Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Should Authors Review Other Authors?

By Andrew E. Kaufman

It’s an interesting question, one I often think about after reading a book. Should I or shouldn’t I?

Since becoming an author, I’ve left very few reviews on Amazon, and during the past year I made the decision to stop completely. There were several reasons for this. True, I’m a reader just like anyone else, but am I a typical reader?

No. Not really.

For me, it started feeling like an ethical issue. Since I write what I read, most of the books I enjoy (or don’t) are in the same genre as mine. That means the authors I read are competing for the same market share, and leaving a review on Amazon feels like a conflict of interest. If I leave a bad review, it could easily be interpreted as an act of bad intent.

And even If I leave a favorable review, readers might suspect that I did it as a favor to the author, and if that happens, have I done that person a service or disservice by leaving one? Just as much of a concern, have I done myself the same, possibly even damaging my own credibility as an author?

Another part of this involves my personal feelings: quite honestly, I have a hard time leaving a bad review for an author—as one myself, I know how deep the sting can feel from a bad review, and I find it difficult to inflict that on a colleague. This is not to say that they shouldn’t get a poor review for writing a lousy book; I’m just not sure whether I’m the one who should leave it.

Giving an author a blurb review is something different—with those, it’s clear that I’m doing it as a favor, but even then I’m hesitant due to time constraints and also because I wonder whether they actually help readers reach a decision on whether to make a purchase.

Also of concern is that as an author, I have a whole different set of standards while judging a book. My interests are often far more of a technical nature, nitpicky things,
and because of that I tend to scrutinize a work more needlessly than for the average reader. When I read, it’s hard to pull off my writer’s hat and put on the reading one—the two are so intricately intertwined these days. I worry that the things I’m critical of would be of no interest the average reader, and in stating them, it could have negative effects for a book that most people would find perfectly enjoyable.

Not everyone agrees with me on this. Some authors regularly leave reviews on Amazon—and really, there is no right or wrong answer to this question. It’s all about personal choices.

Contrary to what some may believe, Amazon doesn't discourage or pull reviews from authors based on that criterion, so they are free to review all they’d like. The only reason they would do so is if there appears to be a financial interest or gain on either side. This could be caused by something as innocent as me sending a birthday gift to the author, or something as obvious as having co-written something with him or her. Having said that, besides the co-authoring part, this would apply to anyone, whether they're an author or not.

So what do you think, troops?

Readers, do you have a problem seeing reviews from authors?

And authors, do you or don’t you? If so (or not) why (or why not?).

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Mystery of a Different Sort

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple (Little, Brown trade paperback, 2 April 2013).

Reviewed by Marlyn Beebe.

This novel is not marketed as a mystery story, but rather as
an ingenious and unabashedly entertaining novel about a family coming to terms with who they are.  It is also a riotous satire of privilege and an unsentimental but powerful story of a daughter's unflinching love for her imperfect mother. (From the book jacket.)

The "Bernadette" of the title is a Seattle housewife whose husband, Elgin, works at Microsoft and whose teen-aged daughter Bee goes to a private school.   Bernadette and Elgin, both very intelligent with strong personalities, have a mostly good relationship. Bee, also very smart and self-assured, adores her mother, and thinks of her as her best friend.

Bernadette hates Seattle, in fact she's certain she's allergic to it. The other parents at the Galer Street school, which Bee attends, think Bernadette is not only a snob but a horrible mother, mostly because the only way she helps out is by donating money rather than doing any physical volunteer work.

Bernadette and Elgin have promised their daughter  a trip to wherever she wishes as a reward for getting perfect grades throughout middle school, and Bee chooses Antarctica.   Bernadette decides that she can't handle complicated details of planning this trip on her own, so she hires a "virtual assistant" from a company in India.  She leaves everything in the hands of their representative, Manjula Kapoor, giving her carte blanche to make reservations and order supplies for the trip.


During the weeks leading up to the trip, which is scheduled for Christmas vacation, the family's next door neighbor, whose son also attends Galer Street, decides to have a fund-raising event at her home, and, determined that Bernadette must assist, begins to harass her.

At the same time, Elgin has a major project due at work, and throws himself into it completely.  Between seeing little of her husband, and being hounded by her crazy neighbor,  Bernadette becomes overwhelmed by the stress, and just before the planned trip to Antarctica, she disappears. 

Of course, herein lies the mystery.  What happened to Bee's mother?  How could Elgin's wife have vanished without a trace?   The efforts of Bernadette's family to find her are amazing, and heartwarming.  This book is, as the cover blurb proclaimed, ingenious, no matter how it's classified.

 FTC Full Disclosure:  I borrowed the hardcover edition of this book from my local library.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Savage Sons

by Ian Graham, author

As if by some bizarre twist of fate, my first full-length novel, Veil of Civility, was published on April 2, 2013, and deals with an organized attack on America by Chechen terrorists. CHECHNYA and CHECHEN are two new words that entered the common vocabulary of the western world with a jolt last week when the identities of the two Boston Marathon bombers were revealed.

Many of us now know that Chechnya is a land-locked territory in Eastern Europe that is smaller than Riverside County, California, and remains under the political control of Russia. Chechens, the people who live there, refer to themselves as the Nokhchi. To thriller writers like me, who always have an ear to the ground for subjects closely related to the military and intelligence trades, neither term is new. For many of us, the Chechens have been on our radar since reports came out of the two major wars fought in that country since the fall of the Soviet Union, which featured some of the most heinous and savage attacks that could be imagined. 

Chechen guerrilla fighters, who had rebelled against Russia at least five times in the last century, invaded and took hostage an entire hospital in 1995, bombed five apartment buildings in 1999, invaded and took hostage a theater in 2002, and invaded and took hostage a school full of children in 2004. These attacks, which are only a small sampling of those committed by the Chechens, were responsible for nearly 1,000 deaths and over 2,000 injuries, almost all of which were civilian. What was even more shocking than the actual attacks was the sheer savagery with which the Chechens conducted themselves. Reports of mass rape, slow and painful exsanguination, and decapitation were common.

Most Chechens are Muslims whose adherence to Islam traces back over a millennium, and they have fought vehemently against foreign forces that attempt to invade their homeland. However, unlike other Muslims, Chechens have maintained key components of their pre-Islamic identity. Prior to their conversion, Chechens lived in tribes known as tieps, and still do in some mountainous regions of their country. Within these tieps, children are taught to fight from an early age, ancient ideas of honor and warriorship remain, and bigoted intolerance of their lowland counterparts, who have become intermixed with Russians, Georgians and other nationalities, is commonplace.

Over the past two decades, Chechen Islamists have been unsuccessful in beating back the advancement of Russian forces in their homeland, but they have become hugely dependent on Islamic sources of weapons and money while trying to do so. Much like the discovery of some ancient weapon, the leaders of the worldwide jihadist movement, men like Ayman al-Zawahiri and the now deceased Osama bin Laden, have co-opted not only the Chechen struggle for independence, but also Chechen tactics for doing so.

Chechen fighters have been dispatched to conflicts around the world in order to spread their inherited savagery and intricate knowledge of IEDs and Soviet-era weapons to militant ranks in other countries and, much as they have done in the Balkans and Kashmir, the jihadists have made the North Caucasus—the region in which Chechnya is located and the historic avenue into Eastern Europe and Russia—an important theater in their desire for a worldwide Islamic caliphate. These areas have become toe-holds from which the jihadist movement can launch attacks into a world outside of the Middle East, and just such a scenario is at the heart of Veil of Civility

With the American attitude toward Russia being one of constant suspicion since the days of the Cold War, programs have been opened to accept refugees and asylum seekers from the North Caucasus region. While the vast majority of those who have come are likely innocent people fleeing the constant fighting in their homeland, it’s not hard to see how a Chechen, influenced by the ideas of radical Islam, could use such programs as an easy way into the United States and other western nations in order to commit acts of terror sanctioned by jihadist leaders. 

While the Tsarnaev brothers’ connection to Chechnya may turn out to be nothing more than common ancestry, the older brother’s six-month trip to the North Caucasus cannot be overlooked. Terrorist training camps and strongholds exist throughout that region and someone, somewhere, had to teach him to build the volatile and sophisticated explosive devices used in the Boston Marathon attacks.
 Both of my published fictional works, Patriots & Tyrants in 2012 and Veil of Civility in 2013, have featured Chechens and Chechen terrorism. I mention this to underscore the feelings I felt on Friday morning upon learning the identities of the Boston Marathon bombers. As someone who has heavily researched both the region and the people of Chechnya, my blood froze. I was frightened at the very real possibilities of what could be coming next if these men were part of a larger group. With the whole of the Northeastern US’s law enforcement chasing after these men, would they (and any unidentified allies) barricade themselves inside a hospital or school as they have in their homeland? Would the people in those buildings suffer the horrifying fates of previous hostages? 

An ancient Chechen proverb seems to indicate so: When will blood cease to flow in the mountains? When sugar canes grow in the snows.

Ian Graham was born in New Hampshire on July 4th, the third generation of his family to share a birthday with the United States of America. His three main interests are politics, religion and history. The stories he writes are centered on the explosive conflicts created when the three intersect. He has written two books; Patriots & Tyrants, a collection of short stories, and Veil of Civility, the first full-length novel in the Black Shuck thriller series featuring former IRA volunteer, Declan McIver.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Rolling on the River

Guest post by mystery author Susan Shea
There are times, as a writer, when I feel like a lumberjack rolling logs down a river, jumping from one unsteady floating raft to another, aware that I may fall into the roiling waters, get clunked on the head and go under.

Publishing is like that today, with so many options for getting to your readers, but on shifting platforms that move rapidly with the currents. Nimbleness is a requirement, risk-taking a necessity, constant vigilance demanded.

At the moment – and bless the fates for this – I am represented by a fantastic agent and being published traditionally, albeit with a small press, Top Five Books out of Chicago. (The second book in my Dani O’Rourke series, The King’s Jar, comes out May 1 in trade paper and e-book formats.) But if I have learned anything since 2010, when my debut novel was published by another traditional outfit, it’s that there are no sure things in this business unless you’re James Patterson or Sue Grafton.

Consider: My agent began shopping my first mystery in August 2008. Yes, that’s right, just as the bottom fell out of the stock market and editors at the major publishers got orders from the bean counters to freeze all purchases. The next set of orders began the trend we’re seeing today: Buy only sure best sellers from known authors – forget the mid list, those authors who might, if encouraged for a couple of books, find audiences.

My book eventually sold to a publisher that concentrated largely on library sales, so I got a hard cover debut and some nice reviews, but limited sales because it was difficult for bookstores to get stock. Eventually, as other editions were licensed, I began to get modest royalties, but it was no path to riches. Meanwhile, some of my savvy friends (including some on Crime Fiction Collective) jumped onto a different rolling log and decided to go the route of the new version of self-publishing, not the old vanity-press style but a more rigorous, credible, and audience-focused process that rightly blurred the lines between the traditional path and an independent one.

Today, there are many reputable authors, including scores who were traditionally published in the past, who have chosen the independent publishing mode and are doing well, editorially and financially. I’m not quite so nimble and, with the support of an agent who sticks with her authors, have that new book coming out. But I am keenly aware that the logs are shifting all the time, that there is no guarantee beyond my two-book contract, and that the burden to stay afloat is largely on my head.

If you’re a writer, hang on for dear life and never give up – there are alternative paths we never had before. If you’re a reader, thank you from all of us navigating the rivers of publishing – you’re why we’re afloat in any form!

Susan C Shea writes the Dani O’Rourke Mystery series. The first is Murder in the Abstract and the sequel is The King’s Jar, published May 1. You can read more about her at www.susancshea.com .

Thursday, April 25, 2013

LA Times Festival of Books: The bad, the worse, and the butt-ugly

By Gayle Carline
-Author of Mysteries and Humor (often the humor is a mystery)

I'm composing this post semi-blind, as I'm piggybacking off Jenny's post about the lovely time she had at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books last weekend. It is a book lover's Nirvana, set on the very prestigious USC (although old and can I just say a little shabby?) campus over two days. I'm imagining Jenny discussing the weather and the people and how spanking fine it all was, and if you could actually hear her talk about it, you'd hear a darling English accent that would melt your heart, even if she does write about cold-blooded killers.

Writing humor as I do, the natural thing for me to do is to write about the dark side. So here's my list of what not to do at a book festival:

1. If you are a writer and are sharing a booth with other writers, do not hog the potential buyers. Share the love. Our booth did not have that problem. I did, however, hear of one fairly well-known author who likes to stand in front of the other authors at signing areas to hawk her wares. The other authors do not appreciate this.

2. If you are a reader/buyer, do not stand at a booth and tell us your life story, then walk away without purchasing anything, or even picking up a bookmark. We care, really we do, but we're here to sell books. If you stand there for 5 minutes, you need to pick up a bookmark. Forty-five minutes, you need to buy something, Mister.

3. If you are a writer and do not write erotica, do not engage people in conversations about Fifty Shades of Grey (this is something I learned at the Duarte Festival of Authors). They will tell you personal stories that will make your hair stand on end and dance around. Of course, if you are a male writer, they may make something else stand on end. Either way, don't suggest other erotica they might enjoy. Just smile and nod and ask if they'd like a bookmark.

4. If you are a reader/buyer, do not try to sell YOUR book to the writers. That's not the way this works. We bought space at the venue to specifically sell our books. Wandering around willy-nilly with a backpack of self-pubbed books of dubious quality is improper. If you force us to take your card, we'll file it away in our "Classless" pile and we won't invite you to our tea parties, or introduce you to our agents.

5. If you are a writer, be warm and engaging and gracious. Talk to everyone, even if some of them are loony as toons. We met plenty of crazies this weekend. One of them in particular I remembered from the last time. I'm guessing some of them are on the autism spectrum and are doing the best they can. You don't have to invite them home, but be kind.

6. If you are a reader/buyer OR a writer, check your outfit before you leave the restroom. Open flies and skirts tucked into panties are NOT what anyone wants to see. I'm pretty sure I saw some tattoos that were meant for private viewing.

7. Always be yourself. Unless you can be the Queen of Humor Mysteries. Then be the Queen. Of anything.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Reflecting on The LA Times Festival of Books

By Jenny Hilborne
Author of mysteries and thrillers

As the Murder We Wrote team gathered bright and early last Saturday morning, we anticipated a fun-filled weekend on our booth at the LA Times Festival Of Books. We weren't disappointed.

First, if you've not yet attended the LA Times Festival Of Books, it's an exciting annual event and probably the largest congregation of authors and readers in the western US. The event attracts somewhere around 150,000 visitors each year. Live music, food, all kinds of books and all kinds of people can be found here. Famous authors and celebrity speakers meet and entertain their fans every year.
This year, TV crews were wandering the campus, interviewing authors on their booths. Perhaps that's happened before, but I hadn't noticed. Murder We Wrote attracted the attention of an interviewer from KPCC radio, Pasadena, who questioned Gayle Carline and me about our books, about the event, and asked about our concerns regarding safety in light of the tragedy in Boston. The presence of additional campus security helped put our minds at rest, so we could place our focus on enjoying the event and meeting our readers.

Murder We Wrote is a team of about ten mystery/thriller authors who gather several times a year at different book festivals and events in Southern California. Now in our 3rd year at the LA Times Festival Of Books - our biggest event - we've become great friends and we are becoming more well-known on the campus. We have our own growing fan base of readers who seek us out, compliment us on the books they purchased from us the previous year, and ask us about our new releases. It's a wonderful feeling, and a real pleasure to chat with these people who come back each year to see and support us.

Our team name attracts a lot of attention, and an interesting moment on our booth this year came when we met Tom B Sawyer. He'd noticed our banner and strode over to introduce himself. Turns out Tom is a novelist, screenwriter, and playright. As the Head Writer/Showrunner, he wrote 24 episodes for the TV mystery series Murder, She Wrote. He enjoyed the twist on the name and it was our pleasure to meet him.

We also had the pleasure of meeting Kate Yackley, Vice President of Advertising for the Los Angeles Times. As a fellow Brit, she and I enjoyed reminiscing a little about our homeland, before she purchased a copy of my latest release, STONE COLD; a Brit thriller she said she was looking forward to reading. My thanks again to Linda Boulanger, owner of TreasureLine Publishing, for such a great cover. Stone Cold was my biggest seller at the festival and the cover drew many compliments.

Murder We Wrote offers a varied selection of mysteries and thrillers, including humor from Gayle Carline, Terry Ambrose, and Jim Stevens; my own psychological and suspense; legal by Teresa Burrell; romantic suspense by Anne Carter (aka Pam Ripling), noir by Paul D Marks, and paranormal romance by Susan Griscom. We had a lot to offer and we encouraged readers to browse.

For 2 days talked about books with thousands of readers who wanted to hear all about them...or so we thought. One of the funnier things we heard came from one or two visitors to our booth who, when prompted: "what kind of mysteries do you like to read?" responded with: "Oh, I don't read books." Yes, it left us without a response and wondering why they were at the book festival.

Another cute visitor was a gorgeous little 11 year-old girl who tried her hardest to convince us she was "quite mature" and ready to read our dark and gritty thrillers. We gave her a lollipop instead and she went away contented.

Not everyone at the festival is a reader. Our booth attracts its fair share of authors looking for advice on how to get started, how to find an agent, a cover designer, editor and so on. We especially loved it when young people told us they write. We attracted other sorts, too...and certain types of behavior we don't encourage at a book festival (which Gayle Carline will cover in a later post).

We all worked hard in the heat, sold lots of books, and still found the time for a good laugh. Here's Gayle Carline to prove it. I have no idea what she's laughing at, but this was the mood on our booth for the whole weekend.

As 5 o'clock rolled around on Sunday, we sat back for a few minutes to reflect, made plans for other events, then packed up our booth, said our goodbyes, and headed out in 8 or 9 opposite directions.

I know we'd all like to send our huge thanks to the thousands and thousands of readers who attended the festival. Once again, you made this such a fun event for all of us authors, and we look forward to seeing you again next year. 

Below is editor Jodie Renner's very helpful link to a list of other book festivals across North America for 3013-2014 http://crimefictioncollective.blogspot.ca/2013/04/book-festivals-in-north-america-2013.html

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The RUTE of the Problem

Tom Schreck, author of the Duffy Mysteries


The fun of reading is letting your mind conjure up pictures and stories.

Don't deprive readers of that. Say what you have to say with the least amount of words.

Pretend words are money and be economical.

If you write dialogue that goes:

"You pig! I hate your guts and I'm going to stab you in the eye with a screwdriver!"

Do your really need to say:

John was angry and he didn't mind showing it. His voice echoed down the hallowed halls and reverberated back at him. Mary was surprised and frightened. John's voice was not only loud but it was also filled with more stress than the waistband on Oprah's jeans.

No, you don't.

Trust the reader.

 They'll get it. 

If they don't you're using weak words.

Use stronger ones and stop boring us.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Chechnya's Long Shadow

by Mar Preston  

My second mystery, Rip-Off, is a whodunit about Chechen organized crime set in Santa Monica, not

The news unfolding in Boston has me and the rest of the world gob-smacked, as the Brits say. It may be that Chechnya in the end has nothing to do with the Tsarnaev brothers, who went so terribly wrong.

They did, after all, spend little time in Chechnya, and some would say their formative influences were right here in America. But Islamic Fundamentalism has a long reach. If indeed, their motivation lies at the feet of some warped image of Islam.

In this fast-moving story, we have no idea what motivated a murderous spree at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. What will be revealed to us on interrogating the surviving suspect will be filtered through Need to Know. It would be foolish of the government to tell us everything he reveals, and they won’t.

I’ve been fascinated with Chechnya and the North Caucusus for years and read Chechen newspapers in English regularly to prepare to write Rip-Off. Take a look yourself.

For example, there’s Chechnya Media: http://chechnyamedia.com/. Or http://www.kavkazcenter.com/eng/ Do some background research yourself on the tenuous links the family seems to have with Kyrgystan. Or Dagestan, or any of the ‘Stans in the North Caucusus.

When I was researching Rip-Off, which was published in 2012, there was an open slave market in Grozny, Chechnya’s biggest city. You remember Grozny? It was bombed back to the Stone Age by the Russians during one of the two Russian attempts to quell Chechen uprisings.

They have oil in Chechnya. Otherwise no one would be interested in this cold, mountainous country.

Here’s a quote from Rip-Off:

Here Mason, a Homicide Detective from the Santa Monica Police Department, is trying to get information from the FBI.

“What do you know about Chechnya?”

“I did some reading up on it.”

De Leeuw snorted and spoke in short bursts. “That’s not going to help you a lot. Things started cooking in about 1994. Start of two wars when Russia went all-out to suppress their independence after Russia per se broke up. There’s oil in Chechnya. Their whole history is about fending off invaders. It’s only got a population of a million and an area of six hundred square miles, less than a lot of counties in California. Kidnappings, beheadings, massacres. There’s nobody to stop it. No law enforcement. No real government. Guerilla warfare. Muslim fanatics, the worst. You know there’s an open slave market in Grozny? The good people left. Then anybody who could get out got out, but first they got great training by criminal gangs. Economy still doesn’t have much to offer but oil theft, arms trade, counterfeiting and drug smuggling. Oh yeah, lots of wire fraud. Extortion.”

Mason quirked an eyebrow. Another agent came in and took the chair beside Mason. He wasn’t introduced.

“Lots of them landed in the US, a big number in Hollywood and Glendale.” He shook his head and the black-suited agent with the short hair beside him took a phone call, not taking his eyes off Mason. De Leeuw was acting squirrelly. It was plain to him that the Feds were only cooperating with him because they hoped he’d lead them to a bigger player in the Chechen mob. But the way the Feds played the game with the locals, he knew they wouldn’t give him the whole story.

“The most dangerous, the biggest organized Chechen gang is the Obshina, but not like a gang in the old Tony Soprano sense,” De Leeuw went on. “Back there they made their money from bank robberies, kidnapping and white-collar crime. Here they get together a team to pull jobs. They come together for a while and then they’re gone. All Chechen. We try to catch them before they disappear into the local Chechen community.”

“Lawless, clannish. There aren’t that many of them but they stick together,” said the agent beside him, speaking for the first time.

De Leeuw gave him a sour look. What? He wasn’t supposed to speak unless spoken to?

“They fly in assassins to do hits and help out with other assorted violence,” De Leeuw continued. “When it’s over, the hired hands just disappear. Then we see a new face coming in just to shore up some criminal operation on an as needed basis.”

“It’s a whole new world,” Mason said, shaking his head.

And it is a whole new world. Nowadays Chechnya is ruled by a strongman ally of Putin, but not much has changed back in Chechnya. But in America our sense of safety and sanctuary has once again been shattered the way it has been in so many countries around the world. I became fascinated with Chechnya because the savagery there was so unimaginably distant.

No longer.

Mar Preston is the author of two mystery suspense novels set in Santa Monica -- No Dice and Rip-Off -- and Payback, set in a town much like the California mountain village where she now lives. But only nice people live there, unlike the fictional Sierra Mountain Village.

Friday, April 19, 2013

It Could Be

By Peg Brantley, who was a dreamer long before she was anything else.

From a reader:

It’s funny – you got me thinking – and I remembered that I used to have an imagination and used it. I was a very fanciful child and frequently lived in my own little world. I always thought I would do something creative and wonderful with my life, and here I am at 66 and I didn’t. Don’t know what happened. Life, I suppose. 

I wrote a post here some time ago that dealt with learning to dream again, and what I want to say loud and clear is that until the nails are pounded in your box, or you're put into the fire, or you're dumped somewhere where nobody will ever find the body, you Are Not Finished. You Are Not Done.

Take each moment. Make it yours. Find what thrills you. Do not turn your back on the ideas that fall into your head.

We're here for a lot of reasons. To help a child, to love someone else, to facilitate other people in the corporate world without employing greed. Each one of us knows the roles we've already fulfilled. The contributions we've already made.

But I believe that each of us also have another gift to make our world more miraculous than it already is. To leave behind a little color and surprise. It could be a song or a painting or a poem. It could be the stories you tell your grandchild at night.

The thing is, it could be. Don't give up. I don't care if you're 26 or 66 or 106. You owe your creativity to yourself. You owe your creativity to our culture (even if "our culture" consists of one friend), and if you're a believer, you owe your creativity to the one who created you.

You can blanket this world with one more layer of awe, by taking your own life and embedding it. Because each one of us has something worthy to leave behind.

If you're already a writer, what else would you like to create? A painting? A garden? If you're a parent, is there something else you've always wanted to try? A short film? A cookbook?

So, to my beloved reader who shared your heart with me: It could be.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Writer Walks Into a Strip Bar. . .

Joining us on Thursdays is Teresa Burrell: author, attorney, and child advocate. We all know her from a previous publisher, crime fiction conferences, or geographical proximity. She's smart, funny, charming, and one of the hardest working authors we know. And her passion is evident in the mysteries she writes. Here's Teresa in her own words:

Do you ever get irritated when you're reading a novel and something strikes you as just plain wrong? It could be a fact, or a scene, or a behavior. I don't know about you, but it throws me right out of the book. While my mind is struggling with what the scene should really be, I lose track of the story line.

I recently read two different books by very good writers and the legal scenarios were incorrect. One was a courtroom scene that wasn't at all like real life. The other, even more painful, was where the legal premise was incorrect. That's just unfair to the reader because the recipient of this information will often walk away thinking what he or she read is "the law." Sure, we're writing fiction, but I believe we have a responsibility to make our facts, our scenes, our characters both realistic and accurate.

This is not to say you have to know everything there is to know about what you write. You do not need to be a lawyer to write legal fiction, a doctor to write medical fiction, or in law enforcement to write a police procedural. But if something is crucial to your story, you do need to have an expert consultant.

I believe this to be true of every part of your novel. For example, my latest manuscript has a scene in a strip bar with a lap dance. It's not meant to be graphic, so I don't need a lot of detail, but I feel like I need to set the scene correctly. Now, I've never had a lap dance but I did go to a male strip bar once for a bachelorette party so I have some knowledge beyond what I've seen on television. I started calling my male friends, the ones I knew had received lap dances, and I've gained a whole lot of insight--much more than I cared to know. Research can be a lot of fun.

As a reader, what happens to you when you come across something in a novel that you know to be incorrect? Does it ruin the story for you? Do you ignore it and go on? Do you think the author has a responsibility to be accurate? Does it keep you from reading books by that author again?

As a writer, you often hear, "Write what you know." This is the reason I write legal suspense and not romance novels. . .

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

This is Where it all Began

By Andrew E. Kaufman

A long time ago (very long) in a land far away (well, not so far, really) there was a little boy named Andrew (that’s me), who always felt he had so much to tell the world. The problem was, as often happens with toddlers, not much of what he said made a whole lot of sense, and as also often happens with toddlers, when the audience grew thin, it only intensified his determination to spread The Gospel According to Andrew. In other words, Andrew was a chatty little boy. In other words, you couldn’t shut him up, even if you wanted to.

I guess you could say I developed a bit of a complex over this.

Then one day, my grandmother sealed the deal when she bought me my first book. It was called Nobody Listens to Andrew, and besides the fact I was sure it was written exclusively about me, and besides the fact that it trumpeted my tragic story, I also discovered something else very important: the true value of the written word.  
After that, I was unstoppable.

I became obsessed with that book to where I’d make my grandmother read it to me every night. I’m pretty sure I had it memorized word-for-word—I’m also pretty sure she did, too, even though she probably wished she hadn't

Eventually, I moved on to other great literary works. I think Curious George came next, and after that, I developed a penchant for the Dark Side with Where the Wild Things Are. Needless to say, a thriller writer was born.

By then, I was pretty confident I knew what my path in life would be. I would someday write The Great American Novel—you know, much in the tradition of Nobody Listens to Andrew and the like.

The point of all this (I know you were probably wondering if there was one) is that, as writers, we all come from the same place. We have stories to tell and an intense desire to share them with the world, and while we’d love to make a living at it, most of us would still tell our stories anyway, because really, it’s not about numbers—it’s about The Journey, the unmitigated joy we feel each time we open a blank page and watch our imaginary worlds come to life. That’s where the magic begins.

I think on an intellectual level we know that, but on an emotional one, we often forget it. We become obsessed with sales rankings, reviews, how many Facebook likes we have, and lots of other silly things that in fact have nothing to do with why we became writers in the first place.

We forget what's really important.

The moral of Andrew's story, and maybe yours too, is that whether you sell a lot of books or you don’t, success is only fleeting if you define it within those parameters. But if you don't, there’s one thing that nobody can ever take away, and that one thing is your love for the written word.

And because of that, no matter what, you will always be successful.

Listen to Andrew. The dude knows.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Twitter Tattle, revisited

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

This week's entry is a mainly repost of a post here on CFC from June of 2012,  but I have added new material at the end, about various twitter/social media platforms.  From what I've seen, is still sorely needed.  This is from our Social Networking Genius  extraordinaire, Steve (Stephanie) Nilles, who holds down the fort on Tweeting and Facebooking, Pinteresting and other "stuff" over at Booknook.biz, and has taught me all I know about Twitter, et al.  So, yes, please feel free to blame her for all the annoying twaddle I inflict upon you as you try to pluck pearls from the muck on Twitter.  And, yes, I'm one of those  horrible people that post CAT PICTURES on Pinterest, too.  This article appeared on our website at Booknook.biz, also in June of 2012.  It is, however, as informative now as it was then. 

1. Create an informative, concise, and unique bio.

You want potential followers to know who you are, what you do, and why you do it, without appearing arrogant, hasty, or a bore. Think like a (micro)journalist: answer the obligatory who? what? when? where? and why? as briefly as possible. Alternatively, think like you're filling out an online dating application. What kind of followers are you trying to attract? Bloggers? Reviewers? Agents? Readers? Ex-cons? Marine Biologists?

Example of a good profile bio:

Ellen Jones   @ellenjones
Oakland-based motorcycle rider and author of the Jane Smith YA mystery series. Read more about Jane's latest adventures: www.janegoestowashington.thebook.com

Why this bio is good:

It tells us that a woman (presumably) named Ellen lives in California, likes to do crazy things like ride motorcycles (without obnoxiously proclaiming "I'm wild! I ride motorcycles!"), and writes a mystery series of young adult novels about a girl named Jane who most recently took on Washington. If I'm curious, I can click on her link for more information. Short and sweet.

Example of a bad profile:

Joe Smith   @joesmithcool
My name is Joe Smith. I am an author. I have written 4 books. Two were published with Book Publishing, Inc. One is self-published because I'm trying to stick it to The Man! My books are, without a doubt, some of the bestest books in the whole wide world!!! Read more about "The Awesome Series" (including tons of 5-star reviews) on Amazon!!

Why this bio is bad:

It tells us that an author named Joe Smith has written 4 books, is bitter about the fact that only 2 of them were traditionally published, and is (likely unfoundedly) convinced that he's an extraordinary writer. The extraneous exclamation points take up unnecessary space and suggest he might secretly be a 6th grade girl. I know the title of his book series, but if I want to read it, I have to search for it on my own. This bio is long-winded, immature, and ineffectual.

2. Self-promotional tweets

When tweeting to promote to your followers, be it an event you're publicizing, a blog entry you'd like them to read, or a product you'd like them to buy, tread carefully. In a world ripe with bombarding advertisement, it's difficult to convince people that your self-promotion is any different from or better than everyone else's self-promotion. Make it your goal to pique interest. Promote creatively, humbly, and concisely. Come up with 140-character phrases that would make even the busiest, pickiest reader just have to know more.

And... Never underestimate the value of hyperlinks and hashtags.

For the uninitiated, a hashtag consists of a # sign followed by a word or words that categorize a tweet (no spaces in between). #books denotes a tweet about a book or books. #Obama2012 denotes a tweet about Obama's reelection campaign, including event listings, press coverage, and commentary. Anyone can employ any hashtag at any time. Hashtags that are trending as I write (you can find trends on the left hand side of your Twitter home page) include #MayWeather, denoting tweets about thunderstorms and sunshine, and #AJBurnett, denoting tweets about whatever sport that dude is playing right now.

Hashtags authors commonly use:


Hashtags useful in promoting KDP free days:

#freeebook (that's "free ebook")

Why these hashtags will help you:

If I'm searching for a new book to read, I can type "#books," for example, in the search field located in Twitter's upper right hand menu. Twitter will send me to a page listing all tweets including the hashtag #books, whether I'm following those users or not. If I'm looking for a replacement for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I've just finished reading, I can search for #thriller, #crimenovel, or #SteigLarsson.

This search feature works for promoters as well. If I've just written a crime novel I would compare to Larsson's series, I can run searches for those books in Twitter and use hashtags I find in my own future tweets, such as #MillenniumTrilogy.

Apart from using by the book (no pun intended) categorical hashtags, use your imagination in your tweets! Don't be afraid to be funny.

Bad self-promotional tweet:

Back to Basics is free today! Please Retweet you guys! I love you!

Why this tweet is bad:

It's lacking information. Remember that people use Twitter for various reasons, not just to find books they'd just like to buy and read and share with their friends. We have no idea what "Back to Basics" is. A book? A work-out video? Even if I were to assume Back to Basics is this author's book, there's no link to it, which means I'd have to search for it. Then he asks me to retweet to my followers with the additional qualifier that he loves me. Not only am I annoyed, I'm a little creeped out.

Good self-promotional tweet:

#freekindlebook: Back to Basics www.amazon.com/backtobasicsbook A case for resuscitating the electric #car. #books #nonfiction #amreading #green #energy #algore #hybrids #free

Why this tweet is good:

Right off the bat, it informs followers that the tweet is about a free kindle book. It gives the book's title, a direct link to where it can be purchased, and a phrase explaining what the book is about. Hashtags in the tweet explain that the product is a book, is nonfiction, and pertains to energy policy, green energy, that it is related to hybrid vehicles, and that it is a free product.

More examples of good self-promotional tweets:

Now out on #kindle: #Murder in #Miami, the 2nd #book in the Jan Austin #mystery series: www.amazon.com/janaustinbooks #chicklit #femalesleuth #romance #florida #mustread

Is #Twitter REALLY an effective tool for #selfpromotion? An interview with #selfpub #author @JackieJCollins www.interviewjackie.com

"Joe Jones does it again. Before There Was #Coffee is #hilarious & #moving. A page-turner to the last drop." www.link.com #books #satire #humor #capitalism #starbucks

Non-promotional tweets:

Don't use Twitter only to sell yourself! Think of it as a bar conversation with an acquaintance. Retweet (denoted by "RT") tweets you're interested in by large publications and individuals, ask your followers questions, find common ground with other Twitter users, start conversations with those you follow, make small talk about day-to-day happenings. You wouldn't talk incessantly about your job or divulge gory details about your recent divorce to the stranger sipping a beer on the bar stool to your right; don't do it on Twitter, either.

3. Quick Tips:

Twitter now has a built-in link shortener, which automatically codes your hyperlinks to take up no more than 20 characters. This means you can copy and paste links without having to worry about losing precious characters.

Running out of room in a tweet? Can't figure out how to shorten it any further? Replace "and" with "&," and compound words w/ (hint!) contractions.

4.  Platforms: (New 2013 content)

In my own search--akin to a Grail Quest--for the perfect social networking platform, I've somewhat settled on HootSuite for power users.  It has a lot of functionality for the average user.  Other platforms should not be overlooked; Composer.io is coming along nicely and Sendible is extremely popular.  The formerly-popular Seesmic has been purchased by HootSuite, so they are gone the way of "Friendster" and "Myspace." Some platforms, like OnlyWire, can update 52 (yes, Fifty-Two!) social networks at once, and while I originally "pooh-poohed" the idea, I know that while I was testing it, I got a lot of hits to my site from odd places like Deviant Art, where I would not have expected viable visits.  You can also use it to post to del.i.cious, and StumbleUpon.  I personally think that OnlyWire has become a bit too caught up in the number of sites to which you can post, rather than the sort of super-friendly HootSuite package, but both platforms have highly-usable browser widgets, which make tweeting, FB'ing, etc., a blast.  Try them all--and get over that fear of social networking as a tool.

Thanks, Steve!  For those of you that like jazz, our Steve is a smokin' musician.  Warning:  ADULT lyrics and music, don't go to the page with your kids in the room, but her lyric, "facebook is a gateway drug to stalking" should be used in a bestselling  novel!   Visit her site at:  http://www.stephanienilles.com .