceived as an obvious and clumsy attempt by the author to quickly impart some facts, clarifications, or personal opinions directly to the reader. It might even be considered lazy—it’s much easier to just insert a bunch of backstory in about a character in one lump than to find ways to artfully weave in that information through dialogue and thoughts, etc. But do we really need all that information on the character, anyway? Definitely not at the risk of turning off your reader, who’s just been wrenched out of the story to be filled in on details, opinions, or background info.

Or, say you’re really riled up about an issue that you feel people need to pay attention to. Maybe you want people to care about the environment more. Or stop eating so much junk food and exercise more. Or maybe you’re just passionate about something like gardening or Ancient Greece or figure skating or poodles or scuba diving. Should you use your fiction to convert others to your causes or enlighten people about your pet topics? If you do, proceed with caution! People read fiction for entertainment—to escape their boring or stressful life and get immersed in a fascinating story with great characters doing exciting things. If you really want to stop cruelty to animals or raise awareness about anorexia or talk about sailing or World War II history or French cuisine, make sure the info comes out in small doses, and in a natural way through a character who is passionate about that topic—and that it actually works for the plot and is believable for that particular character.

Some common types of author intrusions include:

Interrupting the story to explain facts or details at length to your readers

Readers like to stay immersed in the story, not be pulled out of it to be given a lengthy explanation of something as an aside by the author. This can include long, detailed explanations of a specific type of gun, for example, or stopping the story to describe in detail a castle or a family lineage or some historical facts or the customs of a different country or epoch. Yes, do your research, for sure. But pick and choose what you actually share with your readers, and blend the info in in a natural way, through dialogue, introspection and short expository (explaining) passages, preferably filtered through the viewpoint of the POV character.

Soap-boxing about an issue or cause

Maybe you’d like to increase consciousness about worthy topics such as the plight of whales or the lack of clean water worldwide, or unfair treatment of minorities, or lack of green spaces. You say, people really need to be made aware of the situation—we all need to sit up and take notice and do something about it! That’s true, but you could always write letters to the editor, or newspaper or magazine articles on the issue, or even blog posts. Or give talks at the library or to local groups. Or insert allusions to it here and there in your novel, as long as you have a character who is passionate about that issue and knowledgeable. It can work in small doses, as long as you don’t go on so long about it that it comes across as preaching. And it needs to fit naturally in the scene, with the character’s personality, politics and thoughts.

Giving the readers a history lesson or a lecture on a topic

Say you’re passionate about Aztecs and Aztec ruins and want to tell the world about this fascinating subject, so you decide to write a Raiders of the Lost Ark type of adventure story. You have a main character who’s an archaeologist, and because you can’t resist sharing your knowledge, you have this character giving impromptu detailed lectures on Aztec history to anyone who will listen. Not a good idea. Just drop in a few tantalizing tidbits here and there to pique your readers’ interest. If you get them curious enough, they can easily google Aztecs and find out a lot more on them. You could even add some info at the end of the story somehow, as an Afterword or Glossary or related links or whatever.

Dumping in a pile of backstory about a character

While it is a good idea to create background information on all of your main characters for yourself, be sure to avoid copying and pasting it into your story in blocks, like a mini-biography or a resume. I’ve edited novels where a new character comes onto the scene and the writer feels compelled to immediately write several paragraphs or even pages of background on that character, to introduce him or her to the readers. The problem with that is that the plot has just come to a skidding halt while you fill us in on this person. Secondly, why would we even care about all those little details when that character has just come onstage? Wait until we warm up to them a bit, then provide any pertinent info little by little as we go along.

For example:

Jessica heard her cell phone ringing. “Excuse me.” She grabbed it from her purse and flipped it open. It was her husband Richard.

Richard, who was 42, was an engineer for the city. He and Jessica had met while both college freshmen. Jessica was in Nursing and Richard was in Engineering, and they’d met at a dance arranged by the two faculties. They dated through college and married the year after they graduated. By then, Jessica was a nurse and Richard was an engineer. They waited a few years before starting a family…. yadda yadda.

 “Hi, Richard,” Jessica said into the phone. “What’s up?”

Does the reader need to know all that backstory? Probably not. Certainly not all at once, in the second between the ringing of Jessica’s phone and when she answers it. Any of it that you feel is necessary can be introduced gradually through dialogue, thoughts, and short exposition. Jessica can be thinking about her college days or chatting with a sister or friend, or Richard can be talking to a colleague or golf partner, or Jessica and Richard can be talking to each other. But still, make sure the info fits naturally and organically into the conversation, and doesn’t look like it’s been planted there by the author to get the info across to the readers. Which brings us to our last subtopic:

Info dumps disguised as dialogue: AYKB – “As you know, Bob…”
This is where the author has one person telling another a bunch of stuff they both know, just to impart that information to the reader. Here’s an exaggerated example, to illustrate:

 Ralph said to his brother, “As you know, Bob, our parents were both killed in a car crash when we were young, and we were raised by our grandparents.”

Readers today are too sophisticated to go for this type of heavy-handed information-sharing, and if you do it too often, it’s sure to lose you respect and credibility.

Or it can seem off even when it’s more subtle, as when one homicide detective says to another, “Serial killers have usually been abused as children, and their victims often have similarities.”

You get the idea. 

How about you? Just for fun, can you make up an obvious, AYKB dialogue for us? Use the comment boxes below and go for it!

Copyright © Jodie Renner, June 2012

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, June 15, 2012

Characters: First Name or Last?

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

This is why my novel is taking so long. 

This question comes up dozens of times while I’m writing a novel. Almost every character is given two names (and sometimes a nickname), but what you do you call them most consistently? First name or last? Does their gender and/or role in the story dictate which treatment they get?

I was reading a John Sandford novel recently and I noticed patterns that made me wonder how authors make these choices. There’s a paragraph in which the mother and father of a murder victim are mentioned. Sandford refers to all three by last name, Austin. It’s quite confusing.

In later paragraphs—with the mother, who has the most prominent role of the three—Sandford rotates, sometimes calling her Allyssa and sometimes Austin. This was also confusing, because I’d only met her a few pages back.

Are all novels this messy with names and am I just now noticing because I have to think about these choices when I write stories?

For me, to avoid confusion in family situations, I call everyone by first name and have the detectives refer to them in dialogue by first name or both. Even reporters do this in news stories for clarity.

My main character is Wade Jackson, but everyone calls him Jackson, including me, the narrator. And Jackson, a homicide detective, calls almost everyone he encounters—coworkers, suspects, and witnesses—by their last names. Because this is realistic on the job. Only his daughter and girlfriend get first-name treatment. Young female victims in his cases get first-name treatment too.

The big question for me now is a new character I’m introducing in the Jackson story I’m writing. Everyone else thinks of her as Agent Rivers, so to be consistent, she should be Rivers during her POV. But this character is going to come back in another series and leave the FBI. At which point, I want to call her by her first name. So I’m tempted to start out that way too, so I don't confuse my readers by calling her Rivers in this book, and say, Carla, in the next. But will anyone even notice?

I’m sure styles vary from genre to genre. But in crime fiction—with cops, FBI agents, and private investigators as main characters—I think most coworkers, suspects and witnesses get the last name treatment, while family and friends get first names. I wonder how much it depends on the gender of the writer.

Writers: Do you have guidelines for these decisions? Or do you just wing it? Do you rotate, calling your character Jim, Jimmy, and James? And sometimes by his last name, Shoehorn, just to keep readers on their toes?

Readers: Do you have a preference? Do you like first names or last names better? Does it bother you when writers go back and forth and use different names for the same character?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Curation Not Selection is the Future

By C.J. West
Suspense. Creativity. Action.

I read a great article by Seth Godin this week talking about the changes in what we read. before the digital revolution much of what we read was published by a select group of companies. Those publications (books, magazines, and newspapers) were read primarily because they were scarce resources.

Only so many books and newspapers were published. So, even if your local newspaper offended your political sensibilities, you had no choice but to read it if you wanted to get the weather and sports scores.  Scarcity meant that our individual preferences took a back seat to what publishers decided to produce.

It’s no wonder that when we were freed to choose a news outlet that appealed to what WE wanted, those newspapers died.

Enter the digital revolution and the long tail. Now if you want to read historical fiction about George Washington being attacked by vampires and you know where to look, it exists.

Note: while writing this blog, I made up the idea of George Washington being attacked by vampires. I searched and found two books on the subject. The first is George Washington and Werewolves. Not far off!

My point here is that we have moved into an age where curation is far more important than selection.

What’s the difference?

In a nutshell, selection is choosing what is available. The big publishers controlled selection for years by choosing which books were published. Control of selection sailed when Amazon allowed authors to publish anything they liked. Pandora’s Box is open and there is no pressing the lid back on.

You can argue that some limits on selection might be good, and you might be right, but now we have entered the age of curation or guiding consumers through the maze of what is available to find something enjoyable and meaningful to them.

The key here is finding work that is meaningful to the person searching. Millions of blogs attempt to do this by providing reviews of books in a genre or topic area. You’ve all been on Goodreads, Shelfari and Library Thing.

In the last two weeks I’ve discovered Pinterest and created boards of my favorite novels, indie novels, movies, and poker books. The great thing for me is that Pinterest takes me seconds to bookmark something of interest and my followers can come and see the things I like in a visual pin board format that works for those of us who are visually oriented.

My prediction is that digital curators will become more and more important to authors and I suspect an explosion of digital curation will be fueled by the ingenuity of digital entrepreneurs.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why I Went Indie

Today's guest post is from Jenny Hilborne, author of Madness and Murder, and No Alibi. Like a growing number of traditionally published authors, after giving it a great deal of thought, she made the decision to go the indie route with her newest release, Hide and Seek.  Here's why:

I can’t say I got tired of querying agents and publishers because I didn’t have to do it for long before I received my first publishing contract. I’m not a control freak. I don’t have a drawer full of unpublished manuscripts. The reason I went Indie is simply because the noise got too loud to ignore.

Two years ago, I saw my first thriller, Madness and Murder, published by a small press only one year after I completed the manuscript. I met my publisher at a writers conference in San Diego, spent thirty minutes discussing my book, and received a contract about 5 months later. The same publisher also signed my second thriller, No Alibi.

Book signings and other events followed. I connected with many other authors and started to hear the clamor about independent publishing. For a while, I rejected the idea, wrapped in my traditionally published bubble. As the noise and excitement grew, I got curious…and a little envious. I wanted the same kind of freedom to offer special promotions on my titles and play around with my prices, like all the other authors I'd befriended, some of them now bestsellers.

Here are some more reasons why I went indie for my third thriller, Hide and Seek

I’m doing all my own marketing for my traditionally published titles, and I’m paying 100% of the costs. On top of a full-time job and a 30+ hour per week writing schedule, I have to squeeze in time for promoting my novels. As a traditionally published author, I have to sell twice as many books than my independently published counterparts to recover my costs from all events and paid promotions.

I also don’t want to wait a whole year after signing contracts for my book to see print. While I understand that publishers have schedules, it’s a year of lost income while I wait. Not good.

The stories of success shared from some of my fellow (independently published) authors, encouraged me to give it a go. Many of them started out like I did, made the switch to indie, and haven’t looked back. They connected me with a great cover artist and interior formatter and gave me a little shove. I want to compare the experience, to have more freedom, to learn something new, and to work for myself for a while, maybe for good. I can’t make an informed decision about whether indie publishing is best for me unless I try it. I’m excited to see how it stacks up.

For more info about Jenny and her work, please visit her website.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Summer Must-Reads

I usually read several books a week in order to have enough reviews for the blogs and print publications I write for.  Here are a few of the books I will read this summer, whether I have to review them or not.

Some Like it Hawk (Meg Lanslow #13) by Donna Andrews  (Minotaur/Thomas Dunn hardcover,
17 July 2012).

I adore this series that often has me laughing out loud.  We've known Meg and her crazy family and friends for a long time now, and familiarity does not breed contempt.  Here's the publisher's blurb:
Meg Langslow is plying her blacksmith's trade at “Caerphilly Days,” a festival inspired by her town’s sudden notoriety as "The Town That Mortgaged Its Jail." The lender has foreclosed on all Caerphilly's public buildings, and all employees have evacuated --except one.  Phineas Throckmorton, the town clerk, has been barricaded in the courthouse basement for over a year. Mr. Throckmorton's long siege has only been possible because of a pre-Civil War tunnel leading from the courthouse basement to a crawl space beneath the bandstand.
The real reason for Caerphilly Days is to conceal the existence of the tunnel:  the tourist crowds camouflage supply deliveries, and the ghastly screeching of the tunnel's rusty trap door is drowned out by as many noisy activities as the locals can arrange. But the lender seems increasingly determined to evict Mr. Throckmorton—and may succeed after one of its executives is found shot, apparently from inside the basement.  Meg and her fellow townspeople suspect that someone hopes to end the siege by framing Mr. Throckmorton. Unless the real killer can be found quickly, the town will have to reveal the secret of the tunnel—and the fact that they've been aiding and abetting the basement’s inhabitant. Meg soon deduces that the killer isn't just trying to end the siege but to conceal information that would help the town reclaim its buildings--if the townspeople can find it before the lender destroys it.

Miss Me When I'm Gone by Emily Arsenault  (HarperCollins trade paperback, 31 July 2012).

I loved Arsenault's first two novels The Broken Teaglass  and In Search of the Rose Notes, this one promises to be just as gripping.
Author Gretchen Waters made a name for herself with her bestseller Tammyland—a memoir about her divorce and her admiration for country music icons Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton that was praised as a "honky-tonk Eat, Pray, Love." But her writing career is cut abruptly short when she dies from a fall down a set of stone library steps. It is a tragic accident and no one suspects foul play, certainly not Gretchen's best friend from college, Jamie, who's been named the late author's literary executor.
But there's an unfinished manuscript Gretchen left behind that is much darker than Tammyland: a book ostensibly about male country musicians yet centered on a murder in Gretchen's family that haunted her childhood. In its pages, Gretchen seems to be speaking to Jamie from beyond the grave—suggesting her death was no accident . . . and that Jamie must piece together the story someone would kill to keep untold. 

 A City of Broken Glass (Hannah Vogel #4)  by Rebecca Cantrell (Forge hardcover, 17 July 2012).

Hannah Vogel is a fascinating protagonist; definitely a flawed character, but the underlying reasons for her actions are honorable.
Journalist Hannah Vogel is in Poland with her son Anton to cover the 1938 St. Martin festival when she hears that 12,000 Polish Jews have been deported from Germany. Hannah drops everything to get the story on the refugees, and walks directly into danger.
Kidnapped by the SS, and driven across the German border, Hannah is rescued by Anton and her lover, Lars Lang, who she had presumed dead two years before. Hannah doesn’t know if she can trust Lars again, with her heart or with her life, but she has little choice. Injured in the escape attempt and wanted by the Gestapo, Hannah and Anton are trapped with Lars in Berlin. While Hannah works on an exit strategy, she helps to search for Ruth, the missing toddler of her Jewish friend Paul, who was disappeared during the deportation.
Trapped in Nazi Germany with her son just days before Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, Hannah knows the dangers of staying any longer than needed. But she can’t turn her back on this one little girl, even if it plunges her and her family into danger.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Trailers: Trophies or Trash?

by Peg Brantley, author of RED TIDE

For those of you who do not want to watch trailers, even hate the things, today's post is not for you.

Several people have asked me about my process and what I think the results have been. The big and most important question is this: Did my sales increase because of a trailer?

First, here's the trailer:

The pieces: 
  • Music was chosen from Free Music Archive. This site allows you to search for music by category and keywords: a fast and easy way to find the right music for the mood you're trying to reflect.
  • Photos were selected from both iStockphoto and Shutterstock. I used the least expensive versions available for all of the images.

The glue:
  • I have a Mac and through trial and error (a lot of both) I figured out iMovie. Of course I'll probably forget everything by the time I make another trailer. (Hint: I will be making another trailer.)
  • For PC users, Windows Movie Maker has produced some stunning trailers.

The cost:
  • If you have the time the equipment and the talent you can create your own trailer for free. 
  • A professionally produced trailer can cost $2,000 or more. 
  • I don't happen to own a way to create video and I didn't want only static photos. I also wanted it done as quickly as possible. I also didn't want to have to sell a gazillion books to pay for the trailer. Mine ended up costing less than $200 and it took me about two days.

I have made my trailer available in all of the obvious places:
L.J. Sellers provided me with this link that has a list of other places to consider posting your video:

Now to answer the big and most important question: Did my sales increase because of a trailer? Given that there's not a box readers check to indicate why they've purchased your book, it's a little bit of a guess and comparison of numbers and timing kind of thing. But I believe my sales have increased because of the trailer. I'll make another one for Book #2.

What has been your experience with trailers? What worked for you and what will you do differently next time? Feel free to post a link to your video in your comments.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Something Wicked This Way Came

He may not have been strictly a mystery writer, or a crime fiction writer, but the world has lost one of the greats this week - Ray Bradbury. I actually met him one time. Met, as in, shook hands and held a conversation in which he flirted with me. Here's how it happened:

I was at the Duarte Author's Festival in October of 2009, selling my one and only book, FREEZER BURN. Pam Ripling (aka Anne Carter) and I were sharing a table. The festival is always held on the first Saturday in October at the beautiful Westminster Gardens Retirement Oasis. It's a very lovely park with lots of trees and a set of smooth, paved pathways, which come in handy if you are in a wheelchair or using a walker, like many of the residents.

In addition to Pam and I, her niece Alyssa was with us, and Jeff Sherratt was at a table further along the path. Our table was next to the main stage - this will become important later. The weather was beautiful and we had a medium-ish crowd, but not a lot of buyers. I sold five books, and I think Pam sold at least that many. Jeff, of course, sold two or three cases - I constantly tease that he could sell books to a corpse.

The featured author for the festival was Ray Bradbury. I heard him speak about two years previously. He was quite frail at the time, but insisted on keeping his appointment with the writer's association. We could barely hear him because the PA system wasn't working, but I could still sense his energy for life and his love of writing.

On this day, I watched him arrive, being pushed in his wheelchair by a young black man. Mr. Bradbury looked much healthier than the last time I saw him. There was a slight slur to his speech, but he was still in fine form, telling tales of becoming a writer, meeting famous people, and doing what he loved. Everyone ate it up.

Pam and I sat at our table, next to the main stage, straining to hear his speech. The black man stood in front of our table, waiting, along with a white guy. There was an extraneous conversation with the black guy and another group, which Pam chimed in on, then the white guy joined, then I got involved, until finally it was just the four of us talking.

(May I just say at this point that I wished I'd asked the gentlemen's names. If either of you two stumble upon this blog, could you introduce yourselves?)

The white guy (I found out later he was the driver) picked up my book and said, "Freezer Burn? What is it?"

"It's a murder mystery," I told him.

"A mystery? Ray loves mysteries. This looks like a book he'd enjoy."

The words spurted before my brain kicked into gear. "Really? I'll give him one."

He seemed ecstatic. "You'd give him one? He'd love that!"

I autographed a book, thinking the driver would take it to Mr. Bradbury later, perhaps tomorrow or next week or something. Just then, the black guy pointed to my chest. "Hey, look at her shirt," he said to the driver.

In my youth, I'd have been embarrassed to have so much attention paid to my chest, but at my advancing age, I knew they were only looking at the words.

The driver brightened even more. "Oh man, Ray would love that shirt! He drinks merlot all the time!" (I hoped he didn't mean for breakfast, too.) "You gotta present your book to him so he can see your shirt. He'll love it. Are you going to be here until we leave?"

Well, duh. "Absolutely," I said.

After Mr. Bradbury spoke, everyone lined up for an autograph. I stood by my table and waited patiently. No one else did.

Alyssa, Jeff, Me, & Pam
"Are you sure he's with Bradbury? Are you sure he meant it?" Pam's questions were indicative of a mystery writer, suspicious to the core.

Jeff had a different worry. "He's not going to take this path to his car. He's going to take the one over there."

I tried to keep my zen approach, then saw the crowd clear and opted for Plan B. Picking up the book and my camera, I headed to Mr. Bradbury. Pausing at the driver, I asked, "Is this still okay?"

He leaped from his chair. "Absolutely! Mr. B, Mr. B, I want you to meet someone." He took me over to the table. "Mr. B, this it Gayle and she has a book she'd like to give you."

Bless his heart, all that signing had Mr. B on a roll - he took my book and opened it to autograph it. I stopped him. "No, Mr. Bradbury, you don't have to sign this one," I said, and he laughed.

"Look at her shirt, Mr. B," the driver said.

Once again, I held out my chest for a man to stare at it. (Note to self: try to regain dignity. Soon.) He read it, smiled, and took my hand in his two rather enormous paws.

"I want to drink you," he announced.

We laughed, took pictures, and I thanked my two champions for introducing me to this great writer (again, I wish I knew their names). I made it as far as my table before I broke out into my Happy Dance, then made it to my car before I texted my family to tell them what happened.

Did he ever read my book? I don't know. But I'll never forget the experience of giving it to him.

To quote Something Wicked This Way Comes: Is Death important? No. Everything that comes before Death is what counts.

Thanks for everything, Mr. B.