Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Of Raptors and Writers

by Janis Patterson

I had a visitor this morning. As usual, I was out in the hot tub fairly early, doing my exercises. (Arthritis makes dry-land exercising both harmful and painful.) After finishing I sat in the water relaxing and drinking the last of my coffee, when there was a loud squawking of many different kinds of birds and while I watched a great hawk landed on the top of our fence. I don’t know what kind of hawk it was - as Egyptomanes The Husband and I simply call all hawks ‘Horus-birds’ - but it was definitely a hawk and a fairly large one. Even though we live close to the center of a very large city, hawks are not unknown in our neighborhood. Every so often in our secluded back yard we find evidence of a hawk’s meal - no body parts or bones, just a large circle of disarticulated feathers, rather like a fairy ring made of feathers instead of fungus. I will admit that though this is a normal and expected part of the natural world it is still unsettling.

I can see why ornithologists say birds come from dinosaurs... this beautiful specimen of Horus-bird paraded up and down a short portion of our fence, its head always moving, its ophidian gaze sweeping the entire yard with the bearing of a conqueror, all very much the pattern card of a raptor. Its attention seemed most drawn, however, to a small Indian peach tree sitting on the other side of the fence which divides the back yard from the parking area.

Suddenly there was an explosion of blue jays swooping around and screaming. There must have been at least half a dozen of them, all the brilliant blue of the male, and they were dive-bombing the preening hawk. The aerial show must have lasted a full two to three minutes before the hawk gave way and flew off. While I have not gone to investigate, I surmise that somewhere in that little Indian peach tree is a blue jay nest and do not wish to disturb the inhabitants further. The jays have nested in this area in the sixty-odd years since my parents built this house, so it is not an unreasonable theory.

So what does this digression into nature have to do with writing? The jays are each smaller and weaker than the large and powerful predator hawk, though combined they dominated him into if not submission at least to departure.

Sometimes the little guy does win, though almost never in the publishing industry. Right now I’m all incensed about Amazon’s buy-read-return for full refund policy. Amazon says it wants to provide the best experience it can for its customers/readers... but is dead silent on the experience of its writers, without whom they would have no readers.

It seems they neither realize nor care that the buy-read-return for full refund is simply straight-up theft. Now I will admit that over the years I have returned a few books - either they were misrepresented, or my sometimes unreliable arthritic fingers have mis-clicked, or some other out-of-normal circumstance, but NEVER (and I repeat, NEVER) have I bought one, read it and then returned it for credit. That’s plain dishonest. There are those who start with the first book in a series then work their way through the entire series, buying, reading completely, then returning for full credit before they repeat the crime with the next book. For those of you who say it is not a crime as Amazon allows it as part of their TOC, just remember there are legal crimes and there are moral crimes. Legal crime - maybe, maybe not. Moral crime - definitely, as it is deliberate theft from the author, who deserves to be paid for the work the serial returners are enjoying.

Apparently these people neither know nor care that what they are doing is dishonorable, or that it makes a big and often uncomfortable difference in the writer’s income. Amazon has to know, though, and honor and honesty aside, this constant full-refund bit has to be affecting their money, too - unless they are using the ‘read time’ income as a form of float, which I doubt.

So what are we as writers to do about this serial theft of our work? There are always out-and-out pirates who steal our work and give it away for free, but they’re obviously criminals... not the organization we’re trusting to sell our books for us. And I’m not ragging just on Amazon - maybe the other etailers do the same thing - I don’t know. Amazon’s buy-sell-return for full credit policy is well known and has never been a secret.

So what can be done about it? I have no idea. Amazon is the 9000 lb gorilla in the electronic book world and individual writers have no say.

But - if a handful of blue jays can protect a nest from a sizeable Horus-bird hawk by banding together, perhaps we should start talking about into banding together. If the vendors won’t protect our income, should we not at least look into what is necessary to protect our own? 

Let’s hear it for blue jays!


Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Promotion Experiments

 Over the last two months, I tried two different types of promotion.

The first was offering one of my books in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series free for Kindle. This one attracted the most takers, and resulted in people buy other books in the series--which of course is the reason for doing this.

The second was offering one of the books in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series for .99 cents. 51 copies were purchased and soon after 3 of each of two other titles, and 2 copies of three others, and one copy of others.

And as usual, my cookbook, "Cooking for a Big Family and a Crowd" is my best seller for Kindle and in paper.

Though I haven't really done any promotion yet for the latest and last of my Rocky Bluff P.D. series, two Kindle copies have been purchased (and more since I wrote this.)

My big promotion for Reversal of Fortune isn't going to happen until June. Why? Because I have too many other things I have to take care of first.

Oh, I"ll probably mention some things about it on this blog, maybe when my turn comes again. We'll see.

In case  your interested, here's the cover:

It's following the same theme of all the other covers in the series.

Marilyn, who wrote this series as F. M. Meredith


Tuesday, April 26, 2022

MeToo Moments Develop Characters

 


One of the reasons I wanted to write novels was a #MeToo moment that occurred when I was a young scientist. However, I didn’t want my writing about this incident to be an exposé on sexual harassment but rather a way to show a character’s motivation. I also didn’t want to rush to write about this incident until I was an experienced author. Hence, I included the incident in my tenth novel Games for Couples.

I think you will be surprised as you learn which characters were sexually harassed in this murder mystery. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of Games for Couples: 

A biotechnology company is desperately racing to develop cultured meat products—meat made from cells in a test tube—-before their competitors. Disaster strikes. A subject in a clinical trial testing one of their new cultured meat product dies. Was his death caused by lethal compounds in the cultured meat, sabotage by a competitor, or the spite of battling couples? 

I hope that convinced you the plot is strong. Now let’s talk about Me Too moments and why they might be good writing tools.

Consider this:

Sexual harassment in the workplace is common. A 2017 poll found that 54% of American women report receiving "unwanted and inappropriate" sexual advances with 95% saying that such behavior usually goes unpunished. A number of well-publicized cases have occurred in the entertainment industry, but many have also been documented in the scientific community.

One purpose of the Me Too Movement is to highlight the difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is understanding someone else’s misfortunes from your own perspective. Empathy is understanding the plight of others by putting yourself in their shoes.

All authors struggle to engage readers by developing multi-dimensional characters. A plot is generally not believable without realistic characters. A common maxim among writers is: Don’t tell me. Show me. In essence, that’s a simplistic way of saying authors need to build empathy for their characters, not make them objects of pity.

Many Americans think sexual harassment is bad because it is painful and illegal. They forget that harassment has long-term consequences and affects many important life decisions made by women.

In Games for Couples, I tried to show how several characters developed because of MeToo moments. I hope you’ll be surprised and agree MToo moments can supply the motivation for many actions by characters.

Book at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1735421405/

 


Bio: J. L. Greger writes is a biologist from the University of Wisconsin-Madison who consulted internationally. The pet therapy dog Bug in her Science Traveler Series novels is exactly like her own stoical Japanese Chin. https://www.jlgreger.com

Marilyn Meredith says, Janet is my guest today, she's a good friend and Games for Couples is a fascinating mystery--Do give it a try.

  

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

What Makes A Professional?

by Janis Patterson

Not long ago on another forum there was a discussion (really it wasn’t that polite, I’m just using that word because I’m a lady) about what makes a writer. A professional writer. I suppose anyone who scribbles down the idea for a book they’re going to write when they have the time or even pens a grocery list can technically be considered a writer because they have committed the act of scribing words in a line... just not, in my estimation, a professional one.

Writing is unfortunately like the other artistic professions such as musician or dancer or actor in that what seems like everyone in the world wants to do it - or more honestly, to reap the rewards for having done it - but they don’t want to put in the time and effort necessary. To them it looks easy, so they should be able to do it right out of the box, shouldn’t they? (This is when I usually start to growl...)

On the internet there is a photograph of two views of a ballerina’s feet. One side shows how they appear on stage - delicate white hose, pink toe shoes intricately tied with perky pink ribbons, feet delicately arched as she stands gracefully en pointe. On the other side is a picture of those same feet naked - blisters and raw spots, bloody band-aids, deformed toes and other horrors. This is the price ballerinas pay for those seemingly perfect moments on stage leaping apparently weightless from toe to toe.

Writing is not as physically brutal but is equally demanding in other ways. First you have to learn your craft, and for some people that is the hardest part of all. Writing a book is a lot more than writing X number of words about a series of incidents that may or may not make sense. You have to know grammar and spelling - and while editors and proofreaders are there to catch our mistakes and omissions, they are not there to do the heavy lifting. Word choice is important, for with it comes nuance, and so much of telling a good story is nuance.

Even assuming you have the soul and skills of an English teacher and can spell obscure words and place every comma correctly (an art in itself!) does not make you a writer. You have to be able to craft a story that is logical, cohesive and interesting, which is an intimidating juggling act. Understanding and properly using backstory, foreshadowing, pacing, characterization, research, character interaction and a hundred other different tools go into making a good book. These are skills which do not come automatically, no matter how much one wants to be a writer.

And don’t forget imagination, the ability to create believable, relatable worlds and populations out of little more than imagination and (in my case) caffeine. It’s amazing how many people cannot think of anything outside of the pedestrian everyday.

But writing is so simple, cry the wanna-bes. It’s just English, and I speak English. 

No, it’s not, and even having a book out there does not make you a professional, as the flood of self-published dreck flooding the internet proves. Now there are wonderful things about self-publishing - it broadens the readers’ choices, which before the self-publishing revolution were pretty much confined to what the traditional publishers thought would be profitable for themselves. Even though there are expenses to be borne, self-publishing gives the writer more money, and so many truly professional writers are expanding into this brave new world. On the other hand, it allows a bunch of ‘writers’ who should not be doing anything more than a Christmas card or a grocery list to say “See? I’m a published author.”

Desire does not equate professionalism. For confirmation, just think about someone walking into a hospital saying, “I want to be a surgeon, and I’ve watched hundreds of tv medical shows so I’m ready to do an operation now.” Perhaps an extreme example - no one dies of a badly written book - but the principle is the same.

So what does constitute professionalism? In a broad sense, control of the writerly tools - spelling, grammar, story construction - and a willingness to work, both at learning the craft and the acceptance that it is a job. No one works at a job only when they feel like it (at least, not if they want to keep their job) or their private muse graces them with the urge. No, being a professional means you work at it like any other job, which means you will miss lunches with friends and other pleasurable amenities because you are working. Writing is even more demanding, because the majority of it is done inside your brain, which means you are working pretty much all the time. 

To make it even more confusing, there are different kinds of professionalism. I know of a woman who for many years made very good money as a top-notch corporate PR person doing all kinds of writing and doing it extremely well. She has been working on a novel - the same novel - for almost nine years, and it still isn’t finished. Is she a writing professional? Definitely. She is just not a professional novelist, which is a shame, as she is a gifted wordsmith. There is more to being a novelist than just writing skills and the ability to craft a believable story.

Obviously I am finding it difficult to define exactly what makes a writer a professional novelist. Making money? That’s one metric, but a sort of shaky one; there are working novelists who turn out exquisite books but who are making little more than coffee change. There are writers who churn out undeniable schlock yet bring in the money hand over fist. Unfortunately, writing is one of those arts which is totally dependent on public acceptance and let’s face it, the public is sometimes an unreliable judge. 

Perhaps the best defining attribute of professionalism is attitude - the willingness to learn the craft and to work at it like the job it is instead of a glorified hobby. And believe me, it isn’t easy.


Friday, April 15, 2022

IT'S A MYSTERY TO ME

    You haven't seen me blogging here very often. It's a mystery to me, but lately it seems I'm more interested in writing romances. Since this is a mystery blog, I can't pretend my current romance books could be classified as mysteries.

    Still, I can share one mystery about writing. It seems many books are geared toward a younger generation. That's not me anymore. True, some older people want to escape and pretend they're younger while immersed in fiction. 

    Often I find when a book does contain an older person as a main or secondary character, the author uses depictions of people that may have been true years ago, but not anymore. It's time for some writers to look around and discover that the older people of today are not cardboard cutouts, but people much like themselves, just older. 

    Granny, Grandma, Grandpa, etc. to describe a character is missing the essence of what today's older folks are really all about. We're not all sitting around knitting, though I don't knock that hobby for those who have the talent. We're not sitting around in rocking chairs all day and imparting wisdom when called for. 

    Sure, some of our clothes don't fit like they used to, but they're not much different than anyone else's. We don't need a younger person to help with computers. We can do fine on our own.  

    Many, depending on our age, can still drive. We attend festivals, even participate at times. Some of us even know how to play instruments, such as pianos or guitars. Others decorate, paint or do repairs. We like going to Fitness Classes to stay in shape. We go out to eat when we feel like it.

    Shopping is a fun sport for many of us, though finding the right clothes to fit is sometimes a challenge. We bond with our neighbors. Some of us still have jobs, though in my case I'm retired and just write books when I feel like it. 

    Many of us own dogs or cats, even both, or birds or other animals. We like to read, watch movies and TV. Some of us even like cooking, though I admit that long ago I did, but now it bores me. Luckily, I have a hubby who likes taking over that chore. 

    Yes, some are married still, while some have lost their spouse. Others are looking for a soul mate or don't want one. Anyway, you get the picture. We're normal people, not stereotypies.     

    Now that I've had my say, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that in Found At the Pound, A Senior Romance Featuring 2 Dog Lovers, you'll find ordinary people, who just happen to be seniors. I'm also in the midst of a spinoff on one of the characters in that book.

Thanks for letting me vent a little. 


                               Morgan Mandel

https://www.morganmandel.com


 


Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The Fun Part of My Writing Life has Changed

Back in the day, I went to many writing conferences and mystery conventions. I never missed a Bouchercon or Left Coast Crime and my all time favorite smaller con, Mayhem in the Midlands, which is now defunct.

Because Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime move around, hubby and I saw a lot more of the country, visiting places we'd have never gone to otherwise.

I can't say I ever sold many books, but I always learned a lot, laughed a lot, enjoyed meeting many famous authors: Mary Higgins Clark, Sue Grafton, Wm. Kent Krueger, Lee Childs, J.A. Jance, and so many more. I made lots of friends both writers and readers, and it was so much fun to see them again at the each con.

I belonged to three Sisters in Crime groups: the Los Angeles chapter and actually visited several meetings and was the speaker at one, explaining about E-books which people weren't ready to embrace at the time. I met Naomi Hirahara there, way back before she'd done much writing. Because of this membership, I went to three  different LA Times Book Festivals.

I was one of the founding members of the San Joaquin Sisters in Crime chapters who met in Fresno. I went to as many meetings as possible and gave many presentations. Sadly, the Covid wiped out the chapter.

Nearly the same fate has befallen the Central Coast Sisters in Crime. I loved going to their meetings and staying on the coast and visiting with the friends I've made in the chapter. They've dwindled in size and are not having regular meetings though they've attempted some Podcasts. 

Other conferences that were planned were cancelled because of Covid, and now some, but not all, are being revived.

Sadly, I won't be going for many reasons: I can't afford the expense of the conference and the hotel to stay in and another biggie, I no longer fly.

There is one writer's conference I do still attend and that's the Public Safety Writers Association annual conference. They had one last year even though none of the other cons had been revived. It was small but wonderful. (My daughter is willing to drive me there and she helps out with the book sales.) I'm signed up for this year: https://policewriter.com if you're interested. There is also a very inexpensive workshop before the conference, and the first night's reception and all the conference lunches are included in the price. 

And i guess I should admit one of the big reasons I haven't mentioned yet, is I'm just getting old.

Marilyn




Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Making Time to Write

 Because I'm not a big-name author nor can I claim being a full-time writer, I need to figure out when I can write. I'm still trying to finish the edits on my latest and last Rocky Bluff P.D.

If I love writing as much as I've claimed,  what do I have to do that is so important it comes before writing?

First, is taking care of my husband. He cared for me for most of the 71 years we've been married, and now he needs my help.

Second, I have a big family that I love, and when I have the opportunity to be with them, I jump at it. (Well, I no longer jump at all, but you know what I mean.)

I have another job which crops up from time to time, one that actually results in my being paid for my time, so when someone calls on me, I'm going to do it.

Though I no longer do all the household chores I used to do, there are still some I can accomplish and they take some of my time and attention. I'm also the one who does the bill paying, keep track of expenses, and taking care of income tax. 

And in order, to sell my books, I do a fair amount of online promotion. Hopefully there will also be more occasions to talk about my books and sell them at in-person events as the year progresses. 

I use the priority system and do whatever needs to be be done first. Sadly, writing isn't one of the first on my list.

Also, I need to write in the morning when my brain is fresh. I shop in the morning and most of my hubby's and my doctor appointments are scheduled for morning.

After all this you probably wonder when I do write and the answer is whenever I can, which is not as often as I'd like.

Marilyn