Monday, December 31, 2012

Finding More Balance in 2013

by Jodie Renner, freelance editor and craft-of-fiction writer

Peg Brantley’s thought-provoking article, "With Decisive Intent" and excellent list here on Friday made me start thinking about goals and balance, about assessing the year that's ending today and making plans for next year.

Although I got a lot done in 2012 workwise (edited a lot of excellent fiction and published many of craft-of-fiction blog posts and two e-books), I neglected other important areas of my life, especially health and fitness, so I hope to reach a better balance in 2013.

Here’s my personal assessment of accomplishments for 2012 and areas I need to work on for 2013:

Plus side for 2012 – Actions and efforts I feel good about:
~ Enjoyed editing lots of high-quality, well-written, compelling novels, and received encouraging email comments* and glowing testimonials** from my clients, so my job continues to be very rewarding. (See a few samples of testimonials below.)

~ Wrote and published two craft-of-fiction books, Writing a Killer Thriller and Style that Sizzles & Pacing for Power, which are both selling really well and have received 32 reviews on Amazon, and all but two are 5-stars. (See below *** for excerpts from some of the reviews of the two books.)

~ Managed to travel to some great places, including four excellent, stimulating writers’ conferences

- SDSU Writers’ Conference in San Diego in January (and met up with LJ and Drew while there).

- Tallahassee Writer’s Conference, Tallahassee, Florida, in May (met writer and editor par excellence, Jessica Morrell, and Peggy Kassees and a bunch of other awesome people in the Tallahassee Writer’s Association). 

- Jessica Morrell’s Summer in Words writers’ conference in Cannon Beach, Oregon, in June (and joined my sister from BC there). 

- Craftfest and Thrillerfest in New York City in July, where I met up with my thriller-writer clients Beverly Purdy, Ian Walkley and Dara Carr, and chatted with writers Shane Gericke, Doug Lyle, Jim Bell, Bob Dugoni, and others.

But despite/because of all that, my life has been kind of unbalanced this past year and for a few years now, with other areas being neglected, so it's time for me to pay more attention to other aspects of it.

Negative side for 2012 – Aspects of my life I neglected, areas to work on for 2013:
~ Gained too much weight from spending too much time sitting at my home computer, with the fridge and cupboards (and chocolate!) nearby.

~ My fitness level has dropped (steadily in the past several years), again from spending too much time sitting at my computer and not enough time exercising.

~ Workaholic, a bit too driven – sometimes neglected people important to me.

~ Spent too much time inside my head (and other people’s books) and not enough time paying attention to the world around me.

Jodie's Resolutions for 2013:
Cut back a bit on my editing (sorry, clients!), and no editing on weekends, so I can:

~ Write daily, or at least 3-4 hours per week, and publish another book or two.

~ Declutter my house in preparation for downsizing and selling it.

~ Concentrate on getting and staying fit. Exercise more, and go for a walk at least once a day. Get back to dancing once a week. Add line dancing.

~ Lose some weight and keep it off. (Getting a good start on this one right now.)

~ Nurture personal relationships more. Get out and socialize more.

~ Appreciate nature more. Work in my garden. Walk in the park or the woods. Nurture my spiritual side.

~ Pay attention to the news and try to make a difference in the world. Get my head out of the sand.

~ Continue to travel at every opportunity.

- How about you? Do you feel your life is pretty well-balanced? Any ways you could improve the balance a bit?

- What do you feel good about for 2012? Accomplishments? Relationships? Health and wellness? Lifestyle?

- What are some areas you feel you could work on for 2013?

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE! From me and everyone here at CFC! Thanks for your support in 2012, and we wish you health, happiness, and continued creativity and productivity in 2013!

*An email I received a week ago, on Christmas Eve:

"One of the best things about 2012 was starting to work with you! I am very grateful for the heart and soul that you put into editing my book, and look forward to ever greater things in 2013!

Enjoy this beautiful time of the year, Jodie, and may the best of life fall on you and yours. I look forward to picking up where we left off soon!

Warmly, A.K."

**Two of the many testimonials I received in 2012 (both of these in December):

“Jodie Renner is a 5-star thriller editor with the eye of an eagle and the skill of a surgeon. She goes beyond copy and line editing to target even the most elusive content issues. A pleasure to work with—highly recommended."

~ Lynn Sholes & Joe Moore, Dec. 2012, #1 Amazon and international bestselling authors of The Phoenix Apostles and The Grail Conspiracy

“When Jodie Renner says ‘Let’s take your manuscript to the next level,’ she means it. Writing a thriller offers challenges unique to the genre, and Jodie is more than prepared to deal with all of them. Whether ratcheting up the tension, dealing with POV or timeline issues, grammar, or offering suggestions to enhance the plot or pick up the pace, Jodie’s suggestions are spot-on and invariably valuable. As an author, all you have to bring to the table is a manuscript and an open mind, and you will end up with a far superior product than you had when you started. I’ve worked with Jodie on two thrillers, including the Amazon Top 25 overall bestseller, The Lonely Mile, and now Parallax View, and the moment I have another thriller ready, I’ll work with her again. If you’re looking for a way to set your work apart, look no farther than Jodie Renner Editing.”

- Allan Leverone, author of thrillers, mysteries and horror novels, Dec. 1, 2012. (Parallax View will be published on Amazon in a few weeks.)

***A few excerpts from 5-star Amazon reviews of Style that Sizzles & Pacing for Power:

“Style that Sizzles is a book every fiction writer needs to have. I’ve read dozens of writing craft books, and this one is a gem. Jodie Renner addresses all the crucial issues and components in a novel and shows with great right-and-wrong examples how to trim and tighten your writing. As a professional copyeditor, she brings years of expertise to the fore and examines both the big-picture issues involved in cutting or revising scenes as well as the many micro issues such as clunky dialog and overuse of adverbs and adjectives. As a professional novelist, copyeditor, and writing coach, I can honestly say this comprehensive book covers everything a writer at any level needs to make a novel sizzle.”
-      Susanne (C.S.) Lakin, writer and editor

"Jodie Renner has achieved a remarkable feat here – she’s distilled everything a fiction writer needs to know to draft edgy, compelling fiction into a short and sweet book. And she’s done it by excluding all the fluff other craft books use as filler. 

Of course she includes the core writing techniques required for publishable manuscripts such as show vs. tell, deep POV, natural-sounding dialogue, and all the rest. But what’s exceptionally useful is that the book is essentially a micro-manual for quick, easy-to-learn techniques to pare down your writing and make it lean and mean. 

Ms. Renner is the queen of thrillers and other crime fiction, but the invaluable advice provided here is applicable to anything you write, including non-fiction."
-          Eyeclocker, Nov. 17, 2012

***And finally, a few excerpts from 5-star reviews on Amazon for Writing a Killer Thriller:
“Jodie Renner is a terrific editor, one that I trusted with my last three novels. And her advice columns are so good, I print and save them all. For thriller authors, this will be the best money you ever spend.”

- L.J. Sellers, bestselling author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

“With years of experience as a professional editor to many successful authors, Renner knows what it takes to write a good thriller, and she lays it all out here in a no-nonsense, easy-to-understand manner. From building excitement and suspense on every page, to adding tension and conflict to each chapter, this book is packed with information you simply can’t afford to miss if you want to gain that ever-elusive competitive edge in the world of fiction.”

- Andrew E. Kaufman, #1 bestselling author of The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted and While the Savage Sleeps 

“Jodie Renner’s Writing a Killer Thriller is an absolute must-have for anyone even thinking about writing a thriller. Jodie has a gift for spotting what makes a thriller work and relaying that message in a very succinct and relatable way. Her booklet will help keep your prose tight while making sure that you never forget the essentials for making a thriller hum—tension, conflict, and suspense.”

- Stephen Schreckinger, attorney and writer, New York, NY

Jodie Renner is a freelance editor specializing in thrillers, mysteries and other crime fiction. For more information on Jodie's editing services and books, please visit her website at

Friday, December 28, 2012

With Decisive Intent

by Peg Brantley

Now that we can be fairly certain the world isn't coming to an end any time soon, we need to get some work done. Decisive Intent are my "creative" words for Strategic Planning, which sounds blah and reminds me of my former life.

It's important to think ahead, and to do that we have to understand where we've been, where we are now, and where we want to be in a year. This list is focused strictly on writing. Whether you're indie published, traditionally published, both, or wanting to be published, I think you'll find some value in exercising Decisive Intent for your career.

1. Have you clearly defined your goal as an author? Is it the same this year as it was last year?

2. What decisions have you made in 2012 that propelled you to your goal? What decisions have you made that didn't? This includes work habits, so don't pretend it doesn't.

3. What collaborations or groups have worked well for you? Which ones haven't? Are there some potential partnerships you'd like to explore?

4. How many books did you produce this year? Does that production schedule suit you or do you want to adjust it for 2013? If you want to increase your productivity, what has to happen to make that possible?

5. If you're writing a series, should it continue or should you begin a new one? If you aren't writing a series, should you?

6. Are your current business partnerships working well for you? This includes cover designers, editors, formatters, beta readers—as well as agents and publishers—anyone who is a member of your production team.

7. Did you invest in your continuing education last year? Did it pay off? What do you want to have happen in 2013 that will benefit your work?

8. Take a good look at your sales and expenses. I recently invested in QuickBooks and am able to see when a book becomes profitable. This also allows me to see more clearly what works and what doesn't. This is probably one of the best business tools you can give yourself as a writer.

9. What Kudos/Awards/Recognition/Milestones did you achieve in 2012? What do you want to achieve in 2013?

10. What social media options are really working for you? Which aren't? Is there something else that will allow you to reach your readers?

11. Do you need to expand or contract your publishing platforms?

12. Is your price point philosophy still sound?

13. Has your target audience changed?

14. Are you happy where you are right now? Are you writing in the genre you want? The amount you want? Are you happy being indie? Are you happy with your publisher? Is it all working for you and enhancing your life?

What else would you add?

My thanks to D.D.Scott  and The Writer's Guide to E-Publishing for providing much of the content for this post.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

One Character I Didn’t Have to Research

by suspense author C.J. West

Earlier this year I set out to create a hero for a new series. I wanted him to be different from my other protagonists. Someone likeable. Someone quirky and in touch with what’s going on in the world. Someone rugged who can handle himself in an alley.

In the last two years I’ve been spending a lot more time with my family and at some point I realized my brother was the guy for the job. He’s a riot in person and so is his wife. He’s a total redneck with quirks that will keep readers entertained. The thing that sealed it for me was his work with recovering addicts.

My brother works in construction and maintenance. In the last several years he has been working on programs that provide housing to recovering addicts and others that need transitional help. Not only does he work on these programs, but his crew is made up of guys leaving the programs. I worked alongside these guys for a few days and got to know them while we worked. Their stories helped me infuse my characters with the real life struggles addicts face.

This all sounds like research, and it was. If you are still wondering about the character I didn’t have to research for this book, it’s me.

As the story came along, my brother had two sidekicks, both recovering addicts who proved quite unreliable. In times when he couldn’t turn to his crew for help, who better than a brother who works from home and is always available day or night?

I bet this sounds really strange to some of you, but for me it made a lot of sense. I’ve been really engaged with my readers ever since the Myspace days. I’ve held all sorts of live and online events, always trying to give my readers a chance to interact with me. Making myself a character fit the story and it also gave my loyal fans a chance to know me on a more personal basis without distracting new readers from the story.

In Dinner At Deadman’s, Lorado often turns to his little brother, Chris. (That’s my real name.) Being the author and a character in the novel gave me a chance to have some fun, so I did a few interesting things with my character.

Everything I say in the book is true. Since I wrote the book, of course I know everything that happens past, present, and future. It’s cool to be omniscient and my character really enjoyed it. I will caution you though, sometimes what I say may be true in a literal sense and still be misleading.

The other interesting thing about being in a book with my brother is that our relationship comes out on the page. He knows me and the things he says about my past are all true. If you ever wondered what kind of guy I was, whether I was a player or the kind of kid every grandmother loves, pick up a copy of Dinner At Deadman’s and find out.

C.J. West is the author of seven suspense novels including The End of Marking Time and Sin and Vengeance, which was optioned into development for film by Beantown Productions, LLC (screenplay by Marla Cukor). C.J. blogs at You can also find him at or at

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Do we Encourage Violence without Realizing it?

By Andrew E. Kaufman

I've been thinking a lot lately about tragedy. The kind we write about on paper and the kind we see in real life.

I don't mean to be a big buzz-kill during the holidays, but after the heartbreaking tragedy in Connecticut, I think this is timely and it's important.

LJ  posted a very valid question the other day on her Facebook page. She wondered if the violence she portrays on paper might in some way encourage or influence violence in the real world. It was a very candid and honest introspection, and I admired her for being so open and sharing it. It also resonated strongly with me because I've often been concerned about the same thing.

And I've struggled with it. A lot.

But I also managed to come to terms with it a while back, because I made an agreement with myself. Or maybe it was more of an understanding. Most of us who write mysteries and thrillers write with a specific purpose. An intent. For the most part, our novels focus on conquering evil, and our heroes aren't the bad guys (or gals)--they're the good ones. Our messages aren't to go out and hurt people; they're that those who are hurt can still find some measure of justice and resolution. It doesn't take away the pain--I know that--but it doesn't create it either.

There will alway be violence in the world. It's an unfortunate fact, but in some small way, on some level, I think our work fosters feelings of empowerment. It provides hope. For the ones who have never been touched by such horrible tragedies, it can allay fears. For the ones who have, it sends a message that there is in fact still good in this world, and there are people who champion what's right, who work every day to prevent violence, and when it does happen, who do what they can to make sure those who cause it will never do it again.

And for those of us who write about tragedy, I think it also helps us cope as well on a very real and intimate level. We don't enjoy violence, but we know violence is a reality, and when we reach out to our readers we connect with them in a meaningful and significant way.

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Appreciating the Season

I read and review books about crime and murder on a regular basis, but I don't recall ever being directly affected by violence.  (I'm knocking on wood, right now.)  And one of the differences between crime fiction and real life is that most of the fiction has a happy ending. 

Christmas is generally a cheerful time of year, but the incident in Connecticut just ten days ago adds some poignancy to the atmosphere.  It was deeply troubling, and as a result many of us are making a point of appreciating our loved ones more than usual.

I read one statement that really struck me, and I'm sorry I don't remember who wrote it.
The writer expressed regret that what's remembered after incidents like this is the name of the perpetrator, and not the victims'.

That this is undoubtedly true made me very, very sad, so I'm going to  pay my respects to everyone who suffered due to the violence in Newtown by listing the names of the twenty children and six seven women whose lives were ended so abruptly.

- Charlotte Bacon, 2/22/06, female
- Daniel Barden, 9/25/05, male
- Rachel Davino, 7/17/83, female
- Olivia Engel, 7/18/06, female
- Josephine Gay, 12/11/05, female
- Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 04/04/06, female
- Dylan Hockley, 3/8/06, male
- Dawn Hochsprung, 06/28/65, female
- Madeleine F. Hsu, 7/10/06, female
- Catherine V. Hubbard, 6/08/06, female
- Chase Kowalski, 10/31/05, male
- Jesse Lewis, 6/30/06, male
- James Mattioli , 3/22/06, male
- Grace McDonnell, 12/04/05, female
- Anne Marie Murphy, 07/25/60, female
- Emilie Parker, 5/12/06, female
- Jack Pinto, 5/06/06, male
- Noah Pozner, 11/20/06, male
- Caroline Previdi, 9/07/06, female
- Jessica Rekos, 5/10/06, female
- Avielle Richman, 10/17/06, female
- Lauren Rousseau, 6/1982, female (full date of birth not specified)
- Mary Sherlach, 2/11/56, female
- Victoria Soto, 11/04/85, female
- Benjamin Wheeler, 9/12/06, male
- Allison N. Wyatt, 7/03/06, female
- Nancy Lanza, 52, female

(And many thanks to NBC and THE VOICE for providing the perfect video to accompany this post.)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Cover Design Calypso--Part I

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

T'was the Night Before Christmas....this week, co-blogger Marlyn Beebe is taking my usual Tuesday spot, as she wants to say something more "Christmas-y," and me, being the Scrooge that I am, (pre-ghosts), intend to rerun a post from my own website (, dealing with cover design.  I'll be back in two weeks on my regular Tuesday!  In the meantime, here is the original Cover Design Calypso, from April of 2011.  I've added some new bits at the end--and have a link to a little-known gem for those of you on a budget with regard to your cover design. 

Everything I ever needed to know about Book Cover Design, I learned in the frozen food aisle of the supermarket...

What makes a great book cover?

Is it color? Is it blurbs from famous authors? Is it just luck? I wish I knew.
Like pornography, I know a great book cover design when I see it, but I can't tell you why it is fantastic, particularly, other than WOW! What a great book cover . It's something that grabs me when I see it. Sadly, it's not like a Chinese from column A, one from column B, when it comes to cover design.

I do know, though, that I have learned a shocking lesson in this business. Being an avid reader, I of course always assumed that it was what was inside the covers that sold books. But I've learnt otherwise; great covers do sell books, even those with less-than-stellar stories inside of them. And in thinking about it, I realized that I already knew why these books were selling; it's something I learned years ago, when I was ill and had to cruise the aisles of the dreaded "TV Dinner" section of the supermarket. And here's the horrible truth:
People buy frozen dinners based not upon the actual content of the bag or box or TV-Dinner-Tray, but, rather, based upon which company has put the best picture on the cover of the box.
Let me say that again, in case you missed it: When you go to the supermarket frozen-food aisle, and get ready to try something you haven't had before, you will almost always buy the brand with the best-looking image of the food. The brand with the prettiest picture, in other words.

We humans are visual creatures. We're sight-hounds on two legs. This works on television; it works in movies; it works in advertising...and it works for book covers. So keep this in mind when you are preparing your next cover--think of crows, and bright, pretty things.

That was the end of the original post.  In the 20 months since I wrote it, there have been a ton of books through, and that fact is truer now than ever before--if you have very little money to spend, if you must, forgo the formatting (DIY) and pay for a great cover designer.  I've also learned this lesson:  a great cover is not a busy cover.  There are, in fact, no "great" busy covers.  As I said in my sequel to this post--the first post I ever made here at Crime Fiction Collective, authors frequently err on the side of attempting to tell the entire story on the cover, and end up with a muddled mess. 

Your book cover is not an IMAX screen.  Your saga should not roll across the cover as if it is.  The best and most glorious covers have one single, strong graphic element. Your color selections should be powerful and vivid.  The cover doesn't even necessarily have to do anything with your actual story--it simply needs to evoke a strong emotion, and a desire to OPEN IT and see what's inside. 

But I'm on a Budget!

Many authors are scraping by, and can't afford the $150-$200 (average price) for a custom-designed cover.  What to do?  One of the little-known trade secrets are "pre-made covers."  Yes, I said "pre-made."  Unlike used cars, someone else didn't use this before you; what  a pre-made cover represents is a cover designer that was bored, and made some up on a weekend!  His boredom is your gain--you can buy the cover, have the text changed to match your title, and your author name, and VOILA!  For as little as $30, you have a professionally-designed cover that does not look like the dog's breakfast.  Now, of course, you need to peruse these pre-made covers carefully; some places that offer them are, well, let's say you'd do better with a crayon.  But one such place does exist, that I've Pinned on Pinterest and even Tweeted about, and that's Go On Write, at  If you're pinching those pennies--and every publisher should--cruise on over there and check 'em out!  Save some shekels!


And to all the kind people who drop by and read me, from time to time....Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!--Hitch

Friday, December 21, 2012

When Cops Are Crazy

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

Two recent new stories stuck in my brain, and I filed them both away for potential novel ideas. But I know I'll never use them because when the truth is stranger than fiction, you can't use it as fiction. Readers just won't buy it. But it's still fascinating, so I'll share these freaky cases involving police officers.

This first one happened in my home state of Oregon. Female police sergeant Lynne Benton had a longtime partner, a beautician named Deborah Higbee Benton. After many years together, Lynne underwent a gender change and became Lynn Edward Benton. The gender change caused problems in their relationship, but once they could legally get married, they did. Within a year, Lynn had lost his/her job as a police officer and Debbie had been murdered.

The case is still pending, but charges had been filed and detectives believe that Lynn hired Susan Campbell to murder Debbie. Susan Campbell has pleaded guilty, and in addition, her son, Jason Jay Jaynes, has been charged with murder. Debbie, who was horribly beaten to death, didn't do down easy, so Susan allegedly called her son to finish the job. All three—the transgendered cop, the hit woman he hired, and her son—will likely be convicted of murder.

Speculation is that Debbie wanted out of the relationship after her partner switched from female to male, and Lynn decided to kill her instead. My personal speculation is that Lynn was taking way too many male hormones.

The other case is just as strange. Gilberto Valle, a 28-year-old officer with the New York Police Department, created a document called a blueprint for “Abducting and Cooking.” His estranged wife reported the oddities she'd seen on his computer, the FBI got a warrant to search, and they uncovered several plots to kidnap, rape, torture, cook, and eat women. Yes, you read that correctly.

“I was thinking of tying her body onto some kind of apparatus,” Valle wrote to a co-conspirator in one email recovered by law enforcement. “Cook her over a low heat, keep her alive as long as possible.”

The investigators discovered files for more than 100 women on Valle's computer, with details such as the woman’s date of birth, height, weight, and bra size. Valle also made note of certain materials, such as chloroform and rope. Some of the women were his classmates from high school, and at least ten women confirmed that they knew Valle personally. A few had even dated him.

As yet, they have no evidence the officer acted on any of his plans... but I know I would feel better if they locked him away.

What real life crimes have you read about that are too strange for fiction?

PS: If you're a fan of my Detective Jackson novels, you can request an advanced review e-book copy of Rules of Crime at Net Galley.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The evil we devise and the good we desire

By Gayle Carline

"Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating."
I actually discovered this quote on Facebook last week, from one of those pages like “I Heart Libraries” or “I’m Too Literate for You” or something. At first, I was intrigued by the notion, but not keen on the adjectives used for real evil. Monotonous, barren, or boring is not how I would consider evil. It’s more like, well, evil. Horrible, devastating and definitely not romantic.
Then Newtown, Connecticut made the news and I understood. Everyday evil is the same. No one steals the moon or covers the earth in melted cheese or points a laser beam at Los Angeles to demand One-BILLION-Dollars. They kill. They kill one person or twenty-six, but it is all death, just death. Monotonous in real life. Barren of ideas. Boring in its sameness as we try to take in the tragedy and fight the numbness that comes with sensory overload.
But when we write about evil, it must be romantic and devious in the most horribly delicious way. Our villains are fun to write. The character studies of their brutish actions and evil schemes are often more fascinating than our heroes. We feel the thrill of getting into their skin and learning what makes them tick.
By contrast, our heroes cannot be Goody-Goodies. (Jesus need not apply.) They must have a weakness, a fatal flaw. They must be damaged and must rise above their situation to vanquish the evil we have invented. Those early good guys — the ones in the white hats — are laughable these days. Clayton Moore and Armie Hammer may have both played the Lone Ranger, but only one of them would even try to walk on water.
In real life, we don’t want our heroes broken. We want Clayton Moore. In real life, we don’t want to know that the pilot who saved everyone’s life by landing the plane safely was too drunk to know his own name at the time. We want Mr. Rogers, who is eternally good and true. He will lead us safely home.
Of course, if we were writing this story, our damaged hero would have fought his demons long enough to thwart the madman before an elementary school was attacked. The children would live. All would be well. It’s one of our basic instincts in storytelling, from the campfire to the paperback, to vanquish evil, to chase away the darkness. We defeat the boogeyman and let in the light, because mankind must survive.
Unless we’re writing horror, which is what December 14th turned out to be.
I cannot rewrite this story to make it end correctly. I can only try to give words of peace and songs of healing, which is why I’m going to end on this song. Yes, Marvin Gaye was the original and the master. However, I love this guy’s voice and I love the fact that every time he opens his mouth, I am happily surprised. Be honest, he looks like he should be following the Grateful Dead around.

And we could all use a happy surprise right about now.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Book v The Movie

by Jenny Hilborne
Author of mysteries and thrillers

After I've read a book and become vested in the characters, I'm often curious to see how they are portrayed in the movie, and how the story plays out on the screen. Do the characters look how I imagined them to look? Is the setting how I saw it in my mind? I hate it when the movie fails to do the book justice, and this is often the case. It's one of the reasons I rarely watch a movie first and then get the book. For me, some of the mystery and intrigue found in a book is lost on the big screen.

When I read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which took me 2 attempts (the first 100 pages are a brutal slog) I loved it and wanted to watch the movie. I watched the Swedish version with English subtitles, and the movie jumps about, especially at the beginning. Without knowing the story first, I'd have been lost. The parts about Millennium magazine and the libel case against Mikael Blomkvist, which the books labors over painfully for the first 100 pages, are skimped on in the movie, yet without it, the story is hard to follow. The story has a huge cast, which I found complicating in the movie, but less so because I'd read the book first and knew who they were.

Anne Frank's diary is a gripping read and a heartbreaking film. Nothing is lost in either. However,  often there are key elements in a book that are dropped in a movie, or adapted for the audience enjoyment, and it spoils the experience. I'm so focused on the missing bits, I lose interest.

Occasionally, the movie/book works in reverse. I'm not into fantasy, but I once bought a box set of Lord Of The Rings for a gift, and then borrowed it out of curiosity. What a fantastic story. I know I'll never read the book, but I loved the movie. The visual effects were a large part of the enjoyment - they don't exist in the book, and I couldn't even begin to imagine them. The same with Jane Eyre. I enjoyed the film, and the romance (surprisingly), but I'll never read the book. This is one of the films where the movie omits part of the story found in the book (I'm told). In this case, it was okay - I can only take so much romance.

Sometimes, neither the book or the movie works. I might be one of a few people who haven't read Harry Potter. I can't get into it at all. I tried to watch one of the movies - no idea which one, but it involved broomsticks. I gave up after ten minutes. Hated it.

Then there's this nonsense of Tom Cruise playing Jack Reacher. I loved Jack Reacher. Tom Cruise will spoil my image and my enjoyment of the books, so I won't bother with the movie.

We'd all love to see our own books on the big screen...wouldn't we? Or are the pictures in our heads better? What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Does Social Media Sell Books?

Tom Schreck, author of Getting Dunn and The Vegas Knockout

Michael Alvear says it doesn't.

Making a Killing on Kindle describes how even with thousands and thousands of followers on Facebook, Twitter and blogs, social media is a waste of time when it comes to selling ebooks on Amazon--especially fiction.

Citing studies by the Yale business school on click through and buy rates, he points out that, with a few exceptions, the numbers for even the most successful social marketers just don't hold up when it comes to efficiently and effectively selling our product.

Uh, yeah, I know.

So what have I been doing for the last seven years?

What have I been obsessing on, worrying about and trying to strategize?

I've made friends, probably honed important connections and practiced writing. Did I sell any books?

Yesterday Amazon featured my stand alone, Getting Dunn in a voucher promo. On Sunday it was ranked 160,000. On Monday it was 1,100 and 13 in the Hard Boiled Mystery best seller list.

Sure, I posted on Facebook and Twitter but the real action came from Amazon.

Is social marketing fun? Do we do it to feel like we're doing something? Do we do it because everyone else does?

What do you think?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Goal Setting Without Fear

By Peg Brantley

One of my favorite sayings is "It doesn't matter where you start out. What matters is where you end up."

Are you ready to plan your route to the finish line? Do you know what that looks like for you?

And what happens if you fail?

That's the simple question. Here's the simple (though not always easy) answer. You start over. You pick up where you left off. You change the idea of failure to one of education. You understand you're that much further ahead.

But what about setting goals in the first place?

Before I throw out some strategies to think about, think about this first: carefully consider that the goals you are setting are what you want to accomplish, not what someone else thinks you should accomplish. Do not set your goals based on the expectations of others, or just because they sound good.

Man, it took me forever to figure that one out. (I'm such an approval seeker—or at least I used to be.) Sheeshkabobalino.

Most of us have heard about SMART goals. This is a great tool to keep in mind when you're sitting down to start clarifying what you want to achieve. Make each goal as Specific as possible. Details. Make them Measurable. Quantify what you're going for. Think carefully about whether or not each goal is truly Achievable. Are they Reasonable? And are they Timely?

Here's where I think people can get tripped up—your goals must be consistent with your values—without conflict. Not only must you look at where your heart is, you need to understand what makes it tick. For example, if your heart is set on getting that huge promotion, but you value time with your family, you need to make sure you can accomplish both. If not, which are you willing to sacrifice? Conflict will surely impact both goals, and your quality of life will suffer.

Another piece is to strive for balance in your life. Set goals for all six areas: Family, Spiritual, Social, Career, Physical, Educational. Don't pump up one area at the expense of another—and don't forget to check for conflict.

When you write your goals down (and that in itself is important) write them in the positive rather than the negative. Our subconscious minds focus on the written word. Make it good. Rather than saying, "At the end of the year, I don't want to still be writing my novel", say "At the end of the year, I will have a completed novel ready to be shopped." And of course, be detailed. Even to the point of recording how you will FEEL when that happens.

Take an assessment. Check your heart—your values. And take a chance on writing down some goals for 2013 (assuming we make it past the end of the world). If you fail, you're no further behind, and maybe even a little ahead. But if you succeed? Zowie.

(This post was originally published in Suspense Novelist, updated for the comment referring to the Mayan Calendar.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


By Andrew E. Kaufman

I’ve been thinking about doing some rewiring lately. Not in my house, but in my brain: my writer’s brain. It seems to have gone a bit wonky.

Because I’ve realized that being a good writer isn’t just about grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Plot arcs are crucial, but they don’t mean a damned thing if your own story is out-of-whack. Writing is about being in the right place emotionally, not just on paper, but in your head.

So in doing my rewiring, I’ve identified some short-circuit issues—places where I seem to be getting in my own way, where a fuse or two got tripped. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Comparing Myself to Other Authors 

I don’t do this as often as I once did (not really), but occasionally, I find myself slipping down that slope. It’s a bad one. Here's me reading a book. It goes something like this:

Me: (First chapter)“Damn, what an awesome passage.”

Me: (Fifth chapter) “Damn, the dude can write.”

Me: (Tenth chapter) “Oh, Damn….”

Me: (Midbook) “Oh Sh#*… I’ll never be this good,”
Me: (End of book) “Ohgoodlord. I seriously suck.”

Coveting thy author: bad move. It’s a prescription for failure. It’s a trap, a self-imposed esteem ambush. Even worse, it’s the fastest way to kill inspiration and creativity. I can’t compare myself to other writers because quite simply, I am not That Writer. 

Worrying About Numbers

I’ve decided to decide that numbers don’t matter—not in the overall scheme of things; or at least in the little one, that worrying about them doesn’t do a damned bit of good. Worry all you want, but whether you do or not, numbers are still going to happen. They’re a unit of measure, not a way of life. Sales rankings, book units, word count, my age, my checking account balance: all unhealthy obsessions. Life matters. Numbers don’t.

Forgetting Why I Write 

I still do this.

Sometimes (he said, grudgingly) .

I get so caught up in deadlines, book deals, sales, and everything else that writing isn’t about, that I forget why I do it in the first place. And then I remember the times when none of those things existed, when it was just  me and the written word, and the more I do, the more I realize, those were the best days of my life. It’s so easy to get caught up in the business of writing instead of the passion that drives it.

Not Trusting My Process

The moment I’m about to give up--when I’m chewing the ends off pencils, throwing things, and doing the primal scream--is always the exact moment before I make my biggest breakthrough, when the most amazing things happen. I’ve come to accept that this is part of my process. It’s how I roll. I can’t change it, so I’m going to learn to live with it and accept that I have to go There before I can get Here (even if it sort of sucks sometimes).
All Work and No Play:

That’s me.

I’m the first to admit it.  All do is write. I don’t mind that all I do is write, because I love being a writer—but still, it feels like all I ever do is write. And it feels unbalanced. And unhealthy. And it feels like I have no life outside of writing.  So my goal this year is to make time away from writing (After my deadline, of course--just in case Thomas & Mercer is reading this). To take Caleb to the beach more often and to simply enjoy. To live more.  Writing is my passion, but my passion can’t thrive in a vacuum; I have to feed it with living.

Fear of Failure

'Nuff said.

How about you? Got any bad wires that need fixing? Here’s the place to come clean.

Promise, I won’t tell ;)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

eBookery 101: Part 2

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

On my last post, "Ebookery 101: The Handbook," which you can see by clicking HERE, I talked about the very fundamentals of ebooks--what are the basic formats,  what are ebook limits, and explained a bit about how readers can change how your book looks.  This week, I'm going to show you how text reflows--wraps--and talk about footnotes and indices.

Text Reflows--or Wraps

When we say that text “reflows,” we mean that when a user changes the font size, or the font, the text adjusts. If the font is bigger, there will be fewer words per line, and fewer per page. From beginning to end, the text changes to suit what the user has asked it to do. You can see examples above, in Figures 1 and 2, of how a book looks just by changing the font size. The screen will display fewer words, which means that the next paragraph will have moved to the next page.

In this page/screen from "The Prince and The Pauper," at a smaller size font, you can see how many lines are viewable in the reading pane (the white "page" area).
In this shot, we've kept the reading pane exactly the same size, but our reader has enlarged the font, so it's easier for him to read.  You can see how many fewer words there are per line, and how many fewer lines are now visible in the same space.  The other lines have now "reflowed" to the next screen.

This is what we mean when we say that text "reflows" and that it is very difficult to try to control what a user sees at any given time. Ebooks are not like PDFs or print, and it will be very helpful for you to understand this early in the process so you can learn not to worry about things that cannot be controlled.

What about my Footnotes?  My Index?

Ebooks work like old-fashioned webpages.  What goes on behind the scenes is just one big long scrolling webpage. This means that "pages," as we think of them, are an illusion.  There are no pages in ebooks.

Experienced ebook formatters know how to use coding to provide the appearance of page breaks before Chapters, and white space to show scenebreaks. This helps create the illusion of pages. 

Footnotes can't be put at the bottom of a "page," like we do in print, because there are no pages.  Therefore there is no "bottom of a page."  But you can put your footnotes as endnotes to your chapter or to the book, whichever you prefer.  Sometimes, if there are only a very few notes in the whole book, you might like to just use a bracketed number right there in the sentence. [1]Like this, to cite the footnote. A good formatter, like, can do whatever you like best.

For an Index, Use Search

As we discussed above, instead of linked indices, it is often better to use the built-in search function that is available on most devices.  By the time of this writing, it might be available on every device.
When you use linked indexes, the only thing that the page numbers can link to is the page where the text used to be in your Word file.  In the ebook, when a user clicks that, it might be several "screens" away from where the word is actually used.  (This is due to how Word sets the index links when you generate them automatically).  You can see how this could frustrate your reader.  This is why we recommend not using linked indexes.  If you want them, we (or any other formatter) are happy to provide them, but please give the matter some thought.  Remember that you want your reader to have the best possible experience.  Not only that, but not using linked indices is a huge cost-savings for  you!

A user on an iPad simply highlights a word and hits search, and...

The results pop up!  Your readers can search for index items, from within a typed index, exactly the same way.

Are we having fun yet?  By the way, the book presented on the iPad screenshots, for demonstrating the "search" functions, is by some practically unknown author named L.J. Sellers.  (ha!) Thanks, L.J.!  This is from her wonderful book, "The Baby Thief," which is a "don't miss." 

Next time, well, you're getting a rerun, as my next blog is due on Christmas Day.  Given the slew of books that have hit our doorstep here at ye olden, that are expected out before Christmas, I fully expect to be unconscious on Christmas Day. I intend to rerun Cover Design Calypso, Part 1, which originally appeared on my own website in April of 2010--and is truer today than it was then.  Covers matter! 

Happy Holidays to all, and I'll see you in 2013. 
--- Hitch

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mysterious holiday gifts

I don't usually publish a gift suggestions list, but I've had a few requests for it this year.
I'm going to assume that CFC readers already know what books are out there, so this post will focus on other mystery-related gifts.

DIY library kit, which includes " 20 self-adhesive pockets, 20 checkout cards, date stamp, inkpad, and pencil"  (books not included).
Mugs - with a handle shaped like a gun,  or brass knuckles.

Death on the Nile jigsaw puzzle - 1000 piece puzzle includes a short story to read before you attempt the puzzle.  Does NOT include a picture of the finished puzzle.
Various interactive games for DVDs, PC, or Nintendo Wii.

Subscriptions to The Sleuth magazine
Handbags & accessories
Many, many, many collectibles

Calendars has several mystery-themed calendars, including
Sherlock Holmes
Law & Order SVU
Edward Gorey

Stocking stuffers:

Dead Fred pen holder
Splat Stan coaster
Crime Scene sandwich bags, bandages, "scotch" tape
GingerDead Man cookie cutter
Pistol-shaped iPhone stand

Of course this is just a sampling of the plethora of stuff out there.  If you know of something so wonderful it should have been included, please let me know in the comments.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Identity Issues Launches!

by guest blogger and mystery author Claudia Whitsitt

Some authors compare the release of their book to the birth of a baby, and while I see the similarities, this book for me, is much more like a NASA launch.

Whenever I envision a launch, I see fire shooting out from a rocket pad, hear the missile’s engines roaring and watch the building steam as mission control shouts, “And we’re off!” The years of labor, countless calculations, hours revisiting and refining the design, polishing, double-checking, sleepless nights, worry, angst…it’s finally over.

Of course, there’s that last second clutch of the heart. Will the rocket fly? Make it to the heavens without crashing and burning? But, look! The rocket’s boosted now, and it’s soaring. Deep breath. Collective sigh. We have liftoff!

In my particular case, there have been plenty of hiccups along the way. Completing round after round of edits. Hiring a professional editor. Finding a publisher. The rewrite of the last half of the novel. Delays due to MANY unforeseen circumstances. Yes, there were days when I thought this book would never see another reader’s eyes but those of my families and friends.

So, today is cause for huge celebration.

Writing IDENTITY ISSUES marked the start of my reinvention. In 2006, after teaching for thirty years, I decided to write a book. The idea came to me as the result of true events. My husband’s stolen passport led to all kinds of real-life intrigue (more about that in next week’s blog), and the thought of creating my own ending to questions left unanswered nibbled at me until I finally sat down at the computer and wrote the story. Plus, my cohorts at school egged me on. They couldn’t wait to see “The Don Whitsitt Story” in print!

As I neared completion of the book, I attended the Southern California Writers Conference. What the heck did I know about writing a book? What on earth would I do once I finished the manuscript? I had no idea. Thankfully, I met my fairy godmother, Jean Jenkins, at that conference, and she dished out the finest compliment I could have imagined. She told me, “I’d turn the page!” That, for me, meant that someone else might enjoy my story as well. So, I continued writing.

As many of you know, the road to publication is long and arduous. Enough so that this never defeated Special Educator felt ready to give up at times. Writing is my passion after all, not the querying, platform building, marketing and promotion. (I’m still honing those distasteful skills!)

Here, six years later after I first sat down at my computer and began tapping out one letter after another, I present to you the first in The Samantha Series…IDENTITY ISSUES!

For more information about Claudia or her novels, check out her website.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Giving Readers a Bonus with Maps and Lists

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

After a lively discussion on the DorothyL mystery list-serve, I decided to add a map and a list of characters to my Detective Jackson books. One person in the discussion said she would “never read a book” that included a list of characters, but so many others supported the idea that I knew I wanted to provide the information. Fortunately, my new publisher (Thomas & Mercer) was willing.

In today’s world of content marketing, interactive media, and bonus features, giving readers a little something extra seems like a good idea.

We placed the character list in the back of the books, so it’s there for people who want the reference, but it’s not up front where the connections might possibly spoil some of the surprises. And I was careful not to include descriptive phrases such as “sister of the killer” so the list shouldn’t be a spoiler even if readers see it first.

The map is just a bonus for people who like a visual orientation. We placed it in front, and it only includes a small portion of central Eugene. But at least readers will be able see where the police department is in relationship to the jail and the university, for example.

But including the map created a few questions and issues.
  • Do you differentiate between real places and fictional places? What if your fictional hospital is located in the same place as a real hospital? (I told the proofreader to let it go, it’s a fictional map, not a real one.)
  • What if the police department relocates, as ours has? Do you include both locations or just make a new map for later books when you finally start writing about the new address? I haven’t dealt with this issue yet, but in the next book I have to.
  • What if the important places in each story—such as where the crime happened or the body was found—don’t show up on the map at all? A small map can only include so much information, and often the crimes occur outside central Eugene so I decided to leave these off. We’re using the same map for each book, so it has to be fairly generic.
The character lists, however, are unique to each novel and include both recurring characters and new characters that appear in that story only. Some character descriptions may change over the course of eight novels, but noting those changes will only help readers follow the character development.

What do you think? Are maps and character lists helpful? And does the medium—print or ebook—make a difference? What else should I include?

PS: If you haven't tried the series, I'm giving away the first book, The Sex Club, on Amazon today and tomorrow.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

What do I know?

By Gayle Carline

The first piece of advice given to any writer is to write what you know. Actually, the first piece of advice is don’t quit your day job, but that makes a depressing post and tis is the season to be jolly.

When I decided I wanted to write a novel, I took that write what you know business to heart. I wrote about a Midwestern girl who jumps in her car and travels to the West Coast, something that I had done. The problem was I didn’t know how to write a novel. To my great surprise, the characters all revolted, and the girl’s car broke down in Amarillo.

What the hell did I know about Amarillo? I’ve been there once, long enough to visit the American Quarter Horse Museum, and eat at Cracker Barrel.

That (really sucky) novel sleeps peacefully on my external hard drive, where I use it for spare parts.

After writing what I knew turned out so abysmally, I threw caution to the wind and tried writing what I wanted to know: a mystery. Much like Amarillo, what the hell did I know about writing a mystery story?

Not much. But I knew how to read and enjoy them. I knew what to expect when I watched them on TV. I had to have a crime, and a plucky character who would poke around in all of the corners, looking for the solution.

As far as writing what I knew, I used a few familiar things to help me. For example, I made my private investigator, Peri, a former housecleaner. I like a clean house, and know how to do it. Having that little background story gave me a bond to her. I like dirty martinis, so I made that her signature drink.

I also know my hometown of Placentia, California. It’s a small town squished between other towns. I know its streets, its neighborhoods, and its feel. I know how it tastes and smells. Setting a mystery there meant I didn’t have to create someplace else.

I now had a protagonist and a location that I knew.

As for the mystery part, well… how does a bland little Midwestern gal inject suspense and thrills that she’s never experienced?

In the end, I used two of my own hobbies: puzzle solving and communicating with my husband. Mysteries are a lot like puzzles. There are pieces that you must gather, data you must analyze and slip into the correct slot. This translates to clues, alibis, and information that is collected by the protagonist and the reader in order to come to the “AHA” moment.

As far as my husband is concerned, I am married to possibly the most laconic man on the planet. He also possesses a soft, deep voice, which is sometimes inaudible to me due to some hearing loss at the lower registers (yes, too many concerts in my youth). If I want to know anything, I can either chase him down and hound him until he speaks clearly, or just follow the clues he leaves behind.

I remember one day, when we were supposed to meet friends for lunch. It was in the days before cell phones and there was a mix-up at the restaurants, and we were trying to figure out whether Dale would be able to find us. I mentioned that he had taken clean clothes with him that morning, so he was probably changing at the tennis club, making it useless to leave a message on the home phone.

One of the women looked at me, agog. “Don’t you two ever talk?”

Well, not that much. I make assumptions about where he’s gone, what he’s doing, and what my next move should be, if any. Maybe I am a private investigator. A very private one.

I’ve now written three Peri mysteries (and one short), and a lot of times I feel like I’m in the weeds and don’t know why I’m not writing what I know. That’s when I remember my horrible first novel, and I go do a little research until I can move forward.

I hope this gives other writers the encouragement to take what you do know, write it into what you don’t, and stop stressing about the rest. It’s fiction, people. You don’t have to get it right. You just have to get it believable.

And if readers think that I make writing sound like it’s as unknown as most of life in general, well, it’s true. We don’t just want to tell you a story. We want to lead you through an experience.

If we knew where we were going, it wouldn’t be half as much fun.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bad books hold value

By Jenny Hilborne, author of mysteries and thrillers

Most authors I know are voracious readers. We devour books and we feel cheated when we invest time and money only to be disappointed with our investment, especially when the book came highly recommended or has a slew of favorable reviews. It's like getting bad financial advice from a once trusted source. However, there is still value in "bad" books.

My experience with books creates a change in my mood, and it's far more noticeable after I finish a disappointing book. The last few novels I read lifted me out of the blah state the previous ones dumped me into and I started to compare the difference, see what tips I could learn from each of the books, good and bad, and determine what made some books great and others forgettable. 

The most important criteria of a mystery or thriller (for me) are a complex plot, compelling motive, and intriguing characters. The books I read were penned by respectable authors and the writing itself was fine. So, was the premise of the story. The problem I had was the writer's style. 

Lots of people rave about the TV show "Bones", based on Kathy Reich's character, Temperance Brennan. I've never watched it and I'd never read any of her work until 2 months ago, when I stumbled across one of her books in a phone booth 'library' in Britain. The blurb looked good and I settled in. I finished the book, and wondered why the show was so popular. 

The mystery seemed to be an afterthought, with the author's focus on educating the reader about her subject (forensic anthropology) rather than delivering an interesting story. The reader was required to have extensive knowledge of the human anatomy to understand much of what she wrote. I felt like I'd wandered into the wrong class and was forced to listen to the tutor ramble on about her subject. The story lacked suspense and I never got a sense of the southern charm of South Carolina. Perhaps the TV show is better than the books. Reich's is not the only author to bash the reader over the head with too much subject matter. Others do it with weapons. Too much detail makes the writing dull and slows the plot. It's indigestible to the reader.

I also read Taste of Fear by Jeremy Bates. I loved his first book, White Lies. Taste of Fear is about survival and is gripping from the beginning, with action, suspense, and danger. Bates focuses on developing the story, takes the reader on an intense trip, and fills the senses with smells, sounds and tastes. I still remember what this story is about. 

I'm sure writers make the most critical readers; however, for me fiction is escapism. It's supposed to entertain. In comparing my recent reads, I note how good books engage all the senses and good authors know when to withhold information. They take the reader on a journey, but they don't hold them hostage. Fiction is a way to learn. Writers have their unique style, but reading a lot of fiction helps shape our craft and develop/improve our own style. Well read authors make better authors. They learn what works, what doesn't, and take from the best and the worst. There is value to both.