Friday, February 28, 2014

Jackson Goes to Germany

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

The most exciting thing in publishing now is the ability to easily reach readers around the world. My royalty statements from Thomas & Mercer include payments from the UK, Canada, Germany, and Australia. The statement also has label-lines for China, Japan, Brazil, India, and Mexico. These are all places where Amazon has launched online Kindle stores, and I know it’s only a matter of time before I start seeing sales in those markets too. The amounts are small, but I love that people in Brazil may soon be reading my Detective Jackson series.

Even more exciting, the series will launch in the German language next month. The first book, The Sex Club, has been retitled Gefahrliche Tugend, which translates to Dangerous Virtue, and will be released March 4. I have a friend who reads in German and will let me know what she thinks of the translation.

My German editor is very excited about the series and thinks it will be a bestseller. I already belong to the International Association of Crime Writers (just because I like the way it sounds), but how fun it will be to someday add “international bestseller” to my bio.

I’m happy to report that Amazon Crossing decided to keep all the original covers—with slight modifications to comply with local marketing regulations. Which tells me that we did a good job with the covers and that they have a universal appeal.

On a similar note, I recently heard from a reader who asked when my series would be available in Spanish. That seems like an even bigger market, and I plan to suggest to my publisher that they consider more translations. For now though, Secrets to Die For (Jackson #2) is currently being translated into German and will likely release in that language this summer.

As long as I’m blatantly talking about my books, I might as well share that my publisher recently sent me a plaque and encased copy of Secrets to Die For—because I passed 100,000 copies sold. They had it on sale for $.99 in both the US and UK for a long time!

Readers: Do you ever read books in another language?
Writers: Have you released books in the German market? Or considered a Spanish version?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sometimes I know more than I think I know

By Gayle Carline
Mystery Author and Occasional Smarty-Pants

I'm actively involved in the Orange County chapter of Sisters in Crime, and often get to hear interesting and useful talks given by forensics experts. This month, I got a double treat.

I got to actually meet one of the other CFC bloggers, Sheila Lowe, who gave us a fascinating presentation on handwriting and behavioral analysis (and how they go hand-in-hand, no pun intended). It was great to meet her at last! Her information had my mind spinning with ideas of how to use handwriting in the next mystery.

Sharing the schedule with her was Dennis Palumbo. Dennis began as a screenwriter (he wrote the fabulous script for My Favorite Year), then somewhere along the timeline became a licensed psychotherapist, and now writes crime novels.

I joke about experiencing reincarnation while I'm still alive to enjoy it, but it seems that Dennis agrees with me.

Dennis spoke at length about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), its roots and how it affects people from different backgrounds and experiences. He discussed this, not only as a therapist who has seen it, but as a writer sharing ideas for how to create three-dimensional characters.

According to Dennis, people handle traumatic events differently, according to their past and their culture. People who were traumatized as children tend to see additional assaults as inevitable. It is somehow their fault, and they are fated to be victimized. People who have lived without being attacked in any way tend to see a traumatic event as earth-shattering. Their world was safe. Now it is changed, forever.

I am simplifying it greatly, but why am I even talking about it? Two reasons.

One, I'm always willing to share what I've learned with you. By-the-by, if there's a Sisters in Crime chapter near you, I urge you to join and go to the meetings. We're not the only chapter who gets these high-quality speakers.

Two, listening to Dennis made me wonder if I had gotten my protagonist's actions correct in my latest book, MURDER ON THE HOOF (to be released this summer). Willie is attacked by a man who is later found dead in her tack room. As Dennis talked, I was reminded that I made a big deal about how she had never been assaulted, not even spanked as a child.

Uh-oh. Had she sloughed off the event too easily?

Of course, I ran home, opened the manuscript and started looking for where I had let Willie down. I anticipated adding a significant amount of words to have her trauma surface in unusual moments. In addition, I worried that it would take the plot down a different road.

That would suck.

I skimmed through the book, looking for the attack. What do you think I found?

Somehow, I had gotten it almost right. I added a few sentences here and there, but I had already set each scene up for Willie to overreact to stimulus, or have trouble sleeping, or be obsessed with this darkness, wondering if her life would ever be whole again. She was already a good character, but after Dennis' talk, I feel I took her from two-and-a-half-dimensional to full figured. And it didn't take much. I got lucky. Or did I?

I've never been attacked or assaulted. I had a few spankings as a child, but I can't say they traumatized me. I remember the events that changed my world, the way an attack would have changed Willie's. In hindsight, I had used my own view to shape how my character felt about what happened.

How about you writers? Do you instinctively reach for your own experience and reactions to build your characters? When you know you are writing someone completely different from yourself, where do you turn for insight?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Guy Thing?

by Michael W. Sherer, thriller author

Ask women to name something that drives them crazy about men, and I bet 90 percent will say that we don’t talk enough.

 You’d think, as an author, that I’d have a lot of things to say about a lot of subjects. I suppose I do when it comes to my books. In fact, that’s one of the things I like best about what I do. The thrillers I write often provide the framework for topics I want to address in some fashion. Issues that my characters have addressed or faced include the controversy over abortion, the scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church, single parenting and bias against single fathers, homelessness, and other topics. Sometimes I simply present information on a subject for readers to think about. At other times, my characters take passionate positions on the issues.

So, it’s surprising to me that I have so much trouble coming up with topics to talk about here and on my own blog. I’m often tempted to leave a blank page where my blog is supposed to be, just to see if readers are paying attention.

Or writing a Zen blog that would say: “This is my blog post.” I did that once in college on a final exam in comparative religion. We studied various religions in China, and on the final, my professor asked us to define Zen Buddhism. I wrote something to the effect that by its very nature Zen Buddhism defied description so I couldn’t answer the question. I got a B+ on the final and for the course.

Since authors write about the things that ignite their passion, what else am I passionate about? My beautiful wife, but that’s a private matter. Tennis, after a fashion, but you don’t really want to hear about the exploits of an aging, mediocre tennis player. Strangely, (or maybe not so strange), we tend to be most passionate about the things that irk us as opposed to the things we love. Perhaps we’re just more vocal about our pet peeves than our “Likes.” J

They (whoever “they” are) do say that it takes ten good reviews of a business to counteract the ill effects of a single bad review. I don’t know that the same is true of books. I think when it comes to art (being more subjective) people like to make up their own minds as opposed to being told by a reviewer whether or not to like a book (or painting or movie, etc.).

But when I think of the things my wife and I talk about in the evenings when we’re eating dinner or watching television (see, I do talk, even though I’m a guy), the subjects we discuss most vociferously are the little things that drive us crazy—mismanaged government projects that end up costing taxpayers far more than originally estimated (like ObamaCare or the 520 bridge and Highway 99 tunnel here in Seattle); mass shootings that seem to increase in number each year like mushrooms after a rain (WTF is wrong with these people!); idiot drivers on the freeway (don’t get either one of started…); poor sportsmanship on the tennis courts (I warned you, don’t get either one of us started…); teenagers (enough said); the aging process (please, don’t get me started…); poor customer service (what’s not to dislike?); lack of common courtesy, civility and manners in this country (what’s the matter with kids—and adults—these days?); and many other topics.

What we should be most passionate about are the positive, wonderful blessings in our lives—we’re still healthy enough to play tennis; we can laugh at ourselves as we deal with the crap that comes with aging; we have each other to love and share life with; teenagers eventually grow back into humans; there are still considerate, kind, giving people in the world who make it a better place for the rest of us, etc., etc.

But I still can’t think of a blog topic. Is that a guy thing? Or just me? And what is it you’d like me to talk about? Anything in particular? Any burning questions, class?

Michael W. Sherer is the author of Night Tidethe 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.

Monday, February 24, 2014

What Would you Give up to be a Writer?

Note from A.M. Khalifa, thriller writer, Google+

I am always inspired by how compelling the desire to write and be a writer is. Like an obsession, once it takes hold of you, there's no stopping it. Everywhere I go I meet writers who are juggling other successful careers, trying to "make it" so they could quit everything else and focus on being an author. Some of us go even further and take bolder risks. Like my friend A.D. Starrling who quit being a full time doctor in England after many years of studying and training to give writing a real shot. She'll tell you all about it as my guest blogger this week. Enjoy!

By A.D. Starrling 

I grew up on the tropical island of Mauritius, where academic prowess is highly regarded. I come from a family of scientists and from a very young age, I was expected to compete and do my best. For my father, that meant winning. Being second was not good enough. I had a pretty stellar school career. I majored in the sciences and landed a state-funded scholarship for a medical degree at a British university. I graduated in the top of my year, secured my first choice pediatric rotation, and passed my specialist exams within three years.

But throughout my training, I secretly indulged in another passion I had: Writing.

My father was an avid book collector and would take me to dusty old bookshops in the capital from when I was four. In addition to instilling in me the drive for success, he also taught me to love books. I started writing at twelve, and by the time I left the island at the age of twenty, I had written several short stories, two novels, and was a third of the way into my third novel. All throughout my education and training, I kept telling myself that I would write full time when I retired from medicine.

With just a few years left before becoming a full-fledged consultant, I quit full-time medicine. I was not happy with the direction my life had taken and the changes happening in the National Health Service. I became an agency doctor, with flexible working hours, better money, and the ability to work all over the country.

Six months later, on a train journey to London, the three characters that would drive me back to my writing desk walked into my head and wouldn't stop talking to me. And that’s when it really hit me. Why wait until I retire? Writing is what I want to do now.

I researched the publishing industry and discovered it was fraught with difficulty, with plenty of rejections and setbacks to be had. There was no guarantee I would ever be published or be able to make a living from it. Back then, I rejected self-publishing, equating it in my mind with the stigma of vanity publishing.

Still, I was driven and decided to write for five or six years and query agents and publishers. If during that time the consistent feedback was that I was a bad or mediocre writer, I would return to medicine and write as a hobby.

In 2012, no one had convinced me that I was a bad or mediocre writer, but I hadn’t gotten anywhere either. The consistent message I was getting was that I was a great writer, but hadn’t found my voice or perfect genre. Then a short story I submitted to the British Fantasy Society Short Story competition made the shortlist. It would eventually become the first novel I published.

One day, I came across an article that would change my life. It was about an author I had never heard of before, a certain JA Konrath, who had attained mainstream success as a self-published author. I took another look at self-publishing and saw it in a different light. It was now not just acceptable, but increasingly the smarter route to take. I decided to go for it.

From that time onward, I began seeing myself as a full-time writer, who once dabbled in medicine. I work part-time in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and that door remains open for me. Medicine still pays the bills. But isn’t that the story of almost all indie writers? We are chasing the dream, and using our other skills to sustain ourselves until writing becomes our sole vocation.

My first book, Soul Meaning (Seventeen Book 1), was the winner of the Fantasy category of the National Indie Excellence Awards in 2013, a finalist in the adventure category of the same award, a finalist in the action-adventure category of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards 2013, and got honorable mention in the general fiction category at the Hollywood Book Festival 2013.

I am still filled with fear and doubts when it comes to my writing career. Am I crazy to give up years of studying and training and a near-certain future of professional success and material comfort to chase a passion? Maybe. But I couldn't live with myself if I didn't at least try.

I have a memo note stuck to the lamp on my desk. It says, “Who do you want to be?”

It’s the first thing I see every morning before I start writing.

The answer to that question is what drives me to carry on.

What about you, fellow authors, what have you given up and what risks are you taking to chase this writing dream? Indeed, what double, even triple lives are you leading? And readers, what drives and wakes you up every morning?

AD Starrling is the author of the award-winning and nominated supernatural thriller series Seventeen. She lives in England, where she spends her time writing fast-paced, action-packed thrillers, and juggling babies in the intensive care unit where she works as a part-time pediatrician.

Soul Meaning (Seventeen Book #1) and King’s Crusade (Seventeen Book #2) the e-books are currently available for sale on Amazon, with the paperbacks scheduled for release in March and April 2014.

More A.D. Starrling links:

How (Not?) to Disappear

After I'm Gone by Laura Lippman (William Morrow hardcover, 11 February 2014).

The story begins on Independence Day, 1976.  Felix Brewer kissed his wife and daughters goodbye and crawled into the back of a horse trailer.  The driver of the truck pulling it was the sister of his mistress, Julie, and its destination was a small airfield near Philadelphia.  Running away to avoid a charge of racketeering, Felix told no one his final destination.

Thirty-six years later, Roberto (Sandy) Sanchez, a semi-retired Baltimore policeman pulls a file off the pile of cold cases on his desk.  The unsolved case is the murder of Julie Saxony; the same Julie who had been Felix Brewer's mistress.  She disappeared ten years after Felix did, and her remains had been discovered in a Baltimore park in 2001.

The story flashes back and forth between the incidents that led to Felix's flight, beginning with his first encounter with his wife Bambi in 1959 and the details of Sandy's investigation in 2012 as Sandy soon realizes that Julie's death is very likely related to Felix Brewer.

The details of Sandy's investigation are fascinating and along with the flashbacks, will completely engross the reader.

Laura Lippman has an amazing way with words, and whether you've read her work before or not, this book will draw you in and hook you.

Laura Lippman was a reporter for twenty years, including twelve years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working fulltime and published seven books about “accidental PI” Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001. Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and Barry awards. She also has been nominated for other prizes in the crime fiction field, including the Hammett and the Macavity

FTC Full Disclosure: Many thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the e-galley.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Keywords: What Are They Good For?

Another conversation between L.J. Sellers and Peg Brantley... and you!

Peg: There are a few words that strike terror in my heart. Two of them are "SEO" and "keywords." I've read articles, looked at online lists, brainstormed so hard that what's left of my brain flew out the window, and even purchased software. And someone recommends switching categories. Like what? Switch my police procedural to what? Tender romance? I recently changed my keywords on each of my books. How important are they?

L.J: Recent discussions between Thomas & Mercer authors say they’re not as important as they have been in the past. And I’ve noticed that whenever I read articles or paid-advice about keywords, the information always seems to be geared toward nonfiction, where they seem to be more important. I believe that’s because in nonfiction there are more possibilities for categorizing the topics.

Fiction seems to be less complicated. Advice I’ve read recently suggests keywords should simply be the genre, sub-genre, sub-sub-genre, (thriller, international thriller, police procedural), then a few broad topics that readers might search for to find your book (FBI agents, survivalists, hackers).

Peg: So keywords have gone from being the darlings to the stepchildren? Ugh. Like choosing between butter and margarine… Can I forget about them then? Or do they still play some kind of supporting role in my book sales?

L.J.: I’m sure there are authors who still swear by keywords, but I’ve experimented with them in books' metadata, in Amazon’s 7 allowed keywords, and in books' descriptions. None of it made a difference. Except for genre. After listing a main critical category—such as police procedural—I chose a less crowded one such as international thriller. That allows The Trigger to make the top-100 with fewer sales and remain visible to readers.

In another author forum, someone mentioned that the new trick is to stick as many keywords as possible into the space between commas. Like this: love romance sweet love NA young couple summer love may to december love, literary romance romantic suspense passion couples intimacy, ….. and so on. But key phrases should match user searches, so I’m not sure how effective that is.

Another author commented that she had updated and added keywords, and her rankings went down. Which could be coincidental, or maybe fewer readers could find her book because she’d deleted or changed her most effective key/search word without realizing it. With seven possibilities, you would have to be methodical about experimenting with them one at a time and documenting results.

For those who want a thorough discussion, M. Louise Louisa Locke has written a series of blogs on the subject.

Writers, have you gained some expertise you'd like to share regarding keywords?

Readers, how often do you actually search Amazon using a keyword?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

It's Street Sweeper Day!

Yesterday was street sweeper day at my sister’s house. That basically means the city will make some revenue off this block from the poor schmucks who forgot to cram their cars into the driveway, three and four deep. The street sweeper comes by about 7:30 in the morning followed closely by the woman in the little white car with an overactive pen waiting to write a ticket. This street is very near a state university so there are several houses with hard working, low-income, college students living in the neighborhood. Most can’t afford the parking tickets.

This is my sister’s pet peeve.  But before I go on, you have to know that she is like the street monitor making sure everyone keeps their yards looking nice, no sofas left on the street, no loud parties, or barking dogs, etc., She has lived in this neighborhood for forty years and loves it. She raised her kids here and knows most if not every neighbor by name, their children, and cats and dogs. The neighbors love her.

But every second and fourth Wednesday the street sweeper comes. He drives way too fast, blows the leaves and trash, (that the neighbors have just swept into the street) back up on the sidewalks. Then, instead of cleaning his brushes, or emptying his load, or whatever street sweepers do to get rid of the extra debris, he keeps rolling along the street until it all falls off right back onto the street he just swept. Somehow, and I’m not sure it’s by accident, he manages to dump most of it right in front of my sister’s house.

My sister has taken it upon herself to make sure no more money goes into the city coffer from parking tickets on her street. So, every second and fourth Wednesday she gets up early, and at 7:25 drives around the block and knocks on doors where the cars are parked in the street. Most of the time it’s the houses with the students, but not always. Sometimes it’s the guy who had to work late who just forgot, or the family that had out-of-state company and didn’t realize what day it was.

What does this have to do with crime or fiction, you ask? Well, my sister thinks it’s a crime, but that wasn’t the point of my story. This is the kind of every day thing that builds characters in our books. I’m sure you know a lot more about my sister from this description than you would if I just tried to describe her. I bet you formed your own idea of what she looks like, the way she behaves, her personality. Well, if you imagined a wiry, petite, woman who never slows down, never gives up, who loves children and old people, and does it all with a smile, you nailed it.

Every day, wherever I am, or whatever I’m doing, I watch for the little things that go on around me. They help build great characters.

By the way, my sister is out of town this week and I’m house sitting for her. I left the house about 7:30 this morning and noticed the street sweeper hadn’t been there yet. I spotted a car on the street and I couldn’t help myself. I stopped, knocked on the door, and when the man came to the door in his housecoat I told him it was “street sweeper day.” I wasn’t too sure how he would react. I waited for a second. He turned, stuck his head in the door, and yelled, “Gabby, move your car!” Then he said, “Thanks, she didn’t need another one. I can’t afford it.”—It felt good.

Writers: Where do you get your ideas for this kind of character building?

Readers: Do you enjoy reading about the crazy little things a favorite character may do in their everyday life?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Are You Legit?

By Andrew E. Kaufman, author of psychological thrillers

So lets say you decide to write a book.

You’ve always been a fan of the things, had a few ideas swimming around in your head, and have wanted to take a stab at it for as long as you could remember. Now, here you are, finally connecting with the courage needed to commit those hungry fingers to keyboard, passion to dream.

After X amount of time, your novel is finished, and then, BAM! Away you go, uploading your book to the KDP platform, ready to take on the world and be the next Nora Roberts or Stephen King or whoever you think is the bomb.

First question: are you an author?

Well, technically speaking, yes, because you’ve:

A. Completed a novel.
B. Published it.
C. Can call yourself whatever the hell you want.

And really, in this era of self-publishing, that’s how a lot of established authors got their start (myself included).

Next question: are you a legitimate author?

Here’s where it gets a little murky. Back in the day, it was all so black and white, the gold standard of legitimacy being whether or not an author had a publisher. But since authors can now do that for themselves (and not be called hacks), those lines have become blurred, if not completely tossed out the window.

That begs the question: what makes an author legitimate? Admittedly, in this era of self-publishing, the question feels a bit circular, trying to answer it much like nailing Jell-O to a tree.

But just for heck’s sake, let’s give it a shot, anyway.

Does selling a lot of books make you legitimate? Well, it might, but I’ve seen some horrendously edited, grammatical monstrosities reach the top tier of the bestsellers lists. Do we get to pull those authors’ Legit Cards based solely on that? In theory, I suppose we could, but since the readers have already spoken (and since, really, the market is driven by sales), you might find some resistance from the masses who have purchased those books.

Which brings us to the next demarcation: What about writing a good book? Nope, have to shoot that one down straight away, because good is a matter left to subjectivity, and unlike sales, there’s no unit of measurement to make a determination (Okay, there are ratings and reviews, but...well, never mind).

How about a level of commitment to your craft, or even better, your passion? Again, same as above: no quantifiable way to judge that. Except… there was the whole mood ring thing, but that blew up years ago, after it was exposed as a big thermochromic, flim-flam operation (oh gawd, did I just terribly date myself.)

On my quest for a more concrete answer (and again, just for kicks) I decided to ask The Google, which in turn, told me to ask The Webster, which in turn told me this:

Legitimacy: conforming to recognized principles or accepted rules and standards.

So there you have it, defined by Webster (the accepted authority on this sort of thing). As authors, and with respect to legitimacy, we are all hereby, created equal—that is, so long as we conform to recognized principals or accepted rules and standards. What are those? I suppose that’s a topic for another post.

As for me, I’ve taken a semi-praiseworthy crack at it. Anybody else want to give it a whirl?

In the meantime, while we wait for the comments to flood in, I've called on good buddy, MC, to  provide his spin on this weighty matter.

So without further ado, for your entertainment... It's Hammer Time! (Word).

Take it away MC!

Spoiler Alerts — should they be required?

Sheila Lowe, MS, mystery writer and forensic handwriting analyst

I’ve spent a significant portion of the last couple of days od’ing on the second season of the Netflix series, House of Cards; four episodes to go. I detest most of the characters and feel like I’m watching a train wreck, but I can’t turn away. That’s good writing. In the first episode of the season there’s a big shocker that I would not dream of sharing with viewers who hadn’t yet seen it. Every review I’ve seen carries a big SPOILER ALERT.

Downton Abbey was one of my favorite shows for the first three seasons, but I’m not watching it anymore. Someone who had seen the first few episodes of season four told me about an upcoming plot line that I just did not want to see, or the fallout from it in subsequent episodes. The person in the know made sure I really wanted to hear about it before making the reveal (a spoiler alert).

Some people don’t want to be surprised. They read on past the spoiler alert because they want to know what’s coming. Others stop at that warning and go no further. But the warning gives them the choice. 

Until recently, Amazon required reviewers to put a Spoiler Alert warning at the top of any review that contained “tells” about significant plot lines. That has changed. I found out the unpleasant way.

I’m sure I'm not the only author who semi-regularly checks her reviews, and that’s how I discovered the offending comment tucked inside a back-handed compliment regarding my current book, WHAT SHE SAW: “The premise of the story was good, including memory loss and XXXX (redacted because it’s a friggin’ spoiler), but it lacked the punch that Ms. Lowe’s previous novels held.” Okay, so the person wasn’t crazy about the book and gave it only three stars. Fine, that’s their opinion. It’s got a healthy number of five star reviews, too. But why did this reader have to spoil it for others? Spite? Ignorance? Insensitivity? Indifference?

Anyone reading the full comment would have no compelling reason to read the book because this line gives away one of the most important plot points. I was unable to resist adding a comment (yes, I know, it’s not recommended) asking the reviewer not to put a spoiler without a spoiler alert. Then I emailed Amazon and asked them to remove the review. Amazon failed to respond. I wrote to them again and finally got the answer that Amazon no longer requires readers to post spoiler alerts.

Any thoughts from the standpoint of reader or author? Do spoiler alerts matter to you, or am I making a big deal out of nothing?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Concrete Tips for Decluttering Your Prose

by Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time decluttering my desk, files, closets, cupboards and drawers in preparation for my upcoming move across the country. It’s been tedious and painful, but now that a lot of it is done, the place looks so much better. And it’s such a relief to be rid of a lot of stuff I wasn’t using anyway, and had forgotten I even had! I feel lighter, less encumbered.

Once you’ve written the first draft of your novel or short story, it’s time to go back and look for places where you may have cluttered up your sentences with little unnecessary words, or your paragraphs with redundant sentences. Excess words in your sentences are like rocks on the road, preventing smooth, unfettered travel. But don’t worry about style or fine-tuning while you’re writing your first draft – just get your ideas down as quickly as you can. Once the whole story is roughed in, you can go back and start ferreting out words that don’t add to the meaning or imagery and are just hampering the fluid flow of ideas.

Also, look for anywhere you may be overwriting or beating a point to death. Say it once – effectively – and then move on. Twice, max. Otherwise you risk annoying your readers, who will say, “Yeah, I got it the first three times!”

In my editor's guide to writing compelling stories, Fire up Your Fiction, I offer lots of concrete tips with examples for streamlining your writing for a smoother flow and pacing.

Here are some examples from my editing of taking out unnecessary words that just clutter things up. As always, I’ve changed the names and details to provide anonymity for the writers.

 ~ Avoid little-word pile-ups and eliminate redundancies.

Take out the clutter to reveal the essence. Instead of “in spite of the fact that,” just say “although.” Instead of “in the vicinity of,” say “near.” Instead of “in the direction of,” say “to” or “toward.” Instead of “came in contact with” say “met.” Instead of “during the time that,” say “while.” No need to say “located at” – just say “at.”  

On their cross-country trip, they slept each night in the cheap motels located less than a mile’s drive from the interstate.  

 On their cross-country trip, they slept each night in cheap motels just off the interstate.  

The car drove slowly through the large complex heading in the direction of a secluded building at the back of the facility. It was located on the shore of the Mississippi River. The vehicle came to a stop next to the entrance to the building.  

 The car drove slowly through the large complex toward a secluded building on the shore of the Mississippi River. It stopped next to the entrance.  

He was shooting off his mouth in the bar last night telling everybody that he was going to find the bastard that ratted on him.  

 He was shooting off his mouth in the bar last night about finding the bastard that ratted on him.

 He moved his mouse pointer over to the other email that he had received.  

 He clicked on the second email.  

~ Don’t drown your readers in details.

Leave out those picky little details that just serve to distract the reader, who wonders for an instant why they’re there and if they’re significant:  

He had arrived at the vending machine and was punching the buttons on its front with an outstretched index finger when a voice from behind him broke him away from his thoughts.

He was punching the buttons on the vending machine when a voice behind him broke into his thoughts.

In the first example, we have way too much minute detail. What else would he be punching the buttons with besides his finger? And we don’t need to know which finger or that it’s outstretched. Everybody does it pretty much the same. Avoid having minute details like this that just clutter up your prose.  

An angular snarl stuck to his face, the officer indicated with a hand gesture a door that was behind and off to the right of Jason. He swung his head around to look in the direction the officer was pointing.  

Snarling, the officer gestured to a door behind Jason. He turned to look behind him.

~ Take out empty, filler words like “It was,” “there was,” and “there were.”

I headed down a rickety set of wooden steps to the basement. There was a dim light ahead in the hallway. To the right there were cardboard boxes stacked high. To the left, there was a closed door with a padlock. Suddenly, I heard muffled sounds. There was someone upstairs. 

I headed down a rickety set of wooden steps to the dimly lit basement. To the right cardboard boxes were stacked high. To the left, I saw a closed door with a padlock. Suddenly, I heard muffled sounds. Someone was upstairs. 

I could play around with this some more, but you get the picture. 

~ Take out the word “that” wherever it’s not needed.

Read the sentence out loud, and if it still makes sense without the “that,” remove it. Smooths out the sentence, so it’s less clunky and flows better. 

She said that you thought that it was too expensive and that you wanted to shop around. 

She said you thought it was too expensive and you wanted to shop around.

~ Delete words or phrases that unnecessarily reinforce what’s already been said.

We passed an abandoned house that nobody lived in on a deserted street with no one around. The house was gray in color.

We passed an abandoned gray house on a deserted street.

~ Don’t tell after you’ve shown.

She moped around the house, unable to concentrate on anything. She felt sad.

He paced nervously around the room, muttering to himself. He was agitated.

In both instances, the second sentence can and should be deleted. 

~ Condense any long-winded dialogue.

In everyday situations in real life, people don’t speak in lengthy, complete sentences and in uninterrupted monologues. Read your dialogue out loud to make sure it sounds natural, not like a rehearsed speech.

Break up any blocks of one person speaking at length by rewriting it in questions and answers or a lively debate, with plenty of tension and attitude.

Use lots of incomplete sentences and one- or two-word answers, or even silences.

How would those characters actually speak in real life? In general, men, especially blue-collar men, tend to be terser and more to-the-point than women.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. She has also organized two anthologies for charity, incl. Childhood Regained – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. You can find Jodie at,, her blog,, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Some Random Thoughts About The Silver Screen

By Peg Brantley

Evocative Characters. Intriguing Crime. Compelling Stories

Have you read a book (or written one) that seems to translate easily to film? I've been told by several people that my books, especially The Missings, are meant to be movies. It tickles me.

But I'm not holding my breath.

The movie "Ray" took seventeen years to make. Talk about perserverance.

A lot of books... a lot of books... are optioned simply to take them off the market. Let's say Major Studio has laid out some Major Bucks to make a movie about how easy it is to target undocumented people and offer them the equivalent of the poor man's cash for gold by buying their spare kidney. Let's say Major Studio is still about three or four years away from a real movie when they catch a little thing on the internet somewhere about The Missings and decide they need to protect their investment. If I accept their offer my theoretical movie gets shelved.

But Major Studio, try me. I might be good with that.

Here are a couple of quick concepts if you're thinking about adapting your book and writing a script:

  • Think visually.
    • Simple sentences.
      • A woman is sitting in front of a television. The sound is turned up. Behind her, a doorknob turns.
  • Narrow the focus.
    • While your novel might be 300 pages, the average screen play is 90-110 pages.
      • Rule of thumb: 1 page = 1 minute of screen time
  • Can you deviate?
    • Damn straight. Cherry-pick your scenes.

Do you have a book (read or written) that you'd love to see made into a movie? What makes it a great candidate?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

On the run (but not the lam)

By Gayle Carline
Mystery Author and Faux-Maven

For those of you who don't know, maven is a Yiddish word meaning "expert," although my Jewish friends usually wink and tell me it means "know-it-all."

Tomorrow I'm heading down to San Diego to teach at a writer's conference. I used to attend this conference, along with its sister conference in Newport Beach every year. Then a year ago, I was asked to become one of the workshop leaders.

Moi? Teach people about writing? That first year, I was insanely nervous. What do I have to say to anyone about a process that I still feel I'm learning about? I'm happy to report that I did my homework and presented useful information, at least according to the full classrooms and happy people who had kind words for what I put together for them.

These days, I dream up workshop ideas and pass them on to the director, who picks and chooses one or two. For this conference, I'm resurrecting a workshop I did last year, plus adding a new workshop that should be fun. 

The resurrected workshop is on Self-Publishing Savvy. Basically, I do an overview of the author-publisher process and the mindset it requires. My intent with this workshop is for people who think they might want to self-publish but aren't certain. I try not to sugarcoat anything, or scare them away. Hopefully, I just give them the tools to make an informed choice.

The new workshop is called Storytelling is Murder, She Wrote. It's going to be a participation workshop, where I show an episode of a TV mystery and we dissect it, to see what makes it work and what we can apply as writers. I know what you're all thinking, but I'm not going to use that TV show. I'm using an episode of Poirot, for a few reasons. One is that Agatha Christie is a gold standard in mysteries. Another is that the PBS production of Poirot lends itself to a discussion of branding beyond just the storyline. It's a 50-minute show and we have 90 minutes to talk about it. I hope we can get it all done.

One of the things I really like about these conferences is that they offer a little something for everyone in their 90-minute workshops. You can learn about the craft of writing, either fiction or non-fiction. You can get ideas for the business side, from writing a good pitch, to how to find an agent, to what self-publishing looks like. As far as industry professionals, the conference directors try very hard to make certain that the agents and publishers are reputable AND are actively seeking clients.  

In the meantime, if you'll excuse me, I need to review my notes and make certain I'm prepared for the weekend. Oh, yeah - and I have to pack!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sociability, Social Media and Social Contracts

by Michael W. Sherer, thriller author

There’s little doubt that despite all our faults, jealousies, fanaticism and foibles, we humans are social creatures. When we live and work together, we are capable of amazing inventiveness and accomplishments. But at what point does sociability stop serving a purpose and start becoming an annoyance, or worse, a danger to ourselves and even our way of life? When does it go beyond the boundaries of the unwritten social contracts that provide order to a chaotic world?

For me, the rise of the Internet and social media has brought these questions to the forefront of my thoughts on an almost daily basis. Just as the various social media platforms have sorted themselves out in the past few years, users have gravitated to one or several depending on their comfort level and reason for using social media in the first place.

Authors, I think, have found social media both advantageous and liberating on one hand, and aggravating on another. Authors make up an interesting breed. We work in isolation, but tend to be very sociable people. Before the Internet and social media, conferences and book tours comprised an author’s outlet for his or her social side. Readers and fans seemed content with that.

But in the digital age, we are on and available 24/7. We’re connected to each other by text, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and other channels. Our thoughts, impulses, follies and achievements—from major life moments to mundane daily activities—are captured and broadcast to the world with the click of a mouse. And, like hitting “Reply All” when we meant to send a private message, sometimes we put things out there without thinking first.

Authors, since we are communicators, have eagerly taken to digital media as a way of building networks of readers and fans, extending networks of friends and resources of knowledge and expressing themselves in ways they can’t through their novels. But some early adopters of digital media have pulled back from many of these platforms, concentrating on those that either afford them the greatest degree of comfort or the most visibility. I think that’s a good thing.

I’ve said it before and it bears repeating: the problem with social media is that it’s a little like telephone party lines (which I remember), and even more like CB radio (a fad in the 70s)—a whole lot of people are talking at the same time, but only a few people are listening. So it’s difficult to pick up a conversation and contribute in a meaningful way.

To its credit, social media involves the written word, so it’s possible to track the history of a conversation and find out the side roads and digressions it’s taken over the course of a day or two. That wasn’t possible with CB radio. But, like CB, the Internet is largely anonymous, and it’s too easy for people to “speak” before they think, resulting in a lot of vitriol and nastiness.

Worse, society has grown more casual in the several decades between the two technologies, less bound by the unspoken social contracts I grew up with. Manners and courtesy are no longer common. With CB radio, users politely asked if they could break into a conversation, and waited until they received an invite. Today, we type whatever comes to mind and hit “send.”

Why do we do it? Why do we feel compelled to share so much, not only with our friends and family, but with a world of complete strangers? When my mother died last fall, a family member posted the news before my wife and I had a chance to call and tell all our kids that their grandmother had passed away. They learned about it on Facebook.

Isn’t it time we all took a step back and really thought about the ways in which we communicate and with whom we communicate? Doesn’t it make more sense to pick up the phone and talk with the people whose friendship we truly value and save the inanities that pass for great literature on Twitter for our once-a-year holiday cards to acquaintances? Do you, readers and fans, really need to have Instagram documentation of what I had for breakfast?

There are days when I want to completely unplug from social media. Is social media worth my 15 minutes of fame? How much is too much? How much is too little? What’s my obligation to you, my readers and fans, and what do I keep to myself?

No matter what I decide, could we all remember to say “please” and “thank you” a little more often? Please?

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.