Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Learning to Write Through Watching TV

photo by KAZ Vorpal, via Flickr

I stopped watching commercial tv on December 21st, 2007. I did it for two reasons. One, 2008 was an election year and there is nothing I hate more than political commercials. Two, I could no longer handle the time suck that was taking me away from writing. Yes, I traded in my TV set for my keyboard, and I’ve never regretted the decision.

Of course, I’ve never regretted the decision because I didn’t stop watching TV entirely. When I watch now, it’s on DVD or Amazon Prime, and nine times out of ten, I’ve paid for what I’m watching. I don’t mind paying either, because as horrific and distracting as most TV is, sometimes a good show is pure gold to a writer.

How can watching TV or movies make you a better writer? Wow, there are so many answers to that question. Both movies and episodes of TV shows are the most brilliant, time-sensitive ways to study the three-act structure, for one. Paying close attention to the arc of the segments between commercials can teach you tons about dramatic structure and about hooks. Watching an entire season of a show will provide a wealth of lessons about character development and story arcs. But what I really love is watching adaptations of my favorite books into movies or TV series.

Take Jane Austen, for example. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen an adaptation of every one of her novels. Some of those are movies and some are epic mini-series. They’re all the same stories. It’s not like the outcome is a mystery. So what value does watching some screenwriter or director’s interpretation of your favorite novels have?

I remember when Emma Thompson’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility hit the big screen. I read an interview with her where she said that the toughest part of writing the screenplay was knowing which bits of the novel to include in the movie and which to leave out. Hearing her talk about those decisions was like a light bulb going off for me in terms of my own writing. Sense and Sensibility is full of wonderful scenes that drive the plot forward or add color to the lives of the characters, but which bits are truly necessary to carry the spirit of the story across to viewers? What aspects of the book represent its heart? 

This is why I love adaptations of novels. They are master classes in taking apart the pieces of a story and digging to the heart of it. If an adaptation is done right, everything that makes that book what it is will shine through on the screen and the juicy but less important details won’t be missed when they’re missing. Even thought the screen version is boiled down and condensed, if it’s done right, the screen version will contain almost all of the magic of the original prose.

You can learn from the example of book-to-screen adaptations to study your own writing. Watching well-known stories played out within a limited space of time and paying attention to how well or how horribly the adaptation was done is the ideal way to practice identifying the key points of your own work. Watch how quickly screen adaptations introduce the characters. Note how little or how much of the back story they give you in episode one or the first ten minutes or before the first commercial break. Pay attention to what kind of details you remember from the book that never show up on screen, or to which minor characters are cut or combined. There are abundant clues about what aspects of story hold an audience’s interest and what elements of the plot need to be highlighted for viewers.

Now take that back to your own writing. If someone were to make a two-hour movie from your book, what scenes or characters would you insist they leave in? Which parts could be left out without damaging your story’s integrity? Why would you make these decisions? Pulling your plot and characters apart to find out what is truly necessary can be a fantastic tool for tightening your prose and boiling down your storylines. If you’re having trouble deciding where your story should go, it can be a great way to get to the marrow of what you’re really writing about. So many of the truly great books of the world are about one or two simple ideas that flower into complex works.

So start learning craft by watching other books being broken down on the big or small screen. Not only can you learn valuable lessons, chances are you’ll have a great time doing it.

Merry Farmer is a history nerd, a hopeless romantic, and an award-winning author of thirteen novels. She is passionate about blogging and knitting, and lives in suburban Philadelphia with her two cats, Butterfly and Torpedo. Connect with Merry at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Please Welcome Laura Caldwell: Lawyer/Author/Life-Saver and Dog Lover

Laura Caldwell is a lawyer-turned-author-turned-life-saver. She is a former civil trial lawyer, now a professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. She is also director of Life After Innocence, published author of 14 novels and one nonfiction book (to date), and speaker, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend.
Caldwell’s fictional work began as chick-lit and soon turned into the mystery/thriller genre. Her first book, Burning the Map, was voted as one of the year’s best books by BarnesandNoble.com in 2002. The Chicago Tribune called A Clean Slate “a page turner.” The Year of Living Famously and The Night I Got Lucky prompted Booklist to declare, “Caldwell is one of the most talented and inventive ... writers around.” In 2009, Caldwell released a trilogy on character Izzy McNeil, a Chicago lawyer who finds her way into a myriad of situations in which she must use her wit and legal skill.
While researching her sixth novel, Caldwell was led to the criminal case of a young man sitting in a Cook County holding cell without a trial. After hearing about his case, Caldwell joined a renowned criminal defense attorney to defend him, ultimately proving his innocence and inspiring her first nonfiction book, Long Way Home: A Young Man Lost in the System and the Two Women Who Found Him. 
Find her current release, THE DOG PARK, at  Paperback Link  and  Kindle Link.
Connect with Laura at http://www.lauracaldwell.com
Laura Caldwell shares her current release and future plans:
Describe your latest book.
THE DOG PARK is about a couple who shares joint custody of their dog who becomes suddenly famous when a video of him goes viral.

What inspired you to write THE DOG PARK? 
I’d been writing mysteries and thrillers for a while, including six books featuring my series character, Izzy McNeil. I had one book left in my contract and started plotting the seventh. At the time, I had just gotten my puppy, Shafer, and was head over heels. My publishers pointed out that my social media posts and photos had gone from books and mysteries to dogs and dogs and dogs. And they had an idea — why not write a novel involving a dog? A great beach book, something fast-moving and a little sexy. And maybe, just maybe, a happy ending. I was in.

In THE DOG PARK, we meet Baxter, a loving and lovable goldendoodle. Is there a real-life Baxter? Who were the doggie models for Baxter?
My dog, Shafer, was a typical goldendoodle puppy — adorable and friendly. And she was a big walker, so we walked all over the city, good weather or bad. (I live in Chicago and so Shafer, like the rest of us, had to wear boots and eight layers and complain as little as possible.) Shafer met people everywhere. And after she started spending a few days a week with a well-known dog walker, she started to know people on the street I’d never met. I wondered what it would be like if Shafer herself became really well-known. Say from a video or something. Baxter from THE DOG PARK was formed.

How was writing THE DOG PARK, a contemporary romance, different from your previous mystery and thriller work? 
I couldn't help but have long-buried secrets revealed. You never get the mystery writer out of your blood.

What was your favorite scene in THE DOG PARK? 
I love the first scene – the post-divorce banter, the love of the dog.

Jessica Champlin seems fond of adorning Baxter in flashy accessories. How does your furry friend feel about such snazzy duds?
Shafer seems to feel good about sparkly collars but put her in a coat and she gives me about 20 minutes.

What are you doing to reach out to readers and dog enthusiasts?
Every book signing has been dog-friendly and encouraging. We had them at pet stores and boutiques that allow dogs. We gave part of the proceeds to rescues and I did a promotion at a PAWS 5K run.

If you could compare your dog to any celebrity, living or dead, who would it be and why? 
Shafer is her own celebrity! She knows she should update her Twitter page more often. But she makes people happy wherever she goes. She loves to work a crowd at the beach.

Why did you choose to make a dog the central character of the novel? 
We wanted THE DOG PARK to be entertaining and fun, but my publisher really wanted a book with strong characters and strong relationships. Shortly into the book, I realized that Baxter, the dog whom I’d seen as more of a sub character (albeit one who drives much of the action), was definitely much more. Just like a lot of our pets, Baxter is a creature with his own personality. His own preferences and tastes and quirks.

What do you read for pleasure?
Right now I'm reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I started it a few times and put it down. Now that I’m into it, I look forward to reading it all day. That’s one of my favorite feelings in the world. I’m also looking forward to reading The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book? 
Overlaying all of the book is the profound, and yet often profoundly different, relationship that each different person has with their dog. There’s also the fact that social media has changed everything. It’s thrilling, but a little jarring and scary, to think that a person can be unknown at breakfast and trending on the news that night.

What was most difficult about writing THE DOG PARK? 
Reliving when Shafer was hit by a car. But it was cathartic.

What’s next for you? Are you working on anything new? 
Anatomy of Innocence, an anthology pairing thriller writers with exonerees to tell the story of how wrongful convictions happen.

Thanks for stopping by The Blood-Red Pencil, Laura, and good luck with your new release!

Please leave a comment to welcome Laura Caldwell to The Blood-Red Pencil.

Posted by Morgan Mandel.Find Morgan's mysteries & romances at Morgan Mandel.Com Morgan Does Chick Lit.Com

Friday, September 26, 2014

Book Pipeline Competition

I’ve noticed many authors are ambivalent about entering writing contests, but I’m not sure that’s always a good idea. Yes, they do cost you an entry fee, but getting your writing into agent and editor hands for less than $100 is much cheaper than pitching at a conference. Just do your homework and choose the contests with care. Here’s one contest that recently rolled across our radar.

The Book Pipeline Competition, presented by Script Pipeline, is seeking playwrights and authors with stellar material well-suited for film or television adaptation. The winning writer will have the unique opportunity of developing their work with industry executives and representatives.

Acceptable entries include:

Novels and short stories
Book Proposals/Pitches
Graphic Novels

Final deadline is September 30th. You can get more details and submit your work at http://www.bookpipeline.com/

Good luck if you decide to enter your work! 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Call in The Script Doctor

In addition to writing and editing books, I also write screenplays and stage plays, and have worked as a script doctor. A script doctor, who is sometimes simply called a consultant, is a writer hired by a director or producer to fix an existing script. Sometimes that is just an extensive copy edit similar to what is done for a novel. Other times the script doctor is asked to polish specific aspects of the script, including structure, characterization, dialogue, pacing, theme, and other elements.

That's what Stephen Marro and his Arrested Development Production Company in New York hired me to do for his film, Broadway's Finest.  He had a terrific story, but the dialogue, pacing and characterization needed help. That project started in development - which means all the work that goes into financing, producing, and marketing a film - about fifteen years ago and took this long to find its way to the screen. The original working title was Arrested Development, but then the television series came along, so he changed the film's title. Here is the trailer for the film.

I first met Stephen when he was interested in directing a screenplay I had written, and later worked with him on three scripts on which we share screenwriting credits. For two of those, I went to New York and spent several days with him developing the scripts. He had the basic ideas, some of the characters, and some of the scenes, and together we fleshed out the rest of the stories. Then I came home and wrote the first drafts of the scripts. Those were sent back to him for his input, then I did the final formatting and proofing.  If "It Doesn't Take a Hero" and "Canned Goods" ever find their way to the big screen, I will get screen credits because my contribution to the scripts was more than doctoring.

The reason I don't have a screenwriting credit for Broadway's Finest is because under the Writers Guild of America screenwriting credit system, a screenwriter must contribute more than 50 percent of an original screenplay or 33 percent of an adaptation to receive credit. So no screen credit for me. But I did have fun watching the film with my son not long ago and recognizing some of the lines of dialogue that were mine.

Just like a physician, one cannot simply hang out a shingle and be a script doctor. I took numerous screenwriting classes and workshops at the University of Houston and wrote two award-winning scripts before I even attempted to be a script doctor. Being a good book editor is not enough either, as script structure is different from that of a novel, as is the pacing and other elements, not to mention the formatting. That is vastly different from a novel or other prose, and a writer has to be skilled with those elements before a director or producer will hire him or her.

My first screenplay was "A Question of Honor", which is the project I had in development many moons ago and was my introduction to Stephen. It was a semi-finalist at Sundance, and even being a semi-finalist there gives one good scriptwriting creds. A few years later I placed as a semi-finalist at the Chesterfield with the adaptation of my mystery, Open Season.

If you would like to try adapting one of your stories to a script, check out the tutorial that Shon Bacon posted here yesterday - Book to Screen: Seeing Your Book as a Visual Story.

Have you adapted a story to a script? Got some tips to share for those just starting out?
Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent book releases are Doubletake and Boxes For Beds, both mysteries that are available for Kindle and in paper.  Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series, also now available as an e-book, along with Open Season, the first book in the series. To check her editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Book to Screen: Seeing Your Book as a Visual Story

Do you know what two important verbs typically go into the making of a screenplay?

Doing and Saying. Characters do things, and characters say things.

Like a book, like any good story, movies have plots and subplots that tie into the same question: what does the protagonist want and what keeps him/her from obtaining that want? In the quest to see how this story ends, characters do and say things.

Why am I repeating this and why is it important to know—especially in regards to seeing your book visually for the screen?

Check out one of the many free scripts at Simply Scripts. One thing that you will not notice in a screenplay is heavy exposition, pages upon pages of description, of characters’ thoughts and feelings, of minute detailing that brings a story to life in a book but would weigh a screenplay down in the worst kind of way.

In a screenplay, writers are quick to give just enough definition, description, or setting of the stage, but primarily, they are concerned with telling a story by speech and by action. The vast majority of a book is exposition; the vast majority of a screenplay is dialogue/action. Long passages in which a character is musing do not necessarily make for great movie entertainment. Because of this, we need to rethink our printed book for the visual screen.

Adapting a book into a screenplay is not just about moving from a book format to a script format. It’s about examining your book with screen eyes to discern what parts make for visually-stimulating moments for the screen, which parts have strength in character action and speech, which sections do not and if vitally needed, how can they be changed in order to be visually appealing. We need to realize that 1) movies and TV shows are a part of visual media and 2) you need to see how your book can become a part of that visual media.

How can we do that? First, print a copy of your book (or you can read on the computer if you don’t want to kill trees) and start to parse the manuscript. Read through it, making note of visually-appealing scenes/moments, making note of scenes/moments that aren’t visually appealing and figuring out if they are needed for the story and how to make them visually appealing if they are needed, and going through all the exposition to discern, if needed, how to make it visually appealing and make it fit into the action and speech that are vital to good visual storytelling.

At this stage, we are not concerned with order or structure or how the book will be a screenplay. We are concerned with looking at the artifact and figuring out if it has the goods to be a screenplay. Not every book is made to be a movie, and this is a great stage to look at your book with screen eyes to see if this is a story best kept in print or if it has the chops to be developed for the screen.

When you read your book with those screen eyes, try to read, to see the story as a movie goer, not the writer of the book, which I know is hard as the literary parent. Is there enough action in the story? Is there enough strong dialogue that reveals characters and moves story along? Can the exposition and description be trimmed for the screen or made into visually-appealing components? Start thinking like a movie goer and not just a book reader.

Here’s a bit of homework: It’s always a good idea to see how others have successfully gone from book to screen. Below are links to three books (and their adapted screenplays) that have won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay Adaptation. What's cool about one of the examples is that the script was developed from a short story—not a novel. This exercise will allow you to see differences in formatting books and scripts, to analyze the adaptation process itself, and to begin to see how you might begin the adaptation process with your own novel.

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her author website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Building Character(s) in Real Life

First in a week-long series exploring novels to film.

A few years ago, when I started writing longer stories and began developing the Morristown mystery series, I noticed my tendency to naturally break chapters into tight scenes that seemed more like scripting theater scenes than book chapters. I also found myself looking for photos of people who might play the roles of my characters, and as I built character files, I added images to give me strong visual descriptions for my writing. That seemed like casting actors for a play or movie.

When my male protagonist took over my writing voice, I had quite a few challenges identifying with his character, and visuals became even more important to my writing. I spent hours looking for my main character, J. Lindsey Calhoun, and thought I’d found him in this man:

But two aspects always bothered me about this image. He needed to have blue eyes – that changed from light blue to stormy dark depending on emotion - and I didn’t get that from this model. 

He also needed a multi-faceted face, with lots of changing emotions. One not too pretty, because my book hero starts out being fairly cold, even unattractive as a person, and someone intimidating enough to inspire a small army of protectors around the heroine and his future love interest.

Quite by accident, I found the perfect blue eyes on a friend’s Facebook page. These eyes belong to Jeff Bosley.

So I threw him into my character gene pool and connected with him on his social networks. Even better, I discovered he was an actor in real life, one who had pulled the safety net from under himself, moving to Los Angeles to pursue a full-time film career, and was promoting heavily online. His updates on Facebook and Twitter daily gave me more images to work with.

He could be a lawyer easily enough.

He scruffs  up pretty well too.

He has a humorous, even goofy side.

More important than anything, he can light up a room when he smiles, because that side of him is clearly described in my novel. It’s the effect the heroine has on him, and that softening is pivotal to his character development and to their relationship.

Yep. Actor Jeff Bosley could be the perfect J. Lindsey Calhoun when we break into film.

[ Clips from various upcoming films added 9/23/2014 http://vimeo.com/welcometoboz ]

Well, almost perfect. First I have to buy lots of stock in Dermablend to cover all that ink, and, gee, maybe a manicure? ;)

Yes, I’m writing this book beginning with the idea that we’ll end up onscreen. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve come at a challenge back-asswards. Probably crazy, but who cares if it helps me get the book written?

To that end, we have a #Christmas2014Challenge. By then I’ll have finished my first book draft, with the help of National Novel Writing Month in November. Mr. Bosley plans to score a leading role in a major film. (He works so hard every day, I have no doubts that this will happen!)

Do us a favor and help us achieve our goals, friends. Connect with us online and be our cheerleaders.

You can learn more about Jeff Bosley at his professional website (which includes videos), his official Facebook page, and on Twitter. Please promote him whenever you can. How cool would it be to have a famous actor playing the lead in my story in a few years? Very cool! 

March 13, 2015: Read Bosley's interview with The IF List founder here. buff.ly/1L72cQo

You can connect with me here, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Pinterest where I’ll update my weekly writing progress. Do egg me on – embarrass me into success if you must! I need your help, too, to build MY character as well as my book’s! Because, dang, it’s hard to keep at this some days. I need all the inspiration I can get.

Tell me readers, what helps you build your character profiles? Any unusual and inspiring ideas? What’s in your can of stick-to-anything tricks? I’m always interested in your behind-the-scenes motivations. Please leave us a comment!

Dani Greer is founding member of The Blood-Red Pencil, a member of Colorado Writers and Editors on Facebook, and an acquisitions editor for Little Pickle Press. She’s been involved with publishing off and on for 40 years. In her spare time, she swings a mean scythe on the high plains where she lives on a couple of acres with her artist husband, Michael, and too many critters to name.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Mixing Things Up

Photo by Craighton Miller, via Flickr
In my last posting, I outlined the merits of using Third Person Omniscient narration if, like me, you’re a writer who enjoys working on large canvases. That said, if your novel features parallel plot lines and an ensemble cast of more-or-less equally important characters, there’s no law that says you can’t Mix Things Up, either by using multiple First Person narrators, or by utilising both First and Third person narrative technique in alternating sections of the same book.

Mixing Things Up is not a post-modern innovation.1 This trend was spear-headed by the celebrated Victorian novelist Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) in his hugely-successful sensation novel The Woman in White. More recent maestros in the use of mixed narrative voices include two writers of Young Adult fiction: Jonathan Stroud and Elizabeth Wein.

Stroud’s exemplary work is a four-volume fantasy set in parallel gaslight version of Europe.2 Here, all social and political authority is vested in an elite cadre of wizards who derive their power from their ability to control a variety of “demons” summoned from a realm that the demons themselves refer to as “the Other Place”.

The first volume features two focal characters: a 5000-year-old djinn named Bartimaeus and a 14-year-old wizard’s apprentice named Nathaniel. Nathaniel’s side of the story is conveyed in Third Person. By wonderful contrast, Bartimaeus addresses us in First Person so that we get the benefit of a mature, often abrasive intelligence commenting on events as they unfold. The effect is nothing short of marvellous.

Elizabeth Wein’s internationally acclaimed single-volume Code Name Verity (2012) likewise features a combination of First and Third Person narration. Set during WWII, the novel’s two focal characters, Julie and Maddie, are young female aviators united by their love of flight. Julie’s portions of the narrative are conveyed in First Person; Maddie’s in Third Person. Using this mixed technique enables Wein to intensify the narrative tension to fever pitch.

The first chapter, presented from Julie’s First Person angle of vision, is absolutely riveting.3 Within the space of three paragraphs, we learn that she’s a prisoner of war, under interrogation by a German officer:
After the ridiculous deal I made with SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer von Linden, I know I am a coward….

Here’s the deal we made. I’m putting it down to keep it straight in my own mind.
“Let’s try this,” the Hauptsturmfuhrer said to me. “How could you be bribed?” And I said I wanted my clothes back.4

The other side of the story is conveyed via Third Person Maddie’s reminiscences of flying planes from air-field to air-field under the direction of the British High Command:
“Tyro to ground,” came the call from the training aircraft. “Position uncertain, overhead triangular body of water to east of corridor.” …

Maddie shook her head, swearing unprettily under her breath. “Oh my sainted aunt! … How in the name of mud is [a bomber-pilot] going to find Berlin if he can’t find Manchester?”
Utilising both angles of vision, Wein is able to construct a compelling back story that culminates with Maddie defying the odds to enter German air-space in a bid to rescue her friend.

Which brings us to the bottom line: when choosing your narrative angle of vision, don’t feel obliged to subscribe to the latest fad in “literary fiction”. Use what works for you!


1 On the contrary, Collins is adapting aspects of the epistolary novel, a form introduced into the English literary tradition by James Howell (1594-1666) in a work entitled “Familiar Letters” which is a subjective chronicle of romantic adventures.

2 The four novels which comprise The Bartimaeus Series are The Amulet of Samarkand (2003), The Golem’s Eye (2004), Ptolemy’s Gate (2005), and The Ring of Solomon (2010). I highly recommend them.

3 Fellow-members of the Wayside Writers’ Group were privileged to see this work in manuscript before it was contracted. We practically had to wrestle it out of one another’s hands.

4 I defy anyone to resist this opener. But don’t take my word for it. Read this novel for yourself.

Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

More About Pre-Orders

Last month, I talked about Amazon narrowing the gap between indie and traditionally published authors by making its pre-order option available to indie authors as well. Since then, I've tried the system, not only at Amazon, but at Kobo and the iBook store. As far as I can tell, there's no way to track sales at iBooks, so it'll be a matter of watching the sales reports when the book goes live in late October. Kobo doesn't track sales, but it does record rankings, so you can get an idea if you've been selling books by watching the rankings.

Amazon reports pre-orders as a separate section of their dashboard. And, contrary to what I thought was their system, it turns out they regard these pre-orders as regular sales, so the book's ranking will reflect that.

I put my newest book, Windswept Danger, up for pre-order on September 1st at all 3 channels, at the special pre-order price of 99 cents. Because I wanted to make sure everything was uploaded and working properly, I didn't do any advertising until my newsletter went out on September 4th. I always promise my subscribers exclusive content, so they got to see it first.

I was out of town (at the fantastic Writers' Police Academy) until the 8th, and when I got home, I started doing some promotion on my blog, Twitter, and Facebook pages.

Results? I noticed a nice spike in sales and rankings when my newsletter went out. In fact, Windswept Danger hit the top 100 in its sub-genres at Amazon almost immediately:

#10,332 Paid in Kindle Store US
#48 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Action & Adventure > Romance
#94 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Action & Adventure > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery
#95 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Action & Adventure > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Suspense

#7,361 Paid in UK Kindle Store
#18 in Kindle Store > Books > Literature & Fiction > Action & Adventure > Romance
#60 in Kindle Store > Books > Crime, Thriller & Mystery > Mystery > Action & Adventure

Results from the social media channels—not so much. Part of that is because of Facebook's policy of not feeding posts to all your contacts, so only a fraction saw the promotion.

But promoting without giving readers information about the book probably isn't going to sell copies. So, when my book went 'live' for pre-order, I made sure my website page for Windswept Danger was up and running.

I also promoted with a short blurb:

The Stepford Wives meet Hotel California
Can a feisty security agent who hates taking orders and a covert ops specialist who has some-thing to prove, put aside their own differences and their own agendas long enough to uncover the secrets of Windswept Heights?

Some said they want to read samples of the book before they buy, so I have the first chapter on my website.

Someone asked about getting reviews, saying they don't like to buy books until they've seen what others have to say. For indie authors, this can be a genuine struggle. I have ARC files in most formats which I'm happy to provide to people who want to review the book. For my last book, Dangerous Connections, I also created ARC 'proof' copies. These didn't even have the final cover—I thought I'd make them available to reviewers who want print version. I didn't end up with a lot of takers. Quite frankly, most of the advertising open to indie authors comes from newsletters like BookBub, The Fussy Librarian, eBookSoda, and others. What they look for is reader reviews on Amazon, not reviews from professional reviewers. I've stopped worrying about that. I write the book, I get it out there. (Of course there's a whole lot between those two steps.) There are also bloggers who review books. Most take digital copies, which makes it easy to get copies to them.

And, in case any readers here are interested in the book (or helping it rise in the rankings), you can pre-order it from Amazon, Kobo, and iTunes. You'll get it delivered to your e-reader on its release day. And you'll save $3.

I'll report again once the book is for sale 'live' to see how the entire process worked for me.

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Writer’s Police Academy

For those of us writing mysteries in whichever sub-genre, learning the technical police procedures and lingo can be a daunting experience. I just spent five days as part of the volunteer staff at The Writer’s Police Academy. For the fifth year in a row, retired cop Lee Lofland rounded up a fantastic roster of writers, law enforcement, forensic specialists, psychologists, pathologists, explosive experts, firefighters, paramedics, agents from the ATF, FBI, Secret Service, and every other specialist related to crime you could think of. In addition, bestselling authors, Michael Connelly, Lisa Gardner, Alafair Burke, Robin Burcell, and John Gilstrap either gave classes or talks.

Polly with Michael Connelly

One class I took, conducted by William “Billy” Queen, recounted his two years undercover with a biker gang. I found it particularly interesting because I have two undercover officers in my soon-to-be-released book, Backlash (which is now available for pre-order). When you hear truth is stranger than fiction, this man’s story definitely falls into that category. I can’t imagine the daily stress he was under, never knowing whether one of the bad guys—and they were really bad—would find out who he really was and kill him.

Robin Burcell’s class on forensic art and witness recall interested me in particular since I spent twenty-five years as a commercial artist. I sat there wondering if I could have been any good in that profession. Robin was already a police officer before she started doing the sketches, and she was good enough that many criminals were caught solely on the basis of her drawings.

I monitored a Meggitt session which, along with a few others, were classes allotted on a first come, first serve basis. Meggitt poses live action shoot/don’t shoot scenarios, using real firearms specially tooled for simulation training. It’s tense but fun. I didn’t get a chance to try it myself. Maybe next time. Other lottery courses were aviation and aerial surveillance, building searches, a six-session investigation of felony murder with a defense/prosecutor/judge conclusion, underwater recovery, and driving simulator, which I did try.

Another class I took was Broken Bones, Ballistics, & Backdrafts: Technical Stuff that Writers Get Wrong, given by John Gilstrap. Besides being a New York Times bestselling author, Gilstrap spent years as safety expert with extensive knowledge of explosives, hazardous materials, and fire behavior. He was entertaining as well as informed.

Dr. Kathryn Ramsland’s class on exotic crimes offered a touch of the macabre when she went through some bizarre serial killers and their murderous obsessions. This wouldn’t be a class for the faint of heart. Those of us writing harder crime fiction were riveted to her talk and slide screen presentation.

Police Chief Scott Silverii’s class covered special ops, K9, water/dive, SWAT, & more. Silverii, besides having experience in almost every facet of police work, has a PhD in anthropology.

One of the panels at WPA

The presenters of all the classes I had a chance to take—remember, I was on staff—were interesting and amusing. I missed some classes I wanted to take, but so many things were going on at once, I realized why some people come back year after year. There’s no way to take all the classes you want. I missed Dr. Denene Lofland’s class and former Secret Service agent Mike Roche’s classes. Anyone interested in more information, check out this year’s website. If you’re interested in coming next year, check back for the 2015 schedule.

Novelists Inc and Sisters in Crime are major supporters. SinC supplements part of the fee if you’re a member. It’s worth every penny.

Polly Iyer is the author of six novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and two books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games and Goddess of the Moon. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Missed Connections

Photo courtesy of freeimages.com

Hello, duckies! So much for warm weather; fall has fallen and shows no sign of getting to its feet any time soon. Of course I don’t mind cooler weather, especially when there are so many lovely wooly things to knit. I’m just about to sew up the shoulders of a kimono-style jacket, so we’ll make this month’s missive a short one.

We’re all familiar with the use of and when stringing subjects together, yes? The polka-dot blouse and plaid pants were hideous. Indeed. This sort of pairing (eye-watering qualities aside) is fairly straightforward. A compound subject, a plural verb.

Now for the tricky part.

Suppose you like your prose a bit on the flowery side? You might decide to use in addition to, or together with, or any number of substitutes. Will you still use the plural verb?

Ah, I see several smiles and shaking heads. Good for you. Connective phrases such as along with or as well as do not make your subject plural. The manager in addition to his clerks was trampled by the overzealous shoppers. Of course, in this example, the right way still feels somewhat awkward. When this happens, consider going right back to good old and when structuring your sentence. The manager and his clerks were heard to scream like banshees as the stilettoed tide washed over them.

There you are. Short and sweet, just like my morning stack of pancakes. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must make a decision about the sleeves of my jacket. Three-quarter length, or full? Ah, well. I suppose I’ll just knit until the pattern bores me. In the meantime, stay warm, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Photo courtesy of Darrick Bartholomew

Having recently purchased a bicycle, the Style Maven spends a great deal of time in the kitchen, compounding liniment. She was involved in a standoff two weeks ago; the details can be found on the Procraftinator page at kofo.com.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Writers’ Block is Not the Flu

From time to time, every writer contracts a case of Writers’ Block. But Writers’ Block is not a disease, something that you “catch” that will go away after you pamper yourself, take Vitamin C, and postpone activity until it’s over. Writer’s Block is really just another name for fear.

This doesn’t mean Writers’ Block isn’t real – of course it is. Writers’ Block is like a boulder damming up a flowing river. The boulder is real. The water can’t flow smoothly until something is done about that boulder. You have to move it or find a way around it.

In other words, you have to do some work. We want things to be easy. We think if our writing flows easily, it must be “right”, or if you are spiritually inclined, even god-directed. And if we are having trouble, if we have to write the same paragraph twelve times over, that somehow means the writing is not as good, that we’re doing something wrong, that maybe it’s not “meant to be.”

This is not necessarily true. Not everything good comes easily. Writing is work, and sometimes work is hard. Moving the boulders means you might sweat. Dredging a new channel for the river means it might take a long time and you’ll have to deal with aches and pains. 

So if you’ve got Writers’ Block, get to work. Write anyway, even if what you write is stupid or dull. Stupid and dull are simply boulders you’ve thrown into your own river. There’s always a way to deal with the boulders. It’s your job to find it.

Hint: Going back to bed and taking Vitamin C is not it. I know, because I’ve tried it. 

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 8 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 40 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit Primary-Sources.com.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Enquiring Writers Want to Know…

During my years of editing, numerous questions and comments have come from writers who were new to the business. After reviewing some of the more common ones, I’ve made a list that might be useful to others here as they jump into the deep end of our literary pool.


I know exactly how my story is going to end before I type the first word. How do I make sure my ending won’t change? You don’t. Imposing an ending on your story that doesn’t fit its development will kill your book, just as will forcing your characters into cubby holes where they are nothing more than two-dimensional puppets. Instead, craft solid characters with individual likes, dislikes, and personalities; detailed backgrounds; and strong family histories; then put them into your setting and let them tell you their story. Of course, you can’t allow them to go too far afield, but you can give them enough latitude to bring reality to your words and an ending that fits who they are—not a written-in-stone finish that leaves the reader cold and unfulfilled. The last thing we want is for our reader to arrive at “The End” and wonder what happened…or didn’t happen.

Do I really have to do research? This is fiction. You need to do research only if you want your story to be convincing and the reader to be chomping at the bit for your next book. You need to have your factual ducks in a row and your story realistic, plausible, and accurate in even the little details. It should reflect real life, even if it’s fantasy. If it doesn’t, it won’t “connect” with your readers.

pjh via Morguefile

I have so many great stories bouncing around in my head that I know my books will be bestsellers. The big publishing houses are going to line up with contracts and advance checks in their hands. That gives you a big head start on the rest of us. It also labels you as incredibly optimistic. Writing is hard, lonely work. Competition is fierce. "Bouncing" stories in no way guarantee success; even J. K. Rowling and Stephen King had slow starts on their wildly successful writing careers. So come back to earth and begin reading every book in your genre that you can get your hands on. What works for you as a reader? What doesn’t work? How would you change the story to make it better, more exciting, more intense? How would you increase the reader’s connection with the story? Then perhaps you can think about writing a story of your own.

How long does it take to write a book? That’s a great question. While the answer is an unknown quantity, it can be stated without a doubt that the distracting factors (job, family, friends, social life, research required, commitment, perseverance, etc.) in your life contribute hugely to the final outcome in this arena. Best answer: it takes as long as it takes.

pschubert via Morguefile

These are but a few examples of questions and misconceptions from newbies to our field. Do you have other questions or expectations? If you are an experienced writer, can you share some advice that will help new ones as they try to find their way through the writing, publishing, and marketing mazes?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at www.denvereditor.com.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Write What You Know

Ever heard someone say, Write what you know? It sounds logical, but what does it really mean? To me, it means write what you are familiar with or what you can research. Even if you really know something, you want to weave your knowledge into the characters without the reader feeling like the author is doing the talking or spending too much time presenting minutiae. In my first fiction book, Angel Sometimes, I gave Angel the job of swimming as a mermaid. That was easy since I'd swam as a mermaid for four years.

My second fiction book, Dismembering the Past is different. Matti McAllister, a Private Investigator, is the protagonist. But I've never been a PI, so I had to do a lot of research and, as I wrote, I found myself getting inside her head. You may base characters on people you know or people you've seen around town or people you've met online. The trick is to choose something from that person and give that fear or favorite song or way of talking, or whatever you feel sets them apart from others, to a particular character. You can use little quirks or mannerism, but twist them or change them in a way that defines your character's character so that the person you base the character on doesn't see himself or herself and feel used.

What if you don't know something? For example, you have a character who's a coal miner and you know nothing about such a job. In that case, you're going to have to do a lot of researching, perhaps even some interviewing. You need to know that character inside and out in order to bring them to life on the page. Here's an idea. Sometimes, an author will have a drawing. The winner of the drawing becomes a character in the book. That's okay since the person knows she or he will be in the book. You could even do a drawing and the winner chooses whether they'd like to be a friend of the protagonist, a sidekick, or perhaps the antagonist. If you do this, you can post it on your Facebook page and announce it as a contest to see which follower gets to have input into your book or becomes a character in the book. In this way, you're pre-marketing the book and building interest in it. As the debut date for the book comes closer, you can amp up the expectation by doing a giveaway of a copy of the book when it comes out. Be sure to include a link to where followers can go to purchase your book and/or read about the book if they're not the winner. If you write what you know or what you learn, your characters are more likely to come to life on the page.

Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel SometimesDismembering the Past and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Deadpoint, is due out in 2015.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Time Out For a Little Fun

I don't know about you, but in the midst of some busy days for me - writing a new book, preparing for a signing event, running rehearsals for the play I'm directing, and taking care of all my critters - I need a few jokes to relieve the stress. Next to exercise, laughter is the best stress reducer, so let's have at it.

Later this month we will feature a series of posts related to screenwriting, so I thought these first two jokes I borrowed from Karyn Hollis who first posted them on the Villanova University website were most appropriate.

A screenwriter comes home to a burned down house. His sobbing and slightly-singed wife is standing outside. "What happened, honey?" the man asks.

"Oh, John, it was terrible," she weeps. "I was cooking, the phone rang. It was your agent. Because I was on the phone, I didn't notice the stove was on fire. It went up in just seconds. Everything is gone. I nearly didn't make it out of the house. Poor Fluffy is--"

"Wait, wait. Back up a minute," the man says. "My agent called?"

How many screenwriters does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer:  Ten.
1st draft.  Hero changes light bulb.
2nd draft.  Villain changes light bulb.
3rd draft.  Hero stops villain from changing light bulb.  Villain falls to death.
4th draft.  Lose the light bulb.
5th draft.  Light bulb back in.  Fluorescent instead of tungsten.
6th draft.  Villain breaks bulb, uses it to kill hero's mentor.
7th draft.  Fluorescent not working.  Back to tungsten.
8th draft.  Hero forces villain to eat light bulb.
9th draft.  Hero laments loss of light bulb.  Doesn't change it.
10th draft.  Hero changes light bulb.

The following quotes were borrowed from Funny Quotes About Writing - a great site for stress relief. 

"I wrote a few children's books. Not on purpose." - Steven Wright

"I get a lot of letters from people. They say: "I want to be a writer. What should I do?" I tell them to stop writing to me and get on with it." - Ruth Rendell

"If the English language made any sense, lackadaisical would have something to do with a shortage of flowers." - Doug Larson

"Writers don’t have lifestyles. They sit in little rooms and write." - Norman Mailer

"Learn to write. Never mind the damn statistics. If you like statistics, become a CPA." - Jim Murray

"The dubious privilege of a freelance writer is he’s given the freedom to starve anywhere." - S.J. Perelman

"Long, hard slog today writing the Great American Tweet. (That was it...what do you think? Pulitzer?)"
- Greg Tamblyn

"A bad review may spoil your breakfast, but you shouldn't allow it to spoil your lunch." - Kingsley Amis

"Unless a reviewer has the courage to give you unqualified praise, I say ignore the bastard." - John Steinbeck

"Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs."
- Christopher Hampton

So, what do you think? Any of these quotes resonate with you? Got one to share? Please feel free to try to best me in the comments section.

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent book releases are Doubletake and Boxes For Beds, both mysteries that are available for Kindle and in paper.  Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series, also now available as an e-book, along with Open Season, the first book in the series. To check her editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. She thinks laughter is very good medicine.