Friday, August 30, 2013

On the Lam: A Unique Event

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

Last weekend I was in Seattle for a conference hosted by Thomas & Mercer that may be the first of its kind. Amazon paid for everything, including meals, leisure activities, and a schwag bag with a Paper White Kindle. (Nice suprise!)

But what was unique was the purpose: to simply say thank you to its authors. It wasn’t a reader convention to build sales, and it wasn’t a writing workshop to develop its authors. The event was simply a gathering of T&M authors so we could meet the Amazon team and socialize with each other. But more important, I heard over and over that the company appreciated me.

There were panels on Saturday, which were open to the public and attended by some local writers, but they were mostly about T&M authors sharing their publishing expertise and getting to know each other. The program started with a great panel about writing for television and movies with Lee Goldberg, Marcus Sakey, Greg Widen, and Johnny Shaw competing to tell the funniest stories. A hard act to follow!

But we did our best on the branding panel that came next with me, Barry Eisler, and Max Collins. That was another unique feature: more men than women. Most reader conventions I’ve attended are predominately female. But Saturday night, I had dinner with eight male authors (and Larry Kirshbaum, the president of Amazon Publishing). I’m sure other women writers had similar experiences of being outnumbered. Overall, Amazon made a great effort to ensure that we all met new people. I chatted with so many authors, it would be weird to name them all here.

Friday was the best day though. After a presentation at Amazon headquarters, we had lunch on the Argosy, then embarked on a cruise of Lake Washington. A beautiful day with perfect 75 degree weather. I got to hang out with J Carson Black, an online buddy I’d never met in person, as well as good friends Andrew Kaufman and Michelle Scott.

Then Friday night we had dinner at the Chihuly Garden and Glass, which had the most stunning display of blown glass I’ve ever seen. The meal itself was in a room made entirely of glass with a hanging glass sculpture running the length. A very special evening that I’m glad I dressed up for.

As an author, this weekend was the first time I ever felt like I was “somebody.” Yet that’s just ego, and it doesn’t really matter. What’s most important is what signing with T&M did for my career this year—introduce me to more readers than I ever dreamed of.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

I went to the animal fair*

By Gayle Carline
Mystery Gal (and so much more)

No, I'm not talking about writer's conferences today.

I'm talking about the Renaissance Fair. Or Faire. Whatever. I used to go to Ren Fairs, as we called them (apparently we could speak in proper Shakespearean English but were too lazy to say renaissance). The local one was held for a while in Agoura, then moved to the San Bernadino area and is now in Irwindale. These are all cities in southern California and all you need to know is that for each one, you drive two miles past Hell and turn left. The fair is held around May and is usually supercalifreakin-hot, especially to be wandering around in several long skirts and a corset.

This is a picture of my friends, DeAnna and Austin Cameron, who are big into playing dress-up and going to Ren Fairs and Steampunk shindigs, etc. I didn't think they'd mind if I used their picture, since DeAnna is an author (historical fiction - really good books). Check her out.

Anyway, I do have a point about murder and mystery here... somewhere... it may be at the bottom of my brain... ah, here it is.

I was recently wondering about what was so special about the Renaissance Period that makes people throw on massive amounts of unusual clothes and trot out words like "dost" and "speaketh". It can't just be for the giant turkey legs and the mead. And then I thought...

Why doesn't anyone have a Noir Fair? Okay, maybe it wouldn't be a fair, maybe it would be a Noir Night, but wouldn't you just love to dress up in 30s-40s attire and lurk around in shadows having cynical yet witty conversations?

I wouldn't want to meet this guy, of course.

And being a dame, I'd have to practice making these kinds of faces.

But all the guys would be in suits, with hats. Ties, too. A man without a tie is an absolute ruffian.

I'd get to wear a hat, too, and stockings with seams up the back,

and sparkling evening dresses with (faux) furs, 

and killer shoes and...

Sorry, I got a little distracted by the fashion.

We'd all talk like dames and joes and we'd banter. God, it's been forever since I've bantered.

Instead of being held in a park, it'd have to be an indoor event, where there'd be plenty of gin joints and dark alleys to cast the proper shadows. In this age of health-consciousness, we'd have to do something else for the cigarettes - maybe those fake cigarettes they advertise on late-night TV.

And there'd be so much booze, we'd need a taxi service to get us to and from the event. Food? What food? They never ate. Except for this.

But wouldn't it be worth it for this?

Would you be tempted to come out for a Noir Night? How would you imagine it?

*BTW, I went looking for a video of the song, "I Went to the Animal Fair." Would you believe all the versions out now have white-washed the lyrics? They no longer sing, "The monkey he got drunk/ And climbed up the elephant's trunk/ The elephant sneezed and fell to his knees/ And that was the end of the monk." The monkey no longer gets drunk, or flattened. Instead, he falls off his bunk and gets a boo-boo. The elephant is gone. The nerve.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Traveling back

By Jenny Hilborne
Author of mysteries and thrillers

For years, long before I became an author, I kept a journal. Then, one day, also long before I came an author, I burned them. I had the horrible image of someone getting their hands on the journals if anything happened to me, and I wanted to make sure they'd never resurface. The things that went in those journals were intensely private, meant only for me: things I might think but never say, or wish for but never admit. The idea of anyone reading them or knowing my innermost thoughts - especially if I survived whatever calamity life threw my way and had to face said person/s (even worse if they'd been, ahem..."discussed" in one of the journals) - was too galling to contemplate.

Before I destroyed the books, I spent a couple of hours re-reading them and getting re-acquainted with my past. I haven't led the most riveting life by some people's standards, but I've done some pretty interesting things such as (in no particular order) learn to ski, learn to shoot, travel a bit, work for a radio station, relocate to a new country, move house (more times than I care to mention), buy my own house, get married and then divorced, become a landlord. It was actually quite fascinating reading, to me anyway. I'd forgotten a lot of the stuff and some of the people from my past. Sometimes, the running commentary about what we observe can be quite funny.

I recorded mundane things in the books, too, such as particular comments a person made, or I described an interesting outfit and what other people said about the person wearing it. I wrote about funny things I heard, or noted someone's kindness. A lot of the pages were filled with my reactions to some of the daily occurrences and the people in my life, which is primarily the reason I burned them.  

Looking back, years after I destroyed the journals, I somewhat regret that I didn't keep them. They were a record of the past, an account of things I'd witnessed other people say & do. I'd started writing them in the 80's (people & outfits were hugely fascinating in the 80's). Now that I'm an author, they'd have been a great resource for keeping track of an era gone by, record changes in a town or city, for developing characters based on real life observations, for humorous anecdotes, my memories of being 22, or 25, and looking back on things I survived that seemed so dreadful at the time and really weren't. If they were important enough for me to write down, they were important enough to remember.

Maybe I'll start keeping a journal again. They're a great thing to leave behind for future generations to read. I still hate the idea of such a confidential item winding up in someone else's hands, and if I can't write down my most honest and private thoughts and opinions, is there a point in keeping one at all?

Authors - do you keep a journal? How does it assist you in your writing? Do writers use journals differently than readers?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Killer Nashville & a Self-Editing Handout

Clay Stafford interviews D.P. Lyle
by Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker
Just back from another excellent writers’ conference! This one was the 8th annual Killer Nashville conference in – you guessed – Nashville, Tennessee. Congratulations to Beth Terrell and Clay Stafford and their crew for all their hard work on organizing a highly successful conference.

Guests of Honor were DP Lyle and Anne Perry, both amazing people! Doug Lyle gave a highly entertaining talk called "Best-Laid Plans: What Were They Thinking?" about the OJ Simpson and Scott Peterson cases.

I attended some excellent sessions, both panels and workshops, presented a workshop myself on Deep Point of View or Close Third-Person POV, and was on a panel on editing your won work.

I participated in a panel on revision and self-editing, called "Be Your Own Editor: Make Your Book the Best it Can Be," which was extremely well-attended (the large room was filled) and attendees were very enthusiastic afterward about how they appreciated all the concrete suggestions for revising, editing, and polishing their novels. I distributed two handouts to attendees, both with great tips on revising. Click HERE to go to my own blog to read one of them. They'll also appear on the Killer Nashville website soon.

The amazing Beth (Jaden) Terrell was our moderator. Editors: Christina Wilburn, me, and Carolyn Mulford

It was awesome to meet my client Lynn Sholes . Lynn, her husband Tommy and I, plus several others had some great discussions. We missed Lynn's co-author, Joe Moore, who had to cancel at the last minute!

It was great to meet Beth Terrell and Clay Stafford, the organizers of Killer Nashville, and a lot of Facebook friends, as well as some great new writerly people. I had excellent conversations with a number of interesting, talented people and should have gotten a lot more photos snapped!

Suzanne Berube, Sarah Wisseman, Jane, Molly MacRae, & Jodie

Then Sunday morning at 8:30, I presented a 90-minute solo
workshop on Engaging your Readers with Deep Point of View. I was thrilled with the number of people who got up on time for it on the third day of a very busy conference! I expected 6 or 7 people and was surprised when about 40-45 showed up and eagerly participated. It was a lot of fun! 

One side of the room for my presentation

I've been to a lot of different writers' conferences in the last three years or so and find them stimulating and a lot of fun! I love the networking and making new friends, then keeping in touch with them on Facebook or by email.

I had no idea I was so short! LOL

I gave away two copies of my books at each of my presentations, and sold about 30 - roughly the same number as at Thrillerfest. Doesn't come close to covering expenses, of course, but that wasn't the idea!

How about you? Have you been to any interesting writing conferences this year? Or other destinations you’d like to tell us about?

Jodie Renner has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Fire up Your Fiction (Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power), which has won two book awards so far. Look for the third book in the series, out soon. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, her other blogs, The Kill Zone and Resources for Writers, or find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. And sign up for her newsletter.

Friday, August 23, 2013


by Peg Brantley, who is currently about 60 pages away from finishing her first round of professional edits and whose head hurts. If there are errors in this post, she apologizes but is stepping away from her computer, shrugging her shoulders and looking for wine.

When I begin writing a new book, I'm on a honeymoon high. I've fallen in love with the characters, tingled with the plot concept, and sensed the possibilities to make it bigger tickle my brain. It's beyond sexy. It's sustainable.

I'm in love.

Then I actually begin to write the thing. And oops, the reality of the relationship sets in. I need to work out some knotty plot issues. Work to make all of the pieces and players organic. Struggle to find the right flow. Keep things moving. Keep a good pace. Entertain. Work. The tingle/tickle stuff from before turns into a smelly heap of you-know-what.

Now I crash headfirst into hate. The image I'd fallen in lusty-love with is cracked and flawed and well, it's fake. It might be beyond my skills to make awesome.

What was I thinking?

This is when I pull up my big girl panties, rely on my research, believe that I've found just the right details to hang the lie—oops—story on, and plow through to a climactic end. Phew! Done!

I'm back in love for the moment, even though the bloom is off the rose. I'm what you might call suspicious.

A couple of revisions later and the story is off to beta readers. They seem to love it. They run the gamut from one who hardly changes a thing to the blessing of one who really pours her heart into the project, making both the story stronger and pointing out weird habits I'd fallen into as a writer. (Thank you, thank you, Polly Iyer. I'm in your debt.)

During the honeymoon phase, it was flawless. Once I got intimate with it, I figured out it's secret weaknesses. The places that could cave. The places I exercised my God-given right to deny. And I'm really clever at dancing around denial.

Not that I would actually know, but I think denial is kind of like an extra-marital affair when it comes to your book. It's pure BS and doesn't help anything.

This is where the marriage counselor/relationship expert comes in.

With every story, I realize that by myself I cannot make it any better. I send it to my editor. That person I love to hate and hate to love and ultimately trust. The person who will help me rebuild my relationship with my story. The person who will corner my weaknesses and not let me get away with them. The mutual goal here is to sift through it all and come out with something my readers will both love and trust, leaving hate in the dust.

When you trust, you keep the faith that somehow you'll not only touch that honeymoon high again, but move beyond it to something that is real, well done, and deserving of your readers.

I'm almost there.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sometimes Field Research is Actually in the Field

For the last twelve years my sisters and I have been taking an annual trip together—our “Sista Trip” we call it. It’s not easy coordinating four calendars (there used to be five of us, but Sissy left us eight years ago for the big trip in the sky). We have managed every year to go somewhere. The first “Sista Trip” was just a weekend together in San Diego, but since then we have managed to take longer trips and to much more exotic places, like Colorado, Montana, Nashville, Las Vegas…okay, it’s not exactly Paris or Rome, but we did make it to Hawaii once. We’ve even done a few road trips. I think those are my favorite.

This summer we went to Montana to see our two brothers and a gazillion nieces and nephews. We flew our brother who lives in Hemet to Montana too, so all the remaining siblings were together. It was fabulous.

Although I didn’t do any writing on this trip I did manage to do some research. That’s one of the great things about our jobs, no matter where you go you can observe people, build ideas for characters, soak up different cultures, all which help when you sit down to write.

But this trip went beyond that. I received some real hands on experience. I mentioned to my nephews that I would like to shoot a gun one day so that when I have my character do it in a future book, I’ll know how to better describe it. The next thing I knew, they set up a shoot for me. These are all Montana boys so guns are part of their dress code and any excuse to go shooting will do, even if it means dragging your old aunt with you.

We drove to an area they often go to for target practice, lots of fields and small hills. There’s nothing around for miles. We set up the targets and then drove 500 yards away and set up the gun racks. You could hardly see the targets they were so far away. They also set up a target 100 feet away for the pistol practice. That was my favorite part. I shot three different pistols, an SR40C 40 caliber, a .44- caliber Colt, and a .22-caliber Colt. The first two had a lot of kick, but I managed to hit the target even though I could barely hold the gun steady. They were heavy. The Colts looked like something out of an old Western movie. The .22 was much lighter than the first two revolvers and it didn’t knock me back when I shot it, which made it a lot easier to hit what I was aiming at.

That's where I shot with the
.22-caliber Colt.
I also shot the rifles and hit the target at 500 yards, which is more a testament to my nephews’ equipment and instruction than my ability. They were so patient and incredibly informative. It turned out to be the highlight of my trip. And there is nothing like hands on experience to move my writing along.

As a writer, do you do a lot of field research?

As a reader, do you think you can tell when the author has actually experienced what they write about?
Teresa Burrell
Author of The Advocate Series

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sometimes, Life Dictates the Story, and Man...You'd Better Listen when it does.

By Andrew E. Kaufman

I’ve been away from my regular post for what feels like forever. It wasn’t a deliberate choice—more, it happened out of circumstance. In other words, life left me no other option.

It went a little caddywhompus on me.

Well, if I’m going to be completely honest, life was pretty damned crazy before that—I just didn’t know it. Okay, if I’m going to be completely honest, I knew it. I just wasn’t paying attention.

Then life said, “Oh yeah? Well, watch this.”

I ran into significant health issues, then my father did, then my brother did, and as a result, life forced me to shut everything down and focus on (gasp) the things that really mattered. If that weren’t enough, life also took it a step further: it sentenced me to over a month in bed so I could contemplate my negligent behavior.

And, boy, did I. part of my community service requirement (as dictated by—you guessed it—life), I’m reporting back to share what I’ve learned.

If I don’t pay attention to life, life will make me listen.

Oprah says that life whispers to you all the time, and if you don’t listen, the whisper gets louder, and if you don’t listen to that, it knocks you up ‘side the head. (She says it a little better than I, so take it away, Oprah):

I’m not just listening to the whispers now, I’m hunting the little bastards down.

No job is more important than the one I've been put here to do.

Guess what that is? It's to live my freakin' life to the fullest and make no apologies (or have any regrets) for doing it. This has been a long, arduous, and painful process for me, but I'm finally learning to slow down, take a look around, and breathe. 

My family, friends (and of course, the critters) come first. The job comes second.

As the old saying goes, Nobody on his deathbed ever looked up into the eyes of his family and friends and said, “I wish I'd spent more time at the office."

Here's a little secret I've learned: my work will actually still be there when I come back to it. It doesn't evaporate into thin air, and often, I actually even find myself doing it better afterward.

If I take care of my body, my mind will pay me back.

It’s no secret: I hate exercising. No, I despise it. But what I hate even more is how I feel when I don’t.  I get cranky, anxious, and my mind gets all foggy.  As a result, my writing suffers, and then I’m downright miserable. Here’s the thing: Your brain needs oxygen. Exercise does that. So, guess what I’m doing every day? Feeding my brain.

If I sleepwalk through life, I’ll wake up one day with a bunch of dreams that never happened.

End of story.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Adventures in Audiobooks

By Sheila Lowe

Although I wrote fiction as a kid, my real writing career started in non-fiction. After producing a bunch of technical monographs about handwriting and personality, I experienced the thrill of publication with The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis in 1999, followed by Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous a year later. But mystery was always my first love and I started writing Poison Pen, book one of my forensic handwriting series. I rapidly learned that writing fiction was (forgive me) a whole different story. With non-fiction, there was no setting, plot, characterization, POV, or scenes as there was in fiction. I just had to be mildly amusing and accurate in what I wrote.

I had to re-educate myself and learn how to write all that other stuff and make it work. I learned it well enough for Penguin/NAL to publish my forensic handwriting mystery series, which was tres cool. But now I’ve taken the plunge into self-publishing through Kindle, and I’ve followed fellow blogger Peg’s advice to go all the way. I’m turning my recently released book, WHAT SHE SAW, into an audiobook. Which means a whole new education. Damn. I’m a lot older than I was in 1999 (and I was pretty old then), and I’m less thrilled about having to learn a whole new area of publishing. But the fact is, I really want to do this and it turns out that ACX/Audible makes it pretty easy.

Although an author can produce their own audiobook, there are numerous professional readers.studios to choose from. I listened to several posted auditions on ACX, then I posted Chapter One, asking for auditions specific to my book. Responses came the next day. The first was from a sweet young lady who had a very....youthful...voice. My protagonist is young, but not that young. Another response came from a reader who said that if there was profanity in the book, she would need to substitute “other words.” Sexual content was out, too. Seriously, if you have a big brute beating up on a woman, he’s probably not going to say, “Listen up, young lady...” So that didn’t work either.

Then I opened Door Number Three and my fingers and toes are crossed that this one is going to work. In fact, the studio head has already read the book and loved it. She’s made a list of all the characters and the various accents, and has requested more info. If we don’t make a deal, she will have spent a lot of time on my project, with much more to come. I’ve learned that a book of 95,000 words means a 10 hour audiobook, which takes a studio about 100 hours to process!

If I had known sooner that ACX can help match up authors and readers with no up-front money, I would have turned Poison Pen into an audiobook long ago. But that’s one of the important lessons learned from this investigation. Many excellent readers are willing to do a 50/50 royalty split, rather than taking an hourly fee. That’s a risk to them, and naturally, they want some assurance that the book will sell more than ten copies (okay, I’m exaggerating. 2000 copies). I figure that with the reader base I have, plus my Facebook friends, etc., etc., etc., at least the reader/studio can be assured that I will market my little heart out. If the audiobook doesn’t sell well, it won’t be because I didn’t do my best.

It’s a fascinating voyage; one I hope will lead to good things. Next stop, Create Space and print copies of WHAT SHE SAW. If you would like to hear the reader’s audition of Chapter One, email me:

Monday, August 19, 2013

The best present ever!

by Marlyn Beebe.

I don't remember where I first heard about Little Free Libraries, but it was some time ago, and as  soon as I discovered them, I knew I wanted one.

Then, a few months ago, when my husband asked what I wanted for my birthday, my answer was "a Little Free Library".  He checked out the website, and said he wouldn't have enough time to build one in time.  I told him it didn't have to be ready for my early-August birthday, but if that was a concern, pre-built ones were available.

When I got home from work the day before my birthday, there was a huge box in the living room, addressed to my husband.  My step-son, who lives with us, didn't know what was in the box, and was curious, in his restrained way.  I  did know, because of the return address label, and after dinner, I asked if we could open it, since we probably wouldn't have time in the morning. 

Here's a photo taken after we unpacked it and all the detritus was cleared away.  (Yes, that's half a cat sticking out from behind it.)

Photo by Tod Beebe.

On Saturday, Tod spent the day building a stand and mounting the library in our front yard.
And here it is, all ready to go.

We've had a few people stop and ask about it, but I was becoming concerned that there was no apparent use.  But a little while ago (it's now been up a week) when I checked, I saw some empty spots and a book that I'd never seen before.

If you're interested, you can find more information here.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Trigger: Cover and Title... Finally!

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

As only a writer could do, I spent the week obsessing about the word the. I’ve had a title for my new thriller for months—The Trigger. But I started considering those powerful one-word thriller titles: Stolen, Missing, Inferno, Bombshell, Shiver, Dust (seriously, a new Patricia Cornwall), and I thought maybe I should title it just Trigger.

We developed a cover, and the single-word title looked great. I asked people in my house what they thought, and everyone said, “Yeah, I like Trigger better.” But it bothered me. Whenever I would talk about the story, I would stumble over the title. It started to sound funny.

Then my editor questioned the new title and said it made her think of a name, like the horse. So I knew it wasn’t right. Especially for people who might only see the title in text  (sans cover) and be confused by it.

So I’m back to The Trigger, which works well with the story, which goes like this:
Agent Jamie Dallas loves undercover assignments that get her out of the Phoenix Bureau. But when a woman and her baby disappear from an isolated community of preppers in Northern California, she knows the risk of infiltrating the armed group is dangerously high.

Once inside the compound, she discovers that the brothers who founded Destiny are scheming something far more devious than kidnapping or murder. Meanwhile, her local FBI contact, Agent McCullen, is pulled from her team and assigned to investigate the murder of a woman with phony ID, found at the bottom of a motel pool.

Soon Dallas finds herself in deeper trouble than she's ever encountered—with no way to reach her contacts. Can she break free of the bunker and stop their bizarre end-of-world plans? Will Agent McCullen identify the killer in time to help?

The Trigger is a gripping story that highlights our greatest fear—how a hacker and a fanatic with grandiose ideas can threaten civilization as we know it.

The book is scheduled for release January 1, and I have a great contest planned with a huge prize—a trip to Left Coast Crime. More details can be found on my website.

If you’re interested in an early copy of The Trigger (ebook and some print) and are willing to be on my street team to help launch it, please email me. ARCs will be ready in about a month.

So what do you think of the title? The cover? Story concept?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Alice didn't know and neither do I.

I do, however, know why writing is like riding - horseback riding, that is. Forgive me if I've shown this before, but these are my two horses:

Frostie is my 16-year old mare.
Snoopy is her 9-year old son (gelding).

They are Quarter horses, which is a breed.

Learning to ride is what inspired me to write, so I personally know why writing is like horseback riding. 

Everyone thinks it's easy to do.

Anyone who has taken a trail ride thinks that you get in the saddle, kick, and your horse goes. People who watch others ride see nothing but the horse's movements. If you don't know, the assumption is that the horse is a point-and-click critter.

They're not.

Frostie is very ticklish - we call it being light sided. If you kick her, she will take off at warp speed. Snoopy is dead sided. If you kick him, you might get two or three steps before he ignores you completely, except to reach back and try to bite your foot.

Riding them, or any horse, requires what we call a seat, which is another word for balance. You have to balance your body evenly on their back. There are other rules, too. Lots of other rules. Rules about getting them to respond to pressure from your legs, and how much contact to have with their mouths, and even how to get a balanced ride from them (it's called collection).

Having said all that, you can possibly get on a horse, and kick it, and drag it left and right by the reins, and some horses will put up with all that and you can say you're a horse rider. But no one will look at you on a horse and say, "Wow, how graceful! How elegant! I wish I could do that."

Writing has rules. Spelling rules and grammar rules and rules for punctuation and more. Beyond the mechanical, there are rules for storytelling. Show, don't tell. Don't overdo the descriptions. Adverbs are verboten. "No crazy dialogue tags," she yelped. My favorite is Elmore Leonard's rule to leave out the parts most people skip.

You can ignore most of these rules if you want. You can write stories where everyone's yelping and whimpering every line they say, and you can describe the walk from the sidewalk to the front door in such intimate detail that we know the mating habits of the snail in the garden and he's not even a main character. Don't show us anything. Tell us everything. At the end of this, you can have a book. It might even be a book lots of people buy.

But will it be a book that people re-read because they not only love the story, they love the words you chose? Will they say, "Wow, I wish I could do that"?

In my riding and my writing, it's my constant goal: to be proud of what I accomplish.

Here's a video of my trainer riding Snoopy in a horse show at Burbank. I'll be showing him in Burbank this weekend, which will be fun.

As you watch it, look at how little her hand or body moves. Trust me, she's giving him instructions the entire way around this course.

Great riders and writers make it look easy.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The challenges in writing a series

By Jenny Hilborne
Author of psychological mysteries and thrillers

A question was posed on a recent author interview I completed about the challenges in writing a series and it made me think. Is writing a series more challenging than crafting a standalone?

In a series, the cast of characters (at least some of them) is already established. Threads from earlier books can be developed into plot lines or sub plots for prequels and sequels. Part of the author's work is already done, nest-ce pas? Perhaps, but it doesn't necessarily make it easier.

Every book I've written has presented me with challenges.  Each book was more difficult to write than the one before it. My current work in progress, which is the 3rd book in my Jackson series, is no exception.

Feedback from readers about what they did (and didn't) like about him in the first 2 Jackson books has helped him develop into a more "accessible" character; more personable with less of the "all business" persona he had in my debut, Madness and Murder. I know my detective much better by book 3, but it doesn't get easier.

I'd never planned to write a series. M&M was intended as a standalone. When readers asked for the return of my detective, I was flattered, but...ahem...less than delighted. I mean it in a good way. Of course, I was thrilled readers liked him, but I'll admit, I panicked. The issue is this: M&M spans 20 years and by the end of the book, Jackson is in his early sixties. I'd planned to retire him after one book and focus on writing standalones.

Oh, dear. What could I do with a 60-something cop and how much life could I give him? I thought about adding a hot new girlfriend, but Jackson has a wife, and no plans to cheat. What if I gave him a new hobby? Maybe this:

Or he might suddenly buy himself one of these:

But he doesn't have the time for either. Perhaps when I eventually do retire him....

Had I planned the series, I'd still find it challenging (tho' perhaps not as much).

With common threads weaving through a series, the author has to keep the reader in mind. Will each book lead into the next, demanding the series be read in order? Or can each book in the series stand alone? Though it may be necessary to repeat pertinent information in later books for the benefit of new readers, the challenge to the author lies in not replicating too much of the first story or characters in subsequent books and boring the readers who've read the entire series.

The tenth Warshawski novel was my first Paretsky read and, while I felt I needed to know more about V.I. to follow all the threads, I was still able to enjoy the story. Readers who know V.I. well were not bashed over the head with repetitive stuff from the preceding 9 books.

To provide necessary details in subsequent books, Paretsky tossed in reminders rather than boring repetition. Subtlety is the key.

In writing my own series, I've found I need a good memory (and I don't have one). Aging of characters, eye and hair color, personality quirks - remembering all those things and making them consistent is crucial. I write bios for each character to keep it straight (otherwise I'd have to re-read each book and I'd never get the next one written). For my work in progress, I've included a little more focus on Mrs. Jackson (thanks to the suggestion from one of my readers who wanted to know more about the Mrs. behind the Mr.) and this allowed me to see my main character in a new light. It feels refreshing to write it.

I'm doing what Sara Paretsky did and using reminders to enable new readers to follow along without confusion. I've never been much of a series reader, but that's changing. Seeing how other authors do it is a great lesson.

Readers: what likes/dislikes about a series are you willing to share that we authors can learn from?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Say Thanks to Elvis this Week

Tom Schreck, author of the Duffy Series

Friday is the anniversary of Elvis's death. He died August 16, 1977.

If you're too young to get the Elvis thing or if you're an ex-hippie type who sees Elvis as something the Beatles had to save us from, I want to give you a few things to think about.

Bobby Bland, Elvis and Junior Parker
If you're stuck on Elvis being overweight, addicted and in Las Vegas and see that as somehow a sin maybe you can stop and think at the end of this essay and ask yourself if that kind of criticism is fair given what he did in his life time.

It's 1954 in Mississippi. Segregation is at it's peak. There's also something else going on in culture that rarely gets its due. Poor, Southern, rural whites, callously referred to as "white trash" are living in poverty. They don't benefit from the industrialization that has hit the big cities or the power of the unions building that industrialization. They also don't benefit from the civil rights movement.

Even though they are closest economically to poor blacks there is no one championing their cause. These aren't the sons and daughters of slave owners. These are the poor, oppressed people that might not have suffered slavery (our country's hideous sin) but they suffered.
Elvis Presley was born into this life. The Presleys actually lived in the poorest section of Tupelo Ms. The section was so poor it was integrated not because of social consciousness but because of poverty. Elvis Presley, the ultimate American son, grew up in the melting pot we don't always embrace: the poor, the oppressed and the forgotten. Musically he lived among the blues of the Black man, the country blues of the poor white and the distinct gospel sounds of both.

His dad went to prison for altering a check for food when Elvis was one. The Presleys didn't have indoor plumbing or electricity and his mom took in laundry or worked as a seamstress.

Please don't ever suggest that Elvis Presley didn't "earn" his right to sing the blues or that his blues weren't authentic
Please don't suggest because he was in the social strata closest to African-Americans that, is often the case, he was racist. Despite the segregation of the south and despite the times,all one has to do is listen to the outtakes of his recordings and the conversations  surrounding them to realize he wasn't a racist. He speaks with reverence for musicians regardless of their color and the vocabulary he chooses is the most respectful of the time. (When he speaks of Jackie Wilson in 1956 on the Million Dollar Quartet album he refers to him as "this colored guy". He doesn't refer to him casually by the "N" word as would be acceptable to many in Memphis in 1956.)

So it IS a big deal that Elvis was white and sang black. It IS groundbreaking that a white man could bring the masses to black music. And it wasn't merely the co-opting of a style. Elvis was the embodiment of an amalgamation. Elvis was the contents of this country's melting pot.

It's cliché to say that if Elvis didn't pave the way there wouldn't have been an English invasion. Maybe someone else would've come along. Maybe someone would have HAD to come along. The fact remains Elvis did and he had the perfect blending of upbringing to come along with authenticity.

I don't care if you don't like Elvis music (I completely don't understand it but I guess it's okay.) But to dismiss him isn't okay. To down play his role in culture or race relations and certainly in music isn't right. If you hate jumpsuits that's okay but hate Elton John, Cher, and even the guys from Zepplin and others for wearing polyester in the 70's.

If you think it's okay to mock or condemn his personal faults I suggest you turn that magnifying class inward. Ask if you could've done better to deal with what he had to live it or ask how much you've contributed. Elvis was responsible for Elvis like the rest of us but maybe, just maybe, he deserves some slack.

When Sun Records secretary Marion Keisker asked Elvis what kind of music he did when he came through the door that very first time he said: "I sing all kinds."

He did. And he did when people just didn't.

It made a difference in music. it made a difference in our culture.

It made a difference in how we look at each other.

The right thing for the rest of us to do would be to say "Thanks."