Thursday, April 29, 2010
With the way the economy has changed things, I no longer have the time or the money to hang out at physical (real world) writer's groups. I tend to get all of my writing news, info and some of the camaraderie I used to get from a group from the net. And the net, as we all know is constantly changing.
Besides Crimespace, I belong to Murder Must Advertise which is a Yahoo email group. I get some info there about promo and such--a little glimpse at the business end of writing in this genre.
I belong to Dorothy L but tend to do a mass delete on busy days--and most days are busy anymore.
I catch a few friends on Facebook and Twitter but it's random.
So where do you get your mystery writing news and where can you hang out to catch your writer friends?
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter is pleased to announce the
Twelfth Annual 2010 Texas Mystery Month in May. Texas Mystery Month is a community service project of Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Project. The purpose of Texas Mystery Month is to spotlight Texas Mystery Authors. All Texas Mystery Authors are invited to participate.
Texas Mystery Month events include panel discussions, book signings, author presentations and more. Austin, College Station, Houston, San Antonio and Seguin are celebrating Texas Mystery Authors with activities in May, Texas Mystery Month.
2010 Texas Mystery Month events currently scheduled include:
February 16-May 16 - Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers Project, Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter and the Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation - Contact Sarah Ann Robertson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
May 1, Saturday, 3:00-5:00 pm - Mystery Author Panel: Fresh Kills - Stephen Banister, Susan Rogers Cooper, James Hime, Mark Troy, Moderator email@example.com . Barnes & Noble Booksellers , 711 Texas Avenue, College Station, TX 77840, Kerre Cole, Community Relations Manager, 1-979-764-8969 firstname.lastname@example.org
May 8, Saturday, 1:00-3:00 p.m. - Author Panel - Contact "Nancy Glass West" <email@example.com>, Twig Book Shop, San Antonio
May 10, Monday, 6:40 p.m. - Author Mitch Haynes - Sherlock Holmes Society of Austin aka Waterloo Crossing, Contact Sarah Ann Robertson <firstname.lastname@example.org> Mangia-Mesa Drive Mesa Crossing Shopping Center 8012 Mesa Drive Austin, Texas 78731 1-512-349-2126
May 12, Wednesday, 7:00 p.m. - Author Panel - "Nancy Glass West" <email@example.com>, Barnes & Noble-San Pedro Crossing, 321 NW Loop, #104 San Antonio, Texas 78216 Debra Castanon, Community Relations Manager, 1-210-342-9426 firstname.lastname@example.org
May 15, Saturday, 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. - Author Panel - "Carolyn Banks" <email@example.com>, The Book Basket 913 Main Street Bastrop, Texas 78602 Carol Pennell 1-512-332-0777 firstname.lastname@example.org
May 15, Saturday, 2:00-4:00 p.m. - Author Panel - "Nancy Glass West" <email@example.com>, Hastings-Seguin
May 16, Sunday, 2:00-5:00 p.m. - Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers Event - Contact Sarah Ann Robertson <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Barnes & Noble-Westlake, Austin
May 22, Saturday - Mystery Author Extravaganza: Dave Ciambrone, Byron Riddle, F. J. Schaak, Ph.D, Sylvia Dickey Smith, Marcia Spillers, Moderator <email@example.com> Barnes & Noble-Arboretum, Austin 10000 Research Blvd. Austin, TX 78759 Janice Langlinais Community Relations Manager 512-418-1013 firstname.lastname@example.org
May 23, Sunday, 3:00 p.m. - Mystery Author Panel: "Destination: Idea-ville --Where Novels Come From." Eight mystery authors discuss where they get their ideas: Dave Ciambrone, Laura Griffin, Russ Hall, Mitch Haynes, Jim Parker, Sylvia Dickey Smith, Nancy Glass West, Joan Upton Hall (moderator). Contact "Joan Upton Hall" JMUHall@aol.com, BookPeople, Austin
May 29, Saturday, 4:30 p.m., "The Variety within the Genre" - Laura Elvebak, Mitch Haynes, Caroline Shearer, Gayle Wigglesworth, Moderator <email@example.com>, Murder by the Book 2342 Bissonet Street Houston, Texas 77005 David Thompson, Manager 1-713-524-8597 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
For more information please check out our website--www.hotxsinc.org-- or contact Texas Mystery Month Coordinator Sarah Ann Robertson <email@example.com> .
Sunday, April 25, 2010
My wife and I stopped by our friendly neighborhood video rental store yesterday and picked up a couple movies for the weekend. We don’t do that often, but they had a Rent One Get One Free Offer. We found a fairly recent mystery and a thriller we hadn’t seen. On the way out, I saw a poster for the new Sherlock Homes movie starring Robert Downey, Jr.
Sorry. I have no interest in seeing that one.
Don’t get me wrong. Downey is an excellent actor and I’ve enjoyed him in other films. My problem is I think there’s something all kinds of wrong with what they’ve done to Holmes.
Sherlock Holmes has always been the epitome of literary crime-solving heroes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created him as the ultimate gentlemanly, educated and brilliant sleuth. You only have to mention the name “Holmes” to any mystery fan and an image springs to mind. In the image, Holmes is fully dressed in a long-tailed suit of his time, wearing a deerstalker hat, smoking a pipe, explaining an elementary plot detail to his sidekick Dr. Watson in a perfectly articulated British accent worthy of the Royal family.
One poster for this new movie shows Downey bare from the waist up, muscular and sweaty, looking like he’s involved in a Fung Fu fight.
Now, I’m a die hard fan of fight films. Give me Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Van Damme, Jackie Chan (especially Jackie Chan), and I’m a happy couch potato. But please don’t give me the greatest icon of sleuthing throwing Karate punches and flying spin kicks.
One critic summed up my feelings with this:
"The makers of this film are mainly interested in action; that, they believe, is all that gets young audiences into cinemas today. They may be right, but they have ridden roughshod over one of literature's greatest creations in the process."
While this version of Sherlock Holmes may be a good movie and millions will enjoy it, I won’t see it. Instead, I’ll be wondering what’s next. Maybe Sam Spade will star in a traveling magic show. Raymond Chandler will become a song and dance man. How about Nero Wolfe hosting a TV talk show?
Sorry, but some things should be left alone.
Or is it just me being a resolute fuddy-duddy?
Friday, April 23, 2010
They can produce goods results even when you don't wind up in the best of locations. The recent event was the Buttercup Festival at Nolensville, TN, a small community a few miles south of Nashville. They had several booth areas, along both sides of the main drag and around a couple of vacant lots between businesses. We were stuck in the back of a U-shaped setup near a slow-running but fairly wide creek. Though a lot of people didn't wander back that far, those who did frequently spent time lingering around the water.
Yellow was the dominant color for the event. I wore a yellow shirt, we had buttercups on the table, and Beth decorated the tent posts with garlands of fake yellow and white flowers. There were several food vendors, supplying drinks, barbeque, funnel cakes, and other goodies. A couple of Boy Scouts circulated around the area pulling a wagon loaded with soft drinks and water bottles. The photo below shows Beth and me with our books.
They had music and dancing a short distance down the road. We were far enough back to be behind the buildings so we could see and hear without being bombarded with too much volume. Our location was between The Feed Mill, billed as An Amish Country Market, and a two-story bed and breakfast. A small cabin behind the B&B, about 100 feet from us, provided convenient rest room facilities.
I had all five of my books available and sold enough to pay for the tent, showing buttercups and mysteries go well together. Our next booking is scheduled for June 19 at the popular RC-Moon Pie Festival in Belle Buckle, TN, about 60 miles south of Nashville. This one honors two Southern traditions, RC Cola and Moon Pies. It features a full day of activities, including a 10-mile run, games, contests, cloggers, country and bluegrass music, and the grand finale, cutting of the World's Largest Moon Pie, providing dessert for all.
Belle Buckle bills itself as "where we are 100 years behind the times and proud of it!" One of the town's claims to fame is Webb School, a private coeducational college prep school founded in 1870 by William Robert "Sawney" Webb. During his 56 years as principal, the school provided more Rhodes Scholars than any other secondary school in America. Under his leadership, Webb admitted females, Native American, and Asian American students. It is still one of the nations leading prep schools.
We're looking forward to more of these community festivals as venues for selling mystery novels. Other favorite non-store events are book fairs. Last Saturday was the Southern Kentucky BookFest in Bowling Green, and coming up in the fall are the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville and the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Now I hear from Jordan Dane, mistress of thrillers, that the term “Crime Fiction” is being used as an umbrella for all mystery, suspense, and thriller works. Let’s briefly examine those genres and sub-genres and see how they can be considered “crime fiction.”
Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mystery_fiction target="_new")states that Crime Fiction and Mystery Fiction are also synonymous, meaning the different genres and sub-genres dealing with detective, crime, mystery, and anything dealing with solving a crime puzzle.
Since suspense is a major component of any mystery, no matter what the genre or sub-genre, then suspense fiction can be seen to be part of Crime Fiction. According to Writer’s Digest, July 10, 2008, the nine tricks to writing suspense tie to the needs for good mystery or thriller fiction – crime fiction. In fact the English name the sub-genre we call suspense as thrillers. All tie together.
Brian Garfield on International Thriller Writers, 1994, states that novels of suspense (thrillers) contain elements of mystery, romance, and adventure.
I appeared on a panel with Jordan Dane and Merline Lovelace as we discussed Crime Fiction (mystery, suspense, thriller) at the Heartland New Day BookFest on Saturday. Both authors are delightful authors and people. All the people in the room (the largest attended session at the festival) enjoyed themselves. I recommend if you ever have a chance to hear either of them, take it.
Any way, all this time I’ve been writing Crime Fiction and didn’t know.
Brain Cells & Bubble Wrap
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
The little town where I live is in the foothills of the Sierra, 17 miles above the nearest city, Porterville.
Every year they have an annual Jackass Mail Run which is more or less to alert people to the fact that the very next weekend is the Springville Rodeo.
In the morning, a mail wagon pulled by mules leaves Porterville being escorted by about 60 horseback riders, sometimes more. They make a stop at the Antlers, a local watering hole on the highway for a barbecue and whatever people like to drink at these things.
Meanwhile, starting at 9 a.m., people began putting up tents and displays in the parking lot of the Springville Inn and across the street in the park. When we got there we found the space were marked with numbers but though I'd been in touch with the woman in charge of vendors numerous times, she'd neglected to give me the number of my space. We stood around for awhile and finally decided to just set up where in a space no one had claimed. You can see the backside of me helping with this process in the above photo.
The actual event started at noon, but I made my first sale around 10 a.m. to a truck driver who bought two books for his mother. That sale paid for my spot. People started coming around 11 a.m. I was the only one selling books--not uncommon for me--and many of my sales were to people who were looking for me. There had been a great article in the paper telling about the book store signing I did last weekend and that I'd have a booth at the Jackass Mail Run. I also send out a few announcements.
In the photo of the Springville Inn you can see how people gathered to wait for the Mail Train. Most of the riders dropped off at the rodeo grounds. When the train arrived around 5, there was a big gun fight with robbers attempting to steal the mail, but the mail made it to the post office and anyone who'd sent mail that way (cost a few bucks) will get a Jackass Mail cancellation on their letters.
You can see our two famous residents in the photo on the Inn's balcony, Springville's Honorary Mayor, actor Ned Beatty and Monte Montana Jr.
Despite this being a truly Western Event, I did quite well selling my books. Next up is a library event--I don't expect any gunfire at that one--or any celebrities.
It's always fun to watch the gunfight though it's very noisy.
Son and daughter-in-law came to help us break down the tent so we took them out to eat at the Thai Kitchen.
If you've never tried selling books at a non-literary event like this you should try it. It's a lot of fun, and after you've done it a few times, people will come looking for you. I even had one friend who only came to buy my latest book.
Monday, April 19, 2010
The Spring Fling Conference is only days from now. My thriller, Forever Young, is not yet completed, although I've made good headway. I'm afraid I've spent too much time promoting Killer Career and not enough on writing. I've made this mistake before, but never learn. (g)
If I stayed up night and day until Friday, it still wouldn't be ready. I may have made it on time, but I've changed the entire structure of the novel. I'm saving some of my characters for a spinoff, because there were just too many to keep track of without confusing readers. I believe my novel will be stronger and tighter, but wish I would have originally decided to write it this way.
So, I'll still meet with the agent, tell her what the story is about, see if I like her and she likes me, then go from there. That way we can both relax after that and talk about whatever we feel like. - Like maybe my children's book about my dog, Rascal. That can be ready for her very soon if she doesn't want illustrations. I'd like to figure out Photoshop CS4, but it will take me a while.
So, here I am with two books not finished. Maybe she'll want to see partials and that's a step in the right direction.
What about you? Do you have any manuscripts ready for submission, or are you still working on your WIP?
Have you ended up emptyhanded at a conference when you thought you'd be ready?
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Wednesday I got a call from the person agenting a particular project of mine, letting me know she'd had lunch with an editor from a well-known British publishing company and said editor was interested in my project. She needed me to beef up the outline, make it 'kick ass,' and polish up the finished chapters and get it to her that evening.
Mind you, I was at work when I talked to her and still had about four or five hours to go. I also had plans with friends that evening. My response?
"Sure, I can do that!"
I mean, what else do you say? A job is a job and when you have to work overtime, you do it. Especially when a possible publishing contract is a potential reward.
I did get both the outline and chapters beefed up, cleaned up, and even kick-assified. I had three writer friends read the outline to catch any spelling/grammatical errors, plot holes, or story points that made them go 'WTF is wrong with you, Fredsti?' I went over the chapters several times with spell and grammar check, read them for continuity, flow, character development, really stupid, self-indulgent bits that needed to come out. And then I hit the 'send' button and poured myself a restorative glass of wine.
Since then I've resisted the temptation to re-read either the outline or the chapters. If there's a mistake I missed, I just don't want to know about it. It's too late to do anything about it. It's always scary getting things done as a rush job under a tight deadline. It's motivating as hell, but not always conducive to turning in your best work. And I've found no matter how many times I read over my own writing, I will invariably find an error or two during a later read. Drives me mad, but if spell check and repeated line edits don't catch it, whatcha gonna do?
What about you? What's the tightest deadline crunch you've ever had? How did you insure the quality of your work? Would you rather work with or without a deadline? And where's that glass of wine?!
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Dragunov. Great name. Conjures up images of stormy, moonlit nights, clouds shredded by thrusty peaks, rocky blades slicing, swirling the soup. A dark castle high on a ledge. Shadows dance and dart before you. You feel dizzy. A wolf howls; there's a scream, the tail of one, maybe...
This theme's got Romania stamped on it.
But calling a Dragunov Romanian is wrong, maybe fraudulent.
A Dragunov SVD, new and unfired, is one of the Holy Grails of sniper rifles. But the Dragunov is Russian, not Romanian. And like E. F. Hutton, who could have afforded one, the Dragunov earned it's legendary status the old-fashioned way: They earned it.
Romania's never made a Dragunov. But if you Google or Search "Romanian Dragunov" on Gunbroker.com, a high volume online firearms auction service, you'll get listings aplenty.
Why? Because Romanians make this rifle:
They pretty much look alike, don't they?
Far from it. A true Dragunov will set you back $10,000 or more. It may centerpiece your gunroom showcase, should you -- or a character in your novel -- be so inclined.
My Romanian knock-off set me back $700. The gun's officially named the PSL, but the Romanians and many gun sellers -- Federal Firearms Licensed ("FFL") dealers -- don't mind the confusion.
They wanna make the sale. Gunbroker Ad Example
Or maybe some dealers just don't know any better. You'd be surprised what you hear in gun stores.
But take a closer look at some Dragunovs, including more modern versions.
Now take a look at the Dragunov's major components.
Notice the quality of workmanship, the artful design. Efficient, sleek, smooth -- sexxy. In the hands of a skilled shooter, you might feel safe eight hundred meters downrange with a walnut on your head.
Well ... maybe that's a stretch.
So what about the PSL, the so-called Romanian Dragunov?
Well, it's an AK-47, actually. A completely different animal from the Dragunov. A rifle not really built for the powerful 7.62mm X 54Rmm round. The AK-47 was built around the 7.62mm X 39mm bullet, the big Russian's little brother. Plus, AK-47s are renowned, not for accuracy, but for reliability. So, if the PSL is an AK, not really built for the round, and not known for its accuracy anyway, do you begin to understand the difference?
Firing a Dragunov at the range, five hundred meters maybe, and a skilled shooter might expect to shoot MOA or better. That's shooter-speak for accurate-as-hell. Shoot an AK at that distance, the same guy would be lucky to hit paper.
But some AKs are better than others. Trust me, Romanian AKs ain't high on the draft list. Only insurgents seem to like them.
I brought my PSL home from the store, oiled it up, ran the action, pulled the god-awful, creepy, sticky trigger, and the gun clicked true. Empty of course. So I grabbed a fabric bandoleer mag-pouch chock full of loaded mags, and headed to the range.
And that's where I noticed the problems. First of all, the PSL has a cheap, stamped receiver. The metal's rough. Only one of my six magazines would even fit into the magwell. Seems there were burrs. And then I cycled a round and cut my finger on another burr. The gun fired, and the bolt locked forward -- stuck. I couldn't fire another round. Couldn't get the bolt open. Took a hammer-blow over a wood block to break it loose.
You wouldn't take a hammer to a Dragunov.
A amateur gunsmith friend volunteered to look at my lemon. An hour with his dremel tool, and he got everything fitted and working. He also saved my fingers, smoothing out the rough steel on the receiver.
Back to the range. Did better than just smacking paper. Even scored some points. No, no Dragunov, but the accuracy of my PSL surprised me. Others, I understand, have not been as fortunate as me. They've suffered any number of failures, have discovered canted sights, cheap scopes or poor mounting.
And there's another problem: ammo. Neither the PSL nor the Dragunov was intended to shoot most of the commercial 7.62mm X 54R ammo around. It's too heavy and too powerful for an action designed for the old 147 grain Russian military stuff. Commercial loads are often in the 180-203 grain range, intended for maximum power and impact. The PSL will wear out very quickly shooting these loads, and may suffer a catastrophic failure, perhaps a KABOOM that injures or kills the shooter or a bystander. While the Dragunov too was not designed for this round, frankly, if you were smart enough to buy a Dragunov, you already know this and have been hoarding old Russian military rounds for some time. The Dragunov is simply better-made. I'd trust some of Russia's finest engineering sooner than a cheap Romanian look-similar.
My point for all this: There are some excellent plot point and story opportunities for the mystery/thriller writer in the confusion which so often surrounds the Dragunov and the PSL. Fraud, money, mistaken identity, jamming, catastrophic failure, all sorts of story fodder.
No, I don't own a Dragunov. I wish I did. If so, I might be tempted to plant my PSL, use it for an ocotillo-fencing brace and call my place "Dragunovia." Put out some spooky lights, some covert speakers playing moans and screams, and maybe I'll scare away those pesky kids on Halloween. Then I can eat the candy.
In the meantime, I'll just show off my Dragunov at the range. Tell everybody it was specially made ... for me, given to me by a Russian aerospace exec I met on a business venture.
And, oh yeah, I'll take that Beamer in trade...
Thursday, April 15, 2010
I like that too. But I also like the ability to bump up the font to make it easier to read. I don't know why someone doesn't market an e-reader specifically to those of us who are freakin' blind. The fact that e-books are usually cheaper doesn't hurt either.
I don't believe that the iPhone is the e-reader all of us have been waiting for. It's too expensive. Unfortunately, I don't think it's the new iPad either. But these things get people thinking. They start the process.
But as I told someone the other day, I'll know the e-reader has finally arrived when I can borrow one from the library, already loaded with the book to read, just as I can now with the Playaway audio players. Until then, I'll download to my little iPaq and dream.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Rather than a how-to, this is more of a how-do? We all know one of our favorite parts of reading a mystery is trying to figure out all the clues...can we discover whodunit before our intrepid detective, whether it’s a police investigator or the nice neighborhood grandmother who always seems to be involved? Is there that palm-to-the-forehead moment of "I should've seen that"?
I tend to lay in the clues as I go along – I know what I want my reader to know, what s/he can extrapolate from that and what should be a bit, shall we say, “fuzzy” in an effort to keep the villain's secret as long as possible.
Let’s share what we do: how do you get your clues in there? Do you plot them out before hand? Do you go back through your manuscript and drop them in the right places at the end? Do they surprise you and kind of insert themselves at opportune (or even inopportune) moments?
Let’s dish for our readers!
Monday, April 12, 2010
A couple of months ago, Amazon.com practically went to war with Macmillan over the sale price of e-books. I think a lot of publishers were unhappy with the $9.99 price point that Amazon established fore-books, thinking it was too low. They didn't want book buyers getting used to such a low price for literature. And this was when Amazon paid those publishers half the hardcover price for each sale. Why wouldAmazon set themselves up to take such a loss? One can only guess that they had their eye on Kindle sales.
On the other hand, publishers set the price for books on the iPad, and publishers get a 70/30 split. When Amazon took down the buy buttons for nearly all Macmillan titles. That's harsh.
Presumably Amazon wants e-book prices to be as low as possible to lure more people to buy Kindles. The more people who buy Kindles, the more people who won't buy e-books in other formats. And if you look at sales figures, it appears that the less expensive an e-book is the more copies sell. So, since, Amazon AND readers want e-books to be cheaper, smart publishers are pushing farther and farther in that direction.
Echelon Press is one of those smart publishers. I've been talking to them and it appears that in the very near future they will drop the price of my ebook of Blood and Bone to $3.00 for a couple months to see how it might impact sales. I think this is a good experiment that more publishers, particularly small publishers, should try.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Compare the two descriptions of my early title below; the first is the copy on the original paperback and used for the ebook sales page on Amazon.com/Kindle. The other comes from my query letter to sell the book, my pitch to agents and editors. You tell me which one would most likely sell the book? Version one or version two?
In a secret laboratory beneath L.A.'s streets, a group of top scientists worked on the ultimate biological weapon... daring to create what humans were never meant to know...
Then the earthquake hit. It's epicenter: downtown L.A., a city now filled with twisted steel and mangled flesh- and terror. Because from it's sterile laboratory, something unspeakable had been freed...
Dr. Mike McCain and lovely Dr. Casey Sterns worked feverishly to save the earthquake survivors mysteriously dying from a new, alien disease. But no disease could account for some of the corpses--mutilated, headless, horrible. And no medicine could stop the thing hiding in the rubble, watching, reaching out with bloodstained claws for the unsuspecting, the injured... or for you.
(This 80,000 word novel was originally published in paperback. It also includes an excerpt of Abaddon by Robert W. Walker, and Origin by J.A. Konrath.)
Version 2 --
AFTERSHOCK (*now a Kindle ebook title)
An LA earthquake rocks a Level 4 Containment laboratory beneath the city, and a deadly virus attacks all in the lab, killing everyone save two people in biohazard suits, but as the suits are being eaten away and these two are crazed, one becomes a feeding machine, a creature that devours the other. The virus makes a monster out of what little of this human survives, a creature that feeds on human flesh, and as it moves about the city, it spreads its own disease. Our hero and heroine must find a way to destroy the creature and contain the disease.
Now lets try this experiment with another recent eBook title with Version one being the ebook description on Amazon.com/Kindle and the second version being the core of my query letter years ago to sell it to an agent or editor. Compare and Contrast the two versions here:
KILLER INSTINCT = DR. JESSICA CORAN
A brilliant and determined FBI medical examiner, she was an expert student of the criminal mind who thought she could face anything.
That was before Wisconsin. Before she saw one of his victims...
THE VAMPIRE KILLER
The FBI agent had a special code name for his unusual method of torture: Tort 9, the draining of the victims blood. The newspapers called him the Vampire-Killer. But his own twisted love letters were signed "Teach"... and were addressed to the one woman he wanted most of all: His hunter, his prey, Dr. Jessica Coran.
(This book is first in Robert W. Walker's Instinct series. It was previously published in paperback. This ebook also features an excerpt of WHISKEY SOUR by J.A. Konrath.)
Now compare the other copy/description for Killer Instinct:
KILLER INSTINCT (*now an ebook on Kindle) introduces Dr. Jessica Coran, a newly appointed FBI forensics expert, who has been recruited from the Washington DC Medical Examiner’s office. No neophyte, she is immediately called into the field to investigate a rash of murders in the Midwest, the epicenter being Chicago. She soon learns that the killer has more than a passing acquaintance with blood-letting as he is a Tort 9 level killer who drains his victims of their blood while they are alive. The tool he uses to drain the blood, his method of extraction, and what he does with so much blood is at the heart of the mystery. His reasoning is equally elusive.
This book introduces Mad Matthew Matisak who survives the weight of four Instinct titles. And who figures heavily in Absolute Instinct, next year’s installment, even though he is long dead. Matisak, for those who read the Instinct series, is the villain we love to hate and is in the vein, so to speak, of Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lechter.
What makes the descripts for the ebooks superior? Simple. In each case the reader is handed the Who, What, Where, Why, and How of the story. We get character names, names of people, places, and things. We get the name of the setting. Names have power to give us bright images in our heads. The less powerful version lacks focus, detail, names. They fail to take names and kick butt; they have a certain verve but fail to cough up the details so necessay for those Kodak moments in the mind of a reader that go off as a result of specifics.
That said, it also does not hurt to associate my books with Joe Konraths by arranging for a dovetail of his first chapter at the back of my book and visa versa--Joe's idea. He's a marketing genius but this is an old idea taken from paperback publishing.
So you see how damnably important the descriptions on the ebook page are whether you publish with Smashwords or Kindle. Many people are thrashing round now trying to determine what sells ebooks, and according to Joe and I it is the descripts which must be flawless and without the least error as well as compelling--the most compelling short story you will ever write--the story about your story. Difficult to write so it is imperative you read fifty or so backflaps or ebook descripts to get under the hat of the copyeditor so as to pull off excellent descripts for your ebook or ebooks.
Thanks for hanging with me and do leave a comment so I don't feel so lonely.
Friday, April 9, 2010
They go by such names as Dirty White Boys, Kurdish Pride, La Raza, Hate Crew, Lost Boyz, Brown Pride, Mexican Mafia, Laotian Crips, and Vice Lords. They're gangs, and a Justice Department survey puts their numbers across the country at 27,000, with their membership topping 800,000. They're mostly teenagers and young adults in their early twenties. A rash of drive-by shootings, murders, and assorted crimes committed by gang members prompted a renewed effort by the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department to crack down on the problem.
The U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee says at least 20 percent of drug cases in the district are linked to gangs. The problem isn't limited to the major cities, either. Columbia, a town of 38,000 people some forty miles south of Nashville, has tied 300 car and home breakins to gang activities, primarily a group called the Lost Boyz.
In Nashville, the problem has migrated from the inner city to the suburbs. When two groups see each other in a parking lot, one officer said, "They don't think, and they don't care. They just start shooting." The Metro Police have counted 5,000 gang members in Nashville, and their Gang Unit has launched an intensive effort to reduce their impact.
Not too many years ago, gangs were considered graffiti-spraying juvenile delinquents. No more. They're organized criminal elements involved in drugs, burglaries, and other crimes. They're constantly murdering rivals, often wounding or killing innocent bystanders. One authority says these days it's more about controlling markets than controlling turf.
Metro Nashville Police Chief Ronal Serpas announced he was beefing up the gang squad, adding six detectives and a sergeant to the fourteen officers currently assigned. They plan to use civil injunctions to prevent gangs from going into certain neighborhoods, wearing certain types of clothes, etc. If they persist, they will be charged with contempt. It's a strategy that has been used successfully in California, Minnesota, and Texsas.
Shootings and murders are a constant feature on the nightly news, much of it attriibutable to gangs. A few days ago, one took place on a busy street outside a popular restaurant at lunch time.
There are likely a few mystery novels that feature gang violence, but I'm not familiar with any. As the problem grows across the country, however, it should be a fertile field for mystery writers. I've been thinking about using it in my next Sid Chance novel.
Are gangs a problem in your area? What are the cops doing about it?
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Now that I've had it four days, my opinion is that it is awesome! Finally, the world of electronic reading has matured.
The iPad is not an ebook reader, but a full function tablet computer. Besides reading, you can listen to music, watch videos, surf the web, do your taxes, create a presentation and write a novel. And more. Nobody knows yet how people will use the iPad. My guess is that this is the all-purpose application we've been waiting for. For students, this will replace a book bag of texts, tablets, and calculators. For the rest of us, it will unleash our imaginations.
The iPad is about the size of a Kindle, albeit a little heavier. Not so heavy that you would notice. There is a free reader, called iBook, that, like the Kindle, allows you to download books from an online store. My first choice was Michael Connelly's Nine Dragons. The reading experience on the iPad, using iBook, is terrific. The interface looks like a real book. You turn pages by swiping the page to the left if you are going forward, or to the right to go backward. You can read a single page at a time in portrait mode or side-by-side pages in landscape mode. The page turning strikes me as more natural than the Kindle's button pressing.
A year ago, March 30, 2009, to be exact, I blogged about my experience testing a Kindle. You can read it here. I liked the Kindle. My one gripe about it was the absence of page numbers. Me, I need page numbers when I read. You can read my reasons here. As a writer, I simply can't read without page numbers. It's how I teach myself to plot. Kindle doesn't have page numbers; iBook on the iPad does. Even the version of the Kindle which you can get for the iPad (and it's free) doesn't have page numbers. Kindle's "location" numbers can be made to work like page numbers, but not as intuitively.
iPad is the first truly hypertext reader. Tapping any word in the story brings up either a dictionary definition of the word or a two-function search engine. You can search for other occurrences of the word in the same story or you can search the web for that word, pictures, video, etc. It's a handy feature when reading Nine Dragons, part of which is set in Hong Kong. The book also comes with a video of Connelly talking about the book. The video itself is unremarkable, but it's exciting in what it represents.
There are other features about the iPad that I could go into, but the best feature is sitting on my deck on a warm spring evening, my music playing on the iPad while I read a mystery on the backlit screen. For a decade, we've heard about how ebooks will change our experience of the printed word. It's finally happened.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Book signings at bookstores have never been my favorite thing to do. However, I attended a book event at the Coalesce Bookstore in Morro Bay put on by the Central Coast Sisters in Crime. I'm a member, even though I live three hours away, but decided to join the 4 other mystery authors who were putting on this event.
These are the things that I think made it successful.
1. The location. Morro Bay is a classy beach community with many retired folks--and those were the majority of the folks who attended. The bookstore itself is small, but it has a gorgeous garden and a wedding chapel in the back where we gave our talks. Our books were on display in the garden.
3. It was an event rather than a book signing. As people entered the garden they stopped and looked at the books. A few picked up the books and asked for autographs even before thing started.
4. Refreshments were available. The store provided coffee, hot water for tea and water along with sodas and wine. The Sisters in Crime group brought finger food and desserts. People were free to help themselves throughout the two hour event.
5. Each author had a 10 minute talk--about herself, her book, or read passages for her book. A question and answer period followed, then everyone was encouraged to go outside and look at the books and talk to the authors. After a short time, everyone was called back in for the next author's talk.
6. After each author spoke, those who were there were given a raffle ticket and a drawing was held for a free book.
7. At the end another raffle ticket was drawn for a gift basket filled with books and Easter goodies.
8. After everything was over, people paid for the books they had picked up from the authors.
9. Nearly every seat was filled during the whole event. A few people left before it was over, and other people came in late.
10. I sold 16 books during that two hour period. I have no idea how many others sold, but I do know a lot of people carried books around with them and there was a line at the front desk to pay once the event was over.
A successful day and a lot of fun. The bookstore did a lot and so did the Sisters in Crime group--but it paid off.
Monday, April 5, 2010
I ask that question to myself often as I walk past with my dog, Rascal. I guess no one knows the answer, except the owners, or maybe they don't even know it.
I started my thriller, Forever Young, at least three years ago, maybe more. I worked on it diligently for a while, then put it aside to get Girl of My Dreams and Killer Career published.
I've picked up writing Forever Young again, but have decided to do some extensive remodeling (editing) involving removing many characters and saving them for a later book. I know by doing this, even though it's taking me longer, Forever Young should be much stronger as a result. Still, when I look at what still needs to be done, I often ask myself Will this book every get finished?
What about you? Do you have a book like that unfinished house, that never gets done?
Sunday, April 4, 2010
I am happy to welcome a writer I've known all my life (no, I'm not gonna tell you how many years!) and who, in fact, is responsible for my love of reading. Lisa and I are in the same online writers critique group and I read the first incarnation of what is now Rock, Paper, Tiger and loved it. I've since read all the rewrites and an already excellent book just kept getting better with each incarnation. The final draft, which is coming out this June with Soho Press, is amazing. The cover art is absolutely the best cover I've seen in terms of reflecting the contents accurately and being kick-ass, eye-catching artwork. She just got her first official review on Library Journal. And I'm sure there will be many more positive reviews to follow.
Iraq vet Ellie McEnroe is down and out in China, trying to lose herself in the alien worlds of performance artists and online gamers. When a chance encounter with a Uighur fugitive drops her down a rabbit hole of conspiracies, Ellie must decide who to trust among the artists, dealers, collectors and operatives claiming to be on her side – in particular, a mysterious organization operating within a popular online game.
“Finally a Western writer has taken China’s domestically bestselling genre of wild, louche-life youth and re-imagined it as a highly original expat thriller. It’s a wild ride—but don’t turn the pages too fast. Brackmann’s evocation of China, funny, frustrating, frightening, sometimes tender, and always real, is worth savoring.”
–Nicole Mones, LOST IN TRANSLATION & THE LAST CHINESE CHEF
Can you tell I love this book?
One of the reasons RPT is so damn good is the work Lisa put into it, the willingness to put the time and effort into making it the best book it could be. She wrote an excellent post about the job of writing for Sia McKye's Thoughts Over Coffee and I asked if I could snag the post for MMM today. I wanted to 'reprint' Lisa's post a: because it's an excellent post, b: because I had a major brain fart trying to think of a topic, and c: because I just finished reading The War of Art by Stephen Pressman, which Lisa references, and had the same type of breakthrough she discusses. So I thought I'd share her thoughts, as well as introduce you to a very talented writer! Please welcome Lisa Brackmann to Make Mine Mystery!
A few years ago, back when I first seriously started writing novels, I came across Stephen Pressman’s book “The War of Art.” Pressman talks a lot about overcoming resistance and facing your creative fears, but for me what really resonated was one simple principle: writing is a job. The first rule of a job is, you show up. Whether you feel like it or not.
For whatever reason, viewing my writing this way was a huge breakthrough for me. It wasn’t about waiting for a Muse, or having to be in the mood. It was about putting my butt in the chair, opening up the document and doing the work. Discipline alone could nourish talent and inspiration. I liked that.
Seeing my writing as a job to do, while perhaps not the most glamorous or inspirational perspective, certainly has come in handy on the road to publication.
Last summer, my novel, ROCK PAPER TIGER, was acquired by Soho Press, for Spring/Summer 2010 publication. That is actually a pretty fast turnaround in the publishing world, and it meant that I had a lot of things to do in a fairly short amount of time, with lots of deadlines.
Acquisition and publication processes vary greatly from house to house, so some of my experiences may not apply to every situation. But I hope to give you a sense of what your job as an author will be like, once you score that publishing deal and have signed your shiny new contract.
Generally you will have editorial revisions, requests for changes concerning story and character. Sometimes these come in the form of an editorial letter, where the concerns and suggestions are outlined. Without going too much into the specifics of my experience, I’ll just say that my editor was awesome and this was not a huge deal for me (for which I am seriously thankful).
At the same time, you’ll have to deal with a number of “housekeeping” issues – things that have to be done that are not directly connected to writing and revising.
The wonderful publicist at Soho (excuse me if I run out of superlatives, but everyone I have dealt with there has been fantastic) told me the single most important thing an author can do in terms of publicity is to have an easily findable web presence. That means a website that comes up when people search your name and the name of your book(s). So, mine is lisabrackmann.com , and in addition, http://www.rockpapertiger.com permanently redirects to the page about the novel on my website (try it! You’ll see!).
Unless you are a web/graphic designer or someone with a lot of talent for design, I strongly recommend that you bite the bullet and hire a pro to design your site. Yes, it costs some money. But you’re going to need tax write-offs anyway, and a professional-looking website signals that you are a professional author. Which, once you sign a contract, you are.
Show the world that you’re a pro. It’s worth it.
Likewise…you’ll have to get an author photo. Yes, you really will. Even if, like me, you are a fairly publicity-shy sort of person, It Must Be Done.
Again, while you may not need to hire a professional photographer (I did, and I’m glad), your photo needs to have a certain amount of polish – in other words, a good portrait, not a casual shot of you and the kids and the dogs and/or cats. Think about your genre too. What sort of “look” helps promote what you are writing?
You will need a short bio.
While I was never asked to write a synopsis (and for that I am extremely grateful!), at many houses, you will be. I definitely have needed blurbs – thankfully I’ve been generally been able to use variations on my original query.
You might be asked to fill out an author survey. Again, this varies a lot from house to house. The purpose of the survey is to identify potential markets for your book and to provide information that will help Publicity and Marketing sell it. Any authors you can compare your work to, whose readers might like yours? What are the most original features of your book? Who might you be able to enlist to review or publicize it? Are there conventions or conferences that might be relevant? In what cities do you have particularly good networks?
You may be asked for a list of authors who would be appropriate to blurb your work, including authors you might actually know and can personally ask.
I found the Author Survey to be one of the toughest things I did. It forced me to think of my book in ways that don’t come naturally to me (I’m notorious for writing stuff that doesn’t quite fit neatly into genre categories).
Meanwhile, what about that book you wrote? You did your editorial revisions, the MS has been officially “delivered and accepted” (which you love, because that means you get Part 2 of your advance!). So you’re done, right?
Here’s another instance where different houses have different processes. In my case, I next worked on a line edit. This involved minor editorial changes (clarifications, fact checks, fixing awkward prose) and copy edits. After that, the copy editor did another pass.
Then come the galley proofs.
This is kind of exciting, because the “galleys” are the typeset version of your book – what your book will look like when it’s published. But it’s also a challenge, at least for me – by this point, I had read the book so many times, I worried about my ability to catch mistakes. I strongly recommend that you come up with a careful system of checks and double-checks, because this really is your last chance to fix problems and make small adjustments in the text. (Well, sort of. In my case, a proof-reader did an additional pass and had a few questions, plus I had a little issue that I just had to address. Again, procedures differ; your mileage may vary!)
Finally, your book is off to Production. Does that mean you’re done?
Well, I’m not.
I’m just a little over two months away from my publication date. I’ve had letters and essays to write for various promotional efforts. Bookstore events to calendar (and I guess I’d better start thinking about what I actually might say when I get there!). Interviews to conduct, conventions to attend, blog posts to write. Like this one!
So, yes. Being a professional author is a lot of work. It’s a job. And like any job, there are deadlines, and tasks that are kind of a pain in the butt.
But you know what? It’s the best job I’ve ever had.
Lisa Brackmann has worked as an executive at a major motion picture studio, an issues researcher in a presidential campaign, and the singer/songwriter/bassist in an LA rock band. She still takes pride in her karaoke-ready repertoire of bad pop hits and an embarrassing number of show tunes. A southern California native, she lives in Venice CA and spends a lot of time in Beijing, China. Her three cats wish she’d stay put.
Saturday, April 3, 2010
I'm gonna depart from the rules today and write about something non-mystery related. I gotta rest my trigger finger for the clicker tomorrow and Monday as I watch Butler win the NCAA National Men's Basketball Championship.
Replays, you know. I plan to make my own.
Why? I was born and raised a Hoosier, which means I was raised with a basketball as my best friend. I slept with one, rolled one under my feet as I ate, and played basketball every day after school, snow or not. We played on cement, gravel and dirt, even on uneven ground or hilly driveways. The surface didn't matter. Hoop and ball, that's all we required.
My best buddy's father had season tickets to Butler Bulldogs games during the sixties, which meant I was a frequent attendee. Plus, Butler Fieldhouse was the home of Indiana High School Basketball. It was where tiny Milan High School made history, beating mighty Muncie Central for the state championship in 1954, a feat made legendary on the same floor by the movie Hoosiers. But contrary to the movie, Milan's victory was no fluke. The year before, Milan had been the state's highest ranking team, small though they were, and Milan beat the awesome Crispus Attucks team, which started the Robertson brothers, Oscar and Bailey. Milan didn't win in 1953, however, their year was 1954. A few years later, the Milan coach, Marvin Wood left the smallest school in the state for the largest, my high school. I knew Marvin Wood; he was my coach and my Driver's Ed instructor.
The Milan tradition, the pride, lives on, and this year, Butler is the Milan of college basketball. Butler has only 4200 students, and they're playing for the national championship just six miles from what is now Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler's home floor.
How's that for cool?
Every basketball kid in Indiana knows about Butler basketball and about Tony Hinkle, for whom Butler Fieldhouse was re-named. Tony was Butler's coach forever, it seemed, and what a coach he was. Tark the Shark was famous in part for towels in his mouth. Tony Hinkle pulled on his white socks; he had to change them at every halftime.
Tony Hinkle didn't get the talent the big name schools got, schools like Indiana, Notre Dame and Purdue. Tony got what Indiana talent was left over after the name schools ran out of scholarships. His center was often only about six-foot-five. Tony got by with strategy and gamesmanship, and his kids went to class. No team played with more intensity than the Butler Bulldogs, and the Bulldogs were tough to beat. Indiana and Notre Dame wouldn't play Butler; they didn't want to lose. Each year Tony would schedule the Hoosier Classic Tournament, and he'd invite Indiana, Purdue and Notre Dame. Since Indiana and Notre Dame wouldn't accept the invitation, he'd replace them with Ohio State and Northwestern. And Butler would fare well in the tournament, despite facing the likes of Jerry Lucas and Terry Dischinger, future all-pros. Butler even won some of these games.
Butler made the NCAA tournament once during the sixties, back when the tournament was only about sixteen teams, but it lost its first round game. Who cared? Butler had made the tournament, and all of Indiana celebrated.
But there is more to the Tony Hinkle story. During WWII, some coaches who were drafted or enlisted were assigned coaching positions according to merit. Branch McCracken, Indiana University's legendary basketball coach was assigned to a secondary Army soccer team. Tony Hinkle became coach of the Army's primary basketball team. He was that good.
And Tony Hinkle loved kids. As a friend reminded me the other day, Tony cut a hole in the fence behind the Butler Bowl, where Butler played football, so kids could sneak in. And during basketball season, Tony cracked open a door in the back of Butler Fieldhouse, by the heating plant and utility facilities.
Needless to say, every kid in Indianapolis loved Tony Hinkle.
Like John Wooden, a close friend of his, Tony was a soft-spoken guy. I never saw Tony raise his voice. He'd show his concern by tugging on those white socks.
Tony Hinkle is gone now, but his legacy lives on. And so does the legacy of Butler Basketball, except now, Butler is playing for a national championship, something that's long overdue.
In this age of one year players, shoe contracts, shots behind the NBA arc instead of the college arc, World Wide Wes, faked SATs and John Calipari's sleaze, Butler is a throwback to days gone by.
But don't bet against Butler. And don't be surprised to hear the name Tony Hinkle. The legacy lives on.
Hollywood Meets the Heartland at Hinkle
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Robin Cain lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with her husband, daughter, three dogs, three horses and donkey. As a novelist and regular contributing writer for an online publication, she spends her days searching for the perfect words to amuse, enlighten and touch her readers. By reading her work, you’ve not only helped make her dreams come true, but others as well.
Robin's Book - When Dreams Bleed:
Frank’s been living the dream his whole life. He’s amassed money, success, but someone out there thinks he’s gone too far. Just when he thinks he has anticipated his opponent’s next move a tragic car accident leaves him paralyzed, his life’s work is being stolen and his wife has disappeared. Just how far will someone go to teach him the correlation between deception and despair? "When Dreams Bleed" examines sexual temptation and the ensuing consequences in a contemporary world.
I have to tell you - it’s causing a great deal of angst among all of us.
The WHEN DREAMS BLEED characters, finally out of my head and living their own lives now, want nothing more than to be shared, experienced and introduced. Frank (the main character) tells me constantly that it’s HIS time to be on center stage and living large. After waiting nearly four years to be in print, his power hungry, Type-A personality wants his efforts recognized. Proud of his accomplishments and tenacity, he’s looking forward to being pretty smug. Despite his accident and the misery he’s caused others, he thinks he’s got it together now and wants to share it with the world.
Meanwhile, Sadie tells me that she just wants everyone to comprehend her reasons for doing what she did. She cries out for compassion and understanding of all she left behind; the decisions that nearly killed her. My heart still breaks for her.
Citra, on the other hand, frankly just doesn’t give a whole good gosh damn what anyone thinks. Self-absorbed and greedy, she’s only out for herself and willing to squash anyone and anything in her way. She is 100% convinced that everyone will agree with her actions. Frankly, she tells me, one would be a fool to not see it her way! She keeps telling me if it wasn’t for her their book wouldn’t be selling. Between you and me, I never liked that bitch, anyway.
Don’t get me wrong. My characters in WHEN DREAMS BLEED are nice people –at least in their own right. Honest. Yes, even Citra at times. No one would ever accuse of them of not being able to liven up a cocktail party, add interest to a lonely solitary night or not be remembered long after they’ve left the room. The lessons they’ve learned are good ones and all they want to do is share. Their actions have created a real page-turner and they are darn proud of it. If only they could just tell you themselves…
You see, each of them had dreams – dreams to be rich, dreams to be successful or dreams to be forever loved. Not unlike a lot of people, they thought happiness would be theirs…“if only”. Yet their dreams began to bleed – and for many of them, it was just a little too late.
So now they harp and whine and pester me in my sleep,
“Who are you telling about us now?”
“Where have you placed us?”
“You haven’t forgotten us, have you?”
They sit among the pages waiting to tell their story while just hounding me to get the word out. And at the same time, the new characters poke me on the shoulder, tap on my brain and wake me in the middle of the night…
“What about us?”
“When do we get our chance?”
“C’mon, leave those others to their own devices! We have a story to tell, too.”
Next time, I tell you, I’m making everyone far more self-sufficient…
©2010 Robin Cain
Please leave a comment for Robin - Thanks, Morgan Mandel