Sunday, February 26, 2012


by Earl Staggs

A lot of writers I know write short stories as well as novels. I also know a lot of writers who only write novels. They say they simply cannot contain a story idea in a short word length. I write both short and long and feel any writer can do the same.

I’ve given presentations on this subject and usually begin with this question:

What’s the difference between writing a short story and a novel?

The answer is: One’s bigger than the other.

While that may sound like a smartass remark, it isn’t. A novel is bigger insofar as the amount of story being told, not just in number of words and pages.

We’ll come back to that in a minute. First, let’s talk about the requirements for writing a good short story.

To write a good short story, you have to use words sparingly. You don’t short change the story, of course. You still need to use every word necessary to tell the story as well as it can be told. You do, however, need to avoid unnecessary and extraneous words. You search out and use strong nouns and verbs and excise modifying adverbs and adjectives wherever possible. You avoid lapses into long descriptions and narrative readers only skip over anyway. You also avoid secondary characters and subplots which are not essential. When you finish the story, you want to feel certain every word, phrase, sentence and paragraph is as sharp and concise as it can be and moves the story steadily forward to a satisfying conclusion.

Wait a minute. That’s good advice for writing a novel, too, isn’t it? Of course it is. Then if the requirements are the same for writing short and long, what is the difference? As stated above, one is bigger than the other. It’s a matter of focus.

There are three basic elements of a story, whether it’s long or short: character, plot and setting. In a novel, the focus on them is in that order. When readers open a book, they look forward to getting to know the primary characters, who they are, how they became who they are, and what baggage they may carry from who they used to be. Once readers know and feel something for the primary characters, whether there are one, two, three or more of them, they’re ready to move into the plot with them and work toward whatever goal the characters must reach. Along the way, they experience the settings along with the characters and feel they’re visiting the places where the story unfolds. In addition to the main story line or plot, there will be subplots involving the characters which move forward alongside the primary plot.

The focus is different in a short story. The same three basic elements are there, but in a different order of priority. In a short story, the emphasis is on plot first, then character and setting. In a short mystery story, a crime has been committed and the primary focus of the story is in solving the crime. Characters are needed, of course, but only one of them will be a primary character, and that’s usually the one who must solve the crime. While other characters are involved in the story, readers will only get to know the main character in any depth. There may be a minor subplot involving the main character, but for the most part, the emphasis and forward movement is focused on the main plot, which is solving the crime. Settings are necessary, too, but are not described in as much detail as you would in a novel.

As an example, a character in your story may have to drive along a busy downtown street during rush hour. In a novel, you might describe the sights, sounds and smells. In a short story, you probably wouldn’t. You take it for granted the reader has been there and experienced it.

I’ve generalized here, of course. There are always exceptions. I’ve read short stories in which the characters are so compelling you hardly notice the plot. I’ve read novels in which the plot is so intense and suspenseful, the characters are only a blur.

Even with exceptions, it’s still true that a novel deals with a larger and more comprehensive story with more character depth and range than you’ll find in a short story. In a short story, the focus is on a more linear path to the conclusion.

With that in mind, I feel safe in saying the techniques and skills necessary to write a good short story are the same as for writing a good novel, and any writer should be able to do both.

All you have to remember is this: One’s bigger than the other.

Friday, February 24, 2012

My Visit with Sue Grafton

by Jean Henry Mead

Sue Grafton published ‘A’ is for Alibi in 1982, following 15 years in Hollywood as a television script writer. The Louisville, Kentucky, native is currently publicizing her 22nd novel in the series, ‘V’ is for Vengeance. She's been published in 28 countries in 26 languages, her books selling in the millions.

Sue is featured in my soon to be released book, The Mystery Writers (March 2012 from Mediallion Books in print, Kindle and Nook).

Sue, does ’V’ is for Vengeance differ significantly from your previous novels?

It does, indeed, differ from the other novels in the series. In writing these books over a span of some twenty-eight years, I’ve kept detailed charts, which denote the gender of every killer I write about, the gender of the victim, the motive for the crime, and the nature of the climax. I also keep a set of log lines for each novel, describing the set-up for each book.
In ‘A’ . . . Kinsey’s hired to prove the innocence of a woman just out of prison after serving seven years for the murder of her husband.

In ‘B’ . . . Kinsey’s hired to find a woman whose signature is required on a minor document.

In ‘C’ . . . Kinsey’s hired by a kid to find out who’s been trying to murder him.

And so on. This way, I can be certain I’m not inadvertently repeating myself. In ‘V,’ Kinsey witnesses a shoplifting incident and alerts a sales clerk who notifies store security. The shoplifter is arrested and two days after her fiancĂ© makes bail, she dies from a leap off a 400 foot high bridge. While it appears to be a suicide, the woman’s fiancĂ© is convinced she was murdered and hires Kinsey to look into her death. Kinsey’s investigation uncovers an organized retail theft ring with which the shoplifter has been working. There are two other subplots woven into the overall storyline and all connect at the end.

How do you and Kinsey Millhone differ and which characteristics do you share?
As for Kinsey, I think of her as my alter-ego . . . the person I might have been had I not married young and had children. We’re like one soul in two bodies and she got the good one. The ’68 VW she drove (until ‘G’ is For Gumshoe) was a car I owned some years ago. In ‘H’ is for Homicide, she acquires the 1974 VW that was sitting out behind my house until I donated it to a local charity that raffled it off. That car was pale blue with only one minor ding in the left rear fender

I own both handguns she talks about and in fact, I learned to shoot so that I would know what it felt like. I also own the all-purpose back dress she wears. Like Kinsey, I’ve been married and divorced twice, though I’m now married to husband number three and intend to remain so for life. I’m much more domestic than she is and I cuss just as much, if not more.

What’s going to happen to Kinsey when you‘ve finished ‘Z’ is for Zero?

It’s going to take me another eight to ten years to complete the series at the pace I’ve settled on so I have close to a decade to decide what I’ll do after ‘Z’ is for Zero. I may well continue to chronicle her adventures, but I’ll do so as stand-alone novels. No more linking titles!

What’s your work schedule like?
I usually arrive at my desk at 9:00 am, check e-mails and Facebook, and then log into the current working journal for the novel I’m in the process of writing. I use these journals to talk to myself about the story, the characters, the pacing, problems I foresee, and any scene that worries me. Any research I do is recorded in the journal as well. I break briefly for lunch and then return to my desk and work until mid-afternoon when I stop and do a walk of three to five miles. My guess is that on a good day, I work productively for two hours. The rest is writer’s block and Free Cell. I’ve been known to work by page count and on that theory, I consider two pages a day a good run. In fact, I consider page count a better way to operate. It’s way too easy to claim you’ve worked for six hours when in reality you’ve talked on the phone, cleaned your desk drawers, and dawdled the time away.

What do you want your readers to experience from your novels?

I’d like for my readers to experience an entire range of emotions, from laughter to fear, to suspense to anxiety to tears depending on where they are in any given book. I want them to feel connected to Kinsey Millhone, to see the world as she sees it, and to come away from a story understanding how it’s affected her. These are the same emotions I look for in any book I read. I want to be touched and moved and I want to come away from a writer’s work feeling renewed and refreshed.
Thank you, Sue.

You can communicate with Sue Grafton at Facebook.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Writing What You Know by Christine Duncan

A current news story caught my attention. It appears that 25% of us don't have enough emergency funds to cover our debt. What caught my attention was that this news wasn't really news to me. After all, if you had emergency funds, they would only be earning a measly 1% in the bank. Why wouldn't you spend them and avoid the nasty credit card interest that currently is averaging 14%? Most of us would. Therefore, it seemed a no-brainer: people in debt don't have the money to pay it. That's why they're in debt in the first place. The only news to that news was perhaps the percentage. I would have said more than 25% of Americans were in debt. So what is the writing take away here? Well the obvious one is about writing what you know. Whoever wrote the news article was probably not feeling very stretched in the current economy. Or more likely they had a reason for writing the article just as it was. Because I think there is a reading take away here too. People writing articles of any kind, news or otherwise have a spin. For instance, most money advice is dispensed by ....whom? I mean, let's face it, you can pick up any magazine today, and it will tell you to put money away in an emergency fund...which was pretty much assumed by the article I was reading. But who writes these articles? How smart is it to put money away for again 1 to maybe 3% interest while you're in debt for an interest rate that probably is at least triple that? Common sense says if you're in debt in those circumstances, you're already facing the emergency and you'd better apply your money there first. Then get an emergency fund when the debt is paid. So two lessons here today. Write what you know. And apply what you know to what you read, because someone is always trying to sell you something. Or that's my take anyway.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Woman in Black

I love spooky movies. I used to love what they are now calling horror flicks, but nowadays they tend to be far too gory.  My leanings are now toward movies with a touch of the supernatural and haunted houses and ghosts are definitely my favorites.

When I heard about "The Woman in Black" it sounded like the perfect movie for me. My husband, not so much. When he asked me what I wanted for Valentine's Day I told him I want to go see "The Woman in Black."

It had everything I hoped for. Yes, there's a haunted house. A wonderful haunted house, deserted, neglected, isolated, one I would have loved to explore. A door here and there was locked and then suddenly gaping open. Strange noises abounded in what was supposed to be a deserted abode. A glimpse of a face at the window, a scepter lurking in the family graveyard, children who seemed compelled to do horrendous things, and the hero, a widower with a child all added up to the perfect movie--for me.

Unfortunately, it put my husband to sleep. I would've just let him sleep, but he snores way too loud. A slight poke wakes him up quite nicely. Once things livened up in the movie enough to make the teenage girls in the movie scream, and other young viewers to holler out things like, "I hate that lady," he managed to stay awake.

I hope this helps you decide whether or not The Woman in Black is a movie you'd enjoy.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Please Welcome Our Guest Today, Dr. Allen Malnak, Author of Hitler's Silver Box

Dr. Allen Malnak

About the author: Dr. Allen Malnak

Following medical residency, Dr. Malnak served as chief internal medicine, U.S. Army Hospital, Fort Sill, OK, and as a clinical investigator in liver disease and medical director of the emergency department at Chicago’s Mount Sinai Hospital. A board-certified internist in the Chicago area, he was an assistant clinical professor at Stritch School of Medicine for 25 years. His interest in the Holocaust was sparked by the fact that his father’s entire Lithuanian family was murdered by the Nazis.
Novel's Trailer HERE

About the Novel, Hitler's Silver Box -

Hitler’s Silver Box, a modern day historical thriller set in Chicago, begins with an elderly bookseller and Holocaust survivor, Max Bloomberg, being brutally murdered by a trio of thugs. Max’s closest relative, Dr.Bruce Starkman, chief ER resident at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital is shocked when he learns his Orthodox uncle is dead—his body cremated, a violation of his uncle’s religious beliefs. Max leaves a clue, allowing Bruce to find a hidden journal in Max's handwriting detailing his uncle’s ordeal some fifty years before in a Nazi concentration camp, during which Max is forced to craft a silver box as a birthday present for Hitler. The box contains a document written by Nazi leaders, which if discovered will lead to a worldwide Nazi resurgence. Max manages to escape and bury it in a forest near Prague. Bruce decides to find the box and solve the mystery of his uncle’s untimely demise. He and an attractive Israeli female companion with a military background are pursued and attacked by present day Nazis intent on reviving the Reich. The novel leads from Chicago to Paris to Prague in swift, hair-raising turns. The full journal of Max Bloomberg is included in the book.

Background of the Novel:

After retiring from the practice and teaching of internal medicine, I took an adult education course taught by an outstanding novelist and previous short story editor of “The New Yorker,” Hollis Alpert. One of several topics for a short story was “A Silver Box.” Perhaps because my father’s entire Lithuanian family had been murdered by the Nazis, I wrote the story about a concentration camp prisoner, Max Bloomberg, who was forced to make a silver box as a birthday present for Hitler.

The professor suggested it had the making of a novel, and I changed the protagonist to a nephew of the victim, and while the silversmith’s experience in the camp is told in his journal, basically the historical thriller is about a search for the box and it’s horrendous contents with Bruce, the young ER physician going up against present day Nazis, who are willing to torture or kill to get their hands on the silver box, which his uncle Max was able to bury near Prague as the Second World War was coming to an end some fifty years before the novel begins.

Writing the novel required considerable research. Having worked during my training and military service in a number of emergency rooms as well as having been medical director of a large ER department in Chicago’s Mount Sinai Hospital, I was familiar with that aspect of the story. I studied articles and books on life inTheresienstadt concentration camp and had to learn a great deal about silversmithing.

The most difficult chapters for me to write were the two that made up Max Bloomberg’s journal. Max is Bruce’s uncle and the silversmith who was forced while a prisoner in Theresienstadt concentration camp to make the silver box. Many aspects of Max’s fight for survival were gut wrenching. The provenance of the silver he had to use almost drove him and me mad.

Book’s website:,,, Soon in local book stores.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Get ready to self-publish

With the revolution in self-publishing, the world is getting to be awash in books that never went through a traditional publishing house. It's liberating for writers who labor for years, first crafting a story and then shopping it around to third parties who have no particular interest in seeing you succeed. But there is also a danger, that having bypassed a lot of the usual procedures and filters, you'll publish something that isn't your best work and doesn't make you proud. If you can afford to pay an editor, by all means do so, but make sure the person has a track record. Try not to be that person's first customer. Before you do that, you'll do well to make the manuscript as clean as you can make it on your own. Here are a few of the things any author should do:

1. Read your manuscript to yourself aloud. By forcing yourself to notice every word, you will notice errors and repetitions a quick scan would miss. Make changes as you go along.
2. Run a spelling and grammar check. This doesn't mean you have to accept everything your word-processing program suggests, but it forces you to look at everything in detail and make decisions. You're dealing with a dumb computer that will make a few stupid suggestions along with all the good ones, so keep a dictionary handy and use it.
3. Ask several other writers to read and critique your work. Accept only the suggestions that make sense to you. Never forget that it's still your book.
4. Use a template. CreateSpace, for example, offers free downloadable templates that provide the proper margins and other settings based on the physical size of the book.

Blog Book Tours ( will offer free classes soon and will go into a lot more detail. Meanwhile, let me know your specific questions and I'll do my best to help.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Research Turns up Intriguing Facts

Researching a mystery novel takes you in all different directions and unearths intriguing facts that may or may not find a place in the book. I've always been fascinated by codes and code-breaking, which is why I find the NSA (National Security Agency) and its cryptography operations such a captivating subject. But while I was gathering material for my first published book, Secret of the Scroll, I ran across a different take on the subject: the Bible codes.

I found the original Bible code was called Atbash, which is a simple substitution cypher for the Hebrew alphabet. I used the example in the Book of Jeremiah where Sheshakh appears as Atbash for Babylon. But the later Bible codes involve a belief by many (I read a couple of books on it) that the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, contain hidden messages from God about things to come. It's a complex setup where you take, for example, every fifth letter in a section to spell out a message.

By using a system called Equidistant Letter Sequence, some Israeli researchers say they turned up details in Genesis concerning the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on October 6, 1981. A former NSA cryptologist spent months using a supercomputer in an attempt to prove or disprove the theory, which originated with Jewish mystics several centuries ago.

In my third Greg McKenzie mystery, Deadly Illusions, I had the main murder take place at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. Of course, when it came out, the name was changed to the Opry World Hotel as the publisher got cold feet. The hotel is only a few miles from my home, and I was quite familiar with it. But I had a son working in the banquet department at the time and he told me about the underground tunnels that are used by service personnel to get around. One of them connected the hotel to the laundry building across the road in back. I used it as an escape route for the murderer.

For the fourth book, The Marathon Murders, I decided to use an agent with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. In preparation, I got an inside tour of the TBI Headquarters by one of their PR guys who was a former news photographer I had known years ago. He showed me all the ins and outs of the various sections, including their new (at that time) investigation truck loaded with all sorts of tools for use at crime scenes. I also got a close-up look at the firearms section, which had fascinating ways of connecting weapons with murders.

While working on my latest book, The Good, The Bad and The Murderous, I got the ultimate dose of police procedures by attending the Metro Nashville Citizen Police Academy. I stocked up on material I'll be using for a good while. One facet I put to use in the book was information on the Taser, particularly the model available to the public. Two officers at the police firing range said they bought them for their wives and daughters, contending it was the best self defense weapon available. People who might balk at shooting someone with a gun will readily fire a Taser.

Research can be fascinating, and you usually learn a lot more than you're able to get into your books.

Chester Campbell

Visit me at Mystery Mania

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Source of Ideas by Mark Troy

This Friday is February 17. Mark it on your calendars. It is the day the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue comes out. It is already available for download on your iPad. It has already been downloaded on mine.

I'll be spending a lot of time going through it, as will many readers, not to ogle the bikinis (okay, I'll admit to a fair share of ogling) but to find story ideas.

My first mystery story that was accepted for publication, Wahine O Ka Hoe, was inspired by an article in an SI swimsuit issue. The article was about the women's Molokai to Oahu canoe race which takes place every year. It's an open ocean race across what is possibly the most dangerous channel in the world. (Mystery author Twist Phelan paddled in that race one year.)

What caught my attention in the article was a paragraph describing the dangers of the race. These fourteen hundred pound canoes are like sticks on that turbulent ocean. They surf down the face of ocean waves like runaway ore trains. There are six paddlers in a canoe and four relief paddlers in the escort boat. The most dangerous part of the race occurs when they change paddlers. The escort drops a paddler in the water and the canoe comes alongside. One paddler goes over the side and the other swings into the canoe. Because this is a race, the canoes don't come to a full stop. Moreover, they don't want the relief paddler to have to swim to the canoe so they try to come within arm's reach of the paddler in the water. Now imagine that the steersman misjudged the distance or that a sudden ocean swell came up behind the canoe. If hit by the canoe, that paddler in the water could be seriously injured or killed. That's what I imagined and wrote my story about it.

In another issue, I came across an article about the Purdue women's basketball team beating the women of Tennessee on their home court. The article was called Home Wreckers. I turned that into a short story of the same name.

In still another issue, though not the swimsuit issue, was a story about some highly prized but unsung athletes, the bulls of the professional bull-riding circuit. That article became my short story, Horns.

In recent years, to my chagrin, (I'm typing this with a straight face.) Sports Illustrated has dropped a lot of the articles in order to devote more pages to bikinis and body paint. But that doesn't mean there is no longer story inspiration to be found. The idea for my latest story, Ripper, practically leapt off the pages of one SI swimsuit pictorial, as did a work in progress of which I won't say anymore at this point.

Four published stories and one in progress is a pretty good showing. Sports Illustrated, for this writer anyway, is a great idea generator. That's why I'm excited about this Friday.

The four published stories appear in Game Face, which you can get free this month in ebook format. Click here to get an iPad, Nook, and Kobo version. Or click here to get a Kindle version. The download will begin as soon as you click on it. If you want a paperback copy and are in central Texas, visit me at the Madison County Writers Guild Book Sale and Signing on Saturday, Feb. 18 and Sunday, Feb 19. On Sunday, I will be giving a short story workshop.

So what inspires you?

Mark Troy
Hawaiian Eye Blog

Monday, February 13, 2012

Please Welcome Avery Aames, Author of the Cheese Shop Mysteries

Be sure to leave a comment with your email address. Avery will be sending out to three lucky winners the first two books of her Cheese Shop series: The Long Quiche Goodbye and Lost and Fondue.

Avery Aames is the Agatha award wining, nationally bestselling author of The Cheese Shop Mystery series, which launched in 2010 with The Long Quiche Goodbye. The latest Cheese Shop Mystery is Clobbered by Camembert (Cheese Shop Mystery book 3). The Cheese Shop Mystery series follows cheese shop owner Charlotte Bessette as she dishes up tasty morsels of goodness while solving the murders that threaten to the peace and charm of the quaint fictional town of Providence, Ohio.

Avery's Website:

Her Blogs:

About her Latest Cheese Shop Mystery - Clobbered by Camembert

Charlotte Bessette—proprietor of Le Petit Fromagerie, affectionately known in Providence, Ohio, as the Cheese Shop—is busy setting up her tent for the town’s Winter Wonderland faire, where she’ll offer fine wines and scrumptious cheeses. In the midst of the preparations, Charlotte meets an old friend of her mother, Kaitlyn Clydesdale, who has come back to Providence with plans to start a new honeybee farm.When Kaitlyn is found dead in the cottage of Charlotte’s assistant Rebecca, suspicion falls on Rebecca’s boyfriend, a honeybee farmer himself. Charlotte knows this beekeeper wouldn’t hurt a fly, so she decides to find the real killer. While the town buzzes with gossip, can Charlotte catch the culprit without getting stung herself?

Now, Avery Will Tell You -
Why a Cheese Shop?

I’m often asked the question, “Why did you set a mystery in a cheese shop?” The answer is pretty simple. The publisher realized there are a lot of foodie mystery readers, and there was a niche that needed filling. No one was writing about cheese. There were mysteries about chocolate, coffee, tea, but no cheese. And cheese was becoming the “in-thing” around the country. The question for me was how could I cook up a tasty and exciting mystery for the reader?

In The Cheese Shop Mysteries, I have made Fromagerie Bessette—what the locals call The Cheese Shop—a hub for gossip. The movement in The Cheese Shop is never static; there are lots of comings and goings and lots of “drama.” Okay, perhaps a little over-the-top drama, but always fun and lively. The quaint, fictional town of Providence is built around a Village Square. The Cheese Shop sits on the southern border and attracts tourists as well as locals. Because the shop is not a one-woman business, the protagonist, Charlotte, (thanks to a well-versed and talented staff) is able to come and go when sleuthing. In addition to the staff, Charlotte has her family to rely upon. Her grandfather, who used to own the store, and her cousin, a former sommelier who is half-owner with Charlotte, are available to take charge on short notice. Because Providence is small, Charlotte knows everyone—the sheriff, the farmers, and all the shop owners.

But locale alone will not make a mystery good, so when creating Charlotte, I wanted to write a character with whom readers could identify and enjoy. I adore Charlotte and her passion. She is not a snoop by nature; she is a fixer. She adores her family and she hates to see anyone suffering or in trouble. In the first book, her grandmother, who happens run the town as well as the acclaimed regional theater, is accused of murder. How can Charlotte not get involved?

What makes writing about a cheese shop fun for me [and hopefully makes reading about a cheese shop enjoyable for readers] is the way cheese stirs the senses. I love the flavors, the textures, and the aromas, and I try to make sure my readers do, via Charlotte and her staff. How about these names for cheese--Truffle Tremor, Roaring 40’s Blue, and Humboldt Fog? In the past year, I have tasted over 200 new cheeses. Now multiply the choices by thousands, worldwide. The way cheesemongers describe these cheeses is soooooo appetizing. At times, I find myself salivating. I kid you not! In addition, I write on a blog, Mystery Lovers Kitchen, with other foodie mystery authors, so I am cooking and testing recipes all the time.

So, “Why a cheese shop?” Why not? Stirring the reader’s senses on multiple levels matters. What makes you read a mystery and what makes you hungry for more?
Avery Aames


“[A] lovely Tour de Fromage. It’s not Gouda, it’s great!”
—Lorna Barrett, New York Times bestselling author

“A tasty morsel of a mystery.”—Kate Carlisle,
national bestselling author of the Bibliophile mysteries

AND IN THE EXAMINER.COM, Crime Fiction in National review, The Long Quiche Goodbye was included as one of the best books of 2011.

Don't forget to leave a comment with your email address for Avery to make you eligible in the drawing for the first two books of her series.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Visit with Bob Sanchez

by Jean Henry Mead

Bob Sanchez and his wife retired to Las Cruces, New Mexico, from where they take frequent RV trips. The fomer Massachusetts technical writer has written five novels and had three agents. One small publisher, Fjord Press, was interested in publishing his novel, Little Mountain, but went out of business instead. Bob then self-published three novels, When Pigs Fly, Getting Lucky, and Little Mountain. The first is a comic road trip, the others conventional murder mysteries.

Bob will be featured in the soon-to-be-released book, The Mystery Writers, with Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block and other well known and bestselling mystery writers.

Bob, why did you decide to publish independently after employing three agents?

Many people told me they were surprised my work didn’t sell to royalty publishers, and I felt confident my novels deserved publication. I became impatient with the long process involved in seeking the approval of agents and publishers who were all complete strangers. Rather than spend the rest of my life hoping to see my work in print, I decided to publish and take my chances. Given the general reputation of self-publishing, that wasn’t an easy decision at first.

Do you place your own books online or hire someone to do it for you?

When Pigs Fly went online using iUniverse as an intermediary. I e-published Getting Lucky and Little Mountain myself.

Now that indie publishing has become popular, would you accept a contract from a royalty publisher if one was offered, or do you prefer having control over your own books?

A royalty publisher won’t offer me a contract, because I won’t look for one. Should an offer fall out of the blue I’d consider it, but I do enjoy having control over the process.

How did your first novel, When Pigs Fly, come about?

I wanted to write a funny novel. My earlier efforts had been serious stories set in the mill city of Lowell, Massachusetts, but after my wife and I vacationed in Arizona a couple of times, I thought it would be fun to move my hero to the Tucson area. A couple of Arizona friends helped vet the geographical details.

What’s the most difficult aspect of self publishing?

Knowing when your book is ready. Agents and editors perform a critical service by weeding out work that isn’t ready for prime time. On the other hand, some good material gets left behind too. It’s difficult to be objective about your own work, so you have to get trustworthy and competent peer critiques. Also, you are responsible for everything from proofreading to marketing. That’s a tough range of skills to master.

I noticed that you also provide readers with print copies. Who has done your printing and have you been satisfied with your books and getting them online?
iUniverse published my first two novels, and I published Little Mountain using Amazon’s CreateSpace. I will not go back to iUniverse because they are too expensive and maintain too much control. For example, they insisted on my charging $9.99 for an e-book.

Do you promote your books in brick and mortar stores or strictly online?

Other than a few book signings, I don’t promote in bookstores. I tried that, and it took much too much time and energy. Mind you, I live in the Southwest, where everything is spread out making indie book tours unprofitable. So I am experimenting with mainly online marketing.

How much time do you spend networking and promoting your books?
So far just a few hours per week, but I plan to do more.

Tell us about your latest release and how well it has done?

Little Mountain is my most serious work yet and stars a Cambodian-American cop who must solve a vicious murder that brings back haunting memories of the Khmer Rouge genocide.

Advice to aspiring indie authors?

You are completely responsible for the quality of your work right down to the smallest detail. Ask peers to critique your work but remember that you are the final judge. Take all comments as suggestions, then you decide. Spelling, capitalization, and grammar all matter, though. Get those right. Double- and triple-check everything. Hire a reasonably priced artist to design your cover.

Thanks, Bob.

You can visit Bob at his blogsite:,
His books are available at

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Changes in Publishing by Christine Duncan

Some of the buzz this week appears to be about a decision by Barnes and Noble. They have decided not to stock books published by Amazon Those of us who have been e-published a while thought we could side step the war between giants. Ebooks, or so the theory went, would always be available, did not depend on big publishing houses, were not as subject to things like recession. The theory failed to take into account the sheer mind-boggling amount of stuff out there on the internet. Ebooks, are many times, lost in the huge vastness of the information age. I keep having this discussion with one of my sons, who is in a band. He sees all of this as the "artist" taking back his own. The music industry was fundamentally changed, he says, by the internet, the iPhone, the MP3. Bands can go around the big recording companies and get exposure. They can find an audience. The question is, in my mind, is it a good change? Do those bands finding an audience make any money at it? Can I as a writer in a ever changing industry do so? So does it matter that one big titan is battling another big titan in the book industry? Will it make any difference to those of us who are writing today? You tell me.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Seems Like Everyone is Writing and No One is Reading

If course that isn't really true, but since it's now so much easier to get published than it ever has been, a lot of people who would have never even attempted to write a book have decided to write and publish on Kindle or Smashwords or some other easy way.

I suppose they all think they'll be like the few authors who are making a lot of money this way. No one can make any money though unless people buy the books.

Back in the dark ages, when I first started out, you had to have you whole book completed. In that time period there were no computers or copy machines. To make sure you had a copy of the book you were writing, the only recourse was to make a copy of each page with carbon paper.

One your book was done you sent the who thing in a box along with a cover letter, a synopsis and another Self-Addressed and Stamped box if you wanted the manuscript back--and of course you did. If the publisher didn't want it, you sure didn't want to have to type the whole daggone thing over again. Of course after about 5 rejections, the manuscript had to be retyped anyway because it smelled of cigarette smoke and probably attracted some coffee stains along the way.

Believe me, unless you were totally dedicated to wanting to be a published author, you didn't go through all this work.

Maybe it's just too easy today to put a bunch of works together and send it off to Kindle or some other similar spot and call  yourself a published author.

Oh yes, we've all heard readers complain about lame plots, undeveloped characters, stiff dialogue, lack of setting, poorly formatted and edited books filled with typos, but that doesn't seem to stop anyone. Books are being $2.99, 1.99, .99 and free. That means a lot of readers are seeking only the bargain books. Is this going to mean anything to the major publishers, who climbed on this e-publishing bandwagon late and are charging far more for their e-books?

To make this personal, I'm with small independent publishers because I don't want to learn how to format books or pay someone to do it for me. I don't want to create a book cover or the back page. My publishers have much better cover artists than I'll ever be--and both of them let me give input in what I'd like to see in a cover. And both publishers edit my books before they become public.

Yes, everyone gets their cut before I get my paltry sum. Sometimes I laugh when I receive my royalty statements--better than crying. I do far better getting my books at a discount and selling them at book and craft fairs and speaking events.

This might bring up the question if you're not making a lot of money and there's so much competition, why are you doing it? The main answer is because I can't stop writing. If no one published my work, I know I'd just keep right on going. It's rather like an addiction.

You also might ask, are you reading too? The answer is yes. I always have a book by my bed, one on the dining room table and of course, the book I'm reading on my Kindle.

Any one agree with me--or have a different take?


Monday, February 6, 2012

Which Famous People Are Your Book Characters? by Morgan Mandel

Available for all ereaders,
also in print at Amazon.
Do you put photos of famous people near your computer to remind you of what your characters look like? Actually, I don't, but today I started imagining which ones would fit the bill for my Fountain of Youth theme, romantic thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse.

For Dorrie Donato, the Boomer Generation widow who turns from 55 to 24, for the older version, I'd choose Holly Hunter,who is close to 55, has warm blond hair and warm brown eyes. Holly seems approachable, yet vulnerable, qualities I want my character to project.

For 24 year old Dorrie, I choose Carrie Underwood. She's young, and fits the description, of blond hair, brown eyes, a pretty face, spectacular figure, spunk and talent. Perfect casting!

Roman Remington, Dorrie's boss, dubbed as the Angel Man in my thriller, is tall, with shoulder length blond hair, appears in commercials and is very charismatic. Immediately, the image of a young Fabio comes to mind.

What about you? Which Famous People Are Your Book Characters?

If you'd like to read Forever Young: Blessing or Curse, it's now available in Print. Also, in Kindle, Nook, Itunes and other electronic formats. See excerpts and all buy links for the four Morgan Mandel books at

Friday, February 3, 2012

My Field of View Is Narrowing

I've realized that the focus of my writing has narrowed over the years. My first three novels written in 1990-93, but never published, have a decided international flavor. The first ranges from the U.S. to Austria, Cyprus, Hong Kong, and Israel, winding up in Toronto. Book two takes us from the U.S. to Korea and China, while the third wanders among Ukraine, Iran, Belarus, Mexico and the U.S.

This trilogy of post-Cold War spy stories grew out of my love of the espionage genre, which I had followed for years with authors like Helen Macinnes, John le Carre, Graham Greene, and Robert Ludlum. The international scene was fresh in my mind from travels across Europe and around the Far East in the eighties.

While revising the books with an eye toward publication, I was reminded of how much additional research I had done in preparation for writing them. I make folders for each of my books and place all of the research material in them. Besides notes they include call slips for various books I checked out of the library. I also have a supply of maps and travel books covering the areas. The shelves in my office include books on the CIA, the KGB, and such famous spies as Harold Adrian "Kim" Philby.

By the end of the nineties, my settings had narrowed down to mostly U.S. locations. After a trip to the Holy Land in late 1998, however, I set my first Greg McKenzie mystery half in the U.S. and half in Israel. My second McKenzie book wandered off to Perdido Key, Florida where we vacationed often in my brother's condo, but since them the mysteries have all taken place around my hometown of Nashville.

I suppose this is part of the aging process, since my wife and I have cut back on our personal wanderings over the years. There's probably a bit of laziness involved, also, as it's much easier to write about an area you are intimately familiar with. I enjoy venturing out to re-check locations I haven't visited in a while, and I'll occasionally include a place I've never been before.

I still enjoy the high-octane machinations of the spy story, though I haven't read a good one lately. Who knows, I might just stumble into a dead drop  or pick up a one-time pad and get motivated to turn out another espionage tome. Meanwhile, look for the Burke Hill trilogy in the near future.

Chester Campbell
Visit me at Mystery Mania

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Publicity is Where You Find It

Publicity is Where You Find It
Randy Rawls

I've been quite fortunate with the number of reviews and postings I've received on my THORNS ON ROSES. Some of the folks who read this will recognize the book as one they gave a nudge to. Thanks to each of you.

But some of the other sources have been quite surprising. The latest is a chuckle and a source of pride(?). I have to admit I'm not a reader of this paper and have mixed feelings about it, based on reputation and rumor. However, I believe publicity is where you find it. And I've found some here. So, this month when you check out at the cash register of your favorite supermarket, I give you permission to scan the tabloids. Pick up the February 6 edition of National Examiner and flip the pages. Yep, that's my THORNS ON ROSES you'll see blurbed. Now, lest you think it's no big deal, consider that I share the page with Richard Gere, Gregory Peck, and Dean Cain. Heck, I feel like I fit right in. :-)

Another one popped up this week that I'm even more proud of. About a thousand years ago, I was the key person in founding a youth travel soccer league in Northern Virginia, then served as its president for several years. We named it the Old Dominion Soccer League. One of the driving provisions that I insisted on was sportsmanship, players and parents. We were the first that I'm aware of to give a Sportsmanship Award each season. We made a big to-do about it, making it equal to the championship award. When I left the area, the membership honored me by naming it the Randy Rawls Sportsmanship ODSL Award. Twice a year when the awards are handed out, my ego swells. And it doesn't hurt that there is usually a plug for my writing attached. The latest
I've seen is at Enough to make an old man feel like he's done something good for the world.

While I'm on my feel-good platform, there's another that gave me a buzz. It ran in the blog,, and in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. If you're so inclined, the link is at The thing about this one that I love is the reviewer, Leslie Granier, really nailed the story. Not just the one I wrote, but the one that did not blatantly appear in words.

And there are many more, each of them presenting my story and me in a favorable light. I'd love to claim this happened because of my sheer talent, but that would be an outright lie. For THORNS ON ROSES, I took a chance and hired a publicist. She did the ground pounding that produced the reviews. Of course, I'm still going to claim it was my book that caused the reviewers to write the reviews as they did.

Does that answer my question as to whether spending a lot of money on a publicist is worth it? No, it doesn't. I won't even have a small clue until the royalty statements begin to come in.
I'm not optimistic.
Just Randy being Randy.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Celebrate February

Let's celebrate February!

It's the shortest month of the year. It occurs in the dead of winter. Except for the Superbowl, the only sporting event of consequence is the publication of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.

February has perhaps the weirdest collection of holidays of any month.

  • On February 2, we have Ground Hog Day, where we honor a reclusive little burrowing mammal, which, on this day, takes on the status of oracle.  
  • February 14, Valentine's Day, is the one day of the year that creates more anxiety for men than a group prostate exam. What's so hard about Valentine's Day? Finding the right gift. The right gift is one that gets you, the guy, what you want, which is to get laid. But can the gift say that? No. The gift must say the opposite. It must profess undying love and commitment. A gift that screams, "I want to jump your bones," will get you an evening alone. 
  • Mardi Gras this year falls in February. What do we do on Mardi Gras? We engage in all sorts of excesses and debauchery in preparation for six weeks of atonement for excesses and debauchery. 
  • Finally, there is President's Day, which is, in my opinion, an equal to July Fourth in importance because we celebrate all US presidents, and especially George Washington, the founder of our country, and Abraham Lincoln, the preserver of our country.

February birthdays are awesome. I don't think there is another month with an all-star birthday line-up to match February's.

Let's take just two dates.

  • February 12 is the birthday of my granddaughter, Morgan, who is the cutest, smartest dancer in the world. It is also the birthday of two of the greatest thinkers of the world, two men of genius whose accomplishments are still being felt--Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln.
  • February 22 is my birthday. Okay, maybe that's not much, but look who else was born on this day. George Washington, Edward M. Kennedy, Robert Baden Powell, Drew Barrymore and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Pulitzer Prize winner Edna St. Vincent Millay penned what might be the best paean to excess and debauchery.
First Fig
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But, ah, my foes, and oh, my friends--
It gives a lovely light!

A list of other notable February birthdays can be found here.

To celebrate February, I am giving away FREE electronic copies of my short story collection, Game Face. This offer expires at the end of the month, but, because this is a leap year, February has an extra day for you to take advantage of it.

To get your copy, click on your preferred ebook format:
mobi (for Kindle)
epub (for all other e-readers)

Mark Troy
Hawaiian-eye Blog