Monday, November 30, 2009

The Power of No

© Dana Stabenow 2009 all rights reserved

acolddayformurder.thumbnailThe first Kate Shugak novel, A COLD DAY FOR MURDER, was published in 1992, and there was immediate interest in Hollywood for the screenrights. Demi Moore and Kate Jackson among other actresses were said to be interested in playing Kate, and one producer offered me $60,000 to make an HBO film.

I was and am your typical self-employed writer, I live paycheck to paycheck and back then even more so, when I was making barely four figures a book with a 4 percent royalty rate (don’t ask). I like to eat, so it was a grave temptation to sell. The problem was it would also have meant selling out, because no one would even consider shooting the film in Alaska.

northern_exposureHere’s the thing. Every movie and television series you thought was shot in Alaska? Wasn’t. The Proposal? Massachusetts and Rhode Island, with like one exterior shot in Sitka. Northern Exposure? Central Washington State. The Edge? Alberta and British Columbia. Insomnia? You might have seen Hyder or Valdez, if you didn’t blink, but mostly you saw British Columbia. And so on.

I could go on, if it weren't so depressing. Alaska is notably lacking in films about Alaska. The reasons are as much economic (at that time no state film incentives) as weenie and ignorant (It’s too far! It’s too dark! It’s too cold! You can’t use American money there! You need a visa to travel there!). I understood this, but Alaska is as much a character in the Kate Shugak series as are Kate and Mutt, and I was determined that all three would have equal screen time in any film adaptation.

nevereatlunchI’ve read the books about business in Hollywood, FINAL CUT, ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE, INDECENT EXPOSURE. I know the story about how furious Joseph Wambaugh was over the first films made from his books and how he held on to the rights to THE ONION FIELD until he had enough power and money to get it made his way. I read how pissed off Tom Clancy was when Hollywood killed off Admiral Greer. I’ve heard Sue Grafton say that she has enjoined all her heirs and assigns from ever selling the screen rights to the Kinsey Millhone series because Sue started in screenwriting and she knows exactly what the business is like.

So I know that no writer can ever expect script approval or cast approval or location approval, or for the producer really even to pay any attention to them whatever after the producer has wooed and won the contract.

I did have one power, though. It was the power of No.

So I said “No,” repeatedly. I said “No” for years. I said “No” for nearly two decades. Once I said “Yes” to an Alaskan producer and actress, who couldn’t pull it off before the option lapsed because, again, they couldn’t find anyone with money who would back them to film in Alaska. So it was back to “No” again.

My agent wasn’t real happy with me.

evergreenUntil a guy named Mike Devlin, an ex-software mogul who wants to make movies came to Alaska and fell in love with it. He wanted to put Alaska up on the screen, too. To do so, he needed a local film industry, which he is going to have to build from the ground up, because we don’t have one. Fortuitously, at very nearly the same moment, the state of Alaska finally got it’s celluloid shit together and passed a film incentive law.

A film industry requires sound stages for interior shoots. Interested investors want to be assured that the sound stages will be in continuous use, i.e., productive of income in rent, before the investors write checks to finance them. Continuous use of sound stages requires a long term film project, ideally a drama series made for television. Mutual friends recommended the Kate Shugak series, and Mike started reading the books.

We met for the first time in May 2009. I’d never heard of him beyond a story written in the local newspaper, and my expectations were not high. I didn’t even think to bring a copy of the latest book with me so I could give it to him.

salmonsharkI walked into a post-production studio on a mountain in Anchorage equipped with technology so state of the art it reduces geeks to salt tears. Mike showed me footage of a boat with a high-def camera on an articulated arm capable of filming above and below the water. He had already premiered one film from Alaska, a documentary on salmon sharks called “Icy Killers,” for the National Geographic Channel. You have to really work at it to take a bad picture of Alaska, but he showed me a trailer of footage he’d shot over the past two years, and I’m here to tell you, he has raised Alaskan photography to an art form.

Mike had nothing left to prove to me, and it’s not every day a girl gets asked to help kickstart a new industry in her home state. So, this time, I said “Yes!” and we signed the contract the week before the press conference announcing the deal.

wgawSince this is a blog primarily for writers, I’ll tell you straight out that the option payment is very small. The pickup payment isn’t half of what I get for a single novel, and I won’t get that unless and until the Kate Shugak series moves from development into production. If by some miracle the series is picked up by a network, and if by another miracle it runs for more than two years, best case scenario is I earn enough to pay off my mortgage.

This is a pretty standard screenrights contract, one that might even be considered generous, because by now my power of “No!” was pretty well known and there weren’t people exactly lining up to option the series. Okay by me, I got what I wanted.

And, at Mike’s suggestion, I’ve just ordered a copy of J. Michael Straczynski’s THE COMPLETE BOOK OF SCRIPTWRITING.

About the author:

Dana Stabenow is a native of Anchorage and raised on a 75-foot fish tender in the Gulf of Alaska. She received a B.A. in journalism from the University of Alaska in 1973 and later enrolled in UAA’s MFA program and graduated in 1985 with a goal to sell a book before she went broke. According to Stabenow, she barely made it. “Second Star was bought by Ace Science Fiction in 1990. It fell with an almighty thud on the marketplace and was never heard from again. Oh dear.”

In 1991 Stabenow was offered a three-book contract for her Kate Shugak mystery series. A Cold Day for Murder had been nominated for an Edgar award and won in 1993.

For an extended bio, please visit:

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Response to "It's Over"

Response to “It’s Over.” (this piece was published a few weeks ago - read it first if you have't yet.)

Copyright 2009, aaron paul lazar

When I found you that morning in the barn – your neck encircled in that rope, all purple and swollen – you were barely breathing. If it hadn’t been for that rotten beam, you would have died, my friend. It makes me shudder just to think of the horrible possibility.

If you had been successful… I hate to think of it. Never again would we sit in your glider, admiring your beautiful flower gardens, and exploring deep thoughts that pass the time so pleasantly. My heart breaks to think of that ending.

Why didn’t you call me? Why didn’t you tell me you were sad? And why didn’t I notice when we sat and talked in front of your woodstove drinking your superb Riesling and chatting about art? I hadn’t the slightest hint of your inner demons, and you know I pride myself on being observant of human nature.

You have so much to offer the world. Your kinds eyes and gentle manner have soothed many a child. I brag about your sumptuous gardens to all my friends. You have a superb eye for photography and I know someday you’ll be world-renowned, with a coffee table book filled with amazing photographs of the wild.

But most of all, you are a writer who enthralls, thrills, comforts, and teaches. I fell in love with your characters in your first book, and it’s still my favorite. I know some day your books will line the shelves of bookstores world wide, and that they’ll fill people’s homes and hearts. That’s why I keep your books locked in ziplock bags and put them away for safety. I know they’ll be treasures in the future. It frustrates me to no end that you haven’t been “discovered” yet, at least in the best-seller realm.

I know you’ve been worried about the job hunt. I’ve been so worried that you’ll jump in a new direction that won’t support your primary role as an author. That would not be good for you, or the world. It would be a disaster! Sure, you’d be good at all those things you keep thinking up, but what you are is a writer! Now’s the time to prove that to the agents, to push like hell and get them to recognize your value! Please don’t let the job hunt interfere with your true calling.

As I sit here by your hospital bed and watch you struggle to breathe, I feel like the world’s worst failure. What could I have done to have prevented this?


PS Did I ever tell you that you're my best friend in the world?


Note: This is the response to the piece I posted a few weeks ago from the man who was literally at his rope's end. I wrote it to illustrate how communication is so often lost between two people, and how misinterpretations can lead to horrific endings. Let me know you think, below.

                                                                                                                         - Aaron


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Join me on Barry Eva's "Book and a Chat" today at 11:00 EST

Hi, Folks!

Here's hoping those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving has a wonderful holiday. We sure did - I cooked for the whole family and it was a fantastic day with my wife, mother-in-law, three daughters, the grandkids, Balto, and Toby. And yes, the food I made was exactly the same as Gus prepares in Upstaged, the second LeGarde mystery!

If you're not off shopping at the malls (LOL), please join me today (Saturday, 11-28-09) on Barry Eva's radio show "A Book and a Chat" from 11:00-11:30 EST. We'll have a lovely talk about my latest books, writing, and whatever else comes up in this friendly half hour. We'd love to have you in the audience! Just click on the link from your computer, and turn up the sound. Hope to see you there. ;o)



Sunday, Nov. 29th: 

Barry and I had a ball on his show. He's a great host. Here's the link to the podcast, if you'd like to listen at your leisure. ;o)

Listen to the Podcast



Friday, November 27, 2009

Interview with author, Pamela Samuels Young

Murder By 4 is pleased to introduce Los Angeles attorney Pamela Samuels Young, author of BUYING TIME and three other legal thrillers.

1. Please tell us a little about yourself and your writing journey.

I’m a wife, step-mother and practicing employment attorney in the Los Angeles area. When I finished law school many years ago, I developed a passion for reading legal thrillers. But I never saw women or people of color depicted as attorneys in any of the books I read. I would close the novels feeling satisfied with the story, but disappointed about the lack of diversity of the characters. One day, I decided that I would write the kind of characters that I wanted to see. In the process, I discovered my passion.

At the time, I was an associate at a large corporate law firm in downtown Los Angeles. Despite the demands of my law practice, I somehow managed to get up at four in the morning to squeeze in a couple of hours of writing before work. I wrote all weekend, in hotels, in airports, whenever and wherever I could find the time. I never really had a true passion in my life until I discovered mystery writing. I’m currently practicing law as an in-house employment attorney for a major corporation, yet I’ve still managed to publish a book a year for the last four years. Nothing short of passion made that possible.

2. Why BUYING TIME? Why this book? What prompted you to write it and what do you hope your readers will get out of it?

I was at a party chatting with a guy who mentioned that he was a viatical broker. I had never heard of the viatical industry before, and once he explained what it was, I knew immediately that it would make an excellent setting for a legal thriller. The fact that it’s actually legal to advance money to a terminally ill patient in exchange for full beneficiary right to their insurance policy once they die was amazing to me.

The viatical industry is something most people know very little about and it’s rife with opportunities for fraud and abuse. When I began scouring the internet for more information, I learned that both investors and terminally ill patients are frequent targets of viatical scams. In a matter of days, I had developed the central plot for BUYING TIME.

In addition to introducing readers to the viatical industry, BUYING TIME deals with the issue of domestic violence. I think there’s a perception that professional women are immune to it. That’s simply not the case.

3. Please share with our readers a little about the plot, the characters, the setting, of your novel.

In BUYING TIME, Waverly Sloan is a down-on-his-luck lawyer who lends a helping hand to terminally ill patients by helping them sell their insurance policies. Waverly gets a commission on every sale and the money is pouring in. But when Waverly’s clients start dying sooner than they should, he is unwittingly drawn into a murder scheme with ties to Washington.

Angela Evans is an assistant U.S. Attorney who is hoping to nail Waverly for defrauding the terminally ill. She’s unable to completely focus on the case, however, because of the drama in her own personal life. She’s weeks away from marrying a prominent judge, but soon finds herself the victim of domestic violence. She turns to her friend Dre, unaware of his dangerous sideline.

As Angela’s life continues to unravel, so does Waverly’s, and the two lawyers are soon on the run with Dre calling the shots.

4. Tell us a bit about how your protagonist, Waverly Sloan, came about.

The Waverly character came to me one day while I was driving home, which is how most of my characters originate. I swear there’s something magical about L.A. traffic, at least for me. Waverly is an average lawyer who means well, but somehow seems to repeatedly end up in trouble. I wanted the reader to root for him despite all his missteps. So I had to make sure he was a sympathetic character. His biggest problem is his desire to please his money-grubbing wife. Being married to such a diva is just one reason to feel sorry for him.

5. Please describe the greatest challenge you faced in writing BUYING TIME, why it was difficult, and how you resolved it.

The only real difficulty I faced in writing BUYING TIME was finding the time to write. I resolved the problem by using what little time I had efficiently. If I had thirty minutes while waiting in the doctor’s office, I used it. Instead of socializing on Friday and Saturday nights, I wrote. I even dictated a few chapters during my evening compute using a voice recognition software. I didn’t make excuses about not having sufficient time to write. If I had a free hour, I used it.

6. How much and/or what kind of research went into writing this book?

I read loads of books and articles on the viatical industry and also studied legal cases dealing with viatical fraud. I was completely fascinated with this industry, which is really premised upon profiting from death. I discovered many, many lawsuits involving both terminally ill people and investors who were defrauded.

The most interesting research involved my work in developing the character Dre, who is a successful drug dealer. I actually interviewed a drug dealer about his upbringing and the journey that led him into his profession. He had a really compelling personal story, which I adapted for Dre’s character. He openly shared what led him into the business, discussed the economics, the distribution channels, and even explained how crack cocaine is made.

7. What do you find the most difficult part of writing in general and what do you do to overcome it?

I love writing dialogue and it’s rather easy for me. Describing my characters, on the other hand, is almost like pulling teeth. I see them in my head, but I can’t always translate that for the reader. Personally, I prefer not to provide too many physical characteristics. I like the idea of readers using their own imagination as I do when I’m reading. But you have to work a balance. When I get stuck on what a character looks like, I will browse through magazines for interesting people or check people out in the grocery store.

8. How do you balance your time to make time for writing?

With the demands of practicing law, writing my next book and promoting my current ones, my life is extremely hectic. While it can be overwhelming at times, I love every single minute of it. I typically schedule my writing time whenever I can squeeze it in. If you look at my date book right now, you will see “writing time” written into my schedule along with my work appointments and book signing events. I have a three-day writing trip coming up that I’m really psyched about. I’m going to Palm Springs for three days of all-day writing. I write from an outline, so I know exactly where my story is going. I can probably complete 50 “first-draft” pages during a weekend trip. I write my first draft from beginning to end without doing any real editing. Once I have a solid first draft, I spend as much time as necessary revising the draft until I’m happy with the final product. That typically takes about six months.

9. What impact would you say completing BUYING TIME has had on you personally and on your writing?

Writing BUYING TIME was really a confidence builder for me. It’s my fourth legal thriller, but my first stand-alone book. My first three books, EVERY  REASONABLE DOUBT (2006), IN FIRM PURSUIT (2007)and MURDER ON THE DOWN LOW (2008) are part of my Vernetta Henderson mystery series. So when I started writing BUYING TIME, I really missed the characters from my first three novels. I knew them extremely well and they were very easy to write. Fortunately, I soon forgot about them as the BUYING TIME story line progressed. I also wrote Buying Time under very challenging circumstances. I had expected to be practicing law on a part-time basis, but that arrangement fell through. As my deadline approached for finishing the book, I really had to hunker down and get it done. I managed to do so and I’m really proud of the final product.

10. Who has been the greatest influence on you with respect to encouraging you to write and become a published author?

My husband has been extremely encouraging. He understands that writing is my passion. On the days when I’m physically exhausted, he’s the one who encourages me to just stick with it.

11. With respect to your writing, please give us some insight into your writing process. In other words, did you outline the chapters? Did you think about the plot for a while before writing it? What steps did you take before you wrote the first sentence?

I will spend anywhere from a few weeks to as long as three months outlining a book before I sit down to write. I also mull over my story quite a bit. I'm thinking about it in the shower, while I'm standing in line at the grocery store, and during my 45-minute commute to work. Even during the outlining stage, I can almost see each chapter as if it were a scene in a movie. Only after I have a completed outline do I start writing. And when I write, I go from page one to the last page without doing much editing along the way. For me, it's psychologically motivating to complete that first draft, even if it's so bad I'd never dare show it to anyone. Once I have a first draft, then the real writing starts. I revise, and revise and revise some more. That process generally takes about six months.

12. What are you working on now? What's next?

The legal thriller I’m currently working on is another Vernetta Henderson mystery and will be the fourth book in the series. It’s called ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGE. Vernetta squares off against an unscrupulous female attorney in an explosive gender discrimination case that could bring down a corporation. Just when you think Vernetta is about to prevail, her opponent Riko Yamada pulls a fast one. Vernetta is now out for blood, but before she can strike back, Riko becomes a prime suspect for murder. Assuming I can continue to keep all my balls in the air, ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGE will be released in November 2010.

13. Any words of wisdom and advice to aspiring writers?

First and foremost, Master your craft. Take the time to study writing the same way you would study any other profession. Also, read like a writer. When you read a book you enjoy, study the author’s writing style and the book’s story structure. Ask yourself why the book was a great read. One of the most helpful things I did as a new writer was outline John Grisham’s The Firm and examine the story structure. It helped me tremendously in learning how to build suspense.

Second, don’t let anyone deter you from pursuing your dream. Rejection is simply part of the publishing business. Most successful authors experienced years of rejection. So if you think you have a marketable book, don’t give up on your dream. My goal is to become a New York Times bestselling author and to eventually write full time. I recognize that few authors ever achieve that level of success. That fact doesn’t stop me from dreaming big. I feel very strongly that there’s a significant market for my legal thrillers and I’m confident that I’ll eventually break out of the pack. Until that happens, I plan to continue publishing a book a year and watching my fan base grow. My best quality is my ability to get back up after a fall. The publishing industry may knock me down, but I’ll continue to get back up again and again and again.

About the author:

Los Angeles attorney Pamela Samuels Young is the author of four legal thrillers, Murder on the Down Low, In Firm Pursuit, Every Reasonable Doubt and the just-released Buying Time. Fed up with legal thrillers which never depicted women or people of color as savvy, hotshot attorneys, Pamela decided to create her own characters. She is Managing Counsel for Labor and Employment Law for Toyota. A former journalist, Pamela serves on the Board of Directors of the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and writes a column on fiction writing for

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

November is the month where we all count our blessings. According to Wikipedia, :
“Thanksgiving Day is a harvest festival. Traditionally, it is a time to give thanks for the harvest and express gratitude in general. It is a holiday celebrated primarily in Canada and the United States. While perhaps religious in origin, Thanksgiving is now primarily identified as a secular holiday.
The date and location of the first Thanksgiving celebration is a topic of modest contention. Though the earliest attested Thanksgiving celebration was on September 8, 1565 in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida[1][2], the traditional "first Thanksgiving" is venerated as having occurred at the site of Plymouth Plantation, in 1621. The Plymouth celebration occurred early in the history in one of the original thirteen colonies that became the United States, and this celebration became an important part of the American myth by the 1800s.
Today, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of October in Canada and on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States. Thanksgiving dinner is held on this day, usually as a gathering of family members and friends.
Well, I don’t know about all that, but I know it’s my favorite holiday, and I am always thankful to be in America, in the South, and in my family on that most honored day.

I love my country, and I really love my region (especially the food at Thanksgiving!) but being in my family is the best of it all. My kids are pretty well grown now with the youngest about to depart college with an undergrad degree, the eldest about to deliver a new baby, and the two in-betweens surprising us with their very-grown-up lives.

I also thank the Pilgrims. If it weren’t for them, I would never have taken up writing. Yes, it is true, my first story was about the Pilgrims in Plymouth and how they celebrated Thanksgiving. My mother, God rest her soul, saved the whole thing and gave it to me years later when I was an adult expressing the desire to write, with the advice to remember my humble beginnings.

Boy, do I remember them! And I am very thankful as well, that my humble beginnings were about something like Thanksgiving.

I hope everyone has a great holiday!

Kim Smith is the author of the zany mystery series featuring Shannon Wallace. She has penned several contemporary romances including the recent release Love Waltzes In. You can download her work at http:///

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Nose Knows

© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

What better thing to write about today than how easily our memories can trigger our senses? Think about a wonderful holiday at home and all of a sudden, you’re there, hearing the joyous laughter filling the house and smelling whatever is cooking on the stove.

When I sat down to write chapter 18 of my second novel in the Sam Harper series, it was months away from my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, but I wanted the reader to get that “going home” feeling. I wanted them to smell the turkey roasting in the oven and the scent of nutmeg and cinnamon rising from the baked goods on the sideboard. Cooking and family get together is one thing I know—after thirty years of it, I should.

I thought about that chapter for a while and then immediately drew from my experiences--the excitement in knowing that the family is coming home and wanting everything from the food to the table decoration to be … perfect.

Okay, so back to my book …

For those who haven’t read THE DEVIL CAN WAIT, Walt Harper is Detective Sam Harper’s widowed father. Walt is also a retired homicide cop who not only likes to poke around into Sam’s cases, but is also handy in the kitchen. Readers will see much more of Sam’s relationship with his father in the first book, SILENCED CRY than in the second book, but for some reason, this scene struck a chord with many.

The scene begins early on Thanksgiving morning. Harper has four victims in the city morgue and his first stop is the lab where he reviews the forensic evidence that Carter Graves has uncovered in the case before going home.

Excerpt from Chapter 18
© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

… Harper headed north toward his father’s farmhouse, located in the small community of Litchfield thirty miles from Chandler. Only a few weeks ago, the foliage along this road had been a vibrant display of color. Now it was reduced to browns, grays and barren tree barks. An amber tint filtered through the overcast sky; a color he recognized as a sign of more snow. It was two in the afternoon and his only thought was to have no thoughts in the few hours left of this Thanksgiving Day. He was going to kick back, eat too much, have a few beers, and watch too many football games before he returned to work in the morning. His father’s two-story home was visible from between the pine trees that lined the narrow road leading to the driveway. As he nosed his black Jeep Commander into park, a familiar figure stepped out onto the porch to greet him.

“Hey Dad. Were you waiting behind the door?”

“Heard you pull up.” Walt waited for his son to walk up the front steps before giving him his usual pat on the back. “You okay?”

“Yeah. I’m fine.”

“Right. You look like crap and you’ve lost more weight.”

“I’m all right.”

“Come on, I left something simmering on the stove.”

Harper placed his duffle bag on one of the living room chairs and followed Walt into the kitchen. Since his mother’s death a few years before, Harper’s father insisted on maintaining the Thanksgiving tradition.

The aroma filling the kitchen assured Harper that he was home. Cinnamon and nutmeg lingered in the air as steam rolled off the freshly baked pumpkin pies on the counter. Next to the pies sat a container filled with Snicker Doodles, his favorite kind of sugar cookies. As far back as he could remember it had been his job to scoop the dough into inch-size balls and roll them in a mixture of sugar and powdered cinnamon. Sometimes he’d placed them too close together on the cookie sheet and they’d baked into one. Whether a solid mass or perfectly formed three-inch circles of sweetened dough, they always baked into a flat chewy cinnamon encrusted cookie he couldn’t resist.

Walt’s fifteen-pound turkey had a couple more hours of roasting to go. Harper glanced at the finely chopped celery and onions on the cutting board; the key ingredients that would go into his favorite oyster dressing. Harper’s father always complained that he couldn’t figure out his late wife’s secret ingredient for her sweet potato pie. Harper suspected it was his father’s way to finagle a compliment which Harper was glad to give. Creamed spinach, on the other hand, would need a lot of doctoring before he would try it. Still, it was a Thanksgiving staple. Everything was out on the counter, including the cranberry sauce, waiting their turn in the process of Walt Harper’s well-timed annual ritual.

“How many are you planning to feed?”

“Elaine and Bernie.”

Aunt Elaine, his father’s older sister, was a retired phone operator who had settled nicely into the official post of family meddler. Every year, she asked Harper the same question: “When are you going to find a nice girl and settle down?” Every year his reply was the same: “When I find her, you’ll be the first to know.” That seemed to satisfy her for a few weeks until her next visit. She and his Uncle Bernie were as different as any two people could be, yet they were forty years into what seemed to be a happy marriage. One of these days, he’d ask for their secret.

The chapter goes on for several more pages and ends the following morning like this:

Dawn had barely gleamed above the horizon. The smell of fresh coffee and his dad’s tinkering around in the kitchen lured Harper downstairs.

“Morning,” he said, rubbing his eyes.

“Morning – you’re up early. Sleep okay?”

“Yeah.” Harper brushed one of the kitchen curtains aside and glanced across the side yard then up at the clouds. “Temperature is supposed to drop again today.” The sight of the blue-purple hues painted over the snow-covered ground gave him a shiver. He poured himself a cup of coffee and pulled out a kitchen chair across from his father. He was seconds away from taking his first sip of the day when his cell phone rang.

“Forensics,” he told his dad when he saw the number flash across the screen. He listened, drew in a breath, and assured the technician he appreciated the call.


“Just more of the same.” He took that first drink of coffee while the words formed in his thoughts. “That fine thread holding my case together just snapped.


For me, writing what I know involves all my collective experiences, but more important is showing the things that I see, feel, smell, taste, and hear that will place the reader there in the kitchen with Walt Haprer, drinking his coffee and eating one of Sam’s (and mine) favorite Snicker Doodle cookies.

Great food and good times are the magic ingredient that go into making great family memories. Best wishes to all for a wonderful Thanksgiving!

About the author:
Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (2008), Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY Awards, Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).
SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery),
Personal site:
Character Blog:

Monday, November 23, 2009

Your First Line: The “Hook” That Gets Your Novel Off the Bookshelves and Onto the Check-out Counter

© JP O’Donnell 2009 all rights reserved


Charles Dickens could never have imagined that his first line in A TALE OF TWO CITIES would become a benchmark in the lexicon of literary fiction. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” It was also the perfect choice of words to make us want to read more. Authors, particularly those in the genre of mystery fiction, have long since recognized the critical importance of the first line. Without an attention-grabbing, knock ‘em dead first line, your novel is destined to gather dust on the shelves of the local bookshop, if it ever gets that far.

If you want to test this theory, simply observe the behavior of browsers at a bookstore. Unless they are looking for the latest effort by James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark or any of the other prominent best-selling mystery writers, they walk down the aisles slowly until a title or a book cover attracts their attention. Then they open the book and read the first line. If it grabs their interest, they read on; if not, the book is placed back on the shelf in a heartbeat.

Your first line—you have less than ten seconds to sink your hook or else the reader will move on to another option.

What is the essence of a great first line? First of all, it can’t be bland or trite. Avoid overused references to the elements or time of the year. If you choose to write about the weather, be careful. You run the risk of inviting comparisons to “It was a dark and stormy night,” (Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s classic first line from his 1830 novel, PAUL CLIFFORD) and your book won’t stand a chance. Instead, try to incorporate the mood or theme of your story. Begin to establish the background of the mystery that will unfold in the coming pages. If the weather is important to your opening scene, you’ll have plenty of time to write about it in the ensuing lines of the first chapter.

Some of the most successful mystery authors of our time are masters at writing a great first line. Consider Harlan Coben in GONE FOR GOOD: “Three days before her death, my mother told me—they weren’t her last words but they were pretty close—that my brother was still alive.” Did the narrator think that his brother was dead? The reader has to wonder why the narrator’s mother kept this secret and never told him about his brother. Certainly, more pages have to be read. A chilling first line is also found in another Harlan Coben thriller, THE WOODS: “I see my father with that shovel.” One has to keep reading to find out the significance of the shovel in his father’s hands. Is he burying something? Has he used it as a weapon? Our interest is piqued; we read on.

Or this from Jesse Kellerman in TROUBLE: “Jonah Stern heard a scream. He was walking to Times Square at two-forty five in the morning to buy new shoes.” Again, the reader asks why this person would be buying shoes at that hour of the morning. And what caused someone to scream? A brutal assault or a frightening discovery? The hook has been sunk; more pages will be turned. Notice how a brief first line can be immediately tied to a second line to create a continuous compelling thought. Be creative; let your imagination explore all of the possibilities in garnering the reader’s interest. But keep in mind that word efficiency is critical in writing a first line. Don’t be overly descriptive or your line will lose its punch. In THE MEPHISTO CLUB, Tess Gerritsen begins with, “They looked like the perfect family.” Short, but to the point. However, shades of doubt creep into our minds. We wonder what’s wrong with this family; we want to read more about them.

Agatha Christie, the most popular mystery writer of all time, considered THE MOVING FINGER as one of her best novels. She masterfully draws us into the story with a brilliant opening line: “I have often recalled the morning when the first of the anonymous letters came.” The mystery is immediately established! We ask: More than one anonymous letter? What did the letters say? Who wrote them? We can’t resist the temptation to keep reading and discover the answers.

Plato said, “The beginning is the most important part of the work.” A mystery writer, therefore, can’t spend too much time working on a first line. Don’t be surprised if you have to finish the initial draft of your manuscript before the right first line crystallizes in your mind. Sometimes it takes knowing where your story begins and how it ends in order to come up with the “hook” you need.

If you have a friend or a fellow writer who can be brutally honest about your writing, ask them to review samples of your first line. They can tell you if it delivers an impact and stimulates interest. What you’re looking for is someone to say, “That’s it! Now I want to read more.”

About the author:
JP O'Donnell is a board-certified pediatric dentist who holds graduate degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and Tufts University. He has been involved in clinical practice and dental education for more than thirty-five years. Dr. O’Donnell is an Associate Clinical Professor at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine and has lectured extensively on pediatric restorative dentistry, the management of pediatric dental trauma and dentistry for special needs individuals. "Fatal Gamble" and "Deadly Codes: A Gallagher Novel" are his first efforts in the genre of mystery fiction. He resides in the Boston area with his wife, Ronney. They have two grown children: Jonathan, an electrician in Nevada and Randi, a law student in New York. Visit .

Friday, November 20, 2009

How to Commit a Good Murder and Keep It a Mystery

© Gale Laure 2009 all rights reserved

As a murder and mystery author, I always start with a villain--a . I like mine to be a mysterious person. He or she should be realistic, and maybe even a wee bit likable. In my current murder, mystery and romance novel, I start with the murder in the first chapter. I want my readers to wonder why she is murdered. The killer enters through a locked door. Thus, I add the mystery of how the killer entered.

I add a victim who is usually a pretty nice person. Strength is something I like to see in my victims – sometimes physical and sometimes mental. I like the angle that even a tough broad or a macho man could be victimized. This adds a tiny degree of suspense for my reader. Kizzy, the main character in my murder mystery book, is a unique character. She is invulnerable at times as the reader discovers throughout the story.

I put my characters in a good location. I like to use a location that is usually a safe place or a fun place - a place you would not expect murder to happen. Kizzy was in her own home. People usually feel safe in their own homes. In my next novel, due out in 2010, the victim is in a fun place, a golf course.

To get inside the heads of my killer and my victim, I start with each one separately. I try to see, feel, think and respond just like each of them. I concentrate on the anger or the planning of the killer. Does my killer touch the doorknob? What does my killer hear, see or smell? Is my killer thrilled with this kill? This is important.

Subsequently, I go inside my victim. Does the victim feel fear, curiosity or anger? Do they feel trapped? Do they try to defend themselves? What do they see, smell or hear? All this is vital to a good story.

Next, I put my killer and victim together. How do they interact? What happens between them?

Violence is the next ingredient to stir into my murder and mystery story. I attempt to make the reader ask why this violence is occurring. I want them to question the reason for the killer’s actions. This brings in a psychological element from the reader. In my current novel, the reader understands why the murder has happened before the end of the book.

Blood is the source of life. I always add blood in my books. Blood, so rich and dark red actually stirs a passion in us. The smell of it repulses us. Whatever blood does, it causes a reaction within the human. I want my readers to react. I want them to imagine the sight, smell and even touch of the blood. There is plenty of blood in my current book.

Emotion must be blended within the pages of your murder mystery. The reader must care about the victim, the other characters and maybe even the killer. I use love, frustration, and self-doubt in my novel. My characters have a human factor that makes them doubt their actions. When a person is under a lot of stress I believe they do doubt themselves. We question ourselves. Do we find the answers?

I enjoy a little crime detective in my books. Woven within the pages of my novel are the investigators. Sometimes they are police detectives. In current novel I used two police detectives and four novices. My novices were average men. I want my readers to experience the professional knowledge of the detectives and the amateur clues of the novices.

Betwixt and between the pages of my murder mystery books, I always sprinkle a small amount of romance. Romance is the biggest mystery of all. No one ever has all the answers to love. We search for them our entire lives. I like to tug at my reader’s hearts a little with love. My current novel has five men who love the same beautiful woman, Kizzy. These men are strangers. Imagine the meeting of these five men. Would they compare love notes? Did their love for her lead to her murder? Romance and love are powerful implements for murder.

As I write my novels, I commit murder everyday. It is my life! What a wonderful thing it is to commit murder and keep it a great mystery!

About the Author:

Gale Laure is the International selling author of EVOLUTION OF A SAD WOMAN. A native Texan, she was born along the coast of Texas in an area called the Golden Triangle. Laure has resided in a small suburban town in the Houston  rea for more than twenty years with her husband and family.

As mysterious as her mystery, suspense, thriller book, Laure writes under a pseudonym. Adamant about maintaining her privacy and the privacy of her family, she keeps her identity a mystery!

With an attitude that you can do anything you set your mind to, Laure travels forward in life fulfilling all of her dreams. She credits her huge imagination and true love for research for taking her to this career decision to be an author. She also credits some special people in her life that offered her the encouragement to become a writer of mystery, romance and suspense.

Laure gained her experience for writing from her careers including owner of a business service, marketing and consulting company, owner of her own travel agency, employment in the medical field including office manager, a short time as a legal assistant, a paralegal, and employment in an insurance office and CPA's office.

Gale Laure enjoys her career and life as an author. She finds inspiration from her readers, friends and family. Laure’s hobbies include genealogical research, movies, creating stories for the children around her, involvement in her church and people watching. By watching people she obtains ideas for the characters in her books. So watch out! You may see some of your own traits in a character in her mystery, romance, and suspense thriller books. She loves the human being and everything about them, both good and bad.

Gale Laure is known for her informal Southern style of writing. Books written by Gale Laure include her current debut, mystery,suspense, thriller romance, EVOLUTION OF A SAD WOMAN. It is selling as an ebook, Kindle and as a trade softcover paperback internationally.

For more information about Gale Laure visit  (website),  (blog) or the following:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Writing Cons, Workshops, Agents, oh my!

I decided to try and make a few cons next year (at least one!) and went out on the net to find what will be available. Wow. There are more writing workshops, agent pitches, and conferences for writers and fans of books than you can ever imagine.

Here is the short list I compiled of the biggies, or ones that you may recognize.

Left Coast Crime
March 2010
Los Angeles, CA

February 2010
Boca Raton, FL

Thrillerfest V
July 2010

Killer Nashville
August 2010
Nashville TN

Magna Cum Murder
October 2010
Muncie IN

October 2010
San Francisco, CA

And that is just a sample. If you are like me, it means saving money to be able to participate in these events, so you might want to start looking at the budget NOW.

Hope to see YOU at one of these events in the coming year!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Writing Prompts

© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

Ah, the “What if.” They may not vocalize it as such, but that's exactly what runs through every writer's mind when he or she sits down to write the next book. If you're coming short on the creative side of things, read through these writing prompts.
What if …

1. … your car breaks down along a desolate country road, your cell phone is out of service, and the sign at the gas station you past half an hour ago indicated the next city is 300 miles away.

2. … you wake up tomorrow, go to work/school/etc., and discover that no one knows you, you don’t exist.

3. … you live alone and find a pool of blood in your basement.

4. … you suspect someone is slowly poisoning you.

5. … you’re having coffee at a local shop when a man shoves a package into your hands, asks for your help and then runs.

6. … you could relive the same 24 hours over.

7. … you read your obituary in the newspaper.

8. … you discover your lover is a serial killer.

9. … you meet your alter ego and don’t like what you see.

10. … someone sends you a link to YouTube of a video of you in a place you didn’t mention to anyone.

Now, consider one or more of these prompts. Write an opening paragraph and see what it sparks.

About the author:
Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.
THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (2008), Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY Awards, Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).
SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).
Personal site:
Character Blog:  

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Advice from People Who Know More Than Me

I'm out of advice today, so I'm directing you to some knowledgeable and entertaining industry folks who've said what I would say, only better:

No More Rejections - The fabulous and witty Janet Reid, super agent, tells you how to stop receiving rejections (note: if you're not familiar with Janet's style, don't click the link expecting a miraculous secret to getting published).

Why Publishing is Like Reality TV - Popular blogging agent Nathan Bransford shares what he's learned about success in writing from reality television shows (which means if you read his post, you'll get to be spared from having to watch reality TV).

Silly Things Writers (and Agents) Believe About Query Letters
- Power agent Jennifer Jackson offers up a list of superstitions that writers should overcome when sending out their queries (and gives an inside glimpse at some agent query-reading superstitions too).

And finally, a wonderful helping hand extended to the writing community...

For Christmas This Year: Your Book - Mysterious and fun no-longer-assistant editor Moonrat offers everyone with a published book the opportunity for inclusion in her holiday gift-giving suggestion list. See this post for instructions.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Using Emotions to Drive Your Next Plot
 copyright 2009, Aaron Paul Lazar

It’s over.

No longer will I hold my arms open and welcome you to my home as “friend,” waiting for your eyes to bore into me and squash me to the ground.

No longer will I seat you in my room of treasures, wondering if you’ll ever notice the soft patina of the cherry wood, or comment on the colors so carefully blended, or the subtle beauty of the cherished Oriental handed down by ancestors long lost while you gloat about your friend’s lovely homes.

No longer will I pour you a glass of my best wine–hoping it bears up under your scrutiny–and gently place it beside you while you vomit your latest accomplishment as I smile and listen and… grovel.

I hate that about myself, but I was raised to be polite. But damn it, you never stop talking.

Nor will I listen to your long list of accomplishments or acquisitions, feeling belittled and betrayed by your absence of empathy. Do you ever detect that flicker of annoyance in my eyes? That glazed-over “help me” expression?

Of course not. You don’t look at me. You hold your wine in those long brown fingers and talk about yourself while your own dark eyes glow in appreciation of your own words.

Do you ever notice how much you talk? How I sit and nod and say the appropriate things to each of your new revelations? How I try to squeeze in a sentence or two and am immediately ground under your wheels in your constant games of one-up-manship?

No longer will I be forced to bear your words responding to my latest decision to try something–anything–instead of wallowing in this land of no-one-wants-me. Never is my new-found passion the "right thing for me," the appropriate interest, the proper fit.

Yet, when I try to force you to listen by gently prodding you, kidding you, making you take notice of my latest interest–you chide me and say you’re surprised I hadn’t learned about this when I lived in Boston 30 years ago, where everyone was doing it. Your knowledge in the field is deep and well renowned. So you say. Once again, I am belittled. Once again, I plunge into an abyss of worthlessness.

When I discover an interest in working with the disabled, you frown and say I haven’t the skills. “Who would hire you? You have no experience.” You toss out your own dalliances in the field as cavalierly as you can, bragging about famous connections. No, you find fault with it all, and tell me with tongue in cheek that maybe I should try… being an author.

Damn, that stings.

I mention my newest book, a saucy expression crosses your face and you say with near distain I liked your first book better, when everyone else disagrees.

Your words seem to matter, cut deeper, than all the praise in the world. Why?

Still, I hand you signed copies of all my novels. You never offer to pay for them, even when you stop by to pick one up to give to a friend. And when I mention the price, your eyebrows shoot to the moon, as if shocked I actually would charge you, my privileged friend. So I back down and donate it, once again.

You frown at me for not being a best-selling author yet, and tell me about your friends who are. You say, “You need national coverage,” as if I haven’t been trying for years to get there, to sell a hundred thousand books in a year. You show me hardcover books with jackets and gold printing and say, “that’s how your books should appear,” as if I WANT my books forever released in trade paperback.

You show up unannounced, and expect me to stop dinner, or playtime with grandkids, or my outdoor projects, to stand and nod my head and say, “Wow,” with every new announcement, for grueling hours at a time.

Yet I call you friend. Yet I know you believe you’re doing me a favor by granting me the privilege of your experience and advice. And yet tonight, I don’t care.

Of course that’s a lie. I hate myself for being your doormat. I hate it worse than the rejection I got yesterday from Home Depot. And I hate it more than being a scientist with years of brilliant discoveries, elegant solutions, with scores of patents lining my walls. Overqualified, undervalued.

That’s me.

I care so much it woke me up tonight and made me walk outside to the barn.

When you stand at my grave, will you bow your head in a knowing fashion and say, “I knew he was fragile?”

Will you have regrets?

Or will you find another patsy to call your friend?

I’ll never send this, because it’s over. And like I said, I was raised better than that.

Sweet relief now rests in my grasp, ready to free me from the failures, but especially from you.

I snap the bristled rope in my hands, testing it to see if it will hold, and glance at the beam overhead. The swallows make unsettled noises in their nests. They probably wouldn’t hold up to your inspection either.


Okay, now let me explain. ;o)

At a recent “career conference” I took a seminar in communication entitled “The Three Deadly Sins: what not to do in a job interview.” It actually didn’t have all that much to do with job hunting, but it was a fascinating session where I bumped into dozens of past colleagues who like me, are still searching for work. It got me thinking about misinterpretations and misunderstandings, and somehow brought me to the idea of letting emotions enlarge to outlandish proportions, and using them to drive a plot.

I worried and wondered about some of the folks I met, especially those who seemed rather fragile. If I–a normally confident guy who had always seen the glass as half full–could be occasionally be reduced to someone who feels worthless during this difficult job hunting time–then what would happen to them? Armed with new intentions to stay in touch and help them along the way, my writer’s mind wandered in not-so-pleasant directions.

I pictured some without family or friends, and how hard it would be to stay upbeat if you were alone. I blended ideas of snippets heard at the conference. One fellow–a scientist–had mentioned being rejected for a job at Home Depot. My heart went out to him, because I’d just applied to Wegmans earlier that week.

Then I read S.W. Vaughn’s letter from her character, Gabriel. While it was tongue-in-cheek and totally delicious, it prompted me to want to write something in that format, especially after getting really ticked off at a guy who calls himself my friend.

I’ve also become enamored in recent times of the use of repetition in writing and played around with it a bit here.

This is what came out. Sometimes it’s fun to let your imagination run a bit rampant.

Will it turn into my next novel? I’m not sure.

(And don’t worry. I’m not holding a rope in my hands.)


Friday, November 13, 2009

Write What You Know

© James Hayman 2009 all rights reserved

That’s probably the oldest cliché ever about writing. Practically guaranteed to pop up somewhere in virtually every “How to write a terrific novel” book ever written.

But how can you write what you know when the story you want to write is a suspense thriller about a homicide cop who has to track down a sadistic psychopathic killer who kills by surgically removing the hearts of his still-living victims? That’s what I set out to do when I sat down to write my first thriller, THE CUTTING.

I’ve never been a cop. I’ve never been a heart surgeon. And I’ve never killed anything more challenging than a few zillion mosquitos who, frankly, asked for it by drawing my blood first. Yes, doing away with Anopheles quadrimaculatus as the Romans used to call them is something I do know about. But who wants to read a book about some crazed psychopathic killer of mosquitos? (Actually, given the runaway success of books that focused on things like Dust and Salt, a book about Mosquitos might do quite well. Anyway, I digress.)

Still, write what you know about still seemed like sound advice. And it is. It just shouldn’t be taken too literally. Yes, my hero in THE CUTTING is a homicide detective and no, I’ve never been one. But he’s also a human being and I’ve been one of those all my life. He’s a father. I’ve been one of those for quite a while too. He hangs out with a beautiful woman who happens to be a talented artist. Hey! So do I! Now we’re getting somewhere!

My hero in THE CUTTING, Detective Sergeant Michael McCabe, was born and raised and worked in New York City before moving to Portland Maine. Guess what? Me too. I know both towns well. And both cities are important elements in THE CUTTING. Especially Portland.

In fact, my editor at St. Martin’s Press, Charlie Spicer, said that knowledgeable and intimate way I was able to write about this very cool little city were among the key reasons he wanted to buy THE CUTTING and a second McCabe novel, also set in Portland, that will be coming out next year (tentatively titled The Chill of Night.) Write what you know about.

Anyway, you get it. You may be writing a science fiction fantasy about a character who lives on Mars or maybe even Pluto. Just base your characters on what you know of life and it will work. Allow them to see their world through your eyes and in the end they’ll be just as real as you are. I think that’s what the old cliché means.

About the author:

Like McCabe, I’m a native New Yorker. He was born in the Bronx. I was born in Brooklyn. We both grew up in the city. He dropped out of NYU Film School and joined the NYPD, rising through the ranks to become the top homicide cop at the Midtown North Precinct. I graduated from Brown and joined a major New York ad agency, rising through the ranks to become creative director on accounts like the US Army, Procter & Gamble, and Lincoln/Mercury.

We both married beautiful brunettes. McCabe’s wife, Sandy dumped him to marry a rich investment banker who had “no interest in raising other people’s children.” My wife, Jeanne, though often given good reason to leave me in the lurch, has stuck it out through thick and thin and is still my wife. She is also my best friend, my most attentive reader and a perceptive critic.

Both McCabe and I eventually left New York for Portland, Maine. I arrived in August 2001, shortly before the 9/11 attacks, in search of the right place to begin a new career as a fiction writer. He came to town a year later, to escape a dark secret in his past and to find a safe place to raise his teenage daughter, Casey.

There are other similarities between us. We both love good Scotch whiskey, old movie trivia and the New York Giants. And we both live with and love women who are talented artists. There are also quite a few differences. McCabe’s a lot braver than me. He’s a better shot. He likes boxing. He doesn’t throw up at autopsies. And he’s far more likely to take risks. McCabe’s favorite Portland bar, Tallulah’s, is, sadly, a figment of my imagination. My favorite Portland bars are all very real. You can visit our website at

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Release Day!

Today, my new story is being released. LOVE WALTZES IN.

It's about finding love after 40, and finding love in a totally unexpected place. If that sounds like something you are into, please do go and check it out!

I’ve waited a long time for this one to come out, in fact it has been in the works for almost a year, and I thank Nancy, and the others in the Forever Yours series who dreamed up their stories to contribute. I have seen several of the others in the series get great reviews and I hope to join them.

Now the hard part. Have to get out of my writing chair to go out and promote it!

Love the readers who stop by blogs and such to congratulate me and tell me they like my work. I am doing this writing thing for them. And for you!

Go to RED ROSE PUBLISHING to get your copy today!

Yay for release day!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Okay, so I wrote a book. What now?

© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

Whether we have taken formal writing courses or went the self-help route, the need to create is what nudged us forward and to heck with the sacrifices and rejections we’ve endured on the road to getting published. The problem is, during the years we studied plot and character development, imagery and all the other critical components of fiction writing, most of us neglected to consider one of the most important pieces of the puzzle—book promotions.

One misconception about book promotion is that the publisher will handle all of it. The fact is, campaigns will vary from one publisher to another, but regardless of the size of the publishing house, the bulk of the responsibility will fall squarely on the author’s shoulders.

The narrowest definition of the role of a publisher is that they make information available for public view. A reputable publisher will assign an editor to work with the author and provide copyediting, graphic design, and will initiate production – printing. In some cases the publisher will make the book available in print and in electronic media. They will also secure the legal rights of the author and purchase the ISBN.

Several months before a novel is released, the publisher will send out advanced review copies (ARC) and will continue to submit the book for reviews throughout the contracted period of time. Most publishers will spotlight their authors on their website, they may promote their books at key events that attract book sellers, will seek out interview opportunities, will submit the books to writing contests, and will make them available to the public via online bookstores such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million and other traditional bookstores. The publisher may also sell the international rights to the book (have the book translated) and assist with film rights if it comes to that.

These are the building blocks to a book’s success in today’s market, but they don’t address the issue of book promotion. That’s where you, the author, come in and take charge and the best place to start is by developing an Internet presence.

Imagine yourself standing in the middle of a 5-circle bull’s eye.

1) That inner circle is you; who you are, your experiences, and what you know. It also includes your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Anyone you come in contact with on a regular basis.

2) The next circle includes potential readers within your community who you may know, but with whom you’re not in contact with on a regular basis. It also includes people who don’t know about you or your book. The hometown advantage is on your side though. With word of mouth endorsements from those within your inner circle, local press about your book, and book signings or other events, you have a good chance to reach a portion of the population.

3) The third circle from the center includes individuals you have contact with on a professional basis. These are more than likely other authors; members of author groups and organizations where you self-promote on a regular basis.

4) The fourth circle includes people who have bought your book.

5) The outer fifth circle represents potential readers in a global market. That’s your goal -- to take your promotional campaign from your inner circle to the outer circle. The only way to get there is by having an Internet presence. It will draw readers, but more important, the publishing world demands it. The good news is that the Internet provides authors with unlimited ways to promote their books and most offer free or low cost options.

Ironically, the key to a successful promotions campaign is not to discuss your book. Instead, allow potential readers to get to know you. Through your communications, readers will acquire an interest in you and your books. Post a variety of information about yourself and your writing on several sites. Take every opportunity to expand your network of contacts. Cross promote with other authors so you can all benefit by reaching new readers on each other’s blogs. Eventually, you will gain a following. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Develop a brand identity. What makes you, you? What is it about your writing that sets you apart from other authors? Can you tie your writing to a charitable cause? What are you known for outside your writer’s life? Does your expertise have any connection with your writing? Pinpoint what it is about your story that readers seem to identify with and develop it. Include that branding in all your communications, printed material, the design of your website, blogs, etc.

Think about your strength(s) as a writer. Are you particularly good at writing dialogue, plot development, or characterization? If so, write a “how-to” article about it.

Write a piece about your writing journey; where you’ve been, what you’re doing, and where you’re going.

What’s the story behind the story? I’m always fascinated to learn the origin of story ideas.

Develop a boilerplate and tack it to the end of every article you write and add it to your e-mail signature so readers and e-mail recipients will have easy access to your website and a way to learn more about you (Scroll down to the end of this article and check out my boilerplate).

Send queries to interviewers and ask if they would be willing to send you some questions and post the interview on their site. Not sure where to find interviewers? Study fellow authors’ websites and make a note of who has interviewed them then contact those sites. Ask fellow authors if they would be willing to interview you and post it on their website, blog, or a social network you have in common. Some review sites offer interviews as well. Make sure you read and follow the sites’ submission guidelines before you contact them.

Study the interview questions you’ve received. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to write entire articles based on your responses to some of the more thought-provoking questions. Don’t stop there though. If you read an interesting interview, consider how you would answer one of the more difficult questions and develop your answer into an article.

Post links on your website to the articles you’ve written, your interviews, and reviews you’ve received that are published on other blogs or sites.

Consider the various sites you belong to. Develop an announcement about your published works mentioned above to post on these sites as well but be sure to tweak your post to fit your readership in each group.

The consequences of becoming a public figure is something most writers don’t fully consider when choosing this career path. Whether on the Internet or in person, how an author breaks out of his or her shyness will of course depend on their comfort level. But at some point the author will need to break out of that shell if he or she expects to sell books.

Regardless of your goals; to reach that small target audience within the two inner circles of your bull’s eye or to connect with a global market, make yourself accessible to the public. Remember that no one knows your story and characters better than you so who better to promote them? If you love what you do, it will show and your enthusiasm will spark a desire and spread like wildfire.

About the author:
Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (2008), Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY Awards, Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival,Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

When Characters Rebel

After you've worked with a certain group of characters for a long time (say, *cough* ten years *cough*), they tend to take on a little initiative of their own. Recently, I've started plotting the finer details of the fifth book in my House Phoenix series while I'm working with my editor on the first, and the release date draws near.

I received an interesting message the other day, and decided to share it with you. Technically, I don't have Gabriel's permission to post this -- but I'm sure he won't mind letting everyone know exactly how he feels.

FROM: gabriel_morgan
TO: sw_vaughn

Hey, Vaughn,

I hate you. I hate you with the power of a thousand fiery suns. I really, really do. I'm not usually this verbose – after all, you did kind of limit me in the vocabulary department – but I feel this needs to be said: The depths of my hatred for you cannot be contained within the boundaries of my character. Also, I am a weak fool who cannot think for himself, and I whine like a mule.

(Knock it off, Jenner. I can write my own letter.)

Anyway....where was I? Oh, right. I hate you. Have I mentioned that? It wasn't bad enough that you gave me a horrendous backstory. My father beat the crap out of me almost every day? Seriously? And I provoked him into doing it sometimes so he wouldn't beat my sister? Why in the hell would you do that to me? I mean, I'm a nice guy and everything – but Christ, how much beating is one kid supposed to take? By the way, thanks for the quick temper, too. That really helps, you know?

But the beatings didn't end there. Oh, no. You had this huge underground street fighting organization kidnap my sister and hold her for a ridiculously large ransom, and made sure the only way I could get her out was by getting the crap beat out of me. Again, and again, and again. You must really like watching me bleed, man. You are one sick puppy. You're almost as bad as Jenner.

Oh, crap. You created Jenner, too – so you're probably worse than him. No, that is not a compliment.

So all right. I get the crud kicked out of me on a regular basis. Fine. At least you let me get better at it eventually. I mean, leaving out the fact that this crazy Mendez guy wants to kill me, and the crooked cop Wolff is trying to get me put away forever, and the she-man wants me for a sex, wait, let's not leave those out. Let's add them to the endless list of reasons I hate you. Seriously, I do NOT want to sleep with Dell.

Every time you do something nice for me, you make something else worse. Way, way worse. I had nobody. Eventually you gave me a friend. For a few minutes I only had one foot in hell.

And then you made me fight him naked. NAKED. In front of a thousand people!

Come ON, man. Gimme a break, will you? On second thought, don't do that. You've already given me enough breaks. I think one of my ribs is still cracked.

Look, could you please just stop writing the series? I know what you have planned for me, and I don't like it at all. He'll probably kill me. You know that's not outside his capabilities, don't you? I mean, you made the man. You have to know what he's like. I am enjoying this immensely. Please continue to bring pain into my life.

(Jenner! Give me the damned laptop back.)

I hate you. I hope you get hit by a van like Stephen King. And while you're lying crippled in a hospital, I'm going to become a writer, and I'm going to write a series about S. W. Vaughn, who was kept in virtual slavery throughout childhood and beaten at least three times a day, and then is forced to join a troupe of medieval reenactment players as the prisoner who is tortured constantly and kept chained in a little box outside of shows. And I'll sell a hundred times more copies than you.

Love and kisses,

Gabriel Morgan

a.k.a. Angel

a.k.a. Gaijin Chump Boy

(Damn it, Shiro, you're supposed to be on my side here. Chump Boy? You really need to learn better slang...)

BROKEN ANGEL: Kicking the crap out of Gabriel Morgan from page one.

Coming soon from Lyrical Press.

Get your kicks in.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Small Independent Publishers

copyright by Deborah J Ledford

First of all, let me say what an honor this is to appear on the Murder by 4 blog. I have been a follower of this unique and insightful writers site since its inception and I truly appreciate this opportunity.

When it came to publishing my debut thriller I made the decision to go with the small independent press Second Wind Publishing. Don’t get me wrong, I tried going the big publisher route, even had an agent pitching “A” tier editors at houses for the second book in my thriller series, however I grew quite tired of waiting for others to decide when it was time to be published.

The downside is that small indie’s rely on the authors to promote their own books. Authors of Second Wind are fortunate to have an excellent promotion and PR guru, the talented novelist Pat Bertram who also hosts an excellent writers blog Bertram’s Blog, who spends endless hours touting Second Wind books. Many small houses don’t have in-house PR ability.

As for what I do to create awareness, months before the release of my debut thriller I began establishing a presence on the social sites Facebook, Goodreads and Gather. The plan is to send out personal invitations to each of my “friends” on these sites, but this will take time…a lot of time—unfortunately, time away from writing—but what better way is there than to spread the word virally?

Big publishers push their authors’ new releases quickly and with a loud bang because they only have two weeks to establish a presence for these new titles. During this short timeframe their push is to get these books on bestseller lists and pay for premium space at big box stores and on front tables in Barnes & Noble and Borders. Beyond that amount of time, sales either take off or the books are shelved with the other thousands of books, discounted, or sent back to the publisher as returns. However, small independent titles have a never-ending shelf life. These titles can be touted, for years if necessary, until the writer releases a new book.

If you’re like me, I find typos in nearly every big publisher’s books I read. Another element small independent publishers and their authors have going for them is the ability to make immediate changes in the books. Files are generated in Word for the Print Proofs, therefore irritating typos can be rectified for the next print run.

Independent Presses also tend to be more open to the latest technology. My publisher offers not only printed versions of their books, but also a PDF download, all are available for the Kindle, and many of the titles are available for virtually every Portable Entertainment Device through services such as Smashwords and Mobipocket.

The biggest advantage I found in going with a small indie is the control I have over the end product. My publisher allowed me to keep the title, cover concept, and every creative element I found imperative in order to showcase my original vision. I’ve heard horror stories from writers with big publishers who have been allowed no such control—a few even had to change their name to suit their editors. As a first-time writer, when you sign a big publisher’s contract you are essentially signing over work to a board to individuals who often have a hidden agenda. In many cases you will need to undergo a rewrite that no longer resembles your true vision. Their main goal is to sell as many copies of “your” book as possible, but it is really worth the cost to the writer’s soul?


Additional to her recently published debut novel STACCATO, Deborah J Ledford is a three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize. Her award-winning short stories appear in the print publications Arizona Literary Magazine, Forge Journal literary magazine, Twisted Dreams Magazine, AnthologyBuilder and the collections “Sweet Tea and Afternoon Tales,” two Red Coyote Press mystery anthologies, and the mystery anthology “How Not to Survive the Holidays” published by the Sisters in Crime chapter Desert Sleuths.

You can visit her on the web here: Deb's Site