Thursday, November 14, 2019

National Take a Hike Day is November 17th

Taking a hike is a great idea, but this year on National Take a Hike Day, November 17th, I will be six days post-total-knee-surgery. Taking a hike will consist of trips to the physical therapist three days a week and trips to the bathroom or kitchen on weekends and non-PT days.


However, when I’m mobile again, taking a hike might include one of the wonderful natural areas or walking trails in my own Northern Colorado town, a more ambitious climb into the small hills to the west, or even a real hike up the big hill to look out over Horsetooth Reservoir in Larimer County.

I’m more of an armchair hiker these days than a real adventure-seeker, so reading about extreme hiking or watching a film or two helps give me a sense of life outside my neighborhood walks.

One of my favorite reads is A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson  The trail stretches from Georgia to Maine over 2100 miles of this beautiful country. I once had a dream of walking this trail but when my sister-in-law and a couple of her friends decided to give it a try, they lasted less than a week before someone fell and sprained an ankle and their adventure ended. I decided then to stick with reading Bryson’s version which is very funny and not a bit painful.

Heading to the west coast for a long hike, you could try the Pacific Crest Trail described in Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. I liked the book, but it has a very different tone and lacks the extremely funny anecdotes Bryson told so well.

One of the best known books is Into the Wild by climber Jon Krakauer, about a hike into the Alaskan wilderness by 22-year-old Chris McCandless.  I won’t tell you anything about that story because if you love outdoor adventures, you’ve probably already read the book or watched the film. Krakauer also wrote Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster.

Those giant mountains like Everest are mystical heights I can only dream about. I follow climber, motivational speaker, and author Jim Davidson on Facebook as he hikes and climbs, tackling a small trail one week and a Colorado fourteener another. The Ledge: An Inspirational Story of Friendship and Survival, written by Jim with journalist Kevin Vaughn, is a terrifying tale of a Mount Ranier descent gone horribly wrong. Jim survived to climb again, but if you want to read a truly terrifying tale of survival, I highly recommend this book. On the Facebook page you can also learn more about Jim’s two attempts to summit Everest and his inspirational advice to achieve resilience and accomplish goals.

There’s an amazing story behind an upcoming memoir by Susan Spann, a mystery author and literary attorney who experienced a profound life disruption that led to her giving up the practice of law, undergoing a long period of treatment for breast cancer, and a move to Japan to continue writing her mystery series and as a side project, climb 100 summits in that beautiful country.

I first met Susan at a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference before she found an agent and launched her Hiro Hattori Novels (Shinobi Mysteries) featuring master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo. It’s a wonderful series, especially if you love exotic locations and fascinating history.

Climb: Leaving Safe and Finding Strength on 100 Summits in Japan will release in January 2020 and can be pre-ordered right now.

I read these books and watch the films and marvel at the determination, training, and persistence it takes to tackle the big hikes. But once I’ve been through all that physical therapy to rehab my knee and set on my first adventure, I suspect it will be a short walk on one of our many park and natural area trails in town. They’re mostly flat, paved, and close to civilization. That’s the hike for me, at least until good weather and a well-recovered knee.

Are you a hiker? Where do you like to do your walking, hiking, or climbing?

Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards. This novel is also now available in a large print edition. Her short story, “Good Work for a Girl,” will appear in the Five Star Anthology, The Spoilt Quilt and Other Frontier Stories: Pioneering Women of the West, scheduled to be released in November 2019.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for the Colorado Sun’s SunLit feature that you can find at the Colorado Sun website.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Books In Target Stores

After we write our book and get a publishing contract, or publish it ourselves, the really hard work of marketing and promoting takes over our lives. We invest in some advertising and do a lot of social media marketing, but sometimes it feels like we're throwing wet pasta at the wall to see what will stick. It's often a crap-shoot when it comes to seeing a return on investment in terms of actual sales, not to mention all the time we put into these endeavors - time that we are not using to write that next book.

When it comes to getting books into the hands of readers, most publishers and indie authors target book stores. After all, that's where people go to buy books unless they buy from online retailers. But what about other brick-and-mortar stores?

For a short time I was connected with a group that held signings at Kroger grocery stores in 2012.  When I first heard about those, I was surprised at the idea of selling books along with the lettuce, but I thought, what the heck. It's worth a try. Twice, I went to a store not far from where I lived in East Texas, then my personal life started falling apart, and I had to back out of the program. In my two visits, I sold a handful of books at each, but others in the program sold more, and for some authors it was a fairly successful endeavor.

I couldn't find out if the program is still running. There was no current information on the Internet, with the last reference I could find being this blog post from Marc Liebman about his 2018 experience at the grocery store.

While things worked out okay at Kroger, I've always thought that getting a book on a shelf in one of the large retail stores like Target, Walmart, and Sam's Club, would be better. Especially if that book could be on a shelf in more than one of those stores, and I didn't have to be there to hawk the book.

Some stores have a fairly large section for books, and when I browse the shelves I'm primarily seeing titles from top-selling authors. Any fantasy that I might be entertaining about having one of my books among those others was just that, a dream.

That's why I was so delighted when Arcadia Publishing sent me an email the other day to let me know that my book, Images of America; Winnsboro is going to be in select Target Stores. Arcadia already has an extensive online catalog with Target, but this year they are putting a few select books in a few select stores, and one of those select books is mine.

That's right. I  have a book in Target stores. Doing the happy dance.

Okay. I'm back down to earth now. I know I should probably practice the philosophy of the stoics - free from passion and unmoved by joy or grief, but I can't help myself. It's just the way I roll, as some folks say.

I wonder if  James Patterson has done the happy dance? Maybe he has. Just not in public. :-)

Anyway, this book came to be after a previous out-of-the-blue contact from Arcadia back in 2012, in the form of an email asking if I'd be interested in writing a book about Winnsboro for their Images of America line. They had found me online; probably because I had been the managing editor of the online community magazine The acquisitions editor at Arcadia asked if I would be interested in writing a historical book about my small town, and I said, Sure, if it would be okay if I pulled in the official Winnsboro Historian to work with me. I'd not lived in the area long enough to really know the history, or met enough people to try to find the historical stories.

The editor agreed, so Bill Jones and I got together and wrote the book. Bill supplied most of the pictures because of his connections to The Winnsboro News. He's been a columnist for them for many years, so they were quite willing to let him use many of the photographs in their morgue. During the creation of our book,  I did most of the writing, using stories that Bill told me while I frantically typed on my little laptop to get those stories down the way he told them.

Working with Bill on that project was a great experience, and being with this small publisher has also been rewarding on many levels. Not that royalties have allowed either of us to buy a new Ferrari, but the editing and marketing staff are easy to work with, and overall very author-friendly.

Do you have books in large retail stores? Did you get them in yourself, or did your publisher? Have you had surprises like I received from Arcadia that led to great opportunities? Do share.

Posted by Maryann Miller  You can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Page, read her Blogand follow her on Facebook and TwitterHer online workshop on self-editing, part of a series of online writing workshops from Short And Helpful, can be found HERE

Friday, November 8, 2019

#FridayReads - Dracula

On this day in 1431, the inspiration of one of literature's most famous and most enigmatic villains was born -- Vlad Dracula the Impaler. Interestingly enough, today is also the birthday of Bram Stoker (1847), the author who immortalised the legend of the blood-thirsty Romanian prince in his character the vampire Dracula.

How about you? Who in history was born on the same day as you? Or how about historical events? If you have a dig, you might find something that inspires a story... just as the fearsome voivode of Transylvania captured the imagination of a middle-aged Irish novelist over a century ago.

If you'd rather read a classic than write one this weekend, Dracula is available for download from Gutenberg.

Elle Carter Neal is the author of the picture book I Own All the Blue and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at or

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Holiday Tie-Ins

Related novellas and short stories are a way of keeping your readers' attention between releases. Stories that tie in to the holidays offer unique marketing opportunities.

January: A new year's celebration can be utilized in any genre. Characters can face a celebration gone wrong, review the past, or make resolutions for the new year. There is a reason it is referred to as the "bleak midwinter."

February: Valentines Day is a perfect fit for the Romance genre. A novella gives you an opportunity to explore the love lives of secondary characters. There could also be a Valentine murder or a paranormal celebration.

March and April: The spring equinox is ripe with opportunity for paranormal rituals, childbirth or expectant parenthood, perhaps madness that leads to murder.

May and June: May Day was a time for celebrating new life. It is a good month for a wedding, paranormal conflict, or a slighted lover to take his revenge.

July and August: The summer heat can lead to love or madness. The days are long, tempers run high, or lovers can get frisky on a beach.

September and October: Fall brings nostalgia, perhaps a touch of melancholy. The veil between worlds becomes thin on All Hallows Eve. Costume parties are perfect for romantic intrigue, ghost stories, or masked murderers.

November: It is the season of harvesting and giving thanks, perhaps a ritual murder to ensure a plentiful harvest in the spring. It is the perfect setting for gatherings leading to family conflict or relationship stress points.

December: Christmas is the most popular holiday tie-in for books. There is feasting and presents and dashed expectations. Snow and storms isolate and trap characters. Potential lovers can be forced together at a romantic inn. Families and friends gather to celebrate, perfect for a locked room mystery.

In addition to holiday-related novellas and short stories, you can create lists of holiday related books in your genre to help market your work. Group promotion is a great way to increase your audience.

Further Reading:

Short Stories, Serials, and Novellas

Writers Gotta Read, Right?

Scary Night to a New Beginning

Let it Snow! Season's Readings

Holiday Reading

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Are All Lawyers Really Sleazes?

This year (2019), Love Your Lawyer Day falls on Friday, November 1. Because the three protagonists in my second novel are lawyers, I couldn't pass up this holiday. 

My book research took me face to face (or phone to phone) with three attorneys, all willing to share information and answer my questions. To my surprise, one interviewee noted upfront, "All lawyers are sleazes." Since he was in a position to know, he must have spoken the truth—or so I first assumed. Then I began to wonder. Were those words really accurate? Was he parroting a commonly held belief about his profession? Or was he being sarcastic? I don't know.

My personal need for those of the legal profession has been (gratefully) limited. However, my first experience seemed to bear out the sleaze designation. The man was nothing short of lecherous. Shocked and horrified at his unwelcome advances, I quickly left and never again visited his office alone. (Unfortunately, I'd already paid him, and it was decades before the Me Too movement.) 

A visit several years later was to a pro bono attorney after a contractor took all the money we had to build a home and filed bankruptcy. We filed a suit against him to get our money back, but the judge granted us only about half of it. I was unhappy with that, but our attorney told me I should be thrilled to have gotten anything because no one else who went after their money received a dime. Years later, another lawyer told me that pro bono attorneys are often the best around. Our free lawyer—the one I was unhappy with—had been one of the good guys.

My grandfather was an attorney. He earned his degree in the early 1900s but didn't practice law until he was 80 and his wife had died; my grandmother believed they couldn't count on a steady income in
the legal field. (His first case after her death netted him $5000, big money back in the day when he made it and many times more than he'd ever earned in any other occupation.) Grandpa was one of the most sincere, honest, humble people I've ever known; his integrity was always above reproach. Another vote for the good guys.

Back to my novel. Honest, caring attorneys make great protagonists, but sleazy ones add spice to a story. So my three (one legal aid lawyer, one defense attorney, and one prosecutor) are good guys. However, a member of the prosecutor's team is not so much. His ability to become a thorn in the sides of the others makes him a viable character and is my nod to the sleazes who tarnish the scales of justice.

What has been your experience with lawyers? Do you ever include them in your stories? Do you enjoy reading "legal eagle" books by authors like John Grisham?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and thrillers. You can contact her at websites: and

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Please Don't Buy My Book

Amazon Algorithm Change. If you’re an Indie author, those three words probably provoke a level of dread proportional to the number of eggs book sales you generate from that one basket megastore.

Amazon’s latest tweaks involve their “Also Bought” generator. This feature is now much more prominently placed (its placement above the item the page belongs to is being trialed right now – sometimes you’ll see it there, sometimes you won’t), and it takes its data gathering very seriously.

If you’re an unknown author, Also Boughts are how potential readers find you. Let’s say you write cozy mysteries involving clever cats that help the investigator find clues. If Amazon customers were browsing for Lillian Jackson Braun or Clea Simon books and your book was featured on that page, it would be an ideal match – you’d very likely get a number of sales from people willing to try something new but similar. Perfect. Once you have more books out, you also want your own books to appear on your Also Bought list so that readers buy the rest of your series.

But how about this scary scenario? Your Aunty Mildred decides to do something nice to support you and asks her gardening club friends to buy your book. Suddenly books on pruning roses and the best time to plant hydrangeas are appearing on your book’s Also Boughts, and your book’s connection to The Cat Who series is being diluted by the number of readers who prefer composting to kitties. Your writer friends on Facetwit who wanted to help you out have caused Amazon to add dozens of writing books into your pool. Free days, giveaways, and contests you promoted on Tweetbook sent all sorts of freebie seekers to muddy the waters of the Amazon with every other free book they’ve downloaded (and probably never intended to read). And your day-job colleagues on InstaLinked have such varied tastes that Amazon has no idea what to do with the data it is being served other than to spread your book so thinly it barely registers.

So, how do you handle a book launch where the people who love you most could potentially sink your book? One idea is to initially send your friends and family to an offer IRL (in real life - what a concept), on your website, or directly from your publisher/ POD printer/ distributor, instead of linking to Amazon. Keep your Amazon link for those campaigns where you know you are engaging with fans of the authors you want on your Also Bought list, and vice versa.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this article... please don’t buy my book (from Amazon, at least).

Elle Carter Neal is the author of the picture book I Own All the Blue and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at or

Robot image from Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Fear of Writing

We like to call people who flaunt fear and defy death daredevils, like those old barnstormers who flew their rickety biplanes upside down to the delight of the crowds below. But how can what writers do be compared to that?

For me, it's not too far a stretch to think of writers as daredevils. I would argue that for many writers, even established ones, fear is the emotion most readily associated with our work. To get anything meaningful accomplished, we have to dig deep, don our daredevil armor and vanquish fear, much as the haints that terrorize us on All Hallow's Eve are conquered by the rising of the Saints on November 1st.

Talk with any group of writers and you’ll find they fear the same things... that somehow their work won't be good enough or will never cross the finish line. Or if they do manage to get something written, edited and submitted to a publisher, it will never be bought. Or if their work is miraculously bought, once published, no reader will buy it. Or if people actually buy their books, they will never read them. Or if they do read them, no one will like them. Ad nauseum, ad infinitum. 

No matter how we approach it, the writer's path is full of artfully placed stones, each waiting to trip us up and keep us from reaching our destinations. The list of fears associated with the act of writing goes on and on, a dreadful tangle of crippling thoughts that threaten to hogtie our minds with every word we commit to the page. Too many aspiring writers spend their lives constrained by these knots that exist nowhere but within their own minds. Fear crowds out any impulse to write and smothers every creative idea that sparks before it can burst into a roaring fire that cannot be extinguished. The sad truth is we stop ourselves from succeeding as writers when we let our "what if" fears control our thinking.

It's just plain awful.

Speaking from personal experience, here is what I do when my fear of writing threatens to swallow me up and extinguish any nascent creative sparks that may be sputtering about in my brain.

1. While I dislike that old adage about how you eat an elephant—namely one bite at a time—it's useful when it comes to writing.

How do you write a book? One sentence at a time. How do you write one sentence at a time? Make a plan. Pick a time of day that's most convenient for you, and every day at that time, sit down in the same place, choose the same tools (pad and pencil, tablet, computer, typewriter, etc.) and write one sentence. Make no judgment about that sentence. Just write it and then congratulate yourself and get up and leave it. You're done for the day. Go take an antacid to help you digest that bit of elephant if you need it, or do yoga or walk or eat ice cream.

2. After a full month of writing one sentence a day, set aside 30 minutes to read all your sentences at once. It doesn't matter if they go together or not, or whether they make sense or are even part of the same story. What you're trying to do is develop your writing muscles, get them used to the habit of writing every single day. If among the 30 sentences you find some that seem to go together, that’s good, but at this point, merely incidental.

3. For the next month, pick a topic and write two sentences a day about that topic. This time, the goal is to make them work together, to seem part of the same whole. By the end of the month, you'll have enough sentences strung together to create a short article such as a book or movie review, or even a blog post. But even if you don’t, celebrate the fact that you wrote two sentences a day for 30 days. That’s a real accomplishment, and by now, you should start to feel more comfortable with the physical act of writing.

4. For the third month, you will write a full paragraph every day. All the paragraphs you write should be focused on the same topic or story.
5. By the fifth month, select a topic and start writing with the goal of finishing a short story or article by the end of the month. The goal is to get your idea down on paper, not to create a Pulitzer Prize-winning piece of literary or journalistic art. If fear raises its ugly head, go back to writing one sentence a day until you have it managed again.
I believe most fear of writing arises from the unrealistic demands we place upon ourselves. Let’s face it. Not every one of us is going to grow up to be a Margaret Atwood or Richard Powers, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t write. If you truly want to be a writer, then you must write. And in order to write, you have to conquer all the fears you associate with writing. Only then will your Muse feel free enough to come out and play, and when that happens, the real fun begins.

Patricia B. Smith is a journalist who is the author of 11 published books, including Idiot’s Guide: Flipping Houses, Alzheimer's For Dummies and Sleep Disorders for Dummies.

Pat is also an experienced professional developmental editor who serves as an Editorial Evaluation and Developmental Coordinator for Five Star Publishing. She works with private clients as well and has helped many authors land their first publishing contracts. Many of her clients have achieved notable success, including two winners of the Missouri Writers’ Guild Show-me Best Book of the Year Award.

Connect with Pat on Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In.