Friday, January 31, 2014

Ebook Boxed Sets: Good Idea or No?

A conversation between L.J. Sellers and Peg Brantley. Join us in the comments section!

Peg: After my first book was published in early 2012, I became aware of a different kind of marketing tool—boxed sets for ebooks. I couldn’t wait until I had at least three books out so that would be an option for me to gain readers and new sales. Well, now I have three books. They’re not a series but they do have common geography and overlapping characters, so they would probably work as a set. And then I noticed that L.J. had never offered a set and I wondered what she thought of the idea.

L.J: I was just getting ready to combine the first three Jackson books in a set when I received an offer from Thomas & Mercer. I signed the contract and let go of control. Later, when I suggested to my marketer that we create a boxed set featuring the first book of several authors' series, she said Amazon didn’t offer those. Her reason was that their data indicated customers didn’t read all the way through longer ebook files, and that “wasn’t a good customer experience.” I guess it depends on how many novels you include and whether the books are similar enough in content and quality to hold a reader’s interest. But I’m still curious to know if a boxed set from a single author could expand sales and/or readership.

Peg: That’s interesting. As far as single author experiences go, look at Wool by Hugh Howey. I admit I was a bit surprised that my ebook seemed to go on and on, but I loved the story. And, although it wasn’t a boxed set, I devoured all of Michael Connelly’s Lincoln Lawyer series one right after the other before his latest release. So I’m not sure I agree with Amazon’s statement about longer ebook files not being a good customer experience.

L.J: Just because Amazon doesn’t offer boxed sets doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea. Other writers have collaborated to create such offerings. Recently for example, Joe Konrath and five other authors released a boxed set of horror stories. It’s been in the top 300, and is currently at #803 in the whole Kindle store, so it’s selling hundreds of copies a day. But they’ve priced it at $.99, so no one’s making money on it. But they may be gaining new readers, and/or they may plan to increase the price very shortly. All six of those authors have many other books on the market, so they can afford to have one novel as a promotional giveaway. Not everyone can do that and still make a living.

Peg: That sounds intriguing. I like the idea of multiple-author boxed sets. Each author would likely pull in a few different readers who would then be exposed to different writers and their styles. And doesn’t selling hundreds of copies a day sort of bury the idea that it isn’t a good customer experience?

L.J.: Not necessarily. Buying a product is only the first step. And most people who read digitally buy many more books than they will ever consume. If those readers only get through one or two of the six stories, then the other authors don’t benefit.

But to a certain extent, you’re right. Just because Amazon labels it “not a good experience” doesn’t mean it’s a bad experience for consumers, who still get a great deal on ebooks. Amazon just has very high standards! We authors, on the other hand, tend to focus on sales as a measure of a book’s success. Still, I want people to read my novels, not just buy them. I think limiting a boxed set to three might the perfect middle ground.

Readers: Do you buy these sets? Do you read all the way through?
Writers: What has your experience been?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The end is near...

By Gayle Carline
Mystery Author and Workshop Leader


I hate book endings. Seriously don't remember a single book I've ever read when I got to the end and said, "Wow, what a beautiful/wonderful/smart way to end this story." Granted, I've gotten to the end of a few books and said, "Thank God, that's over."

This includes my own books. Never satisfied with the last sentence, and I even feel iffy about the last chapter. In a couple of weeks, I'm going to be teaching some workshops at the Southern California Writer's Conference in San Diego, and someday I'd love to teach a course in how to write a spectacular ending.

Once I learn how to do it.

I'm more okay-ish with the wrap-up statement that says the book is over. I read one book that took place over New Year's festivities that ended with the line, "This was going to be a great year," and that wasn't too bad. The whole premise of the book was that the previous year was ending rather badly, what with romantic break-ups and murder and mayhem, so solving the murder and getting a new boyfriend seemed to warrant that last line.

I read another book that ended with our plucky heroine, having solved a murder, still mulling over her romantic options as she fell asleep. Somehow, her closing her eyes as I closed the book was appropriate.

It's the ones that end with the clever dialogue that I struggle with, and I do it myself. They remind me of this:

Which makes me wonder why I do it.

I'm kvetching about all this today because my editor advised me to re-write the ending to my horse show mystery. She likes how everything turns out, but thinks it goes out with a whimper instead of a soft, romantic Tie-the-beginning-to-the-end sigh.

What about you, Gentle Readers (and Writers)? Love endings? Hate them? Got any words of advice for this struggling soul? All suggestions are welcome, even the ones that suggest I put on my big-girl britches and stop whining.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Big Words, Tough Guy

by Michael W. Sherer, thriller author

Our Strange Lingo

When the English tongue we speak.

Why is break not rhymed with freak?
Will you tell me why it's true
We say sew but likewise few?
And the maker of the verse,
Cannot rhyme his horse with worse?
Beard is not the same as heard
Cord is different from word.
Cow is cow but low is low
Shoe is never rhymed with foe.
Think of hose, dose,and lose.

And think of goose and yet with choose
Think of comb, tomb and bomb,
Doll and roll or home and some.
Since pay is rhymed with say
Why not paid with said I pray?
Think of blood, food and good.
Mould is not pronounced like could.
Wherefore done, but gone and lone -
Is there any reason known?
To sum up all, it seems to me
Sound and letters don't agree.

Lord Cromer, published in the Spectator of August 9th, 1902

As writers, our job demands that we use language to communicate ideas, paint mental pictures, stimulate the imagination and the senses. English, as the poem above reminds us, is one of the hardest languages to master because it’s a mutt. It’s a conglomeration of the Romance languages and their root language Latin, several Germanic tongues, with a whole lot of Babel thrown in.

The wondrous thing about language, especially English, is that if we don’t have a word for something, we simply make one up. Think “twerking,” “tweeting” and “T-ball.” How about “gigabyte,” “hackerspace,” “bitcoin,” “phablet” or “digital detox,” all words and phrases that have resulted from our use of digital technology. Words like “fauxhawk” and “geek chic” describe things in the fashion world. “Selfie” and “LDR” (long distance relationship) describe parts of our social lives.

Just as new words come into favor, old ones fall out of fashion. We no longer use “affictious,” but use “counterfeit” instead. We probably wouldn’t use “pigritude” anymore, or even “slothfulness,” to describe a teenager’s laziness, though they’re all similar in meaning. And I’ll bet you never encountered “surgation” in any of the Fifty Shades… books, though there was a lot of it going on. (You’re on your own with that one.)

Language must be flexible, adaptable, but the loss of words sometimes saddens me. Recently, I was surprised, too, by the disappearance of a wonderful website called, run by the Oxford Dictionary. The little-used words it posted have been archived, and the group has a  Facebook page (

Blake Sanders, my series protagonist, often uses obscure words to describe situations in which he finds himself. He isn’t trying to obfuscate the narrative, nor is he bloviating. First, he has ADHD, which tends to make him say the first thing that comes to mind, and makes him connect to things in ways which don’t seem logical to most people. He also spent years in communications, giving him background in word usage.

More importantly, however, Blake (and I) like to use colorful, less common words, when common, less colorful words just aren’t enough. In Night Blind, for example, he describes the scene of his friend Midge’s murder this way: “Ferruginous splatters of blood coated the pale linoleum floor like paint on a Jackson Pollock canvas.” Perhaps the word “ferruginous” slows you down in your reading of this passage. But Blake wants you to slow down. He wants you to take in the horror of what he sees. And ferruginous is to his way of thinking a better word than “rust-colored.” To him, it sounds better and implies the gelatinous look of coagulating blood that is oxidizing and turning brown.

In Night Blind, Blake reminisces about how his son Cole used to call the random things that came out of Blake’s mouth, “purple.” So in Night Tide, (the second book in the series), when Blake gets a weird idea out of the blue, he says, “The most ianthine notion I’d ever had filled my overtaxed brain.” Could he have used the word “purple”? Sure. And sharp readers would have caught on to what he meant (“random”). But “ianthine” is even more random.

Here are some other uncommon words Blake has used: gobbets, eremitical, crepuscular, chivvy, gormless, pother, ruction, exiguous, subfusc, glister, ineluctable, insidious and gangrel, to name a few.

Does it madden you to run into words you don’t know in the middle of a narrative? Or do you like keeping pencil and paper or even a dictionary close by to check on unfamiliar words? Should authors stick to an “abecedarian,” that is to say, rudimentary eighth grade vocabulary? Or should language suit both the character and the situation? Weigh in!

Michael W. Sherer is the author of Night Tide, the second novel in the Blake Sanders thriller series. The first in the Seattle-based series, Night Blind, was nominated for an ITW Thriller Award in 2013. His other books include the award-winning Emerson Ward mystery series, the stand-alone suspense novel, Island Life, and the Tess Barrett YA thriller series.

He and his family now reside in the Seattle area. Please visit him at or you can follow him on Facebook at and on Twitter @MysteryNovelist.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Amazon's KDP Select: The Verdict from a Newbie Skeptic

by A.M. Khalifa, thriller writer, Google+

Have you read The Jewish Neighbor?

I've been dragging my feet and avoiding test driving Amazon's optional KDP Select program that gives writers a set of preferential marketing tools in return for a 90-day period exclusivity to the Kindle Store. Even while hearing writers I respect and admire like L.J. Sellers and Jodie Renner singing its praises

I chose to go the indie route to be the master of my writing career. So understandably, the mere mention of someone else exercising exclusivity over my work triggers an allergic reaction. I want my ebooks to be available to readers through all outlets like Kobo, Nook, Sony and Apple, and not just Amazon.

Having said that, I've always been attracted to KDP Select's free book promotion tool. Until quite recently, the high ranking attained on Amazon's bestseller lists during the free promotional period could be converted to paid sales after the promotion ends. But in their excellent resource for indie publishing, Write. Publish. Repeat, Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, and David Wright explain how in 2013 Amazon shuffled the rules of the free book promotion, which effectively broke this ability to convert high ranking to sales.

Despite that, I finally bit the bullet. I was curious enough to give KDP Select a shot with a recent novella I published, The Jewish Neighbor. I figured the only way to find out how Select really works is to try it. And since this piece had been lingering on my blog collecting digital dust for many months with little feedback, I had nothing to lose.

To cut a long story short, the results were outstanding. The book was downloaded thousands of times across all of Amazon's territories, but no where more than Amazon UK. It's about a Syrian woman who accepts an arranged marriage to an exile in London to escape the horrors of the civil war ravaging her country, only to find herself in an equally grim situation, with the only tenderness coming from the least expected person - her Jewish neighbor. So it made sense there would be keen interest from Britain. But I also broke ground in places like Amazon Germany, Canada, India and France, which was a first for me. 

Things got even more interesting after the free promotion ended. The Jewish Neighbor started climbing up the ranks in Amazon's paid bestseller categories in both the US and the UK. It hit number 500 of all of Amazon UK's paid kindle content, and then lodged itself as the number 1 bestseller in the inspirational romance category for at least a week. And also locked in second slot on Jewish-themed literature for a few days.

All in all, I sold more copies of that piece than my entire one year writing-career, across all of my titles. At one point I was selling thirty copies of The Jewish Neighbor every hour.

But it didn't stop there. This unexpected performance started funneling customers to my other titles. My overall sales spiked, including my flagship content, my debut novel, Terminal Rage. The daily sales average of that quadrupled compared to how it usually performs on any given day, no doubt as a result of the increased exposure.

So what's the verdict, from a new writer and a former skeptic like me? 

KDP Select is an incredibly powerful marketing tool for indie writers. But it's not for everyone and not for all your content. I don't think it makes strategic sense for a first time writer just wetting their feet to put their debut offering on KDP Select, denying themselves the opportunity to explore the overall landscape. The program seems better suited for writers with a larger body of work who can afford to make certain works exclusive to Amazon, without alienating users of other platforms.

In my case, hot on the heels of The Jewish Neighbor's success, I enrolled many of my other similar titles in the program, leaving out for now my full-length novel, Terminal RageI still like the unlimited free promotions you can do on Kobo, as opposed to Select's limitation to a maximum of five days free promotion every 90-day enrollment period. And I have to admit, I have a soft spot for Kobo and the openness of their platform. Unlike my perception of Nook, I don't want to discount them for dead just yet. Being the smallest of the three main players, they also try harder. At the Frankfurt Bookfair last October they were serving free crab cakes, chardonnay and awesome teal-colored tote bags that make me a huge hit with supermarket cashiers in Rome.  

Then again, I may wake up one day and realize that five days of KDP Select every 90 days are far more valuable than 365 on Kobo. I will keep you posted.

The way I see it, Kobo, Nook, Apple, Sony and Smashwords all have their niche segments of the market. But you can't be an indie writer today and fail to notice that Amazon is increasingly where it's at.

Writers, what have your experiences been with KDP Select, and if you've been on the fence like me, have I managed to sway you to at least try it once? And readers, have you discovered literary gems through free downloads?

Sign up to my newsletter below to get:

 exclusive free fiction
 writing tips
 publishing insight
 Hollywood for writers: exciting insight on the film adaptation of Terminal Rage as it happens
 counter-terrorism scoops and analysis
 book giveaways and competitions

* indicates required field

Special Offer! My sizzling-hot short story, The Egyptian Affair is available for free, for a limited period on Kobo.

A.M. Khalifa's critically acclaimed debut novel, Terminal Rage, was recently described by Publishers Weekly as "dizzying, intricate, and entertaining."  He lives in Rome, Los Angeles, and Sydney, sometimes at the same time.

The ebook version of Terminal Rage is now on sale for $0.99 on Amazon.

Monday, January 27, 2014

An Event to Die For

by Marlyn Beebe.

On Saturday, I attended an annual event that's become one of my favorites.  This year was the tenth anniversary of "Mystery on the Menu: A Luncheon With 15 Award-Winning Mystery Authors*", presented by the Friends of the Cerritos Library, located in Cerritos, California.

The day begins around 11 a.m., though it's advisable to arrive well before that in order to make sure one is able to register, choose which author's table to sit at, and browse the book sale, operated by the Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in Redondo Beach.

The agenda consisted of three 35-minute panels, with a 90-minute break for lunch after the first panel.

Unfortunately, I wasn't organized enough to take notes, but I'll share some of the best comments I remember:

Sue Ann Jaffarian recounted how, as a youngster, she would go to the library and insert a card with her name on it into the appropriate slot in the card catalogue.

D.P. Lyle talked about going to the public library after school to do his homework, while waiting for his father to pick him up after work and take him home.  One day, finishing his homework early, he wandered around and was suprised to see that the building was full of books.  He found a novel by Jules Vernes and was soon enthralled, but his dad arrived too soon.  When young D.P. complained that he was only about 10 or 12 pages into the book, he was thrilled when he was informed that he could actually take the book home with him!

Naomi Hirahara  shared how her father, though he had read her books in English, was very happy to be able to read a Japanese translation, and pass it on to his friends.  He later asked her when her next book would be coming out, because his friends wanted to know.

Gary Phillips explained that he became a writer because he couldn't draw.  Enamored with Marvel comic books, he and his friends wanted to create their own, and it fell to young Gary to write the stories because he had no talent for illustration.

And last, but not least,  the inimitable Bill Fitzhugh, who upon being asked what advice he'd give to aspiring writers, responsded "Marry well!"

Authors, left to right:  Denise Hamilton, D.P. Lyle, Dianne Emley, Pamela Samuels Young, Marcia Clark,Carol Costa, James Preston,
Dick Lochte, Jeri Westerson, Betty Hechtman, Naomi Hirahara,
Gary Phillips, John Shannon, Bill Fitzhugh, and Sue Ann Jaffarian.

Seated in front: members of the Friends of the Cerritos Library, with librarian Padmini Prabhaker (black jacket) in center.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Author Beware

A discussion between L.J. Sellers and Peg Brantley

L.J.: After two friends asked what I thought about a new service from IndieReader, I looked into it, then Peg and I had a conversation about it that we thought we’d share.

But first, to summarize: IndieReader is offering to list self-published book titles in the Edelweiss database for $399 per title, with the idea that them will give them access to bookstores. The main question: Is it worth it?

My first comment is about the headline on their blog announcing the service. This is how it reads: Want Your Book Sold In Independent Bookstores Nationwide? That shrieks hype! “Nationwide” is a huge—and probably ridiculous—claim. More important, it sounds like they’re going to actually sell your book to retail stores for you. Not even close. They’re offering a listing in a catalogue.

Peg: At CFC and other blogs (Konrath’s for example) there has been discussion about hand-carrying your books to bookstores to gain placement and even booksellers who would likely hand-sell your books. Aside from dealing with fear of rejection, who the heck has the time? So IndieReader’s offer sounded good to me. Except it’s just a catalogue.

L.J.: Not to mention, hand-selling to bookstores costs more money than it earns! But the listing could be effective for some authors. For example, those with a long-running series who have great covers and great review blurbs. Bookstores might notice the covers and blurbs and realize that carrying such a series could be a good way to bring customers back to the store again and again. I realize my Jackson series fits that profile, so I was briefly tempted to give the service a shot. However, because my series is published by Thomas & Mercer (Amazon), most bookstores won’t be interested.

Peg: And since my paperbacks are provided by CreateSpace (also Amazon), I’m pretty sure they’d be facing the same kind of battle. And then there’s the price.

L.J.: Indeed! For $399, you can buy a promo on BookBub and sell a ton of ebooks instead. Or for that price you could also run a full-page ad in Suspense Magazine for four months and sell ebooks and print books. Except for on a local level, I just don’t believe bookstores will stock indie authors who haven’t already caught their attention through media coverage. And what about quality control? Does it concern you that the offer is open to anyone?

Peg: Absolutely! At least BookBub has a level that must be met with respect to reviews. One or two poorly edited books and everyone is tainted. Each author is also paying for a review. How do you say, Conflict of Interest? And then there’s this, from IndieReader: Additional services—including various forms of bookstore outreach—are available for additional fees.

L.J.: And bookstore shelf space is shrinking. Barnes & Nobel is closing stores, and a million authors are cranking out indie books. No matter how much money authors spend, we can't all get space on the shelves. Even mid-list legacy published authors are complaining about not getting into stores anymore. I gave up on bookstores in 2010, and I haven't seen any developments that have made me look back.

Writers are looking for ways to get their work in front of more readers. We don’t think this is one of them. Do you?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Kick in the Pants

by Teresa Burrell, Author of Legal/Suspense Murder Mysteries

When I read a novel and I can feel the emotions that the characters are feeling I just know that the author has felt that at one time or another. Likely, in a very different setting, but I expect with the same heartache or pleasure, depending, of course, on the emotion. Sometimes you can feel the passion through the page, or the pain.

The venue for my novels is juvenile court. The subject matter is often child abuse. When I get into a part of the book where I’m dealing with a situation where a child has been abused, it’s easy for me to write from a “place of pain” because I’ve worked with so many of these cases. I have felt their pain.

But I go to a happier place to clear my head and think of evil plots. And sometimes to get past my “fear” as Drew Kaufman so eloquently described it in his last blog. Here is where I go. I took this photo yesterday on my daily walk. This inspires me, relaxes me, clears my head for more great ideas to come, and for just a brief moment in times washes away the fear.

I’m so fortunate to live in paradise and I try to go here every afternoon and rejuvenate after sitting at the computer for hours plotting and planning murder (for my books, of course).

Do you have a special place to go to deal with life’s problems, get a good kick in the pants to get you rolling again, to alleviate your fears, or just to feel? This place does all of that and more for me.

Now, if I could just get this view from my home...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Be Afraid

By Andrew E. Kaufman, author of psychological thrillers

Being a writer is like climbing the tallest peak in the world. We barely get to enjoy the victory, when someone straps us down, tears our shirts open, and tells the vultures to bring it on.

Let’s face it: to be an artist is to be vulnerable. And perhaps a little unstable. We pour our souls onto the pages. We sweat. We cry. We scream a lot. We drink ridiculous quantities of coffee, but never enough to combat our emotional and physical exhaustion.

Not to mention, the brutal criticism, and really, there is no way to combat that. We read it, we cringe,
and we may (possibly) throw some things (at least, I hear). After that, we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off, taking what we can use, and throwing away the rest…that is, between the hysterical sobs, and guttural groans (also, of course, not a first hand experience).

Other sides of our artistry are a bit less brutal and far more enjoyable. If we do it right, we get to create worlds and characters from nothing other than our hungry imaginations, then watch them flourish into amazing stories. Also if we do it right, we relish in the knowledge that our readers are enjoying them, and more importantly, feeling them.

Of course, getting to that point is easier said than done.

In reaching that goal, my approach can be at times… a bit unconventional. Possibly insane. For me, writing a novel means feeling my way through the darkness and through my pages, essentially with no idea what the outcome will be. I don’t plan before I launch into my work. I write on instinct. As I do this, one persistent and nagging question pokes at me: Will this work?

The truth is, I never really know, and therein lies the insanity, because it’s usually not until the end stages that I realize I’ve actually got a cohesive story, and even more, one that people may actually enjoy. Even then, it’s not until my precious child leaves the mental womb-vacuum and takes in its first gasp of air that I start believing. And once again, living.

That’s where the joy begins. And the pain. And then more questions. When the book is “live,” I am overwhelmed because there is so much to take in. I watch my sales, watch my reviews. I question and re-question, examine and reexamine. I again assess whether my work is worthwhile, whether it did or did not, in fact, work. Even then, it’s all still a guessing game. There will never be finite answers to my many questions, and that’s part of this game.

Some might call my approach to novel writing somewhat random, somewhat reckless, and yes, somewhat unzipped, and I’d have a hard time disagreeing. But here’s the thing: I understand it, and even more, I know what drives it.


Is fear a bad thing? Well, no. It’s what keeps me from touching a hot stove (at least, on purpose), from speeding down the freeway at 100 mph (give or take), and from making inappropriate comments (well, most of the time).

And fear is what keeps me from settling for Just Good Enough. It keeps me on my toes. Without fear, my work would be a shining example of Just Average. And that’s something I can’t tolerate.

So I strive for balance, because balance means allowing my fear to work for instead of against me. That’s the real challenge. Turning fear into a driving force that propels me to do my best, to be creative as I can, and to push myself outside the comfort zone. I am then mobilized instead of paralyzed.

Whether we like it or not , fear is necessary in art and in life. Perhaps Father Everett said it best in the movie Daredevel:

A man without fear is a man without hope.”

And there you have it. When all is done, I know the truth—that I’m not afraid to be afraid.

Andrew E. Kaufman's new and bestselling novel, Darkness & Shadows, has been touted as "A story about damage and survival, about the past and the future, and about facing the truth behind the pain."

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Welcome to guest blogger, George Fong

I'm delighted and honored to welcome guest blogger, George Fong, in my place today (Sheila speaking)

George spent 27 years as a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, working all facets of violent crimes to include abductions, serial killers, drug traffickers, and violent gangs.  He retired in 2010 and is now the Director of Security for a world-wide sports entertainment Network.   


In February 2005, I sat in a small room, watching one of my agents talk to a young man as he described what had happened to a missing 17 year old girl.

Her name was Justine. Less than a week prior to the interview, Justine's father had called me, asking for help to find his missing daughter. She had been gone for nearly a week. Her father was frantic and confused as to why his daughter would have left without notice, why she had not called. I was in the middle of executing a search warrant on another child predator, so I told the father that we would meet the following morning to see what we could do.

When we met with the father he was distraught. He told us about Justine, that she was a good student, and had a boyfriend. She wasn't a problem child. He told us that he remembered seeing Justine go to bed on the night prior to when she went missing. Her school books and backpack were still in her room. The inference was that she had no intention of going to school the next day. But she was not the type to run away. So what happened?

Over the course of the investigation a number of inconsistencies were discovered. People who held back from talking with us finally came forward and what we learned was that this was far from being a runaway case. On the night we decided to confront our suspects we separated them to find out what each one knew, what each one would be willing to say against the other. The first was Justine's boyfriend, the other, the boyfriend's best friend. The boyfriend denied having any knowledge of what happened or what we suspected. The best friend gave him up. 

I watched the friend explain how the boyfriend had crafted a plan to lure Justine out of the house, saying they were going to "rob a grow farm," and "not to tell anyone she was sneaking out of the house." Instead, the best friend drove Justine up to a dark hillside where the boyfriend was waiting. In the early morning hours, away from any witnesses, and without anyone knowing her whereabouts, the boyfriend placed a gun to Justine's head and shot her dead. The two forced her body into a shallow grave.  

We escorted the friend to the top of the hill where Justine was buried. It was in the middle of nowhere. Had it not been for the confession, I doubt she would have been found for quite some time. We taped off the area, posted officers and arranged for the Evidence Response Team to conduct the recovery efforts in the morning when there was sufficient light. After recovery the body, I met with the father and tried to explain to him what we had learned. He was beside himself. I can only imagine what he was thinking--how had things gone so wrong?

I returned home late that evening to find my young daughter was out with her friends. When she returned, we had a conversation about being out late, about my not knowing where she was, and what I had just experienced. She looked at me, paused and said, "But that won't happen to me, Dad." That's when I realized just how different one's life perspective can be, between a civilian home and the home of a law enforcement officer.

With twenty three years of speaking openly in my home about crime and murder, kidnapping, and drug traffickers, as if I had just come home from a manufacturing job, building widgets, I realized that the level of absurdity was well above the norm. Things that would shock the average person were nothing more than a B article in the local newspaper. It was years later when I recounted this story to my daughter and discovered that she remembered it differently. Whoever's version was more accurate didn't change the fact that we agreed our view of the world was different than that of most of the people we knew.

The culmination of this epiphany, along with a handful of other murder cases that I worked, made me look for an emotional release. It came in the form of writing. I certainly wasn't short of stories. But I knew the story had to be more than a procedural. Don't get me wrong. I think procedural books can be gripping. But I learned that the consequences of a person's actions, be it mine to my daughter, a boyfriend to his victim, or the victim to a father, was the real story. What I experienced in life gave me that vision. And so I wrote. The result of my journey is the release of my novel, Fragmented, which is loosely based on a kidnapping case I worked as a rookie agent. It is due to be released early February.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Mixing in Local Flavor is a Recipe for Success

by Kelly Miller 

I’m a big fan of novels set in real locations, both as an author and as a reader. It’s exciting to read a story set in a city you’re familiar with. Being able to visualize a particular street corner or restaurant you’ve dined in deepens the reading experience.

My novels are set in Tampa, Florida and the smaller surrounding cities. In each of my Detective Kate Springer books, I picked out a small pocket of the area and highlighted that location. As my protagonist, Detective Springer, says in Dead Like Me, “Tampa’s a patchwork quilt kind of town.” So many cultures make up this great city that there’s always plenty of fodder for the imagination.

When I speak with local book clubs, the one comment I hear over and over is how much they love recognizing the locations showcased in my books. As an author, this is a great way to build a strong local readership and create a loyal fan base.

I incorporated some flavor into my newest Springer novel, Deadly Fantasies, by adding in some ridiculous laws still on the Florida books. Here’s the dialog between Detective Kate Springer and her partner’s five-year-old daughter, Lanie Jessup. I write mysteries with an edge so including this exchange was my way to lighten up the dark mood of the story.

      Patrick’s youngest daughter had obviously worn daddy down enough to talk him into handing over the phone. 
      “Raina, how are you?”
       “Jacob pushed me down at school today.”
       “That’s horrible. Do you want me to put him in jail for you?” 
       Raina squealed then broke into a fit of giggles. 
       “Can I talk to your daddy now?” 
       “Auntie Kate, did you know in Florida it’s illegal for me to sing in public in my swimsuit?”
       “Well next time you’re at the pool, try humming.”
       “It’s also illegal to fart in a public place after 6 pm.” 
        I laughed. The phone filled with the noise of Patrick wrestling the phone away from his five-year-old. 
       “Sorry,” Patrick said. The sound of a door closed in the background. “Jessup family bedtime stories,” he said. 
        “Sleepovers at your house must be fun.” 

Much of Deadly Fantasies is set in Ybor City, Florida. This small town is tucked into the heart of Tampa three miles northeast of downtown. Ybor City is known for its Cuban influences of hand-rolled cigars and cafĂ© con leche. As walkers stroll down 7th Avenue, if they look below their feet, they’ll see hundreds of hexagons containing heartfelt sentiments and humorous messages. This is known as Ybor’s “Walk of Fame” and for eighty bucks people can buy a nine-inch hexagon engraved with a message to a loved one. This is a great real life attraction that I couldn’t help but weave into my book.

Author Kelly Miller lives in Tampa, Florida where her novel is set. She’s married, has three children, and a black Labrador named Gracie. Kelly is a proud member of the Florida Writers Association. Deadly Fantasies is the second book in the Detective Kate Springer series. The first book, Dead Like Me, won second place in the best mystery category of the 2011 FWA Royal Palm Literary Awards competition. It was also named a semi-finalist in the mystery category of The Kindle Book Review’s 2013 Best Indie Books Awards competition. Copies of Kelly's books can be purchases at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. Connect with Kelly socially on her website, weekly blog, Facebook Fan Page, or on Twitter @MillerMystery.

GIVEAWAY: Enter to win a signed paperback copy of Deadly Fantasies at Goodreads. The promotion is open to residents living in the US, Canada, Great Britain, and Australia. It ends January 31, 2014.