Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Truth About Writers

When you envision a “writer,” what comes to mind? Do you picture the classic masters--Poe, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Salinger, Wolfe--those wild-eyed geniuses with elbow patches and threadbare sleeves, those souls who shunned societal norms to weave the stories that changed literature and lives? Or perhaps you have a more modern view of writers: Stephen King, Anne Rice, Danielle Steele, J. K. Rowling . . . those whose names appear on their book covers in larger font than their titles. In this open and digital age, we know more about the Big Novelists, it seems, than they know about themselves. Still, they remain mysterious and untouchable; just beyond the reach of the common person. They are living legends.

When it comes to popular novelists, it is easy to believe that a writer’s life is glamorous: filled with launch parties, literary hobnobbing, and crowded book signings where the hapless writer--much like a rock star--is hemmed in by hordes of swooning fans. The truth, however, is far from this glittering fantasy aspiring authors are wont to believe.

I am a writer, and I know the truth. They--the Big Ones--don’t want you to know. They hide behind their pop-culture façade, wallowing gleefully in your ignorance. But even at the risk of ostracizing myself and crushing any chance at an invitation to the Inner Circle, I’m going to share the truth with you.

Writers are vampires.

Yes, that’s right. Vampires. Writers are the Undead; the succubae; the Children of the Night. Now, before you panic, understand that vampires are people too. Just like writers. They won’t harm you. They only want to be left alone to pursue the fulfillment of their souls--wait. Vampires don’t have souls. Okay, to pursue the fulfillment of their dry internal organs.

Still don’t believe me? Consider this overwhelming evidence. . .

Conclusive proof that writers are vampires:

* Writers are creatures of the night. Ask any one of them, and they’ll tell you tales of writing into the wee hours of the morning. In fact, many celebrated writers have been quoted to the effect that night is the best time--or the only time--to write.

* Vampires survive through the intake of a single fluid: blood. Writers survive through the intake of a single fluid: coffee. Coincidence? I think not.

* Writers abhor sunlight. Why else would they refuse to accompany a group of friends to the local beach on a gorgeous sun-drenched afternoon? “I have a deadline,” they’ll say, or, “My muse is calling, and I must write now.” A likely story, indeed.

* Legend clearly states that vampires have the power to create illusion; to fool mortals into seeing something that does not exist. Novels are illusions that trick us into believing these fictitious characters are living, breathing people with histories and relationships and jobs and homes. Plainly the work of vampires.

* Writers are immortal. They live on forever in the pages of their tomes. Remember in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, when the powerful wizard Tom Riddle forced himself into existence by sealing his essence in a diary? J. K. Rowling wasn’t making that up. Hemingway is alive and well, living on some remote seashore and wondering when the old man will wash up on his beach.

There you have it. The truth about writers. If you need more proof, consider this: writers often refer to their drive to create stories as being “bitten by the writing bug.” Vampirism is spread through biting. Have you been bitten? If so, I am sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but it’s too late for you. Stay out of direct sunlight and stock up on coffee, and get used to the idea of living forever.

Hark--suddenly there is a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. Perhaps I’ve said too much.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Characters: The good, the bad and their motivations

Characters – love them or hate them – if they’re well-written, they’re bound to be memorable, and when you bump into someone who’s read the same story as you have, you may well have some lively disagreements about which characters were your favourite, or not.

As a writer, the danger lies in creating characters that exist purely as placeholders, as vehicles to tell a story. We don’t sit down and build a character that has quirks, faults or a definite personality. We don’t sit down to ask ourselves, “How does John react under pressure? Does John freak out or will he crack some joke while trying to pretend the walls aren’t peeling?”

Chances are good that if John’s the kind of guy who starts making flippant comments while escaping being eaten by a seven-foot-two werewolf, he’s going to make for far more interesting reading than the John who merely screams and runs.

But what if John, our protagonist, isn’t actually the good guy? As a writer of mainly urban fantasy and horror, I am sick unto death of “good” guys playing the lead roles. What if John’s actually a werewolf hunter and the wolves are peace-lovin’ hippies trying to save the planet from evil corporates intent on chopping down the rainforests?

Now I’m telling the story from John’s point of view and, although I know he’s really the bad guy, I’m subverting my readers’ loyalties by making them care about John and his goals: to rid earth of those darn pesky werewolves that are annoying John’s employers.

In my mind this is already much more interesting than the standard Hollywood fare of some self-righteous good bloke going off to hunt himself some evil slavering wolves, because, well, we all know they’re evil, right? So, they deserve to be hunted down.

The best part, for me, will be the twist at the end of my story. Instead of John meeting and skinning his arch-nemesis in a great big showdown, involving sprays of blood and liberal scatterings of blown-off limbs, what if he realises he has been the bad guy, all along? What if he shows some real remorse?

What, if instead of having an epic battle, he falls in love with his enemy, the head honcho of the werewolves being some gorgeous chick, who happens to get John to turn the tide on the big corporates. Now, John faces a dilemma. Man, he’s used to driving that snazzy SUV courtesy of AcmeCorp. He likes living in his penthouse suite with a view over Central Park. But he also wants to experience the full benefits of true romance with some hot lovin’ on the side.

Is John prepared to give up the car, the penthouse and possibly his life, for love?

See how a standard shoot-em-up has changed from a linear plot to something that does a 180º turnaround? The best part for me, as a writer, will be making my readers shift their loyalties from John-as-he-was: the ultra-cool monster hunter, to John-as-he-becomes: the ultra-cool “I’m going to take on the big corporates against overwhelming odds”. I’ll write the story so that readers’ perceptions shift and, by the end of the story, they’ll be cheering on the guys they thought of as the bad guys at the opening of the novel.

Bad or good is a matter of perspective. A clever writer will know how to manipulate the stereotypes and turn them on their heads. Remember while reading Lord of the Rings for the first time you thought the ominous ranger-type, Strider, could be bad news? Only later do we realise he’s Gondor’s king, in disguise. I’m sure you can think up a few examples similar to this, that are near and dear to your heart.

My challenge to you, as a writer, is to go back to your story, and ask yourself whether you’re following a bog-standard Hollywood cliché or whether your are creating three-dimensional characters who are a little bad, a little good but a helluva lot of interesting.

Nerine Dorman is a Cape Town-based author of mainly fantasy and horror fiction. At present she works as a sub-editor at a newspaper publisher and often has travel-related editorial printed in a leading travel publication. She lives on the borders of a national park and regularly fends off baboons armed only with a broomstick. She has recently sold her first novel to Lyrical Press, Inc. and has had her short fiction published in Something Wicked magazine, with sales to other publishers.

Website: www.nerinedorman.com
Blog: http://nerinedorman.livejournal.com
Facebook: Nerine Dorman

Friday, March 27, 2009

Is Hardboiled Fiction Dead?

© John Knoerle, 2009 all rights reserved

My new novel “A Pure Double Cross” is my first venture into the dark world of hardboiled fiction. I was surprised to find few websites devoted to this field when I searched the web. I talked to my fellow mystery writer Stephen Smoke about this. He didn’t share my surprise. “Hardboiled fiction is really a dead genre,” he said.

Hardboiled fiction, dead? How can such a classic part of the American cannon, that gave birth to the films noir and a thousand trenchcoat-clad, fedora-wearing private dicks, be DEAD??

Perhaps Stephen is right. Of all the popular mystery writers working today I can’t really cite one who carries the torch, though Robert B. Parker did a bang-up job of completing Raymond Chandler’s last novel “Poodle Springs.”

Perhaps modern authors feel that all the great lines have already been written.

Top Ten Hardboiled Lines

10 – “The yellow-haired cutie shivered against me like a cat coughing
lamb chops."

- Robert Bellem, from the novel “Death's Passport”

9 – “It didn't cut enough ice to keep a louse in cold storage."

- Sapper, from the novel “The Return of Bulldog Drummond”

8 - “The cat’s in the bag, and the bag’s in the river."

- Tony Curtis, in the film “Sweet Smell of Success”

7 - “She was a charming middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud. I gave her a drink. She was a gal who'd take a drink, if she had to knock you down to get the bottle."

-- Dick Powell, in the film “Murder My Sweet”

6 - “He staggered into my office, leaned against the door, then keeled over
on his face. He should have. He was dead."

- Humphrey Bogart, in the radio version of “The Maltese Falcon”

5 - “I felt lousy. I felt like an amputated leg."

- Raymond Chandler, from the short story “Trouble Is My Business”

4 - “I hear you're a real boy scout who helps old ladies into oncoming
traffic. Downstate they're not so nice. They say you wear rubber
pockets to steal soup."

- Jack Webb, in the film “Pete Kelly's Blues”

3 - “I don't pray. Kneeling bags my nylons"

- Jan Sterling, in the film “Ace In the Hole”

2 - “Why don't we go somewhere and discuss this over a couple of ice cubes?"

“Imagine you needing ice cubes."

- Audrey Totter and Robert Montgomery, in the film “Lady in the Lake”

1 - “Because you never can tell when life, or some mysterious force, is going to put the finger on you for no good reason at all."

- Tom Neal, in the film “Detour”

Of course the greatest hardboiled dialogue sequence of all time was written by Raymond Chandler for the film “Double Indemnity,” starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.

Walter: I wish you'd tell me what's engraved on that anklet.
Phyllis: Just my name.
Walter: As for instance?
Phyllis: Phyllis.
Walter: Phyllis, huh. I think I like that.
Phyllis: But you're not sure.
Walter: I'd have to drive it around the block a couple of times.
Phyllis: Mr. Neff, why don't you drop by tomorrow evening around 8:30? He'll be in then.
Walter: Who?
Phyllis: My husband. You were anxious to talk to him, weren't you?
Walter: Yeah, I was. But I'm sort of getting over the idea, if you know what I mean.
Phyllis: There's a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff, 45 miles an hour.
Walter: How fast was I going, Officer?
Phyllis: I'd say around 90.
Walter: Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket.
Phyllis: Suppose I let you off with a warning this time.
Walter: Suppose it doesn't take.
Phyllis: Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.
Walter: Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.
Phyllis: Suppose you try putting it on my husband's shoulder.
Walter: That tears it. 8:30 tomorrow evening, then.
Phyllis: That's what I suggested.
Walter: You'll be here too?
Phyllis: I guess so. I usually am.
Walter: Same chair, same perfume, same anklet?
Phyllis: I wonder if I know what you mean.
Walter: I wonder if you wonder.

Dead, my foot. Writing that good is eternal.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John Knoerle’s first novel, “Crystal Meth Cowboys,” was optioned by Fox for a TV series. His second novel, “The Violin Player,” won the Mayhaven Award for Fiction. His new novel, “A Pure Double Cross,” is Book One of the American Spy Trilogy. John lives with his wife in Chicago. You can learn more about John Knoerle at http://www.bluesteelpress.com/.

ABOUT THE BOOK: Cleveland, Ohio, 1945. Hal Schroeder returns from a two-year stint behind German lines as an undercover agent for the OSS. The horrors of war have left him bitter and cynical. He is recruited by the FBI to infiltrate a local mob that is pulling bank heists. The feds have concocted a sting operation to capture the head of the gang and they want Hal to execute it. He agrees. But Hal Schroeder is no longer interested in being a hero. Hal Schroeder is interested in a fat payday.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Free Book on Writing

Many years ago, I went to my first ever writing seminar. It was called "Writing the Breakout Novel", and it was run by a literary agent named Donald Maass. My experience there represented a major turning point in my own writing - because, even though I wasn't ready for the big time then, I learned some things that allowed me to improve my craft by leaps and bounds.

Now I'm represented by Cameron McClure with the Donald Maass agency, and I have to give some of the credit for getting me here to that seminar. Don's writing advice is fantastic. And the good news is, he's giving some of it away for free.

You can download a copy of The Career Novelist by Donald Maass here.

I also highly recommend that every writer check out Don's books "Writing the Breakout Novel" and the companion "Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook." You'll learn so much about writing, your head might just explode. :-)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Writers and Jobs: Where Have You Worked?

Part of what shapes us as people (and writers) is our experience. A diversity of experience can be a great benefit to writing, and for most people, jobs are a large subset of experience. There are basically two camps of experience when it comes to jobs: either you've worked at one or two jobs for long periods of time, giving you extensive experience in a particular field; or you've worked many jobs for shorter periods of time, giving you a shotgun variety of experience in small doses.

I happen to fall into the latter camp. My "working" career hasn't exactly been stable or steady. Writing has been my only constant. I have moved jobs many, many times over the years, always believing that some day I'd find the best "fit" for me and never quite getting there. But regardless of the instability of my working life, I believe my experiences have at least benefitted my writing (because they certainly haven't benefitted my finances :-).

Some of the jobs I've held include:

* Department secretary for a Student Services office at a community college (an internship which led to a full-time job at a department that was dissolved after I'd been there less than a year).

* "Paid" volunteer for Americorps (we received a $100/week stipend for 45+ hours of work), which included working with the Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, various women's shelters and programs for troubled kids, and other community service projects.

* McDonalds employee - from regular crew person to trainer to manager and back to crew, over the space of 10 years and a number of stints in two different restaurants that ranged from a few weeks to the longest at 2 years.

* Parking lot attendant - a gig that consisted mostly of sitting in a booth, waiting for the shuttles to the stadium to show up so I could use my little clicker to count all the people getting on and off the bus.

* Newspaper layout assistant, a job from which I was fired for being too creative.

* Temporary agent employee, where I was sent on exactly two week-long assignments: one running insert fillers at a newspaper plant, and one performing quality control at a glass bottle manufacturer.

* Fed-Ex (formerly RPS) SWAKer and unloader: no, it doesn't stand for what you think. My job was to Scan, Weigh And Key packages as they came off the truck, which involved scanning a bar code and punching in a destination zip code. When there weren't any coded trucks to scan, I unloaded instead, which involved climbing around in the back of a truck and putting boxes on a conveyor belt. This job won the award for most unusual hours - my shift ran from 2 a.m. to anywhere between 7 and 9 a.m., whenever we finished unloading all the late trucks for the day.

* Gas station cashier/attendant: running a cash register at a gas station. The biggest problem here? Trying to go to the bathroom when you're the only employee on the premises, and the restroom is outside the building and requires a key.

* Freelance writer/editor/copywriter: another unreliable staple I've worked at for several years. Sometimes there's work, sometimes there isn't.

* Waitress - this one lasted about three weeks, or until I figured out that making four bucks an hour plus tips averaged out to less than minimum wage when you couldn't remember which tables you were supposed to serve, and your customers got a little agitated when they didn't get their food, and therefore failed to tip you.

How about you . . . where have you worked, and how has that experience contributed to your writing?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

But She Wears a Size Eight: What Writers Will Do for Research

My husband will be the first to tell you I’m not an outdoorsy girl. Sure, I live in Colorado, and I love the sunshine but day hiker and overnight camper I am definitely not. . . unless there’s a story afoot. If that’s the case, I’ll drag my hubby through the underbrush in Maine. Literally. I did. . . drag him through the underbrush in Maine. And he’s quite pleased to remind me of that fact if I complain about the mosquitoes in our backyard.

When a story is brewing in my brain, I become obsessed. I want to walk in the main character’s footsteps, suffer her trials, and understand her motives. An author owes it to the reader to be familiar with the setting and activities featured in the novel. Traveling might be necessary. Fortunately, now that air travel is so tedious, the experience always scores a point or two under the stressful life events column of an author’s repertoire. Pursuing new hobbies may be enlightening. My recent favorite endeavor was learning to fire a pistol. After taking a series of shooting and personal protection classes, I feel prepared for real life as well as literary challenges.

If “being there” simply is not possible, befriend experts. The Internet opens up endless possibilities. There’s a forum for just about everything - custom cars, knitting, smelting, pinochle, demolition – and the people who frequent these forums are more than happy to take the hand of a timid newbie and show her the ropes. I am especially grateful to nameless individuals who have shared stories of experiences I hope I never have to endure, revealing painful details made possible only by the anonymity of the Internet. For my latest manuscript, I spent one day reading stories of uncensored tragedies, one day writing, and the following three days recovering from the intense emotions.

Still, most of the time writing research is just plain fun. If I need to hunt for a body in the backwoods of Maine, then I roll up my sleeves and get to it. Damn the mosquitoes, full speed ahead. When I emerge, I feel like I’ve walked in the protagonist’s shoes for a few miles; I understand her better. And it’s worth it. Such an activity conquers even the most stubborn case of writer’s block, and the story flows more naturally. . . even if my feet are sore.


Meira Pentermann is the author of Firefly Beach, a paranormal cozy mystery, now available from Lyrical Press. http://www.lyricalpress.com/firefly_beach

Dialog Advances the Story

The following is reprinted from "Martha Alderson's Blockbuster Plots for Writers Plot Tips eZine."

We writers communicate in both obvious and subtle ways. Our characters do, too.

Writing a story often comes in drafts. Each draft/layer is determined by your own personal writing preference. Some writers write their entire first draft in dramatic action. Character emotional development comes later. Meaning comes later still. Others begin with character. Still others start with dialog. First draft has little action. Little character emotional development. Terrific dialog.

Well, some of the first draft dialog is terrific. In other places, the dialog serves as a place to dump information. With dialog, especially in the first quarter of the story, less is more. Only tell as much as needed to inform that particular scene. Leave the info dumping for later (or better yet, forgo it all together).

By less dialog, I mean less in terms of how much each character says at a time. Lots of short and specific dialog back and forth in rapid succession, keeps the pages turning and draws the reader deeper into the heart of the story world itself.

Dialog is a gift. At its best, dialog communicates to the reader the character's interior world, their thoughts and dreams, how they lie to themselves, to others, their beliefs, patience level, expertise, intelligence. At the same, great dialog advances the dramatic action plot.

The Dramatic Action plot is the external movement that allows the character to show who they truly are, first to the reader, then to themselves and then on a trajectory for character emotional transformation. Rather than random movements, the Dramatic Action plot works best if wrapped around the protagonist's well-defined goal. Dramatic action plays out in scene. Dialog comes from the dramatic action and unfolds moment-by-moment.

Think of dialog between two characters like two ships passing in the night. Each speaker has their own agenda, their own reason to converse. The characters' words lap up against each other. Often their words have little effect. Sometimes their words throw the other completely off route.

To create conflict on a secondary level, use the character's individual goals to help define their point of view in dialog. When each character comes to the conversation with something to prove or accomplish, the story moves forward. (And, sprinkle the dialog with authentic details and word use that reflects the time and setting.

Friday, March 20, 2009

How To Build a Better Beating

Based on Teel James Glenn's book “Them’s Fightin’ Words!”

(published by epress-Online.com)

© Teel James Glenn 2009 All rights reserved

Since the first storyteller sat around a campfire spinning tales of gods and heroes it has been a given that a little action makes a mildly interesting story into a real grabber. Put your hero or heroine in physical jeopardy and you can have a winner. Conflict is the key and physical conflict, i.e., a fight, is often the answer.

It is not the only answer, to be sure, and emotional conflict is the essence of real drama, but the line where drama ends and adventure or melodrama begins is an iffy one. If the level of your drama is high, if the characters are convincing and readers care about what happens to them then you can get a frenzy of worry out of readers by having a villain try to club our hero. Or shoot him or…you get the idea.

Since the fight has to serve the purpose of the story you must use the same criteria as any journalistic or dramatic story. Ask yourself, ‘is this fight necessary?’ If it is, then follow these old, tried and true six questions: Why, Who, How, Where, What and When? Why?

Why is this fight the solution to this moment of the story, instead of a dialogue scene? Being clear about the purpose the fight in the story is paramount. After all, Shakespeare put the fight at the end of Hamlet for two very strong reasons. It was the dramatic climax that brought together several plot threads, and it was used as a device to reveal the true personalities of the major participants: Laertes regrets using the poison, Hamlet is proud of his swordsmanship, Claudius reveals his cowardice etc. In fact the action scenes in all of Shakespeare’s plays are calculated (often as ‘wake up and pay attention moments’) and never just attached without a specific purpose. When using action in prose the same care has to be taken.

There are four chief reasons to have a fight in a story, though often a fight (or action scene) can and should serve more than one of these reasons.

1: To amaze or confuse a character

2: To scare a character

3: To conceal/reveal some plot point within the smoke and mirrors of an action scene

4. To reveal or accentuate a character trait

Who is involved in the action; the principal? A secondary character? If so, what is their stake in the confrontation (their personal why)?

How did the fight come about? How does it end? And in what state are the participants when it is all over? Will there be lingering effects? And will the effects be physical or mental or both? There is also the mechanical how of a fight; that is, how to plan it out. You can’t build a house without a plan and just as you would plan out a book or story by making an outline, you must do the same thing with the ‘story’ of a fight.

One thing to do in building the fight is to put in a ‘kick the dog moment’, by which I mean, give your bad guys an action that makes it clear they are not just misunderstood. Let them ‘kick’ the metaphorical dog in the room, hurt an innocent with no remorse. I once saw a western where in the opening scene, Leo Gordon, a true old time bad guy actor was riding into town and a little boy’s dog barked at his horse—so he shot the dog with no compunction! You sure as heck know I waited the whole movie to see him get his (he did), just like every other patron

Where does the action take place? Is it an interesting enough place, i.e. a kitchen, a garage, a spaceship port? What makes that place of particular interest? Does it add color to the story, or is it just a drab background, a diorama in front of which the action takes place?

What is involved, physically in the fight? A sword fight; if so, what style? Or styles. Do they use the objects at hand or did they bring the ‘death dealers’ with them. Jackie Chan movies are especially good at finding clever things to do with found objects in action scenes—you don’t have to be ‘clever’ funny but you should be clever smart.

When is it appropriate to have a fight instead of a non-physical solution? I know I keep stressing this, but that cuts to the heart of the situation of many literature snobs who will not deal with any ‘action’ because they feel it cheapens the purpose of a story


Flavors of violence and the ‘ouch’ factor:
Fights, like dramatic styles, come in a variety of flavors, each suited to the overall tone of the story.

A grim, down and dirty knife fight might be fine for a thriller, but wrong for a romantic comedy.

Once you understand that it hurts, you can think about the ‘ouch factor’: that is, how much damage and how much recovery time.

Seems a no-brainer, but once you’ve determined your moment of humanity for your character you must determine just how real you want the fight to be—remember, The Three Stooges get a saw cut on the head and recover in the next scene, but when Athos is wounded in the shoulder in The Three Musketeers it bothers him for a number of chapters. In between is the level of ‘reality’ for your story.

This is where the flavors come in— how you balance these elements: how real, how much pain, and to what end the action in the scene in the story determine if the fight is farce or frightening

So how does it break down—what makes a fight funny or scary or realistic? Anything that makes a dialogue scene any of those funny or scary.

1. When painting students are learning their art they are instructed to copy the paintings of a great master, stroke for stroke and it is considered perfectly okay. No legal hassles at all. Okay, now that you’ve read the stories, or story, you have a big task ahead: rewrite it. That’s right, take Conan or Tarzan or whomever and the general situation of the scene and –without peeking –write your version of it. Then put it aside for a day or so before going back to compare them. It doesn’t matter if you unconsciously copied some phrases or exact actions, it is bound to happen, it is the idea that you can achieve some of the energy or flow of the story—and who knows, you might improve on it. Could happen!

2. What is the appropriate level of you character’s skill?

The choices extend beyond purpose and tone for a fight, it must also be appropriate to the time, place and character.

A certain amount of credibility with your reader is purchased from their imaginations with the preconceptions of what they expect verses what is credible or possible.

Let’s define “martial art.” Martial art is the process by which one person seeks to do damage or control another physically. It knows no geographic barrier even though most of the time when someone says martial arts they really mean ‘eastern” or “oriental".

Martial arts also have points of origin: you can’t have a Bowie knife fight before 1827 because the indomitable Jim Bowie hadn’t ‘invented’ it (or perfected his brother’s invention—whichever version you believe). And fighting with a Bowie is significantly different than fighting with other knives, or swords, because while it shares characteristics of both, it is its own ‘beast.’ The original Bowie knife really looks more like a short sword with a clipped point and sports a brass filet on the back of the thick blade for the express purpose of ‘catching’ an opponent’s cutting edge for a split second. It has a ‘clipped point’ so that one can cut upward or downward and the clip can tear outward from any wound it is thrust into. Bowie is supposed to have fought a number of duels against swords with his knife and won every one.

Thus you see how important to the believability of the story it is to get the How or with what you characters fight. Those factors and their attitude to the action are all great means to understand who they are and how they fit into the mosaic of the story’s world.

About our guest, Teel James Glen:

I’m a native of Brooklyn though I’ve traveled the world for thirty years as a Stuntman/ Fight choreographer/ Swordmaster, Jouster, Book Illustrator, Storyteller, Bodyguard and Actor. I’ve been lucky to study under the head of the Seoul Military Academy and Errol Flynn’s last stunt double and feel obligated to ‘pass that on’. I was head instructor at the Hollywood Stunts professional stunt-training center in New York and teach stage sword privately.

My greatest achievement however, is my awesome daughter Aislin Rose who is well spoken indeed.

I’ve had stories and articles printed in scores of magazines from Mad to Black Belt and Fantasy Tales and a number of books published: four in the Altiva fantasy saga: Tales of a Warrior Priest (an anthology), and Death at Dragonthroat, The Daemonhold Curse and Sister Warrior are available from ePress-Onlne as well as the mysteries A Hex of Shadows(09), Knight Errant :Death and Life at the Faire , The fantasy Queen Morgana and the Ren Fairies and the science fiction Vision Quest Factor. I also have the non fiction book on the craft Them’s Fightin’ Words: A Writers Guide to Writing Fight Scenes from the same publisher.

Bayou Sinistre is due out from Oman-Spirit publishing in 09. Whiskey Creek Press is The Exceptionals Science Fiction Adventure series :#1 The Measure of a Man, #2 Across the Wasteland. And #3 On the Good Ship Caligula (09

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How To Prepare For a Radio Show

Last year I started up the Blog Talk Radio show, Introducing WRITERS! I have had some guests who were old hands at radio and didn’t have a nerve problem at all. Then again, I have had newbies who were so nervous they couldn’t even make the show. This made me think maybe I could do a post on some things to prepare for this particular promotion opportunity.

One thing to remember, the more prepared the host is, the better your show will go. I always ask the guest to send me their author name, title, publisher, and a little blurb so that I can effectively introduce them on the show. In May, I will begin requesting the book, also. I figure that is probably one of the most important things I can do for my guest, is to read what they have written. We can have great interesting conversations about situations in the book when we both know about them.

Also, an online show is so easy breezy. You just call into a number and chat with the host(ess). It’s like sitting chatting with a friend on the phone. You can do it in your jammies if you want to. How fun is that?

My guests have said that I am a very good hostess and easy to talk to. That is important! I would not be comfortable if my guest was sitting in dead air waiting on me to keep the conversation going. It is a lot of give and take, and both parties should be actively involved. Come to the table prepared to tell the best parts about the writing life, and your work in specific. You never know who is listening!

I hope this has helped you prepare for a show. Now I hope you will contact me about being on mine! My stats are awesome, with over 2000 profile views, and over 1300 listens by fans and friends. The future is looking quite bright and we are having a ball over at Blog Talk Radio. Come and be a part of it!

Go here for the Official Introducing WRITERS! webpage and the show site page is here: BTR SITE
Come and be a part of it!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It's All In the Network

© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

Does the word “book promotion” conjure up the image of the Fuller Brush Salesman knocking on doors to sell his goods? Book promotions isn’t a task that everyone has a knack for doing well, nor is it something most writers enjoy doing at all. However, whether a writer realizes it or not, the ease to self-promotion depends on what he or she does right now that will be of benefit to them in the future—networking.

You network every time you blog, answer an e-mail, join in on an online discussion, or post a comment. Networking doesn’t mean getting into the reader’s face with a sales pitch. It’s a matter of getting involved as much as time allows. Anyone who has followed my posts around the net knows how often I’ve stressed the value of networking and sharing your knowledge.

I’m going to take the next several weeks to concentrate on writing the third book in the series and thus won’t be actively blogging outside of MB4 for a while, but I do want to share a couple of examples that reflect the beauty of networking.

A few weeks ago, we featured Jean Henry Mead here on Murder By 4. She in turn graciously invited me to answer a few interview questions and asked me to write a brief article for her blog, Mysterious People.

You’ll find the recent interview here: http://mysteriouspeople.blogspot.com/2009/03/conversation-with-marta-stephens.html and the article here: http://mysteriouspeople.blogspot.com/2009/03/key-to-success-isnt-luck.html. As you can imagine, I was thrilled to have this unexpected opportunity to reach a new set of readers.

Another unexpected surprise came from Mayra Calvani. Many of you follow Mayra's blogs and have read her articles and comments here on Murder By 4 and elsewhere. Recently, Mayra read a review of my second novel, “The Devil Can Wait” and asked if she could review it. This week, I was delighted to receive her review of “Silenced Cry” instead. You’ll find it here: http://www.bloggernews.net/120102. Mayra indicated that she would also like to a review “The Devil Can Wait” and offered to follow up with an interview. I’m ecstatic!

Okay, so I'm self-promoting, but these are just two great examples of the beauty of networking with other writers. These opportunities came my way because of a past “working” relationship with Jean and Mayra and that’s what networking is all about.

Everyone needs help promoting their books, but more important, networking is a chance to become acquainted with others in the publishing business--learn a thing or two in the process and pass that knowledge on to others. For a first time published author, this will be key to getting your name out there.

Networking may seem like a slow process, but give it time and it will work for you too.

* * *

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 (November 3, 2008)

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

Visit the charcter blog for Sam Harper at

Monday, March 16, 2009

Books Don’t Sell Themselves

I need to stress to all authors that books don’t sell themselves. If you’re tracking your sales on Amazon, or on sales reports from you publisher, you’re realizing that now.

You’re published, and that’s a heady feeling, but now you need to be working just as hard on selling them and yourself as you did on the writing and editing. You’re not done. I realize that everyone has another life aside from your writing. I also realize you want to use your spare time to continue writing. If you’re not putting any effort into promoting yourself and gaining name recognition, where is your market? Your reader base? Without a reader base, what’s the point of all the work involved in writing and publishing that writing?

A few questions to consider: Do you have your website up? Are you blogging? Are you utilizing many of the Internet options, social networks such as Facebook, Gather, Twitter, MySpace, and a host of others? In other words, are you building an Internet presence? You also need to physically make yourself known as an author. Are you contacting people locally? Local bookstores, libraries, local author groups, book clubs, newspapers, and radio to publicize yourself as an author and your book? Locally, you have an ‘in’. Use it.

Traditional publishers expect their authors to spend at least three months prior to publication and two or more months after publication on book publicity and promotion. If you’re published with a smaller independent press or POD press, it’s even more vital to be working to promote yourself as an author and a person. In other words, name recognition. Notice I didn’t say a book. The intent is to draw readers to you. You cannot accomplish that by beating them over the head with a book. As an author you are more than a book. People, as a rule, don’t like a hard sell. You want to draw readers to all the work you’ve created. Each successful sale of your newest release can create an interest in your backlist and anticipation for your next book.

I won’t kid you; promotion requires commitment and a lot of time. You need to be organized and set aside blocks of time to do this. It also means stepping out of your comfort zone to do it. Bottom line here is this is your business, your product that is debuting. Your books/product will only be as good as the effort after the writing to get attention for you and your books. Keep that in mind.

Even if bookstores do carry your books, what separates you from all the other authors out there? You need name recognition and a reader base. You have to build that with well-crafted stories and advertising yourself.

* * *

About our guest
I'm married to a spitzy Italian. We have a ranch out beyond the back 40 where I raise kids, dogs, horses, cats, and have been known to raise a bit of hell, now and then. I have a good sense of humor and am an observer of life and a bit of a philosopher. I see the nuances—they intrigue me.I’m a Marketing Rep by profession and a creative writer. I have written several mainstream Romance novels one of which I’ve out on a partial request. I’ve written and published various articles on Promotion and Publicity, Marketing, Writing, and the Publishing industry.Aside from conducting various writing discussions and doing numerous guest blogging engagements, I write a blog, Over Coffee, http://siamckye.blogspot.com/ Each week I promote and share authors’ stories, on the laughter, glitches, triumphs, and fun that writers and authors face in pursuit of their ambition to write—Over Coffee.

Friday, March 13, 2009

How Do You Build A Character?

© Don Bruns 2009 all rights reserved

I love a good character, don't you? I mean, you can forget a plot, forget a story line, but a good character like Chili Palmer in Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty and Be Cool stays with you. And I suppose everyone has a different way of creating their characters. I had a unique experience on an airplane several months ago and can't wait to tell this story and flesh-out this character.

I was sitting in business class when a priest walked on the plane. (No, there was no rabbi nor is this a joke of any kind.) He was dressed in black, complete with collar, and he appeared to be in his middle sixties, white fringes of hair around his ears but bald on top. He was speaking in a loud voice on his cell phone and barking at someone on the other end. Something like, "I don't care what the cardinal said. It's my parish and it will be done my way..."
Everyone who heard him glanced up, most of them frowning. I pitied the person he sat next to. It turns out it was me.

So, I prepared myself for an onslaught of complaints and tough talk from the man. Instead, he sat down, flipped off the phone, put his head back and slept for the entire two hour flight to Baltimore.

During the flight I pulled out my laptop, wrote two chapters to BAHAMA BURNOUT and ended up killing two people. As the plane touched ground in Maryland, the priest opened his eyes, looked at me and said "And what do you do?"

"I write murder mysteries," I replied. "I actually killed a couple of people in the last two hours."

He didn't smile, just stared at me with cold brown eyes. As we arrived at the gate he reached up, pulled down his carryon and started walking off the plane.

"Murder mysteries?" He gave me a hard look.

"Murder mysteries," I repeated.

"I've got a bishop I'd like to talk to you about." He spun around and walked off the plane.

The first thing I thought about was how I could use that character. Gruff, full of himself, pompous, and then I thought about the plot. What if a writer was on a plane and sat next to this priest and all of what happened to me, happened to the writer? And the next morning the Baltimore Sun headlined a story that says "Local Bishop Gunned Down."

It's a great story and he'd make a great character. I wonder if he'd even know it was about him?

Don Bruns is a musician, songwriter, advertising executive and award-winning novelist.Bruns is the author of JAMAICA BLUE, BARBADOS HEAT, SOUTH BEACH SHAKEDOWN, ST. BARTS BREAKDOWN and the new BAHAMA BURNOUT, a mystery series featuring rock and roll journalist Mick Sever. Bruns is also the author of STUFF TO DIE FOR AND STUFF DREAMS ARE MADE OF.Bruns has also authored several short stories and served as editor of the anthology, A MERRY BAND OF MURDERERS, which reached #5 on the Independent Mystery Bestsellers List in 2006.

He is also a frequent contributor to The Little Blog of Murder.A former road musician who traveled and performed throughout the US with major entertainment acts, Don Bruns recently released a CD of original songs called Last Flight Out, and performed two original songs at the 2004 Edgar Awards ceremonies. Bruns divides his time between Ohio and South Florida.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Zen in Writing and Spring

Copyright by Kim Smith

I've been on a virtual book tour for a long time now—the whole month of February. Today, I was home for a bit and I stood in my front yard and looked at a now-budding tree, and at a cardinal who flew up and peered down at me before flitting off again. There is something so thrilling about spring whether it's your first or forty- eighth. And I am anxious to see more. Like the first iris’ appearing
in the front bed or a baby bird or the opening of blossoms on my Daddy’s rose bushes. I always think spring is my favorite season. But then summer comes. And then fall. As for winter, well...That is when I have my birthday, so of course…

And isn’t writing a new book sort of like the newness of spring? Everything is so good, and new, and fresh. You put fingers to keyboard or pen to pad and it is just good. I think that so many aspiring authors never get to the end because they are in love with that first blush of a story. One that leaps off the page and won’t let them be. The one where the characters wake them up in the middle of the night, talking and talking about their story.

Oh you know what I mean!

It’s like two old friends meeting again for the first time. They have so much they want to say and they spend oodles of time catching up over a cup of coffee and when they are allowed to take a breath they realize how much fun they are having.
Writing a new story is like that. The fun part of creativity.

I had time to spend with my friend, Liz, and she told me she is shutting down the thoughts about her book for a while. It’s a family thing. Her family is young and they need her time far more than her book life needs her time. I told her it was okay to set it aside. It will still be there in a few months when she can once again seek it out like long searching fingers looking for someone to hold onto.

And so it is. Sometimes we have to say no to that work that we keep looking at and wanting to tinker with. Sometimes the timing just isn’t what we can fit in. I say, so what? Do what must be done and enjoy the life you have.

Sooner or later, you will come back to this creature you have been piecing together like a paper Frankenstein. You will nudge it with your writing toe and it will be there, waiting for you to breathe new life into it. And won’t you be thrilled to find that freshness, that aroma of a new work, blow through your mind?

Kim Smith is the author of the cozy mystery, Avenging Angel, A Shannon Wallace Mystery. Her latest short story is now available at : http://www.alongstoryshort.net/threeamigos.html

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Free E-Book Downloads from BeWrite Books

Posted by Marta Stephens

In celebration of Read an E-Book Week, March 8th - 14th, my publisher, BeWrite Books will be giving away a selection of e-books to download for FREE!! Please follow the links below to download your free copies. Each day will have a different genre of books to choose from including Crime, Adventure, Fantasy etc.

Please follow this link each day for your copies: http://www.bewrite.net/bookshop/download.htm

More details on Read an E-Book Week can be found http://www.ebookweek.com/index.html

Wednesday 11th

THE CUBE ROOT OF TIME by Herbert Cohen

BACK THERE by Howard Waldman


Thursday 12th

Also by David Hough: A TANGLE OF ROOTS and KING'S PRIORY

RING OF STONE by Hugh McCracken

THE PLAYMAKERS by Graeme Johnstone

Friday 13th


Also by C S Thompson: AND THEN THE NIGHT

EARTHDOOM! by David Langford and John Grant

Saturday 14th

SILENCED CRY by Marta Stephens
Also by Marta Stephens: THE DEVIL CAN WAIT

THE KNOTTED CORD by Alistair Kinnon
Also by Alistair Kinnon: THE TANGLED SKEIN


* * *

This week also marks a birthday celebration for BeWrite Books so why not pop in at the BeWrite Blog and wish them a happy birthday! And while you're there, check out what else BeWrite is up to these days.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Happy Read an E-book Week!

This week, the internet world is celebrating e-books in a big way. March 8 through 14 has been designated "Read an E-book Week" - a holiday that will hopefully endure for many years to come.

E-books and e-publishers have seen huge increases in sales and readership over the last several years. Readers who swore they would never enjoy any book that wasn't printed on paper have picked up devices like Amazon's Kindle and the Sony e-Reader, and become promptly hooked (the Smart Bitches often refer to Amazon's e-book reader as the Kindle-ade).

E-books are diverse and (for the most part) affordable, and come with quite a few benefits. The one I find most intriguing is this: possession of an e-book reader is like having a black hole or a hammerspace in your pocket or purse, in which you can store an entire library of books that are available at your convenience. It's practically a superpower! The ability to transport shelves upon shelves of books in a single bound. Outside of teleportation, I'd totally dig this power.

E-book Week has an official site, featuring an excellent article by Warren Adler, who predicted the popularity of e-books 12 years ago (way to go, Warren! :-). The site also features pages of free and deeply discounted e-book offers from publishers participating in the celebration - so if you've never tried an e-book, here's your no-risk opportunity.

You don't need an e-reader to partake in the joy of e-books (though they are certainly very sleek and sexy devices, great investments for voracious readers, and oh, drool, how I wish I had one . . . sorry, I'll stop now). E-books are available in formats you can read right on your computer - typically PDF or HTML. So go forth and grab yourself a handful of free e-books today. And while you're out - pick me up a hammerspace, will you? I've always wanted one of those.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Inside the Mind of a Mystery Writer: Challenges

© Susan Whitfield 2009 all rights are reserved

Murder mystery writers must fashion not only likeable protagonists and minor characters, but also villains—killers of every kind. I’m no different, although I sometimes feel abnormal when other people read my writing and look at me as though my last name is King! People sometimes give me a guarded look even though I am, I hope, a quite normal person who likes the mystery genre. I have fun with my characters, but I also want to challenge them and have them challenge me back.

My first attempt at writing a murder was GENESIS BEACH. Logan Hunter, a young woman who is interning for a North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) position, pursues a prime suspect right up until she finds his decomposing body. She soon realizes the killer is still around, and what she learns in the end is that she can’t trust anybody regardless of his station in life. Even so, the book is mild as mysteries go, showing more deceit, greed, and jealousy than getting into the mind of a killer. Challenges with this book began with what SBI stands for. I took for granted that everyone knew, and that all states called their state investigation agency by the same term. I was wrong. I now make certain that I explain this term and similar ones that might not be clear.

Even before I started to write JUST NORTH OF LUCK, I had already determined that I wanted to challenge myself as well as my characters. A serial killer was born. After editing and rewriting many times, I finally decided to go with my gut and start the novel from the villain’s point-of-view. I struggled for weeks, trying to make him believable and somewhat sympathetic. Otherwise, I figured the reader wouldn’t care what happens or why he is a monster. I gradually began to carry him around with me both day and night. I stepped into his mind and tried to figure out what made him tick, and more importantly, what ticked him off. This horrible character didn’t drop by to visit me; he moved in! Once the story’s rampage started, he and I both knew it would continue until someone stronger came along and put a stop to it. Enter Logan Hunter, one tough lady, who had proven herself at Genesis Beach, had toughened up and grown up, leaving no cartridge unspent during an investigation. Sure, she made mistakes, but she figured it out quickly and got herself back on track. Getting into the killer’s mind was crucial to make this book work. I had many sleepless nights, but I captured enormous satisfaction in the process.

HELL SWAMP offered another challenge: going home. Returning to my roots to write about a house and river I grew up around offered its own set of circumstances. How would my friends and family take this piece of fiction? Would they be offended by words, dialogue, redneck characters with little education? Deer hunters as prime suspects? Children as suspects? What about the gruesome manner used to kill the victim? I, once again, struggled with my plot, wanting to tell the story within me, and at the same time, stay true to my roots. Having set HELL SWAMP at The Black River Plantation on the river about four miles from my childhood home, I conjured up so many memories from the past, entangled them with my imagination, and set the story in motion. I have had the great pleasure to meeting the owner of the plantation who gave me a key to go inside the mansion and write whenever I wish. What a great gift that is!

Even with three books under my wrist, I continue to have new challenges present themselves. The novel I’m currently writing—title not yet determined—takes me to an uncomfortable topic, to places I’d rather not write about, and into emotions I’d rather not stir. But, this particular book is pulling me along, about like a noose around the neck. I can’t not write it. Do the challenges ever end? I hope not. I think my writing improves with each book because I refuse to be complacent. I continue to seek knowledge about writing—the processes and its rewards. Getting the book out is certainly a challenge. However, the prevailing challenge is promoting what you have written. Getting the word out is paramount to success. I challenge you to give it your all!
About the Athor:

Susan Whitfield has lived in North Carolina her entire life. She grew up in the small town of Atkinson, married at age 19, and now lives in Dudley with her husband, Doyle. She has three degrees from East Carolina University:
B.S. degree in English
M.A. Ed. In Educational Administration
Ed.D. in Educational Leadership

Whitfield taught high school English for thirteen years and moved into high school administration for seventeen years. She was principal of East Duplin High School from 2000-2004.

Whitfield is a member of Phi Delta Kappa, Mystery Writers of America,
North Carolina Writers’ Network, The Author’s Society, and Sisters In Crime. She has written and published mystery novels, GENESIS BEACH, and JUST NORTH OF LUCK. HELL SWAMP, the third novel, will be released by publisher L&L Dreamspell on February 21st. Whitfield is currently writing GATOR CREEK, set along the Cape Fear River in Wilmington.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Let's Talk Plot!

© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

What is it?

The short answer is, it's the main elements of a story or what a story is about. But if that was all there was to plotting a story, our novels would only require a quick narrative that highlights the main points of the story -- something more akin to a synopsis.

Plot however, is the succession of things that happen to the characters, the choices they make, and their reaction to the obstacles they encounter. When developing the plot, each action and/or event causes conflict that should steadily intensifies as the story develops. Conflict needs to continue to build until the action climaxes, then the character resolves the issue(s), leading to an ending that neatly ties all the plot points.

Five Plot Elements:
  1. Exposition: Introduction of the main characters and setting.
  2. Rising Action: One or more characters in crisis.
  3. Climax: Point of highest emotion - turning point.
  4. Falling Action: Solution of character's crisis.
  5. Conclusion: Resolution
Please join me at the Authors By Design forum http://www.authorsbydesign.com/ in the AbD chat room Tonight, March 7, 2009, night at 8 PM EST and let's talk about plotting.
Hope to see you there! So ... how do you go about plotting your story?
* * *
Marta Stephens is the author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series published by BeWrite Books (UK)THE DEVIL CAN WAIT – (2008) SILENCED CRY (2007), Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Real-Life Book Launches

© Marilyn Meredith 2009 all rights reserved

For every new book I’ve planned a book launch of one sort or another, most of which have been in my little home town of Springville. When I say little I mean little. We have a post office, two mini-mart/gas-stations, a dress shop, pizza place, hamburger stand, a new steak place, a coffee and sandwich shop, a café, a Mexican restaurant, two beauty shops, a fancy inn, a Visitor’s Center, and an ATM. Unfortunately stores and restaurants come and go.

I’ve had launches in some of the places that have disappeared. One of my launches was in a holistic medicine and recreation center. Lots of people came, wine was served, a lovely lunch could be purchased, and the entertainment consisted of me talking about my book and belly dancers. (No, I wasn’t one of the dancers.)

For awhile we had a small used book store and I had a launch there. Lots of fun, many visitors and the owner’s mother brought the best cookies to serve to guests.

And then there was the wonderful gift shop that lasted about a year. I launched a book there and the owner served sandwiches, all kinds of yummy desserts and coffee. We had a great crowd.

At Christmas time, I had a launch in the backroom of an antique store.

At the same time, there was a home tour going on and lots of the people on the tour stopped in to look around and purchased books. (I served yummy cookies made by the same lady who made the cookies for the used book store and hot cider that I brought.) Unfortunately, the antique store is going out of business.

Before you come to the conclusion that hosting a book launch for me is a jinx, I’ll tell you about some others I’ve had in places that are still in business. Once during the summer, I had a launch at the coffee/sandwich shop on the patio. Quite a few people came by to talk and purchase books. The owner of the shop is the lady who makes the delicious cookies.

When I was promoting DEADLY TRAIL about the murder of the owner of an inn much like the fancy inn in our town, that’s where I held the book launch. The very much alive owner thought it was a kick to launch the book in her establishment. Great turnout and we served crackers and cheese and coffee and if guests wanted something stronger, there was a bar downstairs.

I’ve had two launches at the Visitor’s Center, served refreshments and had a great time chatting with people who wanted to find out how to get to the giant Sequoias. The center, which was begun by the Springville Chamber of Commerce, has now been taken over by the forestry service and there’s no room for me and my books.

One of the most successful and unusual launches happened last summer and was in a Bed and Breakfast in Crescent City, CA. The reason it was held there was because part of the latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery happens in Crescent City. Tickets were pre-sold for two lunches on the same day, one at 11 and the other at 1, and the price of the ticket included a copy of KINDRED SPIRITS.

The book launch for NO SANCTUARY, the latest in my Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series is being held in the fellowship hall of my church. I’m serving finger food and delicious cookies from the coffee place and coffee, tea, etc. I’m transforming the room into a police station and using crime scene tape and yellow and black for table cloths, napkins, etc. It just dawned on me, I ought to serve doughnuts, right? Naw, I’m sticking to the cookies.

NO SANCTUARY by F.M. Meredith (the pseudonym is another story) a.k.a. Marilyn Meredith is now available as a Dark Oak Mystery from http://www.oaktreebooks.com/ , Amazon and autographed copies can be ordered from my website: http://fictionforyou.com/

About the author
Under the name of F.M. Meredith, Marilyn Meredith writes the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, the latest is NO SANCTUARY from Oak Tree Press. She is also the author of award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series as well as over twenty published novels. The latest is, KINDRED SPIRITS, from Mundania Press.

Meredith is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, EPIC and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She was an instructor for Writer’s Digest School for ten years, served as an instructor at the Maui Writer’s Retreat and many other writer’s conferences. She makes her home in Springville, much like Bear Creek where Deputy Tempe Crabtree lives.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


By Kim Smith

First, what is an e-book? Well, according to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, an e-book, also known as an electronic book, is the digital media equivalent of a conventional printed book. Whereas a printed book has a physical form, an e-book is downloaded to one’s computer, mobile phone, or digital reader such as the Sony Reader, or the Amazon Kindle. In this new digital age, we have traded dots and dashes for exes and ohs.

Many people believe digital is the way to go.

Here are a few reasons to go digital and purchase e-books.

1.A green solution, as there are no trees destroyed in the creation of an e-book.
2. Eliminates the need for a physical location to store your book collections. A Sony Reader or Amazon Kindle, for example, can hold up to hundreds (if not thousands) of books. Far more than you could house in your living room bookcase.
3. Keeps books available longer as there is no need to keep an inventory of them. Why should they be discontinued, or as it was once said, “go out of print”?

Purchasing e-books can be an easy feat. At my publisher’s site, downloading an e-book to your computer or reader is very simple. We all have become “download masters” thanks to music sites that allow downloads and online purchasing. Getting an e-book this way is a natural step forward from that.

For writers who may have an e-book coming out, promoting your e-book has never been simpler. If you have a website, you are halfway there.

Here are a few ways to market your e-book.

1. Hire a web designer (or do it yourself) and create a platform (website) with which to work from and advertise the book. You should begin advertising the coming book at least six months prior to the release date to generate a buzz.
2. Have a contest once the e-book has been released to generate interest in purchasing.
3. Get your online friends who have websites to link to your website and you link to theirs and create a group of places where potential readers can surf in and get the latest details about your book.
4. Give your e-book to e-book reviewers and post the reviews on your website. Reviews are a huge way to get people to look at an e-book that they might have otherwise overlooked.

Of all the things a writer must do if they are planning a promotional campaign for an electronic book is to write well. That cannot be said strongly enough. The reading public has little toleration for a print book that is written shoddily, so one can imagine the opinion of a book form that can easily be deleted!
Since e-books are cheaper, their value is oftentimes diminished. They are looked upon as a less worthy read just because they are not in print. We can change that perception by writing the best book we can write, and editing it thoroughly.

E-books are touted as being the next phase in the life span of the book industry, and indeed, even major houses have begun using this technology to get books into the hands of readers. Now you can find big names as well as small ones at places like Fictionwise (http://www.fictionwise.com), a leading independent e-book publisher and distributor. Fictionwise also has a “best seller” list so that potential buyers can find the best of the best in their catalog.

E-books are here to stay. Let’s make their life in the literary realm one of importance and substance.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Dreaded Synopsis

© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

A condensed statement or outline.”
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (7th ed.)

I can type a 100,000-word manuscript in a matter of months, but ask me to write a 1,000 word synopsis and my heart starts to pound and my palms will get clammy. Why? Because the synopsis has to be tight, concise, and complete and that’s not always easy after spending months of writing descriptions, imagery, and dialogue.

The intended use of a synopsis is to give the editor/publisher a succinct understanding of the story. The synopsis must be written in present tense and in one flowing narrative—not broken into chapters or sections. It’s an abridge account of the entire manuscript from beginning to end including the “who done it.” It unmasks every plot point, every clue, the motivation behind the characters’ actions, and highlights the main points of the story without dialogue, imagery, or unnecessary details and yes ... it must reveal the ending. When working within a limited word count, (look to the publisher’s guideline), it means each word must count. The writing has to be clean and tight in order to fit in all the action.

Other uses:

I draw several “road maps” before I start to write. I chart my plot, write bios and background stories for each important character, and get into the mind of the killer because that’s where the story really starts. With the crime. This is where a draft synopsis comes in handy. At this point, it is a completely flexible document that helps to illustrate where the story should go and keeps me on track of the key points and the story’s timeline—markers if you will, as I write. However, the story will change continuously as the novel evolves and so, once it’s finished, I'm faced with writing the final dreaded synopsis. Why dreaded? Because the success and publishing future of my manuscript, is riding on those “perfect” 1,000 words.

PS: Don’t ever post your synopsis!!

About the author:

Marta Stephens is the author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series published by BeWrite Books (UK)THE DEVIL CAN WAIT – (2008) SILENCED CRY (2007), Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Artistic Angst

I love Dr. Horrible.

What in the heck is that, you say? Why, it's the greatest internet coup ever staged. During the most recent writer's strike a few years ago, director Joss Whedon (of Buffy, Serenity and Firefly fame) set out to prove that great entertainment does not need the backing of major studios and mega-million dollar budgets to appeal to people. He set out with a very limited cast and budget to film something people would love - and then proceeded to give it away to the people. Completely free. No tickets were sold, no website subscription fees were charged, no forced advertisements or overly long waits between installments were involved.

Dr. Horrible is a (GASP) musical. A SUPERHERO musical. It was released in three parts over a two-week period for free online viewing. Starring Neil Patrick Harris. Yes, seriously. I balked when my husband suggested I watch it - because, really. Doogie Howser, singing? And NPH was cast as a supervillain named Dr. Horrible. I was not convinced, but I decided to humor him and watch it.

When I got to the end of part three, I watched it again. And again. As many times as I could fit it in on the last day it was up online. I laughed, I cried. It's amazing.

There is no doubting Joss Whedon's brilliance. He's so good, I'm not even jealous. I'm just in awe. Naturally, I bought the DVD as soon as I could, and it happened to include singing commentary. And one of the songs on the commentary is performed by Joss Whedon. It happens to be about making art, and then having yourself and your work picked apart and dissected by everyone and their grandmother once the public gets hold of it.

Of course, the song is tongue-in-cheek . . . but there's a lot of truth there. Anyone who creates anything that generates public interest can expect to have other people tearing into it, trying to find out what makes it (and you) tick. The better you are, the more dissection you're subjected to. And the more you're going to have to conform to what people expect of you, if you want to continue making a living from creativity.

There's a balance somewhere between commercialism and artistic integrity. I believe anyone who can make fun of the idea has found that balance. That means you, Joss - and if it makes you feel any better, I promise not to pick you or your work apart.

I'll just plug it. :-) Watch Dr. Horrible! You won't be disappointed. And then you can sing along with me on tunes like "My Freeze Ray", "Bad Horse Chorus", and "I'm Better than Neil."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Can You Really Judge a Book by Its Cover?

© Jean Henry Mead 2009 all rights reserved
Can a great looking book cover sell a poorly written book? The answer is yes if the buyer is in a hurry and doesn’t take time to read. Conversely, does a poorly designed cover discourage sales of a good book? It can if word of mouth hasn’t proclaimed the book a good read or it wasn’t written by a favorite or bestselling author.

A book cover should represent its contents, mood and style. The artwork should not only be attractive but represent the book’s meaning as well as attract potential buyers. It should also project drama and literary punch. That’s a tall order, which doesn’t always happen. Books that are projected to sell less than 5,000 copies are deemed unworthy of original artwork and are consigned to the cheap stock illustrations.

In large publishing houses, the author, who usually wants complete approval of the book cover, rarely has the leverage to get it. Most writers have to settle for some kind of consultation, which means that they get to see a semi-final proof. Working with a small press has its advantages if the publisher allows an author the right to reject a cover he or she don’t like, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes none of the artwork pleases you so you choose the one that’s least objectionable.

Because I don’t want to make negative remarks about anyone else’s books, I’ll use my own as examples. My historical Wyoming novel, ESCAPE, has an attractive cover and remained number one in sales for two months in multi-format while my recent mystery/suspense novel, A VILLAGE SHATTERED, topped the list for only half that time. I blame it on the lackluster cover, which is gray to represent the fog that hides the serial killer. It looks okay when held, but comes across as dreary and boring online.

The second book in the series, DIARY OF MURDER, has a snowy mountain background instead of a diary, which has little to do with the title although mountains do play a role later in the plot. Fortunately, I was able to submit a photo I had taken of the actual area instead of the one the publisher was planning to use, but I’m still not completely happy with the results.
Another problem that comes into play is the size of the author’s name. The name should increase in size with each book published, but if you have three names like mine, it can only grow large enough to fit across the page. That’s not author ego, it tells the potential buyer your status in the publishing industry.

Color has a lot to do with the cover’s appeal. Reds, bright blues, greens and yellows catch the eye and shout, “Pick me up and read me.” While grays, tans, white and beige backgrounds don’t appear to be as interesting unless, of course, the foreground is colorful and attractively designed. Rich colors such as burgundy with gold lettering denote a richness of plot as well.

Which book covers appeal most to you and did you pick them up because of their designs?

About the Author:
Jean Henry Mead’s 12th book, DIARY OF MURDER was released March first and is the 2nd novel in her Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense series. She began her career as a California news reporter and photographer before serving as editor of In Wyoming magazine while contributing to the Denver Post’s Empire Magazine. Her freelance articles won state, regional and national awards and were published nationally as well as abroad. Her first book was published in 1982. Jean hosts Mysterious People Can You Really Judge a Book by Its Cover? , a blog that features writers and their opinions from around the world.